An Investigation of a Gricean Account of Free-Choice or
Free-choice disjunction manifests itself in complements of comparatives, existential modals, and related contexts. For example, “Socrates is older than Plato or Aristotle” is usually understood to mean “older than each”, not “older than at least one”. Normally, to get an “at least one” reading, a wh-rider has to be appended, e.g., “whichever is younger” or “but I don’t remember which”. Similarly, “Socrates could have been a lawyer or a banker” usually means “Socrates could have been a lawyer and ( not “or”) could have been a banker”. And “Socrates needs an umbrella or a raincoat” is normally understood in a way that isn’t synonymous with “Socrates needs an umbrella or Socrates needs a raincoat”. Roughly, the reading is “getting a satisfactory umbrella would meet his need and getting a satisfactory raincoat would meet his need”.
These examples all have “conjunctive force” and the question I address is whether there’s a satisfactory pragmatic account of why the force is with them. I present a simple Gricean argument that the “co-operative speaker” assumption, added to a disjunctive literal meaning, produces conjunctive force for epistemic modals. This argument may work for some other cases, but I express some pessimism about covering the full range of modals.
Keywordsdisjunction conversational implicature epistemic possibility non-monotonic logic
- Egan, A., Hawthorne, J., & Weatherson, B. (2005). Epistemic modals in context. In G. Preyer & G. Peter (Eds.), Contextualism in philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Forbes, G. (1985). The metaphysics of modality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Forbes, G. (1996). Logic, logical form, and the open future. In J. Tomberlin (Ed.), Philosophical perspectives (Vol. 10, pp. 73–92). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Fox, D. (2007). Free choice and the theory of scalar implicatures. In U. Sauerland & P. Stateva (Eds.), Presupposition and implicature in compositional semantics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
- Grice, P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In D. Davidson & G. Harman (Eds.), The logic of grammar. Encino: Dickenson.Google Scholar
- Grice, P. (1989). Studies in the way of words. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Humberstone, L. (2011). The connectives. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Levinson, S. (2000). Presumptive meanings. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Makinson, D. (2005). Bridges from classical to nonmonotonic logic. London: King’s College Publications.Google Scholar
- Spector, B. (2007). Scalar implicatures: Exhaustivity and gricean reasoning. In M. Aloni & P. Dekker (Eds.), Questions in dynamic semantics. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
- van Rooij, R. (2010). Conjunctive interpretation of disjunction. Semantics and Pragmatics, 3, 1–28.Google Scholar
- Wright, C. (2005). Realism, relativism and rhubarb. Unpublished MS.Google Scholar