Epistemology of modality: Between the rock and the hard place

Ilkka Pättiniemi, Rami Koskinen, Ilmari Hirvonen

Publications: Contribution to journalArticlePeer Reviewed


We review some of the major accounts in the current epistemology of modality and identify some shared issues that plague all of them. In order to provide insight into the nature of modal statements in science, philosophy, and beyond, a satisfactory epistemology of modality would need to be suitably applicable to practical and theoretical contexts by limited beings. However, many epistemologies of modality seem to work only when we have access to the kind of knowledge that is at least currently beyond our reach. Or, in the extreme case, it is argued that even if we knew all the relevant information about the respective domain – or even the entire state of the world – there would still remain a special class of modal truths that would be left unaccounted for. Neither picture bodes well for practical applicability, nor for the philosophical justification of these epistemologies. This is especially the case as we hold that one of the main motivations for modal inquiry typically arises in cases of imperfect information and limited cognitive resources. We close by providing a partial remedy to the situation by suggesting an overall framework of relative modality (RM) that can be used to both unify some existing modal epistemologies and, at the same time, make them more metaphysically modest.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-53
JournalActa Philosophica Fennica
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 603102 Epistemology
  • 603124 Theory of science


  • epistemology of modality
  • possibility
  • necessity
  • essentialism
  • possible worlds
  • relative modality

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