Semantics for Deontic Modals

In Ernest Lepore & Una Stojnic (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy of Language. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Over the last fifteen years, linguists and philosophers of language have reexamined the canonical, Kratzerian semantics for modal expressions, with special attention paid to their epistemic and deontic uses. This article is an overview of the literature on deontic modal expressions. Section 1 provides an overview of the canonical semantics, noting some of its main advantages. Section 2 introduces a set of desiderata that have achieved the status of fixed points in the debates about whether the canonical semantics is correct. These include the observations that deontic modal sentences have both deliberative and evaluative readings and both information-sensitive and -insensitive readings. Adequate resolutions of certain puzzles in deontic logic and resolving the Frege-Geach problem for Expressivism have also achieved this status. The third section provides an opinionated overview of some of the main extant rivals to the canonical semantics, including Cariani, Kaufmann, and Kaufmann’s (2013) complex contextualism , Yalcin’s (2012) Expressivism, Willer’s (2014) dynamic semantics, and Starr’s (2016) dynamic Expressivism. Section 4 provides an assessment of each of the views discussed in terms of the desiderata introduced in section 2. Section 5 is an overview of remaining issues that require more attention in the literature.

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Janice Dowell
Syracuse University

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