Deliberative modality under epistemic uncertainty


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.

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Correspondence to Fabrizio Cariani.

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Cariani, F., Kaufmann, M. & Kaufmann, S. Deliberative modality under epistemic uncertainty. Linguist and Philos 36, 225–259 (2013).

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  • Modality
  • Deliberative modality
  • Kratzer semantics
  • Premise semantics
  • Decision theory