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Language, Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Mind Group Talk (Craige Roberts, Ohio State/NYU)

Thursday November 8, 2018, 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

The Language, Epistemology, Metaphysics and Mind Research Group welcomes Craige Roberts, Professor Emerita of Linguistics at The Ohio State University and Visiting Professor at NYU Linguistics. Professor Roberts’ main areas of specialization within linguistics are formal semantics and pragmatics. She has been working on long-term projects that pertain to projective meaning (presupposition, conventional implicature, and other non-assertoric aspects of utterance meaning) and natural language metaphysics (logical omniscience in epistemic modal statements, Waismann’s notion of open-texture in meaning).

Talk title

The Character of Epistemic Modals in Natural Language: Evidential Indexicals

Talk abstract

I assume a central thesis about Modal Auxiliaries due to Kratzer, roughly as follows:

THE MODAL BASE PRESUPPOSITION: Natural language expressions that contain a modal       component in their meaning, including all English modal auxiliaries and Epistemic Modal Auxiliaries (EMA)s in particular, presuppose a modal base, a function that draws from context a relevant set of propositions which contribute to a premise-semantics for the modal.

Accepting this thesis for EMAs leaves open (at least) the following two questions about the meaning of English EMAs like must and might:

i. What constraints, if any, are there on the character of the premise set for an EMA?
ii. What is the nature of the relationship between premises and conclusion that is required for truth of the EMA statement?

I argue for at least a partial answer to (i), with two hypotheses about the proper constraints on the modal base for an EMA:

EVIDENTIALITY: The modal base for an EMA is evidential and doxastic, not truly epistemic (i.e., weak, not strong).
INDEXICALITY: EMAs, unlike some other types of modals, are indexical: They are anchored to an agent-at-a-time whose doxastic state is currently under discussion in the context of utterance.

These constraints are modeled as presuppositions triggered by the EMA, restrictions on the modal’s domain. The independently motivated indexical anchoring (a) correctly predicts the contextually limited range of candidates for the anchoring agent of such a modal, as attested in the literature, (b) thereby constrains what body of evidence is understood to be relevant (that of the anchor), and (c) in some cases plays a role in explaining the modal’s scope (not discussed here). The account sheds light on several puzzles, including (d) Yalcin’s (2007) version of Moore’s paradox for embedded epistemic modals, and (e) purported arguments for modal relativism (e.g., Egan, Hawthorne & Weatherson 2005).

About the Language, Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Mind Research Group

One of five departmental research interest groups, the Language, Epistemology, Metaphysics and Mind Group undertakes research in philosophy of mind, philosophy of cognitive science, traditional and formal epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophy of language.



Thursday November 8, 2018
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
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Language, Epistemology, Metaphysics and Mind Group
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