The Metaphysics of Modality


Philosophy 650

Dr. Brandon C. Look

Department of Philosophy

University of Kentucky


Spring 2006



Course Description:


What is it that allows us meaningfully to employ modal notions such as necessity, possibility, impossibility, and contingency?  How are we to distinguish (if at all) between the essential properties of a thing and its accidental properties?  In the past several decades, many philosophers have appealed to the Leibnizian notion of a possible world in order to answer these questions.  But this move has occasioned another sort of question: what is a possible world anyhow? 


This seminar will focus on the metaphysics of modality: that is, the nature of possible worlds, the relationship between individuals and their properties, and the sense in which unactualized possibles can be said to exist.


Our reading will comprise many of the contemporary classics in the field of analytic metaphysics.  In some sense, however, the reading could just as well be thought of as falling under the rubric “David Lewis and His Opponents” – in that the seminar will trace the dialectic between David Lewis’ modal realism, actualist realism, and versions of anti-realism.


We shall also devote (at least?) one meeting to modern modal ontological arguments.


Expectations, Requirements, and Grading:


Students are expected to attend all seminar meetings, have read and reflected upon the required readings (indicated by “*” below), and be active participants in discussion. 


Each student will be required to write one short “discussion paper” of 4-5 pages in length, in which he or she critiques, analyzes, and/or pulverizes the arguments in the assigned readings.  (The assignments will be sorted out on the first day of class.)  These papers are to be completed and made available to all members of the seminar by Wednesday afternoon.  (These papers will also constitute part of the assigned reading for that day.)


In addition, each students is required to write one seminar paper of approximately 20 pages in length.  Due date: Wednesday, 3 May 2006.


Final grades will be based on these components — though the final paper is constitutes the bulk of the grade. 






      David Lewis, On the Plurality of Worlds, Oxford: Blackwell, 1986

      Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity, Oxford: Clarendon, 1974



      John Divers, Possible Worlds, London: Routledge, 2002

      Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity, Oxford: Blackwell, 1980

      Michael Loux (ed.), The Possible and the Actual, Ithaca: Cornell, 1979.


Other than the material from Plantinga and Lewis, everything else will be made available to photocopy.  (There are two folders in the copy room, each of which contains the reading for the semester.  One folder, however, has the material “bookmarked” with Post-It ™ notes, so that, if you wish, you can pick and choose what you copy.)