Taking 'Might'‐Communication Seriously

Analytic Philosophy 55 (2):176-198 (2014)
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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 - one that says that the communicative impact of an utterance of a ‘might’-sentence is the performance of a consistency check on the information of the context. I conclude that we must reject this thesis. And I close the paper by sketching an alternative view about what assertive uses of ‘might’-sentences typically do - one which avoids the problem. Such uses typically present a possibility as a serious option in reasoning and deliberation.



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Benjamin Lennertz
Colgate University

Citations of this work

Assertion and Modality.Fabrizio Cariani - 2020 - In Sanford Goldberg (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Assertion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 505-528.
Simple Contextualism About Epistemic Modals Is Incorrect.Benjamin Lennertz - 2014 - Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 3 (4):252-262.

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References found in this work

Studies in the Way of Words.Herbert Paul Grice - 1989 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
The Uses of Argument.Stephen E. Toulmin - 1958 - Cambridge University Press.
Epistemic Modals.Seth Yalcin - 2007 - Mind 116 (464):983-1026.
Assertion.Robert Stalnaker - 1978 - Syntax and Semantics (New York Academic Press) 9:315-332.

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