What in the World are Possible Worlds?
Ted Sider writes that "many are impressed with the utility of possible worlds in linguistics and philosophy", and this is true, in particular, of those with an interest in modal logic. However, in the midst of the marvelous milieu brought on by the development of possible world semantics, some have stopped to ask just what it is that possible worlds are. They certainly seem useful, and we seem to understand how to use them and talk about them, but what precisely is it that we're talking about when we talk of possible worlds? In this thesis, I will attempt to outline the most significant and well-recognized view in this debate: that of David Lewis. Through my discussion of him, I will find occasion to discuss some alternative views that have arisen. After finishing my presentation of Lewis, I will discuss where people have begun to take this debate and address the question of whether progress can be made towards a substantive answer. In Chapter I, I begin by presenting the motivation of the question of possible worlds found in the study of modal logic. I then present the major approaches taken to answering the questions that were raised, leading into my discussion of David Lewis's famous and robust account. I present key features of Lewis's view and then move into his criticisms of the other major responses. This much should suffice as a relatively thorough treatment of the answers that have come before. In Chapter II, I discuss the current state of the debate. I begin by mentioning several problems that can be spotted in Lewis's views in particular. I then move to Menzel's account, which tries to answer the question of possible worlds from a new angle, jettisoning the direction taken by Lewis and his contemporaries. I explain why Menzel has taken this new approach, and then move into another new approach, this time given by Stephen Yablo. I discuss how these two approaches can help serve each other in helpful ways. But, at last, I present several hurdles these two views would have to overcome in order to play together nicely.
Dondero, Mark (2009). What in the World are Possible Worlds?. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from