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Auteur: Aynat RUBINSTEIN

Negotiable and non-negotiable necessities: the view from arguments

Abstract/Résumé: A fruitful approach to the semantics of weak necessity modals (e.g., 'ought' and 'should') stems from the intuition that these modals describe not what is absolutely necessary, but only what is "best" among a set of alternatives (Sloman 1970, von Fintel & Iatridou 2008, and others). The idea is that 'ought to q' is true if and only if q represents the best way of achieving a certain priority, in comparison to other possible courses of action. This paraphrase suggests that there is one course of action that counts as "best", and it is this course of action that makes certain ought to q statements true in a given context of utterance. In this paper, I use the behavior of weak necessity modals in arguments to suggest a refinement of this picture. I propose that weak necessity modals are used when what is "best" is still negotiable, and by uttering 'ought to q', a speaker simply suggests that q is the best course of action. It follows from this proposal that propositions in ordering sources (Kratzer 1981, 2012) are distinguished according to whether they describe negotiable or non-negotiable priorities in the conversation, and only certain modal expressions have access to priorities of the former type. Arguments and disagreements highlight an important difference between weak and strong necessity modals that goes beyond the tests that have been used in the literature to establish the strength difference between them (including, e.g., the asymmetrical entailment from 'have to' to 'ought to' and the implicature that 'have to q' is false if 'ought to q' is true; Horn 1972). In (1), weak necessity 'should' – but not strong necessity 'have to' – can be used in both of B and C's utterances without leading to a contradiction. This is unexpected if 'should' picks out the "best" way of achieving a salient goal (here, getting to a particular destination). (1) [Context: there is a quick route and a scenic route to our guest’s destination.] A: How will he go? B: He should(/has to) take the quick route. (It’s best that he take the quick route.) C: No, he should(/#has to) take the scenic route. (It’s best that …) Intuitively, C's weak necessity claim does not contradict B's weak necessity claim. There is a sense in which neither one of these weak necessities is true simpliciter in the conversation, and the argument is not about what follows from the different priorities the interlocutors raise, but a negotiation of which one takes precedence over the other. The overall coherence of the discourse supports the proposal that weak necessity claims are sensitive to priorities that are still negotiable in the conversation.