In Michael J. Loux & Dean W. Zimmerman (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics. Oxford University Press (2003)
|Abstract||Are there, in addition to the various actual objects that make up the world, various possible objects? Are there merely possible people, for example, or merely possible electrons, or even merely possible kinds? We certainly talk as if there were such things. Given a particular sperm and egg, I may wonder whether that particular child which would result from their union would have blue eyes. But if the sperm and egg are never in fact brought together, then there is no actual object that my thought is about.1 Or again, in the semanti cs for modal logic we presuppose an ontology of possibilia twice over.2 For first, we coutenance various possible worlds, in addition to the actual world; and second, each of these worlds is taken to be endowed with its own domai n of objects. These will be the actual objects of the world in question, but they need not be actual simpliciter, i.e., actual objects of our world. W ha t a r e w e t o m a k e o f such discourse? There are four options: (i) the discourse is taken to be unintelligible; (ii) it is taken to be intelligible but nonfactual, i.e. as not in the business of stating facts; (iii) it is taken to be factual but reducible to discourse involving no reference to possibilia; (iv) it is taken to be both factual and irreducible.3 These options range from a fullblooded form of actualism at one extreme to a full-blooded form of possibilism at the other. The two intermediate positions are possibilist in that they accept the intelligibility of possibilist discourse but actualist in that they attempt to dispense with its prima facie commitment to possibilia. All four positions have found advocates in the literature. Quine, in his less irenic moments, favours option (i); Forbes (, p. 94) advocates option (ii), at least for certain parts of possibilist discourse; many philosophers, including Adams  and myself, opt for (iii); while Lewis  and Stalnaker  have endorsed versions of (iv), that differ in how full-blooded they take the possible objects to be..|
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