Are ‘Possible Worlds’ Possible?

possible worlds modality counterfactual

In recent decades, the idea in modal logic and metaphysics of possible worlds has become a widely used tool in philosophy. But are the hypotheticals discussed using possible worlds even, well, possible? To test this idea, I am going to try to construct an idea of possible worlds by way of mathematical models for making adjustments to the world as understood in both a metaphysically materialist/physicalist sense as well as what assumptions must be present for immaterialist/spiritualist claims to be true.

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Metametaphysics: Review, Commentary, and Discussion (Part 1)

For those who may be paying attention to my recent posts, I am currently reading the collection of essays Metametaphysics, which talks about how metaphysics ought to be done. There is a lot of discussion about whether problems in ontology, such as mereological sums (if there is a tablewise arrangement of atoms, does some “new” object that we call a table come into existence, or is that just a shorthand way we talk about such tablewise arrangements of atoms?), are just semantic. In other words, when I say that a table is nothing more than a tablewise arrangement of atoms, and you say that a table is something above and beyond the tablewise arrangement of atoms, are we simply just using the word “table” in different ways, thus resulting in the differences in how we conceptualize what a table is? Here I am going to discuss (more so than review) the first three essays in this collection.

Metametaphysics, edited by David J. Chalmers, David Manley, and Ryan Wasserman, Copyright 2009, Oxford University Press, 540 pages

Essay 1: “Composition, Colocations, and Metaontology” by Karen Bennett

Essay 2: “Ontological Anti-Realism” by David J. Chalmers

Essay 3: “Carnap and Ontological Pluralism” by Matti Eklund

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Quantum Field Theory, Chaos Theory, and Ontological Indeterminacy

Ontological indeterminacy is when we don’t have a way to map our conceptual understanding of existence onto actual existence. Or, as Allen Ginsburg defined it: “Ontological indeterminacy (OI) involves incompatible conceptual systems being applicable to a domain with equal empirical adequacy”. But what happens when we don’t have empirical adequacy, such as with quantum field theory and chaos theory?

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Conceptual Engineering of PhenomIntensioNominalism (PIN): A Foundational Theory of Meaning

The colloquial way of defining what it means for a statement to be true is that it corresponds to reality: if I say “it is raining” and it’s also the case that it’s raining, then what I said is true; if I say “it is raining” and it’s not the case that it’s raining, then what I said is false. This is an extensional truth condition – the extension of the proposition must be the case in reality for the statement to be true. But is this really how truth works? In what follows, I am riffing on some ideas floating around in my head, so feel free to point out any problems so as to help me clarify my thoughts.

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Categories of Understanding, Qualia, and the Operations of Intuition

Understanding how consciousness and the mind is generated is best done using the bottom-up approach of neuroscience, but if the consciousness/mind is performing recursive, downwardly causal actions on the Lockean Ideas – the content of thinking/cognition – then what are the mental mechanisms being utilized? Here I present some nascent ideas for your consideration.

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Existence and Essence in Our Time

I’ve been reading a bit of Scholastic and Islamic Golden Age philosophy – namely Thomas Aquinas and Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Sina (Avicenna). In those times, people were obsessed with two things: the Greek philosophers (Plato, the neoplatonists, and Aristotle) and being able to reconcile the Grecian ontology with their monotheistic, Abrahamic religion. It’s interesting to read their philosophy, but I was wondering if it had any relevance to modern philosophy.

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Philosophy of Fiction

What is a work of fiction? I think most people know the easy answer. When a person writes a work of fiction, they are creating a story about characters and events that didn’t (or won’t) actually happen. Or, at least, if they did (or do) happen, it’s purely incidental. But this is only one layer of a more complicated philosophical question. To answer this question, we first need to know what it means for something to “be.”

The study of the nature of being is called ontology. It is a branch of metaphysics that looks at categories of being and how they are related to one another. To peel the onion down to a deeper layer, we must consider the ontology of fiction. But first, it is useful to think about what a work of fiction is not and why.

A proposal might be that a work of fiction occurs at a purely physical level. We could say that the work of fiction exists as pages on which words are written. Once again, there is a level of truth to this. Certainly the substrate of a work of fiction can exist on the page. But this could also include works of non-fiction. But even more troublesome is that works of fiction do not need to exist on a page in order for them to exist – many fictions are transmitted through verbal communication. That means this proposal is insufficient to be what a work of fiction is.

A second proposal might then try to exclude non-fiction and include fiction that is not written. To do this, one might propose that a work of fiction is a string of words, whether written or merely spoken, which generates a narrative that doesn’t correspond to any particular reality. This sounds pretty satisfying. But now we run into a harrier problem: does a work of fiction that only exists as spoken word cease to exist when nobody is retelling the narrative tail? What if someone writes down a work of fiction but then burns the pages – does that work of fiction then cease to exist? And what happens when two copies of a work of fiction are produced, do we then have two different works of fiction that just so happen to contain the same words and narrative? And what would it mean if two people came up with the same story, word-for-word, at the same time, completely independent of each other – have they created two different works of fiction, or are they the same? If the work of fiction is merely an arrangement of words such that they fit together to make a narrative whole, then was it not possible that that arrangement of words could have come together by itself through some anomaly of entropy and without an author?

It’s difficult to say what the ontological definition of a work of fiction is, but I think there are a few points that would be necessary parts of a work of fiction. I propose the ontological definition of a work of fiction, whatever it may be, would necessarily contain the following:

1. A work of fiction must be created by an author. These works of fiction did not exist in some way prior to the authors creating of the story – the work of fiction is not merely an anomaly of entropy randomly bringing the words together.

2. A work of fiction must be such that if two authors create the same story independently, the two works are distinct in some way. Even if the arrangement of words are exactly the same, the reasons, motivations, and influences that prompted the author to bring this arrangement of words together were different.

3. A work of fiction must be such that we can distinguish between certain tokens of a work of fiction and the type of a work of fiction.


Can any readers come up with a possible ontological definition of what a work of fiction is? Is my list of necessary elements that this definition must contain too inclusive or too exclusive?