A Philosophy of the Possible

Modalities in Thought and Culture


In this book, Mikhail Epstein offers a systematic theory of modalities (the actual, possible, and necessary), as applied to the discourse of philosophy in its post-Kantian and especially post-Derridean perspectives. He relies on his own experience of living in the USSR and the US, dominated respectively by imperative and possibilist modalities. Possibilism assumes that a thing or event acquires meaning only in the context of its multiple possibilities, inviting counterfactual and conditional modes of description. The author focuses on the creative potentials of possibilistic thinking and its heuristic value. The book demonstrates the range of modal approaches to society, culture, ethics, and language, and outlines potentiology as a new philosophical discipline interacting with ontology and epistemology.


EUR €127.00USD $147.00

Biographical Note

Mikhail Epstein, Ph.D. (1990), Academy of Sciences, USSR; S.C.Dobbs Professor of Cultural Theory and Russian literature at Emory University (USA). He has published 35 books and hundreds of articles in philosophy and cultural and literary studies translated into 23 languages.

Table of contents


&emsp Introduction: Fundamental Concepts of the Theory of the Possible
 1 The Problem of Modalities in Contemporary Thought
 2 A Preliminary Definition of the Modality of the Possible
 3 The Ontological Status of Possible Worlds. Nominalism and Realism
 4 The Principle of “Fullness” and the Problem of Realization of Possibilities
 5 Duality and “Demonism” of the Possible
 6 A Possibilistic Approach to the Possible
 7 The Plan of the Book

Part 1: The Possible in Philosophy

1  Criticism and Activism
2  Philosophy and Reality
3  Change of Modalities in the History of Philosophy
4  Philosophy as Possibilistic Thinking
5  The Area of the Thinkable: the Value of Thinking in Itself
6  Theory, Utopia, and Hypothesis
7  Catharsis of Thinking
8  Personified Thinking
9  Possible and Impossible: Aporia of Thinking
10  Language, Thinking, and Signifiability
11  Universals as Potentials: Conceptualism
12  From the General to the Concrete and Universal
13  Multiplication of Entities
14  Philosophy as Parody and Grotesque

Part 2: The Fate of Metaphysics: from Deconstruction to Possibilization

Introduction to Part 2

Section 2.1: Reverse Metaphysics: Critique and Deconstruction

15  Beyond Being and Nothingness: the Feeling of the Possible
16  A World View, Not a Point of View: “A Net with No Knots”
17  The Possible in Jean Derrida
18  The Metaphysics of Deconstruction: the Main Terms
19  The Radical Nature of Difference: Profit and Transcendence
20  Center and Structure
21  Reverse Metaphysics: the Other, the Play, and the Writing
22  Différance and the Tao

Section 2.2: Construction and Possibilization

23  From Deconstruction to Construction
24  Construction and Creativity
25  De- and Con-
26  Potentiation as Method: Eros of Thinking
27  What is “The Interesting”? Proposed Criteria
28  Small Metaphysics: the Unique

Part 3: The Worlds of the Possible

Introduction to Part 3
29  Society
30  Culture
31  Ethics
32  Psychology
33  Religion


To be Able, to be, and to Know. A System of Modalities
 1 Definitions of Modality
 A Typical Definitions
 B The Specific Definition
 2 Оntic Modalities (Modalities of Being)
 A “To Be” and “To Be Able” in the Ontological and Modal Perspectives
 B Existence and Non-existence
 C The Possible and the Contingent
 D The Impossible and the Necessary
 E Strong and Weak Modalities
 F The General Scheme of Ontic Modalities
 G Supermodalities: The Due and the Miraculous
 3 Еpistemic Modalities (Modalities of Knowledge)
 4 Pure (Potentialistic) Modalities
 A Active Voice (Capacity, Need)
 B Passive Voice (Permission, Coercion)
 C Second-order Modalities
 (1) Will and Power
 (2) Desire and Love
 5 The Final Tables of Modalities
 6 Modal Categories in Various Disciplines
 A Be Able – Possess – Have Value. Modality in Economics
 B Necessity and Immortality: Modality in Eschatology
 7 Potentiology: Prospects for the New Discipline
Index of Names
Index of Subjects


All interested in the philosophy of possible worlds and the role of modal categories (actual, necessary, interesting, hypothetical) in shaping postmodern culture, critical theory, and the future of the humanities.