What we know and what to do

Synthese 190 (12):2291-2323 (2013)
Authors
Nate Charlow
University of Toronto, St. George Campus
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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DOI 10.1007/s11229-011-9974-9
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References found in this work BETA

Counterfactuals.David K. Lewis - 1973 - Blackwell.
Knowledge and Action.John Hawthorne & Jason Stanley - 2008 - Journal of Philosophy 105 (10):571-590.
Epistemic Modals.Seth Yalcin - 2007 - Mind 116 (464):983-1026.
Ifs and Oughts.Niko Kolodny & John MacFarlane - 2010 - Journal of Philosophy 107 (3):115-143.
Epistemic Modals Are Assessment-Sensitive.John MacFarlane - 2011 - In Andy Egan & B. Weatherson (eds.), Epistemic Modality. Oxford University Press.

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Citations of this work BETA

Logic and Semantics for Imperatives.Nate Charlow - 2014 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 43 (4):617-664.
Prospects for an Expressivist Theory of Meaning.Nate Charlow - 2015 - Philosophers' Imprint 15:1-43.
Decision Theory: Yes! Truth Conditions: No!Nate Charlow - 2016 - In Nate Charlow Matthew Chrisman (ed.), Deontic Modality. Oxford University Press.
Deontic Modals and Probability: One Theory to Rule Them All?Fabrizio Cariani - forthcoming - In Nate Charlow & Matthew Chrisman (eds.), Deontic Modality. Oxford University Press.

View all 38 citations / Add more citations

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