There is a large, nested, complexly intersecting, multidimensional area of logic known as “modal logic.” Standard (“assertoric” – dealing with comparatively simple assertions) logic essentially forgoes any considerations of the modes (hence, “modal”) in which an assertion is considered to be true or false; it simply is, or it is not (true or false). Modal logics are intended to examine the ways (modes) in which a proposition or assertion might express such truth or falsity. A great deal of very good work has been done in this area of study, but it remains a long way from solving its most basic problems; indeed, most proposed “solutions” do not so much “solve” their problems as strangle them.i I am at once deeply impressed by the technical sophistication of contemporary work on modality, and profoundly dissatisfied with the narrowness of its vision. Because one of the “modes” in which an assertion or proposition might be true or false is whether it is possibly true or false.
I can certainly inundate any interested party with citations, but anyone capable of following those citations would most likely already be familiar with them. It takes years of dedicated study to bootstrap one’s self up through propositional, into quantificational, and finally on to modal logics. On the other hand, it takes nothing more than the most elementary capacity for cognition to instantly see that there is a difference between saying that “X is the case,” and “X might be the case.” Just as we can talk about Jazz without mastering the saxophone, or relativity without deriving proofs related to the Ricci tensor, we can talk about possibility without becoming research mathematicians in formal logic. One might even argue that mastering such mathematics would not ideally equip us to talk about possibility which is, after all, a metaphysical, rather than a mathematical topic. Continue reading