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The Intentional Character of Propositions and the Demise of Possibility

The Intentional Character of Propositions and the Demise of Possibility

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Published by Jeffrey W Roop

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Published by: Jeffrey W Roop on Dec 18, 2010
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03/16/2011

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The Intentional Character of Propositions and the Demise of Possibility
In this paper, I will argue that Plantinga’s use of certain concepts in his TwoConcepts of Modality is confused and leads him down a path that ultimately undermineshis project of modality. I begin with an examination of his defined use of the term‘proposition’ and how this confusion leads to further mistakes. From this confusednotion, his further attempts to elucidate ‘possibility’ and ‘necessity’ take him farther down the path of puzzlement. Then taking these concepts into possible worlds to explainthe properties of propositions is a mistake. I will appeal to Kripke’s idea of possibleworlds as a better alternative than Plantinga’s (as well as Lewis’). In conclusion, I willlook at a few alternatives to understanding the concept of ‘possibility’.Propositions are the metaphysician’s friend. In the realm of analytic philosophy, propositions share a sacred space somewhere between universals and axioms of logic.Propositions are the building material or a major portion of what one uses in theconstruction of metaphysical structures. A definition of “proposition” could be defined,“…in modern logic as “what is asserted” when a sentence (an indicative, or declarative,sentence) is used to say something true or false,…”
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As stated by Alvin Plantinga, propositions are, “The things that are both true or false and capable of being believed or disbelieved.”
2
What “the things” are is open for debate, but as I understand Plantinga’s position, propositions are either true or false; likewise, propositions can be believed or disbelieved. David Lewis addresses the trouble with, “the things” propositions are, in thefollowing: “The conception we associate with the word ‘proposition’ may be something
1
Colwyn Williamson, “Proposition” in
The Oxford Guide to Philosophy
, edited by Ted Honderich,(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 763.
2
Alvin Plantinga, “Two Concepts of Modality: Modal Realism and Modal Reductionism,”
 Philosophical  Perspectives,
Vol. 1, Metaphysics (1987), 189-231, 190.
© Jeffrey W Roop 2010. All Rights Reserved.
1
 
of a jumble of conflicting
desiderata
.” [emphasis in the original]
3
Per Lewis, propositions are wanted and desired if one is going to pursue metaphysics. At best, propositions seem to be some sort of statement that one uses in some sort of way as to beeither true or false. While metaphysicians argue over the meaning and properties of  propositions, Plantinga has put them to use in explaining the properties of possibility andnecessity in relation to propositions. It is in this additional understanding of propositionsas logical entities and therefore tense-less and unchanging that poses some potentialconfusion for the concept of possibility. Likewise, I believe Plantinga is unfair in histreatment of Lewis’ understanding of universals.From the beginning of his article he makes some assumptions without layingdown any groundwork. He drops the terms ‘phenomena,’ ‘realism’ and ‘existentialism’in ways that are not entirely lucid. He speaks of, “Necessary and contingent propositions,objects with accidental and essential properties, possible worlds, individual essences— these are the
 phenomena of modality.”[emphasis in the original]
4
 
While I understandthat he is dealing with modal logic in particular why bring in phenomena? He clarifiesthis in the footnote that this notion of phenomena is Platonic rather than Kantian innature.
5
So without having to retrace the history of Western philosophy what does hemean here? Since he is not taking the Kantian view I would understand this as somethingnot related to experience or perception of humans in the world. The Platonic view, as Iunderstand it, would allow for understanding of ‘the Forms’ in a way that does notrequire any human perception. In one way, this could be akin to
a posteriori
and
a priori
views of concepts. So with these concepts in a timeless and eternal state, much like the
3
David Lewis,
On the Plurality of Worlds
, (New York: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1986), 54.
4
Plantinga, 1987, 189.
5
 
 Ibid 
., 230.
© Jeffrey W Roop 2010. All Rights Reserved.
2
 
‘Forms’, this is Plantinga’s starting place for elucidating modality. He seems to pursuethe logic of these notions as they are in some sort of Platonic heaven. Whether or nothumans can know such concepts without any context one would need to expound in somesort of epistemology. Therefore, I wonder if Plantinga is concerned with logic or epistemology in this article from the start.Likewise, he uses the term ‘realism’ in relation to both modality and existence.As far as modal realism is concerned this view, “…has nothing to do with whether certainsentences or propositions have truth values.”
6
Nor does it have anything to do with the possibility of theories being false. In contrast to this misunderstood view of modality, ishis view of existential realism. In his understanding, the existential realist holds “…thatthere really are such things as universals…”
7
It is in respect to both notions thatPlantinga will later criticize Lewis. Again, this does not clarify whether his usage istaking a strict logical approach to realism and existence. While he disagrees with Lewis’view on universals, it is not clear if he disagrees on logical or epistemic grounds. I wouldthink Plantinga would want to pursue the logic since he is placing ‘the phenomena of modality’ in a Platonic realm. Be that as it may, without wandering off too far into themetaphysical lands, let us turn to Plantinga’s understanding of the term ‘proposition.’As Plantinga uses and explains the term, propositions reside in a logical space thathas no tensed statements. The formal language of such a space has neither a past tensenor a future tense. I would like to call this logical space
a priori
land. In this logicalspace, one must abide by the rules of propositional logic, which also has no sense of pastor present regarding logical statements. While Plantinga wants to examine concepts in
6
 
 Ibid 
., 189.
7
 
 Ibid.
© Jeffrey W Roop 2010. All Rights Reserved.
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