Document Type


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Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics


At the center of the debate between contextualist versus relativist semantics for epistemic modal claims is an empirical question about when competent subjects judge the presence of epistemic modal disagreement. John MacFarlane’s relativist claims that we judge there to be epistemic modal disagreement across the widest range of cases. We wish to dispute the robustness of his data with the results of two studies. Our primary conclusion is that the actual disagreement data is not consistent with relativist predictions, and so, that the primary motivation for relativism disappears. Our study differs from a related study by Knobe and Yalcin (2014) in that we focus directly on the question of genuine disagreement, as opposed to a question about truth or the appropriateness of retraction. Some of our findings agree with theirs about relativism. We uncover new lessons along the way, including that there are widespread situation effects of epistemic modal discourse; idiosyncratic features of the vignettes significantly influencing judgments about epistemic modal disagreement. We reflect with mixed feelings on the prospects for contextualism to accommodate our findings.

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