Research Group
in Analytic Philosophy

Falsity and retraction: new experimental data on epistemic modals

14 October 2015  |  15:00  |  Seminari de Filosofia UB


Dummett said, “[W]hat has to be added to a truth-definition for the sentences of a language, if the notion of truth is to be explained, is a description of the linguistic activity of making assertions” and added “Of course, we can talk about what is required to be the case by an assertion; but this notion relates, once again, to how we recognize the assertion as incorrect. . . There is a well defined consequence of an assertion’s proving incorrect, namely that the speaker must withdraw it, just as there is a well defined consequence of disobedience.” Is this true? Must a speaker retract a false assertion? The assumption that this is the case has been used by relativists  as a reason to revise the semantics of certain kinds of sentences, among them, epistemic modal sentences. Recently, Knobe & Yalcin tested some relativist predictions about the semantics of epistemic modals concerning the connection between falsity and theappropriateness to retract. I've carried out two sets of experiments that test further related conditions: first, the connection between falsity and a requirement to retract,  conducted with English North-American speakers. The second tested the connection between falsity, the requirement to retract, and the appropriateness to retract, with Spanish Castilian speakers. The results don’t support the relativist semantic revision, and in fact are compatible with more standard contextualist accounts of epistemic modals. The results of the two sets of experiments further reveal some interesting difference between English and Spanish speakers as to whether Dummett's claim above is true.