The Fighting Mongoose

Philosophy, n. A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing. -Ambrose Bierce
A group weblog by the graduate philosophy students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Let's say that you are sitting in your office, and you overhear two friends, let's call them Bob and Jane, talking out in the hallway. Bob asks Jane where you are. From your office, you overhear Jane's reply, "He/she might be at the student center."

Did Jane say something true or false?


At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, my name is James Bondarchuk. I am an incoming UWM grad student in philosophy. My main interest is ethics. Just wanted to say hello.


At 7:04 PM, Blogger James Lee said...

Hi James,

Nice to meet a member of the incoming class. Where are you coming from?


At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live and went to school in New York City. -James

At 3:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding modality, words like "possible" or "might" vary in meaning depending on context. When someone says, "X is possible," she means that there are certain parameters that are fixed and others that are uncertain, and given this combination of fixed and uncertain parameters, "X is possible." For instance, "The acceleration due to gravity is not 9.8 m/s^2 is possible" is true, if in this modal context the gravitational constant of the universe is uncertain. Likewise, "He might be at the student center" is true for certain fixed and uncertain parameters, and false for others.

At 3:56 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

Clearly, you need to give some sense to the idea of "might." Usually, a person who says "might" simply means, "From my standpoint, it would be reasonable to guess you are in the library." However, if you want to interpret "might" as "possible" and then say "there are possible worlds in which you are in the library" this would make the statement true (but clearly contrary to our common use of "might").

At 2:52 AM, Blogger James Lee said...

Sorry for the super late comment.

Modals like 'might' and 'must' are typically said to be quantifiers over possible worlds. The proposition expressed by a might-claim (e.g. "Steve might be in Boston") is that set of possible worlds where the embedded proposition (e.g. "Steve is in Boston") is compatible with a set of worlds that is restricted by what is known.

What is currently under debate is whose knowledge counts as being relevant when evaluating might-claims. Is it the speaker's knowledge? The assessor's knowledge? The knowledge of some group which may or may not include the speaker?

At 10:14 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

I have my doubts about the value of debating straightforward Gettier cases, so perhaps I am simply incapable of understanding the motivation for these sorts of puzzles.

Are you asking us to analyze actual use of the term "might"? In this case, I would doubt that there is a determinate answer (and if there is one, it would be an empirical question, no?). And if this is not what you are asking, and we are simply using "might" as a term of art, then we can simply regiment our language for precision in any way we wish so long as we stipulate what we mean.

At 10:52 PM, Blogger James Lee said...

Hi Paul,

I guess the question would be whether words like 'might' and 'must' are analyzable under some formal semantics. Are 'might' and 'must' variants of modal operators like 'possibly' and 'necessarily?'


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