Imagination and Modality



The aim of this one-day workshop is to discuss and exchange new ideas on imagination and modality and related topics.

Date & Venue

Date: March 24, 2017

Venue: Aula Film, P.zza Capitaniato 3, Padova (Italy)

Speakers and title of the talks

Andrea Altobrando (Okkaido University, Sapporo), The puzzle of imagining oneself as another one

Roberta Ballarin (The University of British Columbia, Vancouver), Quine on modality

Lisa Benossi (ILLC, Amsterdam), A closed-world reasoning model of pretence play

Franz Berto (University of Amsterdam and ILLC, Amsterdam), Intentions for Hyperintensions: A New Take on Logical Omniscience

Richard Dietz (University of Hamburg/Tokyo Denki University, Hamburg and Tokyo), Rough Comparability, Choiceworthiness, and Competitiveness

Vittorio Morato (Padua University, Padova), Kripkean conceivability and epistemic modalities

Andrea Strollo (Sns, Pisa),  If I were Kripke... Attributive Names and the Necessary a Posteriori


Lorenzo Azzano (Sns, Pisa), Irene Binini (Sns, Pisa), Massimiliano Carrara (Padua University), Roberto Ciuni (Padua University), Davide Dalla Rosa (Padua University), Ciro De Florio (Catholic University of Milan, Milan).


Session 1: Modality

10:00--11:00: R. Ballarin, Quine on modality

11:00--12:00: V. Morato, Kripkean conceivability and epistemic modalities

12:00--13:00:  A. Strollo, If I were Kripke... Attributive Names and the Necessary a Posteriori

13:00--15:00: Lunch

Session 2: Imagination

15:00-- 16:00 F. Berto, Intentions for Hyperintensions: A New Take on Logical Omniscience

16:00--17:00 A. Altobrando, The puzzle of imagining oneself as another one

17:00--18:00 L. Benossi, A closed-world reasoning model of pretence play

18:00--19:00 R. Dietz, Rough Comparability, Choiceworthiness, and Competitiveness

19:30-- Workshop dinner


A. Altobrando, The puzzle of imagining oneself as another one

«To imagine oneself is quite a common, seemingly unproblematic activity. It is possible, however, in different forms. At least three: I can imagine myself in a different situation, I can imagine myself in the shoes of someone else, I can imagine myself as someone else. In the first case, I imagine myself as “the same self ”, even if the environment (possibly in a very broad sense) is different. Taken to its extreme, I can imagine myself as someone born by different parents, in a different surrounding, even in a different era. Am I in this case still imagining myself? It seems that, at least, the imagining and the imagined self do not fully coincide. Some features, for instance part of the biography, should diverge. Following, in imagining my situation as different to a point at which some of my features are different, I imagine me being different from what/who I am. This seems to prove I am not “necessarily” linked to my de facto world. But how can I be different from who/what I am and still be myself? One difference could be traced between essential and unessential features. This being the case, I could assume that some of my features change according to the environment, while other are permanent in any possible world. Following, to a certain extent, I can vary myself keeping being myself – and this seems to be compatible with Husserl's idea of an “individual essence”. But what is the limit of this variation? We should also consider the case that, when I imagine myself as myself, I could fall victim to error. Since I do not really know everything about myself, I could commit a self-misidentification: I just think I could be so different, but it is not the case. “In reality”, I am thinking of someone else, while believing I am thinking of myself. Nevertheless, there are cases in which the possibility of imagining myself concerns the very things I know (with certainty) about myself. I can, for example, imagine myself as a person of another sex, born in another country, having different habits, in another time. And, still, I am thinking that I am imagining myself. I can imagine myself with different features from the ones I know for sure belonging to me. In both cases, the fundamental question is: What is essential to me as the self I am? All these problems are to be found also in the two other cases mentioned at the beginning. The case in which I imagine myself in someone else’s shoes, can either be simply understood as a case of imagination of myself in another situation, or be considered as a case in which the imagined I assumes some of the personal features of the other (her shoes being a metaphor for her character, for example), thus touching again on the problem of essential and unessential features. When I imagine myself being someone else, the paradoxality of the case is even more evident: What does permit me to say that I imagine myself being another person, given that this person is not me, and that, in order to achieve such an act of imagination, something of me must persist also in the imagined self? We easily see that, in all cases, there must be a “phenomenological difference” which permits to distinguish between the cases in which one imagines him/herself and the ones in which one just imagines a(nother) self. To put it straight: What is the difference between imagining someone else and imagining oneself? For example: I imagine that you are having a coffee on Mars; I imagine that I am having a coffee on Mars. In both cases, I change the scenario, and keep me as me and you as you. What is the “minimum feature” which allows me to think of the first imagined one as “you” and the second one as “me”? Further: Let's suppose I imagine you being John Milton or me being John Milton. I imagine both me and you as being someone else. What is the difference in the imagined person? What is the feature which permits me to say that in one case it is you being John Milton, in another it is me? In my talk, I will tackle the hypothesis that there is a kind of “core self ” which allows one to imagine her/himself as the same or as someone else, and to distinguish if one is imagining him/herself or someone else. According to such a hypothesis, the “core self ” permits also “extreme” variations of the self. In particular, I will investigate it in connection with the Cartesian self-certainty of the “ego sum”. This seems, indeed, to connect to a central (paradoxical) feature of self-imagination: How can I be someone who is able to say “cogito sum” identifying himself with me, even if it is not my real I? Do the two, the imagining and the imagined, selves share only this “moment”, i.e. the self-certainty, which is, to a certain extent, void of any (phenomenal) link to the rest of what one is and his/her environment and history, as well as her/his psychological and biological characteristics?»  

R. Ballarin, Quine on modality

In this paper, I analyze Quine’s stand on the modalities against the background of logical empiricism, especially Carnap’s system in Meaning and Necessity. Quine shared Carnap’s distaste for an essentialist interpretation of necessity. However, Quine claimed, Carnap’s logical/analytical reinterpretation of necessity is incompatible with quantification across the modal operators; thus, quantified modal logic remains committed to an essentialist interpretation of the modalities even if the domain of quantification is restricted to intensions. In this paper, I scrutinize Quine’s arguments against Carnap. This leads to an examination of Quine’s take on analyticity, essentialism, and their connections. I conjecture that Quine’s charge of essentialism is best understood as directed against the notion of analyticity in and of itself, independently of and prior to its interplay with the quantifiers. I conclude the paper with a short presentation of Quine’s own positive interpretation of necessity.  

L. Benossi, A closed-world reasoning model of pretence play

Imagination and counterfactual reasoning have been widely connected in the recent literature, both in cognitive science and in philosophy. On the basis of this relationship, we will present the early stage of a model of pretence play in terms of counterfactual reasoning. Pretence play requires the ability to imagine situations and to reason from them. Furthermore, in pretence settings, arguably, much real world knowledge and reasoning patters are employed. These considerations further motivate our usage of counterfactual reasoning, and constitute the basic elements of our model. At a theoretical level, the model that we will introduce attempts at explaining pretence in a cognitively plausible manner. This aim is achieved through an analysis of the difficulties in spontaneous pretence play within the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We propose to model pretence play through logic. We will use nonmonotonic closed-world reasoning to provide a formal representation of counterfactual reasoning, taking inspiration from the work of van Lambalgen and Stenning (2008, MIT Press). Furthermore, some provisional results will be introduced, displaying a novel application of integrity constraints to update in pretence settings. Provisionally, we suggest that our model will support the hypothesis that the autistic population’s diculties in pretence can be explained in terms of closed world reasoning about abnormalities.  

F. Berto, Intentions for Hyperintensions: A New Take on Logical Omniscience

I propose a semantic approach to the problem of logical omniscience, taking at face value the understanding of beliefs as intentional states: a subject who believes that p has a mental attitude towards a situation — a configuration of objects and properties — verifying p. The theory is based on (1) a new way to mark the distinction, occurring in the literature of both epistemic logic and cognitive science, between explicit and implicit belief; (2) the modelling of implicit belief as a variably strict quantifier over possible worlds, indexed by explicit belief; (3) the imposition of a content containment requirement for a belief to logically entail another. The semantics invalidates most forms of logical omniscience: cognitive agents can have explicitly inconsistent beliefs without trivially believing everything; logical validities are not generally believed; and belief is not closed under strict implication: an agent can believe p but fail to believe q even when, necessarily, if p then q. However, belief is closed under believed and content-preserving implication.  

R. Dietz, Rough Comparability, Choiceworthiness, and Competitiveness

This talk is about two problems of rational choice: (1) Problem of choice worthiness: What makes options choiceworthy over a class of alternatives, if those alternative may be only roughly comparable? (2) Problem of competitiveness: Is dominance reasoning valid in case we have cases of rough comparability (probabilistic independence being not the issue)? The two problems have not been put into focus yet in the previous literature, let alone put into one perspective---I aim to do both in this talk. I will give an account of previous arguments that directly bear on the first or the second problem, arguing that the maximisation view and the competitiveness view are both down to certain views regarding the compositionality of value relations. On this account, it is suggested that positions are down to a sparse notion of permissibility, and associated with this, a specific explanatory claim about how value relations and permissibility are related. This will highlight a novel strategy of defending both the maximisation view and the competitiveness view.

V. Morato, Kripkean conceivability and epistemic modalities

According to Kripke (1980), you cannot genuinely conceive the negation of a metaphysical necessity M. The best you can do is to conceive a "qualitative presentation" of the negation of M and to mistakenly take that possibility for the possibility that M is false. For example, you cannot conceive that water is not H2O, the best you can do (or what, de facto, you are doing while believing of conceiving that water is not H2O) is to conceive that a "watery", drinkable stuff is not H20. In this talk, I will show that "Kripkean conceivability" (KC) might become problematic in case it is combined with some, apparently plausible, principles relating conceivability with epistemic modality, in particular, with a principle relating the inconceivability, for a thinker, that P with the non-existence, for such a thinker, of the epistemic possibility that P. From KC and such principles, one could prove that every metaphysical necessity is an epistemic necessity, namely that there is an epistemic constraint on metaphysical necessities, an utterly anti-Kripkean result. Aim of the talk is to find some solution for the Kripkeans (and, in particular, for myself!).

A. Strollo (Sns, Pisa),  If I were Kripke... Attributive Names and the Necessary a Posteriori

According to Naming and Necessity proper names usually work referentially as rigid designators. In this paper I argue that proper names have also attributive uses that systematically emerge in particular contexts. Attributive uses are then exploited to show that simple identity claims (such as 'Hesperus is Phosphorus') are open to a double interpretation. The main aim of the paper is arguing that the strong impression that certain true identities are a posteriori is mostly due to one of the two readings, a reading according to which, however, the expressed truth is only contingently true. If other, more contentious assumptions are accepted, the account can be used to question the legitimacy of necessary a posteriori true identities.

Scientific Organization

Massimiliano Carrara (Padua University) and Vittorio Morato (Padua University)

Financial Support:

PRAT-UNIPD (Progetto di ricerca di ateneo, University of Padua) on Disagreement