'Might' counterfactuals

Abstract
A ‘might’ counterfactual is a sentence of the form ‘If it had been the case that A, it might have been the case that C’. Recently, John Hawthorne has argued that the truth of many ‘might’ counterfactuals precludes the truth of most ‘would’ counterfactuals. I examine the semantics of ‘might’ counterfactuals, with one eye towards defusing this argument, but mostly with the aim of understanding this interesting class of sentences better.
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2009-05-27
Cross-posted from http://mleseminar.wordpress.com/

...

This week we discussed some unpublished material by Antony on ‘might’ counterfactuals. The handout is here, and the paper is here.

We thought a bit about cases in which ‘could’ and ‘might’ come apart. In the paper, Antony discussed sentences like

33b)  If we’d left the gate open, the dog could have got out; yet if we’d left the gate open, it isn’t the case that the dog might have got out.

The felicity of such sentences seems to show that at least some ‘might’ counterfactuals shouldn’t be analysed in terms of ‘could’, but instead should be given an epistemic reading. Antony isn’t averse to this idea – in fact, his final view is that ‘might’ is ambiguous in counterfactual contexts between the epistemic reading and the ability reading. However, this does invite the further question of what determines the appropriate reading for some given ‘might’ counterfactual.

Fron 33b we naturally conclude though the dog has the ability to get out, it is ... (read more)