A preference semantics for imperatives

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William B Starr


Imperative sentences like Dance! do not seem to represent the world. Recent modal analyses challenge this idea, but its intuitive and historical appeal remain strong. This paper presents three new challenges for a non-representational analysis, showing that the obstacles facing it are even steeper than previously appreciated. I will argue that the only way for the non-representationalist to meet these three challenges is to adopt a dynamic semantics. Such a dynamic semantics is proposed here: imperatives introduce preferences between alternatives. This characterization of meaning focuses on what function a sentence serves in discourse, rather than what that sentence refers to (e.g., a state of the world). By representing the meaning of imperatives, connectives and declaratives in a common dynamic format, the challenges posed for non-representationalism are met.

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