Joint inquiry requires agents to exchange public content about some target domain, which in turn requires them to track which content a linguistic form contributes to a conversation. But, often, the inquiry delivers a necessary truth. For example, if we are inquiring whether a particular bird, Tweety, is a woodpecker, and discover that it is, then our inquiry concluding in this fact would conclude in a necessity, and the form “Tweety is a woodpecker” expresses this necessary truth. Still, whether Tweety is a woodpecker seems a perfectly legitimate object of study, and the answers we accrue can be informative. But the dominant model of inquiry (Stalnaker, 1978, 1984) treats this situation as linguistically deviant, and diagnoses our ignorance and subsequent discovery as metalinguistic: we were ignorant, and ultimately discovered something, about the meaning of our terms. Rather than linguistic deviation, we argue this situation is the norm, and one that calls for an alternative model of inquiry. This paper develops such a model. It shows that to capture how agents can learn something informative about the world—and not merely language—even when inquiry concerns necessary facts, it’s key to track how moves in discourse contribute public content onto the conversational record, but also, crucially, how those moves are connected by coherence relations to one another and to real-world situations they are about. This allows us to capture that utterances contribute determinate, public content, while representing the information states of the interlocutors who may have only partial access to the evidence and content of the conversation, without making their ignorance metalinguistic. It lets us give precise explanations why some discourses can be transparently convincing in the conclusions they underwrite. The model thus precisifies the role of public context and shared content in anchoring an inquiry. It allows for imperfect tracking of linguistic contributions that are binding for how inquiry unfolds, and it allows for an inquiry into the status of necessary truths to be both informative, and involve empirical, rather than metalinguistic, ignorance.

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