Modal Disagreements

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 58 (5):511-534 (2015)
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It is often assumed that when one party felicitously rejects an assertion made by an- other party, the first party thinks that the proposition asserted by the second is false. This assumption underlies various disagreement arguments used to challenge contex- tualism about some class of expressions. As such, many contextualists have resisted these arguments on the grounds that the disagreements in question may not be over the proposition literally asserted. The result appears to be a dialectical stalemate, with no independent method of determining whether any particular instance of disagreement is over the proposition literally asserted. In this paper, I propose an independent method for assessing whether a disagreement is about what’s literally asserted. Focusing on epistemic modals throughout, I argue that this method provides evidence that some epistemic modal disagreements are in fact not over the proposition literally asserted by the utterance of the epistemic modal sentence. This method provides a way to break the stalemate, and reveals a new data point for theories of epistemic modals to predict—that is, how there can be such modal disagreements. In the rest of the paper, I motivate a general theory of how to predict these kinds of disagreements, and then offer some brief remarks about how contextualist, relativist, and expressivist theories of epistemic modals might accommodate this new data point.

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Justin Khoo
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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