Philosophy Colloquium

Quinn Harr

University of Maryland, College Park

Relative Modalities and Chance

I challenge a recent attempt by Antony Eagle to defend the possibility of deterministic chance. Eagle argues that statements of the form '$x$ has a (non-trivial) chance to $\varphi$' are equivalent in common usage (and in their truth-conditions) to those of the form '$x$ can $\varphi$'. The effect of this claim on the debate about the compatibility of (non-trivial) chances with a deterministic world seems to be relatively straightforward. If '$x$ has a chance to $\varphi$' is equivalent to '$x$ can $\varphi$' and statements of the form '$x$ can $\varphi$' are able to be truthfully uttered in a deterministic world, then statements of the form '$x$ has a chance to $\varphi$' are also able to be truthfully uttered in such a world. Drawing upon the work of Angelika Kratzer and David Lewis, Eagle shows how our best semantic theories allow statements of the form '$x$ can $\varphi$' to be truthfully uttered in deterministic worlds. Under the assumption that the truth-makers of statements like '$x$ has a chance to $\varphi$' are objective chances, compatibilism about chance seems to follow. I argue, however, that we have reasons independent of the debate about compatibilism about chance to reject a semantic theory that yields the sort of results Eagle claims for the Kratzer-Lewis account. If we make the necessary modifications to our semantic theory, however, then compatibilism about chance follows only, if at all, with great difficulty.

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