The resurgence of metaphysics in late analytic philosophy: A constructive critique


  • Dionysis Christias University of Patras



modal revolution, possible worlds metaphysics, Kant-Sellars thesis about modality, nominalism,


The purpose of the first part of this paper is to examine the major turning point events that transformed the attitude of analytic philosophers towards metaphysical discourse. We will focus on one such turning point, the modal revolution, based on the resources of possible world semantics, developed by Kripke (who devised suitable models for modal logic) and by philosophers such as Lewis and Plantinga (who offered influential metaphysical interpretations of those models). We shall see how the modal revolution, by bringing an unprecedented change in the way in which modal notions were understood by analytic philosophers, was central to the revival of metaphysics in contemporary philosophy. Yet, analytic philosophers encountered serious obstacles in their attempt to understand the ontological and epistemological foundations and implications of one of the most basic notions of the modal revolution, that of a possible world. In the second part of the paper, it will be argued that, surprisingly enough, the work of the pre-Kripkean “middle” analytic philosopher Wilfrid Sellars, especially as interpreted and reconstructed by Robert Brandom, can perhaps throw light on the semantic, epistemic and ontological dimension of possible world talk. Sellars does this mainly through 1) (what Brandom calls) the “Kant-Sellars thesis about modality”, 2) his understanding of modal discourse as non-descriptive, expressive, categorial and “metaliguistic”, and 3) his nominalism about abstract entities. Thus, it will be suggested that the implications of this Sellars-inspired position are such that make it an unexpectedly relevant and novel contribution to contemporary debates in analytic metaphysics.