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Aristotle's modal ontology Dickson, Mark William


ModaI logic is concerned with the logic of necessity and possibility. The central problem of modal ontology is summed up in the following question, "What are the ontological commitments of the user of modal terminology? " This thesis is primarily about the ontological commitments that Aristotle made when he employed modal terms. Aristotle’s modal ontology is h e r e analysed in conjunction with four modal problems. My primary objective, is to clarify some of the discussions of Aristotle's modal ontology that have been advanced by certain twentieth century philosophers. The first problem to be considered is the famous ' sea battle’ argument of De Interpretatione 9 . Here is a summary of the problem: If it is currently true that there will be a sea battle tomorrow, then in some sense it is inevitable that there will in fact be a sea battle; if predictions are true, is not a form of determinism being supported? One analysis in particular is studied at length, namely that of Jaakko Hintikka. Hintikka holds that the sea battle argument is best Interpreted if the metaphysical principle of plenitude is attributed to Aristotle. The principle of plenitude effectively merges modality with temporality; what is necessarily the case is always true, and vice versa. Hintikka also interprets Aristotle's stand on the ‘Master Argument’ of Diodorus in light of the attribution of the principle of plenitude to Aristotle. Diodorus' argument is the second of the four problems that this essay considers,. Unlike Aristotle, Diodorus appears to have favored a strong version of determinism. According to Hintikka, Diodorus actually strove to prove the principle of plenitude (as opposed to assuming it, as Aristotle presumably did). I am very sceptical regarding Hintikka's interpretations of these two problems. The sea battle argument is not adequately answered by the solution which Hintikka sees Aristotle adopting. Alternative answers are relatively easy to come by. The evidence cited by Hintikka for ascribing the principle of plenitude is, it is shown, somewhat inconclusive. As for the Master Argument, there is a great deal of paucity in regards to textual evidence. Hinikka himself virtually concedes this point. (Thus, whereas I feel it to be incumbent to offer an alternative interpretation of the sea battle argument, I do not share this attitude towards the Master Argument.) The third and fourth problems play a key role in twentieth century analytic philosophy. Both were first formulated by W.V. Quine in the forties. These problems are somewhat subtle and will not be explained further. Suffice it to say that an analysis of Aristotle's works by Alan Code reveals that the Stagirite had an answer to Quine's criticisms of modal logic.

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