A New Theory of Counterfactual Conditionals

Dissertation, University of Florida (2000)

In Fact, Fiction and Forecast, Nelson Goodman describes the Problem of Counterfactual Conditionals as the problem of defining "the circumstances under which a given counterfactual holds while the opposing [indicative] conditional with the contrary consequent fails to hold." Of course, this definition of the problem assumes the distinction between counterfactual/subjunctive and indicative conditionals that is traditionally made by philosophers and logicians. ;In this dissertation, I advance a novel account of the semantics of so-called subjunctive or counterfactual conditionals that denies the traditional distinction between two kinds of conditionals. I note that the conditionals that philosophers and logicians usually refer to as subjunctive or counterfactual are invariably marked by an unusual use of tense. Auxiliary verbs such as 'were', 'had', and 'would' appear in such conditionals where, it seems, they would not normally appear in so-called non-subjunctive cases. I argue that the conditionals that philosophers call subjunctive or counterfactual are a special sort of tensed indicative conditional and require no unusual semantic treatment. I illustrate how these so-called subjunctive conditionals can be treated in a truth-conditional semantics for a natural language. The past-tensed verbs that appear in their protases I take at face value, as about past events and states, and the 'would' that almost invariably appears in their apodoses as a relativized future modal . The standard interpretations of such conditionals I treat as the result of the pragmatic implications expected from this interpretation. By denying the traditional distinction, I dissolve the problem of counterfactual. conditionals as it is traditionally described, and I provide a framework for more fruitful theorizing about these conditionals
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