Thursday, September 01, 2005


A Dictionary of Philosophy by A. R. Lacey.

I will transcribe the book entry on modalities, both because it is important and useful and quite silly
- serious and ridiculous. As you read it you begin to laugh (as you lose the thread) at the way philosophers ruin everything by their increasing desperation to cover every possible - conceivable - angle and, by so doing, make all as clear as mud to all except someone who is steeped night and day in this disciplined thinking.

Ways in which something can exist or occur or be present, or stand. Sense modalities are ways in which we perceive, namely seeing, hearing. etc. Alethic modalities are the necessity, contingency, possibility, or impossibility of something being true. Alethic means 'concerned with truth'. Deontic modalities include being obligatory, being permitted and being forbidden. Among epistemic modalities are being know to be true and being not know to be false. This last notion is potentially ambiguous; it is unclear whether it covers both being probable, certain, etc, and being believed, doubted, etc. Tenses are sometimes called modalities; cf moods of a verb. 'Modality' is also used for the property of being or having a modality. Unless otherwise specified, 'modal' and 'modality' normally refer to the alethic modalities of which the most important are necessity, possibility and impossibility. Terms like 'necessary', 'possible', 'must', 'may', are called modal terms.

The relation between these modal terms are rather ambiguous. In particular the possible may include everything not impossible, including the necessary; or it may be limited to what is neither or impossible; or it may be further limited to the merely possible as against the actual. The contingent is normally what is neither necessary or impossible. 'Factual', like 'actual' in one sense, may denote what is neither necessary nor impossible nor merely possible; but it can also be opposed to 'logical', and so apply to a kind of necessity (see below). 'Actual', in this sense, is not used of statements, but 'factual' in both senses, 'possible' in all the above senses, and 'contingent' can apply to false statements as well as to true ones. (cf. FACTS.) The logical relations between modular terms, e.g. whether being necessary means being possible, clearly depends on the senses in which the terms are taken.

A statement is necessary if it must be true. A statement which claims that something is necessary, one containing modal terms like 'necessary' or 'must', is called apodictic. A statement containing modal terms like 'possible' or 'may' is called problematic. A statement containing no modal terms is called assertoric. A necessary statement need not be apodictic. 'Twice two is four' is necessary in standard arithmetic, but not apodictic: it contains no word like 'necessary'. Nor need an apodictic statement be necessary. 'Necessarily all cats are black' is apodictic, but not necessary nor even true. In fact whether a statement is apodictic, problematic os assertoric is independent of whether it is necessary or possible, etc. A statement containing 'impossible' or its equivalents counts as apodictic. 'Apodictic' can also mean ' connected with demonstration', as often in 'apodictic necessity' and is sometimes synonymous with 'necessary'. (Kant used 'apodictic', etc, slightly differently, to indicate how judgements are thought, not expressed; cf. also IMPERATIVE.) 'N', 'L', '□' are among symbols for 'necessary' or 'it is necessary that' ('L' is limited to logical necessity {see below} ; in Polish notation 'N' means 'not'). 'M', '◊' are among symbols for 'possibility' or 'it is possible that'. Statements containing modal terms are the subject matter of modal logic (see LOGIC), which is not always limited to alethetic modalities.

>When a modal term is applied to a statement itself containing one, as in ' Its is possible that the statement is necessary ', we have nested or iterated modalities.

A difficult and controversial distinction, of medieval origin, is that between de re and de dicto modality. Roughly, cases where modal terms apply to the possession of an attribute by a subject are de re and cases where they apply to a proposition are de dicto. Consider the sentence,'The number of the gosphels exceeds three', which is ambiguous. It may mean it is necessary that the number in question, the number four, exceeds three, which is true; or it may mean that necessarily there are more than three gosphels, which is false. On a a de re interpretation, however, the term 'necessarily' remains inside the original sentence, whose subject is the number of gosphels, the number four. The sentence therefore says that the number four necessarily has the property of exceeding three, which, if it makes sense at all, is true.

To be appended.

If this so far is confusing (or like trying to juggle six balls) then you will not want to check:

What is necessity ?

What is possibility ?

wiki: modal logic

However, this article on Modals in English Language Teaching is a clarity on modals.


A result of checking this modalities business: the wiki on Deontological ethics

...the Greek word "deon", meaning duty. In moral philosophy, deontology is the view that morality either forbids or permits actions, which is done through moral norms. Simply put, the correctness of an action lies within itself, not in the consequences of the action. This lies in contrast with teleology. For example, a deontological moral theory might hold that lying is wrong, even if it produces good consequences. Historically, the most influential deontological theory of morality was developed by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who introduced the idea of the categorical imperative.

There is also :

A Brief Glassary of Modality

If you get that far you may need:

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
I checked Derrida (only an example, alright!) and found it educated me. There is something he calls arche-writing which looks like it might merit futher study.

Arche-writing refers to a more generalised notion of writing that insists that the breach that the written introduces between what is intended to be conveyed and what is actually conveyed, is typical of an originary breach that afflicts everything one might wish to keep sacrosanct, including the notion of self-presence.

Since re-listening to the Radio 4 creativity series this all makes perfect sense to me. And I have just spent time with a wise old friend who was asking why is it when he is working on his lathe or doing some welding in his workshop, he goes into a mind-state where he pictures a past event clearly. While describing this he lost his train of thought by me picking up on something and adding my piece! I had had 24 hours of absences which made it difficult to speak and was running through what it might mean to have an absence (qua epilepsy)in neurophysiological terms.

I suggested it was in the trance of the day dream that the associations were able to kick in. Lo! programme II (a few minutes later on my return) mentions reveries and REST (random episodic silent thought), hypnagogic states and theta rhythms. Unfortunately he is man who cannot sit still so is not prepared to sit by a PC to recieve a continuation-conversation via email.


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