Modalities: Basic Concepts and Distinctions
Plantinga (Alvin)
Source: Kim, Jaegwon, Daniel Korman, and Ernest Sosa, eds. 2012. Metaphysics: An Anthology, Second Edition. (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell); pp. 135-140
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Conclusion1

  1. Like Aristotle, then, Aquinas appears to believe that modal2 statements are of two kinds. Some predicate a modality3 of another statement (modality4 de dicto); but others predicate of an object the necessary or essential possession of a property; and these latter express modality5 de re.
  2. The distinction between modality6 de re and modality7 de dicto is not confined to ancient and medieval philosophy. G. E. Moore discusses the idealistic doctrine of internal relations; he concludes that it is false or confused or perhaps both. What is presently interesting is that he takes this doctrine to be the claim that all relational properties are internal – which claim, he thinks, is just the proposition that every object has each of its relational properties essentially in the above sense. The doctrine of internal relations, he says, 'implies, in fact, quite generally, that any term which does in fact have a particular relational property, could not have existed without having that property. And in saying this it obviously flies in the face of common sense. It seems quite obvious that in the case of many relational properties which things have, the fact that they have them is a mere matter of fact that the things in question might have existed without having them.' Now Moore is prepared to concede that objects do have some of their relational properties essentially. Like Aristotle and Aquinas, therefore, Moore holds that some objects have some of their properties essentially and others non-essentially or accidentally.
  3. There is a prima facie distinction, then, between modality8 de dicto and modality9 de re. This distinction, furthermore, has a long and distinguished history. Many contemporary philosophers who find the idea of modality10 de dicto tolerably clear however, look utterly askance at that of modality11 de re, suspecting it a source of boundless confusion. Indeed, there is abroad the subtle suggestion that the idea of modality12 de re is not so much confused as vaguely immoral or frivolous as if to accept or employ it is to be guilty of neglecting serious work in favour of sporting with Amaryllis in the shade13. In the next section, therefore, we shall examine objections to modality14 de re.


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: To Section 1, prefixed by some excerpts to establish the context.

Footnote 13: This appears to be a quotation from Milton’s Lycidas: See Link, line 68.

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