Modals and Modal Epistemology
Abstract. I distinguish (§§1-2) two projects in modal epistemology, and suggest (§3) that Timothy Williamson’s treatment of modal epistemology, relating truths of modality to counterfactual conditionals, is best understood as a way of addressing the mystery of why we should have developed cognitive access to facts of metaphysical modality. I offer (§4) a reconstruction of his argument, so interpreted. I compare Williamson’s counterfactual-based approach to metaphysical modality with a treatment in terms of quotidian modals (§§5-6), relating each to the dominant linguistic treatments of modals and conditionals (§§7-8). The insights offered by these linguistic treatments will emphasize the similarity of the counterfactual approach with the quotidian modals approach—in particular, they will demonstrate that the counterfactuals approach does not enjoy the advantage over the latter that Williamson claims for it. The ultimate lesson to be drawn (§9) is that there is a respect in which investigation into metaphysical modality is sui generis; but this is not a respect that renders modal epistemology implausibly mysterious.
The draft is online here. Comments are definitely very welcome -- feel free to email me, or leave a comment to this blog post, or get in touch with me in whatever other way seems like a good idea.