Logic and Semantics for Imperatives

Journal of Philosophical Logic 43 (4):617-664 (2014)
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In this paper I will develop a view about the semantics of imperatives, which I term Modal Noncognitivism, on which imperatives might be said to have truth conditions (dispositionally, anyway), but on which it does not make sense to see them as expressing propositions (hence does not make sense to ascribe to them truth or falsity). This view stands against “Cognitivist” accounts of the semantics of imperatives, on which imperatives are claimed to express propositions, which are then enlisted in explanations of the relevant logico-semantic phenomena. It also stands against the major competitors to Cognitivist accounts—all of which are non-truth-conditional and, as a result, fail to provide satisfying explanations of the fundamental semantic characteristics of imperatives (or so I argue). The view of imperatives I defend here improves on various treatments of imperatives on the market in giving an empirically and theoretically adequate account of their semantics and logic. It yields explanations of a wide range of semantic and logical phenomena about imperatives—explanations that are, I argue, at least as satisfying as the sorts of explanations of semantic and logical phenomena familiar from truth-conditional semantics. But it accomplishes this while defending the notion—which is, I argue, substantially correct—that imperatives could not have propositions, or truth conditions, as their meanings.

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Nate Charlow
University of Toronto, St. George Campus


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