Epistemic modals and context: Experimental data

Semantics and Pragmatics 7 (10):1-21 (2014)
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Abstract

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 elicited in so-called eavesdropping and retraction cases to support this empirical thesis. But opposing theorists have denied the judgments, and at present there is no consensus in the literature about how the speaker judgments in fact pattern. Consequently there is little agreement on what exactly a semantics and pragmatics for epistemic modals should predict about the pattern of judgments in these cases. Further theorizing requires greater clarity on the data to be explained. To clarify the data, we subjected eavesdropping and retraction cases to experimental evaluation. Our data provide evidence against the claim that competent speakers tend to judge a present-tense bare epistemic possibility claim true only if the prejacent is compatible with their information. Theories designed to predict this result are accordingly undermined.

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Author Profiles

Seth Yalcin
University of California, Berkeley
Joshua Knobe
Yale University

Citations of this work

Bounded Modality.Matthew Mandelkern - 2019 - Philosophical Review 128 (1):1-61.
Relativism.Maria Baghramian & Adam J. Carter - 2020 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Full Belief and Loose Speech.Sarah Moss - 2019 - Philosophical Review 128 (3):255-291.

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References found in this work

Knowledge and Lotteries.John Hawthorne - 2005 - Philosophical Quarterly 55 (219):353-356.
Epistemic Modals.Seth Yalcin - 2007 - Mind 116 (464):983-1026.
Defaults in update semantics.Frank Veltman - 1996 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 25 (3):221 - 261.
Epistemic Modals in Context.Andy Egan, John Hawthorne & Brian Weatherson - 2005 - In Gerhard Preyer & Georg Peter (eds.), Contextualism in philosophy: knowledge, meaning, and truth. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 131-170.

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