November 19, 2022 at 4:34 pm #1002441Gilles de Bakker-PeetersParticipant
During last class (week 7), we discussed the terms ‘possibility’ and ‘possible’, and how we should interpret/use them.
If I understood correctly, the conclusion we drew was: The term ‘possible’ should be used in the sense of ‘possible that’ (as opposed to ‘possible for’), meaning that there must be some evidence/reason to accept that which we call ‘possible’. In this post, I will explain my objections with regard to that conclusion. It seems to me, that we are instigating some idle battle over the meaning of the word ‘possible’:
In the dictionary, I find the following definition of ‘possible’: ‘Being within the limits of ability, capacity, or realization.’ This is quite in line with the metaphysical or logical interpretations of ‘possible’ we discussed in class. Also, I think the vast majority of people use the term in that sense. Let me exemplify: Intuitively, I think very few people would interpret the following sentence as contradictory: I don’t have any reason to believe this honey will cure my allergies, but it’s possible that it will. Moreover, I think most people would interpret this sentence as wrong: I don’t have any reason to believe this honey will cure my allergies, therefore it’s impossible that it will. Note that I use ‘possible that’ to show that I think even in that form, the common use is still not the one we propose (where some evidence is required). Moreover, I think this common interpretation of possible is a valid, useful concept – although I agree, not so much in the context of inference to the best explanation. Looking at the bar showing the epistemic status of a proposition, I would say that in its commonly accepted meaning, the term impossible reflects the very left point of this bar, and possible reflects anything to the right of it. This is a valid conceptual meaning. Moreover, I can’t think immediately of any other words that would properly capture this meaning. So, I conclude that the commonly accepted meaning and definition of ‘possible’ (which I think is close to the logical and/or metaphysical meaning we discussed in class) is valid, and different from the meaning of ‘possible’ that we proposed in class.
Then, my question is, why do we want to ‘protest’ the common use of ‘possible’ and apply another definition? I fully acknowledge the importance of not considering anything that is logically or metaphysically possible in an inference to the best explanation, but in order avoid that mistake, I think a proper, consistent and explicit differentiation between ‘possible’ as it is commonly used and ‘possible and relevant’ (or ‘relevantly possible’) (which would then mean possible and having some reason to accept it) would be a better approach than to change the generally accepted meaning of a valid word.
If we were to apply the terms as I suggested, we would end up with an epistemic status bar as follows: https://ibb.co/GkfC2GK
Glad to hear any feedback on my thoughts! Let me still note that English is not my mother tongue, so my intuition on the usage of ‘possible’ may be slightly off. Also, I remember Orie making reference to a lecture of Leonard Peikoff related to this discussion, which I would be very happy to see if anyone could point me towards it :).
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