Impossible Worlds

Edited by Barak Krakauer (University of California, Santa Cruz)
About this topic
Summary Impossible worlds are structures that have been proposed to make sense of certain kinds of modal phenomena. Unlike the possible worlds, impossible worlds are incomplete, inconsistent, or both; nonetheless, impossible worlds are employed in a similar way, intended to represent or model certain kinds of scenarios. A possible worlds theorist may attempt to give an account of propositions, properties, intentional attitudes, or various flavors of necessity and possibility, yet run into trouble in "hyperintensional" contexts: she might, for example, want to distinguish properties that are necessarily co-extensive (such as triangularity and trilateraltiy) or propositions that are true in the same set of worlds (such as <2 + 2 = 4> and ). Impossible worlds could be added to such a system to make the kinds of distinctions in modal space that seem to be required, since there would be impossible worlds where a figure has three sides but not three angles, or where all bachelors are male but 2 + 2 does not equal 4. Some impossible worlds theorists hold that these structures are sui generis entities, entities of the same kind as possible worlds, or entities constructed from the possible worlds.
Introductions Francesco Berto's Stanford Encyclopedia entry is a good introduction to some of the motivations for impossible worlds as well as their metaphysics. 
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  1. Freedom, God, and Worlds.Michael J. Almeida - 2012 - Oxford University Press.
    A Moderate Anselmian Plea -- Metaphysical Atheological Arguments and the Free Will Defense -- Three Important Objections -- Unrestricted Actualization, Freedom and Morally Perfect Worlds -- The Logical Problem of Evil Redux -- Four Important Objections -- Four More Objections -- Redeeming Worlds -- Conclusions.
  2. L’Impossible Demoiselle.Philippe Artieres - 2000 - Clio: Femmes, Genre, Histoire 11.
  3. ANALYSIS Problem No. 10 It is Impossible to Be Told Anyone's Name.Gustav Bergmann - 1956 - Analysis 17:49.
  4. Rendre la révolte impossible.Thomas Berns - 2013 - Rue Descartes 77 (1):121.
  5. Omission Impossible.Sara Bernstein - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (10):2575-2589.
    This paper gives a framework for understanding causal counterpossibles, counterfactuals imbued with causal content whose antecedents appeal to metaphysically impossible worlds. Such statements are generated by omissive causal claims that appeal to metaphysically impossible events, such as “If the mathematician had not failed to prove that 2+2=5, the math textbooks would not have remained intact.” After providing an account of impossible omissions, the paper argues for three claims: (i) impossible omissions play a causal role in the actual world, (ii) causal (...)
  6. Impossible Worlds and the Logic of Imagination.Francesco Berto - forthcoming - Erkenntnis:1-21.
    I want to model a finite, fallible cognitive agent who imagines that p in the sense of mentally representing a scenario—a configuration of objects and properties—correctly described by p. I propose to capture imagination, so understood, via variably strict world quantifiers, in a modal framework including both possible and so-called impossible worlds. The latter secure lack of classical logical closure for the relevant mental states, while the variability of strictness captures how the agent imports information from actuality in the imagined (...)
  7. On Conceiving the Inconsistent.Francesco Berto - 2014 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 114 (1pt1):103-21.
    I present an approach to our conceiving absolute impossibilities—things which obtain at no possible world—in terms of ceteris paribus intentional operators: variably restricted quantifiers on possible and impossible worlds based on world similarity. The explicit content of a representation plays a role similar in some respects to the one of a ceteris paribus conditional antecedent. I discuss how such operators invalidate logical closure for conceivability, and how similarity works when impossible worlds are around. Unlike what happens with ceteris paribus counterfactual (...)
  8. Impossible Worlds.Francesco Berto - 2013 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2013).
    It is a venerable slogan due to David Hume, and inherited by the empiricist tradition, that the impossible cannot be believed, or even conceived. In Positivismus und Realismus, Moritz Schlick claimed that, while the merely practically impossible is still conceivable, the logically impossible, such as an explicit inconsistency, is simply unthinkable. -/- An opposite philosophical tradition, however, maintains that inconsistencies and logical impossibilities are thinkable, and sometimes believable, too. In the Science of Logic, Hegel already complained against “one of the (...)
  9. Existence as a Real Property.Francesco Berto - 2012 - Synthèse Library, Springer.
    This book is both an introduction to and a research work on Meinongianism. “Meinongianism” is taken here, in accordance with the common philosophical jargon, as a general label for a set of theories of existence – probably the most basic notion of ontology. As an introduction, the book provides the first comprehensive survey and guide to Meinongianism and non-standard theories of existence in all their main forms. As a research work, the book exposes and develops the most up-to-date Meinongian theory (...)
  10. Modal Meinongianism and Fiction: The Best of Three Worlds.Francesco Berto - 2011 - Philosophical Studies 152 (3):313-35.
    We outline a neo-Meinongian framework labeled as Modal Meinongian Metaphysics (MMM) to account for the ontology and semantics of fictional discourse. Several competing accounts of fictional objects are originated by the fact that our talking of them mirrors incoherent intuitions: mainstream theories of fiction privilege some such intuitions, but are forced to account for others via complicated paraphrases of the relevant sentences. An ideal theory should resort to as few paraphrases as possible. In Sect. 1, we make this explicit via (...)
  11. Impossible Worlds and Propositions: Against the Parity Thesis.Francesco Berto - 2010 - Philosophical Quarterly 60 (240):471-486.
    Accounts of propositions as sets of possible worlds have been criticized for conflating distinct impossible propositions. In response to this problem, some have proposed to introduce impossible worlds to represent distinct impossibilities, endorsing the thesis that impossible worlds must be of the same kind; this has been called the parity thesis. I show that this thesis faces problems, and propose a hybrid account which rejects it: possible worlds are taken as concrete Lewisian worlds, and impossibilities are represented as set-theoretic constructions (...)
  12. Modal Meinongianism for Fictional Objects.Francesco Berto - 2008 - Metaphysica 9 (2):205-218.
    Drawing on different suggestions from the literature, we outline a unified metaphysical framework, labeled as Modal Meinongian Metaphysics (MMM), combining Meinongian themes with a non-standard modal ontology. The MMM approach is based on (1) a comprehension principle (CP) for objects in unrestricted, but qualified form, and (2) the employment of an ontology of impossible worlds, besides possible ones. In §§1–2, we introduce the classical Meinongian metaphysics and consider two famous Russellian criticisms, namely (a) the charge of inconsistency and (b) the (...)
  13. Impossible Worlds and Logical Omniscience: An Impossibility Result.Jens Christian Bjerring - 2013 - Synthese 190 (13):2505-2524.
    In this paper, I investigate whether we can use a world-involving framework to model the epistemic states of non-ideal agents. The standard possible-world framework falters in this respect because of a commitment to logical omniscience. A familiar attempt to overcome this problem centers around the use of impossible worlds where the truths of logic can be false. As we shall see, if we admit impossible worlds where “anything goes” in modal space, it is easy to model extremely non-ideal agents that (...)
  14. On Counterpossibles.Jens Christian Bjerring - 2013 - Philosophical Studies (2):1-27.
    The traditional Lewis–Stalnaker semantics treats all counterfactuals with an impossible antecedent as trivially or vacuously true. Many have regarded this as a serious defect of the semantics. For intuitively, it seems, counterfactuals with impossible antecedents—counterpossibles—can be non-trivially true and non-trivially false. Whereas the counterpossible "If Hobbes had squared the circle, then the mathematical community at the time would have been surprised" seems true, "If Hobbes had squared the circle, then sick children in the mountains of Afghanistan at the time would (...)
  15. Problems in Epistemic Space.Jens Christian Bjerring - 2012 - Journal of Philosophical Logic (1):1-18.
    When a proposition might be the case, for all an agent knows, we can say that the proposition is epistemically possible for the agent. In the standard possible worlds framework, we analyze modal claims using quantification over possible worlds. It is natural to expect that something similar can be done for modal claims involving epistemic possibility. The main aim of this paper is to investigate the prospects of constructing a space of worlds—epistemic space—that allows us to model what is epistemically (...)
  16. Non-Ideal Epistemic Spaces.Jens Christian Bjerring - 2010 - Dissertation, Australian National University
    In a possible world framework, an agent can be said to know a proposition just in case the proposition is true at all worlds that are epistemically possible for the agent. Roughly, a world is epistemically possible for an agent just in case the world is not ruled out by anything the agent knows. If a proposition is true at some epistemically possible world for an agent, the proposition is epistemically possible for the agent. If a proposition is true at (...)
  17. Granularity Problems.Jens Christian Bjerring & Wolfgang Schwarz - 2017 - Philosophical Quarterly 67 (266):22-37.
    Possible-worlds accounts of mental or linguistic content are often criticized for being too coarse-grained. To make room for more fine-grained distinctions among contents, several authors have recently proposed extending the space of possible worlds by "impossible worlds". We argue that this strategy comes with serious costs: we would effectively have to abandon most of the features that make the possible-worlds framework attractive. More generally, we argue that while there are intuitive and theoretical considerations against overly coarse-grained notions of content, the (...)
  18. Must There Be a Top Level?Einar Duenger Bohn - 2009 - Philosophical Quarterly 59 (235):193-201.
    I first explore the notion of the world's being such that everything in it is a proper part. I then explore the notion of the world's being such that everything in it both is and has a proper part. Given two well recognized assumptions, I argue that both notions represent genuine metaphysical possibilities. Finally I consider, but dismiss, some possible objections.
  19. McGinn on Non-Existent Objects and Reducing Modality. [REVIEW]Phillip Bricker - 2004 - Philosophical Studies 118 (3):439-451.
    In this discussion of Colin McGinn's book, 'Logical Properties', I comment first on the chapter "Existence", then on the chapter "Modality." With respect to existence, I argue that McGinn's view that existence is a property that some objects have and other objects lack requires the property of existence to be fundamentally unlike ordinary qualitative properties. Moreover, it opens up a challenging skeptical problem: how do I know that I exist? With respect to modality, I argue that McGinn's argument that quantificational (...)
  20. Remarks on Counterpossibles.Berit Brogaard & Joe Salerno - 2013 - Synthese 190 (4):639-660.
    Since the publication of David Lewis’ Counterfactuals, the standard line on subjunctive conditionals with impossible antecedents (or counterpossibles) has been that they are vacuously true. That is, a conditional of the form ‘If p were the case, q would be the case’ is trivially true whenever the antecedent, p, is impossible. The primary justification is that Lewis’ semantics best approximates the English subjunctive conditional, and that a vacuous treatment of counterpossibles is a consequence of that very elegant theory. Another justification (...)
  21. How to Believe the Impossible.Curtis Brown - 1990 - Philosophical Studies 58 (3):271-285.
    Can we believe things that could not possibly be true? The world seems full of examples. Mathematicians have "proven" theorems which in fact turn out to be false. People have believed that Hesperus is not Phosphorus, that they themselves are essentially incorporeal, that heat is not molecular motion--all propositions which have been claimed to be not just false, but necessarily false. Some have even seemed to pride themselves on believing the impossible; Hegel thought contradictions could be true, and Kierkegaard seems (...)
  22. On Modal Meinongianism.Nicola Ciprotti - 2014 - In Marian David & Mauro Antonelli (eds.), Logical, Ontological, and Historical Contributions on the Philosophy of Alexius Meinong. De Gruyter. pp. 1-36.
    The paper has a two-fold objective; firstly, scrutinising neo-Meinongianism as recently championed by Francesco Berto. Secondly, trying and arguing that the dispute between Meinongianism and (various kinkds of) Actualism is hardly cutting some relevant ice.
  23. Professor Hanson Imagining the Impossible.Roy J. Cox - 1959 - Analysis 20 (4):87 - 93.
  24. The Analysis of Possibility and the Extent of Possibility.John Divers - 2013 - Dialectica 67 (2):183-200.
    In section 1 I motivate and execute the presentation of a well-defined Lewisian conception of analysis and of what it would be to analyse modality successfully. That conception is then put to two applications. In section 2 various inadequacies are exposed in a (recently popular) separatist approach to the understanding and/or evaluation of Lewis's analysis of modality. Section 3 provides a defence against a resilient argument for the claim that Lewis's analysis of modality cannot be fully reductive while also dealing (...)
  25. Introduction.Marie Duží & Bjørn Jespersen - 2015 - Synthese 192 (3):525-534.
    The topic of this special issue of Synthese is hyperintensionality. This introduction offers a brief survey of the very notion of hyperintensionality followed by a summary of each of the papers in this collection. The papers are foundational studies of hyperintensionality accompanied by ample philosophical applications.Hyperintensionality concerns the individuation of non-extensional entities such as propositions and properties, relations-in-intension and individual roles, as well as, for instance, proofs and judgments and computational procedures, in case these do not reduce to any of (...)
  26. Seeing the Impossible.Andreas Elpidorou - 2016 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 74 (1):11-21.
    I defend the view that it is not impossible to see the impossible. I provide two examples in which one sees the impossible and defend these examples from potential objections. Theories of depiction should make room for impossible depictions.
  27. Impossible Worlds and Metaphysical Explanation: Comments on Kment’s Modality and Explanatory Reasoning.Nina Emery & Christopher S. Hill - 2017 - Analysis 77 (1):134-148.
    In this critical notice of Kment's _Modality and Explanatory Reasoning_, we focus on Kment’s arguments for impossible worlds and on a key part of his discussion of the interactions between modality and explanation – the analogy that he draws between scientific and metaphysical explanation.
  28. Is Metaphysics Impossible?A. C. Ewing - 1947 - Analysis 8 (3):33 - 38.
  29. Co‐Hyperintensionality.Federico L. G. Faroldi - 2017 - Ratio 30 (3):270-287.
    Co-hyperintensionality, or hyperintensional equivalence, is a relation holding between two or more contents that can be substituted in a hyperintensional context salva veritate. I argue that two strategies used to provide criteria for co-hyperintensionality fail. I argue that there is no generalized notion of co-hyperintensionality that meets plausible desiderata, by showing that the opposite thesis leads to falsity. As a conclusion, I suggest to take co-hyperintensionality as a primitive and I provide a general criterion of co-hyperintensionality whose content depends on (...)
  30. Impossible Worlds.James W. Felt - 1983 - International Philosophical Quarterly 23 (3):251-265.
  31. Aimer être quelconque, transmettre l'impossible.Jac Fol - 2007 - Multitudes 5:127-140.
  32. Making the "One" Impossible.Jane Gallop - 2004 - Diacritics 34 (1):77-81.
  33. On Modal Meinongianism.Thibaut Giraud - 2016 - Synthese 193 (10).
    Modal Meinongianism is a form of Meinongianism whose main supporters are Graham Priest and Francesco Berto. The main idea of modal Meinongianism is to restrict the logical deviance of Meinongian non-existent objects to impossible worlds and thus prevent it from “contaminating” the actual world: the round square is round and not round, but not in the actual world, only in an impossible world. In the actual world, supposedly, no contradiction is true. I will show that Priest’s semantics, as originally formulated (...)
  34. Content, the Possible and the Impossible.Felappi Giulia - 2017 - Analysis 77 (3):648-658.
    What are contents? The answer provided by the possible worlds approach is that contents are sets of possible worlds. This approach incurs serious problems and to solve them Jago suggests, in The Impossible, to get rid of the ‘possible’ bit and allowing some impossible worlds to be part of the game. In this note, I briefly consider the metaphysics behind Jago’s account and then focus on whether Jago is right in thinking that his worlds and his worlds only can do (...)
  35. L'impossible Sainteté: La Vie Retrouvée De Robert D'arbrissel , Fondateur De Fontevraud. [REVIEW]Penny Gold - 1987 - Speculum 62 (4):923-925.
  36. When Inconsistency is Logically Impossible.D. Goldstick - 1989 - Logique Et Analyse 125 (25):139-42.
  37. An Extended Lewis-Stalnaker Semantics and The New Problem of Counterpossibles.Jeffrey Goodman - 2004 - Philosophical Papers 33 (1):35-66.
    Closest-possible-world analyses of counterfactuals suffer from what has been called the ‘problem of counterpossibles’: some counterfactuals with metaphysically impossible antecedents seem plainly false, but the proposed analyses imply that they are all (vacuously) true. One alleged solution to this problem is the addition of impossible worlds. In this paper, I argue that the closest possible or impossible world analyses that have recently been suggested suffer from the ‘new problem of counterpossibles’: the proposed analyses imply that some plainly true counterpossibles (viz., (...)
  38. Toward an Adequate Theory of Possible and Impossible Worlds.Jeffrey Christopher Goodman - 2001 - Dissertation, The University of Rochester
    In this dissertation, I critically investigate the usefulness of impossible worlds in the analysis of various modal concepts. I argue that we have reason to adopt analyses that appeal to impossible worlds of a very conservative variety, but that we should reject analyses that appeal to radically impossible worlds, or worlds where some classical contradictions are true. ;I begin by presenting and motivating two theories of possible worlds. These views are two of the most prominent and widely accepted conceptions of (...)
  39. Must New Worlds Also Be Good?Robert Grant - 1995 - Inquiry : An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 38 (1 & 2):123 – 141.
    The activities analysed by Spinosa et al., viz entrepreneurship, citizen action, and cultural leadership, are all central to the American experience. They have a common phenomenological structure and a common purpose, which is to ?disclose new worlds?, i.e. so to reconfigure the collective perceptions as to bring about ?large?scale cultural and historical changes?. Each, more or less unselfconsciously, is an exercise of skill, an expression of freedom, and a building of solidarity through the recovery or discovery of human meanings. I (...)
  40. L'existence Impossible.Philippe Grosos - 2003 - Quaestio 3 (1):265-280.
  41. Impossible Objects.John Heawood - 1993 - Cogito 7 (3):179-187.
  42. Impossible Possible Worlds Vindicated.Jaakko Hintikka - 1975 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 4 (4):475 - 484.
  43. L’Art Sacre, Un Art Impossible.Emmanuel Housset - 2016 - Revue des Sciences Philosophiques Et Théologiques 100 (2):249.
  44. Impossible Choices: When Patients and Careproviders Face Impossible Decisions.E. G. Howe - 1995 - Journal of Clinical Ethics 6 (1):3.
  45. Nothing Is Impossible.Peter van Inwagen - 2015 - In Miroslaw Szatkowski (ed.), God, Truth, and Other Enigmas. De Gruyter. pp. 33-58.
  46. Worlds and Individuals, Possible and Otherwise.Brendan Balcerak Jackson - 2012 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (1):205 - 206.
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Volume 90, Issue 1, Page 205-206, March 2012.
  47. The Impossible: An Essay on Hyperintensionality.Mark Jago - 2014 - Oxford University Press.
    Mark Jago presents an original philosophical account of meaningful thought: in particular, how it is meaningful to think about things that are impossible. We think about impossible things all the time. We can think about alchemists trying to turn base metal to gold, and about unfortunate mathematicians trying to square the circle. We may ponder whether God exists; and philosophers frequently debate whether properties, numbers, sets, moral and aesthetic qualities, and qualia exist. In many philosophical or mathematical debates, when one (...)
  48. Against Yagisawa's Modal Realism.Mark Jago - 2013 - Analysis 73 (1):10-17.
    In his book Worlds and Individuals, Possible and Otherwise (2010), Takashi Yagisawa presents and argues for a novel and imaginative version of modal realism. It differs both from Lewis’s modal realism (Lewis 1986) and from actualists’ ersatz accounts (Adams 1974; Sider 2002). In this paper, I’ll present two arguments, each of which shows that Yagisawa’s metaphysics is incoherent. The first argument shows that the combination of Yagisawa’s metaphysics with impossibilia leads to triviality: every sentence whatsoever comes out true. This is (...)
  49. Impossible Worlds.Mark Jago - 2013 - Noûs 47 (3):713-728.
    Impossible worlds are representations of impossible things and impossible happenings. They earn their keep in a semantic or metaphysical theory if they do the right theoretical work for us. As it happens, a worlds-based account provides the best philosophical story about semantic content, knowledge and belief states, cognitive significance and cognitive information, and informative deductive reasoning. A worlds-based story may also provide the best semantics for counterfactuals. But to function well, all these accounts need use of impossible and as well (...)
  50. Are Impossible Worlds Trivial?Mark Jago - 2013 - In Vit Puncochar & Petr Svarny (eds.), The Logica Yearbook 2012. College Publications.
    Theories of content are at the centre of philosophical semantics. The most successful general theory of content takes contents to be sets of possible worlds. But such contents are very coarse-grained, for they cannot distinguish between logically equivalent contents. They draw intensional but not hyperintensional distinctions. This is often remedied by including impossible as well as possible worlds in the theory of content. Yet it is often claimed that impossible worlds are metaphysically obscure; and it is sometimes claimed that their (...)
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