In defense of the possibilism–actualism distinction

Philosophical Studies 177 (7):1971-1997 (2020)
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Abstract

In Modal Logic as Metaphysics, Timothy Williamson claims that the possibilism-actualism (P-A) distinction is badly muddled. In its place, he introduces a necessitism-contingentism (N-C) distinction that he claims is free of the confusions that purportedly plague the P-A distinction. In this paper I argue first that the P-A distinction, properly understood, is historically well-grounded and entirely coherent. I then look at the two arguments Williamson levels at the P-A distinction and find them wanting and show, moreover, that, when the N-C distinction is broadened (as per Williamson himself) so as to enable necessitists to fend off contingentist objections, the P-A distinction can be faithfully reconstructed in terms of the N-C distinction. However, Williamson’s critique does point to a genuine shortcoming in the common formulation of the P-A distinction. I propose a new definition of the distinction in terms of essential properties that avoids this shortcoming.

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Author's Profile

Christopher Menzel
Texas A&M University

Citations of this work

Abstract Objects.Gideon Rosen - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Symmetry and Hybrid Contingentism.Maegan Fairchild - forthcoming - In Peter Fritz & Nicholas K. Jones (eds.), Higher-order Metaphysics. Oxford University Press.

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References found in this work

On the Plurality of Worlds.David Lewis - 1986 - Wiley-Blackwell.
On What Matters: Two-Volume Set.Derek Parfit - 2011 - Oxford University Press.
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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