What we know and what to do

Synthese 190 (12):2291-2323 (2013)
Abstract
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
Keywords Conditional obligation  Deontic modality  Weak and strong deontic necessity  Indicative conditionals  Ordering semantics
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References found in this work BETA
Myles F. Burnyeat (1980). Aristotle on Learning to Be Good. In Amélie Oksenberg Rorty (ed.), Essays on Aristotle's Ethics. University of California Press. 69--92.
John Hawthorne & Jason Stanley (2008). Knowledge and Action. Journal of Philosophy 105 (10):571-590.
Niko Kolodny & John MacFarlane (2010). Ifs and Oughts. Journal of Philosophy 107 (3):115-143.

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Citations of this work BETA
Fabrizio Cariani (2013). Epistemic and Deontic Should. Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 2 (1):73-84.
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