Nino Langiulli

Possibility, Necessity and Existence. Abbagnano and His Predecessor

The primary purpose of this book is to expound and elucidate historically and analytically the concepts of possibility, necessity, and existence as they are refracted through the thought of the twentieth-century Italian philosopher Nicola Abbagnano, whose boldness and originality consist in defending the purity and modesty of "possibility" from the seduction by its opposites. The basic theme of Abbagnano's philosophizing is in one tone a relating of possibility to existence and in another avoiding the historical confusions of reducing possibility to necessity, to necessary realization, or to impossibility.
To establish the boundaries of Abbagnano's intellectual history, Part I begins with an extended introduction to his work. The preponderant discussion in this part touches upon Abbagnano's place in the Existentialist tradition in particular, in twentieth-century philosophy in general, and upon the relationship of his thought with those of some prominent American philosophers. The thrust of the historical discussion, it must be said, is always to throw into more definite relief those concepts that name this book. Then, in the main body of the exposition, Part II offers a detailed exploration of Abbagnano's deeper historical conversation with his predecessors in philosophical literature: Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Kierkegaard. That conversation is once again about possibility, necessity, and existence. The first few chapters of Part III are devoted to a thorough analysis of Abbagnano's own exposition of "possibility," its various versions, its opposites, and its relation to existence. His arguments concerning the primacy of one version over the others are presented and amplified. The remaining chapters constitute an investigation of Abbagnano's understanding of existence, especially with respect to possibility and its opposites.
Part III (and the book) concludes with some remarks of my own concerning Abbagnano's accomplishments and the issues he leaves open for further development.
The basic theme in Abbagnano's thought - the primacy of possibility - is both important and original. Its importance derives from the boldness of its attempt, making use of what he considers a proper notion of possibility, to preserve the unity and multiplicity of existence, its sameness and difference. It is a philosophical endeavor that is a critical, if neglected, contribution to contemporary philosophical discussion.
The originality in Abbagnano's philosophical project lies in his attempt to raise possibility to a level of prime importance. Possibility has traditionally been relegated to a position that often subordinates it to actuality or necessity. Abbagnano maintains that this traditional practice has been due to some conceptual confusions. He shows why it is a fundamental error to "translate" possibility into actuality or necessity. An adequate notion of possibility takes it as more fundamental and more dynamic: It leads to possibility's becoming regarded as the very mark of existence. According to Abbagnano, the proper name for the essential note of what is called "being" or "existence" is really "possibility as such", possibility properly understood. And given such a "proper understanding," of possibility as such, his further argument-that it is the true "ground" of beings, that is, of things, events, or states of affairs - becomes more meaningful and indeed persuasive.
I have made a particular effort throughout the body of the book not to quarrel with Abbagnano's views, analyses, or arguments, trying always to present his thought in as positive a manner as possible in keeping with the primary purpose of this study, that is, the elucidation of the concepts of possibility, necessity, and existence. At the conclusion, however, my critical reflections highlight what a philosophical study should attend to and what questions still remain after that attention has been paid.


N. Langiulli , Possibility, Necessity and Existence. Abbagnano and His Predecessor, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1992, pp.XV+ 205