Journal of Philosophical Logic

, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 691–723 | Cite as

Evidence Sensitivity in Weak Necessity Deontic Modals

  • Alex Silk


Kolodny and MacFarlane have made a pioneering contribution to our understanding of how the interpretation of deontic modals can be sensitive to evidence and information. But integrating the discussion of information-sensitivity into the standard Kratzerian framework for modals suggests ways of capturing the relevant data without treating deontic modals as “informational modals” in their sense. I show that though one such way of capturing the data within the standard semantics fails, an alternative does not. Nevertheless I argue that we have good reasons to adopt an information-sensitive semantics of the general type Kolodny and MacFarlane describe. Contrary to the standard semantics, relative deontic value between possibilities sometimes depends on which possibilities are live. I develop an ordering semantics for deontic modals that captures this point and addresses various complications introduced by integrating the discussion of information-sensitivity into the standard semantic framework. By attending to these complexities, we can also illuminate various roles that information and evidence play in logical arguments, discourse, and deliberation.


Modals Weak necessity modals Deontic modals Conditionals Information-sensitivity Ordering semantics 



Thanks to Fabrizio Cariani, Nate Charlow, Jan Dowell, Kai von Fintel, Allan Gibbard, Irene Heim, Angelika Kratzer, Rich Thomason, and audiences at MIT, the 2011 ESSLLI Student Session, and the 2012 Central APA deontic modals session for helpful discussion, and to anonymous reviewers from ESSLLI and the Journal of Philosophical Logic for their valuable comments. Thanks especially to Eric Swanson for extensive discussion and detailed comments on previous drafts.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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