The actualism/possibilism debate in ethics is about whether counterfactuals of freedom concerning what an agent would freely do if they were in certain circumstances even partly determines that agent’s obligations. This debate arose from an argument against the coherence of utilitarianism in the deontic logic literature. In this chapter, we first trace the historical origins of this debate and then examine actualism, possibilism, and securitism through the lens of consequentialism. After examining their respective benefits and drawbacks, we argue (...) that, contrary to what has been assumed, actualism and securitism both succumb to the so-called nonratifiability problem. In making this argument, we develop this problem in detail and argue that it’s a much more serious problem than has been appreciated. We conclude by arguing that an alternative view, hybridism, is independently the most plausible position and best fits with the nature of consequentialism, partly in light of avoiding the nonratifiability problem. (shrink)
How is what an agent ought to do related to what an agent ought to prefer that she does? More precisely, suppose we know what an agent’s preference ordering ought to be over the prospects of performing the various courses of action open to her. Can we infer from this information how she ought to act, and if so, how can we infer it? One view (which, for convenience, I will call ‘actualism’) is that an agent ought to (...) just in case she ought to prefer the prospect of her -ing to the prospect of her not -ing. Another view (which, for convenience, I will call ‘possibilism’) is that an agent ought to just in case she ought to prefer the prospect of some maximally specific option that involves her -ing to the prospect of any maximally specific option that does not involve her -ing (with the quantifiers appropriately restricted). After making some preliminary clarifications in part 1, I will discuss actualism and possibilism in parts 2 and 3, respectively. I will argue, in part 2, that actualism is very far from the truth. And I will argue, in part 3, that while the standard version of possibilism faces significant problems, there are much better versions of possibilism that avoid the objections to the standard view. Ultimately, however, I will argue that even the best forms of possibilism are not acceptable. Then, in part 4, I will propose what I take to be the best view, one that is neither strictly possibilist nor actualist, and that avoids the shortcomings of both these views. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
Actualism is the doctrine that the only things there are, that have being in any sense, are the things that actually exist. In particular, actualism eschews possibilism, the doctrine that there are merely possible objects. It is widely held that one cannot both be an actualist and at the same time take possible world semantics seriously — that is, take it as the basis for a genuine theory of truth for modal languages, or look to it for insight (...) into the modal structure of reality. For possible world semantics, it is supposed, commits one to possibilism. In this paper I take issue with this view. To the contrary, I argue that one can take possible world semantics seriously without any commitment to possible worlds or possibilism and hence remain in full compliance with actualist scruples. Moreover, one can do so without without invoking either "ersatz" worlds or haecceities. (shrink)
According to actualism, an agent ought to φ just in case what would happen if she were to φ is better than what would happen if she were to ~φ. We argue that actualism makes a morally irrelevant distinction between certain counterfactuals, given that an agent sometimes has the same kind of control over their truth-value. We then offer a substantive revision to actualism that avoids this morally irrelevant distinction by focusing on a certain kind of control (...) that is available to an agent. Finally, we show how this revised view has two additional advantages over actualism. (shrink)
Do facts about what an agent would freely do in certain circumstances at least partly determine any of her moral obligations? Actualists answer ‘yes’, while possibilists answer ‘no’. We defend two novel hybrid accounts that are alternatives to actualism and possibilism: Dual Obligations Hybridism and Single Obligation Hybridism. By positing two moral ‘oughts’, each account retains the benefits of actualism and possibilism, yet is immune from the prima facie problems that face actualism and possibilism. We conclude by (...) highlighting one substantive difference between our two hybrid accounts. (shrink)
The actualism/possibilism debate in ethics concerns the relationship between an agent’s free actions and her moral obligations. The actualist affirms, while the possibilist denies, that facts about what agents would freely do in certain circumstances partly determines that agent’s moral obligations. This paper assesses the plausibility of actualism and possibilism in light of desiderata about accounts of blameworthiness. This paper first argues that actualism cannot straightforwardly accommodate certain very plausible desiderata before offering a few independent solutions on (...) behalf of the actualist. This paper then argues that, contrary to initial appearances, possibilism is subject to its own comparably troubling blameworthiness problem. (shrink)
Actualism is the view that only actually existing things exist. Presentism is the view that only presently existing things exist. In this paper, I argue that being an actualist without also being a presentist is not as easy as many philosophers seem to think. A common objection to presentism is that there is an unavoidable conflict between presentism and relativity theory. But actualists who do not wish to be presentists cannot point to this relativity objection alone to support their (...) position. Unless they have some antecedent reason for thinking that actualism is more plausible than presentism, anyone who is moved by the relativity objection to give up presentism should be moved by a related objection to give up actualism as well. If there is a reason to be an actualist without also being a presentist, it must go beyond the relativity objection to presentism. (shrink)
According to hardcore actualism (HA), all modal truths are grounded in the concrete constituents of the actual world. In this paper, I discuss some problems faced by HA when it comes to accounting for certain alleged possibilities of non‐existence. I focus particular attention on Leech (2017)'s dilemma for HA, according to which HA must either sacrifice extensional correctness or admit mere possibilia. I propose a solution to Leech's dilemma, which relies on a distinction between weak and strong possibility. It (...) remains the case, however, that HA cannot capture certain iterated de re possibilities of non‐existence and that it is committed to a stock of necessary existents. But I still think that the virtues of the view outweigh these costs. (shrink)
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 exploring a Husserlian stance towards this debate. I will argue that the phenomenologist’s way to deal with the problem of intentional reference to mere possibilia is analogous to the actualist’s idea of how “possible worlds” are to be interpreted. Nevertheless, I will be pointing to a decisive difference in the metaphilosophical preconditions of what I call "phenomenological actualism" and analytical versions of actualism. (shrink)
According to actualism, modal reality is constructed out of valuations. According to possibilism, modal reality consists in a set of possible worlds, conceived as independent objects that assign truth values to propositions. According to possibilism, accounts of modal reality can intelligibly disagree with each other even if they agree on which valuations are contained in modal reality. According to actualism, these disagreements are completely unintelligible. An essentially actualist semantics for modal propositional logic specifies which sets of valuations are (...) compatible with the meanings of the truth-functional connectives and modal operators without drawing on formal resources that would enable us to represent possibilist disagreements. The paper discusses the availability of an essentially actualist semantics for modal propositional logic. I argue that the standard Kripkean semantics is not essentially actualist and that other extant approaches also fail to provide a satisfactory essentially actualist semantics. I end by describing an essentialist actualist semantics for modal propositional logic. (shrink)
Bernard Linsky and Edward Zalta have recently proposed a new form of actualism. I characterize the general form of their view and the motivations behind it. I argue that it is not quite new – it bears interesting similarities to Alvin Plantinga’s view – and that it definitely isn’t actualist.
Suppose we believe that God created the world. Then surely we want it to be the case that he intended, in some sense at least, to create THIS world. Moreover, most theists want to hold that God didn't just guess or hope that the world would take one course or another; rather, he KNEW precisely what was going to take place in the world he planned to create. In particular, of each person P, God knew that P was to exist. (...) Call this the "standard" conception. Most theists find the standard conception appealing. Unfortunately, the view seems to conflict with the equally appealing idea — call it "temporal actualism" — that there are no "future" individuals beyond those that already exist in the present moment. For, on this view, for any historical person P, prior to creation, there was no such person as P and hence nothing about P for God to know. Hence, in particular, God couldn't have known that P was to exist. This is of course not a new problem. But past solutions to it are highly problematic. In this paper, after canvassing previous approaches, I will propose a solution that seems to preserve both temporal actualism and a suitably robust form of the standard conception while avoiding the pitfalls of the past. (shrink)
Presentism is the view that only presently existing things exist. Actualism is the view that only actually existing things exist. Although these views have much in common, the position we take with respect to one of them is not usually thought to constrain the position that we may take toward the other. In this paper I argue that this standard attitude deserves further scrutiny. In particular, I argue that the considerations that motivate one common objection to presentism—the grounding objection—threaten (...) to give rise to an analogous grounding objection to actualism. Those who are moved by grounding considerations to give up presentism should either be moved by analogous considerations to give up actualism as well or be prepared to undertake quite a bit of further work in order to defend their position. (shrink)
While morality prohibits us from creating miserable children, it does not require us to create happy children. I offer an actualist explanation of this apparent asymmetry. Assume that for every possible world W, there is a distinct set of permissibility facts determined by the welfare of those who exist in W. Moral actualism says that actual-world permissibility facts should determine one's choice between worlds. But if one doesn't know which world is actual, one must aim for subjective rightness and (...) maximize expected actual-world permissibility. So, because one should expect actual people to be worse off than they could have been if one creates a miserable child, creating a miserable child is subjectively impermissible. And because one should expect actual people to be at least as well off as they could have been if one fails to create a happy child, failing to create a happy child is subjectively permissible. (shrink)
This article studies seriously actualistic quantified modal logics. A key component of the language is an abstraction operator by means of which predicates can be created out of complex formulas. This facilitates proof of a uniform substitution theorem: if a sentence is logically true, then any sentence that results from substituting a predicate abstract for each occurrence of a simple predicate abstract is also logically true. This solves a problem identified by Kripke early in the modern semantic study of quantified (...) modal logic. A tableau proof system is presented and proved sound and complete with respect to logical truth. The main focus is on seriously actualistic T, an extension of T, but the results established hold also for systems based on other propositional modal logics. Following Menzel it is shown that the formal language studied also supports an actualistic account of truth simpliciter. (shrink)
Already in 1863, Jules Verne knew about Caselli's "pantelegraphy," which was what he described as a "photographic telegraphy, invented during the last century by Professor Giovanni Caselli of Florence."1 Following the mistaken belief that facsimile machines could not been invented until well after the nineteenth century, and wrongly assuming that Caselli was a fictional inventor, merely a figment of Verne's most productive fertile imagination (as such imaginative elements characterize his latter writings), some of Verne's readers mistakenly ascribed to him the (...) discovery of the possibility of the fax machine. They thus committed what I will call soon "a reversed actualist fallacy."In challenging actualist mistakes .. (shrink)
This intuition may be contrasted with the incompatible intuitions that might support, say, average utilitarianism. According to average utilitarianism we should bring about that outcome which has the highest average utility. That someone would have a higher than average level of utility is, therefore, ceteris paribus a reason to act so that that person exists. Because of this, the basic intuition is a reason for rejecting average utilitarianism.
Hardcore actualism (HA) grounds all modal truths in the concrete constituents of the actual world (see, e.g., Borghini and Williams (2008), Jacobs (2010), Vetter (2015)). I bolster HA, and elucidate the very nature of possibility (and necessity) according to HA, by considering if it can validate S5 modal logic. Interestingly, different considerations pull in different directions on this issue. To resolve the tension, we are forced to think hard about the nature of the hardcore actualist's modal reality and how (...) radically this departs from possible worlds orthodoxy. Once we achieve this departure, the prospects of a hardcore actualist validation of S5 look considerably brighter. This paper thus strengthens hardcore actualism by arguing that it can indeed validate S5–arguably the most popular logic of metaphysical modality–and, in the process, it elucidates the very nature of modality according to this revisionary, but very attractive, modal metaphysics. (shrink)
The correspondence between Leibniz and Arnauld was judged by Leibniz himself to be very useful for understanding his philosophy. Historians have concurred in this judgment. Leibniz did not find any philosophy of independent interest in the letters Arnauld sent him. Historians have, for the most part, also concurred in this finding. I shall argue that on one set of issues at least — modal metaphysics and free will — Arnauld accomplished more than facilitating Leibnizian elucidations. He held his own in (...) this dispute. Indeed, were it not for the general sophistication and superior handling of such issues as identity, unity, and the nature of body enjoyed by the Leibnizian system, the Cartesian position on modal metaphysics and free will espoused by Arnauld might have won the day in the eyes of later philosophers. A proper appreciation of the Cartesian framework should also make it of considerable interest to philosophers presently at work on the metaphysics of modality. I shall argue that Descartes and some Cartesians like Arnauld espoused a strongly actualist doctrine. This means they thought that all philosophically interesting uses of possibles were analyzable into facts about actually existing things. (shrink)
This article concerns the prescriptive function of decision analysis. Consider an agent who must choose an action yielding welfare that varies with an unknown state of nature. It is often asserted that such an agent should adhere to consistency axioms which imply that behavior can be represented as maximization of expected utility. However, our agent is not concerned the consistency of his behavior across hypothetical choice sets. He only wants to make a reasonable choice from the choice set that he (...) actually faces. Hence, I reason that prescriptions for decision making should respect actuality. That is, they should promote welfare maximization in the choice problem the agent actually faces. Any choice respecting weak and stochastic dominance is rational from the actualist perspective. (shrink)
Actualists who believe in possible worlds typically regard them as "abstract" objects of some special sort. For example, Alvin Plantinga takes worlds to be maximal possible states-of-affairs, all of which "exist", as actualism requires, but only one of which "obtains". Views like Plantinga's run into difficulty in the interpretation of statements of "iterated" modality, statements about what is "possible" for individuals that "could" exist but that do not actually exist. These statements seem to require the existence of "singular" states-Of-affairs (...) that have nonactual individuals as constituents, a requirement that is incompatible with actualism. One can try to avoid the troublesome singular states-of-affairs by introducing "unexemplified individual essences" and maintaining that these are the true constituents of the required states-of-affairs, rather than the nonactual possibles themselves. However, serious arguments are raised against this employment of individual essences. (shrink)
Actualists routinely characterize their view by means of the slogan, “Everything is actual.” They say that there aren’t any things that exist but do not actually exist—there aren’t any “mere possibilia.” If there are any things that deserve the label ‘possible world’, they are just actually existing entities of some kind—maximally consistent sets of sentences, or maximal uninstantiated properties, or maximal possible states of affairs, or something along those lines. Possibilists, in contrast, do think that there are mere possibilia, that (...) there are things that are not actual. They think that more exists than what actually exists. All I have done so far, though, is rephrase the slogan in various ways. To say that everything is actual is precisely to say that there are no things that do not actually exist, which is precisely to say that there are no mere possibilia, and which is also precisely to say that we cannot sep- arately quantify over what exists and what is actual. These claims all amount to the same thing. But what is that, exactly? What on earth does it mean to say that everything is actual, that there are no mere possibilia, and so on? What does the actualist slogan really come to? I think the literature is far from clear on this point, and that people work themselves into unnecessary muddles because of it. Indeed, certain confusions that I shall discuss in the first half of this article seem to be on the rise. It is high time to lay out the issues and the choice points as clearly as possible. There are two primary choices to be made; there are two axes along which versions of actualism can vary. One choice has to do with how to treat claims about things that merely could exist. The other choice has to do with the modal status of the view and of how we should think about the “actual” in actualism. I make no claim that the positions I will eventually endorse are star- tlingly new. I think that most people will agree with the decisions I make at both choice points and will in fact find some bits of this essay obvious. But not everyone agrees with my decisions, and it has been my experience that people differ remarkably about which bits they find obvious—a fact I find rather telling. My goal, then, is to show that the two axes are there and to clarify the consequences of the choices. (shrink)
Dispositional essentialists are typically committed to two claims: that properties are individuated by their causal role (‘causal structuralism’), and that natural necessity is to be explained by appeal to these causal roles (‘dispositional actualism’). I argue that these two claims cannot be simultaneously maintained; and that the correct response is to deny dispositional actualism. Causal structuralism remains an attractive position, but doesn’t in fact provide much support for dispositional essentialism.
It has been argued that actualism – the view that there are no non-actual objects – cannot deal adequately with statements involving iterated modality, because such claims require reference, either explicit or surreptitious, to non-actual objects. If so, actualists would have to reject the standard semantics for quantified modal logic (QML). In this paper I develop an account of modality which allows the actualist to make sense of iterated modal claims that are ostensibly about non-actual objects. Every occurrence of (...) a modal operator involves the stipulation of a possible world, and nested modal operators require stipulation of nested possible worlds. I provide an actualistically acceptable (AA) semantics for QML wherein the nesting relation is irreflexive and intransitive and forms a tree. Despite these restrictions, AA models can beshown to be sound and complete for a wide variety of modal logics. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
Karen Bennett has recently argued that the views articulated by Linsky and Zalta (Philos Perspect 8:431–458, 1994) and (Philos Stud 84:283–294, 1996) and Plantinga (The nature of necessity, 1974) are not consistent with the thesis of actualism, according to which everything is actual. We present and critique her arguments. We first investigate the conceptual framework she develops to interpret the target theories. As part of this effort, we question her definition of ‘proxy actualism’. We then discuss her main (...) arguments that the theories carry a commitment to actual entities that do not exist. We end by considering and addressing a worry that might have been the driving force behind Bennett’s claim that Linsky and Zalta’s view is not fully actualistic. (shrink)
Actualist counterpart theory replaces David Lewis’s concrete possible worlds and individuals with ersatz worlds and individuals, but retains counterpart theory about de re modality. While intuitively attractive, this view has been rejected for two main reasons: the problem of indiscernibles and the Humphrey objection. I argue that in insisting that ersatz individuals play the same role as Lewisian individuals, actualists commit the particularist fallacy. The actualist should not require stand-ins for every Lewisian individual. Ersatz individuals should instead be construed as (...) representations of actually existing qualitative ways for individuals to be, or qualitative properties individuals can instantiate. This necessitates changes elsewhere. Non-instrumental uses of Kripke semantics and standard counterpart semantics also require stand-ins for particular non-actual individuals. I argue that the actualist should instead adopt a non-standard counterpart semantics that more clearly illuminates the role that actual properties and relations play in explaining de re possibilities and necessities. The result is an intuitive and forceful reply to both the problem of indiscernibles and the Humphrey objection. (shrink)
Particular possibilities -- such as that this particular chair occupy the only vacant corner of my office -- are commonly supposed to depend on what actual things there are and what they are like, whereas general possibilities -- such as that some chair or other occupy some vacant corner or other of some office or other -- are commonly supposed not to be so dependent. I articulate a different conception whereby general possibilities are no less determined by what actual things (...) there are and what they are like than particular possibilities. Ramifications of this approach are highlighted and brought to bear on a problem often raised for actualist essentialism. (shrink)
This article describes the recent reception of Giovanni Gentile and his doctrine of actualism, describing the philosopher's rehabilitation as a major Italian thinker and actualism as a provocative account of socially situated consciousness. The discussion then turns to the future of Gentile studies, focusing on ways in which the ahistorical methods of analytic philosophy might help restore actualism and its author to their proper place in the philosophical canon.
one important product of kant's pre-critical metaphysics is the proof of God's existence that he presented in The Only Possible Argument of 1763.1 Kant's proof moves from what I will call here the 'actualist principle', every real possibility must be grounded in actuality, to the conclusion that there exists a unique necessary being, i.e. an ens realissimum, which grounds all real possibility. The pre-critical proof deserves interest in its own right, for not only does it have an intriguing logical structure, (...) but it also allows us to observe Kant's first elaborate discussion of modal concepts. However, what has attracted particular scholarly attention in the last few decades is the perplexing attitude... (shrink)
In this paper, I distinguish between two varieties of actualism—hardcore actualism and softcore actualism—and I critically discuss Ross Cameron’s recent arguments for preferring a softcore actualist account of the truthmakers for modal truths over hardcore actualist ones. In the process, I offer some arguments for preferring the hardcore actualist account of modal truthmakers over the softcore actualist one.
The purpose of this article is to provide a non‐contradictory interpretation of sentences such as “Smith's murderer might not have murdered Smith”. An anti‐actualist, two‐dimensional framework including partial functions provides the basis for my solution. I argue for two claims. The modal profile of the proposition expressed by “The F might not have been an F” is complex: at any world where there is a unique F the proposition is true; at any world without a unique F the proposition has (...) no truth‐value; hence, at no world is it false. It remains an open semantic and epistemological question which of the first two kinds of world the actual world is. The semantic method should be based on explicit intensionalization in lieu of actualism. Actualism accords a privileged role to the actual world. Explicit intensionalization places all possible worlds, including the actual one, on an equal footing. Syntactically, a lambda‐bound world variable replaces the actual‐world constant or operator, while the other world variable is existentially bound. (shrink)
In this essay I critique a particular reading of Bergson that places an excessive weight on the concept of the ‘virtual’. Driven by the popularity of Deleuze’s use of the virtual, this image of Bergson (seen especially through his text of 1896, Matter and Memory, where the idea is introduced) generates an imbalance that fails to recognise the importance of concepts of actuality, like space or psychology, in his other works. In fact, I argue that the virtual is not the (...) key concept for Bergsonism and that there is a good deal of evidence in Bergson’s other writings, especially those connected with his actualist notion of ‘refraction’, to think of him as a perspectivist philosopher. Moreover, it will be seen that Virtualism resides within an economy of reflection that is subsumed within the broader paradigm of Actualist refraction. Taking these optical metaphors seriously, the virtual becomes a perspectival image seen from an actual position, or rather, an interacting set of actual positions. This interaction is termed ‘virtualization’, denoting the substitution of a substantive conception with a processual one. In the first two parts of the essay, I direct my remarks more towards Deleuzian readings of the actual rather than Deleuze himself (Deleuze is so open about the biases he brings to his reading of Bergson as to be beyond criticism). In the second two sections, I pursue a philosophical argument for the probity of a non-Virtualist position as such within philosophy, based upon the concept of refraction. This is done not only because it is important that we remain open to other readings of Bergson that are not so heavily mediated in one direction, but also in view of the power of refraction as a new concept for reconciling actual modes such as molar identity, the present, and extension, with their virtual opposites. (shrink)