On similarity in counterfactuals

Linguistics and Philosophy 32 (3):245-278 (2009)
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Abstract

This paper investigates the interpretation of counterfactual conditionals. The main goal of the paper is to provide an account of the semantic role of similarity in the evaluation of counterfactuals. The paper proposes an analysis according to which counterfactuals are treated as predications “ de re ” over past situations in the actual world. The relevant situations enter semantic composition via the interpretation of tense. Counterfactuals are treated as law-like conditionals with de re predication over particular facts. Similarity with respect to particular facts is ensured by the semantics of tense in interaction with the modal, while the modal itself is responsible for invoking laws. In the paper, various arguments are provided to support a local view of similarity over the global approach found in semantics along the line of Lewis’s and Stalnaker’s. Arguments are also provided tying the evaluation of similarity to the interpretation of tense. Finally, arguments are provided to show that in key cases, the approaches make comparable predictions.

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