ABSTRACT. Lewis argues for modal realism on the basis of the many philosophical benefits he thinks the theory provides. Among these benefits, Lewis argues that modal realism need not take any modal concept as primitive. He promises a reductive analysis of possibility in terms of existential quantification over flesh and blood worlds which are no less real than our own. Lycan objects that this reductive analysis fails, because true sentences involving possibility can’t be analyzed as being true on Lewis’s theory without invoking our prior modal notion of possibility. The Lycan objection is perhaps best seen as a trilemma: Either Lewis provides no way to decide whether any given state of affairs is possible or not (in which case it’s not a useful theory), or else its decisions are arbitrary and hence incorrect (since Lewis provides no clear decision procedure), or else it smuggles in our pre-theoretic modal notions in order to decide (in which case said modal notions are taken as primitive rather than analyzed). In this paper I argue that the Lycan objection is correct, and argue that defenses of Lewis put forward by Miller, Divers and Melia, and most recently Cameron, are all inadequate. Closely examining typical cases of reductive analysis in science and philosophy (such as attempts at reductive analyses of mind) and comparing them with Lewis’s attempted reduction demonstrates the nature of the failure of Lewis’s account, and points to a crucial weakness of his overall project in On the Plurality of Worlds. I conclude with a conjecture about the nature of our understanding of modality and the hope of providing a reductive analysis of it. pp. 75–89

Keywords: David Lewis, modal realism, reduction, Ross Cameron, Plurality of Worlds, William Lycan


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