It's all about the deep questions.
Category Archives: Metaphysics
For this part, I will first give a negative argument against the primary reason that people give for saying there are genuine possibilities. Then, I give one additional positive argument for the thesis that there are no genuine mere possibilities. Lastly, I give some ramifications of the view
Against Modal Intuition
Most philosophers don’t even address the “heavy” modal problem because they assume that it has a positive answer. Why? Their intuitions. How could metaphysicians be satisfied on accepting such a substantive claim on such a weak basis? At least, what I care about is what reality is like; I don’t care at all about modeling my intuitions/conceptual scheme of reality if I have no reason to believe that that model is modeling reality! Furthermore, there seems to be a conclusive case against thinking that this particular intuition “tracks” reality in any way. If it did, there would have to be some sort of causal link between the truth maker of genuine possibility and our having that intuition, which there evidently seems to not be. We have reason to give a non-zero weight to our intuition if and only if the probability that we have those intuitions given that they are true is greater than the probability that we have those intuitions given that they are false. Since there is no causal link, these probabilities are equal. In other words, there exists a bijection between those worlds where we have the intuition and the intuition is true and those worlds where we haven’t the intuition and the intuition is false. It therefore seems to be that metaphysicians relying on this particular intuition are straightforwardly violating a basic notion of rationality. Read more of this post
The whole intuition behind modality is that the world genuinely could have been otherwise. This thought, however, seems to be forgotten in the philosophical literature. To establish this point, we must first notice that there are two ways one can interpret modal claims.
The metaphysically light way: To say that X is metaphysically possible is just to say that X does not imply any logical contradiction. Some philosophers would want to add some other restrictions, so that X is possible is just to say that X lacks (or has) some feature M as well as not implying any logical contradictions.
The metaphysically heavy way: To say that X is metaphysically possible is to say that X genuinely could have been the case.
Being possible in this metaphysically heavy sense implies being possible in the metaphysically light sense. However, it does not follow, at least without further argument, that being possible in the metaphysically light sense implies being possible in the metaphysically heavy sense. Deflationists or necessitarians, for example, would agree that the set of non-actual X’s that are metaphysically possible in the light sense is non-empty, but they would say that the set of non-actual X’s that are metaphysically possible in the heavy sense is empty. In other words, it is not analytic that “X implies no logical contradiction means that X genuinely could have been the case. The right side is claiming something stronger that the left side. Read more of this post
1. An Allegorical Tale
Imagine that you have been taken prisoner. The judge of this imaginary prison, however, decides that your fate will be decided by chance in the following manner. Every morning during your stay at this prison a card will be drawn from a hat. Within this hat, 100 cards are placed. Furthermore, you are told that 99 of them have the word “death” written on them while 1 of them has the word “life” written on it. If one of the 99 are drawn on a particular morning, you will be killed that morning. If the “life” card is drawn, you will be spared. Not surprisingly, the very moment that you are told this, you expect to die the following day. Luckily, you don’t. This doesn’t take away your dread, however. The rest of the day is just as nerve-wracking as the previous one. However, the next morning, you are spared again. This cycle of dread and redemption continues on for days, then weeks. Gradually, the feeling of dread begins to wane and subconsciously you begin to expect to live to another day. Moreover, this feeling is justified. As long as you were not 100% confident that the judge was telling the truth with respect to the hats contents, the more days you live the more confident you are licensed to believe that the probability distribution of cards in the hat is not 99% chance of death and 1% life, but something much more skewed in the direction of life (this can be argued mathematically with conditional probabilities and Bayes’ theorem). As the months approach a year, you begin to wonder if there were any “death” cards in the hat at all. Read more of this post
The First Principle on the Structure of Possible Worlds: An A Priori “Falsification” of Occam’s Razor
This is the first post in the philosophical project motivated by the “What it is to Know” blog post. (If you haven’t read it, you should probably start with that post.)
Imagine all of the possible metaphysical theories (corresponding to possible worlds) that account for (are consistent with) the observations of a particular phenomenon. Now line them up according to their ontological commitments on a ray. The beginning of the ray will be the theory with the least ontological commitments, with precisely none. In other words, the phenomenon can be explained with recourse to the ontological commitments we already have prior to philosophizing on the phenomenon. Just above the beginning point, the theories with the smallest and simplest ontological commitments will lie. Continuing on, the distance from the beginning point will correspond to the complexity of the theory.
Now, for any specified level of ontological commitment (except for the zero level, in which case there will only be one) there will be multiple metaphysical theories with the same rough level of complexity. To represent this, the ray’s width at a particular distance from the beginning will correspond to the number of metaphysical theories that are observationally adequate at that specific level of complexity. Now, I take a stronger statement of the first crucial step in the argument to be intuitively clear: at more austere levels of simplicity in ontology fewer metaphysical theories are ideally imaginable, and those levels of ontology with increasing complexity have “more to work with” so to say, and therefore have more ideally imaginable metaphysical theories at their disposal. Here, an example might serve to elucidate things. In constructing a theory of the world, it may or may not be true that God sustains every event that happens and he is the “grounding” for causation and physical law and such. However, one can easily increase the complexity of this picture. One can say there are two gods sustaining the world; one is in charge of events of type A and the other of events of type B. And one can do this for as high a number as one wishes. Also, one can give the Gods certain psychological traits, names and so on, so that the number of possible metaphysical theories of the grounding of the universe would increase exponentially as complexity is increased. These theories would all furthermore be consistent with all observations. However, for this argument to work, it is more than sufficient to claim that the higher levels of complexity have at least an equal number of potential theories than the simpler ones. This claim makes up one kernel of the argument. Read more of this post