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Stalnaker's More Moderate Modal Realism

In Stalnaker's 'Possible Worlds', he attempts to flesh out a more moderate
version of what he calls an extreme realism about possible worlds, a view held
by Lewis. He caches out Lewis' view in terms of four theses, and claims that
these need not all be accepted in order to maintain a sort of realism about
possible worlds (67).  Indeed, he seeks to defend what he calls the more
plausible parts of Lewis' possible worlds theses, therefore coming to much more
moderate conclusions than Lewis has about the reality of possible worlds (67).
Lewis' four theses are as follows:

Possible worlds exist 

Other possible worlds are things of the same sort as the actual world - 'I and
all my surroundings'.

The indexical analysis of the adjective 'actual' is the correct analysis.  

Possible worlds cannot be reduced to something more basic. 

Stalnaker ultimately wishes to accept theses (1) and (3) and to reject thesis
(2). That is to say, Stalnaker wants the reality of possible worlds to be far
more limited than being of a similar kind to the actual world (70). Stalnaker
himself rejects thesis (4) by instead offering up an analysis of possible worlds
in terms of propositions and the kinds of sets of them that can be instantiated
by those worlds, but it isn't altogether a necessary analysis one must accept to
have the kind of moderate realism about possible worlds that Stalnaker wishes to
defend. Indeed, he thinks that Adams' view, which he heavily responds to in the
latter part of the paper, is amenable to his own, it is simply an identical view
if one wishes to impose further constraints on the structures of these
propositions i.e., that necessarily equivalent propositions are identical and
that there are necessary propositions that are true if and only if, given any
set of propositions, all of those propositions are true (72).  Stalnaker
disagrees with Lewis on thesis (2) for reasons similar to why Lewis accepts
thesis (1). Given the semantic understanding of our modal language i.e., that
our talk of possible worlds is merely the same thing as saying that things might
be different than they are, it doesn't seem to be the case that possible worlds
can be similar to our actual world in the way that Lewis claims; as being "I and
all my surroundings" (68). That is to say, the way that the world actually is is
a state of the world, it is not identical to what that world is (68). 

There are several objections which Lewis could raise to Stalnaker's moderate
realism. I think one of the most interesting objections would be to how
Stalnaker interprets thesis (3): that the indexical reading of 'actual' is the
correct one. Stalnaker claims that the standpoint of the use of 'actual' being a
neutral one is false - instead, the actual world _is_ the absolute standpoint by
which we can judge the reality of possible worlds (69). This avoids the problem
that Stalnaker sees with a more neutral reading of 'actual', that actuality is a
world-relative attribute and that, as a result, possible people and their own
surroundings are just as real as our own world, our own people, and our own
surroundings (69). Stalnaker's motivation for this move is to strip possible
worlds of their reality that Lewis wants them to have. Stalnaker does not want
possible worlds be the real and existing worlds, but instead to be mere
possibilities; that our affirming of possible worlds as existing is the same as
saying that fictional beings have just as much reality, but that their point of
view is just a fictional one; ours is that which is real (69). Lewis would
reject this notion entirely. Lewis wants us to accept the reality of possible
worlds as being existing realities, spoken of by their inhabitants in just the
same way in which we speak of our own (67). The indexicality of 'actual' is
supposed to be a neutral position, it is supposed to be unable to distinguish
what can be actual and what can be possible; the only difference between our
world and possible worlds is that things are as they are in this world, not as
they are in other worlds - we are here, and they are there. Weakening the
reading of 'actual' to accommodate a more moderate realism doesn't provide any
actual reason to reject that reading besides the point that one simply wants a
more moderate realism. To deny Lewis' reading of 'actual' is to deny exactly
what Lewis wants to say about possible worlds in the first place: that our
semantics accounts for this worlds as real things, and that these things have
their own kind of reality in a similar way to ours (65). 

What is the strongest reply Stalnaker could give to this objection?  Stalnaker
could give numerous replies to this objection, and I think one of the strongest
would be to run with his objection to thesis (2). The way in which Lewis would
characterize possible worlds and how he reads 'actual' as an indexical term
largely comes from how he understands worlds to be. Because of how Stalnaker
rejects thesis (2) - by denying the equivalence of a world's state and what a
world is - Stalnaker is able to remove stronger claims of their reality from his
position. Thus, Stalnaker can accept his position on the indexical nature of
'actual', still seeing possible worlds as modally useful objects, but by
stripping them of their reality in the way he does by rejecting (2), he can
escape many criticisms of his position on (3). The problem then isn't that
Stalnaker's view becomes misaligned with our semantic meaning, as Lewis might
argue, but that we are simply giving too much value to possible worlds and the
ways in which we speak of them - they are merely a fiction, of which our
language makes it easier to speak about.


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