Link to the University of Pittsburgh Homepage
Link to the University Library System Homepage Link to the Contact Us Form

Reasons and Modals

Marushak, Adam (2018) Reasons and Modals. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

Download (638kB) | Preview


Reasons have become a central topic in philosophy. Epistemologists study reasons for belief. Moral philosophers assess reasons for action. And numerous metaethicists argue that all normative notions can ultimately be analyzed in terms of the concept of a reason. However, philosophers are not the only ones who talk about reasons. The Corpus of Contemporary American English yields over 10,000 examples of sentences containing the phrase "reason to [verb]", e.g. "reason to believe" and "reason to do". What, then, is the meaning of reason claims in colloquial language? This dissertation offers a theory of meaning for colloquial talk of reasons, focusing on sentences of the form "There is reason to believe that P". I argue that claims about reasons are a type of modal language. Familiar modals like "ought", "might", and "must" describe how things stand with relevant bodies of information, e.g. "You must pay your taxes" describes the relevant laws as requiring you to pay your taxes. I show that reason claims describe relevant information in an analogous manner: "There is reason to believe that P" describes the relevant knowledge as counting in favor of believing that P. This theory has far-reaching implications for recent debates about reasons and modals. First, the language of reasons pressures us to revise widely held views about the meaning of epistemic modals like "might": I show that it is talk of reasons for belief that describes knowledge, not epistemic modal language. Second, I argue that this semantic fact is best explained by a conceptual thesis: our pre-theoretical concept of a reason for belief is that of an item of knowledge, not a mere fact. Finally, once we see that "epistemic" modals have no special connection to knowledge, we are in a position to diagnose much of the confusion surrounding the formulation of fallibilism in epistemology. I argue that it is a mistake to rely on intuitions about epistemic modals to assess the truth of fallibilism, and I propose an alternative methodology for determining whether fallibilism is true.


Social Networking:
Share |


Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Marushak, Adamadshak@gmail.comadm95
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairGupta,
Committee CoChairShaw,
Committee MemberCaie,
Committee MemberSchafer,
Committee MemberSwanson,
Date: 28 June 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 16 March 2018
Approval Date: 28 June 2018
Submission Date: 3 April 2018
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 119
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: epistemic modals, epistemic reasons, semantics, fallibilism, probability, knowledge
Date Deposited: 28 Jun 2018 18:14
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2018 18:14


Monthly Views for the past 3 years

Plum Analytics

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item