Philosophical Studies

, Volume 162, Issue 3, pp 605–623 | Cite as

Modal skepticism and counterfactual knowledge

  • Juhani Yli-Vakkuri


Timothy Williamson has recently proposed to undermine modal skepticism by appealing to the reducibility of modal to counterfactual logic (Reducibility). Central to Williamson’s strategy is the claim that use of the same non-deductive mode of inference (counterfactual development, or CD) whereby we typically arrive at knowledge of counterfactuals suffices for arriving at knowledge of metaphysical necessity via Reducibility. Granting Reducibility, I ask whether the use of CD plays any essential role in a Reducibility-based reply to two kinds of modal skepticism. I argue that its use is entirely dispensable, and that Reducibility makes available replies to modal skeptics which show certain propositions to be metaphysically necessary by deductive arguments from premises the modal skeptic accepts can be known.


Metaphysical modality Modal skepticism Counterfactuals Modal epistemology Philosophical methodology 



This paper is a descendant of a paper coauthored with Margot Strohminger, which we presented at various fora in 2009–2010. Even after it became a single-author project, I continued to benefit from enlightening discussions with Margot in writing the paper. My greatest debt of gratitude is to her. In addition, I owe thanks to John Hawthorne and Cian Dorr for helpful comments on earlier drafts, and to Tim Williamson, Sonia Roca-Royes, and audiences (of the coauthored ancestor paper) at the Arché Philosophical Research Centre at the University of St. Andrews, Trinity College Dublin, and the University of Oxford for helpful discussions.


  1. Cresswell, M. (1990). Entities and indices. Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Fine, K. (1994). Essence and modality. Philosophical Perspectives, 8, 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Fine, K. (1995). The logic of essence. Journal of Philosophical Logic, 29, 295–313.Google Scholar
  4. Fine, K. (2001). Semantics for the logic of essence. Journal of Philosophical Logic, 29, 543–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Fine, K. (2007). Semantic relationism. Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Fitch, G. W. (1976). Are there necessary a posteriori truths? Philosophical Studies, 30, 243–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gendler, T. S., & Hawthorne, J. (2002). Conceivability and possibility. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Hill, C. S. (2006). Modality, modal epistemology, and the metaphysics of consciousness. In S. Nichols (Ed.), The architecture of the imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Jenkins, C. S. (2008). Modal knowledge, counterfactual knowledge and the role of experience. Philosophical Quarterly, 58, 693–701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kripke, S. (1971/1977). Identity and necessity. In S. P. Schwartz (Ed.), Naming, necessity, and natural kinds. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Kripke, S. (1980). Naming and necessity (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  12. Lewis, D. (1973). Counterfactuals. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  13. Malmgren, A.-S. (forthcoming). Rationalism and the content of intuitive judgments. Mind.Google Scholar
  14. Parsons, T. (1979). An analysis of mass terms and amount terms. In F. J. Pelletier (Ed.), Mass terms. Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  15. Predelli, S. (1998). I am not here now. Analysis, 58, 107–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Putnam, H. (1954). Synonymy and the analysis of belief sentences. Analysis, 14, 114–122.Google Scholar
  17. Putnam, H. (1973). Meaning and reference. Journal of Philosophy, 70, 699–711.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Putnam, H. (1975). The meaning of ‘meaning’. In Philosophical papers II: Mind, language, and reality (pp. 215–271). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Roca-Royes, S. (2011). Conceivability and De Re modal knowledge. Noûs, 45, 22–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Saarinen, E. (1977). Propositional attitudes, anaphora, and backwards-looking operators. Reports from the Department of Philosophy, University of Helsinki (Vol. 6).Google Scholar
  21. Segal, G. (2000). A slim book about narrow content. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  22. Soames, S. (2002). Beyond rigidity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Stalnaker, R. C. (1968/1981). A theory of conditionals. In W. Harper, et al. (Eds.), Ifs: Conditionals, belief, decision, chance, and time. Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  24. Swinburne, R. (1991). Necessary a posteriori truth. American Philosophical Quarterly, 28, 113–123.Google Scholar
  25. Williamson, T. (2007). The philosophy of philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Yablo, S. (1993). Is conceivability a guide to possibility? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 53, 1–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wolfson CollegeOxford UniversityOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations