In Defence of Fictionalism about Possible Worlds
Menzies (Peter) & Pettit (Philip)
Source: Analysis, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Jan., 1994), pp. 27-36
Paper - Abstract

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Authors’ Introduction

  1. If you utter the sentence 'There were blue swans on the lake' in telling a story, you are not understood as committing yourself to the existence of blue swans. Rather your utterance is considered as an elliptical expression of the sentence 'In the story, there were blue swans on the lake'. Clearly, quantification within the scope of such a story operator does not carry serious ontological commitment. By analogy, "Rosen (Gideon) - Modal Fictionalism" suggests that talk about possible worlds should be understood as talk within the scope of a story operator. Thus, if you assert 'There are possible worlds at which blue swans exist', Rosen holds that your assertion is best understood along the lines of 'According to the fiction of many possible worlds, there are worlds at which blue swans exist'.
  2. Under Rosen's theory, the fiction is that there are possible worlds in the sense envisaged in "Lewis (David) - On the Plurality of Worlds" modal realism and we shall go along here with this general conception of modal fictionalism1. There is more to Rosen's theory, however, than that conception of the fiction involved in modal talk. Specifically - and, as we shall see, contentiously - he advocates a simple prefixing strategy for fictionalizing Lewis's possible worlds analyses of modal propositions. Let P be any modal proposition and let P* be the possible worlds translation of P (the translation that Lewis would endorse). Then, Rosen argues, the fictionalist should endorse the following translational schema:
      (1) P iff according to the hypothesis of the plurality of worlds (PW), P*.
    Some examples of this fictionalist schema of translation are: necessarily p iff according to PW, at all worlds, p; and possibly p iff according to PW, at some world, p.
  3. For all the appeal of this prefixing strategy of translation, its ultimate tenability has been questioned by Stuart "Brock (Stuart) - Modal Fictionalism: A Response to Rosen" and, in a later article "Rosen (Gideon) - A Problem for Fictionalism about Possible Worlds", by Rosen himself. Independently of each other, they have advanced a common objection which shows that the prefixing strategy cannot serve fictionalist purposes. Our aim in this paper is to demonstrate that, while that is so, it does not mean that the fictionalist cause is lost. There are variants on the prefixing strategy that get around the objection and that ought, on reflection, to be more appealing for the fictionalist.
  4. In the next section we present the objection to the fictionalist, prefixing proposal and in the section after that we try to show how it can be met, indicating possibilities for revising the proposal so as to render it proof against the objection. The two remaining sections offer support for this revisionary approach. In the fourth section, we argue that it is not ad hoc and in a brief, final section we address a difficulty that it may seem to leave hanging.

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