This essay proposes a new theory of agentive modals: ability modals and their duals, compulsion modals. After criticizing existing approaches—the existential quantificational analysis, the universal quantificational analysis, and the conditional analysis—it presents a new account that builds on both the existential and conditional analyses. On this account, the act conditional analysis, a sentence like ‘John can swim across the river’ says that there is some practically available action (in a sense the essay makes precise) that is such that if John tries to do it, he swims across the river. The essay argues that the act conditional analysis avoids the problems faced by existing accounts of agentive modality and shows how the act conditional analysis can be extended to an account of generic agentive modal claims. The upshot is a new vantage point on the role of agentive modal ascriptions in practical discourse: ability ascriptions serve as a kind of hypothetical guarantee, and compulsion ascriptions as a kind of nonhypothetical guarantee.
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Research Article| July 01 2017
The Philosophical Review (2017) 126 (3): 301–343.
Matthew Mandelkern, Ginger Schultheis, David Boylan; Agentive Modals. The Philosophical Review 1 July 2017; 126 (3): 301–343. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00318108-3878483
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