Counting Things that Could Exist (philosophically)

Prof-RosefeldProfessor Tobias Rosefeldt, of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany, counts things that could exist – in particular, he specifically does so in a new paper for The Philosophical Quarterly.

“Consider a tailor who works for a company that sells business suits as well as hipster suits. She has two business trousers and two business jackets in front of her and wonders in which combinations she should arrange them and whether she should dye the resulting suits pinkish in order to produce hipster suits or not. She asks herself the following question: ‘How many possible suits could I make by combining and dying the two jackets and the two trousers?’ “

Note that the imagined suits in the imagined example don’t actually exist, nevertheless, is it possible to ‘count’ them? The author bears in mind previous work on imaginary suit-counting, particularly the writings of Timothy Williamson ((1998). ‘Bare Possibilia’, in Erkenntnis, 48, 257–73.)

“Williamson assumes that a suit is constituted by a jacket and a pair of trousers that are originally hung together and that at most one possible suit can be made of a given jacket and a pair of trousers. He then shows that, given two jackets J1 and J2 and two pairs of trousers T1 and T2, there are four possible suits that could be made from J1, J2, T1 and T2, although it is impossible that there are ever more than two suits that are made from the set.”

The professor comes to a number of conclusions regarding such possibilia, arguing that (amongst other things) such cases –

“[…] should be understood as cases of quantification not over individual possible objects but rather over kinds of objects, some of which do not actually have instances.”

See: ‘Counting Things that Could Exist’ preprint in: The Philosophical Quarterly, May 16, 2016.

BONUS free thought experiment. Based on the author’s example regarding the numerical possibilia of  ‘Tomato Salads’, discuss how many could exist. [resauces]