Binding bound variables in epistemic contexts

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 64 (5-6):533-563 (2021)
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Abstract

ABSTRACT Quine insisted that the satisfaction of an open modalised formula by an object depends on how that object is described. Kripke's ‘objectual’ interpretation of quantified modal logic, whereby variables are rigid, is commonly thought to avoid these Quinean worries. Yet there remain residual Quinean worries for epistemic modality. Theorists have recently been toying with assignment-shifting treatments of epistemic contexts. On such views an epistemic operator ends up binding all the variables in its scope. One might worry that this yields the undesirable result that any attempt to ‘quantify in’ to an epistemic environment is blocked. If quantifying into the relevant constructions is vacuous, then such views would seem hopelessly misguided and empirically inadequate. But a famous alternative to Kripke's semantics, namely Lewis' counterpart semantics, also faces this worry since it also treats the boxes and diamonds as assignment-shifting devices. As I'll demonstrate, the mere fact that a variable is bound is no obstacle to binding it. This provides a helpful lesson for those modelling de re epistemic contexts with assignment sensitivity, and perhaps leads the way toward the proper treatment of binding in both metaphysical and epistemic contexts: Kripke for metaphysical modality, Lewis for epistemic modality.

Author's Profile

Brian Rabern
University of Edinburgh

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