pp 1–18 | Cite as

The Content and Logic of Imperatives

  • Nicolas Fillion
  • Matthew LynnEmail author
Original Paper


This paper articulates an account of imperatives that sensibly supports the idea of a logic of imperative inferences. We rebuke common objections to the very possibility of such a logic, from a perspective based on recent linguistic work on the morphosyntax of imperatives. Specifically, we develop the notion that the content of an imperative sentence includes both a force operator alongside an imperational content to which the force applies. We further argue that this account of the content of imperatives constitutes a plausible and flexible framework to develop a logic of imperative by examining a number of reconstructions of this idea using semantical analogs of widespread modal semantics. After studying the performance of those approaches, we conclude that progress in imperative logic has been hindered by the failure to adopt conflict-tolerant and resource-sensitive semantics, but suggest that such considerations can be incorporated in this flexible framework. Finally, we also propose a simple account of the difference between operators applying to the content of imperatives and imperative operators, in a way that sheds light on some of the issues underlying the usual antinomies.


Imperative inference Poincaré’s principle Jørgensen’s dilemma Ross’ paradox Dubislav’s trick Conflicting obligations Resource-sensitive reasoning 



  1. Barker C (2010) Free choice permission as resource-sensitive reasoning. Semant Pragmat 3:10–1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barker C (2012) Imperatives denote actions. Proceedings of sinn und bedeutung 16:57–70 CiteseerGoogle Scholar
  3. Brink DO (1994) Moral conflict and its structure. Philos Rev 103(2):215–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cariani F (2013) ‘ought’ and resolution semantics. Noûs 47(3):534–558CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Charlow N (2014) The meaning of imperatives. Philos Compass 9(8):540–555CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chellas BF (1974) Conditional obligation. In: Logical theory and semantic analysis. Springer, pp 23–33Google Scholar
  7. Chellas BF (1980) Modal logic: an introduction. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dubislav W (1937) Zur unbegründbarkeit der forderungssätze. Theoria 3:330–342Google Scholar
  9. Dummett M (1977) Can analytical philosophy be systematic, and ought it to be?. Harvard University Press, HarvardGoogle Scholar
  10. Fox C (2012) Imperatives: a judgemental analysis. Studia Logica 100(4):879–905CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Frege G (1879) Begriffsschrift, a formula language, modeled upon that of arithmetic, for pure thought. From Frege to Gödel Source Book Math Log 1931:1–82Google Scholar
  12. Han C-H (1997) Deontic modality of imperatives. Lang Inf 1:107–136Google Scholar
  13. Han C-H (1999) Cross-linguistic variation in the compatibility of negation and imperatives. Proc West Coast Conf Form Linguist 17:265–279 CiteseerGoogle Scholar
  14. Han C-H (2000a) The contribution of mood and force in the interpretation of imperatives. Proc NELS 29:97–112 CiteseerGoogle Scholar
  15. Han C-H (2000b) The structure and interpretation of imperatives: mood and force in Universal Grammar. Garland Publishing, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  16. Han C-H (2001) Force, negation and imperatives. Linguist Rev 18(4):289–326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hansen J (2008) Imperatives and deontic logic–on the semantic foundations of deontic logic. Ph.D. thesis, Universität LeipzigGoogle Scholar
  18. Hansen J (2013) Imperative logic and its problems. In: Handbook of deontic logic and normative systems. College Publications, pp 137–191Google Scholar
  19. Hansen J (2014) Be nice! How simple imperatives simplify imperative logic. J Philos Log 43(5):965–977CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hansson SO, Gabbay D, Horty J, Parent X, van der Meyden R, van der Torre L (2013) The varieties of permission. Handb Deontic Log Norm Syst 1:195–240Google Scholar
  21. Harrison J (1991) Deontic logic and imperative logic. In: Logic and ethics. Springer. pp 79–129Google Scholar
  22. Hintikka J (1970) Some main problems of deontic logic. In: Deontic logic: Introductory and systematic readings. Springer, pp 59–104Google Scholar
  23. Horty JF (2012) Reasons as defaults. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Horty J (2014) Deontic modals: Why abandon the classical semantics? Pac Philos Q 95(4):424–460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Iatridou S (2008) De modo imperativo. MIT lecture notesGoogle Scholar
  26. Jennings RE (1974) A utilitarian semantics for deontic logic. J Philos Log 3(4):445–456CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jørgensen J (1937) Imperatives and logic. Erkenntnis 7(1):288–296Google Scholar
  28. Pacuit E (2017) Neighborhood semantics for modal logic. Springer, BerlinCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Payette G (2018) Comments on ruben’s conditional theory of trying. Presented at the 2018 Western Canadian association meetingGoogle Scholar
  30. Poincaré H (1920) Dernières Pensées. Ernest Flammarion, ParisCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Portner P (2007) Imperatives and modals. Nat Lang Semant 15(4):351–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Recanati F (2013) Content, mood, and force. Philos Compass 8(7):622–632CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ross A (1944) Imperatives and logic. Philos Sci 11(1):30–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Searle JR (1979) Expression and meaning: studies in the theories of speech actsGoogle Scholar
  35. Searle JR, Vanderveken D (1985) Foundations of illocutionary logic. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  36. Segerberg K et al (1990) Validity and satisfaction in imperative logic. Notre Dame J Form Log 31(2):203–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Starr WB (2014) Mood, force and truth. ProtoSociology 31:160–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Von Wright GH (1951) Deontic logic. Mind 60(237):1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Vranas P (2008) New foundations for imperative logic i: logical connectives, consistency, and quantifiers. Noûs 42(4):529–572CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Vranas PB (2010) In defense of imperative inference. J Philos Log 39(1):59–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wedeking GA (1970) Are there command arguments? Analysis 30(5):161–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Williams B (1963) Imperative inference. Analysis 23:30–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Simon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

Personalised recommendations