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An Opinionated Guide to Epistemic Modality

In Tamar Gendler & John Hawthorne (eds.), Oxford Studies in Epistemology: Volume 2. Oxford University Press. pp. 32-62 (2007)

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  1. Dynamic Non-Classicality.Matthew Mandelkern - forthcoming - Australasian Journal of Philosophy:1-11.
    I show that standard dynamic approaches to the semantics of epistemic modals invalidate the classical laws of excluded middle and non-contradiction, as well as the law of ‘epistemic non-contradiction’. I argue that these heretofore unnoticed facts pose a serious challenge for these approaches.
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  • How to Do Things with Modals.Matthew Mandelkern - forthcoming - Mind and Language.
    In a brief discussion of epistemic modals, Wittgenstein (1953) warns against ‘regard[ing] a hesitant assertion as an assertion of hesitancy’. A modal claim like ‘It might be raining’, the thought goes, should not be regarded as an assertion of the speaker's uncertainty as to whether or not it is raining, but rather as something quite different in kind: a proposal to treat the possibility of rain as live. Wittgenstein’s admonition has, in recent years, been at the heart of arguments that, (...)
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  • Weak Assertion.Luca Incurvati & Julian J. Schlöder - 2019 - Philosophical Quarterly 69 (277):741-770.
    We present an inferentialist account of the epistemic modal operator might. Our starting point is the bilateralist programme. A bilateralist explains the operator not in terms of the speech act of rejection ; we explain the operator might in terms of weak assertion, a speech act whose existence we argue for on the basis of linguistic evidence. We show that our account of might provides a solution to certain well-known puzzles about the semantics of modal vocabulary whilst retaining classical logic. (...)
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  • Evidentiality, Learning Events and Spatiotemporal Distance: The View From Bulgarian.Todor Koev - 2016 - Journal of Semantics:ffv014.
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  • Generalized Update Semantics.Simon Goldstein - 2019 - Mind 128 (511):795-835.
    This paper explores the relationship between dynamic and truth conditional semantics for epistemic modals. It provides a generalization of a standard dynamic update semantics for modals. This new semantics derives a Kripke semantics for modals and a standard dynamic semantics for modals as special cases. The semantics allows for new characterizations of a variety of principles in modal logic, including the inconsistency of ‘p and might not p’. Finally, the semantics provides a construction procedure for transforming any truth conditional semantics (...)
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  • Embedding Epistemic Modals.Cian Dorr & John Hawthorne - 2013 - 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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  • Reversibility or Disagreement.Jacob Ross & Mark Schroeder - 2013 - Mind 122 (485):43-84.
    The phenomenon of disagreement has recently been brought into focus by the debate between contextualists and relativist invariantists about epistemic expressions such as ‘might’, ‘probably’, indicative conditionals, and the deontic ‘ought’. Against the orthodox contextualist view, it has been argued that an invariantist account can better explain apparent disagreements across contexts by appeal to the incompatibility of the propositions expressed in those contexts. This paper introduces an important and underappreciated phenomenon associated with epistemic expressions — a phenomenon that we call (...)
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  • Dynamics of Epistemic Modality.Malte Willer - 2013 - Philosophical Review 122 (1):45-92.
    A dynamic semantics for epistemically modalized sentences is an attractive alternative to the orthodox view that our best theory of meaning ascribes to such sentences truth-conditions relative to what is known. This essay demonstrates that a dynamic theory about might and must offers elegant explanations of a range of puzzling observations about epistemic modals. The first part of the story offers a unifying treatment of disputes about epistemic modality and disputes about matters of fact while at the same time avoiding (...)
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  • Possibly False Knowledge.Alex Worsnip - 2015 - Journal of Philosophy 112 (5):225-246.
    Many epistemologists call themselves ‘fallibilists’. But many philosophers of language hold that the meaning of epistemic usages of ‘possible’ ensures a close knowledge- possibility link : a subject’s utterance of ‘it’s possible that not-p’ is true only if the subject does not know that p. This seems to suggest that whatever the core insight behind fallibilism is, it can’t be that a subject could have knowledge which is, for them, possibly false. I argue that, on the contrary, subjects can have (...)
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  • Counterpossibles for Dispositionalists.Barbara Vetter - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (10):2681-2700.
    Dispositionalists try to provide an account of modality—possibility, necessity, and the counterfactual conditional—in terms of dispositions. But there may be a tension between dispositionalist accounts of possibility on the one hand, and of counterfactuals on the other. Dispositionalists about possibility must hold that there are no impossible dispositions, i.e., dispositions with metaphysically impossible stimulus and/or manifestation conditions; dispositionalist accounts of counterfactuals, if they allow for non-vacuous counterpossibles, require that there are such impossible dispositions. I argue, first, that there are in (...)
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  • On the Meaning of 'Therefore'.Carlotta Pavese - 2017 - Analysis 77 (1):88-97.
    I argue for an analysis of ‘therefore’ as presupposition trigger against the more standard conventional implicature story originally put forward by Grice (1975). I propose that we model the relevant presupposition as “testing” the context in a way that is similar to how, according to some dynamic treatments of epistemic `must', ‘must’ tests the context. But whereas the presupposition analysis is plausible for ‘therefore’, ‘must’ is not plausibly a presupposition trigger. Moreover, whereas ‘must’ can naturally occur under a supposition, the (...)
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  • Permission and (So-Called Epistemic) Possibility.Stephen Yablo - 2010 - In Bob Hale & Aviv Hoffmann (eds.), Modality: Metaphysics, Logic, and Epistemology. Oxford University Press.
  • Believing Epistemic Contradictions.Beddor Bob & Simon Goldstein - 2018 - Review of Symbolic Logic (1):87-114.
    What is it to believe something might be the case? We develop a puzzle that creates difficulties for standard answers to this question. We go on to propose our own solution, which integrates a Bayesian approach to belief with a dynamic semantics for epistemic modals. After showing how our account solves the puzzle, we explore a surprising consequence: virtually all of our beliefs about what might be the case provide counterexamples to the view that rational belief is closed under logical (...)
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  • Advice for Noncognitivists.Malte Willer - 2017 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 98 (S1):174–207.
    Metaethical noncognitivists have trouble arriving at a respectable semantic theory for moral language. The goal of this article is to make substantial progress toward demonstrating that these problems may be overcome. Replacing the predominant expressivist semantic agenda in metaethics with a dynamic perspective on meaning and communication allows noncognitivists to provide a satisfying analysis of negation and other constructions that have been argued to be problematic for metaethical noncognitivism, including disjunctions. The resulting proposal preserves some of the key insights from (...)
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  • An Update on Epistemic Modals.Malte Willer - 2015 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 44 (6):835–849.
    Epistemic modals are a prominent topic in the literature on natural language semantics, with wide-ranging implications for issues in philosophy of language and philosophical logic. Considerations about the role that epistemic "might" and "must" play in discourse and reasoning have led to the development of several important alternatives to classical possible worlds semantics for natural language modal expressions. This is an opinionated overview of what I take to be some of the most exciting issues and developments in the field.
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  • General Dynamic Triviality Theorems.Jeffrey Sanford Russell & John Hawthorne - 2016 - Philosophical Review 125 (3):307-339.
    Famous results by David Lewis show that plausible-sounding constraints on the probabilities of conditionals or evaluative claims lead to unacceptable results, by standard probabilistic reasoning. Existing presentations of these results rely on stronger assumptions than they really need. When we strip these arguments down to a minimal core, we can see both how certain replies miss the mark, and also how to devise parallel arguments for other domains, including epistemic “might,” probability claims, claims about comparative value, and so on. A (...)
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  • Must . . . Stay . . . Strong!Kai von Fintel & Anthony S. Gillies - 2010 - Natural Language Semantics 18 (4):351-383.
    It is a recurring mantra that epistemic must creates a statement that is weaker than the corresponding flat-footed assertion: It must be raining vs. It’s raining. Contrary to classic discussions of the phenomenon such as by Karttunen, Kratzer, and Veltman, we argue that instead of having a weak semantics, must presupposes the presence of an indirect inference or deduction rather than of a direct observation. This is independent of the strength of the claim being made. Epistemic must is therefore quite (...)
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  • Truth and Context Change.Andreas Stokke - 2012 - Journal of Philosophical Logic (1):1-19.
    Some dynamic semantic theories include an attempt to derive truth-conditional meaning from context change potential. This implies defining truth in terms of context change. Focusing on presuppositions and epistemic modals, this paper points out some problems with how this project has been carried out. It then suggests a way of overcoming these problems. This involves appealing to a richer notion of context than the one found in standard dynamic systems.
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  • An Invariantist Theory of 'Might' Might Be Right.David Braun - 2012 - Linguistics and Philosophy 35 (6):461-489.
    Invariantism about ‘might’ says that ‘might’ semantically expresses the same modal property in every context. This paper presents and defends a version of invariantism. According to it, ‘might’ semantically expresses the same weak modal property in every context. However, speakers who utter sentences containing ‘might’ typically assert propositions concerning stronger types of modality, including epistemic modality. This theory can explain the phenomena that motivate contextualist theories of epistemic uses of ‘might’, and can be defended from objections of the sort that (...)
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  • Against Fallibilism.Dylan Dodd - 2011 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89 (4):665 - 685.
    In this paper I argue for a doctrine I call ?infallibilism?, which I stipulate to mean that If S knows that p, then the epistemic probability of p for S is 1. Some fallibilists will claim that this doctrine should be rejected because it leads to scepticism. Though it's not obvious that infallibilism does lead to scepticism, I argue that we should be willing to accept it even if it does. Infallibilism should be preferred because it has greater explanatory power (...)
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  • Saving the Doxastic Account of Intuitions.Christian Nimtz - 2010 - Philosophical Psychology 23 (3):357-375.
    Many philosophers and psychologists hold that intuitions are, or reduce to, beliefs. The argument from intuition without beliefs threatens to undercut any such doxastic account: since there are clear cases of intuition without belief, intuitions cannot be beliefs. Advocates of the intellectual seeming account conclude that intuitions belong to the basic mental kind of intellectual seeming. I argue that rightly understood, apparent cases of intuition without belief are cases of someone having the inclination to believe that p whilst believing that (...)
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  • Taking 'Might'‐Communication Seriously.Benjamin Lennertz - 2014 - Analytic Philosophy 55 (2):176-198.
    In this paper, I show that, given seemingly plausible assumptions about the epistemic ‘might’ and conditionals, we cannot explain why in some circumstances it is appropriate to utter conditional ‘might’-sentences, like “If Angelica has crumbs in her pocket, then she might be the thief” and not the corresponding simple ones, like “Angelica might be the thief.” So, one of our assumptions must be incorrect. I argue that the root of the problem is an umbrella thesis about the pragmatics of ‘might’-communication (...)
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  • 'Might' Made Right.Kai von Fintel & Anthony S. Gillies - 2011 - In Andy Egan & Brian Weatherson (eds.), Epistemic Modality. Oxford University Press. pp. 108–130.
    The simplest story about modals—might, must, possibly, necessary, have to, can, ought to, presumably, likelier, and the rest—is also the canon: modals are context-dependent quantifiers over a domain of possibilities. Different flavors of modality correspond to quantification over different domains of possibilities. Logical modalities quantify over all the possibilities there are, physical modalities over possibilities compatible with the..
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  • Epistemic Modals and Context: Experimental Data.Joshua Knobe & Seth Yalcin - 2014 - 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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  • Lessons From Sobel Sequences.Malte Willer - forthcoming - Semantics and Pragmatics.
    Folklore has it that Sobel sequences favor a variably strict analysis of conditionals over its plainly strict alternative. While recent discussions for or against the lore have focussed on Sobel sequences involving counterfactuals, this paper draws attention to the fact that indicative Sobel sequences are just as felicitous as are their counterfactual cousins. The fact, or so I shall argue here, disrupts the folklore: given minimal assumptions about the semantics and pragmatics of indicative conditionals, a textbook variably strict analysis fails (...)
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  • Varieties of Update.Sarah E. Murray - 2014 - Semantics and Pragmatics 7 (2):1--53.
    This paper discusses three potential varieties of update: updates to the common ground, structuring updates, and updates that introduce discourse referents. These different types of update are used to model different aspects of natural language phenomena. Not-at-issue information directly updates the common ground. The illocutionary mood of a sentence structures the context. Other updates introduce discourse referents of various types, including propositional discourse referents for at-issue information. Distinguishing these types of update allows a unified treatment of a broad range of (...)
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  • Conditionals, Inference, and Evidentiality.Karolina Krzyżanowska, Sylvia Wenmackers, Igor Douven & Sara Verbrugge - 2012 - Proceedings of the Logic and Cognition Workshop at ESSLLI 2012; Opole, Poland, 13-17 August, 2012 - Vol. 883 of CEUR Workshop Proceedings.
    At least many conditionals seem to convey the existence of a link between their antecedent and consequent. We draw on a recently proposed typology of conditionals to revive an old philosophical idea according to which the link is inferential in nature. We show that the proposal has explanatory force by presenting empirical results on two Dutch linguistic markers.
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  • On the Event Relativity of Modal Auxiliaries.Valentine Hacquard - 2010 - Natural Language Semantics 18 (1):79-114.
    Crosslinguistically, the same modal words can be used to express a wide range of interpretations. This crosslinguistic trend supports a Kratzerian analysis, where each modal has a core lexical entry and where the difference between an epistemic and a root interpretation is contextually determined. A long-standing problem for such a unified account is the equally robust crosslinguistic correlation between a modal’s interpretation and its syntactic behavior: epistemics scope high (in particular higher than tense and aspect) and roots low, a fact (...)
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  • Still Going Strong.Kai von Fintel & Anthony S. Gillies - manuscript
    In "*Must* ...stay ...strong!" (von Fintel & Gillies 2010) we set out to slay a dragon, or rather what we called The Mantra: that epistemic *must* has a modal force weaker than expected from standard modal logic, that it doesn't entail its prejacent, and that the best explanation for the evidential feel of *must* is a pragmatic explanation. We argued that all three sub-mantras are wrong and offered an explanation according to which *must* is strong, entailing, and the felt indirectness (...)
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  • Contextualism About 'Might' and Says-That Ascriptions.David Braun - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 164 (2):485-511.
    Contextualism about ‘might’ says that the property that ‘might’ expresses varies from context to context. I argue against contextualism. I focus on problems that contextualism apparently has with attitude ascriptions in which ‘might’ appears in an embedded ‘that’-clause. I argue that contextualists can deal rather easily with many of these problems, but I also argue that serious difficulties remain with collective and quantified says-that ascriptions. Herman Cappelen and John Hawthorne atempt to deal with these remaining problems, but I argue that (...)
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  • Two Types of Belief Report.Michael Hegarty - 2010 - The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication 6 (1).
    Ascriptions of belief and other doxastic propositional attitudes are commonly interpreted as quantifying over a set of possible worlds constituting doxastic alternatives for the belief experiencer. Katz has argued that belief predicates and other stative attitude predicates, along with stative predicates generally, lack a Davidsonian event argument and therefore do not report on any eventuality . Hacquard , in contrast, assumes that all attitude ascriptions describe an event corresponding to the mental state of the attitude experiencer. The present investigation suggests (...)
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  • Indexical Contextualism and the Challenges From Disagreement.Carl Baker - 2012 - 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 (...)
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  • Probability Operators.Seth Yalcin - 2010 - Philosophy Compass 5 (11):916-37.
    This is a study in the meaning of natural language probability operators, sentential operators such as probably and likely. We ask what sort of formal structure is required to model the logic and semantics of these operators. Along the way we investigate their deep connections to indicative conditionals and epistemic modals, probe their scalar structure, observe their sensitivity to contex- tually salient contrasts, and explore some of their scopal idiosyncrasies.
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  • Concessive Knowledge Attributions and Fallibilism.Clayton Littlejohn - 2011 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 83 (3):603-619.
    Lewis thought concessive knowledge attributions (e.g., ‘I know that Harry is a zebra, but it might be that he’s just a cleverly disguised mule’) caused serious trouble for fallibilists. As he saw it, CKAs are overt statements of the fallibilist view and they are contradictory. Dougherty and Rysiew have argued that CKAs are pragmatically defective rather than semantically defective. Stanley thinks that their pragmatic response to Lewis fails, but the fallibilist cause is not lost because Lewis was wrong about the (...)
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  • Why Will is Not a Modal.Mikhail Kissine - 2008 - Natural Language Semantics 16 (2):129-155.
    In opposition to a common assumption, this paper defends the idea that the auxiliary verb will has no other semantic contribution in contemporary English than a temporal shift towards the future with respect to the utterance time. Strong reasons for rejecting the idea that will quantifies over possible worlds are presented. Given the adoption of Lewis’s and Kratzer’s views on modality, the alleged ‘modal’ uses of will are accounted for by a pragmatic mechanism which restricts the domain of the covert (...)
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  • Detaching If-Clauses From Should.Ana Arregui - 2010 - Natural Language Semantics 18 (3):241-293.
    This paper investigates some aspects of the semantics of deontic should-conditionals. The main objective is to understand which actual world facts make deontic statements true. The starting point for the investigation is a famous puzzle known as Chisholm’s Paradox. It is important because making sense of the data in Chisholm-style examples involves arriving at some conclusion regarding the interaction between what we consider ideal and what is actually true. I give an account of how facts affect the evaluation of should (...)
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  • Deliberative Modality Under Epistemic Uncertainty.Fabrizio Cariani, Magdalena Kaufmann & Stefan Kaufmann - 2013 - Linguistics and Philosophy 36 (3):225-259.
    We discuss the semantic significance of a puzzle concerning ‘ought’ and conditionals recently discussed by Kolodny and MacFarlane. We argue that the puzzle is problematic for the standard Kratzer-style analysis of modality. In Kratzer’s semantics, modals are evaluated relative to a pair of conversational backgrounds. We show that there is no sensible way of assigning values to these conversational backgrounds so as to derive all of the intuitions in Kolodny and MacFarlane’s case. We show that the appropriate verdicts can be (...)
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  • Modal Disagreements.Justin Khoo - 2015 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 58 (5):511-534.
    It is often assumed that when one party felicitously rejects an assertion made by an- other party, the first party thinks that the proposition asserted by the second is false. This assumption underlies various disagreement arguments used to challenge contex- tualism about some class of expressions. As such, many contextualists have resisted these arguments on the grounds that the disagreements in question may not be over the proposition literally asserted. The result appears to be a dialectical stalemate, with no independent (...)
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  • Inferential Conditionals and Evidentiality.K. Krzyżanowska, S. Wenmackers & I. Douven - 2013 - Journal of Logic, Language and Information 22 (3):315-334.
    Many conditionals seem to convey the existence of a link between their antecedent and consequent. We draw on a recently proposed typology of conditionals to argue for an old philosophical idea according to which the link is inferential in nature. We show that the proposal has explanatory force by presenting empirical results on the evidential meaning of certain English and Dutch modal expressions.
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  • What Difference Might and May Make.Gerhard Nuffer - 2015 - Synthese 192 (2):405-429.
    How does your information change when you learn that something might be the case, where the modal “might” is epistemic? On the orthodox view, a proposition is added to your information base; on the view defended here, no propositions are added to your information base but some are removed from it. I argue that Stephen Yablo’s recent attempt to define this removal operation as a kind of propositional subtraction fails, offer a definition of my own in terms of the part–whole (...)
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  • Conditional Preferences and Practical Conditionals.Nate Charlow - 2013 - Linguistics and Philosophy 36 (6):463-511.
    I argue that taking the Practical Conditionals Thesis seriously demands a new understanding of the semantics of such conditionals. Practical Conditionals Thesis: A practical conditional [if A][ought] expresses B’s conditional preferability given A Paul Weirich has argued that the conditional utility of a state of affairs B on A is to be identified as the degree to which it is desired under indicative supposition that A. Similarly, exploiting the PCT, I will argue that the proper analysis of indicative practical conditionals (...)
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  • A Note on Existentially Known Assertions.Ivan Milić - 2015 - Philosophical Quarterly 65 (261):813-821.
    An assertion is existentially known if and only if: (i) the speaker knows that the sentence she uses to make the assertion expresses a true proposition; (ii) she makes the assertion based on that knowledge; and (iii) she does not believe, have justification for, or know the proposition asserted. Accordingly, if existentially known assertions could be made correctly—as argued by Charlie Pelling in his ‘Assertion and the Provision of Knowledge’—this would show that the norm of assertion cannot be the speaker's (...)
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