Norms and Necessity

ISBN : 9780190098193

Amie Thomasson
294 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Aug 2020
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Claims about what is metaphysically necessary or possible have long played a central role in metaphysics and other areas of philosophy. Such claims are traditionally thought of as aiming to describe a special kind of modal fact or property, or perhaps facts about other possible worlds. But that assumption leads to difficult ontological, epistemological, and methodological puzzles. Should we accept that there are modal facts or properties, or other possible worlds? If so, what could these things be? How could we come to know what the modal facts or properties are? How can we resolve philosophical debates about what is metaphysically necessary or possible? Norms and Necessity develops a new approach to understanding our claims about metaphysical possibility and necessity: Modal Normativism. The Normativist rejects the assumption that modal claims aim to describe modal features or possible worlds, arguing instead that they serve as useful ways of conveying, reasoning with, and renegotiating semantic rules and their consequences. By dropping the descriptivist assumption, the Normativist is able to unravel the notorious ontological problems of modality, and provide a clear and plausible story about how we can come to know what is metaphysically necessary or possible. Most importantly, this approach helps demystify philosophical methodology. It reveals that resolving metaphysical modal questions does not require a special form of philosophical insight or intuition. Instead, it requires nothing more mysterious than empirical knowledge, conceptual mastery, and an ability to explicitly convey and renegotiate semantic rules.


1. The Rise and Fall of Early Non-Descriptive Approaches
1.1 The Pre-History: Challenges for Empiricism
1.2 Conventionalism and its Motives
1.3 Criticisms of Conventionalism
1.4 Later Non-Descriptivism and the Normative Function of Modal Discourse
1.5 Why the Non-Descriptivist Approach was Lost
1.6 New Barriers to Modal Non-Descriptivism
1.7 A Non-Descriptivist Revival
1.8 Where Do We Go From Here?
2. The Function of Modal Discourse
2.1 Games, Necessities and the Advantages of Modal Terminology
2.2 The Function of Metaphysical Modal Terminology
2.3 Uses of Metaphysical Modal Claims
2.4 How Should We Understand the Semantic Rules?
3. The Meaning of Modal Discourse
3.1 The Relation between Function and Use
3.2 The Content of Modal Terms
3.3 Modal Propositions and Modal Truth
3.4 Avoiding the Criticisms of Conventionalism
3.5 Conclusion
4. Handling De Re and A Posteriori Modal Claims
4.1 Rules for Names and Natural Kind Terms
4.2 De Re Modal Claims
4.3 A Posteriori Modal Claims
4.4 The Contingent A Priori
4.5 Conclusion
5. Other Objections to Modal Normativism
5.1 Putative Counter-examples
5.2 Circularity Worries
5.3 Does it Rely on a Heavyweight Understanding of Logical Necessity?
5.4 Conclusion
6. Ontological Advantages
6.1 Modal Facts and Properties
6.2 Possible Worlds
6.3 What we Gain
6.4 Classificatory (and other forms of) Conventionalism
7. Epistemological Advantages
7.1 The Integration Challenge
7.2 The Reliability Challenge
7.3 Meeting the Integration Challenge
7.4 Meeting the Reliability Challenge
7.5 Does the Challenge Rise Again?
7.6 The Unexplained Coincidence Problem
7.7 Conclusion
8. Methodological Advantages
8.1 Justifying the use of Intuition in Metaphysical Modal Debates
8.2 A Defense of the Relevance of Traditional Methods
8.3 Resolving Internal Metaphysical Modal Disputes
8.4 Objections to Conceptual Analysis
8.5 Limits to Detail and Precision
8.6 Understanding External Metaphysical Modal Disputes
8.7 Conclusion

About the author: 

Amie L. Thomasson is the Daniel P. Stone Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy at Dartmouth College. She is the author of Ontology Made Easy (Oxford University Press, 2015), Ordinary Objects (Oxford University Press, 2007), and Fiction and Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press, 1999), and co-editor (with David W. Smith) of Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind (Oxford University Press, 2005). Her book Ontology Made Easy was awarded the American Philosophical Association's 2017 Sanders Book Prize. She has also published more than 70 book chapters and articles on topics in metaphysics, metaontology, fiction, philosophy of mind and phenomenology, the philosophy of art, and social ontology. She has twice held Fellowships with the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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