Philosophy Colloquium Talk
Fabrizio Cariani, Assistant Professor, Northwestern University

Three Grades of Decision-Theoretic Involvement (in Semantics)

There has been a lot of interest in how to derive some broadly decision theoretic verdicts concerning deontic modalities and their interactions with conditionals. It is easy to argue that a traditional Kratzer-style premise-semantics needs some revisions in order to get these facts right. The difficulty is how to develop a semantic theory that gets those facts while remaining, as much as possible, 'ethically neutral'.

In this talk, I investigate, three ways of going beyond the traditional Kratzer-style premise-semantics. Each successive grade makes more serious use of decision-theoretic machinery.

At Grade I, we add sets of mutually exclusive alternatives ('decision problems'). Cariani, Kaufmann and Kaufmann (CKK) developed a version of Kratzer-semantics within the confines of Grade I: I will summarize that proposal, and defend it from some objections, but I will also flag some reasons to go beyond it.

At Grade II, we add probabilities to the mix, so that our raw materials are an ordering source, a decision problem, and a probability space (in Yalcin's sense). This is, in my view, the best grade to work at. The core of my talk consists in spelling out the details and benefits of my favorite Grade II semantics.

At Grade III, we have decision problems, probabilities and utilities: at this stage we inevitably cross the line and end up with an ethically compromised theory. I will argue we should not go this far.