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Epistemic Modality De Re

Dr. Seth Yalcin

Thursday, October 09, 2014, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

UC Berkeley, Department of Philosophy

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It is a familiar point, emphasized by Kripke, that we can use a definite description to designate an object and go on to truly say, of the object designated, that it might have failed to have the properties attributed by very description used to pick the object out. For instance:

1. The winner might not have been the winner. 

Kripke used such examples to stand up for the respectability of the idea that objects generally have nontrivial modal properties independently of how they happen to be specified. Without being interested in questioning this conclusion of Kripke's, in this talk I want to look at a class of cases wherein what might or must be the case with an object does seem to depend on the way that the object is specified. This is when the flavor of modality employed in talking about the object---the flavor of might and must at issue---is epistemic. Note the contrast between (1) and (2): 

2. ? The winner is person who might not be the winner. 

This sentence has a ring of incoherence or self-defeat about it. To a first approximation, it seems that if we use a description the F to pick out some thing x,  we cannot go on to truly say that it is possible, in the epistemic sense of possible, that the so-designated x is not F. Standard approaches to epistemic modals---and nonstandard approaches, for that matter---do not predict this basic fact. Related puzzles arise in connection with quantification into epistemic modals, and with what could be called in situ de re readings of determiner phrases within the scope of epistemic modals. I try to frame the problems. Then, building on work by Humberstone, I explore a solution to the problems which involves dropping the assumption that possibilities are mutually exclusive. The result might be considered a nonstandard kind of situation semantics.

Dr. Seth Yalcin