Comments on MacFarlane

I don’t propose to harp on the question of whether MacFarlane has the data right. Let us just assume, for the sake of argument, that he does. Let us further assume that his interpretation of the data is correct—i.e., that these judgments are assessments of the the whole clause and not simply of the prejacent. Granting all this—maybe a lot—we need a semantics for epistemic modals that will make sense of the judgments in this case, and in relevantly similar cases. Mac- Farlane argues that contextualism about epistemic modals cannot make sense of the judgments. His central worry is that it can only get the truth-value judgments of speakers right by making the truth-conditions of epistemic modal claims outrageously strong—too strong to be assertable in cases where they are, in fact, assertable. We might call it the contextualist’s dilemma: either our semantics systematically fails to capture the truth-value judgments that people actually make, or it captures these judgments but turns users of epistemic modal sentences into irrational asserters.
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