Modal Normativism: Reviving an Old Tradition
Modal normativism is the view that the function of modal claims is to convey normative rules. According to the modal normativist, the claim made by uttering the sentence ‘Necessarily, (Michelangelo's) David does not survive a drastic change in shape’ conveys the semantic rule ‘One ought not re-apply 'David' after a drastic change in shape' (the semantic rule specifies a condition under which it is not permitted to re-apply the term). The theory is attractive because it is (1) compatible with traditional possible worlds semantics, (2) demystifies the epistemology of metaphysical modality by characterizing metaphysical modal knowledge as a form of conceptual or linguistic competence (sometimes supplemented by straightforward empirical knowledge), and (3) does not need to posit strange entities that leave it entirely unclear how we come to know modal truths. The aim of this project is threefold. First, given that modal normativism is developed today to account for metaphysical modality, the project will further extend this position by capturing physical modality as well. Secondly, it will offer a detailed account of one notable historical predecessor of this view, Wilfrid Sellars, who has been primarily concerned with physical modality. Thirdly, the project will investigate the consequences of this view for our understanding of persistent disagreement in contemporary metaphysical debates, debates concerning the truth or falsity of metaphysical modal claims.