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LINGUIST List 22.3794

Thu Sep 29 2011

Diss: Philosophy of Lang/pragmatics: Lassiter: 'Measurement and ...'

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        1.     Daniel Lassiter , Measurement and Modality: The scalar basis of modal semantics

Message 1: Measurement and Modality: The scalar basis of modal semantics
Date: 22-Sep-2011
From: Daniel Lassiter <danlassiterstanford.edu>
Subject: Measurement and Modality: The scalar basis of modal semantics
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Institution: New York University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2011

Author: Daniel Lassiter

Dissertation Title: Measurement and Modality: The scalar basis of modal semantics

Dissertation URL: http://www.stanford.edu/~danlass/Lassiter-diss-Measurement-Modality.pdf

Linguistic Field(s): Philosophy of Language

Dissertation Director:
Seth Yalcin
Chris Barker

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation argues that modal expressions and gradable expressions in
English can and should be treated using the same semantic apparatus. I
present a number of serious empirical problems for standard theories of
epistemic, deontic, and bouletic modality -- including the dominant theory
due to Kratzer -- which treat them as quantifiers over possible worlds. In
particular, the fact that many modals are gradable presents a serious
problem, as do a variety of differences between epistemic and deontic
modals in the inferences that they license. Most importantly, 'p is better
than q' and 'p is better than r' together imply 'p is better than (q or
r)', but the same inference is clearly invalid if 'better' is replaced by
'more likely'. However, Kratzer's theory wrongly predicts that this
inference should be valid with epistemic and deontic modals alike.

This difference turns out to be closely related to a similar division among
non-modal adjectives between additive properties such as height and weight
and non-additive properties such as temperature and danger. I develop an
algebraic semantics of degree built on the Representational Theory of
Measurement (Krantz et al. 1971) which is able to model both kinds of
properties in a straightforward manner, along with differences in
boundedness and other properties of scales which have been the subject of
recent work on gradability. By examining a wide range of data involving
degree modification and entailments with gradable modal adjectives and
verbs, I show that this model provides a good fit for epistemic, deontic,
and bouletic modals, and explains a number of old and new puzzles in the
semantics of epistemic and deontic modals while avoiding the incorrect
predictions of quantificational theories which I discuss.

The most important result involving epistemic modals is that the
distribution of degree modifiers with epistemic modals and their behavior
on other standard tests for scale structure suggests that this scale is
both upper- and lower-bounded, a fact which -- in combination with
additivity -- makes this scale provably equivalent to a probability
measure. Given this result, we have little choice but to embrace a
probabilistic semantics for the modal auxiliaries as well. I show that this
semantics avoids the incorrect predictions made by quantificational
approaches, including Kratzer's. Turning to deontic and bouletic modals, a
number of independent arguments show that these items are non-monotonic and
exquisitely information-sensitive, two facts which are deeply troubling for
quantificational theories but simple to implement in a scalar approach. In
addition to gradability and comparison, the model gives a simple
explanation of the possibility of conflicts of obligation and desire, the
division between 'weak' and 'strong' necessity modals which has been the
subject of much recent work, and the focus- and alternative-sensitivity of
weak necessity modals along with 'likely' and 'probable'.

The dissertation contains new empirical and formal results which cast
serious doubt on the dominant theory of modality, or indeed any attempt to
treat modals as quanti´Čüers over possible worlds. Instead, I argue that
modals are scalar expressions, and in particular that epistemic modals
differ from deontic and bouletic modals in that the former are upward
monotonic (additive) while the latter are non-monotonic (non-additive).

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