Monday, 20 June 2016

Forthcoming in Disputatio

My paper 'On Identity Statements: In Defense of a Sui Generis View' is forthcoming in Disputatio. The final draft is available at PhilPapers. It's the longest, most substantial paper I've gotten accepted for publication so far, and its argument is quite difficult and controversial. The first version of it was written in 2009 for a course taught by Adrian Heathcote. I presented its main arguments at the 2010 Australasian Association for Logic Conference and received a mostly encouraging response. I put it aside for a few years after a few failed attempts to publish it, and only recently began to try again. The Disputatio referee report was really good and has caused the paper to be miles better than it was.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Modal Realism and Counterpossibles: A Tension in Lewis

David Lewis held that possible worlds are worlds as concrete as our own (cf. Lewis (1986)). He also held, in his work on counterfactuals (cf. Lewis (1973)), that all counterfactuals with impossible antecedents - 'counterpossibles' - are vacuously true. These two views do not fit together well. Embracing modal realism leads to especially compelling counterexamples - counterexamples given modal realism, that is - to the thesis that counterpossibles are all true. These take the form of conditionals whose antecedents are not intuitively impossible, but which are impossible given modal realism.

These arise because, according to modal realism, reality as a whole – that is, the totality of the posited worlds – is necessarily the way it is. Lewis is very upfront about this. Witness:

There is but one totality of worlds; it is not a world; it could not have been different. (Lewis 1986: 80.)

So, for example:

'If there had been two fewer men in reality as a whole than there actually are, there would have been fewer women.'

There is no reason to think this is true. And yet Lewis's thesis about counterpossibles, together with modal realism, implies that it is vacuously true.

Perhaps worse:

'If there had been fewer men in reality as a whole than there actually are, there would have been just as many men in reality as a whole as there actually are.'

This seems positively false.


Thanks to Quentin Ruyant for pointing out that the last counterfactual, given modal realism and the thesis that there are infinitely many worlds with men in them, actually seems to come out true in a funny way: if there had been two fewer men, there still would have been infinitely many. So this was a bad example. Consider instead:

'If there had been no Model-T Fords in reality as a whole, there still would have been some Model-T Fords in reality as a whole'.


Lewis, David K. (1973). Counterfactuals. Blackwell Publishers.

Lewis, David K. (1986). On the Plurality of Worlds. Blackwell Publishers.