SOPhiA 2018

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

The Global Embedding Problem for Expressivism about Modality
(Philosophy of Language, English)

Contemporary expressivists about modality aim to show that modal claims express the attitudes or mental states of the speaker who utters them, rather than describe modal facts to which the speaker presumably has access to. Here, I will focus on Schnieder's (2010) version of expressivism.
In his account, epistemic modals signal the speech act of utterances. Modal claims are not assertions. To account for certain embeddings, two different strategies are used. The first is to appeal to the possible ambiguity of modal expressions: certain embeddings are be admissible because they allow for non-epistemic readings. The second consists in showing that the complexes in question express admissible composites of speech-acts.
I want to raise a problem with the first strategy. Schnieder only defends a "local" version of expressivism about epistemic modals, but the massive ambiguity in modals he appeals to puts raises the question of how this class of modal expressions embeds in the broader context of modal language. If modal language bifurcates into epistemic and objective dimensions, the problem is to specify their relation. I call this the "Global Embedding Problem about Modality". It mirrors the even broader problem of giving an account of the interaction between expressivist and non-expressivist language.
Schnieder's motivation for expressivism suggests that expressivist language exists to fulfill the role role of giving "a way of putting forward the content of a belief without the detour of explicitly ascribing the belief to oneself", but it is unclear that this cannot be accounted for in purely descriptivist terms. Schnieder himself observes it is possible to assert the information that could be conveyed through expressivist idioms. If they only offer alternative ways to do this, the distinction is pragmatic, rather than semantic.

Schnieder, Benjamin (2010), "Expressivism Concerning Epistemic Modals", The Philosophical Quarterly, 60(240), 601--615.

Chair: Pascale Lötscher
Time: 14:40-15:10, 14 September 2018 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.003

Felipe Morales 
(KU Leuven, Belgium)

I am a PhD student at KU Leuven, working on modal epistemology broadly conceived. I did my MPhil on KU Leuven, with a thesis on the epistemology of understanding, and previously, did my Bachelors and Masters at Universidad de Chile (Santiago, Chile).

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