Statements about the future are central in everyday conversation and reasoning. How should we understand their meaning? The received view among philosophers treats will as a tense: in ‘Cynthia will pass her exam’, will shifts the reference time forward. Linguists, however, have produced substantial evidence for the view that will is a modal, on a par with must and would. The different accounts are designed to satisfy different theoretical constraints, apparently pulling in opposite directions. We show that these constraints are (...) jointly satisfied by a novel modal account of will. On this account, will is a modal but doesn't work as a quantifier over worlds. Rather, the meaning of will involves a selection function similar to the one used by Stalnaker in his semantics for conditionals. The resulting theory yields a plausible semantics and logic for will and vindicates our intuitive views about the attitudes that rational agents should have towards future-directed contents. (shrink)
I motivate and characterize an intensional semantics for ‘ought’ on which it does not behave as a universal quantifier over possibilities. My motivational argument centers on taking at face value some standard challenges to the quantificational semantics, especially to the idea that ‘ought’-sentences satisfy the principle of Inheritance. I argue that standard pragmatic approaches to these puzzles are either not sufficiently detailed or unconvincing.
Contrastivists view ought-sentences as expressing comparisons among alternatives. Deontic actualists believe that the value of each alternative in such a comparison is determined by what would actually happen if that alternative were to be the case. One of the arguments that motivates actualism is a challenge to the principle of agglomeration over conjunction—the principle according to which if you ought to run and you ought to jump, then you ought to run and jump. I argue that there is no way (...) of developing the actualist insight into a logic that invalidates the agglomeration principle without also invalidating other desirable patterns of inference. After doing this, I extend the analysis to other contrastive views that challenge agglomeration in the way that the actualist does. This motivates skepticism about the actualist’s way of challenging agglomeration. (shrink)
This paper motivates and develops a novel semantic framework for deontic modals. The framework is designed to shed light on two things: the relationship between deontic modals and substantive theories of practical rationality and the interaction of deontic modals with conditionals, epistemic modals and probability operators. I argue that, in order to model inferential connections between deontic modals and probability operators, we need more structure than is provided by classical intensional theories. In particular, we need probabilistic structure that interacts directly (...) with the compositional semantics of deontic modals. However, I reject theories that provide this probabilistic structure by claiming that the semantics of deontic modals is linked to the Bayesian notion of expectation. I offer a probabilistic premise semantics that explains all the data that create trouble for the rival theories. (shrink)
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 (...) derived by extending Kratzer’s framework to feature a third conversational background and claiming that the relevant reading of ‘ought’ is sensitive to this parameter. (shrink)
Modus ponens is the argument from premises of the form If A, then B and A to the conclusion B. Nearly all participants agree that the modus ponens conclusion logically follows when the argument appears in this Basic form. However, adding a further premise can lower participants’ rate of agreement—an effect called suppression. We propose a theory of suppression that draws on contemporary ideas about conditional sentences in linguistics and philosophy. Semantically, the theory assumes that people interpret an indicative conditional (...) as a context-sensitive strict conditional: true if and only if its consequent is true in each of a contextually determined set of situations in which its antecedent is true. Pragmatically, the theory claims that context changes in response to new assertions, including new conditional premises. Thus, the conclusion of a modus ponens argument may no longer be accepted in the changed context. Psychologically, the theory describes people as capable of reasoning about broad classes of possible situations, ordered by typicality, without having to reason about individual possible worlds. The theory accounts for the main suppression phenomena, and it generates some novel predictions that new experiments confirm. (shrink)
I propose an account of the speech act of prediction that denies that the contents of prediction must be about the future and illuminates the relation between prediction and assertion. My account is a synthesis of two ideas: (i) that what is in the future in prediction is the time of discovery and (ii) that, as Benton and Turri recently argued, prediction is best characterized in terms of its constitutive norms.
I explore the motivation and logical consequences of the idea that we have some (limited) ability to know contingent facts about the future, even in presence of the assumption that the future is objectively unsettled or indeterminate. I start by formally characterizing skepticism about the future. This analysis nudges the anti-skeptic towards the idea that if some propositions about the future are objectively indeterminate, then it may be indeterminate whether a suitably positioned agent knows them. -/- Philosophical Perspectives, Volume 35, (...) Issue 1, Page 50-69, December 2021. (shrink)
Probabilistic theories of “should” and “ought” face a predicament. At first blush, it seems that such theories must provide different lexical entries for the epistemic and the deontic interpretations of these modals. I show that there is a new style of premise semantics that can avoid this consequence in an attractively conservative way.
We advocate and develop a states-based semantics for both nominal and adjectival confidence reports, as in "Ann is confident/has confidence that it's raining", and their comparatives "Ann is more confident/has more confidence that it's raining than that it's snowing". Other examples of adjectives that can report confidence include "sure" and "certain". Our account adapts Wellwood's account of adjectival comparatives in which the adjectives denote properties of states, and measure functions are introduced compositionally. We further explore the prospects of applying these (...) tools to the semantics of probability operators. We emphasize three desirable and novel features of our semantics: (i) probability claims only exploit qualitative resources unless there is explicit compositional pressure for quantitative resources; (ii) the semantics applies to both probabilistic adjectives (e.g., "likely") and probabilistic nouns (e.g., "probability"); (iii) the semantics can be combined with an account of belief reports that allows thinkers to have incoherent probabilistic beliefs (e.g. thinking that A & B is more likely than A) even while validating the relevant purely probabilistic claims (e.g. validating the claim that A & B is never more likely than A). Finally, we explore the interaction between confidence-reporting discourse (e.g., "I am confident that...") and belief-reports about probabilistic discourse (e.g.,"I think it's likely that.."). (shrink)
This paper explores two non-standard supermajority rules in the context of judgment aggregation over multiple logically connected issues. These rules set the supermajority threshold in a local, context sensitive way—partly as a function of the input profile of opinions. To motivate the interest of these rules, I prove two results. First, I characterize each rule in terms of a condition I call ‘Block Preservation’. Block preservation says that if a majority of group members accept a judgment set, then so should (...) the group. Second, I show that one of these rules is, in a precise sense, a judgment aggregation analogue of a rule for connecting qualitative and quantitative belief that has been recently defended by Hannes Leitgeb. The structural analogy is due to the fact that Leitgeb sets thresholds for qualitative beliefs in a local, context sensitive way—partly as a function of the given credence function. (shrink)
There has been a recent surge of work on deontic modality within philosophy of language. This work has put the deontic logic tradition in contact with natural language semantics, resulting in significant increase in sophistication on both ends. This chapter surveys the main motivations, achievements, and prospects of this work.
A long-standing tension in semantic theory concerns the reconciliation of positive gradable adjective (GA) ascriptions and comparative GA ascriptions. Vagueness-based ap- proaches derive the comparative from the positive, and face non-trivial challenges with incommensurability and non-GA comparatives. Classic degree-based approaches effectively derive the positive from the comparative, out of sync with the direction of evidence from morphology, and create some difficulties in accounting for GA scale-mates with differing thresholds (e.g., cold ∼ warm ∼ hot). We propose a new reconciliation that (...) capitalizes on recent proposals analyzing GAs as predicates of states. On our account, GAs lexically involve both a threshold property and a background state structure. Positive occurrences of GAs make use of the threshold property, while comparative occurrences make use of degrees representing elements of the background structure. Our approach preserves the virtues of classic degree-based approaches while offering a natural account of scale-mates, and without appeal to covert morphemes like POS or related devices. As we show, it is possible to inject our solution back into the classic degree-based approach, but we find reasons to prefer our states-based account. (shrink)
This paper is a guide to the main ideas and innovations in Robert Stalnaker's "Indicative Conditionals". The paper is for a volume of essays on twenty-one classics of formal semantics edited by Louise McNally and Zoltàn Gendler Szabò.
This paper investigates the prospects for a semantic theory that treats disjunction as a modal operator. Potential motivation for such a theory comes from the way in which modals embed within disjunctions. After reviewing some of the relevant data, I go on to distinguish a variety of modal theories of disjunction. I analyze these theories by considering pairs of conflicting desiderata, highlighting some of the tradeoffs they must face.
This essay is an opinionated exploration of the constraints that modal discourse imposes on the theory of assertion. Primary focus is on the question whether modal discourse challenges the traditional view that all assertions have propositional content. This question is tackled largely with reference to discourse involving epistemic modals, although connections with other flavors of modality are noted along the way.
Judgment aggregation problems are language dependent in that they may be framed in different yet equivalent ways. We formalize this dependence via the notion of translation invariance, adopted from the philosophy of science, and we argue for the normative desirability of translation invariance. We characterize the class of translation invariant aggregation functions in the canonical judgment aggregation model, which requires collective judgments to be complete. Since there are reasonable translation invariant aggregation functions, our result can be viewed as a possibility (...) theorem. At the same time, we show that translation invariance does have certain normatively undesirable consequences (e.g. failure of anonymity). We present a way of circumventing them by moving to a more general model of judgment aggregation, one that allows for incomplete collective judgments. (shrink)
It has been recently suggested that a semantic theory for deontic modals should be neutral between a very large range of normative and evaluative theories. This article aims to clarify this talk of neutrality, in particular its scope and motivation. My thesis is that neutrality is best understood as an empirical thesis about a fragment of natural language that includes deontic modals – not as a new, sui generis methodological constraint on natural language semantics.
Possibility semantics offers an elegant framework for a semantic analysis of modal logic that does not recruit fully determinate entities such as possible worlds. The present papers considers the application of possibility semantics to the modeling of the indeterminacy of the future. Interesting theoretical problems arise in connection to the addition of object-language determinacy operator. We argue that adding a two-dimensional layer to possibility semantics can help solve these problems. The resulting system assigns to the two-dimensional determinacy operator a well-known (...) logic (coinciding with the logic of universal modalities under global consequence). The paper concludes with some preliminary inroads into the question of how to distinguish two-dimensional possibility semantics from the more established branching framework. (shrink)
Judgment aggregation is naturally applied to the modeling of collective attitudes. In the individual case, we represent agents as having not just beliefs, but also as supporting them with reasons. Can the Judgment Aggregation help model a concept of collective reason? I argue that the resources of the standard judgment aggregation framework are insufficiently general. I develop a generalization of the framework that improves along this dimension. In the new framework, new aggregation rules become available, as well as a natural (...) account of collective reasons. (shrink)
This note identifies and corrects some problems in developments of the thesis that predictive expressions, such as English "will", are modals. I contribute a new argument supporting Cariani and Santorio's recent claim that predictive expressions are non-quantificational modals. At the same time, I improve on their selectional semantics by fixing an important bug. Finally, I show that there are benefits to be reaped by integrating the selection semantics framework with standard ideas about the future orientation of modals.
This is the Amsterdam Colloquium version of a paper in which I develop a lexical solution to some important puzzles recently discovered by Dilip Ninan, which highlight striking asymmetries between future- and past-directed talk. A central component of the solution is the idea that lexical meanings of predicates ought to include features that determine the type of evidence that is admissible for standard predications.
In this survey article, I discuss the variety of ways in which language allows us to talk about the future. Topics discussed include how the category of predictive expressions broadly understood relates to the syntactic category of tense; what it means to say that a language does not have tense; how predictiveness relates to modality; and finally technical issue concerning the scope of negation in a semantics that is capable of shifting evaluation towards the future.
An important module in the Belief-Desire-Intention architecture for artificial agents (which builds on Michael Bratman's work in the philosophy of action) focuses on the task of intention reconsideration. The theoretical task is to formulate principles governing when an agent ought to undo a prior committed intention and reopen deliberation. Extant proposals for such a principle, if sufficiently detailed, are either too task-specific or too computationally demanding. I propose that an agent ought to reconsider an intention whenever some incompatible prospect is (...) sufficiently valuable along some dimension that can be assessed at zero or near-zero computational cost. (shrink)
Taking a lead from Eva Picardi’s work and influence, I investigate the significance of Frege’s context principle for the philosophy of language. I argue that there are some interpretive problems with recent meta-semantic interpretations of the principle. Instead, I offer a somewhat weaker alternative: the context principle is a tool to license certain definitions. Moreover, I claim that it merely lays out one of many possible ways of licensing a definition. This means, among other things, that despite Frege’s imperative injunctions, (...) the context principle formulates a permission—not a requirement. (shrink)
Judgment aggregation studies how collective opinions arise from the aggregation of individual ones. This article surveys a variety of aggregation rules (possible ways of aggregating individual judgments into collective ones). Aggregation by majority opinion is known to satisfy some but not all the desiderata for an aggregation rule. More general impossibility results show that not all the natural desiderata can be satisfied by a single aggregation rule. To interpret these results, we focus here on some applications of judgment aggregation models (...) in Epistemology. In particular, we explore their possible role in an account of collective belief and collective reason. The focus on these applications allows us to give precise answers concerning which of the natural desiderata must be abandoned. (shrink)
This is a discussion of Richard Pettigrew's book "Accuracy and the Laws of Credence". I target Pettigrew's application of the accuracy framework to derive chance-credence principles. My principal contention is that Pettigrew's preferred version of the argument might in one sense be circular and, moreover, that Pettigrew's premises have content that go beyond that of standard chance-credence principles.
Conditional perfection is the phenomenon in which conditionals are strengthened to biconditionals. In some contexts, “If A, B” is understood as if it meant “A if and only if B.” We present and discuss a series of experiments designed to test one of the most promising pragmatic accounts of conditional perfection. This is the idea that conditional perfection is a form of exhaustification—that is a strengthening to an exhaustive reading, triggered by a question that the conditional answers. If a speaker (...) is asked how B comes about, then the answer “If A, B” is interpreted exhaustively to meaning that A is the only way to bring about B. Hence, “A if and only if B.” We uncover evidence that conditional perfection is a form of exhaustification, but not that it is triggered by a relationship to a salient question. (shrink)