Counterlegals and Necessary Laws

TitleCounterlegals and Necessary Laws
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsHandfield, BT
JournalPhilosophical Quarterly

Necessitarian accounts of the laws of nature have an apparent difficulty in accounting for counterlegal conditionals because, despite appearing to be substantive, on the necessitarian thesis they are vacuous. I argue that the necessitarian may explain the apparently substantive content of such conditionals by pointing out the presuppositions of counterlegal discourse. The typical presupposition is that a certain conceptual possibility has been realized; namely, that necessitarianism is false. (The idea of conceptual possibility is explicated in terms of recent work in two-dimensional modal semantics.) If this sort of presupposition is made explicit in counterlegal utterances, we obtain a sentence such as: 'If it turns out that the laws of nature are contingent, then if the laws had been otherwise, then such and such would have been the case.' Sentences of this type are non-vacuous, and very often true. I argue that this goes a long way towards resolving the difficulty for necessitarianism.