This paper discusses an important puzzle about the semantics of indicative conditionals and deontic necessity modals (should, ought, etc.): the Miner Puzzle (Parfit, ms; Kolodny and MacFarlane, J Philos 107:115–143, 2010). Rejecting modus ponens for the indicative conditional, as others have proposed, seems to solve a version of the puzzle, but is actually orthogonal to the puzzle itself. In fact, I prove that the puzzle arises for a variety of sophisticated analyses of the truth-conditions of indicative conditionals. A comprehensive solution (...) requires rethinking the relationship between relevant information (what we know) and practical rankings of possibilities and actions (what to do). I argue that (i) relevant information determines whether considerations of value may be treated as reasons for actions that realize them and against actions that don’t, (ii) incorporating this normative fact requires a revision of the standard ordering semantics for weak (but not for strong) deontic necessity modals, and (iii) an off-the-shelf semantics for weak deontic necessity modals, due to von Fintel and Iatridou, which distinguishes “basic” and “higher-order” ordering sources, and interprets weak deontic necessity modals relative to both, is well-suited to this task. The prominence of normative considerations in our proposal suggests a more general methodological lesson: formal semantic analysis of natural language modals expressing normative concepts demands that close attention be paid to the nature of the underlying normative phenomena. (shrink)
I demonstrate that a "speech act" theory of meaning for imperatives is—contra a dominant position in philosophy and linguistics—theoretically desirable. A speech act-theoretic account of the meaning of an imperative !φ is characterized, broadly, by the following claims. -/- LINGUISTIC MEANING AS USE !φ’s meaning is a matter of the speech act an utterance of it conventionally functions to express—what a speaker conventionally uses it to do (its conventional discourse function, CDF). -/- IMPERATIVE USE AS PRACTICAL !φ's CDF is to (...) express a practical (non-representational) state of mind—one concerning an agent's preferences and plans, rather than her beliefs. -/- Opposed to speech act accounts is a preponderance of views which deny that a sentence's linguistic meaning is a matter of what speech act it is used to perform, or its CDF. On such accounts, meaning is, instead, a matter of "static" properties of the sentence—e.g., how it depicts the world as being (or, more neutrally, the properties of a model-theoretic object with which the semantic value of the sentence co-varies). On one version of a static account, an imperative 'shut the window!' might, for instance, depict the world as being such that the window must be shut. -/- Static accounts are traditionally motivated against speech act-theoretic accounts by appeal to supposedly irremediable explanatory deficiencies in the latter. Whatever a static account loses in saying (prima facie counterintuitively) that an imperative conventionally represents, or expresses a picture of the world, is said to be offset by its ability to explain a variety of phenomena for which speech act-theoretic accounts are said to lack good explanations (even, in many cases, the bare ability to offer something that might meet basic criteria on what a good explanation should be like). -/- I aim to turn the tables on static accounts. I do this by showing that speech act accounts are capable of giving explanations of phenomena which fans of static accounts have alleged them unable to give. Indeed, for a variety of absolutely fundamental phenomena having to do with the conventional meaning of imperatives (and other types of practical language), speech act accounts provide natural and theoretically satisfying explanations, where a representational account provides none. (shrink)
We use imperatives to refute a naïve analysis of update potentials (force-operators attaching to sentences), arguing for a dynamic analysis of imperative force as restrictable, directed, and embeddable. We propose a dynamic, non-modal analysis of conditional imperatives, as a counterpoint to static, modal analyses. Our analysis retains Kratzer's analysis of if-clauses as restrictors of some operator, but avoids typing it as a generalized quantifier over worlds (against her), instead as a dynamic force operator. Arguments for a restrictor treatment (but against (...) a quantificational treatment) are mustered, and we propose a novel analysis of update on conditional imperatives (and an independently motivated revision of the standard ordering-semantics for root modals that makes use of it). Finally, we argue that imperative force is embeddable under an operation much like dynamic conjunction. (shrink)
Ethical theorists often assume that the verb ?ought? means roughly ?has an obligation?; however, this assumption is belied by the diversity of ?flavours? of ought-sentences in English. A natural response is that ?ought? is ambiguous. However, this response is incompatible with the standard treatment of ?ought? by theoretical semanticists, who classify ?ought? as a member of the family of modal verbs, which are treated uniformly as operators. To many ethical theorists, however, this popular treatment in linguistics seems to elide an (...) important distinction between agential and non-agential ought-statements. The thought is that ?ought? must have at least two senses, one implicating agency and connected to obligations, and another covering other uses. In this paper, I pursue some resolution of this tension between semantic theory and ethical theory with respect to the meaning of ?ought?. To this end, I consider what I believe to be the most linguistically sophisticated argument for the view that the word ?ought? is ambiguous between agential and non-agential senses. This argument, due to Mark Schroeder, is instructive but based on a false claim about the syntax of agential ought-sentences?or so I attempt to show by first situating Schroeder's argument in its proper linguistic background and then discussing some syntactic evidence that he fails to appreciate. Then, I use the failure of this argument to motivate some more general reflections on how the standard treatment of ?ought? by theoretical semanticists might be refined in the light of the distinction important to ethical theory between agential and non-agential ought-statements, but also on how ethical theory might benefit from more careful study of the dominant treatment of modals as operators in theoretical semantics. (shrink)
Discussions about the meaning of the word “ought” are pulled in two apparently competing directions. First, in ethical theory this word is used in the paradigmatic statement of ethical principles and conclusions about what some agent is obligated to do. This leads some ethical theorists to claim that the word “ought” describes a real relation, roughly, of being obligated to (realism) or expresses some non-cognitive attitude toward agents acting in certain ways (expressivism). Second, in theoretical linguistics this word is classified (...) as a modal auxiliary verb alongside words like “might,” “may,” “can,” “must,” etc. This leads some theoretical linguists to claim that the word “ought” is a weak necessity modal, which can be modeled with universal quantification over a restricted set of possible worlds. This chapter seeks some resolution of this tension by showing how versions of realism and expressivism can be modified in light of the best semantics of “ought” as a weak necessity modal. In addition, the chapter explains how this semantics might point to a third view—inferentialism—that accounts for the meaning of “ought” not in terms of what relation it describes, nor in terms of what attitude it expresses, but rather in terms of its inferential role. (shrink)
Deontic logic is standardly conceived as the logic of true statements about the existence of obligations and permissions. In his last writings on the subject, G. H. von Wright criticized this view of deontic logic, stressing the rationality of norm imposition as the proper foundation of deontic logic. The present paper is an attempt to advance such an account of deontic logic using the formal apparatus of update semantics and dynamic logic. That is, we first define norm systems and a (...) semantics of norm performatives as transformations of the norm system. Then a static modal logic for norm propositions is defined on that basis. In the course of this exposition we stress the performative nature of (i) free choice permission, (ii) the sealing legal principle and (iii) the social nature of permission. That is, (i) granting a disjunctive permission means granting permission for both disjuncts; (ii) non-prohibition does not entail permission, but the authority can declare that whatever he does not forbid is thereby permitted; and (iii) granting permission to one person means that all others are committed to not prevent the invocation of that permission. (shrink)
The deontic modal must has two surprising properties: an assertion of must p does not permit a denial of p, and must does not take past tense complements. I first consider an explanation of these phenomena that stays within Angelika Kratzer’s semantic framework for modals, and then offer some reasons for rejecting that explanation. I then propose an alternative account, according to which simple must sentences have the force of an imperative.
Imperatives may be interpreted with many subvarieties of directive force, for example as orders, invitations, or pieces of advice. I argue that the range of meanings that imperatives can convey should be identiﬁed with the variety of interpretations that are possible for non-dynamic root modals (what I call ‘priority modals’), including deontic, bouletic, and teleological readings. This paper presents an analysis of the relationship between imperatives and priority modals in discourse which asserts that, just as declaratives contribute to the Common (...) Ground and thus provide information relevant to the interpretation of epistemic modals in subsequent discourse, imperatives contribute to another component of the discourse context, the addressee’s To-Do List, which serves as a contextual resource for the interpretation of priority modals. This analysis predicts that the interpretation of imperatives and modals in discourse is constrained in surprising ways; these predictions are borne out. (shrink)
We report two new phenomena of deontic reasoning: (1) For conditionals with deontic content such as, "If the nurse cleaned up the blood then she must have worn rubber gloves", reasoners make more modus tollens inferences (from "she did not wear rubber gloves" to "she did not clean up the blood") compared to conditionals with epistemic content. (2) For conditionals in the subjunctive mood with deontic content, such as, "If the nurse had cleaned up the blood then she must have (...) had to wear rubber gloves", reasoners make the same frequency of all inferences as they do for conditionals in the indicative mood with deontic content. In this regard, subjunctive deontics are different from subjunctive epistemic conditionals: reasoners interpret subjunctive epistemic conditionals as counterfactual and they make more negative inferences such as modus tollens from them. The experiments show these two phenomena occur for deontic conditionals that contain the modal auxiliary "must" and ones that do not. We discuss the results in terms of the mental representations of deontic conditionals and of counterfactual conditionals. (shrink)
According to a naïve view sometimes apparent in the writings of moral philosophers, ‘ought’ often expresses a relation between agents and actions – the relation that obtains between an agent and an action when that action is what that agent ought to do. It is not part of this naïve view that ‘ought’ always expresses this relation – on the contrary, adherents of the naïve view are happy to allow that ‘ought’ also has an epistemic sense, on which it means, (...) roughly, that some proposition is likely to be the case, and adherents of the naïve view are also typically happy to allow that ‘ought’ also has an evaluative sense, on which it means, roughly, that were things ideal, some proposition would be the case.1 What is important to the naïve view is not that these other senses of ‘ought’ do not exist, but rather that they are not exhaustive – for what they leave out, is the important deliberative sense of ‘ought’, which is the central subject of moral inquiry about what we ought to do and why – and it is this deliberative sense of ‘ought’ which the naïve view understands to express a relation between agents and actions.2 In contrast, logically and linguistically sophisticated philosophers – with a few notable exceptions3 – have rejected this naïve view. According to a dominant perspective in the interpretation of deontic logic and in linguistic semantics, for example, articulated by Roderick Chisholm (1964) and Bernard Williams (1981) in philosophy and in the dominant paradigm in linguistic semantics as articulated in particular by.. (shrink)
There is a rich canon of work on the meaning of imperative sentences, e.g. "Dance!", in philosophy and much recent research in linguistics has made its own exciting advances. However, in this paper I argue that three observations about English imperatives are problematic for approaches from both traditions. In response, I offer a new analysis according to which the meaning of an imperative is identified with the characteristic effect its uses have on the agents’ attitudes. More specifically: an imperative’s meaning (...) consists in its potential to change what the agents’ mutually take to be preferred for the purposes of the conversation. Preferences already have a well-established theoretical role in decision theory and artificial intelligence where they are central to understanding how rational agents decide what to do. Connecting them with the semantics of imperatives and formal models of language use therefore achieves a welcome theoretical unity. This unity pays dividends in bridging the gap between a semantics for imperatives and an explanation of how imperatives can (and can’t) be used to guide what we do. In particular, it provides a new and more precise articulation of Grice’s insight that language use can be illuminated by viewing it as an interaction between cooperative, rational agents. I will conclude with some brief remarks about how this approach can relate imperatives and modals, and how it can capture the diverse uses to which imperatives are put. (shrink)
This article discusses some of the ways in which natural language can express modal information – information which is, to a first approximation, about what could be or must be the case, as opposed to being about what actually is the case. It motivates, explains, and raises problems for Angelika Kratzer's influential theory of modal auxiliaries, and introduces a new approach to one important debate about the relationships between modality, evidentiality, context change, and imperative force.
The aim of this paper is to present an explanation for the impact of normative considerations on people’s assessment of certain seemingly purely descriptive matters. The explanation is based on two main claims. First, a large category of expressions are tacitly modal: they are contextually equivalent to modal proxies. Second, the interpretation of predominantly circumstantial or teleological modals is subject to certain constraints which make certain possibilities salient at the expense of others.
Inferential or epistemic conditional sentences represent a blueprint of someone’s reasoning process from premise to conclusion. Declerck and Reed (2001) make a distinction between a direct and an indirect type. In the latter type the direction of reasoning goes backwards, from the blatant falsehood of the consequent to the falsehood of the antecedent. We first present a modal reinterpretation in terms of Argumentation Schemes of indirect inferential conditionals (IIC’s) in Declerck and Reed (2001). We furthermore argue for a distinction between (...) epistemic-modal strong and deontic-modal weak IIC’s. In addition, we extend the category of the indirect inferential conditionals in order to include several other deontic-modal subtypes. On the basis of the undesirability of the consequent the hearer in these cases infers that the antecedent is also undesirable. In this way the rhetoric-argumentative strategy of Reductio ad Absurdum is extended from the realm of deductive reasoning to that of practical reasoning. (shrink)
1 This paper has been presented at the workshop “Time and Modality: A Round Table on Tense, Mood, and Modality”, Paris, December 2005, at a CUNY linguistics colloquium in May 2006, and at the 6th Workshop on Formal Linguistics in Florian´opolis, Brazil, August 2006. We thank the audiences at those presentations, in particular Orin Percus, Tim Stowell, Marcel den Dikken, Anna Szabolcsi, Chris Warnasch, Roberta Pires de Oliveira, Renato Miguel Basso, and Ana M¨uller. We thank Noam Chomsky, Cleo Condoravdi, and (...) Irene Heim for very helpful conversations about this material. We thank Bridget Copley for sharing with us her recent manuscript “What Should Should.. (shrink)
At first glance, this is an entirely unremarkable kind of sentence. It is easy to find naturally occuring exponents. Its meaning is also clear: taking the A train is a necessary condition for going to Harlem. Hence the term “anankastic conditional”, Ananke being the Greek protogonos of inevitability, compulsion and necessity.
A suggestion is made for representing iterated deontic modalities in stit theory, the “seeing-to-it-that” theory of agency. The formalization is such that normative sentences are represented as agentive sentences and therefore have history dependent truth conditions. In contrast to investigations in alethic modal logic, in the construction of systems of deontic logic little attention has been paid to the iteration... of the deontic modalities.
Over the years, several philosophers have argued that deontic modals, like ‘ought’ and ‘should’ in English, and their closest equivalents in other languages, are systematically polysemous and context-sensitive. Specifically, one way in which these ‘ought’-concepts differ from each other is that some of these concepts are more “objective”, while others are more “subjective” or “information-relative”: when ‘ought’ expresses one of these more objective concepts, what an agent “ought” to do in a given situation may be determined by facts that neither (...) the agent nor any of his friends and advisers either knows or is even in a position to know; when it expresses one of the more “subjective” concepts, what an agent “ought” to do is in some way more sensitive to the informational state that the agent (or his friends and advisers) find themselves in at the conversationally salient time. This essay first presents some linguistic evidence in favour of this view of ‘ought’, and then proposes a precise account of the truth-conditions of propositions involving these ‘ought’-concepts that will explain more clearly how exactly these concepts are related. (shrink)
In this paper, I apply the "conceptual role semantics" approach that I have proposed elsewhere (according to which the meaning of normative terms is given by their role in practical reasoning or deliberation) to the meaning of the term 'ought'. I argue that this approach can do three things: It can give an adequate explanation of the special connection that normative judgments have to practical reasoning and motivation for action. It can give an adequate account of why the central principles (...) of deontic logic are correct. It can give an explanation of the precise ways in which the term 'ought' is systematically context-sensitive, so that the term expresses different (but systematically related) concepts in different contexts. (shrink)