How to do things with modals

Mind and Language (forthcoming)
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Abstract
In a brief discussion of epistemic modals, Wittgenstein (1953) warns against ‘regard[ing] a hesitant assertion as an assertion of hesitancy’. A modal claim like ‘It might be raining’, the thought goes, should not be regarded as an assertion of the speaker's uncertainty as to whether or not it is raining, but rather as something quite different in kind: a proposal to treat the possibility of rain as live. Wittgenstein’s admonition has, in recent years, been at the heart of arguments that, in order to make sense of the dynamics of epistemic modal claims, we must reject the contextualist framework for analyzing communication—a framework on which assertions of epistemic modal claims, like all assertions, convey information. In this paper, I argue that, on the contrary, taking Wittgenstein's admonition seriously does not require abandoning the contextualist framework: we can capture the fundamental dynamics of epistemic modality within the contextualist framework, provided we take the assertoric content of unembedded epistemic modal claims to be determined by the prospective common attitudes of the conversants in question.
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First archival date: 2018-11-06
Latest version: 2 (2018-11-26)
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2018-11-06

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