pp 1–32 | Cite as

Abduction versus conceiving in modal epistemology

  • Stephen Biggs
  • Jessica WilsonEmail author
S.I.: New Directions in the Epistemology of Modality


How should modal reasoning proceed? Here we compare abduction-based and conceiving-based modal epistemologies, and argue that an abduction-based approach is preferable, and by a wide margin.


Modal epistemology Conceiving Abduction Theoretical virtues A priority Semantic indeterminacy Kant Carnap 



The authors would like to thank David Alexander, Ranpal Dosanjh, Benj Hellie, Antonella Mallozzi, Elanor Taylor, participants at the 2018 APA symposium on inference to the best explanation, and this journal’s anonymous referees, for helpful comments.


  1. Aliseda, A. (2006). Abductive reasoning: Logical investigations into discovery and explanation. Heidelberg: Springer.Google Scholar
  2. Bealer, G. (2002). Modal epistemology and the rationalist renaissance. In T. Gendler & J. Hawthorne (Eds.), Conceivability and possibility (pp. 71–125). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Beebe, J. R. (2009). The abductivist reply to skepticism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 79, 605–636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Biggs, S. (2011). Abduction and modality. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 83, 283–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Biggs, S., & Wilson, J. M. (2016). Carnap, the necessary A posteriori, and metaphysical anti-realism. In S. Blatti & S. LaPointe (Eds.), Ontology after carnap (pp. 81–104). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Biggs, S., & Wilson, J. M. (2017a). Abductive two-dimensionalism: A new route to the a priori identification of necessary truths. Synthese.
  7. Biggs, S., & Wilson, J. M. (2017b). The a priority of abduction. Philosophical Studies, 174, 735–758.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bonjour, L. (1998). In defence of pure reason. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bourget, D., & Chalmers, D. J. (2014). What do philosophers believe? Philosophical Studies, 170, 465–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bueno, O., & Shalkowski, S. A. (2015). Modalism and theoretical virtues: Toward an epistemology of modality. Philosophical Studies, 172, 671–689.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carnap, R. (1950). Empiricism, semantics, and ontology. Revue Internationale de Philosophie, 4, 20–40.Google Scholar
  12. Carnap, R. (1963). P. F. Strawson on linguistic naturalism. In P. A. Schlipp (Ed.), Encyclopedia of philosophy. La Salle, Illinois: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Casullo, A. (2001). Experience and a priori justification. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 63, 665–671.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Casullo, A. (2003). A priori justification. Oxford: Oxford University Press USA.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chalmers, D. (1996). The conscious mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Chalmers, D. (2002). Does conceivability entail possibility? In T. Gendler & J. Hawthorne (Eds.), Conceivability and possibility. New York: Oxford.Google Scholar
  17. Chalmers, D. (2012). Constructing the world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Chalmers, D., & Jackson, F. (2001). Conceptual analysis and reductive explanation. The Philosophical Review, 110, 315–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Chalmers, D. J. (2006). The foundations of two-dimensional semantics. In M. Garcia-Carpintero & J. Macia (Eds.), Two-dimensional semantics: foundations and applications. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Chalmers, D. J. (2009). The two-dimensional argument against materialism. In B. P. McLaughlin & S. Walter (Eds.), Oxford handbook to the philosophy of mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Chalmers, D. J. (2014). Intuitions in philosophy: A minimal defense. Philosophical Studies, 171, 535–544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Chomsky, N. (1995). The minimalist program. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  23. Chomsky, N., & Howard, L. (1993). The theory of principles and parameters. In J. Jacobs, et al. (Eds.), Syntax: An international handbook of contemporary research (Vol. 1). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  24. Dennett, D. C. (1995). The unimagined preposterousness of Zombies. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2, 322–26.Google Scholar
  25. Feeney, A., & Heit, E. (2007). Inductive reasoning: Experimental, developmental, and computational approaches. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fischer, B. (2016). A theory-based epistemology of modality. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 46, 228–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fischer, B. (2017). Modal justification via theories. Cham: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Geirsson, H. (2005). Conceivability and defeasible modal justification. Philosophical Studies, 122, 279–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gelman, S. A., & Markman, E. M. (1986). Categories and induction in young children. Cognition, 23, 183–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gertler, B. (2002). Explanatory reduction, conceptual analysis, and conceivability arguments about the mind. Noûs, 36, 22–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gertler, B. (2006). Consciousness and qualia cannot be reduced. In R. J. Stainton (Ed.), Contemporary debates in cognitive science (pp. 202–216). Hoboken: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  32. Hanrahan, R. (2017). Imagination, possibility, and plovers. In R. W. Fischer & F. Leon (Eds.), Modal epistemology after rationalism (pp. 197–219). Cham: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Harman, G. H. (1965). The inference to the best explanation. Philosophical Review, 74, 88–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hawthorne, J. (2002). Deeply contingent a priori knowledge. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 65, 247–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hill, C. S., & McLaughlin, B. P. (1999). There are fewer things in reality than are dreamt of in Chalmers’s philosophy. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 59, 445–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hume, D. (1739–1740). A treatise of human nature. L. S. Selby-Bigge, (Ed.), with text revised and notes by P. H. Niddich, Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Jackson, F. (1998). From metaphysics to ethics: A defense of conceptual analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Kant, I., (1965). Critique of pure reason. Translated from the 2nd edition, published in 1787. St. Martin’s Press: New York.Google Scholar
  39. Kripke, S., (1972/1980). Naming and necessity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Kung, P. (2010). Imagining as a guide to possibility. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 81, 620–663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Leon, F. (2017). From modal skepticism to modal empiricism. In R. W. Fischer & F. Leon (Eds.), Modal epistemology after rationalism (pp. 247–261). Cham: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lewis, D. (1972). Psychophysical and theoretical identifications. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 50, 249–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lewis, D. (1986). On the plurality of worlds. London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  44. Lewis, D. (1994). Reduction of mind. In S. Guttenplan (Ed.), Companion to the philosophy of mind. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  45. Lightner, D. T. (1997). Hume on conceivability and inconceivability. Hume Studies, 23, 113–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lipton, P. (1991). The best explanation. Cogito, 5, 9–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Magnani, L. (2017). The abductive structure of scientific creativity: An essay on the ecology of cognition. Vienna: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Melnyk, A. (2008). Conceptual and linguistic analysis: A two-step program. Nous, 42, 267–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mill, J. S., (1843/1973). A system of logic. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Vols II and III of The collected works of John Stuart Mill.Google Scholar
  50. Moody, T. C. (1994). Conversations with zombies. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 1, 196–200.Google Scholar
  51. Peacocke, C. (1993). How are a priori truths possible? European Journal of Philosophy, 1, 175–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Peirce, C. S. (1931). Collected papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Rasmussen, J. (2014). Continuity as a guide to possibility. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 92, 525–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Roca-Royes, S. (2017). Similarity and possibility: An epistemology of de re modality for concrete entities. In B. Fischer & F. Leon (Eds.), Modal epistemology after rationalism (pp. 221–245). Cham: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Russell, B. (2017). A priori justification and knowledge. In N. Z. Edward (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (summer 2017 ed.). Stanford: Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.Google Scholar
  56. Shoemaker, S. (2000/2001). Realization and mental causation. In Proceedings of the 20th world congress in philosophy (pp. 23–33). Cambridge: Philosophy Documentation Center.Google Scholar
  57. Sober, E. (2015). Ockham’s Razors: A user’s manual. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Strawson, P. F. (1963). Carnap’s views on conceptual systems versus natural languages in analytic philosophy. In P. A. Schilpp (Ed.), The philosophy of Rudolf Carnap (pp. 503–518). La Salle: Open Court.Google Scholar
  59. Strohminger, M., & Yli-Vakkuri, J. (2017). The epistemology of modality. Analysis, 77, 825–838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Vaidya, A. (2017). The epistemology of modality. In N. Z. Edward (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (winter 2017 ed.). Stanford: Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.Google Scholar
  61. van Fraassen, B. (1980). The scientific image. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. van Inwagen, P. (1998). Modal epistemology. Philosophical Studies, 92, 67–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Williamson, T. (2013). Modal logic as metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wilson, J. M. (2015). Metaphysical Emergence: Weak and strong. In T. Bigaj & C. Wüthrich, (Eds.), Metaphysical emergence in contemporary physics; Poznan studies in the philosophy of the sciences and the humanities (pp. 251–306).Google Scholar
  65. Wilson, M. (1982). Predicate meets property. The Philosophical Review, 91, 549–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Wilson, M. (2006). Wandering significance: An essay on conceptual behavior. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Woods, J. (2013). Errors of reasoning: Naturalizing the logic of inference. London: College Publications.Google Scholar
  68. Woods, J., & Gabbay, D. (2005). The reach of abduction. Amsterdam: North-Holland.Google Scholar
  69. Yablo, S. (1993). Is conceivability a guide to possibility? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 53, 245–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Toronto (St. George and Scarborough)TorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations