Date of Completion

Spring 5-11-2020

Thesis Advisor(s)

Keith Simmons; Thomas Bontly

Honors Major



Epistemology | Logic and Foundations of Mathematics | Metaphysics | Other Philosophy


Imagine: someone is backing out of a parking space and does not look in their rear view mirror. They subsequently hit a car that was passing by. One could argue that they simply could have avoided the accident had they looked in their mirror. This non-actual possibility, that they could have looked in the mirror, seems legally and morally relevant. One could also argue that they could have avoided the accident had they stuck their feet out of their window and sung La Marseillaise.

My leading questions is: how do we distinguish possibilities that are legally and morally relevant from the outlandish ones that are not?

In my thesis, I will investigate the notion of possibility via possible worlds. I will move on to explore the different notions of possibility, including logical, conceptual, metaphysical, epistemic, physical. I then work to categorize what a real possibility is.

Throughout the paper I refer to several philosophers who have produced seminal work in modal logic and metaphysics, including Saul Kripke, David Lewis, and William Lycan.
Throughout my thesis, I shall be concerned with the notion of responsibility, both from the legal and moral standpoint. As noted above, there seems to be a clear connection between responsibility and modality. We say: “You could have looked in the mirror”, as we assign responsibility for the accident. But there are clear limits to the possibilities we can cite to hold someone responsible.