On Kratzer’s canonical account, modal expressions (like “might” and “must”) are represented semantically as quantifiers over possibilities. Such expressions are themselves neutral; they make a single contribution to determining the propositions expressed across a wide range of uses. What modulates the modality of the proposition expressed—as bouletic, epistemic, deontic, etc.—is context.2 This ain’t the canon for nothing. Its power lies in its ability to figure in a simple and highly unified explanation of a fairly wide range of language use. Recently, (...) though, the canon’s neat story has come under attack. The challenge cases involve the epistemic use of a modal sentence for which no single resolution of the contextual parameter appears capable of accommodating all our intuitions.3 According to these revisionaries, such cases show that the canonical story needs to be amended in some way that makes multiple bodies of information relevant to the assessment of such statements. Here I show that how the right canonical, flexibly contextualist account of modals can accommodate the full range of challenge cases. The key will be to extend Kratzer’s formal semantic account with an account of how context selects values for a modal’s.. (shrink)
According to a recent challenge to Kratzer's canonical contextualist semantics for deontic modal expressions, no contextualist view can make sense of cases in which such a modal must be information-sensitive in some way. Here I show how Kratzer's semantics is compatible with readings of the targeted sentences that fit with the data. I then outline a general account of how contexts select parameter values for modal expressions and show, in terms of that account, how the needed, contextualist-friendly readings might plausibly (...) get selected in the challenge cases. (shrink)
What considerations place genuine constraints on an adequate semantics for normative and evaluative expressions? Linguists recognize facts about ordinary uses of such expressions and competent speakers’ judgments about which uses are appropriate. The contemporary literature reflects the widespread assumption that linguists don’t rely upon an additional source of data—competent speakers’ judgments about possible disagreement with hypothetical speech communities. We have several good reasons to think that such judgments are not probative for semantic theorizing. Therefore, we should accord these judgments no (...) probative value for the development of a semantics for our moral terms. Such judgments can no longer be presumed to put pressure on theories according to which our moral expressions share a semantics with ordinary, descriptive terms. Many rivals to pure, Descriptivist theories count among their advantages the ability to accommodate these judgments. If these judgments have no probative value, such theories lose an important source of support. (shrink)
Frank Jackson has argued that only if we have a priori knowledge of the extension-fixers for many of our terms can we vindicate the methodological practice of relying on intuitions to decide between philosophical theories. While there has been much discussion of Jackson’s claim that we have such knowledge, there has been comparatively little discussion of this most powerful argument for that claim. Here I defend an alternative explanation of our intuitions about possible cases, one that does not rely on (...) a priori extension-fixers. This alternative explanation provides a vindication of our reliance on intuitions, while blocking Jackson’s abductive argument for a priori semantic knowledge. In brief, I argue that we should regard our armchair intuitions as providing an important, a priori source of evidence for hypotheses about the contents of our implicit referential policies with regard to our terms. But all such hypotheses have a potential falsifier that is only discoverable empirically. In other words, gold-standard evidence for such hypotheses is always empirical. (shrink)
We argue that Parfit's "Triviality Objection" against some naturalistic views of normativity is not compelling. We think that once one accepts, as one should, that identity statements can be informative in virtue of their pragmatics and not only in virtue of their semantics, Parfit's case against naturalism can be overcome.
What would be sufficient to show of some apparently higher-level property that it is 'nothing over and above' some complex configuration of more basic properties? This paper defends a new method for justifying reductions by demonstrating its comparative advantages over two methods recently defended in the literature. Unlike its rivals, what I'll call "the semantic method" makes a reduction's truth epistemically transparent without relying on conceptual analyses.
One strategy for blocking Chalmers's overall case against physicalism has been to deny his claim that showing that phenomenal properties are in some sense physical requires an a priori entailment of the phenomenal truths from the physical ones. Here I avoid this well-trodden ground and argue instead that an a priori entailment of the phenomenal truths from the physical ones does not require an analysis in the Jackson/Chalmers sense. This is to sever the dualist's link between conceptual analysis and a (...) priori entailment by showing that the lack of the former does not imply the absence of the latter. Moreover, given the role of the argument from conceptual analysis in Chalmers's overall case for dualism, undermining that argument effectively undermines that case as a whole in a way that, I'll argue, undermining the conceivability arguments as stand-alone arguments does not. (shrink)
Our goal here is to help identify the contextualist’s most worthy competitor to relativism. Recently, some philosophers of language and linguists have argued that, while there are contextualist-friendly semantic theories of deontic modals that fit with the relativist’s challenge data, the best such theories are not Lewis-Kratzer-style semantic theories. If correct, this would be important: It would show that the theory that has for many years enjoyed the status of the default view of modals in English and other languages is (...) in need of revision. Here we defend the default view by showing how a Kratzer-style semantics is able to make available readings of the relevant utterances that fit with the pretheoretical judgments opponents purport it cannot fully capture. Having established this, we turn to considering the more theoretical grounds proponents have offered for preferring their rival contextualist views. Here the question is to what extent such grounds favor semantic over what Korta and Perry call “near-side pragmatic” explanations of our judgments. In particular, we argue that our favored readings figure in near-side pragmatic explanations of those judgments that possess the methodological and theoretical advantages of systematicity and unity at least as well as, if not to a greater extent than, those of opponents who argue for their revised semantic theories on the basis of these advantages. (shrink)
Stephen Finlay’s proposed methodology for defending the central theses of his impressive Confusion of Tongues is an underexplored aspect of this work.1 1 His official methodology is analytic : A reduction of normative to non-normative vocabulary. Here, I argue that taking this official line at face-value forces the reader to conclude that the reductions at the heart of that book cannot be correct. In contrast, a philosophical methodology that does not proceed via analyses would better support those reductions, then understood (...) as non-analytic. As we’ll see below, there are independent, empirical reasons to reject a philosophical methodology that proceeds via analyses. I conclude that there is a method for the study of ethical language that better serves Finlay’s primary philosophical aims. The lesson, though, is generalizable: Given the array of normative and meta-normative theories, we want a semantics for normative discourse to be capable of expressing, we should expect that the more plausible such views will not be defended via analyses. (shrink)
Recent challenges to Kratzer’s canonical contextualist semantics for modal expressions are united by a shared methodological practice: Each requires the assessment of the truth or warrant of a sentence in a scenario. The default evidential status accorded these judgments is a constraining one: It is assumed that, to be plausible, a semantic hypothesis must vindicate the reported judgments. Fully assessing the extent to which these cases do generate data that puts pressure on the canonical semantics, then, requires an understanding of (...) this methodological practice. Here I argue that not all assessments are fit to play this evidential role. To play it, we need reason to think that speakers’ assessments can be reasonably expected to be reliable. Minimally, having such grounds requires that assessments are given against the background of non-defectively characterized points of evaluation. Assessing MacFarlane’s central challenge case to contextualism about deontic modals in light of this constraint shows that his judgments do not have the needed evidential significance. In addition, new experimental data shows that once the needed scenario is characterized non-defectively, none of the resulting range of cases provides data that cannot be accommodated by a Kratzer-style contextualism. (shrink)
Here we focus on two questions: What is the proper semantics for deontic modal expressions in English? And what is the connection between true deontic modal statements and normative reasons? Our contribution towards thinking about the first, which makes up the bulk of our paper, considers a representative sample of recent challenges to a Kratzer-style formal semantics for modal expressions, as well as the rival views—Fabrizio Cariani’s contrastivism, John MacFarlane’s relativism, and Mark Schroeder’s ambiguity theory—those challenges are thought to motivate. (...) These include the Professor Procrastinate challenge to Inheritance (the principle that ‘If ought p and p entails q, then ought q), as well as Parfit’s miners puzzle regarding information-sensitive deontic modals. Here we argue that a Kratzer-style view is able to meet all of the challenges we’ll consider. In addition, we’ll identify challenges for each of those rival views. Our overall conclusion is that a Kratzer-style semantics remains the one to beat. With this assumption in place, we then ask how we should understand the relationship between true deontic modal statements and normative reasons. Should, for example, we hold that the truth of such a statement entails the existence of a normative reason for some agent to comply? Here we argue that, in many cases, acceptance of Kratzer’s semantics for deontic modals leaves open for substantive normative theorizing the question of whether an agent has a normative reason to comply with what she ought to do. (shrink)
This paper addresses two related questions. First, what is involved in giving a distinctively realist and naturalist construal of an area of discourse, that is, in so much as stating a distinctively realist and naturalist position about, for example, content or value? I defend a condition that guarantees the realism and naturalism of any position satisfying it, at least in the case of positions on content, but perhaps in other cases as well. Second, what sorts of considerations render a distinctively (...) realist and naturalist position more plausible than its irrealist and non-naturalist rivals? The answer here focuses again on theories of content and is wholly negative. I argue that the standard array of arguments offered in support of realist and naturalist theories in fact provide equal support for a host of irrealist and non-naturalist ones. Taken together, these considerations reveal an important gap in the recent philosophical literature on content. The challenge to proponents of putatively realist and naturalist theories is to insure that those theories so much as state distinctively realist and naturalist positions and then to identify arguments that support what is distinctively realist and naturalist about them. (shrink)
Over the last fifteen years, linguists and philosophers of language have reexamined the canonical, Kratzerian semantics for modal expressions, with special attention paid to their epistemic and deontic uses. This article is an overview of the literature on deontic modal expressions. Section 1 provides an overview of the canonical semantics, noting some of its main advantages. Section 2 introduces a set of desiderata that have achieved the status of fixed points in the debates about whether the canonical semantics is correct. (...) These include the observations that deontic modal sentences have both deliberative and evaluative readings and both information-sensitive and -insensitive readings. Adequate resolutions of certain puzzles in deontic logic and resolving the Frege-Geach problem for Expressivism have also achieved this status. The third section provides an opinionated overview of some of the main extant rivals to the canonical semantics, including Cariani, Kaufmann, and Kaufmann’s (2013) complex contextualism , Yalcin’s (2012) Expressivism, Willer’s (2014) dynamic semantics, and Starr’s (2016) dynamic Expressivism. Section 4 provides an assessment of each of the views discussed in terms of the desiderata introduced in section 2. Section 5 is an overview of remaining issues that require more attention in the literature. (shrink)
In Discourse Contextualism, Alex Silk defends a new contextualist account of expressions at the centre of recent debates over contextualism versus relativism, namely, gradable adjectives, taste predicates and epistemic and deontic modals ).1 1 The first part of the book, which lays out the view and shows how it explains the phenomena at issue in those debates, focuses on the case of epistemic modals. The second part of the book extends that account with Discourse Contextualist treatments of the remaining expressions. (...) Discourse Contextualism is truly impressive in its scope, fully engaging with the relevant literature in linguistics, philosophy of language and meta-ethics. It is clearly written, carefully argued and makes a very significant contribution to the literature on the debates over contextualism, relativism and expressivism. No short review could possibly do justice to Silk’s book in its entirety. Here, I focus on its most fleshed out case study, that of epistemic modals. But the whole book will be required reading for anyone engaged in any of these debates. (shrink)