Authors
Yael Loewenstein
University of Houston
Abstract
The apparent consistency of Sobel sequences (example below) famously motivated David Lewis to defend a variably strict conditional semantics for counterfactuals. (a) If Sophie had gone to the parade she would have seen Pedro. (b) If Sophie had gone to the parade and been stuck behind someone tall she would not have seen Pedro. But if the order of the counterfactuals in a Sobel sequence is reversed – in the example, if (b) is asserted prior to (a) – the second counterfactual asserted no longer rings true. This is the Heim sequence problem. That the order of assertion makes this difference is surprising on the variably strict account. Some argue that this is reason to reject the Lewis-Stalnaker semantics outright. Others argue that the problem motivates a contextualist rendering of counterfactuals. Still others maintain that the explanation for the phenomenon is merely pragmatic. I argue that none of these are right, and defend a novel way to understand the phenomenon. My proposal avoids the problems faced by the alternative analyses and enjoys independent support. There is, however, a difficulty for my view: it entails that many ordinarily-accepted counterfactuals are not true. I argue that this (apparent) cost is acceptable.
Keywords counterfactuals  semantics of counterfactuals  Heim sequences  reverse Sobel sequences  counterfactual contextualism  variably strict conditional semantics  counterfactual skepticism
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DOI 10.1080/00048402.2020.1792954
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References found in this work BETA

Counterfactual Scorekeeping.Anthony S. Gillies - 2007 - Linguistics and Philosophy 30 (3):329 - 360.
Elusive Counterfactuals.Karen S. Lewis - 2016 - Noûs 50 (2):286-313.
A Probabilistic Semantics for Counterfactuals. Part B.Hannes Leitgeb - 2012 - Review of Symbolic Logic 5 (1):85-121.
Quantifiers, Knowledge, and Counterfactuals.Jonathan Ichikawa - 2011 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 82 (2):287 - 313.

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