Presented by Prof. Chris Menzel (Texas A & M University)

Possibilism is typically understood to be the view that there are — in the broadest sense — mere possibilia, that is, things (like Wittgenstein’s possible children) that don’t actually exist but which could have existed. The denial of possibilism is known as actualism. In this talk I will begin by providing a brief overview of the historical origins and development of possibilism. As I’ll note, possibilism is an answer to one aspect of the more general problem of nonexistent objects, that is, our apparent ability to  think, talk, and reason about things — like griffins, centaurs, and Wittgenstein’s possible children — that intuitively don’t exist. Modern iterations of possibilism focus in addition upon the simple and elegant quantified modal logic that possibilism appears to yield. Surprisingly, two of the best known proponents of modern possibilism — Bernard Linsky and Edward Zalta (1994) — argue that possibilism can in fact be reframed as a species of actualism. More recently, Timothy Williamson (2013) has piled on, arguing that the classical distinction between possibilism and actualism is really just a morass of confusion, and he offers an alternative distinction in its place (between necessitism and contingentism) that he claims is more useful. I agree that Linsky and Zalta are on to something — the traditional understanding of the distinction, though not incoherent, is too weak of itself to prevent their reframing. In the last part of my talk, I will suggest an alternative definition of the distinction that retains the flavor of the original but keeps Linsky and Zalta (and Williamson, for that matter) in the possibilist box where they belong.


Please email Guillermo Badia if you are interested in attending