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William Knowles

PhD thesis

Context-Dependent Modality


Research interests

Modality (both epistemology and metaphysics), analytic philosophy in 20th century, decision theory

Current research

Two questions ground a lot of philosophy of modality: what kinds of truths are modal truths, if at all, and how do we come to know them, if at all. The answers one gives to these questions are not, or should not be, independent: your metaphysics informs your epistemology and vice versa. I think the most expedient direction is from epistemology to metaphysics.

My current modal epistemological position is called the necessity-first view (originally an idea from Hale), which says that we come to know possibilities by fitting them in where there are no contradictory necessities. That is, for all propositions p, we find p possible by not finding not-p impossible, or equivalently, by not finding p impossible. I think this view is correct due to its lack of counterexamples and due to its fruitfulness in explaining certain confusing modal data.

The next step in my research is to say something about how necessities are found. This turns out to inform our characterisation of modality more generally, which thus makes my approach one from epistemology to metaphysics rather than the other way around. Metaphysically speaking I prefer to deal with Kripkean seemingly-essentialist data without positing essences, and I am particularly interested in two historical contenders for a characterisation of modality: 1) the view that necessity=analyticity and 2) a more Quinean contextualist approach. I therefore envisage that the various disagreements between the positivists and Quine will provide the historical base of my project. 

Other information

Thanks to the University of Manchester School of Social Sciences for funding my research and living expenses. I did my BA at the University of York and my MSc by research in Edinburgh.

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