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Philosophy investigates the basic structure of how things are. In addition, many philosophers have claimed that philosophy must also look at how things must be – that is, at what is necessary. But philosophers do not all agree about the nature of necessity and the related notion of possibility. In fact, these ‘modal’ notions are the focus of a debate which goes back to the earliest Greek philosophers, and many of the questions which the ancients asked about the nature of necessity can still be seen to occupy a central position in present-day philosophical discussion.
Some years ago when we three editors were reflecting together on current views about modality, possible worlds, and related issues, we started asking where philosophers through the ages have thought that necessity originates. What have they said necessity is? What do they say are its roots? We began to explore notions of necessity as they emerged in philosophers’ and logicians’ works over the centuries, and in doing so we were struck by the enormous range of different approaches to these topics, both from the point of view of contemporary metaphysics and from the point of view of the connection between logical inference and argument. We were also struck by the connection between the intuitive notions of necessity and the validity of ‘logical’ arguments in ordinary life. Even while these themes sit at the heart of much in philosophy, it seemed to us that the contemporary debates around them do not often suggest much awareness of the older philosophical discussions. And so we quickly came to feel the need for a more thoroughgoing study, one which is fundamentally historical and which brings together world experts on various philosophers and eras. We approached these experts seeking their guidance in looking back at the notion of necessity throughout its long history, and through close attention to the primary texts.
There are, we think, special advantages in taking the historical approach to a subject such as necessity. Not least among these advantages is the way in which the historical approach affords philosophers room for reflection, which allows us to sit outside the philosophical debates. However partisan one's views about modal reasoning might be, philosophers as a rule adopt a position of agnosticism when studying historical greats such as Aristotle or Abaelard or Locke or Leibniz.
In Prior Analytics A1, Aristotle explains what a deduction (a syllogism) is, and he makes clear that a syllogism involves ‘necessity’:
(1) A deduction is a discourse in which, certain things having been supposed, something different from the things supposed results of necessity because these things are so. (Prior Analytics A1, 24b18–22)
Aristotle's explicit description of the conclusion of a valid syllogism as ‘resulting of necessity’ makes it look as though he must have in mind a modal notion. But can we say with any certainly what Aristotle understands by the ‘necessity’ here? Scholars have of course asked this many times, but there is no consensus and a variety of interpretations have been suggested. The aim of the present paper is to focus on a source which sometimes is overlooked but which can be used to help shed light on Aristotle's understanding of the necessity in (1). This source is the examples Aristotle uses to establish where we do not have a syllogism. These examples are sometimes taken to be more trouble than help, and yet because they are Aristotle's own they are among the most direct textual evidence we have of his reasoning about his logic.
While modern philosophers and logicians might have a fairly sure idea of what today we mean by logic, we have to remember that when Aristotle was setting out the material which we know as the Prior Analytics, he was inventing logic. And though there are passages in An. Pr. where he does reflect on his invention, in setting out the syllogistic he is more focused on doing logic, less on talking about it or reflecting on the nature of his discovery. In Chapter 3 of this volume, Robin Smith investigates passages where Aristotle is reflecting on his logic, but these are special passages. For the most part reading Aristotle's discussion of the syllogistic feels like reading an introductory logic exercise book. There is in fact so little explicit reflection on the methods that some commentators have supposed that Aristotle must have proceeded simply by trial and error.
Interest in the metaphysics and logic of possible worlds goes back at least as far as Aristotle, but few books address the history of these important concepts. This volume offers new essays on the theories about the logical modalities (necessity and possibility) held by leading philosophers from Aristotle in ancient Greece to Rudolf Carnap in the twentieth century. The story begins with an illuminating discussion of Aristotle's views on the connection between logic and metaphysics, continues through the Stoic and mediaeval (including Arabic) traditions, and then moves to the early modern period with particular attention to Locke and Leibniz. The views of Kant, Peirce, C. I. Lewis and Carnap complete the volume. Many of the essays illuminate the connection between the historical figures studied, and recent or current work in the philosophy of modality. The result is a rich and wide-ranging picture of the history of the logical modalities.
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