Dissertation, Rutgers University (2013)

Jennifer Wang
Simon Fraser University
Modal primitivism is the view that there are modal features of the world which cannot be reduced to the non-modal. Theories which embrace primitive modality are often rejected for reasons of ideological simplicity: the fewer primitive notions a theory invokes, the better. Furthermore, modal primitivism is often associated with the view that all modal features of the world are irreducibly modal, which appears unsystematic and unexplanatory. As a result, many prefer modal reductionism. This work is an articulation and defense of a modal primitivist theory of modality which requires minimal ideology and is systematic and explanatory. On this version of modal primitivism, only some modal features of the world are irreducibly modal—namely, incompatibilities between certain properties or relations. Other modal features of the world are reducible to a combination of primitive incompatibilities and the non-modal features of the world. In chapter 1, I introduce various issues in the metaphysics of modality, giving appropriate background for what follows. My modal primitivist theory of modality is introduced in chapters 2 and 3. In chapter 2, I argue that a well-known modal reductionist theory of modality is not as ideologically innocent as it’s thought to be: modal primitivism has the upper hand with respect to primitive notions. I then introduce the primitive notion of incompatibility and show how this notion can be used to account for de dicto modality, which concerns purely qualitative modal claims. In chapter 3, I present a theory of de re modality, that which concerns modal claims involving particular individuals. Since on this theory the de re is reducible to the de dicto, it requires no more primitive modality than that which appears at the level of the de dicto. I end in chapter 4 by arguing against a rival modal primitivist theory, showing that the primitive notion that it countenances, dispositionality, cannot account for all modal claims.
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