Epistemic modals and modus tollens

Philosophical Studies 173 (10):2663-2680 (2016)
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Abstract

Epistemic modals in consequent place of indicative conditionals give rise to apparent counterexamples to Modus Tollens. Familiar assumptions behind familiar truth conditional theories of embedded modality facilitate a prima facie explanation—viz., that the target cases harbor epistemic modal equivocations. However, this sort of explanation goes too far. It fosters other predictions of equivocation in places where in fact there are none. It is argued that the solution is to drop the credo that modal claims are inherently relational in favor of a view that treats them as inherently quantificational. In particular it is suggested that epistemic modals express covert mass noun descriptions of information of the form “the actionable information stands in logical relation L to prejacent p”. We demonstrate how this approach unlocks the equivocation problem.

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Joe Salerno
Saint Louis University

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References found in this work

Epistemic Modals.Seth Yalcin - 2007 - Mind 116 (464):983-1026.
What 'must' and 'can' must and can mean.Angelika Kratzer - 1977 - Linguistics and Philosophy 1 (3):337--355.
Ifs and Oughts.Niko Kolodny & John MacFarlane - 2010 - Journal of Philosophy 107 (3):115-143.
Indicative conditionals.Robert Stalnaker - 1975 - Philosophia 5 (3):269-286.
Embedding Epistemic Modals.Cian Dorr & John Hawthorne - 2013 - Mind 122 (488):867-914.

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