Independent Alternatives: Ross's Puzzle and Free Choice

Philosophical Studies:1-33 (forthcoming)
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Abstract
Orthodox semantics for natural language modals give rise to two puzzles for their interactions with disjunction: Ross’s puzzle and the puzzle of free choice permission. It is widely assumed that each puzzle can be explained in terms of the licensing of ‘Diversity’ inferences: from the truth of a possibility or necessity modal with an embedded disjunction, hearers infer that each disjunct is compatible with the relevant set of worlds. I argue that Diversity inferences are too weak to explain the full range of data. Instead, I argue, modals with embedded disjunctions license ‘Independence’ inferences: from the truth of a modal with an embedded disjunction, hearers infer that each disjunct is an independent alternative among the relevant set of worlds. I then develop a bilateral inquisitive semantics for modals that predicts the validity of these Independence inferences. My account vindicates common intuitions about both Ross’s puzzle and the puzzle of free choice permission, and explains the full range of data.
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First archival date: 2021-08-16
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