Epistemic modal operators give rise to something very like, but also very unlike, Moore's paradox. I set out the puzzling phenomena, explain why a standard relational semantics for these operators cannot handle them, and recommend an alternative semantics. A pragmatics appropriate to the semantics is developed and interactions between the semantics, the pragmatics, and the definition of consequence are investigated. The semantics is then extended to probability operators. Some problems and prospects for probabilistic representations of content and context are explored.
When I tell you that it’s raining, I describe a way the world is—viz., rainy. I say something whose truth turns on how things are with the weather in the world. Likewise when I tell you that the weatherman thinks that it’s raining. Here the truth of what I say turns on how things are with the weatherman’s state of mind in the world. Likewise when I tell you that I think that it’s raining. Here the truth of what I (...) say turns on how things are with my state of mind in the world. (shrink)
There is a longstanding debate in the literature about static versus dynamic approaches to meaning and conversation. A formal result due to van Benthem is often thought to be important for understanding what, conceptually speaking, is at issue in the debate. We introduce the concept of a conversation system, and we use it to clarify the import of van Benthem's result. We then distinguish two classes of conversation systems, corresponding to two concepts of staticness. The first class corresponds to a (...) generalization of the class of systems that van Benthem's result concerns. These are the strongly static conversation systems. The second class is broader, and allows for a certain commonly recognized form of context sensitivity. These are the weakly static conversation systems. In the vein of van Benthem's result, we supply representation theorems which independently characterize these two varieties of conversation system. We observe that some canonically dynamic semantic systems correspond to weakly static conversation systems. We close by discussing some hazards that arise in trying to bring our formal results to bear on natural language phenomena, and on the debate about whether the compositional semantics for natural language should take a dynamic shape. (shrink)
I develop a conception of expressivism according to which it is chiefly a pragmatic thesis about some fragment of discourse, one imposing certain constraints on semantics. The first half of the paper uses credal expressivism about the language of probability as a stalking-horse for this purpose. The second half turns to the question of how one might frame an analogous form of expressivism about the language of deontic modality. Here I offer a preliminary comparison of two expressivist lines. The first, (...) expectation expressivism, looks again to Bayesian modelling for inspiration: it glosses deontically modal language as characteristically serving to express decision-theoretic expectation (expected utility). The second, plan expressivism, develops the idea (due to Gibbard 2003) that this language serves to express 'plan-laden' states of belief. In the process of comparing the views, I show how to incorporate Gibbard's modelling ideas into a compositional semantics for attitudes and modals, filling a lacuna in the account. I close with the question whether and how plan expressivism might be developed with expectation-like structure. (shrink)
This paper defends a counterexample to Modus Tollens, and uses it to draw some conclusions about the logic and semantics of indicative conditionals and probability operators in natural language. Along the way we investigate some of the interactions of these expressions with 'knows', and we call into question the thesis that all knowledge ascriptions have truth-conditions.
This is a study in the meaning of natural language probability operators, sentential operators such as probably and likely. We ask what sort of formal structure is required to model the logic and semantics of these operators. Along the way we investigate their deep connections to indicative conditionals and epistemic modals, probe their scalar structure, observe their sensitivity to contex- tually salient contrasts, and explore some of their scopal idiosyncrasies.
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. (shrink)
We investigate a basic probabilistic dynamic semantics for a fragment containing conditionals, probability operators, modals, and attitude verbs, with the aim of shedding light on the prospects for adding probabilistic structure to models of the conversational common ground.
This paper critiques a number of standard ways of understanding the role of the metalanguage in a semantic theory for natural language, including the idea that disquotation plays a nontrivial role in any explanatory natural language semantics. It then proposes that the best way to understand the role of a semantic metalanguage involves recognizing that semantics is a model-based science. The metalanguage of semantics is language for articulating features of the theorist's model. Models are understood as mediating instruments---idealized structures used (...) to represent select aspects of the world, aspects the theorist is seeking some theoretical understanding of. The aspect of reality we are seeking some understanding of in semantics is a dimension of human linguistic competence---informally, knowledge of meaning. (shrink)
Focusing on cases which involve binding into epistemic modals with definite descriptions and quantifiers, I raise some new problems for standard approaches to all of these expressions. The difficulties are resolved in a semantic framework that is dynamic in character. I close with a new class of problems about de re readings within the scope of modals.
As Quine observed, the following sentence has a reading which, if true, would be of special interest to the authorities: Ralph believes that someone is a spy. This is the reading where the quantifier is naturally understood as taking wide scope relative to the attitude verb and as binding a variable within the scope of the attitude verb. This essay is interested in addressing the question what the semantic analysis of this kind of reading should look like from a Fregean (...) perspective—a perspective according to which attitude states are generally relations to structured Fregean thoughts composed of senses. The Fregean view faces a challenge of compositionality here. This essay describes the challenge and offers a response on the Fregean's behalf. (shrink)
We distinguish three ways that a theory of linguistic meaning and communication might be considered dynamic in character. We provide some examples of systems which are dynamic in some of these senses but not others. We suggest that separating these notions can help to clarify what is at issue in particular debates about dynamic versus static approaches within natural language semantics and pragmatics.
Supervenience is one of the 'hot discoveries' of analytic philosophy, and this collection of essays on the topic represents an examination of it and its application to major areas of philosophy. The interest in supervenience has much to do with the flexibility of the concept. To say that x supervenes on y indicates a degree of dependence without committing one to the view that x can be reduced to y. Thus supervenience is a relationship that has the potential of replacing (...) the traditional notion of dependence, while performing at least part of the function reductive relationships were supposed to fulfil. Moreover, since it is a topic-neutral concept, supervenience has a wide range of applicability. (shrink)
Many authors have taken up the challenge of formulating physicalism as a supervenience thesis. These endeavors have met with varying response, but it seems that the general consensus still remains that a supervenience thesis that is both sufficient and necessary for physicalism has yet to be developed. Terence Horgan1 and Jaegwon Kim2 have most famously argued that supervenience theses are not sufficiently strong for physicalism. Nonetheless, several recent articles suggest that there are philosophers who still hold out hope for some (...) type of supervenience of the mental upon the physical being, if not both sufficient and necessary, at least necessary for physicalism.3 In this paper, I will 1) investigate some of the motivation for finding a supervenience thesis that characterizes physicalism, 2) briefly review the types of supervenience theses that have been proposed as necessary (or necessary and sufficient) for physicalism, and 3) investigate in some detail the recent supervenience thesis proposed by Frank Jackson and expounded upon by Gene Witmer. Jackson, in his recent book, claims to have a supervenience thesis that is both necessary and sufficient for physicalism. (shrink)
I don’t propose to harp on the question of whether MacFarlane has the data right. Let us just assume, for the sake of argument, that he does. Let us further assume that his interpretation of the data is correct—i.e., that these judgments are assessments of the the whole clause and not simply of the prejacent. Granting all this—maybe a lot—we need a semantics for epistemic modals that will make sense of the judgments in this case, and in relevantly similar cases. (...) Mac- Farlane argues that contextualism about epistemic modals cannot make sense of the judgments. His central worry is that it can only get the truth-value judgments of speakers right by making the truth-conditions of epistemic modal claims outrageously strong—too strong to be assertable in cases where they are, in fact, assertable. We might call it the contextualist’s dilemma: either our semantics systematically fails to capture the truth-value judgments that people actually make, or it captures these judgments but turns users of epistemic modal sentences into irrational asserters. (shrink)
This essay argues that Islam, understood as a historically produced body of knowledge, contains resources from which we can reconstruct a conception of human dignity understood as a human right. This reconstruction requires a critical reinterpretation of some of these resources. Pursued with historical sensitivity and a comparative lens, this interpretative activity can bring about considerable benefits. It can help us overcome the religious/secular and Islam/West binaries which have limited the human rights debate. It can help us envision a human (...) rights agenda that is universal and yet appreciative of cultural difference. (shrink)
American naturalists all agree that traditional theism, with its belief in a supernatural personal god who is absolutely transcendent to nature, is inconsistent with the view that nature is all that there is. Yet despite the rejection of the traditional God of theism, some naturalists have found pantheism, with its belief in a divinity thoroughly immanent to nature, congenial. Nonetheless, no philosophically rigorous and systematic juxtaposition of the metaphysical and ethical commitments of pantheism with those of naturalism has been undertaken. (...) This essay seeks to fill that gap by investigating the viability of pantheism from the perspective of the ordinal naturalism of Justus Buchler. Several reasons can be .. (shrink)
In the brief autobiographical remarks found in the preface of Stuart Rosenbaum’s Pragmatism and the Reflective Life, we discover that Rosenbaum began his philosophical career in the tradition of analytic philosophy. It is precisely this background in the analytic tradition that gives weight to the powerful criticisms he levels against that tradition as he wends his way through his new-found love, American pragmatism. He informs us that American pragmatism has taught him to appreciate far more of human experience than is (...) tolerated in the analytic tradition and in Anglo-European philosophy in general. He believes that it is the American pragmatist tradition that has exhibited a holistic picture of human experience .. (shrink)
This book introduces Robert Corrington’s “ecstatic naturalism,” a new perspective in understanding “sacred” nature and naturalism, and explores what can be done with this philosophical thought. This is an excellent resource for scholars of Continental philosophy, philosophy of religion, and American pragmatism.