Real possibilities, real absences?

“Real possibilities, real absences?”
December 4th/5th 2014
Universität zu Köln, Alter Senatssaal

DFG-research group “Causation – Laws – Dispositions – Explanations”
Scientific organization: Kristina Engelhard and David Hommen

Practical Information
Travel grants

Aims and scope:
The world is full of possibilities. On the face of it, it seems perfectly appropriate to think of such possibilities as real features of actual objects in our world or our world itself: Being features of things, possibilities serve to characterize or qualify their bearers, and to unify their possessors in that they account for objective resemblances. At least, possibilities show some standard characteristics of properties. And not forgetting possibilities seem to be both causally effectuated and causally efficacious. Dispositionalists think that properties are somehow modally ladden or even that possibility may be reduced to such modal properties, that are features of actual objects and persons in our world.

There is also an interesting connection between possibilities and absences. Absences, i.e. agential omissions and forbearances, but also “natural” negative events and states beyond the sphere of human action, seem to be part and parcel of the real world, as many of them are indispensible to explain certain phenomena. A promising way to make sense of absences as factors operative in the causation of effects is to conceive them as un-actualized possibilities – possibilities, which, despite their not being actualized, may be recognized as real aspects of the world, in very much the same way in which un-manifested dispositions are regarded as real properties of the things that have them, even when they stay un-manifested.

Yet, neither talk of “real” possibilities nor of “real” absences is without problems. Possibilities and absences seem to be rather “ethereal”, “abstract” or “non-concrete”. To some philosophers it seems utterly mysterious, if not entirely unintelligible, to speak of possibilities as aspects of the actual world, and of absences as genuine bits of reality. Another worry is that the reification of possibilities and absences commits one to the postulation of primitive de re modalities and perhaps, even worse, metaphysically obscure forms of negative existence.
The aim of the workshop is to discuss options and problems of accounts of real possibilities or of thisworldly modality. Is possibility a primitive feature of our world or is it grounded in some other feature? Can possibility be reduced to dispositions? If not which account in the metaphysics of modality is preferable? And finally, what is the relation between possibilities and absences? In which way might an account of modality contribute to an understanding of the realness of absences?

Sara Bernstein (Duke University, Durham, USA)
Steven French (University of Leeds)
Andreas Hüttemann (Universität zu Köln)
Siegfried Jaag (Université de Luxembourg)
Daniel Nolan (Australia’s National University)
Antje Rumberg (Universität Konstanz)
Carolina Sartorio (University of Arizona)
Richard Woodward (Universität Hamburg)

Please send an email to to express your interest to participate. We can unfortunately offer only a limited number of places.