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Conceivability and possibility

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We often decide whether a state of affairs is possible (impossible) by trying to mentally depict a scenario (using words, images, etc.) where the state in question obtains (or fails to obtain). These mental acts (broadly thought of as ‘conceiving') seem to provide us with an epistemic route to the space of possibilities. The problem this raises is whether conceivability judgments provide justification-conferring grounds for the ensuing possibility-claims (call this the ‘conceivability thesis'). Although the question has a long history, contemporary interest in it was, to a large extent, prompted by Kripke's utilization of modal intuitions in the course of propounding certain influential theses in the philosophy of language and mind. The interest has been given a further boost by the recent two-dimensional approach to the Kripkean framework. In this paper, I begin by providing a detailed examination of a most recent attempt (due to Chalmers) to defend the thesis and argue that it is unsuccessful. This is followed by presenting my own gloss on Kripke's explanation of the illusions of contingency and I close by raising a general problem intended to undermine the prospects for a successful defense of the thesis.

Keywords: conceivability; modal intuitions; possibility; primary intension, secondary intension; two-dimensionalism

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/138697903600815756

Affiliations: Analytic Philosophy Faculty, School for Fundamental Sciences (IPM), P.O. Box 19395-5746, Tehran, Iran

Publication date: September 1, 2006

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