An Investigation of a Gricean Account of Free-Choice or

  • Graeme ForbesEmail author
Part of the Perspectives in Pragmatics, Philosophy & Psychology book series (PEPRPHPS, volume 18)


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.


disjunction conversational implicature epistemic possibility non-monotonic logic 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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