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Deontic Modality$
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Nate Charlow and Matthew Chrisman

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198717928

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198717928.001.0001

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Metanormative Theory and the Meaning of Deontic Modals

Metanormative Theory and the Meaning of Deontic Modals

(p.395) 13 Metanormative Theory and the Meaning of Deontic Modals
Deontic Modality

Matthew Chrisman

Oxford University Press

Philosophical debate about the meaning of normative terms has long been pulled in two directions by the apparently competing ideas: (i) “ought”s do not describe what is actually the case but rather prescribe possible action, thought, or feeling, (ii) all declarative sentences deserve the same general semantic treatment, e.g. in terms of compositionally specified truth conditions. In this chapter, Matthew Chrisman pursues resolution of this tension by rehearsing the case for a relatively standard truth-conditionalist semantics for “ought” conceived as a necessity modal and proposing a revision to it motivated by the distinctively prescriptive character of some deontic modals. Relatedly, the paper explores two very general ways we might interpret the results of compositional semantics—“representationalism” and “inferentialism”—in order to argue that, contrary to what is generally assumed, both can capture the special prescriptivity of “ought” and both can countenance compositionally specified and informative truth conditions for ought-sentences.

Keywords:   deontic modal, metasemantics, representationalism, inferentialism, ideationalism, expressivism

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