Modal Fictionalism Fixed
Rosen (Gideon)
Source: Analysis, Vol. 55, No. 2 (Apr., 1995), pp. 67-73
Paper - Abstract

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  1. Talk of possible worlds in the discussion of modality is clearly illuminating; and yet for many of us it is also palpably a matter of make-believe. Modal fictionalism1 was an effort to reconcile these two thoughts. The idea was to understand talk of possible worlds not as talk about what in fact exists, but rather as talk about the content of a fiction. Where the modal realist proposes to analyse a modal statement P by means of a non-modal statement about possible worlds, P*, the modal fictionalist proposes the parasitic paraphrase: 'According to the hypothesis of a plurality of worlds (PW), P*'. On this view, the claim that blue swans are possible does not depend on the real existence of a world containing blue swans, but only on the incontestable fact that according to PW, such a world exists. The hope was that this modest insight could be extended to provide a completely general and ontologically innocent construal of the possible worlds idiom in its various uses.
  2. "Brock (Stuart) - Modal Fictionalism: A Response to Rosen" and "Rosen (Gideon) - A Problem for Fictionalism about Possible Worlds" spotted a bug in the original proposal. The fictionalist translations of certain uncontroversial modal claims involving iterated modal operators imply the fictionalist paraphrase of the statement 'Necessarily, there are many possible worlds'. The fictionalist is thus a realist malgre lui, and the whole point of his enterprise is undermined.
  3. Now "Hale (Bob) - Modal Fictionalism: A Simple Dilemma" has proposed what purports to be a more fundamental difficulty for the fictionalist strategy, a dilemma 'as simple as it is lethal'. The problem concerns the modal status on the fictionalist's view of the modal realist's ontological hypothesis, PW. The fictionalist of course rejects PW. He may assert its falsity; he may remain agnostic. But in any case he means to leave it open as a serious (epistemic) possibility that the PW is not true. Hale then asks what the fictionalist has to say about the modal status of this alleged falsehood. If PW is false, is it necessarily false, or only contingently so? Either way, says Hale, the fictionalist is in trouble.
  4. Consider, however, a version of modal fictionalism2, … In the fictionalist's new fiction - call it PW* - a world will no longer be defined as a system of spatiotemporally related objects, but rather simply as a maximal system of worldmates. All references to 'universes' in the specification of the fictionalist's fiction are to be replaced by references to worlds in this sense. The rest of the view can remain unchanged. It will then turn out that according to PW* some worlds contain many universes. So given the fictionalist's new translation scheme, he can happily agree that there might have been many universes. But by the same token, since according to PW*, some worlds contain only one universe, he can also allow that there might have been only one. How many spatiotemporal systems there are is thus a contingent matter on this sort of view, just as 'intuition' requires.

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