'If', 'Unless', and Quantification

In R. Stainton & C. Viger (eds.), Compositionality, Context, and Semantic Values (2008)
Higginbotham (1986) argues that conditionals embedded under quantifiers (as in ‘no student will succeed if they goof off’) constitute a counterexample to the thesis that natural language is semantically compositional. More recently, Higginbotham (2003) and von Fintel and Iatridou (2002) have suggested that compositionality can be upheld, but only if we assume the validity of the principle of Conditional Excluded Middle. I argue that these authors’ proposals deliver unsatisfactory results for conditionals that, at least intuitively, do not appear to obey Conditional Excluded Middle. Further, there is no natural way to extend their accounts to conditionals containing ‘unless’. I propose instead an account that takes both ‘if’ and ‘unless’ statements to restrict the quantifiers in whose scope they occur, while also contributing a covert modal element to the semantics. In providing this account, I also offer a semantics for unquantified statements containing ‘unless’.
Keywords Compositionality  Quantification  Conditionals  Unless
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