An Interesting Subset of Metaphysical Possibilities

I pre­vi­ously out­lined three modes of pos­si­bil­ity: log­i­cal, meta­phys­i­cal, and actual. Log­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties are those per­mit­ted by logic, meta­phys­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties are those per­mit­ted by logic and the laws of meta­physics, and actual pos­si­bil­i­ties are those per­mit­ted by logic, the laws of meta­physics, and actu­al­ity. I would like to describe a par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing sub­set of meta­phys­i­cal possibilities.

Mere meta­phys­i­cal pos­si­bil­ity is often too broad in scope to be rel­e­vant to a given project. Con­sider a group of peo­ple dis­cussing who could have won the ’07 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. A gad­fly among them pro­poses that Mr. T. could have won, and goes on at length about how such a sce­nario could have obtained.

While our gad­fly may have some inter­est­ing things to say, his atti­tude is annoy­ing because he is bring­ing up a pos­si­bil­ity which is not rel­e­vant to the project at hand.

But the next rung down the modal lad­der is “actual”, and in many cases when meta­phys­i­cal pos­si­bil­ity is too broad to be rel­e­vant, actual pos­si­bil­ity is too nar­row. Per­haps among the group of peo­ple dis­cussing who could have won the elec­tion another gad­fly jumps in and argues that only Obama could have won, because there are no actual alter­nate pos­si­bil­i­ties. Though quite cor­rect, he is equally annoy­ing, for the same rea­son that our first gad­fly was annoy­ing: his point is not rel­e­vant to the project at hand.

What our friends are really inter­ested in is a sub­set of the meta­phys­i­cally pos­si­ble worlds in which things like the phys­i­cal con­stants, quan­ti­ties, and laws of the actual uni­verse obtain, and which share the same his­tory as the actual uni­verse up to some point prior to the elec­tion. They want to know whether in any of these such pos­si­ble worlds, any­one other than Obama wins the elec­tion, and if so, what else is dif­fer­ent about such worlds that brought about the difference.

Let’s call these “real” possibilities.

6 thoughts on “An Interesting Subset of Metaphysical Possibilities

  1. Chris

    I for­got Obama won the ’07 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Oh wait.

    You can delete this before any­one sees it. I just wanted to say…

  2. Louis

    Before Jesus was born, it was the case that on June 29th, 2010 at 10:57 PM, Chris would post:

    I for­got Obama won the ’07 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Oh wait.

    You can delete this before any­one sees it. I just wanted to say…”

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