3rd of June:
John Divers (Leeds)
Three Grades, Two Dogmas, One Love – Quine Regained!
I present an interpretation of Quine on modality that aims to correct serious misunderstandings that have taken hold. I support a Quinean view and in defence of it, I address the few developments in modal philosophy since Quine that speak to the challenges that he set to inflationary views.
4th of June:
Ruth Byrne (Dublin)
Human Counterfactual Thought
People readily imagine counterfactual alternatives to reality when they think ‘if only…’. They create counterfactuals to explain the past and also to prepare for the future. Their counterfactual imagination influences their emotional experiences, e.g., of regret, and their moral judgments, e.g., of blame. I discuss how people create counterfactual alternatives to reality, considering evidence from behavioral studies of decision-making and moral judgment. I focus on some recent experiments that examine how people can come to accept morally unacceptable actions when they imagine how they could have been moral. I also discuss how people reason from counterfactual conditionals, considering evidence from comprehension and inference studies. I focus on some recent experiments that examine how people track the epistemic status of models of counterfactuals. I consider implications of the results for understanding the nature of the mental representations and cognitive processes that underlie counterfactual thought.
5th of June:
Possibility Precedes Actuality
The title of this paper is inspired by E.J. Lowe’s work, who writes in his book The Possibility of Metaphysics that ‘metaphysical possibility is an inescapable determinant of actuality’ (1998: 9). Metaphysics deals with possibilities – metaphysical possibilities – but is not able to determine what is actual without the help of empirical research. However, empirical knowledge in itself is not able to determine what is actual either, for a priori reasoning is needed to delimit the space of possibilities that we operate with. The resulting – controversial – picture is that we need to know whether something is possible before we can know whether it is actual. In order to appreciate this picture, we need to understand another slogan: ‘essence precedes existence’ (Lowe 2008: 40). This slogan has both an ontological and an epistemic reading. The ontological reading is related to the now familiar idea that essence grounds modality, as popularised by Kit Fine. The epistemic reading suggests that we can know the essence of some entity before we know whether or not that entity exists. However, this idea is often met with puzzlement and Lowe himself never clarified this framework. In this paper, I will get into the bottom of the idea as I understand it and propose that the key point is in fact very simple: we do not know which world is the actual world.