|Source: Hale & Wright - A Companion to the Philosophy of Language|
|Paper - Abstract|
- The notions of necessity and possibility, of what must be so and what may be so, and the derivative notion of contingency – of what is so but might be otherwise – are ones which very few philosophers find themselves able to do without. It is, to take one arguably fundamental case, hard to see how an adequate explanation of the notion of valid argument, as distinct from that of proof in a specified formal system, might run, save in terms of the idea that the conclusion must be true if the premisses are.
- Even those vigorously sceptical of modal2 notions seem unable to voice their scepticism without recourse to them. When Quine denies that there are any statements immune from empirical revision – any necessarily true statements, as he construes the notion – he is not claiming that any statement accepted at any time is one which we will at some time in fact reject; what he is denying is the existence of statements which we could not be led to reject.
- It is difficult to see how his scepticism about necessity could be so much as expressed without employing the notion of possibility. And once a notion of possibility has been granted house-room, the intelligibility of a correlative notion of necessity can hardly be denied.
- It thus appears that philosophical scepticism about necessity must, if it is not to fall into incoherence, take the form of denying the existence of truths having that character, rather than rejecting the notion altogether. That is not, of course, to deny that the notions of necessity and possibility stand in much need of elucidation: on the contrary, it is surely a central task of a philosophy of modality3 to provide an account of them.
Footnote 1: Section 1.1: “The importance of modal notions”.
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