Conceivability and Possibility Essay

1640 Words Feb 28th, 2011 7 Pages
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17 December 2010

Conceivability as a Guide to Possibility

In his scholarly article entitled, Does Conceivability Entail Possibility (2002), Professor David J. Chalmers of the University of Arizona examines the argument that to conceive of something necessarily entails its possibility. Chalmers states that arguments regarding conceivability and possibility typically consist of three parts; the first is the epistemic claim---conceived statement (S); the second is the modal claim---because S is conceived of, S is necessarily possible; and the third is the metaphysical claim, consisting of an assertion about the nature the universe. For example, I can conceive of that my mind
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So in this case, although conceivability does not mirror natural possibility, it may well mirror metaphysical possibility. (Chalmers, para. 4)

While Chalmers leaves this particular argument open-ended, he seems to be suggesting that any physical law conceived of is metaphysically possible. The test of the degree of this possibility involves further defining the degree of conceivability. According to Chalmers, there are three sub-arguments for conceivability as entailing possibility: prima facie vs. ideal conceivability, positive vs. negative conceivability, and primary vs. secondary conceivability as entailing possibility.
Prima facie conceivability occurs when S is conceivable upon first appearance, or when there are no apparent contradictions to S. For example, it is prima facie conceivable that a table is made of wood if---at first glance---nothing apparently suggests otherwise. In order for S to be ideally conceivable, however, S has to pass certain tests that support it’s conceivability. In the case of the table, for example, one would have to further examine the table and still believe it to be made of wood for it to be ideally conceivable that it is made of wood. Obviously, ideal conceivability is superior to prima…

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