Special issue of Synthese on “New Directions in the Epistemology of Modality” (Ed.) (Springer, 2021)
1. “The Epistemology of Essence”
in the Routledge Handbook of Essence, K. Koslicki and M. Raven (eds.), Routledge, forthcoming
2. “Semantic Rules, Modal Knowledge, and Analyticity”
in The Epistemology of Modality and Philosophical Methodology, D. Prelevic and A. Vaidya (Eds.), Routledge, forthcoming
According to Amie Thomasson’s Modal Normativism (MN), knowledge of metaphysical modality is to be explained in terms of a speaker’s mastery of semantic rules, as opposed to one’s epistemic grasp of independent modal facts. In this chapter, I outline (MN)’s account of modal knowledge (§1) and argue that more than semantic mastery is needed for knowledge of metaphysical modality. Specifically (§2), in reasoning aimed at gaining such knowledge, a competent speaker needs to further deploy essentialist principles and information. In response, normativists might contend that a competent speaker will only need to appeal to specific independence counterfactuals, on analogy with quasi-realism about morality. These conditionals fix the meaning of our terms at the actual world, independently of the particular context in which a statement is evaluated. However, I show that this strategy causes several problems for the account (§3). While those problems might perhaps be avoided by endorsing a certain picture of modal metaphysics (Modal Monism), such a picture involves notorious issues that normativists will have to address (§4). It is thus doubtful that (MN) can explain knowledge of metaphysical modality. Still, it may explain some modal knowledge without committing to Modal Monism. As I show (§5), semantic mastery may suffice for gaining knowledge of logical-conceptual modality or analyticity.
3. “What Is Absolute Modality?”
Special Issue of Inquiry on Pluralism, Relativism and Skepticism, V. Mitova, S. Salem, and R. McIntyre (Eds.), forthcoming
Final draft here: https://philpapers.org/rec/MALWIA-8
Talk of metaphysical modality as “absolute” is ambiguous, as it appears to convey multiple ideas. Metaphysical possibility is supposedly completely unrestricted or unqualified; metaphysical necessity is unconditional and exceptionless. Moreover, metaphysical modality is thought to be absolute in the sense that it’s real or genuine and the most objective modality: metaphysical possibility and necessity capture ways things could and must have really been. As we disentangle these ideas, certain talk of metaphysical modality qua “absolute” turns out to be misguided. Metaphysical possibility isn’t completely unrestricted or most inclusive compared to the other modalities; metaphysical necessity, like all kinds of necessities, is relative to or conditional upon a specific framework of reference. On the other hand, questioning that metaphysical modality is absolute in this sense won’t compromise its philosophical significance. For metaphysical possibility and necessity capture nonetheless how things could and must have really been most generally. Metaphysical modality deals with reality and the nature of things or their essence. That’s the chief interest of metaphysics. Arguments against the alleged absoluteness of metaphysical modality may not thereby undermine its philosophical significance.
4. “The Epistemology of Modality”
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fall 2021 Edition (with A. Vaidya & M. Wallner)
5. “Imagination, Inference, and Apriority”
in The Epistemic Uses of Imagination, A. Kind and C. Badura (eds.), Routledge (2021)
Final draft here: htts://philpapers.org/archive/MALIIA-5.pdf
Is imagination a source of knowledge? Timothy Williamson has recently argued that our imaginative capacities can yield knowledge of a variety of matters, spanning from everyday practical matters to logic and set theory. Furthermore, imagination for Williamson plays a similar epistemic role in cognitive processes that we would traditionally classify as either a priori or a posteriori, which he takes to indicate that the distinction itself is shallow and epistemologically fruitless. In this chapter, I aim to defend the a priori-a posteriori distinction from Williamson’s challenge by questioning his account of imagination. I distinguish two notions of imagination at play in Williamson’s account – sensory vs. belief-like imagination – and show that both face empirical and normative issues. Sensory imagination seems neither necessary nor sufficient for knowledge. Whereas, belief-like imagination isn’t adequately disentangled from inference. Additionally, Williamson’s examples are ad hoc and don’t generalize. I conclude that Williamson’s case against the a priori-a posteriori distinction is unconvincing, and so is the thesis that imagination is an epistemic source.
6. “Superexplanations for Counterfactual Knowledge”
Philosophical Studies (2021): https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-020-01477-0
Penultimate draft here: https://philpapers.org/archive/MALSFC-2.pdf
I discuss several problems for Williamson’s counterfactual-theory of modal knowledge and argue that they have a common source, in that the theory neglects to elucidate the proper constraints on modal reasoning. Williamson puts forward an empirical hypothesis that rests on the role of counterfactual reasoning for modal knowledge. But he overlooks central questions of normative modal epistemology. In order for counterfactual reasoning to yield correct beliefs about modality, it needs to be suitably constrained. I argue that what is needed is, specifically, information concerning the nature or essence of things. By integrating this information, essentialist deduction arguably provides a better account of our knowledge of modality. Furthermore, I argue that essences have distinctive causal and explanatory powers—indeed, essences are superexplanatory for how things are. Compared to Williamson’s counterfactual-theory, superexplanatory essentialism clarifies what the proper constraints on modal reasoning are, and why they have such a special status.
7. “Essential Properties are Super-Explanatory. Taming Metaphysical Modality”
The Journal of the American Philosophical Association (2020) (with M. Godman and D. Papineau) https://doi.org/10.1017/apa.2019.48
Penultimate draft here: https://philpapers.org/archive/MALEPA-3.pdf
This paper aims to build a bridge between two areas of philosophical research, the structure of kinds and metaphysical modality. Our central thesis is that kinds typically involve super-explanatory properties, and that these properties lie behind all substantial cases of metaphysical necessity.
8. “New Directions in the Epistemology of Modality: Introduction” (Special Issue of Synthese)
Synthese (2019): https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-019-02358-8
Penultimate draft here: https://philpapers.org/archive/MALNDI.pdf
The fourteen papers in this collection offer a variety of original contributions to the epistemology of modality. In seeking to explain our knowledge of possibility and necessity, they raise some novel questions, develop some unfamiliar theoretical perspectives, and make some intriguing proposals. Collectively, they advance our understanding of the field. In Part I of this Introduction, I give some general background about the contemporary literature in the area, by sketching a timeline of the main tendencies of the past twenty-five years or so, up to the present debates. Next, I focus on four features that largely characterize the latest literature, and the papers in the present collection in particular: (i) an endorsement of the importance of essentialism; (ii) a shift to a “metaphysics-first” approach to modal epistemology; (iii) a focus on metaphysical modality as opposed to other kinds of modality; and (iv) a preference for non-uniform modal epistemology. In Part II, I present the individual papers in the volume. These are organized around the following four chapters, based on their topic: (A) Skepticism & Deflationism; (B) Essentialism; (C) Non-Essentialist Accounts; (D) Applications.
LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS: Francesco Berto; Stephen Biggs & Jessica Wilson; Justin Clark-Doane; Philip Goff; Bob Hale; Frank Jackson; Mark Jago; Boris Kment; Antonella Mallozzi; Graham Priest; Gabriel Rabin; Amie Thomasson; Anand Vaidya & Michael Wallner; Jennifer Wang.
The volume is dedicated to the memory of Bob Hale.
9. “Putting Modal Metaphysics First”
Synthese (2018): https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-018-1828-2
Penultimate draft here: https://philpapers.org/archive/MALPMM.pdf
I propose that we approach the epistemology of modality by putting modal metaphysics first and, specifically, by investigating the metaphysics of essence. Following a prominent Neo-Aristotelian view, I hold that metaphysical necessity depends on the nature of things, namely their essences. I further clarify that essences are core properties having distinctive superexplanatory powers. In the case of natural kinds, which is my focus in the paper, superexplanatoriness is due to the fact that the essence of a kind is what causes all the many properties and behaviors that are typically shared by all the instances of the kind. Accordingly, we know what is necessarily true of kinds by knowing what is essential to them in the sense of actually playing such causal-explanatory roles. Modal reasoning aimed at discovering metaphysical necessity thus proceeds via essentialist deduction: we move from essentialist truths to reach necessary truths.
10. “Two Notions of Metaphysical Modality”
Synthese (2018): https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-018-1702-2
Penultimate draft here: https://philpapers.org/archive/MALTNO-14.pdf
The paper explores the project of an ambitious modal epistemology that attempts to combine the a priori methods of Chalmers’ 2D semantics with Kripke’s modal metaphysics. I argue that such a project is not viable. The ambitious modal epistemology involves an inconsistent triad composed of (1) Modal Monism, (2) Two-Dimensionalism, and what I call (3) “Metaphysical Kripkeanism”. I present the three theses and show how only two of those can be true at a time. There is a fundamental incompatibility between Chalmers’ Modal Rationalism and Kripke’s modal metaphysics. Specifically, Chalmers’ conceivability entails possibilities that a Kripkean rejects as genuinely metaphysical. However, three positive stances in modal epistemology emerge from the combinations that the triad allows. One of those offers a promising way forward for 2D modal epistemologies. But it comes with a cost, as it requires abandoning modal monism and reshaping the scope of what a priori conceivability can give us access to.
11. “The Epistemology of Grounding”
(with A. Vaidya and M. Wallner, under review)
In this paper we tackle the hitherto neglected issue of the epistemology of grounding (EG). We do so by distinguishing two central questions concerning EG and discussing their relation. We adopt a “metaphysics-first”, methodology that tries to answer these questions by focusing on four key notions that are thought to be intimately tied to grounding. The idea is that the epistemology of grounding should be explored by investigating the epistemology of fundamentality, modality, explanation, and essence. We conclude that the epistemology of explanation in concert with the epistemology of essence is the most promising route to EG.