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Re: [ontolog-forum] Possible Worlds

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 12 Feb 2009 11:42:13 -0500
Message-id: <49945165.7020006@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Chris,    (01)

There is an excellent way to clarify the notion of
"possible worlds" -- explain them away.    (02)

CP> My opinion is that David Lewis is extremely good at
 > clarifying things.  I believe I am not alone. I recall
 > Ted Sider saying somewhere that he thought Plurality of
 > Worlds was the best book on philosophy in his lifetime
 > (or something similar).    (03)

You are certainly not alone.  There are many people who like
that metaphor.  But to consider it as anything more than a
colorful metaphor creates enormous confusion.  And I include
David L. among the obfuscators, not the clarifiers.    (04)

I contributed the following paper to a book about possible worlds:    (05)

    Worlds, Models, and Descriptions    (06)

Following is an earlier paper that goes into more detail:    (07)

    Laws, Facts, and Contexts: Foundations for Multimodal Reasoning    (08)

The abstract to the Worlds paper is copied below.    (09)

__________________________________________________________________    (010)

Worlds, Models, and Descriptions    (011)

John F. Sowa    (012)

Abstract. Since the pioneering work by Kripke and Montague, the term
'possible world' has appeared in most theories of formal semantics
for modal logics, natural languages, and knowledge-based systems.
Yet that term obscures many questions about the relationships between
the real world, various models of the world, and descriptions of
those models in either formal languages or natural languages. Each
step in that progression is an abstraction from the overwhelming
complexity of the world. At the end, nothing is left but a colorful
metaphor for an undefined element of a set W called worlds, which
are related by an undefined and undefinable primitive relation R
called accessibility.  For some purposes, the resulting abstraction
has proved to be useful, but as a general theory of meaning, the
abstraction omits too many significant features. So much information
has been lost at each step that many philosophers, linguists, and
psychologists have dismissed model-theoretic semantics as irrelevant
to the study of meaning.  This article examines the steps in the
process of extracting the pair (W,R) from the world and the way
people talk about the world. It shows that the Kripke worlds can be
reinterpreted as part of a Peircean semiotic theory, which can also
include contributions from many other studies in cognitive science.
Among them are Dunn's semantics based on laws and facts, the lexical
semantics preferred by many linguists, psychological models of how
the world is perceived, and philosophies of science that relate
theories to the world.  A full integration of all those sources is
far beyond the scope of this article, but an outline of the approach
suggests that Peirce's vision is capable of relating and reconciling
the competing sources.    (013)

Published in _Studia Logica_, Special Issue Ways of Worlds II, 84:2,
2006, pp. 323-360.    (014)

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