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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

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1) The Problem: In this thread Bill explores the following two questions raised by Van Inwagen:
(A) Do we have modal knowledge, knowledge of “unrealized possibilities”?
(B) If so, how do we explain having such knowledge? How is modal knowledge possible?
[Note the modal character of the second formulation of the question in (B)]

2) Van Inwagen, as reported by Bill, answers (A) affirmatively, but offers no conclusive answer to (B): he finds the fact that we have modal knowledge something of a mystery.

3) Bill offers a tentative account of our knowledge of unrealized possibilities by identifying at least some of them with our knowledge of “unexercised abilities of agents”. The account takes two steps:
Step (i): “The unrealized possibility of the table's being in a different position from the one it is in is identical to the unexercised ability of an agent with sufficient power to move the table in question.”
Step (ii): “Knowing a merely possible state of affairs, then, is knowing something actual, namely, an agent's actual, but unexercised, ability to bring about the state of affairs in question.”

4) Bill’s tentative proposal is neat. In Step (i) Bill proposes to think of an unrealized but possible state of affairs such as the position of a table as *identical* to an unrealized but possible state of affairs such as a certain ability an agent has to move the table in a given position. Since we do have knowledge of the sort of unrealized but possible state of affairs consisting of an ability of an agent to move tables around, we simply substitute identical states of affairs in the doxastic context of ‘a knows that…’ and get the conclusion that we have knowledge of the unrealized but possible state of affairs of the position of the table. The problem now reduces to the question of how we have knowledge of unrealized but possible abilities agents have. While Bill concedes that this later form of knowledge is still problematical, he perhaps thinks that it might be easier to resolve.

5) I think that there is an additional difficulty with Step (i): i.e., thinking of the unrealized but possible position of the table as being *identical* to an unrealized but possible ability of an agent to move the table to a new position. Why? Let us change the terminology a bit. Call an unrealized but possible state of affairs a ‘counterfactual’. So the unrealized but possible state of affairs of the table being in a different position than it actually is situated in is identical to the counterfactual state of affairs of the table being situated in a slightly different position than the position it actually is situated in. Now, while the table could have been in a different position because the ability of an agent to move it about, such a counterfactual could have been caused by numerous other counterfactual states such as an inadvertent force exerted on it by my dog passing by or a very strong wind or an earthquake, or…and so on. While each of these unrealized but possible states could have caused the counterfactual to be true, they are clearly quite different unrealized but possible causes. Bill’s proposal will render them all identical, which in my opinion is an unwelcome result. The problem here is that while my ability to move the table about, while unrealized, provides a causal explanation of a counterfactual effect (the table is in a different position) in terms of a counterfactual cause (I move the table), the counterfactual effect could have been caused by a variety of other counterfactual causes that are in no way identical.

6) I do not claim that the connection Bill makes between our knowledge of unrealized but possible abilities of agents is irrelevant to our knowledge of the counterfactual position of the table. My claim is merely that our knowledge of the later is not derived by recognizing the kind of identity Bill proposes in Step (i), because such an identity is false. Nevertheless, I think Bill is correct in suggesting (floating the idea that) knowledge of things such as abilities, potentialities, dispositions, and so on is intimately intertwined with our modal knowledge of unrealized possibilities. A proper account of such knowledge, however, must first acknowledge that our modal concepts enjoy a relative autonomy. The thesis of *Modal Autonomy* imposes certain constraints on any account of our knowledge of unrealized possibilities (counterfactuals) and the first step I think should be identifying these constraints. Perhaps we can float some proposals in this direction.

peter



Peter,

An outstanding response which exemplifies the marks of a good comment. You understand the problems, my suggested solution, the defect I find in my own proposal, and you add a second difficulty.

I was assuming that events like earthquakes are not agent-causes but mere event-causes. Though I didn't make it clear, I was assuming that only free agents are agents strictly speaking. But this doesn't clear my proposal of Peter's second objection since it can be reformulated in terms of agents in the strict sense.

My suggestion what that the unrealized possibility that p = the unexercised ability of some agent to bring it about that p. Bill and Peter are both free agents, and both have the ability to move tables. Peter's objection reformulated would then be that my proposal has the unwelcome consequence that: the unrealized possibility that p = the unexercised ability of Bill to bring it about that p = the unexercised ability of Peter to bring it about that p.

At this point I should ask Peter if this is the essence of his objection. If it is, the consequence is presumably unwelcome because the unexercised ability of Bill cannot be identical to the unexercised ability of Peter. (But perhaps these unexercised abilities are types not tokens and are type-identical. Would that also be objectionable?)

Peter should expand on what he means by Modal Autonomy. Does he mean something different from the nonreducibility of the modal to the nonmodal?

Bill,

Thanks for your kind comments.
Your reformulation of my objection is correct. My oversight about the earthquake example. I need to think about the idea of recasting your proposal in terms of type-identity. Perhaps this answers the objection, although much depends upon the way we characterize the types involved. I will have to think about it.
I am preparing something about modal autonomy and it might take a few days or so to complete a presentable draft.

(I found hidden somewhere deep underground a copy of Van Inwagen's "Ontology, Identity, and Modality" which I happen to own. You think! I wonder how many other treasures are hidden in the deep?)

peter

Maybe a solution to potentialities is to place them within agents, as you yourself already do. This would solve, it would seem to me, any ontological problems about non-actualized possibilities possessing an act of existing. In this case, the actuality which allows the potentiality to exist would be a "substance." So, it would be correct that the potentiality in terms of an unrealized possibility does not float about without an actuality of any sort, but exists in some fashion in an subject (possessing the actuality of an act of existence, or as an accident, ect.).
If we accept this particular solution, ontologically, then I think the general ontological problem might bear a similar solution. Any potentiality would arise from a basic ontological principle of potentiality, including "alternate unrealized potential" states of existence of any subject whatsoever. I would think this entails positing a principle of potential in all existing things which, under a Thomistic distinctio realis model, would be the "essence." This would, it would seem, subsume both the ontological and epistemological problematic under one head. One would understand potential states of affairs in anything by referencing this principle of the "essence" or "nature" of that substance and thus recognize its various powers and alternate possible states of affairs. Does this seem reasonable?

StM,

I don't think you see the problem. A normal man has the power to impregnate women. This power exists whether or not it is ever exercised. Suppose the power in a given man is never exercised. Then the exercise of the power is an unrealized possibility. This possibility is not nothing, but it is also not identical to anything actual. The problem is to make sense of that. Granted, the power can't 'float free': it is grounded in the man. Think of the man as an Aristotelian primary substance. It is bound up with the nature of this substance to have the power in question. But although the power is grounded in the man, it is not identical to anything actual in the man. If it were, the potency of the power would be unaccounted for.

Second example: the flexibility of a rubber hose is a dispositional property of the hose, but it cannot be identical to any categorical property of the house lest the dispositionality of the disposition go unaccounted for.

Analogy: if mental states are identified with brain states, then the intentionality of mental states is left unaccouinted for.

PETER: How would you put the point? I take it you agree with me on this.

Hi Bill: I'm excited to see your post on this topic. I probably won't be able to keep up (temporally or intellectually), but I think this is a fascinating problem. I have tried before to sketch the speculative idea of agents as actualizers of possibilia "all the way down", including all concrete events, to address the problems you and Peter discuss here. (This is an analogue to trying out panexperientialist approaches in philosophy of mind).
Best regards,
- Steve Esser

I must admit that I don't exactly see the problem, as you say. Take, for example, the man. From what I gather, his reproductive powers are inherent in him as a human being. These would be tied to some aspect of what he is and to the particular ontological structure of his person. Even if never actualized, these possibilities don't exist apart from a realized ontological structure which does exist. Granted, it could not be identical to any currently existing state of affairs in his person - say, the current shape of his hair. But it would be identified as inhering in a fully realized organ or bodily system. I guess what I'm trying to point out is that the power is tied to his formal cause. It is really and fully present as a potency or disposition in his essential character, which IS actual at all times. Similarly, the hose has an actual essence which accounts for non-actualized dispositions. As would, ex hypothesi, brain states as mental states. My point is that powers should not present a problem because no actualized state of affairs or thing exists without said dispositions. There could not be an existing actualized entity that did not have disposition (and potentially non-realized disposition) properties. So, in my view, it would be misconceiving the problem to ask how dispositions can exist as non-actual if the nature of a thing "in act" entails its disposition-character. If I'm just not getting it, I won't bother you anymore about it.

Bill,

You have done a pretty good job at it, but perhaps the following might be helpful.

Dispositional propeties are typically defined in terms of counterfactuals. i.e, propositions that have the form:

(I) If such an such were to happen, then this and this would result (ceterus paribus).

Notice that neither the antecedent nor the consequent of I describe an event that in fact happened nor do they describe a fact that takes place (such as for instance some actual property of something).

Now, let XYZ be a pure categorical property of something: e.g., the molecular composition of glass for instance. By 'pure' I mean that XYZ simply describe the actual molecular composition of glass, period. Such a description might take the following form:

(II) Glass is made out of XYZ.

Now II is neither synonymous nor equivalent in any way to I, since the later makes essential reference to a counterfactual situation (if such-and-such were to happen,...), whereas the former does not: it merely states what actually is the case.

Nor can XYZ be identical to a dispositional property because once again the dispositional property is defined in terms of a counterfactual situation whereas XYZ is not.

What is true, and perhaps is the source of confusion, is that since glass just is XYZ (is identical to), it follows that every property of the glass is a property of XYZ, *including its dispositional properties*. And since glass has the dispositional property of being brittle, it follows that XYZ also has this dispositional property.

What we can say, perhaps, is that dispositional properties are supervenient or are emergent properties of the structure of things. Thus, we can explain why glass is brittle in terms of its molecular structure. But such an explanation does not take the form of identifying the dispositional property with the molecular structure. That cannot be done without loosing the essential counterfactual character of the dispositional property.

Such an explanation rather takes the form of showing that given that glass has the molecular structure of XYZ and XYZ has such and such properties, then if certain things were to happen, all else being equal, these properties will causally interact with these events in such a way so as to produce such and such effects.

I hope this is helpful and not causing further confusion. I do believe that something along these lines is right.

peter


Can't you solve the ontological problem simply by positing Plantinga/Adams style possible worlds as necessarily existing maximal possible states of affairs/sets of propositions? Because of their necessary existence, they will exist no matter what world is actual and then conventional unrealised possibilities can be identified with proper parts (or proper subsets) of these worlds.

It would also seem that an answer to the epistemological worry would follow striaghtforwardly from this account: we learn about what is possible by, say, compounding various propositions and, when we don't encounter any conceptual clashes, we declare the resulting proposition as being possibly true.

StM,

Peter's exposition brings out my point is a different way.

Matt Hart,

Suppose we take the abstractist tack of Plantinga & Co. and identify possible worlds with maximal (Fregean) propositions. A proposition is maximal iff it entails every proposition with which it is logically consistent. Propositions necessarily exist, whence it follows that possible worlds necessarily exist. The actual world is one of these maximal propositions, the one that is true. All the others are merely possibly true.

I wrote above, "The ontological puzzle is that unrealized possibilities, though not nothing, are yet nothing actual. How can something be without being actual?" Your suggestion is that we identify an unrealized possibility with a false (but possibly true) proposition which is a conjunct of a maximal proposition. On this suggestion, an unrealized possibility is identified with a necessarily existent abstract object, namely, a (Fregean) proposition, and the being-realized of such a possibility = the being-true of a proposition.

For example, the unrealized possibility of my having a hat on at t is identical to a false proposition, *BV has a hat on at t.* One problem with this suggestion is that it removes a possibility involving me from me and places it in an inert Platonic realm of abstracta. This can't be right. It is really possible for me to put on a hat because of various powers I have: the power to close my hand around a thing, the power to lift my arm, along with cognitive powers such as the power to identify a thing as my hat and another thing as my head, etc. These powers are in me, this concrete hunk of reality.

At best, the unrealized possibility of my having a hat on at t is merely REPRESENTED by the proposition *BV has a hat on at t.*

As for the epistemology of modal knowledge, can I know that it is possible for a bar of iron to float by forming a conjunction of *This is a bar of iron* and *This floats in water*? The fact that I can form this conjunction without engendering a contradiction does not show that I have knowledge of a real possibility.

I am somewhat concerned about the propositionalist account you guys are discussing above because of the points raised by Bill. If we construe a possible world as a maximally consistent set of propositions (i.e., the possible world is identical to a set of propositions) and think of propositions as necessarily existing, then it would appear that the conjunction of a maximally consistent set of propositions also exists necessarily. But now it would appear that what we initially thought of as a *possible world* turns out to exist necessarily. But this is certainly troubling: according to our basic intuitions about these matters even the actual world does not exist necessarily, let alone a *possible* version thereof.

shutz...

peter

Bill (if I may),

You write "It is really possible for me to put on a hat because of various powers I have: the power to close my hand around a thing, the power to lift my arm, along with cognitive powers such as the power to identify a thing as my hat and another thing as my head, etc. These powers are in me, this concrete hunk of reality."

But, of course, it is possible to take an abstractist line about powers too: just pick out the class of nomologically possible worlds and see what types of event there are that are directly caused by your willing (and also maybe indirectly to an extent). These would be your powers. They can still be said to accrue to you in the sense that the propositions describing these acts inevitably have you as their subject.

I grant you that this may not seem entirely satisfactory, but it seems better than any alternative I've seen. I guess the problem with putting modality in the world is that the world is a contingent beast, and there are surely possibilities about non-existents, like you say. Although maybe God can help here by being the bridge from the concrete to the necessary grounding required by modality. I know Pruss has done some stuff on this.

As for the iron bar, it seems to me like you've got a genuine possibility there, so long as you aren't defining iron with reference to nomology - I'd probably go for a weaker description. Conceivability only needs to be reliable for modal knowledge in any case, not perfect.

Matt.

Matt,

I think that one of Bill's concerns here is that these powers inhere in Bill himself, this actual person that exists in the actual world. While these powers have the unrealized potential to bring about a non-actual but possible state of affairs (having the hat on at t), they belong to an actual entity; namely Bill. So the question is whether according to this propositionalist account Bill himself, this very physical thing, is a constituent of these abstract propositions (e.g., the proposition that Bill put his hat on at t) or not?
If the actual Bill is a constituent of these propositions, then in what sense are these propositions abstract given that they feature essentially a concrete constituent? If he is not a constituent, then in what sense can we say that the power to put on the hat at t is Bill's power; i.e., inheres in this physical thing?

I am genuinely puzzled by this whole matter.

peter

Peter,

The set of propositions will necessarily exist, but it won't be necessarily TRUE. The possible world which is the actual would on this scheme would be that maximal consistent set of propositions which corresponds to reality.

As Bill says "the being-realized of such a possibility = the being-true of a proposition."

Matt.

Mat,

"The set of propositions will necessarily exist, but it won't be necessarily TRUE."

I know. In fact it won't be true at all. But still the necessary existence of the set of propositions that constitutes a possible world is in itself already worrisome to me.

peter

Peter,

I don't think you understand the sort of abstractist scheme that Matt and I are talking about. The idea is that worlds are abstract objects. (But note that we should drop the idea that a world could be a set. There is a Cantorian argument to the conclusion that there is no set of all truths. So forget about that.)

A world on the abstractist approach is an abstract object, either a maximal proposition or a maximal (abstract, Chisholmian-Plantingian) state of affairs. Think of a world as a maximal proposition. Then:

1. The actual world is the true maximal proposition.
2. Every merely possible world is a false proposition.
3. Actuality is truth.
4. The actual world must not be confused with the physical universe, or more generally, with the realm of concreta. (There are or at least could be concreta that are nonphysical.)
5. Propositions are Fregean, not Russellian, which implies that the proposition *Socrates is wise* does not have Socrates himself, all 200 lbs of him, as a constituent. It has an abstract surrogate of him as a constituent, an haecceity-property.
6. Propositions necessarily exist.
7. The actual world necessarily exists. (from 6)
8. Since actuality is truth, existence is not actuality. So although the actual world necessarily exists, it is not necessarily actual. It is contingently actual!
9. Since worlds are Fregean propositions, to say that Socrates exists in world W is tosay that W represents Socrates as existing.

Alles klar?

Peter,

Sorry if I was unclear, I am claiming that the powers you describe do not inhere in Bill. But on my suggested account of powers they would count as Bill's powers because he is their subject and they describe him performing various actions. I guess they could also do some explanatory work: "why am I able to do x?" "because there is a proposition among the nomologically possible worlds that describes you performing x" etc.

I feel the force the objection that this explanation is backwards, but there is a simple argument that powers can't be grounded in people:

1) Powers are modal concepts,
2) To fully explicate/map-out our modal concepts some sort of necessarily existing apparatus is required.
3) People (and the world more generally) don't exist necessarily.
ergo,
4) People (and the world more generally) can't be the ground of their powers.

An argument for 2). Suppose that the ground of Bill's powers is found only in Bill. Take a world w in which Bill doesn't exist. In that world it will still be possible that Bill could've existed and performed various actions. But what could ground this possibility in w? Not Bill, because he doesn't exist in w. Hence the need for necessarily existent abstracta, which are always around. And once you've done this, what else remains to drag you back down to the concrete?

Matt.

First of all, Matt, thank you for being clear, for giving arguments, for being civil and for being intelligent (assuming that one can be appropriately thanked for possessing the latter attribute). You argue:

1) Powers are modal concepts,
2) To fully explicate/map-out our modal concepts some sort of necessarily existing apparatus is required.
3) People (and the world more generally) don't exist necessarily.
ergo,
4) People (and the world more generally) can't be the ground of their powers.

I am afraid I cannot accept this argument. First of all, powers are not concepts, so they can't be modal concepts. We have the concept power but this is distinct from any power. Your second premise is not self-evident: some argument is required. Premise (3) I accept.

How (4) is supposed to follow from the premises is not clear either. Your argument seems to be this:

P1. Powers are concepts
P2. Concepts are necessary beings
P3. People are not necessary beings
P4. If x is grounded in y, and x is a necessary being, then y cannot be a contingent being; ergo
C. The powers of people are not grounded in people.

This is a valid argument (or can be easily made valid by supply of some readily granted auxiliary premises). But P1 is false and P2 is dubious. So I say the argument is unsound.

Here is the problem in a nutshell: How can my sexual potency not be grounded in my body, in my loins, in my sexual apparatus with all its constituent parts functioning properly, incl. spermatazoa, etc etc.?

To install my sexual potency in a Platonic topos ouranos where the only copulation is of the logical sort makes no sense. At most, Bolzanian-Fregean propositions REPRESENT statically the dynamism of the world of flux and shove here below. Plantinga, PvI, and Co. have a fine and rigorously articulated way of MODELLING modal goings-on here below. But in general we must distinguish the model from the modelled.

Bill,

Thanks for the kind words! I should say I have been following your blog since 2005, and have found it very enlightening and helpful, but I've never commented up till now!

I didn't mean to claim that powers were concepts, I agree that that is false, what I meant to claim was that

0) Power concepts are modal concepts,

that you can't grasp the concept of a power without grasping the notions of possibility, necessity etc., but I believe I have a more perspicacious way of making my point without reference to concepts, it runs as follows:

1) There is nothing to personal powers beyond facts about what is possible for someone. (If there is more to powers than this I should like to know what.)
2) But (this is the rub) facts about what is possible for someone obtain even in worlds where they don't exist, indeed in every world.
3) Given 2), then whatever facts about what is possible for x are, they must be facts that necessarily obtain.
4) But if people are to be the ground of these possibility facts, they need to exist necessarily.
5) People don't exist necessarily.
Ergo,
5) People can't be the ground of their powers.

I'd be interested to know what premise you deny.

Matt.

Matt,

That is a very interesting argument!

I take it that what (1) means is that if a person S has a power P, then there is nothing more to P than facts about what is possible for S. You are using 'fact' to mean 'true proposition.' So what you are saying is that a person's power to do X is exhausted by the truth of certain propositions. So Tom's power to run 10 miles in 70 minutes consists in the truth of such propositions as: *Tom is able to run,* *Tom is able to run at a 7 min/mile pace,* etc.

But I would insist that such propositions, being contingently true if true, need truth-makers, and that these truth-makers are facts (in the other use of 'fact') that have Tom himself as constituent, Tom together with the powers ingredient in him.

The point is that "the facts about what is possible for someone" refer us back to the concrete person and his powers; you cannot therefore reduce a person's powers to certain facts about what is possible for him. That gets things precisely backwards. It's like saying that Socrates is wise because *Socrates is wise* is true. It is the other way around: *Socrates is wise* is true because the fact of Socrates' being wise makes it true. 'makes-true' is asymmetrical.

Do you perhaps deny the Truth-Maker Principle?

As for (2), I grant that there are worlds in which I don't exist, e.g., the world in which my father was killed in the South Pacific in WWII. You could say that a world in which I don't exist is a world in which my haecceity-property (BV-ness) is not exemplified. (I deny that there are haecceity-properties, but that is a separate topic.) But you are going to have to explain to me how I can have powers in worlds in which I do not exist. Is it not self-evident that for x to have a power x must exist?

Bill,

I agree with both the Truth-Maker principle (TM) and that existence is a necessary condition for property possession.

You have convinced me via TM that I can't just get by with propositions - it does seem get the explanation backwards, but I still don't think that powers can inhere in people in the sense you intend.

To explain, I think that what makes true a proposition concerning possibilities (for people and more generally) is a modal fact. (I use fact here in the other sense, not to mean 'true proposition'.) Possibility/necessity are primitives on nearly all forms of actualism and so these facts will be irreducible entities, and the sum of all these facts will constitute "modal reality", shall we say, which would be that necessarily existent thing which grounds truths concerning the possible.

I posit such a thing because of premise 2) of my argument: there are possible truths concerning non-existents, and this requires something necessarily existent to ground them.

You question the coherence of 2) however: "But you are going to have to explain to me how I can have powers in worlds in which I do not exist."

I think I can show this; Peter showed how powers can be given a ready counterfactual formulation, so your actual power to don a hat could be expressed as

P) Had Bill chose to, he could've put on a hat.

But now consider a world w in which you don't exist, surely it will be true in w that

Q) Had Bill existed, and had he chose to, he could've put on a hat.

But all (Q) is is a counterfactual with a slightly stronger antecedent than (P), and that is how you can have a power when you don't exist (and it doesn't seem like a case of property possession). And, of course, since you don't exist in w (Q) must get its grounding from, I suggest, modal reality. And if (Q) does then we should expect (P) to get is grounding from the same source. Hence powers don't inhere in people. Once you exist and have your concrete parameters defined you automatically "plug-in", so to speak, to modal reality and it does the rest of the work for you, with no need for an intermediary such as powers.

Matt.

Matt,

Excellent comments! You are suggesting that modal truths have irreducible modal facts as truth-makers. So the truth-maker for 'If I were to drop this light bulb onto the cement, then it would shatter' is a special counterfactual fact which is a proper part of modal reality. And this despite it being the case that both the antecedent and the consequent of the counterfactual conditional are false. So the counterfactual is a compound proposition that has a truth-maker despite its components not having truth-makers.

I find this puzzling, though I grant that this is not an objection to your proposal. Part of the puzzle here is the notion of modal reality. We tend to think of the real as the actual. But if the real is the actual, then there is no ontological room for modal facts. But the idea that only the actual is really possible is even more unacceptable, the dogmatism of Rand and Co. notwithstanding. For that implies that the actual is necessary. Part of your argument is:

P) Had Bill chose to, he could've put on a hat.

But now consider a world w in which you don't exist, surely it will be true in w that

Q) Had Bill existed, and had he chose to, he could've put on a hat.

I grant that there are worlds in which I do not exist. (That follows from my being a contingent being.) Let W be one of these worlds. The problem is to attach a clear sense to (Q). Do you mean

Q* Had Bill existed in W, and had he chosen to, he could have put on a hat in W?

But I don't see that (Q*) makes sense. W is a merely possible world. It is defined (in part) by my nonexistence there. So it makes no sense to suppose that I might have existed in W.

Can you clarify what you mean by (Q)?

Bill,

I agree that my proposal would be implausible if it is inconsistent with the co-extensiveness of the real and the actual. To put your worry more succinctly, you worry that an "actual counterfactual fact" is incoherent, right?

But the way I intend modal reality to function is such that it doesn't entail the existence of any one possible world - it entails the fact of something's being possible, but not the fact itself. Counterfactual facts, of course, can only be picked out once some possible world has obtained, and so are explanatory posterior to real existence. What is actual really exists, and so modal reality really exists, but modal reality just consists in facts about what is and is not possible. As far as the former goes, I'm not sure how you can get from merely that to the obtaining of some real non-modal fact.

Part of the problem is that "counterfactual fact" is ambiguous between

1) A non-modal fact that has been assigned the property of being counterfactual

and

2) A fact that is constituted by modal relations of a certain sort which warrant it from our perspective being called counterfactual.

I intend sense 2), but then there is no contradiction.

About Q) I don't see why I have to get particular about which world I am talking about, but surely Q) can be rewritten as

Q') It is possible that (Bill exists, that he wills to put on hat and that he puts on a hat).

Won't that be true in W as it stands?

Matt.

Bill,

Looking back on it, my last post doesn't seem so clear. To try again, a "possible fact" (I don't believe in irreducible counterfactual facts - they can be reuduced to possible facts plus some sort of "opposing" relation to what is actual) is ambiguous between two readings. I was trying to make a distinction between a fact's being constituted by possibility and a fact's (be it a modal or non-modal fact) possessing the property of being possible (which would really be relation that that fact stood in to some proper part of modal reality).

So we have the following range of possibilities:

1) A fact that is a possible fact, where the "is" is the "is" of constitution.
2) A fact that is a possible fact, where the "is" is the "is" of predication.

(2) can be further divided into two types

3) A modal fact that is (predicatively) a possible fact.
4) A non-modal fact that is (predicatively) a possible fact.

With regard to (3), I think that, necessarily, any modal fact is possible because modal facts are necessary. So there strictly cannot be any counterfactual modal facts. But there still seems to be some sort of sense that can be attached to the phrase "actual counterfactual facts" given my view. I think all that this amounts to is that "counterfactual" is being used derivatively here to pick out that state of affairs for which the modal fact is related to by being that fact's ground of possibility. So strictly the counterfactuality pertains to that state of affairs, rather than to the modal fact itself. This might be enough to alleviate your worry.

Finally, to be even clearer about (Q), my (Q') is equivalent to

(Q''): There is some possible world such that (Bill exists, that he wills to put on hat and that he puts on a hat).

And the mystery of what can ground the truth of it remains.

Matt.

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