Knowing and Necessity



I hope that some people see no connection between the two topics in the title.[1] In any case, the absence of any connection will be developed in the course of the paper—a complete and clean separation. The way I think about these matters is, in some ways, quite different from what people take for granted these days, and is certainly very different from the orthodox position during most of the twentieth century. Some of my views may strike people at first sight as obviously mistaken, indeed as scarcely intelligible. Among my more surprising claims, to be defended subsequently, are the following: All necessity is uniformly de re; there is simply no such thing as de dictonecessity. The customary distinction between de re and de dicto necessity is an untenable dualism. There is, however, no such thing as empirical essence or “a posteriori necessity”. But nor is there such a thing as a priori essence. Neither are there any empirical facts, still less a priori facts. In addition, there is no separate category of epistemic modality—no epistemic necessities or contingencies. There is no intrinsic or conceptual relation between types of knowledge and types of modality at any point. What is called “conceptual necessity” is not to be understood in terms of knowledge of concepts or a priori truth. In fact, every truth is both empirical and a priori. So my views are somewhat surprising: but I intend to establish all these strange views in what follows.


Where We Stand Today

In the glory days of positivism, all necessity was understood as uniformly the same: a necessary truth was always an a prioritruth, while contingent truths were always

[1]  I here parody the first sentence of Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980): “I hope that some people see some connection between the two topics in the title.” In fact, I think this is a misleading statement on Kripke’s part, because the ensuing text never does establish any close connection between the two topics, and the spirit of the book is actually opposed to such an idea. First, Kripke’s notion of metaphysical necessity has nothing essentially to do with naming, being inherently non-linguistic; certainly, such necessity does not arise from names. Metaphysical necessities would exist even if names did not. Second, necessary identitystatements can readily be formed using rigid descriptions, as in “the successor of 2 is the predecessor of 4”, just as they can by using names, yet I doubt Kripke would want to say that there a special connection between describing and necessity. The same is true of demonstratives, which are also rigid designators; so there is nothing distinctive aboutnames here.  It is also odd to use the word “naming” in the title instead of “names”, since the text is hardly about the act of naming at all, though there is a lot about names.

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