A Flexible Contextualist Account of Epistemic ModalsSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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On Angelika Kratzer’s canonical account, modal expressions are represented semantically as quantifiers over possibilities whose domains are contextually restricted. Recently, the canon’s neat story has come under attack. The challenge cases involve the epistemic use of a modal sentence for which no single resolution of its contextual parameter appears capable of accommodating all our intuitions. According to these revisionists, such cases show that the canonical story needs to be amended in some way that makes multiple bodies of information relevant to the assessment of such statements. Here I show that how the right canonical, flexibly contextualist account of modals can accommodate the full range of challenge cases. The key will be to extend Kratzer’s formal semantic account with an account of how context selects values for a modal’s parameters. The strategy here is a broadly Gricean one; on this view, a context must be capable of publicly manifesting a speaker’s parameter-value determining intentions. I argue that all of the challenge cases can be explained in a contextualist-friendly way by appeal to the failure of this publicity constraint on contexts.