Graduate studies at Western
|Abstract||Robert Stalnaker’s formal semantics for his indicative conditional (which his 1975 paper takes over from his 1968 paper and Stalnaker and Thomason 1968) validate modus ponens, as one might expect. But they do so at the cost of a tension between his philosophical remarks in his 1975 paper and his formal constraints. Stalnaker commits himself to the following: he defines a “context set” as “the possible worlds not ruled out by the presupposed background information” (Stalnaker 1975 p 142). He later states a “pragmatic principle” that “normally a speaker is concerned only with possible worlds within the context set, since this set is defined as the set of possible worlds among which the speaker wishes to distinguish. So it is at least a normal expectation that the selection function should turn first to these worlds before considering counterfactual worlds—those presupposed to be non-actual” (p 144). Then two paragraphs later, in apparent reference to this principle he says “I would expect that the pragmatic principle stated above should hold without exception for indicative conditionals”. Yet when the actual world is not one in which the presuppositions all hold, from his definition of the “context set” it is not among the worlds of the context set, and elsewhere in his 1975 as well as his 1968 he stipulates that the selection function given the actual world and an antecedent true at the actual world yields the actual world (p 144 of Stalnaker 1975, condition 3 on p 104 of Stalnaker 1968). These remarks on the face of it lead to inconsistency if it is possible to presuppose falsehoods: for then the presuppositions create a context set which does not include the actual world (but may perfectly well nevertheless contain some possible worlds in which the antecedent of a given conditional holds when that antecedent is also actually true). In evaluating a conditional with a true antecedent which also holds in some world in the context set, Stalnaker enjoins us to employ a selection function which selects the actual world, and to (“without exception”) employ a selection function which selects some world in the context set in preference to any world outside it..|
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