What to do if you don’t know what to do

Magdalena Kaufmann

26 Apr 2013, 2pm-3:30pm, Manchester 227

The truth and appropriateness of statements and instructions about what is the best thing to do (as expressed by declarative sentences containing deontic modals and imperative sentences) can depend on the information that is or will be available to the relevant agent at the time of choice. Moreover, antecedents of conditionals can sometimes behave as if supplying the relevant information for modals or imperatives in the consequent. These interactions between what counts as the best or optimal action for an agent and what information is available poses problems for standard treatments of deontic modals and conditionals in formal semantics. I will start by introducing Cariani, Kaufmann & Kaufmann’s (forthcoming) treatment of the miners’ paradox (Kolodny & MacFarlane 2010), and I will then focus on the influence of subjunctive marking on German modals and point out possible connections to recent work on the distinction between weak and strong necessity modals (like ‘ought’ vs. ‘have to’).