Actualism

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2008)
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Abstract

To understand the thesis of actualism, consider the following example. Imagine a race of beings — call them ‘Aliens’ — that is very different from any life-form that exists anywhere in the universe; different enough, in fact, that no actually existing thing could have been an Alien, any more than a given gorilla could have been a fruitfly. Now, even though there are no Aliens, it seems intuitively the case that there could have been such things. After all, life might have evolved very differently than the way it did in fact. So in virtue of what is it true that there could have been Aliens when in fact there are none, and when, moreover, nothing that exists in fact could have been an Alien? So-called "possibilists" offer the following answer: ‘It is possible that there are Aliens’ is true because there are in fact individuals that could have been Aliens. At first blush, this might appear directly to contradict the premise that no existing thing could possibly have been an Alien. The possibilist's thesis, however, is that existence, or actuality, encompasses only a subset of the things that, in the broadest sense, are. So for the possibilist, ‘It is possible that there are Aliens’ is true simply in virtue of the fact that there are possible-but-nonactual Aliens, i.e., things that could have existed (but do not) and which would have been Aliens if they had. Actualists reject this answer; they deny that there are any nonactual individuals. Thus, actualism is the philosophical position that everything there is — everything that can in any sense be said to be — exists, or is actual.

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Christopher Menzel
Texas A&M University

Citations of this work

Abstract Objects.Gideon Rosen - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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On the Plurality of Worlds.David Lewis - 1986 - Wiley-Blackwell.
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Modal Logic as Metaphysics.Timothy Williamson - 2013 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
The Nature of Necessity.Alvin Plantinga - 1974 - Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
On Denoting.Bertrand Russell - 1905 - Mind 14 (56):479-493.

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