Using Modal Terms Epistemically
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I argue that the semantic content expressed by utterances of epistemic possibility statements is invariant; that is, I argue that the content expressed does not depend on the context of utterance as the standard position on this issue holds. By an utterance of an epistemic possibility statement, I mean using a sentence like 'The keys might be in the drawer' to express something along the lines of 'For all I know, the keys are in the drawer'. I argue that the standard contextual approach to analyzing the content of such utterances is likely unworkable, for it has obvious drawbacks: if uses of 'might' are contextual it should be difficult to report someone's 'might' claim; however, it's not. I also find fault with a new, competing approach that relativizes the truth of epistemic possibility propositions to a perspective. I agree with the advocates of relativism that what we need is an invariant content to make sense of many ordinary exchanges, which is what motivates my own account, but disagree that we need to move to a relative truth predicate. I propose that an invariant semantic content, when combined with a view on which utterances of epistemic possibility perform two speech acts, will be able to provide a strong account of the problem cases typically discussed in the literature. I show that this position is able to account for ordinary intuitions concerning truth and falsity as well as felicity of use when it comes to these problem cases and that other views on offer either fail in capturing these intuitions concerning uses of 'might' or, if they are able to capture these intuitions, are forced to hold an unappealing position concerning the truth predicate. My view is able to capture the fact that when making 'might' claims, speaking typically aren't concerned with asserting a truth, but are rather doing something else, like suggesting--this allows me to capture a good deal of our ordinary use of and response to 'might' claims. Finally, I argue that uses of 'Might P' epistemically are not semantically equivalent to uses of 'For all I know, P'.