Similarity and Possibility: An Epistemology of de re Possibility for Concrete Entities

  • Sonia Roca-RoyesEmail author
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 378)


The paper sketches an epistemology of de re possibility (for concrete entities) centred on the notion of similarity. The proposal is, roughly, that we know about some entities’ unrealized possibilities by extrapolation from knowledge about some other, similar entities’ realized possibilities. The account is limited, among other things, in that it does not cover knowledge of de re necessities or essentialist knowledge, if we have it. But even if alternative epistemologies could explain that type of knowledge too, the current account is found to best explain the de re possibility knowledge, thereby resisting a potential charge of redundancy.


Heart Attack Methodological Recommendation Modal Knowledge Essentialist Knowledge Epistemic Ground 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Earlier drafts of this paper were presented in Aarhus, Belgrade, L’Aquila, Lisbon, London, Mainz, Paris, Stirling and York. I am grateful to the audiences on all those occasions for stimulating discussions. Special thanks are due to Ralf Busse, Guislain Guigon, Bob Hale, Christian Nimtz, Duško Prelević, Pierre Saint-Germier, Silvère Schutkowski, Margot Strohminger, Anand Vaidya, Barbara Vetter, and Tim Williamson. I am also greatly thankful to the editors of this volume, Bob Fischer and Felipe Leon, for their careful reading of, and helpful suggestions on, the submitted version. This paper was written with support from the RCUK for an AHRC Leadership Fellowship project with the title ‘Towards a non-uniform epistemology of modality’.


  1. Biggs, S. (2011). Abduction and modality. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, LXXXIII(2), 283–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brueckner, A. (2001). Chalmers’s conceivability argument for dualism. Analysis, 61, 187–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Divers, J. (1999). A genuine realist theory of advanced modalizing. Mind, 108(430), 217–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Elder, C. (2005). Real natures and familiar objects. CUP.Google Scholar
  5. Fischer, R. (2015). Theory selection in modal epistemology. American Philosophical Quarterly, 52(3), 289–304.Google Scholar
  6. Fischer, R. (2017). Modal empiricism: objection, reply, proposal. In B. Fischer & F. Leon (Eds.), Modal epistemology after rationalism. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  7. Hale, B. (2003). Knowledge of possibility and necessity. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 103, 1–20.Google Scholar
  8. Hale, B. (2013). Necessary beings. An essay on ontology, modality, and the relations between them. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hanrahan, R. (2007). Imagination and possibility. The Philosophical Forum, 38(2), 125–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hawke, P. (2017). Can modal skepticism defeat humean skepticism? In B. Fischer & F. Leon (Eds.), Modal epistemology after rationalism. Cham: SpringerGoogle Scholar
  11. Horvath, J. (2014). Lowe on modal knowledge. Thought: A Journal of Philosophy, 3(3), 208–217.Google Scholar
  12. Jenkins, C. (2010). Concepts, experience, and modal knowledge. Philosophical Perspectives, 24, 255–279.Google Scholar
  13. Leech, J. (2011). Modal rationalism. Dialectica, 65(1), 103–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Leon, F. (2017). From modal skepticism to modal empiricism. In B. Fischer & F. Leon (Eds.), Modal epistemology after rationalism. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  15. Martínez, M. (2013). Ideal negative conceivability and the halting problem. Erkenntnis, 78(5), 979–990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Mizrahi, M. & Morrow, D. (2014). Does conceivability entail metaphysical possibility? Ratio, 26(4).Google Scholar
  17. Nolan, D. (2017). Naturalised modal epistemology. In B. Fischer & F. Leon (Eds.), Modal epistemology after rationalism. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  18. Peacocke, C. (1999). Being known. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Rasmussen, J. (2014). Continuity as a guide to possibility. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 92(3), 525–538.Google Scholar
  20. Roca-Royes, S. (2007). Mind-independence and modal empiricism. Proceedings of the 4th Latin Meeting in Analytic Philosophy (pp. 117–135).Google Scholar
  21. Roca-Royes, S. (2010). Modal epistemology, modal concepts and the integration challenge. Dialectica, 64(3), 335–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Roca-Royes, S. (2011a). Conceivability and de re modal knowledge. Noûs, 45(1), 25–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Roca-Royes, S. (2011b). Modal knowledge and counterfactual knowledge. Logique et Analyse, 54(216), 537–552.Google Scholar
  24. Roca-Royes, S. (2012). Essentialist blindness would not preclude counterfactual knowledge. Philosophia Scientiae, 16(2), 149–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Salmon, W. C. (1953). The uniformity of nature. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 14(1), 39–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Strohminger, M. (2015). Perceptual knowledge of nonactual possibilities. Philosophical Perspectives, 29(1):363–375.Google Scholar
  27. Tahko, T. (2017). Empirically-informed modal rationalism. In B. Fischer & F. Leon (Eds.), Modal epistemology after rationalism. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  28. Vahid, H. (2006). Conceivability and possibility. Philosophical Explorations, 9(3), 243–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Vaidya, A. (2008). Modal rationalism and modal monism. Erkenntnis, 68(2), 191–2012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Van Inwagen, P. (1998). Modal epistemology. Philosophical Studies, 92, 67–84.Google Scholar
  31. Williamson, T. (2002). Peacocke’s theory of modality. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, LXIV(3), 649–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Williamson, T. (2007). The philosophy of philosophy. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Williamson, T. (2013). Modal logic as metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Worley, S. (2003). Conceivability, possibility and physicalism. Analysis, 63, 15–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wright, C. (2002). On knowing what is necessary: Three limitations of Peacocke’s account. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, LXIV(3), 655–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wright, C. (2004). Warrant for nothing (and foundations for free)? Aristotelian Society Supplementary, 78(1), 167–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of StirlingStirlingUK

Personalised recommendations