David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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The semantic theory of expressivism has been applied within metaethics to evaluative words like ‘good’ and ‘wrong’, within epistemology to words like ‘knows’, and within the philosophy of language, to words like ‘true’, to epistemic modals like ‘might’, ‘must’, and ‘probably’, and to indicative conditionals. For each topic, expressivism promises the advantage of giving us the resources to say what sentences involving these words mean by telling us what it is to believe these things, rather than by telling us what it would be for them to be true. This, in turn, absolves these theories of the burden of holding that there is any general answer to what it is for these sentences to be true. However, expressivism is famously subject to a deep and general problem about how to account for the meanings of complex sentences – a problem variously known as the ‘Frege-Geach’ or ‘embedding’ problem. In this paper I will be interested in whether there are reasons to think that the embedding problem looks less difficult for some of these applications for expressivism, than for others. In particular, in this paper I will be interested in the prospects for expressivism about what I will call epistemics – a class which I take to include epistemic modals like ‘might’ and ‘must’, sentential adverbs like ‘probably’, adjectives like ‘likely’ and ‘improbable’, and so-called ‘open’ indicative conditionals like ‘if the Fed doesn’t intervene, then the economy will enter a deflationary spiral’. There are several reasons to be particularly interested in expressivism about epistemics, relating both to the philosophical payoffs of such a view, and relating to the technical prospects for making it work. In other work I’ve touched on the especially interesting philosophical payoffs which make expressivism about epistemics interesting; in this paper I will be interested primarily in evaluating the possibility that there are better prospects for making expressivism about epistemics work than there are for making expressivism work about other topics. There are two main reasons why one might suspect that expressivism about epistemics will have better prospects than expressivism about many other topics, including in metaethics..
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