Can in L&P

My “Two Puzzles about Ability Can” is now forthcoming in Linguistics & Philosophy (doi: 10.1007/s10988-020-09296-6). Here is the abstract:

The received wisdom on ability modals is that they differ from their epistemic and deontic cousins in what inferences they license and better receive a universal or conditional analysis instead of an existential one. The goal of this paper is to sharpen the empirical picture about the semantics of ability modals, and to propose an analysis that explains what makes the can of ability so special but that also preserves the crucial idea that all uses of can share a common lexical semantics. The resulting framework combines tools and techniques from dynamic and inquisitive semantics with insights from the literature of the role of agency in deontic logic. It explains not only why the can of ability, while essentially being an existential modal operator, sometimes resists distribution over disjunction and interacts with its duals in particular and hitherto unnoticed ways, but also has a tendency to license free choice inferences.

Free Choice in Amsterdam

This year's Amsterdam Colloquium will see me present my paper "Widening Free Choice." Here is the abstract:

Disjunctions scoping under possibility modals give rise to the free choice effect. The effect also arises if the disjunction takes wide scope over possibility modals; it is independent of the modal flavor at play (deontic, epistemic, and so on); and it arises even if disjunctions scope under or over necessity modals. At the same time, free choice effects disappear in the scope of negation or if the speaker signals ignorance or unwillingness to cooperate. I show how we can account for this wide variety of free choice observations without unwelcome side-effects in an update-based framework whose key innovations consist in (i) a refined test semantics for necessity modals and (ii) a generalized conception of narrow and wide scope free choice effects as arising from lexically or pragmatically generated prohibitions against the absurd state (an inconsistent information carrier) serving as an update relatum. The fact that some of these prohibitions are defeasible together with a binary semantics that distinguishes between positive and negative update relata accounts for free choice cancellation effects.

Simplifying with Free Choice

My “Simplifying with Free Choice” is now forthcoming in Topoi as a contribution to a selection of papers presented at the 20th Amsterdam Colloquium. I will post the doi as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, here is the abstract:

This paper offers a unified semantic explanation of two observations that prove to be problematic for classical analyses of modals, conditionals, and disjunctions: (i) the fact that disjunctions scoping under possibility modals give rise to the free choice effect and (ii) the fact that counterfactuals license simplification of disjunctive antecedents. It shows that the data are well explained by a dynamic semantic analysis of modals and conditionals that uses ideas from the inquisitive semantic tradition in its treatment of disjunction. The analysis explains why embedding a disjunctive possibility under negation reverts disjunction to its classical behavior, is general enough to predict less studied simplification patterns, and also makes progress toward a unified perspective on the distinction between informative, inquisitive, and attentive content.

Lessons from Sobel Sequences

My “Lessons from Sobel Sequences” is now forthcoming in Semantics and Pragmatics. I will post the doi as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, here is the abstract:

Folklore has it that Sobel sequences favor a variably strict analysis of conditionals over its plainly strict alternative. While recent discussions for or against the lore have focussed on Sobel sequences involving counterfactuals, this paper draws attention to the fact that indicative Sobel sequences are just as felicitous as are their counterfactual cousins. The fact, or so I shall argue here, disrupts the folklore: given minimal assumptions about the semantics and pragmatics of indicative conditionals, a textbook variably strict analysis fails to predict that indicative Sobel sequences are felicitous. The correct lesson to draw from Sobel sequences is that their felicity challenges classical implementations of the variably strict and of the plainly strict analysis alike. In response to this challenge I develop a dynamic strict analysis of conditionals that handles indicative Sobel sequences with grace while preserving intuitive constraints on the semantics and pragmatics of their members. A discussion of how such an analysis may handle the challenge from reverse Sobel sequences is provided.

Advice for Noncognitivists

My unsolicited advice to noncognitivsts is forthcoming in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (available online here). Here is the abstract:

Metaethical noncognitivists have trouble arriving at a respectable semantic theory for moral language. The goal of this paper is to make substantial progress toward demonstrating that these problems may be overcome. Replacing the predominant expressivist semantic agenda in metaethics with a dynamic perspective on meaning and communication allows noncognitivists to provide a satisfying analysis of negation and other constructions that have been argued to be problematic for metaethical noncognitivism, including disjunctions. The resulting proposal preserves some of the key insights from recent work on the semantics of expressivism while highlighting the widely neglected early noncognitivists’ sympathies to the kind of dynamic story I intend to tell here. A comparison between the advertised dynamic semantic story and current proposals that treat expressivism as a pragmatic rather than semantic theory about moral language is provided.

Dynamic Conditionals

For those who are interested a draft of my paper on dynamic conditionals, to be presented at this joyful event, is now available in the Research section.

Deontic Modals

Wading through the massive literature on deontic modality paid off and there are now two papers on deontic modals and conditionals forthcoming in very fine places:

  • Dynamic Foundations for Deontic Logic, forthcoming in a volume of papers on deontic modality, edited by Nate Charlow and Matthew Chrisman and published by Oxford University Press
  • Dynamic Thoughts on Ifs and Oughts, forthcoming in Philosophers' Imprint

Abstracts and final drafts are available in the Research section and the final publication information will be posted as it becomes available.

More on Epistemic Modals

My paper "Dynamics of Epistemic Modality" has now appeared in print here and—for better or worse—there is more of me talking about epistemic modals forthcoming at fine venues:

  • a review of Epistemic Modality, edited by Andy Egan and Brian Weatherson (forthcoming in Philosopical Review, which actually allows some space for a more detailed discussion)
  • a brief opinionated overview of what I take to be the most exciting issues and developments in the field (forthcoming in the Journal of Philosophical Logic)

More on this in the Research section, or simply email me for the most recent drafts.

More on Iffy Oughts

A draft of my new paper "Dynamic Thoughts on Ifs and Oughts" is now available in the Research section. It brings the good news that a dynamic semantics for ifs and oughts does not only resolve the miners paradox but also the classical deontic paradoxes from Forrester and Chisholm, and in a way that preserves factual and deontic detachment. Here is the abstract:

Iffy oughts figure prominently in a variety of paradoxes of deontic logic. A satisfying response to these paradoxes is a non-negotiable component of any adequate semantic story about conditionals and deontic modals. I will demonstrate that such a story can be told but doing so requires that we supplement a semantics that pays proper attention to the sensitivity of ifs and oughts to contextual information with a dynamic conception of logical consequence. The resulting framework naturally leads to a nonmonotonic logic for conditionals and deontic modals which differs from its static alternatives in that it elegantly resolves not only Kolodny’s and MacFarlane’s recent miners paradox but also the more classical paradoxes about conditional obligations from Forrester and Chisholm.

Dynamics of Epistemic Modality

I received the good news that my "Dynamics of Epistemic Modality" has been accepted for publication in Philosophical Review. This paper has been with me for a very long time but of course given the fantastic outcome it was totally worth it. The final draft is available in the research section and I will add the publication details as soon as they become available.

Some future day will also see me post a draft of the paper on deontic ought that has kept me company for so long.