‘Must’ implies ‘can’

Mind and Language 37 (2022)
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An open question in the semantics of modality is what relations there are among different modal flavours. In this article, we consider the thorny issue of whether ascribing to an agent the obligation to φ implies that it is possible for the agent to φ. Traditionally, this issue has been interpreted as whether ‘ought’ implies ‘can’. But another linguistic interpretation is available as well, namely, whether ‘must’ implies ‘can’ (MIC). We show that ‘must’ does imply ‘can’ via a convergent argument. The first strand of the argument is theoretical: it consists in proving MIC from a well-established theory of modality in natural language, i.e., that proposed by Kratzer. The second strand is empirical: we present novel acceptability judgment studies showing that MIC predicts and explains the linguistic behaviour of native English speakers.
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First archival date: 2022-01-06
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