“Actual” does not imply “feasible”

Nicholas Southwood*, David Wiens

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    21 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    The familiar complaint that some ambitious proposal is infeasible naturally invites the following response: Once upon a time, the abolition of slavery and the enfranchisement of women seemed infeasible, yet these things were actually achieved. Presumably, then, many of those things that seem infeasible in our own time may well be achieved too and, thus, turn out to have been perfectly feasible after all. The Appeal to History, as we call it, is a bad argument. It is not true that if some desirable state of affairs was actually achieved, then it was feasible that it was achieved. “Actual” does not imply “feasible,” as we put it. Here is our objection. “Feasible” implies “not counterfactually fluky.” But “actual” does not imply “not counterfactually fluky.” So, “actual” does not imply “feasible.” While something like the Flukiness Objection is sometimes hinted at in the context of the related literature on abilities, it has not been developed in any detail, and both premises are inadequately motivated. We offer a novel articulation of the Flukiness Objection that is both more precise and better motivated. Our conclusions have important implications, not only for the admissible use of history in normative argument, but also by potentially circumscribing the normative claims that are applicable to us.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3037-3060
    Number of pages24
    JournalPhilosophical Studies
    Volume173
    Issue number11
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016

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