Perspectives from Linguistics and Philosophy


Instructors: Angelika Kratzer & Simona Aimar.

Time: Fridays 4-6pm.

Location: Seminar room 20, Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) South Wing (1st floor), UCL. There is a keypad on the door (marked 22) and one should use the code 8924 to open it. (Exception: on Friday 18th January, the seminar will be held in Foster Court, room 132.)

Brief Description: In this course, we’ll explore modality (notions like necessity and possibility) and modal claims both from a philosophical and linguistic perspective. Students will learn how to analyze modal claims, distinguish different kinds of modal claims and look at how these claims interact with context. We will discuss the philosophical relevance of each of these topics, as well as consider how linguistics and philosophy can benefit from one another when it comes to modality (among other things).

I. Seminar Layout

1.    Jan 11. Course Overview & Intro to Modal Semantics

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 q’


6.    Feb 22. Experimental Work on Modals

Guest Speaker: Jonathan Phillips (Harvard)

7.    Mar 1.  Conditionals III

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

8.    Mar 8. Degrees of Modality & Causation

This session will be jointly run by Angelika, Simona, and two guest speakers: Alex Kaiserman (Oxford) and Ethan Nowak (UCL)

9.    Mar 15. Causatives

10.  Mar 22. Mini-Conference

II. Requirements

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.

III. 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.

Further useful material:

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. Modality: Some Fundamentals

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

The two class sessions on Epistemic Modals 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 q’

Guest Speaker: Matt Mandelkern (Oxford)

Today Matt will introduce us to some more recent results of his work on conditionals.


*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. ‘Recent Experimental Work on Modals

Guest Speaker: Jonathan Phillips (Harvard)

Today Jonathan will introduce us to some recent and exciting experimental work on modals.


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)

Today Tim will provide us with a forceful defence of the material conditional (this is his current work in progress).


*Williamson, T. (ms). ‘On the Semantics and Heuristics of Indicative Conditionals’. [Extensive Handout for APA Guest Lecture; see Piazza]

Class 8. Degrees of Modality and Causation

Guest Speakers: Ethan Nowak (UCL) & Alex Kaiserman (Oxford)

The instructors will run this session together with the guest speakers. The seminar will consist of two parts:

- part 1: concerns and open questions about current accounts of degrees of modality and modal comparisons;

- part 2: probability and degrees of causation.

Readings on degrees of modality:

*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.

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]

Class 9. Causatives

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


* 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.

Further readings

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

Class 10. Mini-conference

This week students will present their work in progress and we’ll all give feedback. More details to follow!