I recently asked about a definition of conceivable. Now I am asking a slightly different question. I want to know if there are philosophers who have written texts clarifying (and perhaps even defining) the notion of conceivability as used in the epistemology of modality. I would also like a list of such texts.

  • Is there any chance you might be able to spell out a little further what exactly you’re looking for here? Motivation and context can also help potential answerers zero in on what you’re after — ie, what are you studying that has made “conceivability” an interesting or important philosophical problem to you..? – Joseph Weissman Oct 23 at 15:46
  • @JosephWeissman I am looking for a clarification of the term "conceivable", so that I can know unambiguously when some entity or state of affairs is conceivable. I am not a philosophy student, just a layperson who is interested in philosophy. – user107952 Oct 23 at 16:37
  • Substance- "That which is conceived in itself, and which the intellect perceives as existing." This does not answer the question exactly but offers a usage of 'conceive' in a precise while unique way. The intellect, according to Spinoza, is a faculty of the mind, similar to how logicians describe 'logic' as a function of the brain/mind. To conceive here means to be able to entertain an adequate understanding of substance by intuitively 'visualizing' it's reality. Not sure how helpful this is, but to use conceive this way grants an agency or 'active' power to the mind. – Charles M Saunders Oct 23 at 17:31
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The terms only comes up in a handful of SEP articles, but it looks like your strongest bet is to use those in SEP: The Epistemology of Modality. It is definitely jargon for a subset of philosophers interested in modal aspects of epistemology. Some of the names thrown around are van Inwagen, Yablo, and Chalmers, all of whom are of some contemporary philosophical renown. You can mine the bibliography for particulars. From said article:

With respect to the epistemic question, all of the following have been proposed as potential answers:


Conceivability: S can conceive of a scenario in which c is at L∗. S derives justification for believing that c can be at L∗ from conceiving of it.

In 1.2.2:

Van Inwagen (1998), taking note of Yablo’s (1993) account of what it is to conceive something, discusses what has come to be a fundamental challenge for theories involving conceivability and imaginability.

In 2.1:

In a series of papers (1996, 2002, 2010: Ch. 6) David Chalmers articulates, defends and responds to a number of objections to the view that conceivability entails possibility. Chalmers’s account is not the only account of conceivability in the contemporary literature. Both Yablo (1993) and Menzies (1998) provide important accounts of conceivability. The main difference between their accounts and Chalmers’s is that their views are defenses of evidential theories as opposed to entailment theories. An evidential account aims to show how conceivability provides evidence for possibility. An entailment account goes further and aims to show how in specific cases conceivability entails possibility. Evidential accounts face the problems posed by the existence of a posteriori necessities and the issue of conceiving to the relevant depth of detail.

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