Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

The Source of Modality


Guest Editors:

Giacomo Giannini (Durham University)

Joaquim Giannotti (University of Birmingham)


Invited Contributors:

Jessica Leech (King’s College Lodon )

Michael Wallner (University of Graz)

Jennifer Wang (Simon Fraser University)

Tobias Wilsch (University of Tuebingen )

Al Wilson (University of Birmingham)


Deadline for submission: June 21st, 2021

Notification of acceptance: August 23rd, 2021


Description: It is hard to overestimate the centrality of modality and modal notions in philosophy. As Boris Kment notes, ‘since the work of Kripke, Lewis, and others ushered in the modal turn in analytic philosophy, modality has become one of the most active areas of research in metaphysics and modal notions have been central to philosophical theorizing across the board—from the foundations of logic to moral theory’ (2014:1).

Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the topic of the foundation of modality: in virtue of what, if anything, do modal facts and truths hold? What is it to be necessary or possible?  Traditional answers, involving possible worlds (whose nature has been central to discussions in modal metaphysics for most of the second half of the last century), have, on the one hand, received new blood from unexpected sources, such as Everettian interpretations of quantum mechanics (Wilson 2020), and, on the other hand, have been joined and challenged by new theories that give possible worlds a much less central role (Cameron 2010). These include primitivist theories about modality (Wilsch 2017, Wang 2013) or counterfactuals (Lange 2009), non-descriptivist theories (Thomasson 2020), as well as ‘hardcore actualist’ (Contessa 2009) approaches, which seek to ground modality in something more fundamental than simple possibility, necessity, or primitive counterfactuals, while also attempting to do away with possible worlds altogether, thereby identifying the sources of modal truths only in local features of the actual world. For instance, Dispositionalists (Vetter 2015; Borghini and Williams 2008; Jacobs 2010) claim that dispositional properties of actually existing things are the loci of modal truths, while Essentialists aim to ground modality in the essences of actually existing entities (Fine 1994; Hale 2013; Correia 2012; Lowe 2013; Leech forthcoming).

This flourishing literature not only reveals that we are far from any consensus as to the source of modality, but also invites productive conversations and debates to be had between the proponents of these new theories. The question of whether these alternatives to classic possible-worlds approaches can deliver what they promise remains.

To the purpose of advancing the debate concerning the metaphysics of modality, we invite submission of original work on new theories of modality, broadly construed, that address the following non-exhaustive list of questions:

  1. Are there promising candidates for grounding modality that have not yet been canvassed by the literature?
  2. What is the source of possibility and necessity? What does it mean to provide the source of modality?
  3. What is the relationship between the various recent theories of modality? How do they fare with respect to one another?
  4. Should we get rid of possible worlds, at least for the purpose of grounding alethic modality? What is the role of possible worlds models in theories of modality that do not take them to offer the foundation of modality?
  5. Is there a fundamental (alethic) modality from which the others can be derived, or are there irreducible varieties of (alethic) modality? Do they have the same foundation?
  6. Can Blackburn’s dilemma (Blackburn 1986) be solved, and if so, how? Do any of the recent theories have a unique advantage in tackling it?
  7. What notion of locality is at play in New Actualist theories of modality? Is there a common notion across the board?



Blackburn, S. (1986) Morals and Modals, in G. Macdonald & C. Wright (eds) Fact, Science & Morality: Essays on A.J. Ayers Language, Truth & Logic. Oxford: Blackwell: 119-41.

Borghini, A. and Williams, N. (2008). A Dispositional Theory of Possibility. Dialectica 62: 21-41.

Cameron, R. (2010). The Grounds of Necessity. Philosophy Compass 5(4): 348-58.

Contessa, G. (2009). Modal Truthmakers and Two Varieties of Actualism. Synthese 174: 341-53.

Correia, F. (2012). On the Reduction of Necessity to Essence. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 84 (3): 639-53.

Fine, K. (1994). Essence and Modality. Philosophical Perspectives 8: 1-16.

Hale, B. (2013). Necessary Beings. An Essay on Ontology, Modality, and the Relation Between Them. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jacobs, J. (2010). A Powers Theory of Modality: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Reject Possible Worlds. Philosophical Studies 151: 227-48.

Kment, B. (2014). Modality and Explanatory Reasoning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lange, M. (2009). Laws and Lawmakers: Science, Metaphysics, and the Laws of Nature.

Leech, J. (forthcoming). From Essence to Necessity Via Identity. Mind.

Lowe, E.J. (2013). Forms of Thought. A Study in Philosophical Logic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thomasson, A. (2020). Norms and Necessity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vetter, B. (2015). Potentiality. From Dispositions to Modality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wang, J. (2013). From Combinatorialism to Primitivism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91 (3): 535-54.

Wilsch, T. (2017). Sophisticated Modal Primitivism. Philosophical Issues 27 (1): 428-48.

Wilson, A. (2020). The Nature of Contingency. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Instructions: Articles must be written in English and should not exceed 8000 words.  For the presentation of their articles, authors are requested to take into account the instructions available under Information for Authors. Submissions must be suitable for blind review. Each submission should also include a brief abstract of no more than 250 words and four keywords for indexing purposes. Notification of intent to submit, including both a title and a brief summary of the content, will be greatly appreciated, as it will assist with the coordination and planning of the special issue.