Perspectives from Linguistics and Philosophy


Instructors: Angelika Kratzer & Simona Aimar.

Time: Fridays 4-6pm.

Default Location (unless we have guest speakers—see below): Seminar room 20 (door code 8924), Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) South Wing (1st floor), UCL.


1.    Jan 11. The Semantics of Modal Claims

2.    Jan 18. Epistemic Modals I

3.    Jan 25. Epistemic Modals II

4.    Feb 1. Conditionals I

5.    Feb 8. Conditionals II

Guest Speaker: Matt Mandelkern (Oxford): If p, then p!


6.    Feb 22. Experimental Work on Modals

Guest Speaker: Jonathan Phillips (Harvard): The Psychological & Linguistic Representation of Modality

7.    Mar 1.  Conditionals III

Guest Speaker: Tim Williamson (Oxford): On the Semantics and Heuristics of Indicative Conditionals

8.    Mar 8. Degrees of Modality

Session jointly run by Angelika, Simona, and a guest speaker: Ethan Nowak (UCL)

9.    Mar 15. Degrees of Causation and Causatives

Session jointly run by Simona and a guest speaker: Alex Kaiserman (Oxford)

10.  Mar 22. Mini-Conference


1) Attendance: you are required to attend seminar meetings on Fridays.

2) Readings: for each week, there is a reading assignment. You are required to read the relevant material before each meeting, and come prepared to the seminar with at least one question for discussion; your question(s) should be submitted on the Piazza page of the course by Wednesday of each week. You should also bring the week’s reading material to the seminar meeting.

3) Participation: you are expected to be an active participant in the seminar meetings.

4) Writing: There is a summative essay assignment of 4,500 words for this course. You can write on a topic of your choice, provided it engages with the material we cover in this module, provided you agree an essay question with an instructor, who officially approves it. Please come to see either instructor to talk about your chosen topic prior to starting to work on it. Note: If you write on a non-agreed question, you will fail the course. Essays should be submitted on Moodle. There is no need to submit a paper copy.

5) Presentation of your own ideas at the mini-conference. You’ll present your work in progress and the rest of us will give you feedback on it.

Week-by-week Topics & Readings

Here is an annotated bibliography for each week. Start at the beginning and get as far as you can. Starred readings are indispensable. *All* the readings will be uploaded on the Piazza page of this course. Whoever is interested in all the readings is welcome to self-enrol on Piazza. Students are expected to self-enrol.

Background readings

A useful text to keep for reference throughout the course of the seminar:

Portner, P. (2009). Modality, Oxford University Press.

Other useful readings

Gamut 2: Intensional Semantics [Very helpful for getting started on Montague’s Language of Intensional Logic and the typed intensional lambda calculus.]

Heim & v. Fintel, Intensional semantics [Great and comprehensive lecture notes, updated regularly.]

Kratzer, A. (2012 edition). ‘The Notional Category of Modality’, in her Modals and Conditionals, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ch.2. [Seminal piece on modality.]

Class 1. The Semantics of Modal Claims

We’ll go over the plan for the course and get acquainted with the standard way of thinking about modality in semantics, which is also influential within philosophy.


*Kratzer, A. (2012 edition). ‘What Must and Can Must and Can Mean’ in her Modals and Conditionals, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ch.1.

*Kratzer, A. (2012 edition). The Notional Category of Modality’, in her Modals and Conditionals, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ch.2.

Heim, I. & v. Fintel, K. Intensional semantics – lecture notes (esp. part 3, on modals).

Hacquard, V. (2013). ‘The Grammatical Category of Modality’, in M. Aloni, M. Franke, and F. Roelofsen (eds.), Proceedings of the 19th Amsterdam Colloquium, pp. 19-26. [Also a useful overview on modals.]

Lewis, D. (1979). ‘Scorekeeping in a Language Game’, Journal of Philosophical Logic (8:3), pp. 339-359.

Lewis, D. (1986). On the Plurality of Worlds, Oxford: Oxford University Press, esp. §1.1-3.

Class 2. Epistemic Modals I

We will begin by introducing a different perspective on the way modal domains for modals of all kinds are constructed. Modal domains are projected from anchors that are selected by individual modal words and are entities that are part of the evaluation world. Modal domains may then be further constrained by lexical requirements of individual lexical items (like should or ought to), or by defeasible all-purpose assumptions about the normal course of events.


*Yalcin (2007). ‘Epistemic Modals’, in Mind 116 (464), pp. 983-1026. [Seminal piece]

*v. Fintel & Gillies, A. S. (2010). ‘Must … stay … strong!, in Natural Language Semantics 18(4), pp. 351-383.

*Mandelkern, M. (forthcoming). ‘How to do things with modals’, in Mind & Language.

v. Fintel, K. & Gillies, A. S. ‘An opinionated guide to epistemic modality’, in T.S. Gendler & J. Hawthorne (eds.), Oxford Studies in Epistemology, pp. 32ff. [A nice introduction to dynamic views]

v. Fintel, K. & Gillies, A. S. (forthcoming). ‘Still going strong, in Natural Language Semantics.

Mandelkern, M. (forthcoming). What ‘must’ adds, in Linguistics and Philosophy.

Class 3. Epistemic Modals II

This session continues our discussion of epistemic modals. You can select your readings on the basis of your strongest interests, and then keep reading from there.


Dorr, C. & Hawthorne, J. (2013). ‘Embedding Epistemic Modals’, in Mind 122, pp. 867-913.

Lassiter, D. (2014). ‘Must, Knowledge, and (In)directness’, in Natural Language Semantics.

Mandelkern, M. (forthcoming). ‘Bounded Modality, in The Philosophical Review.

Goodhue, D. (2017). ‘Must φ Is Felicitous Only if φ Is Not Known’, in Semantics & Pragmatics.

Giannakidou, A. & Mari, A. (2018). ‘A Unified Analysis of the Future as Epistemic Modality: The View from Greek and Italian,’ in Natural Language and Linguistics Theory.

Stojnić, U. (2017). ‘Content in a Dynamic Context, in Noûs.

Yalcin, S. (2011). ‘Nonfactualism about Epistemic Modality’, in A. Egan and B. Weatherson (eds.) Epistemic Modality. Oxford University Press, pp. 295-332.

Yalcin, S. (2016). ‘Modalities of Normality’, in N. Charlow and M. Chrisman (eds.) Deontic Modality. Oxford University Press, pp. 230-255.

Class 4. Conditionals I

Today we’ll get started on conditionals, with particular attention to those embedded under various types of operators, including quantifiers.


*Kratzer, A. (2012). ‘Conditionals’, in her Modals and Conditionals, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ch.4.

*Kratzer, A. (forthcoming). ‘Chasing Hook: Quantified Indicative Conditionals’, in L. Walters & J. Hawthorne (eds.) Conditionals, Probability, and Paradox: Themes from the Philosophy of Dorothy Edgington, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

v. Fintel, K. (2011). ‘Conditionals’, in K. von Heusinger, C. Maienborn & P. Portner (eds.), Semantics: An international handbook of meaning, vol. 2, Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter Moutonpp, Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft 33.2, pp. 1515-1538. [This is an overview piece within linguistics]

Edgington, D. (2001). ‘Indicative Conditionals’, in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [This is a classic overview piece within philosophy]

*Klinedinst, N. (2011). ‘Quantified Conditionals and Conditional Excluded Middle’, in Journal of Semantics 28, pp. 149-170.

Class 5. Conditionals II – If p, then p!

Guest Speaker: Matt Mandelkern (Oxford, All Souls)

Abstract. The history of the conditional can be viewed as an attempt to find a theory which (i) does validate intuitive logical principles and (ii) does not make the conditional 'If p, then q' equivalent to the material conditional 'Not p or q'. This turns out to be a tricky task—so tricky, in fact, that it has led some to give up the game, arguing that conditionals are not in the terrain of truth-conditional meanings at all. In the first part of my talk, I will show that this job is even harder than we thought: there turns out to be a tension between the principle that 'If p, then p' is always true and the popular Import-Export principle, which says that we ''remember'' successive conditional antecedents in evaluating the consequent of the conditional. Indeed, I show that we cannot plausibly validate both principles without collapsing the conditional to the material conditional. As a result, many prominent theories of the conditional invalidate 'If p, then p'. I argue that this is a problem; after all, if p, then p! In the latter part of the talk, I will argue that this should not, however, lead us to despair of giving a truth-conditional theory of the conditional. I propose a route out of this impasse which depends on attention to logical differences between indicative conditionals (like 'If it rained, the picnic was cancelled') versus subjunctive conditionals (like 'If it had rained, the picnic would have been cancelled').


*Stalnaker, R. (1968). A Theory of Conditionals’, in American Philosophical Quarterly, pp. 98-112.

*Stalnaker, R. (1975). ‘Indicative conditionals, in Philosophia, pp. 269-286.

McGee, V. (1985). ‘A Counterexample to Modus Ponens, in The Journal of Philosophy, pp. 462-471.

Mandelkern, M. (ms). ‘Talking about Worlds’. [see Piazza]


Read read read!

Class 6. The Psychological & Linguistic Representation of Modality

Guest Speaker: Jonathan Phillips (Harvard)

Room: G17 (ground floor), Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS), South Wing, UCL, Gower Street.

Abstract. This talk presents a new approach to connecting the growing body of work on the psychological representation of modality (the way humans construct and reason over sets of non-actual events) to work in linguistics/philosophy on the semantics of modals. The general capacity for modal cognition plays a critical role in a wide diversity of high-level cognition, e.g., causal reasoning, moral judgment, theory of mind, decision making, and so on. Critically, humans are able to engage in much of this high-level cognition quickly and effortlessly. I'll provide empirical evidence that these aspects of human cognition are drawing on general-purpose, default representations of what is possible in a given context. Importantly, this research also provides clear evidence that the set of events represented by default is highly constrained by both descriptive and prescriptive normality. After reviewing this work, I'll take up the question of how we might connect this picture of modality at a psychological level to the semantics we give for modals in natural language. I'll sketch a general approach from joint work with Angelika Kratzer and then end with a few new studies that provide provocative evidence that the domain of quantification even for epistemic modals is implicitly constrained by what we take to be the normal course of events rather than what is known or what is probable. 


Gerstenberg, T., Goodman, N. D., Lagnado, D. A., & Tenenbaum, J. B. (2014). ‘From counterfactual simulation to causal judgment’, in Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Austin, TX, pp. 523-528.

*Khoo, J. & Phillips, J. (2018). ‘New Horizons for a Theory of Epistemic Modals’, in Australasian Journal of Philosophy.

Phillips, J. & Knobe, J. (2018). ‘The psychological representation of modality’, in Mind & Language.

Phillips, J. & Cushman, F. (2017). ‘Morality constrains the default representation of what is possible’, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Knobe, J. & Yalcin, S. (2014). ‘Epistemic Modals and Context: Experimental Data’, in Semantics & Pragmatics, pp. 1-21.

Mandelkern, M. & Phillips, J. (2018). ‘Sticky Situations: Force and Quantifier Domains’, in SALT Proceedings.

Morris, A., Phillips, J. S., Icard, T., Knobe, J., Gerstenberg, T., & Cushman, F. A. (2018). ‘Judgments of actual causation approximate the effectiveness of interventions’, retrieved on-line at

Class 7. Conditionals III – On the Semantics and Heuristics of Indicative Conditionals

Guest Speaker: Tim Williamson (Oxford, New College)

Room: G11 (ground floor), Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS), South Wing, UCL, Gower Street.

Abstract. The talk will discuss the heuristics humans use to assess indicative conditionals. The primary one is the Suppositional Rule: take the same attitude to the conditional as you take to its consequent on the supposition of its antecedent. The Rule explains the connection between credence in a conditional and credence in its consequent conditional on its antecedent. It also explains the pull of standard natural deduction rules for the conditional. However, the Rule is inconsistent, like various other heuristics. Its effect is also mitigated by the secondary heuristic of treating conditional testimony like other kinds of testimony, which does not accord with the Rule. I will explain how this total practice is best explained on the assumption that indicative conditionals have material truth-conditions.


*Williamson, T. (extensive handout). ‘On the Semantics and Heuristics of Indicative Conditionals’.

Class 8. Degrees of Modality

Guest Speaker: Ethan Nowak (UCL)

The instructors will run this session together with the guest speaker.


*v. Fintel, K., & Kratzer, A. (2014). ‘Modal Comparisons: Two Dilettantes in Search of an Expert’, in L. Crnič & U. Sauerland (eds.), The Art and Craft of Semantics: A Festschrift for Irene Heim, pp. 175-179.

*Lassiter, D. (ms). ‘Graded Modality’. [Survey Piece]

*Klecha, P. (2014a). ‘Modifying Modality’, in I. Iyer & L. Kusmer (eds.), Proceedings of NELS 44: Volume 2, pp. 219-232. 

Klecha, P. (2014b). Bridging the Divide: Scalarity & Modality, PhD Thesis, University of Chicago, excerpts. 

Klecha, P. (2012). ‘Positive and conditional semantics for gradable modals’, in Proceedings of Sinn & Bedeutung 16. [Based on parts 1-2 of the dissertation] 

Herburger, E. & Rubinstein, A. (2018). ‘Gradable Possibility and Epistemic Comparison’, in Journal of Semantics, pp. 1-27.

Holliday, W. & Icard, T. F. (2013). ‘Measure semantics and qualitative semantics for epistemic modals’, in SALT Proceedings, pp. 514-534.

Yalcin, S. (2010). ‘Probability Operators’, in Philosophy Compass, pp. 916-937.

Class 9. Degrees of Causation and Causatives

Guest Speaker: Alex Kaiserman (Oxford)

Should we model causatives in terms of counterfactuals? If not, how shall we analyse them? And can one give a unified account of causatives? And how to account for degrees of causation? These are the questions we’ll tackle this week.

The instructors will run this session together with the guest speaker.

Readings on causatives

* Dowty, D. (1979). Word meaning and Montague grammar. The semantics of verbs and times in Generative Semantics and in Montague's PTQ: Synthese Language Library. Dordrecht: Reidel, §2.3.6-9 and ch.4.

*Kratzer, A. (2005). ‘Building Resultatives’, in Event Arguments in Syntax, Semantics, and Discourse, C. Maienborn and A. Wöllstein-Leisten (eds.), Tübingen: Niemeyer.

*Pylkkanen, L. (2000). ‘Representing Causatives’, in SALT Proceedings X, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, pp. 1-16.

Kratzer, A. (1996). ‘Severing the External Argument from its Verb’, in Phrase Structure and the Lexicon, in J. Rooryck and L. Zaring (eds.). Dordrecht, Kluwer, pp.109-137.

Pylkkanen, L. (2008). Introducing Arguments, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, esp. §3.1-2.

Siloni, T. (forth). ‘On the Syntactic Representation of Events’, in R. Truswell (ed.) Handbook of Event Structure, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Guasti, M (2005). ‘Analytic Causatives’, in The Blackwell Companion to Syntax, pp. 142-172.

Readings on degrees of causation and causal talk

*Kaiserman, A. (2018). 'More of a Cause': Recent Work on Degrees of Causation and Responsibility, in Philosophy Compass 13(7). 

Swanson, E. (2012). ‘The Language of Causation’, in D. Graff Fara & G. Russell (eds.), The Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Language, Routledge. [This is a more general but relevant piece on how philosophers are thinking about causal talk]

Further readings

Kratzer, A. (2002). The Event Argument and the Semantics of Verbs. Ms. UMass-Amherst.

Class 10. Mini-conference

Schedule of students’ talks:

  • Lizzy Holt: “Causal Disagreement”.

  • Mike Atkinson: “A Restrictor Analysis of Williamson’s Conditionals”.

  • Matei Gheorghiu: “Strong & Weak Necessity”.

  • Adam Hardwood: “Grading Modality?”

  • Kate Finsk: “Understanding Common Ground”

  • Matt Harris: “Why might might mean should

  • Riccardo Pellegrini: “Mixed Flavours”

Modality Course pic.jpg

Thanks everyone for a great seminar!