This chapter and the next three illustrate how Davidson’s basic semantics of predication, combined with various other views of his, dissolve or solve metaphysical questions. This chapter, on modals and conditionals, applies Davidson’s analysis of indirect discourse, together with his conception of what a semantics is as opposed to what a theory of a subject matter is, to the semantics of modality. As it happens, a Davidsonian account of modality requires a Davidsonian account of conditionals. The account of conditionals developed in the present chapter differs quite a bit from anything Davidson ever said. 1
That there is a Davidsonian account of modality is quite central to the project of this book, since we have helped ourselves to lots of modal constructions in characterizing relative essentialism. This free use of modal notions supposes that modal notions are not a special problem for a Davidsonian. My project in this chapter is to present the outlines of an account of modal sentences that conforms to the principles of Davidsonian semantics and accommodates the data at least as well as other semantic theories. While a thorough account of the intricacies of modal constructions in English is well beyond the scope of this chapter, the outlines of how a Davidsonian account would go will at least cover some basic modal predicates and show how the theory works.