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Summary Epistemic modals, like 'must' and 'may', are propositional operators that express various brands of epistemic necessity and possibility.  Unlike metaphysical possibility operators, which typically say something about the way the world could have been (given the nature of things), epistemic modals typically say something about the way the world may be (given what is known).  The semantics of epistemic modals is elusive.  Epistemic modal claims shift their truth values rather easily and much of the debate concerns the source of that shiftiness. Do epistemic modals deserve a truth function semantics?  Are they context sensitive like indexicals?  Why does their contribution to semantic content change when we embed them under complex sentences like conditionals and conjunctions? 
Key works Important early contextualist views about epistemic modals include Kratzer 1977 and DeRose 1991. A resurgence of interest followed relativist proposals in MacFarlane 2009 and Egan et al 2005.  Other important proposals includes von Fintel & Gillies 2009, Yalcin 2011 and Swanson 2009. Many of these papers and others appear in Egan & Weatherson 2009.
Introductions von Fintel & Gillies 2007; von Fintel unknown; Weatherson & Egan manuscript.
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  1. Joseph Almog (1996). The What and the How II: Reals and Mights. Noûs 30 (4):413-433.
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  2. Axel Arturo Barceló Aspeitia (2012). Semantic and Moral Luck. Metaphilosophy 43 (3):204-220.
    The similarities between the philosophical debates surrounding assessment sensitivity and moral luck run so deep that one can easily adapt almost any argument from one debate, change some terms, adapt the examples, and end up with an argument relevant to the other. This article takes Brian Rosebury's strategy for resisting moral luck in “Moral Responsibility and ‘Moral Luck' ” (1995) and turns it into a strategy for resisting assessment sensitivity. The article shows that one of Bernard Williams's examples motivating moral (...)
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  3. Kent Bach (2009). Perspectives on Possibilities: Contextualism, Relativism, or What? In Andy Egan & B. Weatherson (eds.), Epistemic Modality. Oxford University Press.
    Epistemic possibilities are relative to bodies of information, or perspectives. To claim that something is epistemically possible is typically to claim that it is possible relative one’s own current perspective. We generally do this by using bare, unqualified epistemic possibility (EP) sentences, ones that don’t mention our perspective. The fact that epistemic possibilities are relative to perspectives suggests that these bare EP sentences fall short of fully expressing propositions, contrary to what both contextualists and relativists take for granted. Although they (...)
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  4. Carl Baker (2012). Indexical Contextualism and the Challenges From Disagreement. Philosophical Studies 157 (1):107-123.
    In this paper I argue against one variety of contextualism about aesthetic predicates such as “beautiful.” Contextualist analyses of these and other predicates have been subject to several challenges surrounding disagreement. Focusing on one kind of contextualism— individualized indexical contextualism —I unpack these various challenges and consider the responses available to the contextualist. The three responses I consider are as follows: giving an alternative analysis of the concept of disagreement; claiming that speakers suffer from semantic blindness; and claiming that attributions (...)
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  5. David Barnett (2009). Yalcin on 'Might'. Mind 118 (471):771 - 775.
    On one view about the word 'might', to say, sincerely and literally, that it might be that S is to say something about one's epistemic state (and perhaps also about the epistemic states of those around one). For convenience, I will call this the natural view about 'might' On one version of the natural view, to say that it might be that S is to say that what one is certain of is consistent with the proposition that S. Seth Yalcin (...)
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  6. Gunnar Björnsson & Alexander Almér (2011). The Pragmatics of Insensitive Assessments: Understanding The Relativity of Assessments of Judgments of Personal Taste, Epistemic Modals, and More. In Barbara H. Partee, Michael Glanzberg & Jurģis Šķilters (eds.), The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication.
    In assessing the veridicality of utterances, we normally seem to assess the satisfaction of conditions that the speaker had been concerned to get right in making the utterance. However, the debate about assessor-relativism about epistemic modals, predicates of taste, gradable adjectives and conditionals has been largely driven by cases in which seemingly felicitous assessments of utterances are insensitive to aspects of the context of utterance that were highly relevant to the speaker’s choice of words. In this paper, we offer an (...)
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  7. David J. Chalmers (2011). The Nature of Epistemic Space. In Andy Egan & Brian Weatherson (eds.), Epistemic Modality. Oxford University Press.
    There are many ways the world might be, for all I know. For all I know, it might be that there is life on Jupiter, and it might be that there is not. It might be that Australia will win the next Ashes series, and it might be that they will not. It might be that my great-grandfather was my great-grandmother's second cousin, and it might be that he was not. It might be that copper is a compound, and it (...)
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  8. David J. Chalmers (2004). Epistemic Two-Dimensional Semantics. Philosophical Studies 118 (1-2):153-226.
  9. David J. Chalmers & Brian Rabern (2014). Two-Dimensional Semantics and the Nesting Problem. Analysis 74 (2):210-224.
    Graeme Forbes (2011) raises some problems for two-dimensional semantic theories. The problems concern nested environments: linguistic environments where sentences are nested under both modal and epistemic operators. Closely related problems involving nested environments have been raised by Scott Soames (2005) and Josh Dever (2007). Soames goes so far as to say that nested environments pose the “chief technical problem” for strong two-dimensionalism. We call the problem of handling nested environments within two-dimensional semantics “the nesting problem”. We show that the two-dimensional (...)
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  10. Joshua D. Crabill (2013). Suppose Yalcin is Wrong About Epistemic Modals. Philosophical Studies 162 (3):625-635.
    In “Epistemic Modals,” Seth Yalcin argues that what explains the deficiency of sentences containing epistemic modals of the form ‘p and it might be that not-p’ is that sentences of this sort are strictly contradictory, and thus are not instances of a Moore-paradox as has been previous suggested. Benjamin Schnieder, however, argues in his Yalcin’s explanation of these sentences’ deficiency turns out to be insufficiently general, as it cannot account for less complex but still defective sentences, such as ‘Suppose it (...)
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  11. K. DeRose (1998). Simple 'Might's, Indicative Possibilities and the Open Future. Philosophical Quarterly 48 (190):67-82.
    are ambiguous. In the mouth of someone who cannot remember whether it was Michael, or rather someone else, who was top scorer, (1) can express the epistemic possibility that Michael led the league in scoring. But from someone who knows that Michael did not even play last season, but is wondering what would have happened if he had, (1) means something quite different. Now where it has this quite different meaning, (...) (1) may still turn out to be the expression of some epistemic possibility. Perhaps where (1) does not express the epistemic possibility of ‘Michael led the league in scoring’, it expresses the epistemic possibility of ‘Michael would have led the league in scoring’. Analysis of this ‘would have’ statement, together with an exploration of the suspicion that the ‘might have’ statement is ambiguous between these two epistemic possibilities, will have to await another occasion. (Although a first stab at the ‘would have’ statement’s analysis is this: for some contextually relevant p, if p were true, then Michael would have led the league in scoring.) The important point for present purposes is that (1) is ambiguous between an expression of the epistemic possibility of ‘Michael led the league in scoring’ and some quite different reading. (shrink)
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  12. Keith DeRose (1991). Epistemic Possibilities. Philosophical Review 100 (4):581-605.
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  13. Daniel Dohrn, The Unthinkable, Might It Be?
    A basic intuition about epistemic possibility is the following: It might be that p iff it is open whether p. The standard way of cashing out this intuition is: It might be that p iff it is reconcilable with one’s informational state that p. However, there are certain examples which point to a lacuna in this conception. They indicate that epistemic possibility is restricted to what one can conceive as an alternative, what one can have a cognitive attitude to.
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  14. Cian Dorr & John Hawthorne (2013). Embedding Epistemic Modals. Mind 122 (488):867-914.
    Seth Yalcin has pointed out some puzzling facts about the behaviour of epistemic modals in certain embedded contexts. For example, conditionals that begin ‘If it is raining and it might not be raining, … ’ sound unacceptable, unlike conditionals that begin ‘If it is raining and I don’t know it, … ’. These facts pose a prima facie problem for an orthodox treatment of epistemic modals as expressing propositions about the knowledge of some contextually specified individual or group. This paper (...)
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  15. Janice Dowell, J. L. (2011). A Flexible Contextualist Account of Epistemic Modals. Philosophers' Imprint 11 (14):1-25.
    On Kratzer’s canonical account, modal expressions (like “might” and “must”) are represented semantically as quantifiers over possibilities. Such expressions are themselves neutral; they make a single contribution to determining the propositions expressed across a wide range of uses. What modulates the modality of the proposition expressed—as bouletic, epistemic, deontic, etc.—is context.2 This ain’t the canon for nothing. Its power lies in its ability to figure in a simple and highly unified explanation of a fairly wide range of language use. Recently, (...)
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  16. David Eferd, Disjunctive Permissions and Epistemic Modality.
    in Modal Content and Modal Knowledge: Essays on the metaphysics and epistemology of modality, Bob Hale (ed), Oxford University Press.
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  17. Andy Egan (2007). Epistemic Modals, Relativism and Assertion. Philosophical Studies 133 (1):1--22.
    I think that there are good reasons to adopt a relativist semantics for epistemic modal claims such as ``the treasure might be under the palm tree'', according to which such utterances determine a truth value relative to something finer-grained than just a world (or a <world, time> pair). Anyone who is inclined to relativise truth to more than just worlds and times faces a problem about assertion. It's easy to be puzzled about just what purpose would be served by assertions (...)
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  18. Andy Egan, John Hawthorne & Brian Weatherson (2005). Epistemic Modals in Context. In G. Preyer & G. Peter (eds.), Contextualism in Philosophy. Oxford University Press. 131-170.
    A very simple contextualist treatment of a sentence containing an epistemic modal, e.g. a might be F, is that it is true iff for all the contextually salient community knows, a is F. It is widely agreed that the simple theory will not work in some cases, but the counterexamples produced so far seem amenable to a more complicated contextualist theory. We argue, however, that no contextualist theory can capture the evaluations speakers naturally make of sentences containing epistemic modals. If (...)
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  19. Andy Egan & B. Weatherson (eds.) (2009). Epistemic Modality. Oxford University Press.
    The ten new essays in this volume explore various answers to these questions, including those offered by contextualism, relativism, and expressivism.
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  20. ortNoopFintelvon Fintel, Kai & Anthony S. Gillies (2008). CIA Leaks. Philosophical Review 117 (1):77-98.
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  21. Matthias Gerner (2009). Assessing the Modality Particles of the Yi Group in Fuzzy Possible-Worlds Semantics. Linguistics and Philosophy 32 (2):143-184.
    Of late, evidentiality has received great attention in formal semantics. In this paper I develop ‘evidentiality-informed’ truth conditions for modal operators such as must and may . With language data drawn from Luoping Nase (a Tibeto-Burman language spoken in the P.R. of China and belonging to the Yi Nationality), I illustrate that epistemic modals clash with clauses articulating first-hand information. I then demonstrate that existing models such as Kratzer’s graded possible-worlds semantics fail to provide accurate truth conditions for modals tagging (...)
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  22. Anthony S. Gillies (2001). A New Solution to Moore's Paradox. Philosophical Studies 105 (3):237-250.
    Moore's paradox pits our intuitions about semantic oddnessagainst the concept of truth-functional consistency. Most solutions tothe problem proceed by explaining away our intuitions. But``consistency'' is a theory-laden concept, having different contours indifferent semantic theories. Truth-functional consistency is appropriateonly if the semantic theory we are using identifies meaning withtruth-conditions. I argue that such a framework is not appropriate whenit comes to analzying epistemic modality. I show that a theory whichaccounts for a wide variety of semantic data about epistemic modals(Update Semantics) buys (...)
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  23. John Hawthorne (2012). Knowledge and Epistemic Necessity. Philosophical Studies 158 (3):493-501.
    Claims of the form 'I know P and it might be that not-P' tend to sound odd. One natural explanation of this oddity is that the conjuncts are semantically incompatible: in its core epistemic use, 'Might P' is true in a speaker's mouth only if the speaker does not know that not-P. In this paper I defend this view against an alternative proposal that has been advocated by Trent Dougherty and Patrick Rysiew and elaborated upon in Jeremy Fantl and Matthew (...)
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  24. John Hawthorne (2007). Eavesdroppers and Epistemic Modals. Philosophical Issues 17 (1):92-101.
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  25. Benj Hellie (forthcoming). On Tests of Context. Inquiry.
    Assume a 'Stalnakean' conception of contexts as mental states. A /test of context/ is a context-dependent sentence with semantic values limited to the /trivial/ and /vacuous/ propositions: perhaps 'I believe that P' is trivial if I do believe that P, vacuous if I don't. Tests of context solve the 'Frege-Geach' problem for expressivism (see my 'There it is' and 'How we do'; also seminal work by Seth Yalcin and Nate Charlow): kind of a big deal. But Cian Dorr and Geoff (...)
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  26. Wesley H. Holliday & Thomas F. Icard (forthcoming). Measure Semantics and Qualitative Semantics for Epistemic Modals. Proceedings of SALT 23.
    In this paper, we explore semantics for comparative epistemic modals that avoid the entailment problems shown to result from Kratzer’s (1991) semantics by Yalcin (2006, 2009, 2010). In contrast to the alternative semantics presented by Yalcin and Lassiter (2010, 2011), based on finitely additive probability measures, we introduce semantics based on qualitatively additive measures, as well as semantics based on purely qualitative orderings, including orderings on propositions derived from orderings on worlds in the tradition of Kratzer (1991). All of these (...)
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  27. Michael Huemer (2007). Epistemic Possibility. Synthese 156 (1):119 - 142.
    Seven proposed accounts of epistemic possibility are criticized, and a new account is proposed, making use of the notion of having justification for dismissing a proposition. The new account explains intuitions about otherwise puzzling cases, upholds plausible general principles about epistemic possibility, and explains the practical import of epistemic modality judgements. It is suggested that judgements about epistemic possibility function to assess which propositions are worthy of further inquiry.
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  28. Justin Khoo (2011). Operators or Restrictors? A Reply to Gillies. Semantics and Pragmatics 4:1-25.
    According to operator theories, "if" denotes a two-place operator. According to restrictor theories, "if" doesn't contribute an operator of its own but instead merely restricts the domain of some co-occurring quantifier. The standard arguments (Lewis 1975, Kratzer 1986) for restrictor theories have it that operator theories (but not restrictor theories) struggle to predict the truth conditions of quantified conditionals like -/- (1) a. If John didn't work at home, he usually worked in his office. b. If John didn't work at (...)
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  29. Joshua Knobe & Seth Yalcin (2014). Epistemic Modals and Context: Experimental Data. Semantics and Pragmatics 7 (10):1-21.
    Recently, a number of theorists (MacFarlane (2003, 2011), Egan et al. (2005), Egan (2007), Stephenson (2007a,b)) have argued that an adequate semantics and pragmatics for epistemic modals calls for some technical notion of relativist truth and/or relativist content. Much of this work has relied on an empirical thesis about speaker judgments, namely that competent speakers tend to judge a present-tense bare epistemic possibility claim true only if the prejacent is compatible with their information. Relativists have in particular appealed to judgments (...)
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  30. Angelika Kratzer (1977). What 'Must' and 'Can' Must and Can Mean. Linguistics and Philosophy 1 (3):337--355.
    In this paper I offer an account of the meaning of must and can within the framework of possible worlds semantics. The paper consists of two parts: the first argues for a relative concept of modality underlying modal words like must and can in natural language. I give preliminary definitions of the meaning of these words which are formulated in terms of logical consequence and compatibility, respectively. The second part discusses one kind of insufficiency in the meaning definitions given in (...)
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  31. John MacFarlane (forthcoming). Epistemic Modalities and Relative Truth. Drafts.
    I want to discuss a puzzle about the semantics of epistemic modals, like “It might be the case that” as it occurs in “It might be the case that Goldbach’s conjecture is false.”1 I’ll argue that the puzzle cannot be adequately explained on standard accounts of the semantics of epistemic modals, and that a proper solution requires relativizing utterance truth to a context of assessment, a semantic device whose utility and coherence I have defended elsewhere for future contingents (MacFarlane..
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  32. John MacFarlane (2009). Epistemic Modals Are Assessment-Sensitive. In Andy Egan & B. Weatherson (eds.), Epistemic Modality. Oxford University Press.
    By “epistemic modals,” I mean epistemic uses of modal words: adverbs like “necessarily,” “possibly,” and “probably,” adjectives like “necessary,” “possible,” and “probable,” and auxiliaries like “might,” “may,” “must,” and “could.” It is hard to say exactly what makes a word modal, or what makes a use of a modal epistemic, without begging the questions that will be our concern below, but some examples should get the idea across. If I say “Goldbach’s conjecture might be true, and it might be false,” (...)
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  33. Eric McCready & Norry Ogata (2007). Evidentiality, Modality and Probability. Linguistics and Philosophy 30 (2):147 - 206.
    We show in this paper that some expressions indicating source of evidence are part of propositional content and are best analyzed as special kind of epistemic modal. Our evidence comes from the Japanese evidential system. We consider six evidentials in Japanese, showing that they can be embedded in conditionals and under modals and that their properties with respect to modal subordination are similar to those of ordinary modals. We show that these facts are difficult for existing theories of evidentials, which (...)
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  34. Paul McNamara (1996). Must I Do What I Ought (or Will the Least I Can Do Do)? In Mark Brown & Jose' Carmo (eds.), Deontic Logic, Agency and Normative Systems. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. 154-173.
    Some key pre-theoretic semantic and pragmatic phenomena that support a negative answer to the main title question are identified and a conclusion of some significance is drawn: a pervasive bipartisan presupposition of twentieth century ethical theory and deontic logic is false. Next, an intuitive model-theoretic framework for "must" and "ought" is hypothesized. It is then shown how this hypothesis helps to explain and predict all the pre-theoretic phenomena previously observed. Next, I show that the framework hypothesized possesses additional expressive and (...)
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  35. Dilip Ninan (2010). Semantics and the Objects of Assertion. Linguistics and Philosophy 33 (5):355-380.
    This paper is about the relationship between two questions: the question of what the objects of assertion are and the question of how best to theorise about ‘shifty’ phenomena like modality and tense. I argue that the relationship between these two questions is less direct than is often supposed. I then explore the consequences of this for a number of debates in the philosophy of language.
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  36. Anna Papafragou, Children's Acquisition of Epistemic Modality.
    This paper is concerned with the acquisition of certain aspects of the meaning of epistemic modal verbs. Epistemic modals encode the probability, predictability or certainty of the proposition embedded under the modal verb. The sentences in (1) are examples of epistemic modality1.
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  37. Anna Papafragou, Epistemic Modality and Truth Conditions.
    Within the linguistics literature it is often claimed that epistemic modality, unlike other kinds of modality, does not contribute to truth-conditional content. In this paper I challenge this view. I reanalyze a variety of arguments which have been used in support of the non-truth-conditional view and show that they can be handled on an alternative analysis of epistemic modality. # 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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  38. Anna Papafragou, Modality in Language Development: A Reconsideration of the Evidence.
    The set of English modal verbs is widely recognised to communicate two broad clusters of meanings: epistemic and root modal meanings. A number of researchers have claimed that root meanings are acquired earlier than epistemic ones; this claim has subsequently been employed in the linguistics literature as an argument for the position that English modal verbs are polysemous (Sweetser 1990). In this paper I offer an alternative explanation for the later emergence of epistemic interpretations by liniking them to the development (...)
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  39. Anna Papafragou (1998). The Acquisition of Modality: Implications for Theories of Semantic Representation. Mind and Language 13 (3):370–399.
    The set of English modal verbs is widely recognized to communicate two broad clusters of meanings: epistemic and root modal meanings. A number of researchers have claimed that root meanings are acquired earlier than epistemic ones; this claim has subsequently been employed in the linguistics literature as an argument for the position that English modal verbs are polysemous (Sweetser, 1990). In this paper I offer an alternative explanation for the later emergence of epistemic interpretations by linking them to the development (...)
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  40. Gerhard Preyer & Georg Peter (eds.) (2005). Contextualism in Philosophy: Knowledge, Meaning, and Truth. Oxford University Press.
    In epistemology and in philosophy of language there is fierce debate about the role of context in knowledge, understanding, and meaning. Many contemporary epistemologists take seriously the thesis that epistemic vocabulary is context-sensitive. This thesis is of course a semantic claim, so it has brought epistemologists into contact with work on context in semantics by philosophers of language. This volume brings together the debates, in a set of twelve specially written essays representing the latest work by leading figures in the (...)
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  41. Dan Quattrone (2012). A Two-Dimensional Semantics for Epistemic Modals. Philosophia Scientiae 16:59-84.
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  42. Joe Salerno, Epistemic Modal Eavesdropping: A Straight Solution to a Relativist Challenge.
    A primary challenge from the relativist to the contextualist about epistemic modals is to explain eavesdropping data—i.e., why the eavesdropper is inclined to judge the speaker as having uttered an epistemic modal falsehood (when she is so inclined), even though the speaker’s utterance is true according to reasonable contextualist truth conditions. The issue turns in large part on the strength and shape of the data, both of which are in dispute. One complaint is that an eavesdropper’s truth value judgments fluctuate (...)
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  43. Joe Salerno, How to Embed Epistemic Modals Without Violating Modus Tollens.
    Epistemic modals in consequent place of indicative conditionals give rise to apparent counterexamples to Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens. Familiar assumptions of fa- miliar truth conditional theories of modality facilitate a prima facie explanation—viz., that the target cases harbor epistemic modal equivocations. However, these explana- tions go too far. For they foster other predictions of equivocation in places where in fact there are no equivocations. It is argued here that the key to the solution is to drop the assumption that (...)
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  44. David H. Sanford (1991). Coulds, Mights, Ifs and Cans, Revisited. Noûs 25 (2):208-211.
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  45. Jonathan Schaffer (2009). Perspective in Taste Predicates and Epistemic Modals. In Andy Egan & B. Weatherson (eds.), Epistemic Modality. Oxford University Press.
    Imagine that Ann, asked to name her favorite treat, answers: 1. Licorice is tasty Imagine that Ben, having hidden some licorice in the cupboard, whispers to Ann: 2. There might be licorice in the cupboard. What if any role is played by perspective—whom the licorice is tasty to, whose evidence allows for licorice in the cupboard—in the semantics of such sentences?
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  46. Benjamin Schnieder (2010). Expressivism Concerning Epistemic Modals. Philosophical Quarterly 60 (240):601-615.
    I develop a new argument for an expressivist account of epistemic modals, which starts from a puzzle about epistemic modals which Seth Yalcin recently presented. I reject Yalcin's own solution to the puzzle, and give a better explanation based on expressivism concerning epistemic modals. I also address two alleged problems for expressivism: do embeddings of epistemic modals pose a serious threat to expressivism, and how can expressivism account for disagreements about statements containing epistemic modals?
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  47. Benjamin Schnieder, Moritz Schulz & Alexander Steinberg, What Might Be and What Might Have Been.
    The article is an extended comment on Strawson’s neglected paper ‘Maybes and Might Have Beens’, in which he suggests that both statements about what may be the case and statements about what might have been the case can be understood epistemically. We argue that Strawson is right about the first sort of statements but wrong about the second. Finally, we discuss some of Strawson’s claims which are related to positions of Origin Essentialism.
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  48. Mark Schroeder, Is Semantics Formal?
    In this paper I will be concerned with the question of the extent to which semantics can be thought of as a purely formal exercise, which we can engage in in a way that is neutral with respect to how our formal system is to be interpreted. I will be arguing, to the contrary, that the features of the formal systems which we use to do semantics are closely linked, in several different ways, to the interpretation that we give to (...)
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  49. Mark Schroeder (forthcoming). Hard Cases for Combining Expressivism and Deflationist Truth: Conditionals and Epistemic Modals. In Steven Gross & Michael Williams (eds.), (unknown). Oxford.
    In this paper I will be concerned with the question as to whether expressivist theories of meaning can coherently be combined with deflationist theories of truth. After outlining what I take expressivism to be and what I take deflationism about truth to be, I’ll explain why I don’t take the general version of this question to be very hard, and why the answer is ‘yes’. Having settled that, I’ll move on to what I take to be a more pressing and (...)
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  50. Moritz Schulz (2010). Wondering What Might Be. Philosophical Studies 149 (3):367 - 386.
    This paper explores the possibility of supplementing the suppositional view of indicative conditionals with a corresponding view of epistemic modals. The most striking feature of the suppositional view consists in its claim that indicative conditionals are to be evaluated by conditional probabilities. On the basis of a natural link between indicative conditionals and epistemic modals, a corresponding thesis about the probabilities of statements governed by epistemic modals can be derived. The paper proceeds by deriving further consequences of this thesis, in (...)
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