The presupposition of subjunctive conditionals

Authors
Kai Von Fintel
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Abstract
Why are some conditionals subjunctive? It is often assumed that at least one crucial difference is that subjunctive conditionals presuppose that their antecedent is false, that they are counterfactual (Lakoff 1970). The traditional theory has apparently been refuted. Perhaps the clearest counter-example is one given by Alan Anderson (1951: 37): If Jones had taken arsenic, he would have shown just exactly those symptoms which he does in fact show. A typical place to use such a subjunctive conditional would be in the course of an argument that tries to bolster the hypothesis that Jones did in fact take arsenic. But then it would of course be self-defeating to presuppose that the hypothesis is false. Thus, something else must be going on.
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