Abstract for Sherman’s Talk

What does it mean to say that something is possible or necessary? This is not a question about the metaphysics of modality. That is, the question is not what makes it the case that something is possible or necessary. Rather, the question is about the metametaphysics of modality. Despite the amount of attention that modality has received among both linguists and philosophers, there is little agreement about how to answer the metametaphysical question. My goals in this talk are to argue that we need an answer to this question, and to motivate a particular answer.

Underlying the particular answer that I defend is the idea that a central feature of our cognitive architecture is the distinction between questions or issues that are settled and those that are open.  Whereas the concepts of facts and knowledge pertain to settled questions, modal concepts, I claim, pertain to open ones. In other words, I argue that modal space–the space of possibilities–is the space of answers to open questions; modality concerns the structure of openness.

There are a number of respects in which this account of the metametaphysics of modality is continuous with existing work in modality, but there is one key corollary that I claim is at odds with most current conceptions: that necessity implies openness. I motivate the openness account of modality by showing how this corollary can dissolve a long-standing explanatory puzzle concerning epistemic necessity.