Accounting for variability in the truth-evaluation of bare epistemic possibility statement

Giuseppe Ricciardi, Joshua Martin


It is hotly debated whose perspective is relevant for defining the truth-value of bare epistemic possibility statements: the utterer or the assessor. Central to this debate are findings on truth-value judgments of ‘might p’ statements in “eavesdropping” scenarios where the statement is appropriately asserted from the point of view of the speaker but does not correspond to how in reality things are. We offer findings from two studies suggesting that in these scenarios English speakers disagree on the truth-value not only of ‘might p’ but also, surprisingly, of bare ‘p’. We argue that underlying this behavior is not a disagreement on the semantic content of the statements but a disagreement on how to interpret the meaning of the adjectives ‘true’ and ‘false’ when applied to a statement uttered by another agent. Specifically, we compare two potential accounts: the first account ascribes to the adjective ‘true’ an ambiguity between a ‘coherent’ sense – a statement uttered by A is true as long as the statement coheres with A’s evidence – and a ‘correspondentist’ sense - a statement as uttered by A is true as long as the statement correspond to reality; the second account treats ‘true’ as having only the correspondentist sense but ascribes to it an inherent relative nature – to decide if a statement as uttered by A is true one has to first decide a perspective (A or the assessor). Lastly, we discuss the implications of the findings for the semantics of epistemic ‘might p’ statements.


epistemic modality; possibility; truth; experimental semantics

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