Semantic Rules, Modal Knowledge, and Analyticity

In Dusko Prelevic & Anand Vaidya (eds.), The Epistemology of Modality and Philosophical Methodology (forthcoming)
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According to Amie Thomasson's Modal Normativism (MN), knowledge of metaphysical modality is to be explained in terms of a speaker’s mastery of semantic rules, as opposed to one’s epistemic grasp of independent modal facts. In this chapter, I outline (MN)'s account of modal knowledge (§1) and argue that more than semantic mastery is needed for knowledge of metaphysical modality. Specifically (§2), in reasoning aimed at gaining such knowledge, a competent speaker needs to further deploy essentialist principles and information. In response, normativists might contend that a competent speaker will only need to appeal to specific independence counterfactuals, on analogy with quasi-realism about morality. These conditionals fix the meaning of our terms at the actual world, independently of the particular context in which a statement is evaluated. However, I show that this strategy causes several problems for the account (§3). While those problems might perhaps be avoided by endorsing a certain picture of modal metaphysics (Modal Monism), such a picture involves notorious issues that normativists will have to address (§4). It is thus doubtful that (MN) can explain knowledge of metaphysical modality. Still, it may explain some modal knowledge without committing to Modal Monism. As I show (§5), semantic mastery may suffice for gaining knowledge of logical-conceptual modality or analyticity.

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Antonella Mallozzi
Providence College


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