Faces of Necessity

June 9, 2015 - June 10, 2015
University of East Anglia

Julian Study Centre 3.01
University of East Anglia
United Kingdom


  • The Aristotelian Society
  • British Society for the History of Philosophy
  • Mind Association
  • Laboratoire SPH


Juliet Floyd
Boston University
Jonathan Gombin
Bordeaux Montaigne University
Quentin Kammer
Bordeaux Montaigne University
Bordeaux Montaigne University
Mihai Ometita
University of East Anglia
Rupert Read
University of East Anglia
Sidra Shahid
University of East Anglia
Bordeaux Montaigne University
Henri Wagner
Bordeaux Montaigne University

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Kripke’s (1980) distinction between epistemic and metaphysical modalities and the development of modal logic have reshaped the debates on necessity inherited from Kant’s philosophy. More recently, while Stalnaker (2012) and Williamson (2013) engaged in providing metaphysical explanations of necessity and of other modal notions, Stroud (2011) reflected upon the eventual dissatisfaction such explanations may lead to. While the former two attempted either to say something concerning what possible worlds are (Stalnaker 2012, ix) or to investigate how quantified modal logic can legitimately supply a central structural core to theories of modal metaphysics (Williamson 2013, x), Stroud tried to show that, if any dissatisfaction is initially felt concerning our metaphysical understanding of necessity, it is unclear that it may be finally overcome (Stroud 2014, 88).

The conference Faces of Necessity will investigate the philosophical and historical backgrounds of this tension between contemporary conceptions of necessity. What may be brought out by reflecting upon the gap between such hardly compatible stances toward the notion of necessity, whose indispensability is nonetheless agreed upon? How would accounting for such divergence affect our conceiving of necessity? Several problems will be confronted by way of different approaches.

By drawing on Goodman’s analysis of natural law, counterfactual conditional and dispositional statements, one may face a seminal version of this tension. If the meaning of the expressions thereof is irreducibly modal (pace any syntactical approach), one can wonder whether this modal dimension could be characterized without question-begging reference to a causative power.

By bringing out Quine’s role 1) in  Kripke’s distinction between epistemic and metaphysical modalities (Kripke 2013, Lecture I), 2) in Williamson’s criticism of the impartiality of logic (cf. Quine 1936), and 3) in Stroud’s criticism of undue metaphysical dissatisfaction, one may be able to show that the tension among those approaches can be partially levied. How should then necessity be accounted for?

Reconsidering Wittgenstein’s early works, from perspectives anterior (Ishiguro 1969) and posterior (Maddy 2014) to Kripke, the relevance of the Tractarian understanding of necessity to contemporary debates can be advocated for. If the Tractarian account of names can be shown to be compatible with modalities, then could it be also shown that Kripke’s distinction between epistemic and metaphysical modalities is compatible with Wittgenstein’s account of the relations of logic and necessity?

In light of recent reappraisals of Sartre’s reflections on embodiment (Morris 2010), their relevance to account for the eventual dissatisfactoriness of explanations of necessity can be defended. If it may be established that embodiment is necessary to any being who may understand its contingency, could it be that explanations of necessity are bound to be dissatisfactory as far as they are meant to be expressed from a disembodied or substitutable standpoint?

Finally, recent debates on necessity could further gain from a reconsideration of one of their longstanding influences: Kant’s own conception of necessity. Particularly works by Franks (2005) and Longuenesse (2005) make a case for the ongoing relevance of transcendental arguments to accounts of necessity. Then could it be further claimed that transcendental philosophy provided a conceptual framework which further developments of logic may refine yet not overcome?

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June 2, 2015, 7:45pm BST

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