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Confusion of TonguesA Theory of Normative Language$
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Stephen Finlay

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199347490

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199347490.001.0001

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The Probable Meaning of ‘Ought’

The Probable Meaning of ‘Ought’

Chapter:
(p.48) 3 The Probable Meaning of ‘Ought’
Source:
Confusion of Tongues
Author(s):

Stephen Finlay

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199347490.003.0003

A unifying semantics is offered for nonmoral uses of the word ‘ought’, and related modal verbs such as ‘must’ and ‘may’. The chapter begins by observing problems posed by the analysis of instrumental conditionals. A simple dyadic semantics is proposed, and a compositional analysis of how normative or deontic modals combine with tense leads to an analysis as alethic modals conditionalized on an end, which varies by context. The word ‘ought’ is analyzed as a comparative probability operator across both normative and epistemic uses. Hypothetical imperatives (or anankastic conditionals) are analyzed as hybrid relevance conditionals. This semantics is contrasted with the standard account of Angelika Kratzer and argued to be superior in simple cases. The case for a sense of ‘ought’ expressing a relation between agents and actions is considered and rejected in favor of a univocal propositional operator.

Keywords:   ought, semantics, probability, conditionals, tense, Kratzer, modal verbs, context, hypothetical imperatives

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