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Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

The Plenitude of Structures and Scarcity of Possibilities


Author(s): Joseph Almog
Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 88, No. 11, Eighty-Eighth Annual Meeting American
Philosophical Association, Eastern Division (Nov., 1991), pp. 620-622
Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2027021
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620

OF PHILOSOPHY

THE JOURNAL

THE PLENITUDE OF STRUCTURES AND


SCARCITY OF POSSIBILITIES*
G

iven some ur-possibilities, what further possibilities are


projectible? Phillip Bricker's interesting answer involves
what I shall call a projection schema:

(PS) If S is a classof logicallypossiblestructures,anynaturalgeneralization of S is logicallypossible.'


Such projection principles shed light on what there is as well as
how we are to know that it is. Bricker is very much a cartographer of
the possible; but the end of the tunnel for him is modal knowledge:
scylla of modal skepticism and
"to steer a course between-the
charybdis of an obscurantist modal epistemology." Contemporary
epistemology seems spellbound by the Greek world, what with tragic
"dilemmas" and Antigonian choices galore. The present writer
would rather keep to his Dionysian lifestyle of a naive caveman;
his elective affinities consist of focusing on (PS) as an existence
principle.2
Bricker reads (PS) as a "principle of plenitude." Of what? Primarily of "structures," derivatively of "possibilities." Plenitude may be
true (intrinsic) of structures, not of possibilities. Four kinds of
(counter) examples concerning (PS) are to be discussed.
First, consider "general (Henkin) models," so dubbed by their
originator because they were natural generalizations of the rather
specific standard originals. Can we project from them possibilities?
We had better not. The (arithmetic, set theoretic, etc.) truths of the
standard structure are necessary truths, articulating what the concerned items are. The consistent falsehood of some of them, witnessed by an appropriate general model, should be taken for what it

* Abstract of a paper to be read in an APA symposium on the Epistemology of


Modality, December 29, commenting on a paper by Phillip Bricker. See this JOURNAL, this issue, 607-19, for his contribution.
' The reader is to keep in mind that Bricker does not mean by 'logically possible' mere "(semantic) consistency" (with some underlying first-order theory). For
the meaning(s) he does have in mind, see his paper above.
2 Also to be varied is Bricker's diet: many of his examples come from (differential) geometry. The present writer's knowledge of the (meta) mathematics involved
is insufficient.

0022-362X/91/8811/620-2

) 1991 The Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

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EPISTEMOLOGYOF MODALITY

621

is-the witnessing of consistency, not for another thing-a genuine


possibility.3
A second example comes from a "more standard," perhaps the
most natural producer of new structures out of old-ultraproducts
(powers).4 Again, natural metamathematics is no guarantor of sound
metaphysics-ultrapowers are ultrapowers, not ultrapossibilities. A
simple example: taking w copies of the standard integers (under a
suitable ultrafilter), one can get eventually a structure with "infinite" integers, e.g., a number n* not reached by finitely many iterations from 0. A possibility it is not. Neither on the ambitious, "wide
scope," reading: (1) there exists a natural number of which it is
possible that it takes infinitely many steps to reach; nor even on the
weaker reading: (2) it is possible that there is a natural number that
takes infinitely many steps to reach.
A third example arises with theories not taken to allow the standard/nonstandard model distinction. It has been argued that the
class of first-order predicate calculus ("free") models with the empty
domain included is a natural generalization of the classical multiplicity. So it has also been argued on behalf of Boolean-valued models,
assignments of (truth) values in an arbitrary Boolean algebra rather
than exclusively of 0 and 1. Let these claims stand. Should this be

3 I shall consider three examples of nonmodally projectible generalized structures: (i) Saul Kripke's (with a twist due to Steven Thomason) generalized partial
truth tables for propositional S5. (PS) would have us cut the branch we are sitting
on-it is the generalized tables that bar (the logical validity of) otherwise wellgrounded . . . ur-possibilities; (ii) Generalized structures for a second-order modal language (with propositional quantifiers) that deprive us of the (necessary)
existence of a truth recording everything that is the case; (iii) Generalized structures with infinitely descending sequences of the E-relation. Time permitting, I
shall want to consider a stronger brand of examples-theories
(one in propositional tense logic, the other W. 0. Quine's handling of arithmetic in "New Foundations") with no standard models at all whose (possible) consistency has to rely
on general models. With such models the failure of projectibility of generalized
structures is quite vivid.
4 To keep technical foam to a minimum, consult for the definition of the notion(s) and the extension alluded to below of a Frechet filter to a maximal filter,
Bell and Machover, A Course in Mathematical Logic (Dordrecht: North Holland, 1977), pp. 136-9 (especially p. 138) and pp. 176-82. This much concerns
models for arithmetic. A crisp exposition of nonstandard models of real-number
theory, relying on related techniques, is offered later in the aforementioned book.
In view of philosophical objections to the possibility of "infinitely small quantities," many might think that there lies here a striking case of nonmodally projectible class of generalized structures. For the present writer, when it comes to judgments of modal (im)possibility, it is either that obscurantist totem and taboo,
modal intuition, or silence. In this case, the latter.

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622

THE JOURNAL

OF PHILOSOPHY

sufficient to convince us, in the mnantleof metaphysicians, that the


world might have been vacuous (what does this mean)? That such a
"Boolean assignment" represents, let alone is, a complete way the
world itself might have been?
Fourth, to compare the very idea of "structure" and "possibility,"
consider the following generation principles of sets (structures) that
many would vouch intrinsic to the notions concerned: (SI) the (set
theoretic) idea that, if a (certain kind of natural) model of set theory
satisfies a condition, a set already does; (S2) the (model, nonset,
theoretic) idea that strong closure operations breed, when applied
to given structures (e.g., the above-cited product), yet further structures and plenty at that. Either with sets or structures, it is ever
more. Are there such counterpart principles with "possibility" substituting for "set" ("structure")?
One hopes not for (S2), where aggregation of all possibilities (gotten up to a stage) into a "super possibility" could misfire. Just pairing a couple of them might be embarrassing enough. As for (S1), as
mentioned, rather than maximize possibilities, by way of consistency-verifying natural generalizations, we are bent on minimizing:
the truths of the ground standard structure which pertain to the
item's whatness delimit the modal horizon. With possibilities, less
is more.
JOSEPH

ALMOG

University of California/Los Angeles

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