Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Real Necessity of Modality

This is a response to Michael, but it also illustrates some good points for a general audience, as I have not articulated the difference between the ontic and the ontological.

Michael, we agree that “relations are indeed real” and disagree on relations being “identical to structure of possibility….”

Michael, all along you have been arguing as if you are an pure actualist, which is a point of disagreement (or misunderstanding?).  I argue that there is more to reality than the mere actual.  Pure possibility and the structure of possibility are ontologically distinct from actuality (Peircean firstness, thirdness, and secondness, respectively).  The ontic structure of the possible (what is possible in this cosmic epoch) describes the possibilities for the realization of relations, i.e., a “habit.”  It is logically necessary that there be such a structure (ontological claim via transcendental or abductive argument), else persistence and pattern is either impossible (if arguing via transcendental argument) or inexplicable and implausible (abductive argument).  Exactly what that structure is now, an ontic claim, is a matter of physics and astrophysics, e.g., the speed of light, Planck’s constant, etc.  Moreover, if this ontic structure were purely actual, then cosmic evolution would be either impossible for inexplicable.  By cosmic evolution, I imply the reality of chance, the mutability of natural laws across cosmic time or epochs (used to explain many principles in astrophysics and cosmogenesis, etc.).  The fully actual annihilates the possible.

From what I can see, Levi’s and your view cannot explain structure except to make it a mystery; it withdraws from explanation even as explanation is claimed.  That’s all I will say about his view, and I don’t want to get into that discussion, so tell me whether I have you right or how you would respond.  Moreover, you appear to embrace absolute contingency, which is not a first, but this is just the other side of the coin of not explaining structure.  It is also not very fruitful if I might invoke another abductive criteria.

Matt is using most of that “eternal form” talk.  He takes a religious-spiritual perspective on the ontological, whereas I’m willing to be a quietist.  I also accept a Jamesian “will to believe” on this point, and Matt could argue from that as well.

Finally, we might disagree again, though I just addressed this case.  You write that forms are “NEVER to be taken as realities in their own right external to their particular occasions.”  I say that forms are never to be taken as “existing in their own right …;”  I am no Platonist.  They are real, where in part “real” is to have existential effects.  A form need not exist per se for it to have existential effects; “form” is a real distinction but not a real thing as the term has no singular existential referent.


  1. A bit of a response for you here: http://footnotes2plato.com/2012/04/25/responses-to-archive-fire-and-immanent-transcendence-egos-ideas-and-eternal-events/

  2. Thanks, Matt.

    If everything is actual, then nothing is possible. Perhaps one might say that possibility is merely activity, but then one must commit oneself to claiming there are "seeds" (recall the Schelling or even Hegel) of activity for everything that is ever to be ... which creates some explanatory problems for the unfolding of spirit without mechanism and with freedom.


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