In the middle of the last century, it was common to explain the notion of necessity in linguistic terms. A necessary truth, it was said, is a sentence whose truth is guaranteed by linguistic rules. Quine famously argued that, on this view, de re modal claims do not make sense. “Porcupettes are porcupines” is necessarily true, but it would be a mistake to say of a particular porcupette that it is necessarily a porcupine, or that it is possibly purple. Linguistic theories of necessity fell out of favour with the publication of Kripke’s Naming and Necessity, and Quine’s arguments were put aside. In her recent book, Norms and Necessity, Amie Thomasson presents her modal normativism, which is an updated version of the mid-century theories just described. Quine’s arguments are thus relevant once again. We recapitulate Quine’s central argument, in the context of modal normativism. We then criticise Amie Thomasson’s discussion of de re modality. We finish by briefly presenting an alternative account of de re modal statements, which is compatible with modal normativism.
Here is a familiar story. In the middle of the last century, when people still wore bowler hats and radios had knobs, it was commonly thought that necessity arises (in a sense that no doubt requires clarification) from linguistic conventions. The necessity of the sentence “All porcupettes are porcupines” is a product of certain linguistic conventions, including most obviously the convention that “porcupette” means baby porcupine. And the same goes for…
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