Possible Worlds

Edited by Dan Marshall (Lingnan University)
About this topic
Summary Possible worlds are complete ways things could be. The metaphysics of possible worlds became a central concern of philosophers in the second half of the twentieth century with the advent of modal logic and possible worlds semantics. Important debates about possible worlds include whether there are any possible worlds, whether possible worlds are abstract or concrete, and whether possible worlds are constructed out other types of entities, such as sets, properties or propositions.
Key works Prominent theories of possible worlds include: the modal realism of Lewis 1986; ersatz theories such as Carnap 1947 , Jeffrey 1965, Hintikka 1969, Plantinga 1974, Stalnaker 1976, Melia 2001, and Sider 2002; and fictionalist theories such as Rosen 1990, and Armstrong 1989.
Introductions Two papers that provide a good introduction to possible worlds are Menzel 2008 and Sider 2003. Two excellent book length introductions to possible worlds are Melia 2003 and Divers 2002, the latter being more advanced than the former.
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  1. Etic Theorizing Unanchored.Michael J. Raven - forthcoming - Journal of Social Ontology.
    Etic theorizing uses the theorist’s social notions to theorize about their subject. This theorist may claim that Genghis Khan was a war criminal even though his actions predate the enactment of the Geneva Conventions. Brian Epstein considers a modal etic theorist who claims that Genghis Khan would have been a war criminal even if the Geneva Conventions were never enacted. Epstein argues that this has metaphysical import: it requires postulating a novel metaphysical notion of “anchoring”. Drawing from some familiar issues (...)
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  2. Some Ways the Ways the World Could Have Been Can't Be.Christopher James Masterman - 2024 - Journal of Philosophical Logic (4):1-29.
    Let serious propositional contingentism (SPC) be the package of views which consists in (i) the thesis that propositions expressed by sentences featuring terms depend, for their existence, on the existence of the referents of those terms, (ii) serious actualism—the view that it is impossible for an object to exemplify a property and not exist—and (iii) contingentism—the view that it is at least possible that some thing might not have been something. SPC is popular and compelling. But what should we say (...)
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  3. The Foundations of Modality: From Propositions to Possible Worlds.Peter Fritz - 2023 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    This book develops an argument for a foundational theory of modality using higher-order logic. The use of higher-order logic in metaphysics is motivated, and a particular higher-order logic is introduced. Fine-grained theories of propositional individuation are shown to be problematic, and a course-grained theory of propositional individuation is defended. On the basis of this theory, it is argued that the metaphysical necessities can be delineated using purely logical terms; by adding an actuality operator, it is shown that the logic of (...)
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  4. Possible Worlds as Propositions.Daniel Deasy - forthcoming - Philosophical Quarterly.
    Realists about possible worlds typically identify possible worlds with abstract objects, such as propositions or properties. However, they face a significant objection due to Lewis (1986), to the effect that there is no way to explain how possible worlds-as-abstract objects represent possibilities. In this paper, I describe a response to this objection on behalf of realists. The response is to identify possible worlds with propositions, but to deny that propositions are abstract objects, or indeed objects at all. Instead, I argue (...)
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  5. 'Mundos Possíveis'.L. G. S. Videira - 2020 - In Rodrigo Reis Lastra Cid & Guido Imaguire (eds.), Problemas de Metafísica Analítica. Editora UFPEL. pp. 157 - 186.
    An introduction to the notion of possible worlds and the problems related to it.
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  6. Possible World Semantics: Philosophical Foundations.Robert Stalnaker - 2011 - In Alan Berger (ed.), Saul Kripke. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. pp. 100-115.
    Saul Kripke did more than anyone else to bring possible worlds into the contemporary philosophical discourse, first with his more formal work on the model theory for modal logic in the 1960s, and then with his more philosophical lectures on reference and modality, delivered in January 1970, that used the possible worlds apparatus informally to clarify the relations between semantic issues about names and metaphysical issues about individuals and kinds. Possible worlds semantics have been widely applied since then, both in (...)
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  7. Leibniz's "Possible Worlds".Yuesheng Liu - 2018 - Journal of Human Cognition 2 (1):42-51.
    The rigor and precision of Leibniz's "possible world" evolved into the concept of Turing machine, and with the birth of the first computer and the physical realization of Turing machine, human cognitive and intelligent activities were optimistically considered by cognitive scientists to be convertible into computational programs for simulation by machines. Cognitive science then formed the research agenda of "cognitive computationalism", and our Chinese scholars have responded to this general view that "the essence of cognition is computation" and that the (...)
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  8. If the Metaverse Becomes an Ontological Event.Tingyang Zhao - 2022 - Journal of Human Cognition 6 (1):3-17.
    It is essential to analyze the state, significance, and issues of the Metaverse as a possible world from an ontological perspective. The Metaverse is an on going ontological event. Despite its status as a possible world beyond the real world, its actors are still human beings from the real world. It is thus impossible for the Metaverse to transcend the fundamental problems of human life, as the issues of politics, capital, and ideology still take place in a recursive manner. Therefore, (...)
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  9. "Espinosa não sabia lógica". Liberdade sem contingência?Lia Levy - 2011 - In Luiz Carlos Pereira, Marco A. Zingano & Lia Levy (eds.), Metafísica, lógica e outras coisas mais. Rio de Janeiro: Nau Editora. pp. 190-216.
    Luiz Henrique Lopes dos Santos, em seu texto sobre "Leibniz e a questão dos futuros contingentes”, argumenta em favor de seu diagnóstico segundo o qual, no fundo, a principal diferença entre as doutrinas de Espinosa e Leibniz reside no fato de que o primeiro, diferentemente do segundo, não sabia lógica. Este texto procura objetar à sua posição, respondendo às críticas do autor à posição de Espinosa quanto à liberdade divina. Procurarei mostrar que, sob o aspecto preciso da articulação aí estabelecida (...)
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  10. Possible World Semantics without Modal Logic.Joram Soch - manuscript
    Possible worlds are commonly seen as an interpretation of modal operators such as "possible" and "necessary". Here, we develop possible world semantics (PWS) which can be expressed in basic set theory and first-order logic, thus offering a reductionist account of modality. Specifically, worlds are understood as complete sets of statements and possible worlds are sets whose statements are consistent with a set of conceptual laws. We introduce the construction calculus (CC), a set of axioms and rules for truth, possibility, worldness (...)
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  11. Coincident Objects and The Grounding Problem.Ataollah Hashemi - 2022 - Journal of Philosophical Investigations at University of Tabriz 16 (41):164-173.
    Pluralists believe in the occurrence of numerically distinct spatiotemporal coincident objects. They argue that there are coincident objects that share all physical and spatiotemporal properties and relations; nevertheless, they differ in terms of modal and some other profiles. Appealing to the grounding problem according to which nothing can ground the modal differences between coincident objects, monists reject the occurrence of coincident objects. In the first part of this paper, I attempt to show that the dispute between monists and pluralists cannot (...)
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  12. The Vindication of Nothingness.Marco Simionato - 2017 - 53819 Neunkirchen-Seelscheid, Germania: Editiones Scholasticae.
    The philosophical question of nothingness has often been controversial. The main core of the question is the use of ‘nothing’ or ‘nothingness’ as a noun phrase rather than a quantifier phrase. This work deals with the question of nothingness and metaphysical nihilism in analytic philosophy. After evaluating an account of nothingness based on the notion of an empty possible world, the present work proposes two original arguments for metaphysical nihilism. With a preface by Graham Priest. -/- “Simionato’s book delivers a (...)
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  13. Propositional contingentism and possible worlds.Christopher James Masterman - 2022 - Synthese 200 (5):1-34.
    Propositional contingentism is the view that what propositions there are is a contingent matter—certain propositions ontologically depend on objects which themselves only contingently exist. Possible worlds are, loosely, complete ways the world could have been. That is to say, the ways in which everything in its totality could have been. Propositional contingentists make use of possible worlds frequently. However, a neglected, but important, question concerns whether there are any notions of worlds which are both theoretically adequate and consistent with propositional (...)
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  14. Ontology and Arbitrariness.David Builes - 2022 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 100 (3):485-495.
    In many different ontological debates, anti-arbitrariness considerations push one towards two opposing extremes. For example, in debates about mereology, one may be pushed towards a maximal ontology (mereological universalism) or a minimal ontology (mereological nihilism), because any intermediate view seems objectionably arbitrary. However, it is usually thought that anti-arbitrariness considerations on their own cannot decide between these maximal or minimal views. I will argue that this is a mistake. Anti-arbitrariness arguments may be used to motivate a certain popular thesis in (...)
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  15. Measuring republican freedom.Nicolas Côté - 2022 - Synthese 200 (6).
    Republican and so-called independence conceptions of freedom stand out from other conceptions by embedding strong modal conditions on what it takes for a person to count as being free to do something. For this reason, the extent of one’s freedom, conceived under republican/independentist lights, cannot be measured by any of the measures of freedom that have been developed so far in the literature on freedom, since these do not register the requisite modal constraints. In this paper I propose a measure (...)
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  16. On Translating the Sensitivity Condition to the Possible Worlds Idiom in Different Ways.Bin Zhao - 2024 - American Philosophical Quarterly 61 (1):87-98.
    The sensitivity account of knowledge is a modal epistemology, according to which S knows that p only if S's belief in p is sensitive in the sense that S would not believe that p if p were false. There are different ways to state the sensitivity condition by means of a possible worlds heuristic. The sensitivity account is thus rendered into different versions. This paper examines cases of knowledge and cases of luckily true beliefs (e.g., the Gettier cases) and argues (...)
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  17. Centred Worlds, Personal Identity and Imagination.Andrea Sauchelli - 2022 - Theoria : An International Journal for Theory, History and Fundations of Science 88 (4):868–880.
    The Centred View offers an account of the connection between imagination and possibility that combines the centred world framework with some allegedly appealing intuitions regarding our persistence over time. In particular, Dilip Ninan suggests that the Centred View has the theoretical advantage of respecting our intuitions about cases of personal identity in certain imaginative scenarios while also being compatible with physicalism. Unfortunately, the Centred View faces a series of serious objections and should ultimately be rejected.
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  18. Why God Did Not Choose All Souls: New Scriptural Evidence.Jeff Grupp - 2020 - Philosophy and Theology 32 (1):93-117.
    An analysis of Scripture uncovers a new model of God’s election and predestination of souls, which fits under the umbrella of the Calvinist theologies, but where this model involves an answer to the long-standing question of why God chose some, rather than all. It will be explored how before souls were elected (or condemned), God looked at them and knew them in a pre-election state, which God used to predestine each soul in physical reality. This analysis reveals why it could (...)
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  19. On the Lewisian Principle of Recombination and Quidditism.Karol Lenart - 2021 - Acta Analytica 36 (3):357-371.
    In this paper, I discuss a connection between quidditism and the Lewisian principle of recombination. I begin by reconstructing a typical characterisation of a Lewisian principle of recombination, followed by an explanation of quidditism. In the remainder, I argue that a proponent of a Lewisian principle of recombination cannot endorse quidditism without some important modifications of her view.
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  20. What Makes Possibility Possible?George P. Adams - 1934 - University of California Publications in Philosophy 17:3-24.
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  21. Elusive Propositions.Gabriel Uzquiano - 2021 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 50 (4):705-725.
    David Kaplan observed in Kaplan that the principle \\) cannot be verified at a world in a standard possible worlds model for a quantified bimodal propositional language. This raises a puzzle for certain interpretations of the operator Q: it seems that some proposition p is such that is not possible to query p, and p alone. On the other hand, Arthur Prior had observed in Prior that on pain of contradiction, ∀p is Q only if one true proposition is Q (...)
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  22. The Epistemology of Modality.Antonella Mallozzi, Michael Wallner & Anand Vaidya - 2021 - The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  23. How to deal with the puzzle of coincident objects.Ataollah Hashemi - 2017 - Dissertation, University of Alberta
    The grounding problem is related to the puzzle of numerically distinct spatiotemporally coincident objects. Suppose Lumpl –a lump of clay– and Goliath – the statue – are created and later destroyed, simultaneously. They would share all of their physical and spatiotemporal properties and relations. But, Goliath and Lumpl have different modal and sortal properties, which would suggest they are distinct entities, while at the same time entirely co-located. This issue creates a puzzle and raises the question of how two distinct (...)
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  24. The Nature of Contingency: Quantum Physics as Modal Realism. [REVIEW]Samuel Kimpton-Nye - 2021 - Philosophical Quarterly 71 (2):444-447.
    The Nature of Contingency: Quantum Physics as Modal Realism. By Wilson Alastair.
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  25. Rahner’s “Liturgy of the World” as Hermeneutics of Another World That Is Possible.David A. Stosur - 2019 - Philosophy and Theology 31 (1):199-222.
    This article explores Karl Rahner’s conception of the “Liturgy of the World” in light of the theme for the 2019 Annual Convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America, “Another World is Possible: Violence, Resistance and Transformation.” Employing Rahner’s hermeneutics of worship, violence can be conceived as a denial of this cosmic liturgy, transformation as conversion to it, and resistance as the stance opposing the denial. Resistance entails solidarity with all humanity in liturgical participation and in action for social justice. (...)
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  26. The Nature of Impossibility.Martin Vacek - 2019 - Bratislava, Slovakia: VEDA.
    Possible-worlds semantics proved itself as a strong tool in analysing the statements of actuality, possibility, contingency and necessity. But impossible phenomena go beyond the expressive power of the apparatus. The proponents of possible-worlds apparatus thus owe us at least three stories. The first one is the story about ontological nature of possible worlds, the second one is the story about the theoretical role such entities play and the third one is the story about the impossible. Modal Realism (MR) provides us (...)
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  27. Quiddytyzm i quidditas w metafizyce analitycznej.Karol Lenart - 2020 - Filozofia Nauki 28 (1):61-84.
    The paper is a survey of contemporary quidditism, understood as two interrelated metaphysicalpositions — recombinatorial quidditism, which is an account of the nature of possibilities, andindividuation quidditism, which is concerned with the problem of how to individuate properties.I have three aims: to examine the commitments and consequences of both views, to investigatethe relationships between them, and to sketch the logic of the dispute between structuralism andquidditism. I explain how these views relate to Ramseyan humility, according to which we cannotknow the (...)
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  28. Potentiality as the Basis of Reality, A Speculative Approach.Erwin Sonderegger - manuscript
    Is reality the basis of everything or has reality itself an other basis? What makes reality – not the real things – to be active, to exist? The question of what is real seems to be an easy question, because in our daily lives we are and must be naive realists. We ourselves, the things around us, the world, the facts, all that is real. there must be several concepts of reality if we want to say that not only physical (...)
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  29. Tichý's Possible Worlds.Jiri Raclavsky - 2014 - Organon F: Medzinárodný Časopis Pre Analytickú Filozofiu 21 (4): 471-491.
    Pavel Tichy originally published his interesting conception of possible worlds in 1968. Even though he modified it over the following twenty five years, its core remained unchanged. None of his thirty journal papers or books containing the notion of possible worlds was a study in metaphysics, Tichy (and most of his followers) always introduced the notion in the context of other investigations where he applied his Transparent intensional logic either to the semantic analysis of natural language or explications of other (...)
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  30. Modal Quantification Without Worlds.Billy Dunaway - 2013 - In Karen Bennett & Dean W. Zimmerman (eds.), Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, Volume 8. Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press. pp. 151-186.
    This paper is about avoiding commitment to an ontology of possible worlds with two primitives: a hyperintensional connective like ‘in virtue of’, and primitive quantification into predicate position. I argue that these tools (which some believe can be independently motivated) render dispensable the ontology of possible worlds needed by traditional anaylses of modality. They also shed new light on the notion of truth-at-a-world.
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  31. The World Is a Necessary Being.Chad Vance - 2020 - Philosophia 48 (1):377-390.
    A standard conception of metaphysical modality accepts that Some de re modal claims are true, These should be understood in terms of a possible worlds semantics, and There is trans-world identity. For instance, it seems true that Humphrey could have won the election. In possible worlds speak, we say that there exists a possible world where Humphrey wins the election. Furthermore, had that possibility been actualized instead of this one, Humphrey—our Humphrey, the very same man—would still have existed. Here, I (...)
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  32. Quine's Monism and Modal Eliminativism in the Realm of Supervenience.Atilla Akalın - 2019 - International Journal of Social Humanities Sciences Research (JSHRS) 6 (34):795-800.
    This study asserts that W.V.O. Quine’s eliminative philosophical gaze into mereological composition affects inevitably his interpretations of composition theories of ontology. To investigate Quine’s property monism from the account of modal eliminativism, I applied to his solution for the paradoxes of de re modalities’ . Because of its vital role to figure out how dispositions are encountered by Quine, it was significantly noted that the realm of de re modalities doesn’t include contingent and impossible inferences about things. Therefore, for him, (...)
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  33. The Possible World Defense: Why Our Current Legal Thinking about Entrapment is Philosophically Suspect.Luke William Hunt - 2019 - American Philosophical Association Blog.
    Essay on philosophical problems with police sting operations and the legal doctrine of entrapment.
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  34. Gunk Mountains: A puzzle.Sharon E. Berry - 2019 - Analysis 79 (1):3-10.
    This note points out a conflict between some common intuitions about metaphysical possibility. On the one hand, it is appealing to deny that there are robust counterfactuals about how various physically impossible substances would interact with the matter that exists at our world. On the other hand, our intuitions about how concepts like MOUNTAIN apply at other metaphysically possible worlds seem to presuppose facts about ‘solidity’ which cash out in terms of these counterfactuals. I consider several simple attempts to resolve (...)
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  35. Agents’ Abilities.Romy Jaster - 2020 - Berlin, New York: De Gruyter.
    In the book, I provide an account of what it is for an agent to have an ability. According to the Success View, abilities are all about success across possible situations. In developing and applying the view, the book elucidates the relation between abilities on the one hand and possibility, counterfactuals, and dispositions on the other; it sheds light on the distinction between general and specific abilities; it offers an understanding of degrees of abilities; it explains which role intentions and (...)
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  36. Phenomenological Actualism. A Husserlian Metaphysics of Modality?Michael Wallner - 2014 - In Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl & Harald A. Wiltsche (eds.), Analytical and Continental Philosophy: Methods and Perspectives. Papers of the 37th International Wittgenstein Symposium. Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society. pp. 283-285.
    Considering the importance of possible-world semantics for modal logic and for current debates in the philosophy of modality, a phenomenologist may want to ask whether it makes sense to speak of “possible worlds” in phenomenology. The answer will depend on how "possible worlds" are to be interpreted. As that latter question is the subject of the debate about possibilism and actualism in contemporary modal metaphysics, my aim in this paper is to get a better grip on the former question by (...)
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  37. Modal Insurance: Probabilities, Risk, and Degrees of Luck.Evan Malone - 2019 - Southwest Philosophical Studies 41.
    Many widely divergent accounts of luck have been offered or employed in discussing an equally wide range of philosophical topics. We should, then, expect to find some unified philosophical conception of luck of which moral luck, epistemic luck, and luck egalitarianism are species. One of the attempts to provide such an account is that offered by Duncan Pritchard, which he refers to as the modal account. This view commits us to calling an event lucky when it obtains in this world, (...)
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  38. Clauses as Semantic Predicates: Difficulties for Possible-Worlds Semantics.Friederike Moltmann - 2020 - Festschrift for Angelika Kratzer.
    The standard view of clauses embedded under attitude verbs or modal predicates is that they act as terms standing for propositions, a view that faces a range of philosophical and linguistic difficulties. Recently an alternative has been explored according to which embedded clauses act semantically as predicates of content-bearing objects. This paper argues that this approach faces serious problems when it is based on possible worlds-semantics. It outlines a development of the approach in terms of truthmaker theory instead.
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  39. Theories in the Light of Contingency and Change: Possible Future Worlds and Well-Grounded Hope as a Supplement to Truth.Frank Ulrich - unknown
    Based on a critical account of the dominant concept of theory, the paper presents an alterna-tive, wider notion of theory. It is motivated by the need to cope with a contingent research subject and the assumption that IS should provide an orientation for managing the digital transfor-mation. Unlike neo-positivistic notions of theory, the proposed conception is not restricted to de-scriptions of the factual, but may be aimed at de-signing possible future worlds. Conceiving of possible future worlds requires overcoming the barriers (...)
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  40. There is no set of all truths.Patrick Grim - 1984 - Analysis 44 (4):206-208.
    A Cantorian argument that there is no set of all truths. There is, for the same reason, no possible world as a maximal set of propositions. And omniscience is logically impossible.
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  41. The Presence of Other Worlds. [REVIEW]Bernhard Mollenhauer - 1978 - International Philosophical Quarterly 18 (1):111-112.
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  42. Text worlds.Jeroen Vandaele & Geert Brône - 2009 - In Jeroen Vandaele & Geert Brône (eds.), Cognitive Poetics: Goals, Gains and Gaps. Mouton de Gruyter.
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  43. Prior on the Construction of Possible Worlds and Instants.Kit Fine - 2005 - In Modality and Tense: Philosophical Papers. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
    It is shown how the modal actualist might make sense of quantification over possible worlds and the tense-logical presentist might make sense of quantification over instants.
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  44. Would have become: empty or modal will.Rodney Huddleston - 1979 - .
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  45. Worlds, Triangles and Bolts: Reply to Nulty.Julien Beillard - 2016 - Metaphysica 17 (2).
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  46. Perceived Worlds, Inferred Worlds, the World.Lawrence Sklar - 1984 - Journal of Philosophy 81 (11):693.
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  47. Astronomy and Physics The Celestial Worlds Discover'd. By Christian Huygens. London: F. Cass. 1968. Pp. + vi + 160, with 5 figs. 45s. [REVIEW]A. Armitage - 1969 - British Journal for the History of Science 4 (4):406-407.
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  48. Relacja między nauką o logicznych możliwościach a zasadą zachowania energii. Rola badań Huygensa i Leibniza dla nowożytnej refleksji nad wolnością woli.Anna Szyrwińska - 2015 - IDEA – Studia Nad Strukturą I Rozwojem Pojęć Filozoficznych:191-202.
    The article investigates the relationship between Leibniz’s and Huygens’ theory of possibility and the principle of conservation of energy. It assumes that their criticisms of Cartesian views concerning those questions as well as their own achievements contributed to the formation of a new metaphysical basis for modern discussions on the freedom of the will. There are especially two problems whose role is crucial in this context, namely the question of God’s knowledge of future conditionals (contingentia futura) and the mind-body distinction.
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  49. Response to Ohad Nachtomy’s “Individuals, Worlds, and Relations: A Discussion of Catherine Wilson’s ‘Plenitude and Compossibility in Leibniz’”.Catherine Wilson - 2001 - The Leibniz Review 11:125-129.
    Ohad Nachtomy restates the main points of “Plenitude and Compossibility” with admirable fidelity and economy. His proposed revisions, based on the distinction between incomplete and complete substances and on the mind-relativity of relations, are intriguing additions to his earlier paper in Studia Leibnitiana and deserve careful consideration. Some brief remarks on the context of the problem, will, I hope, help to set the stage for the assessment of our various views.
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  50. The Best of All Possible Worlds.P. Gottfried - 1996 - Telos: Critical Theory of the Contemporary 1996 (109):189-192.
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