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Unformatted text preview: Epistemic Modals Are Assessment-Sensitive * John MacFarlane Version of May 9, 2008 1 Introduction By “epistemic modals,” I mean epistemic uses of modal words: adverbs like “necessarily,” “possibly,” and “probably,” adjectives like “necessary,” “possible,” and “probable,” and auxiliaries like “might,” “may,” “must,” and “could.” It is hard to say exactly what makes a word modal , or what makes a use of a modal epistemic , without begging the questions that will be our concern below, but some examples should get the idea across. If I say “Gold- bach’s conjecture might be true, and it might be false,” I am not endorsing the Cartesian view that God could have made the truths of arithmetic come out differently. I make the claim not because I believe in the metaphysical contingency of mathematics, but because I know that Goldbach’s conjecture has not yet been proved or refuted. Similarly, if I say “Joe can’t be running,” I am not saying that Joe’s constitution prohibits him from running, or that Joe is essentially a non-runner, or that Joe isn’t allowed to run. My basis for making the claim may be nothing more than that I see Joe’s running shoes hanging on a hook. * I presented earlier versions of this paper at the University of Utah (2003), the University of Chicago (2005), Ohio State (2005), the Arché Center at St. Andrews (2005), UC Santa Cruz (2005), the Eastern Division APA meeting in New York (2005), Berkeley’s Logic Colloquium (2006), and the University of Michigan Linguistics and Philosophy Workshop (2006). I am grateful to all these audiences for stimulating questions. I would particularly like to thank Kent Bach, Chris Barker, Fabrizio Cariani, Richard Dietz, Branden Fitelson, David Hunter, Graham Priest, Brian Weatherson, Matt Weiner, Seth Yalcin, and two anonymous referees for useful comments. Finally, I acknowledge the financial support of an ACLS/Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship for Junior Faculty and a Berkeley Humanities Research Fellowship. Read- ers of Egan et al. 2005 will notice substantial overlap in our conclusions and arguments. We arrived at them independently (though I was inspired by Hawthorne 2004, 27 n. 68, which I read in draft in summer 2003, and they by MacFarlane 2003). I shared with them an ancestor of this paper while they were writing theirs. 1 Clearly, epistemic modals have something to do with knowledge. But knowledge presupposes a knower or knowers. So, one ought to ask, whose knowledge is relevant to the truth of claims made using epistemic modals? It is tempting to answer: the speaker’s . On the resulting view, which I will call Solipsistic Contextualism , “Joe might be running” expresses a truth just in case what the speaker knows does not rule out that Joe is running, and “Joe must be running” expresses a truth just in case what the speaker knows rules out that Joe is not running. For present purposes, we can leave the notion of “ruling out” schematic: we need not decide, for instance, whether...
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This note was uploaded on 08/01/2008 for the course PHIL 290 taught by Professor Fitelson during the Fall '06 term at Berkeley.
- Fall '06