Counterpossibles for modal normativists
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Counterpossibles are counterfactuals that involve some metaphysical impossibility. Modal normativism is a non-descriptivist account of metaphysical necessity and possibility according to which modal claims, e.g. ‘necessarily, all bachelors are unmarried’, do not function as descriptive claims about the modal nature of reality but function as normative illustrations of constitutive rules and permissions that govern the use of ordinary non-modal vocabulary, e.g. ‘bachelor’. In this paper, I assume modal normativism and develop a novel account of counterpossibles and claims about metaphysical similarity between possible and impossible worlds. I argue that considerations of metaphysical similarity between various impossible worlds and the actual world only require us to tacitly consider how the actual constitutive rules that govern the use of our terms change in order to accommodate the description of some hypothetical impossible scenario. I then argue for my account by raising worries for alternative epistemic and realist accounts of counterpossibles and showing how my account avoids those worries.
KeywordsCounterpossibles Impossible worlds Modality Modal normativism Conceptual analysis Metaphysical laws
I am especially grateful to Amie Thomasson for extensive comments on multiple drafts of this paper. Many thanks to Otávio Bueno, Berit Brogaard, Eli Chudnoff, and Daniel Nolan for helpful comments and suggestions. Thanks to audiences at the University of Miami Philosophy Forum and the Rutgers University 2016 Metaphysical Mayhem for helpful discussion on earlier drafts of this paper. Finally, thanks to two anonymous reviewers for great feedback and suggestions.
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