Modal Realism: The Poisoned Pawn
Mondadori (Fabrizio) & Morton (Adam)
Source: Loux (Michael), Ed. - The Possible and the Actual: Readings in the Metaphysics of Modality
Paper - Abstract

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Authors’ Introduction (“A Prejudice in Favor of the Actual”)

  1. Geller came closer to actual qualification than Ljubojevic ever did. Very few could have expected that the so-far undefeated Portisch would suffer his first and only defeat just in the last round against Polugaevsky, thus allowing the uncertainty of a further competition in which either he, Polugaevsky or Geller would be eliminated from the candidates. Later, in Portoroz, if Geller had only whispered to Portisch the word "draw!" a few seconds before his flag fell while a pawn up and unaware of the approaching time control, Geller and not Polugaevsky would have been among the candidates.
    → S. Gligoric, "The Unlucky Ones", Chess Life and Review, 29 (1974),17
  2. Ljubojevic might have won the Petropolis Interzonal, for the quality of his play in previous tournaments, his inventiveness, and his ability systematically to surprise his opponents were sure signs of an extraordinarily talented chess player. Up to the time at which he was leading the Interzonal he had played very strongly, he had scored brilliant victories, and all he needed to go on and win was simply to play less inventively and more quietly.
  3. The conclusion of the argument, that Ljubojevic might have won the tournament, is modal; it concerns what might have happened. But the argument concerns the world as it actually is, its chess players, tournaments, and games. We think that all reasoning about modality is about actual objects, facts, and processes. "Ljubojevic might have won the Petropolis Interzonal" gives just as definite and objective a report about actual individuals and situations as "Mecking won the Petropolis Interzonal" does. We think that this is true of most modal assertions: "a might φ," "a would φ," "a could φ,"a would φ if... ," "a might φ if... ," the dispositional "-ble" ("-ible," "-able"), and so on. When such statements are true, understood in the ordinary non-epistemic way, they are true by virtue of actual facts about actual individuals; their truth is not determined by human convention or human knowledge, nor by facts about any exotic metaphysical apparatus.
  4. As David Lewis has written1, "Modal facts are grounded in facts about actual character, not mysteriously independent." And as Hilary Putnam has written2, "Introducing the modal connectives... is not introducing new kinds of objects, but rather extending the kinds of things we can say about ordinary objects and sorts of objects." We will develop the ideas expressed in these two quotations. Our project is metaphysical rather than linguistic. What interests us about modality is the difficulty of reconciling the truth of modal statements with the common-sense view of the world as composed of individuals, possessing properties and connected by relations, interacting in various causal processes. If this is the way the world is, what makes it true, for example, that if Geller had whispered the word "Draw!" to Portisch a few seconds before his flag fell, then Geller would have been among the candidates? What is the constitution of this kind of fact? Our primary aim is to answer this question. Our main claim is that one can answer it, one can give a naturalistic analysis of modality, without giving extensional, or otherwise non-modal, paraphrases of modal idioms. While this is what the reader is likely to find most interesting about what we say, it makes it difficult to see the relations between our analyses and well-known theories in the field, which do mostly seem to be trying to describe what modality is about by finding other ways of saying what modal idioms say. The difficulties are real; it is not at all clear what the relations are, and while we will refer to other people's views we will not describe ours in terms of them.
  5. Just as it is the ordinary physical world that interests us, our concern is with the ordinary modal idioms that we have used and mentioned above rather than with the philosopher's and logician's domesticated "it is possible (necessary) that..." We mistrust these expressions, that modal logic3 is intended to capture and clarify. And we are not sure that modal logic4 has at all captured and clarified them in a philosophically interesting way. We suspect that the intuitions that guide one's reactions and allegiances to modal logic5 are at best a confused and indiscriminate composite deriving in large part from one's intuitions about the larger and more ordinary list. No doubt it is in principle possible to discover which of one's prejudices about "It is possible that... "It is necessary that... ," or "Necessarily" actually come from one's use of these idioms, which from one's knowledge of philosophy, and which from one's use of "might," "must," "has to," and others, but we would rather not try. We shall concentrate instead on the sturdier laboring class of idioms that we have listed above6. First, however, we make a few remarks on the notions of objectivity and realism.


Originally published in the Philosophical Review, 85 (1976), 3-20.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: Footnote 6: Two qualifications.
  1. First, the semantics of modal logics may well do more to help us understand modality than the logics themselves.
  2. And second, the investigations of the counterfactual conditional now in vogue are considerably more to our point than the classical investigations of the box ( □ ) and the diamond ( ◇ ).

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