What might but must not be

Journal article

Finlay, Stephen and Lennertz, Benjamin. (2020). What might but must not be. Analysis. 80(4), pp. 647-656. https://doi.org/10.1093/analys/anaa022
AuthorsFinlay, Stephen and Lennertz, Benjamin

We examine an objection to analysing the epistemic ‘might’ and ‘may’ as existential quantifiers over possibilities. Some claims that a proposition “might” be the case appear felicitous although, according to the quantifier analysis, they are necessarily false, since there are no possibilities in which the proposition is true. We explain such cases pragmatically, relying on the fact that ‘might’-sentences are standardly used to convey that the speaker takes a proposition as a serious option in reasoning. Our account explains why it makes sense to utter these sentences despite their being literally false and why their falsity is easily missed.

Journal citation80 (4), pp. 647-656
PublisherOxford University Press
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1093/analys/anaa022
Scopus EID2-s2.0-85126598535
Research or scholarlyResearch
Page range647-656
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All rights reserved
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Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online24 Jan 2021
Publication process dates
Deposited08 Jul 2022
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