Epistemic modals and context: Experimental data

Joshua Knobe, Seth Yalcin

Abstract


Recently, a number of theorists (MacFarlane (2003, 2011), Egan, Hawthorne & Weatherson (2005), Egan (2007), Stephenson (2007a,b)) have argued that an adequate semantics and pragmatics for epistemic modals calls for some technical notion of relativist truth and/or relativist content. Much of this work has relied on an empirical thesis about speaker judgments, namely that competent speakers tend to judge a present-tense bare epistemic possibility claim true only if the prejacent is compatible with their information. Relativists have in particular appealed to judgments elicited in so-called eavesdropping and retraction cases to support this empirical thesis. But opposing theorists have denied the judgments, and at present there is no consensus in the literature about how the speaker judgments in fact pattern. Consequently there is little agreement on what exactly a semantics and pragmatics for epistemic modals should predict about the pattern of judgments in these cases. Further theorizing requires greater clarity on the data to be explained. To clarify the data, we subjected eavesdropping and retraction cases to experimental evaluation. Our data provide evidence against the claim that competent speakers tend to judge a present-tense bare epistemic possibility claim true only if the prejacent is compatible with their information. Theories designed to predict this result are accordingly undermined.

http://dx.doi.org/10.3765/sp.7.10

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Keywords


epistemic modality; context-sensitvity; assessment-sensitivity; relativism; experimental semantics; update semantics

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3765/sp.7.10

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ISSN: 1937-8912

Journal doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3765/sp