We will look at several theories of indicative conditionals grouped into three categories: those that base its semantics on its logical counterpart (the material conditional); intensional analyses, which bring in alternative possible worlds; and a third subgroup which denies that indicative conditionals express propositions at all. We will also look at some problems for each kind of approach.
In the 1960’s, both Montague (e.g. 1970, 222) and Grice (1975, 24) famously declared that natural languages were not so different from the formal languages of logic as people had thought. Montague sought to comprehend the grammars of both within a single theory, and Grice sought to explain away apparent divergences as due to the fact that the former, but not the latter, were used for conversation. But, if we confine our concept of logic to first order predicate logic (or (...) FOPL) with identity (that is, omitting everything which is not required for the pursuit of mathematical truth), then there are of course many other aspects, in addition to its use in conversation, which distinguish natural language from logic. Conventional implicature, information structure (including presupposition), tense and time reference, and the expression of causation and inference are several of these, which combine as well with syntactic complexities which are unnecessary in first order predicate logic. In this paper I will argue that such distinguishing aspects should be more fully exploited to explain the differences between the material conditional of logic and the indicative conditional of one natural language (English). (shrink)
The material interpretation of conditionals is commonly recognized as involving some paradoxical results. I here argue that the truth functional approach to natural language is the reason for the inadequacy of this material interpretation, since the truth or falsity of some pair of statements ‘p’ and ‘q’ cannot per se be decisive for the truth or falsity of a conditional relation ‘if p then q’. This inadequacy also affects the ability of the overall formal system to establish whether or not (...) arguments involving conditionals are valid. I also demonstrate that the Paradox of Indicative Conditionals does not actually involve a paradox, but instead contains some paralogistic elements that make it appear to be a paradox. The discussion of the paradox in this paper further reveals that the material interpretation of conditionals adversely affects the treatment of disjunctions. -/- Much has been said about these matters in the literature that point in the same direction. However, there seems to be some reluctance against fully complying with the arguments against the truth functional account of conditionals, since many of the alternative accounts rely on the material conditional, or at least on an understanding of the conditional as a function of antecedent and consequent in a similar sense as the material conditional. My argument against truth functionality indicates that it may in general involve similar problems to treat conditionals as such functions, whether one deals with theories of truth, assertability or probability. (shrink)
A study is reported testing two hypotheses about a close parallel relation between indicative conditionals, if A then B , and conditional bets, I bet you that if A then B . The first is that both the indicative conditional and the conditional bet are related to the conditional probability, P(B|A). The second is that de Finetti's three-valued truth table has psychological reality for both types of conditional— true , false , or void for indicative conditionals and win , lose (...) , or void for conditional bets. The participants were presented with an array of chips in two different colours and two different shapes, and an indicative conditional or a conditional bet about a random chip. They had to make judgements in two conditions: either about the chances of making the indicative conditional true or false or about the chances of winning or losing the conditional bet. The observed distributions of responses in the two conditions were generally related to the conditional probability, supporting the first hypothesis. In addition, a majority of participants in further conditions chose the third option, “void”, when the antecedent of the conditional was false, supporting the second hypothesis. (shrink)
It is generally agreed that constructions of the form “if P, Q” are capable of conveying a number of different relations between antecedent and consequent, with pragmatics playing a central role in determining these relations. Controversy concerns what the conventional contribution of the if-clause is, how it constrains the pragmatic processes, and what those processes are. In this essay, I begin to argue that the conventional contribution of if-clauses to semantics is exhausted by the fact that these clauses introduce a (...) proposition without presenting it as true so that the consequent can be understood in relation to it. Given our cognitive interests in such non-truth-presentational introductions, conditionals will make salient the wide but nevertheless disciplined variety of contents that we naturally attribute to them; no further substantial constraints of the sorts proposed by standard theories of conditionals are needed to explain the phenomena. If this is correct, it provides prima facie evidence for a radically contextualist account of conditionals according to which conditionals have no truth-evaluable or intuitively complete content absent some contextually provided, sufficiently salient relation between antecedent and consequent. (shrink)
This paper is concerned with Sir Peter Strawson’s critical discussion of Paul Grice’s defence of the material implication analysis of conditionals. It argues that although Strawson’s own ‘consequentialist’ suggestion concerning the meaning of conditionals cannot be correct, a related and radically contextualist account is able to both account for the phenomena that motivated Strawson’s consequentialism, and to undermine the material implication analysis by providing a simpler account of the processes that we go through when interpreting conditionals.
This paper explores the possibility that causal decision theory can be formulated in terms of probabilities of conditionals. It is argued that a generalized Stalnaker semantics in combination with an underlying branching time structure not only provides the basis for a plausible account of the semantics of indicative conditionals, but also that the resulting conditionals have properties that make them well-suited as a basis for formulating causal decision theory. Decision theory (at least if we omit the frills) is not an (...) esoteric science, however unfamiliar it may seem to an outsider. Rather it is a systematic exposition of the consequences of certain well-chosen platitudes about belief, desire, preference and choice. It is the very core of our common-sense theory of persons, dissected out and elegantly systematized. (David Lewis, Synthese 23:331–344, 1974, p. 337). A small distortion in the analysis of the conditional may create spurious problems with the analysis of other concepts. So if the facts about usage favor one among a number of subtly different theories, it may be important to determine which one it is. (Robert Stalnaker, A Defense of Conditional Excluded Middle, pp. 87–104, 1980, p. 87). (shrink)
This paper discusses an important puzzle about the semantics of indicative conditionals and deontic necessity modals (should, ought, etc.): the Miner Puzzle (Parfit, ms; Kolodny and MacFarlane, J Philos 107:115–143, 2010). Rejecting modus ponens for the indicative conditional, as others have proposed, seems to solve a version of the puzzle, but is actually orthogonal to the puzzle itself. In fact, I prove that the puzzle arises for a variety of sophisticated analyses of the truth-conditions of indicative conditionals. A comprehensive solution (...) requires rethinking the relationship between relevant information (what we know) and practical rankings of possibilities and actions (what to do). I argue that (i) relevant information determines whether considerations of value may be treated as reasons for actions that realize them and against actions that don’t, (ii) incorporating this normative fact requires a revision of the standard ordering semantics for weak (but not for strong) deontic necessity modals, and (iii) an off-the-shelf semantics for weak deontic necessity modals, due to von Fintel and Iatridou, which distinguishes “basic” and “higher-order” ordering sources, and interprets weak deontic necessity modals relative to both, is well-suited to this task. The prominence of normative considerations in our proposal suggests a more general methodological lesson: formal semantic analysis of natural language modals expressing normative concepts demands that close attention be paid to the nature of the underlying normative phenomena. (shrink)
The logical properties of the 'if-then' connective of ordinary English differ markedly from the logical properties of the material conditional of classical, two-valued logic. This becomes apparent upon examination of arguments in conversational English which involve (noncounterfactual) usages of if-then'. A nonclassical system of propositional logic is presented, whose conditional connective has logical properties approximating those of 'if-then'. This proposed system reduces, in a sense, to the classical logic. Moreover, because it is equivalent to a certain nonstandard three-valued logic, its (...) decision procedure is almost as efficient as that of the classical logic. It therefore provides a rational and convenient system in which to formalize English arguments. (shrink)
In "Against the Indicative," AUSTRALASIAN JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY 72 (1994): 17-26, and more recently in "Classifying `Conditionals': the Traditional Way is Wrong", ANALYSIS 60 (2000): 147, V.H. Dudman argues that (a) `If Oswald didn't shoot Kennedy then someone else did' and (b) `If Oswald doesn't shoot Kennedy then someone else will' should not be classified together as "indicative conditionals." Dudman relies on the assumption that (a) is entailed by (c) `Someone shot Kennedy', whereas (b) is not entailed by (d) `Someone (...) will shoot Kennedy'. I argue that the same reasoning which shows that (d) does not entail (b) also shows that (c) does not entail (a). One upshot is that Dudman's and Mellor's respective interpretations of so-called past indicative conditionals cannot be correct. (shrink)
kind of joke to ask what is the case if the antecedent is false—“And where are the biscuits if I don’t want any?”, “And what’s on PBS if I’m not interested?”, “And who shot Kennedy if that’s not what I’m asking?”. With normal indicative conditionals like.
I take issue with two claims of DeRose: Conditionals of deliberation must not depend on backtracking grounds. ‘Were’ed-up conditionals coincide with future-directed indicative conditionals; the only difference in their meaning is that they must not depend on backtracking grounds. I use Egan’s counterexamples to causal decision theory to contest the first and an example of backtracking reasoning by David Lewis to contest the second claim. I tentatively outline a rivaling account of ‘were’ed-up conditionals which combines features of the standard analysis (...) of counterfactuals with the contextual relevance of the corresponding indicative conditionals. (shrink)
Section 1 briefly examines three theories of indicative conditionals. The Suppositional Theory is defended, and shown to be incompatible with understanding conditionals in terms of truth conditions. Section 2 discusses the psychological evidence about conditionals reported by Over and Evans (this volume). Section 3 discusses the syntactic grounds offered by Haegeman (this volume) for distinguishing two sorts of conditional.
This essay provides an intuitive technique that illustrates why a conditional must be true when the antecedent is false and the consequent is either true or false. Other techniques for explaining the conditional’s truth table are unsatisfactory.
In his 1987 book _Conditionals, Frank Jackson presents an argument to the effect that the indicative conditionals of natural language have the same truth conditions as the material conditional of truth-functional logic. This Jackson refers to as the "paradox of indicative conditionals." I offer a solution to this paradox by arguing that some conditionals that appear to be in the indicative mood are actually subjunctives, to which the paradox does not apply. I support this proposed solution with some historical observations (...) on the evolution of the English verb phrase. (edited). (shrink)
Conditionals are central to inference. Before people can draw inferences about a natural language conditional, they must interpret its meaning. We investigated interpretation of uncertain conditionals using a probabilistic truth table task, focussing on (i) conditional event, (ii) material conditional, and (iii) conjunction interpretations. The order of object (shape) and feature (color) in each conditional’s antecedent and consequent was varied between participants. The conditional event was the dominant interpretation, followed by conjunction, and took longer to process than conjunction (mean diﬀerence (...) 500 ms). Material conditional responses were rare. The proportion of conditional event responses increased from around 40% at the beginning of the task to nearly 80% at the end, with 55% of participants showing a qualitative shift of interpretation. Shifts to the conditional event occurred later in the feature-object order than in the object-feature order. We discuss the results in terms of insight and suggest implications for theories of interpretation. (shrink)
In this article, I present a schema for generating counterexamples to the argument form known as Hypothetical Syllogism (HS) with indicative conditionals. If my schema for generating counterexamples to HS works as I think it does, then HS is invalid for indicative conditionals.
Two experiments (N1 = 141, N2 = 40) investigate two versions of Aristotle’s Thesis for the first time. Aristotle’s Thesis is a negated conditional, which consists of one propositional variable with a negation either in the antecedent (version 1) or in the consequent (version 2). This task allows to infer if people interpret indicative conditionals as material conditionals or as conditional events. In the first experiment I investigate between-participants the two versions of Aristotle’s Thesis crossed with abstract versus concrete task (...) material. The modal response for all four groups is consistent with the conditional event and inconsistent with the material conditional interpretation. This observation is replicated in the second experiment. Moreover, the second experiment rules out scope ambiguities of the negation of conditionals. Both experiments provide new evidence against the material conditional interpretation of conditionals and support the conditional event interpretation. Finally, I discuss implications for modeling indicative conditionals and the relevance of this work for experimental philosophy. (shrink)
The semantic theory of expressivism has been applied within metaethics to evaluative words like ‘good’ and ‘wrong’, within epistemology to words like ‘knows’, and within the philosophy of language, to words like ‘true’, to epistemic modals like ‘might’, ‘must’, and ‘probably’, and to indicative conditionals. For each topic, expressivism promises the advantage of giving us the resources to say what sentences involving these words mean by telling us what it is to believe these things, rather than by telling us what (...) it would be for them to be true. This, in turn, absolves these theories of the burden of holding that there is any general answer to what it is for these sentences to be true. However, expressivism is famously subject to a deep and general problem about how to account for the meanings of complex sentences – a problem variously known as the ‘Frege-Geach’ or ‘embedding’ problem. In this paper I will be interested in whether there are reasons to think that the embedding problem looks less difficult for some of these applications for expressivism, than for others. In particular, in this paper I will be interested in the prospects for expressivism about what I will call epistemics – a class which I take to include epistemic modals like ‘might’ and ‘must’, sentential adverbs like ‘probably’, adjectives like ‘likely’ and ‘improbable’, and so-called ‘open’ indicative conditionals like ‘if the Fed doesn’t intervene, then the economy will enter a deflationary spiral’. There are several reasons to be particularly interested in expressivism about epistemics, relating both to the philosophical payoffs of such a view, and relating to the technical prospects for making it work. In other work I’ve touched on the especially interesting philosophical payoffs which make expressivism about epistemics interesting; in this paper I will be interested primarily in evaluating the possibility that there are better prospects for making expressivism about epistemics work than there are for making expressivism work about other topics. There are two main reasons why one might suspect that expressivism about epistemics will have better prospects than expressivism about many other topics, including in metaethics.. (shrink)
In this paper I will be concerned with the question as to whether expressivist theories of meaning can coherently be combined with deflationist theories of truth. After outlining what I take expressivism to be and what I take deflationism about truth to be, I’ll explain why I don’t take the general version of this question to be very hard, and why the answer is ‘yes’. Having settled that, I’ll move on to what I take to be a more pressing and (...) interesting version of the question, arising from a prima facie tension between deflationism about truth and the motivations underlying expressivism for what I take to be two of its most promising applications: to indicative conditionals and epistemic modals. Here I’ll argue that the challenge is substantive, but that there is no conceptual obstacle to its being met, provided that one’s expressivism takes the right form. (shrink)
Some left-nested indicative conditionals are hard to interpret while others seem fine. Some proponents of the view that indicative conditionals have No Truth Values (NTV) use their view to explain why some left-nestings are hard to interpret: the embedded conditional does not express the truth conditions needed by the embedding conditional. Left-nestings that seem fine are then explained away as cases of ad hoc, pragmatic interpretation. We challenge this explanation. The standard reasons for NTV about indicative conditionals (triviality results, Gibbardian (...) standoffs, etc.) extend naturally to NTV about biconditionals. So NTVers about conditionals should also be NTVers about biconditionals. But biconditionals embed much more freely than conditionals. If NTV explains why some left-nested conditionals are hard to interpret, why do biconditionals embed successfully in the very contexts where conditionals do not embed? (shrink)
A uniform theory of conditionals is one which compositionally captures the behavior of both indicative and subjunctive conditionals without positing ambiguities. This paper raises new problems for the closest thing to a uniform analysis in the literature (Stalnaker, Philosophia, 5, 269–286 (1975)) and develops a new theory which solves them. I also show that this new analysis provides an improved treatment of three phenomena (the import-export equivalence, reverse Sobel-sequences and disjunctive antecedents). While these results concern central issues in the study (...) of conditionals, broader themes in the philosophy of language and formal semantics are also engaged here. This new analysis exploits a dynamic conception of meaning where the meaning of a symbol is its potential to change an agent’s mental state (or the state of a conversation) rather than being the symbol’s content (e.g. the proposition it expresses). The analysis of conditionals is also built on the idea that the contrast between subjunctive and indicative conditionals parallels a contrast between revising and consistently extending some body of information. (shrink)
Schulz has shown that the suppositional view of indicative conditionals leads to a corresponding view of epistemic modals. But his case backfires: the resulting theory of epistemic modals gets the facts wrong, and so we end up with a good argument against the suppositional view. I show how and why a dynamic view of indicative conditionals leads to a better theory of epistemic modals.
Chalmers and Hájek argue that on an epistemic reading of Ramsey’s test for the rational acceptability of conditionals, it is faulty. They claim that applying the test to each of a certain pair of conditionals requires one to think that one is omniscient or infallible, unless one forms irrational Moore-paradoxical beliefs. I show that this claim is false. The epistemic Ramsey test is indeed faulty. Applying it requires that one think of anyone as all-believing and if one is rational, to (...) think of anyone as infallible-if-rational. But this is not because of Moore-paradoxical beliefs. Rather it is because applying the test requires a certain supposition about conscious belief. It is important to understand the nature of this supposition. (shrink)
In this paper we introduce a theoretical framework and a logical application for analysing the semantics and pragmatics of contrastive conjunctions in natural language. It is shown how expressions like although, nevertheless, yet, and but are semantically definable as connectives using an operator for implication in natural language and how similar pragmatic principles affect the behaviour of both contrastive conjunctions and indicative conditionals. Following previous proposals, conditions on contrast in a conjunction are analysed as presuppositions of die conjunction. Further linguistic (...) evidence leads to a distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive connectives of contrast, and consequently between direct and indirect contrast, which are given a precise definition. A general interface for a theory of contrast using possible world semantics for implication is then presented. As a test case, we show how this interface is applicable to the semantics for conditionals that was introduced by Veltman in his article 'Data semantics and the pragmatics of indicative conditionals' (1986). This application yields an extension of Veltman's Data Logic, called Contrastive Data Logic Once appropriate modifications are added to Veltman's pragmatic considerations, we show that contrastive data logic provides an adequate tool for the analysis of substantial linguistic data concerning contrast and implication in natural language. (shrink)
We present an approach to combining three areas of research which we claim are all based on information theory: knowledge representation in Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science using prototypes, plans, or schemata; formal semantics in natural language, especially the semantics of the `if-then' conditional construct; and the logic of subjunctive conditionals first developed using a possible worlds semantics by Stalnaker and Lewis. The basic premise of the paper is that both schema-based inference and the semantics of conditionals are based on (...) Dretske's notion of information flow and Barwise and Perry's notion of a constraint in situation semantics. That is, the connection between antecedent and consequent of a conditional `if were the case then would be the case' is an informational relation holding with respect to a pragmatically determined utterance situation. The bridge between AI and conditional logic is that a prototype or planning schema represents a situation type, and the background assumptions underlying the application of a schema in a situation correspond to channel conditions on the flow of information. Adapting the work of Stalnaker and Lewis, the semantics of conditionals is modeled by a refinement ordering on situations: a conditional `if then ' holds with respect to a situation if all the minimal refinements of the situation that support also support . We present new logics of situations, information flow, and subjunctive conditionals based on three-valued partial logic that formalizes our approach, and conclude with a discussion of the resulting theory of conditionals, including the "paradoxes" of conditional implication, the difference between truth conditions and assertability conditions for subjunctive conditionals, and the relationship between subjunctive and indicative conditionals. (shrink)
This is a study in the meaning of natural language probability operators, sentential operators such as probably and likely. We ask what sort of formal structure is required to model the logic and semantics of these operators. Along the way we investigate their deep connections to indicative conditionals and epistemic modals, probe their scalar structure, observe their sensitivity to contex- tually salient contrasts, and explore some of their scopal idiosyncrasies.