This collection introduces the reader to some of the most interesting current work on conditionals. Particular attention is paid to possible world semantics for conditionals, the role of conditional probability in helping us to understand conditionals, implicature and the material conditional, and subjunctive versus indicative conditionals. Contributors include V.H. Dudman, Dorothy Edgington, Nelson Goodman, H.P. Grice, David Lewis, and Robert Stalnaker.
Conditionals has at its center an extended essay on this problematic and much-debated subject in the philosophy of language and logic, which the widely respected Oxford philosopher Michael Woods had been preparing for publication at the time of his death in 1993. It appears here edited by his eminent colleague David Wiggins, and is accompanied by a commentary specially written by a leading expert on the topic, Dorothy Edgington. This masterly and original treatment of conditionals will demand the (...) attention of all philosophers working in this area. (shrink)
Many conditionals seem to convey the existence of a link between their antecedent and consequent. We draw on a recently proposed typology of conditionals to argue for an old philosophical idea according to which the link is inferential in nature. We show that the proposal has explanatory force by presenting empirical results on the evidential meaning of certain English and Dutch modal expressions.
This paper extends Kripke’s theory of truth to a language with a variably strict conditional operator, of the kind that Stalnaker and others have used to represent ordinary indicative conditionals of English. It then shows how to combine this with a different and independently motivated conditional operator, to get a substantial logic of restricted quantification within naive truth theory.
We argue that distinct conditionals—conditionals that are governed by different logics—are needed to formalize the rules of Truth Introduction and Truth Elimination. We show that revision theory, when enriched with the new conditionals, yields an attractive theory of truth. We go on to compare this theory with one recently proposed by Hartry Field.
Conditional sentences are among the most intriguing and puzzling features of language, and analysis of their meaning and function has important implications for, and uses in, many areas of philosophy. Jonathan Bennett, one of the world's leading experts, distils many years' work and teaching into this Philosophical Guide to Conditionals, the fullest and most authoritative treatment of the subject. An ideal introduction for undergraduates with a philosophical grounding, it also offers a rich source of illumination and stimulation for graduate (...) students and professional philosophers. (shrink)
The authors outline a theory of conditionals of the form If A then C and If A then possibly C. The 2 sorts of conditional have separate core meanings that refer to sets of possibilities. Knowledge, pragmatics, and semantics can modulate these meanings. Modulation can add information about temporal and other relations between antecedent and consequent. It can also prevent the construction of possibilities to yield 10 distinct sets of possibilities to which conditionals can refer. The mental representation (...) of a conditional normally makes explicit only the possibilities in which its antecedent is true, yielding other possibilities implicitly. Reasoners tend to focus on the explicit possibilities. The theory predicts the major phenomena of understanding and reasoning with conditionals. (shrink)
In an earlier paper in these pages (2008), we explored the puzzling link between dispositions and conditionals. First, we rehearsed the standard counterexamples to the simple conditional analysis and the refined conditional analysis defended by David Lewis. Second, we attacked a tempting response to these counterexamples: what we called the ‘getting specific strategy’. Third, we presented a series of structural considerations that pose problems for many attempts to understand the link between dispositions and conditionals. Finally, we developed our (...) own account of this link, which avoids all of the standard counterexamples and comports with the relevant structural considerations. In this paper, we reply to some objections. (shrink)
Moti Mizrahi (2013) presents some novel counterexamples to Hypothetical Syllogism (HS) for indicative conditionals. I show that they are not compelling as they neglect the complicated ways in which conditionals and modals interact. I then briefly outline why HS should nevertheless be rejected.
I set out and defend a view on indicative conditionals that I call “indexical relativism ”. The core of the view is that which proposition is expressed by an utterance of a conditional is a function of the speaker’s context and the assessor’s context. This implies a kind of relativism, namely that a single utterance may be correctly assessed as true by one assessor and false by another.
A uniform theory of conditionals is one which compositionally captures the behavior of both indicative and subjunctive conditionals without positing ambiguities. This paper raises new problems for the closest thing to a uniform analysis in the literature (Stalnaker, Philosophia, 5, 269–286 (1975)) and develops a new theory which solves them. I also show that this new analysis provides an improved treatment of three phenomena (the import-export equivalence, reverse Sobel-sequences and disjunctive antecedents). While these results concern central issues in (...) the study of conditionals, broader themes in the philosophy of language and formal semantics are also engaged here. This new analysis exploits a dynamic conception of meaning where the meaning of a symbol is its potential to change an agent’s mental state (or the state of a conversation) rather than being the symbol’s content (e.g. the proposition it expresses). The analysis of conditionals is also built on the idea that the contrast between subjunctive and indicative conditionals parallels a contrast between revising and consistently extending some body of information. (shrink)
The fact that the standard probabilistic calculus does not define probabilities for sentences with embedded conditionals is a fundamental problem for the probabilistic theory of conditionals. Several authors have explored ways to assign probabilities to such sentences, but those proposals have come under criticism for making counterintuitive predictions. This paper examines the source of the problematic predictions and proposes an amendment which corrects them in a principled way. The account brings intuitions about counterfactual conditionals to bear on (...) the interpretation of indicatives and relies on the notion of causal (in)dependence. (shrink)
Over the last two decades, William Lycan’s work on the semantics of conditionals has been distinguished by his careful attention to the connection between syntax and semantics, and more generally by his impeccable methodology. Lycan takes compositionality seriously, so he requires that the meaning of compound expressions like ‘even if’ be a combination of the constituent expressions, here ‘even’ and ‘if’. After reading his work, it’s hard to take seriously work that does not share this methodology.
This paper discusses and relates two puzzles for indicative conditionals: a puzzle about indeterminacy and a puzzle about triviality. Both puzzles arise because of Ramsey's Observation, which states that the probability of a conditional is equal to the conditional probability of its consequent given its antecedent. The puzzle of indeterminacy is the problem of reconciling this fact about conditionals with the fact that they seem to lack truth values at worlds where their antecedents are false. The puzzle of (...) triviality is the problem of reconciling Ramsey's Observation with various triviality proofs which establish that Ramsey's Observation cannot hold in full generality. In the paper, I argue for a solution to the indeterminacy puzzle and then apply the resulting theory to the triviality puzzle. On the theory I defend, the truth conditions of indicative conditionals are highly context dependent and such that an indicative conditional may be indeterminate in truth value at each possible world throughout some region of logical space and yet still have a nonzero probability throughout that region. (shrink)
The paper takes an expressivistic perspective, i.e., it takes conditionals of all sorts to primarily express conditional beliefs. Therefore it is based on what it takes to be the best account of conditional belief, namely ranking theory. It proposes not to start looking at the bewildering linguistic phenomenology, but first to systematically study the various options of expressing features of conditional belief. Those options by far transcend the Ramsey test and include relevancies of various kinds and in particular the (...) so-called “circumstances are such that” reading, under which also all conditionals representing causal relations can be subsumed. In this way a unifying perspective on the many kinds of conditionals is offered. The final section explains the considerable extent to which truth conditions for conditionals, which may seem lost in the expressivistic or epistemic perspective, may be recovered. (shrink)
Practical deliberation often involves conditional judgements about what will (likely) happen if certain alternatives are pursued. It is widely assumed that the conditionals useful in deliberation are counterfactual or subjunctive conditionals. Against this, I argue that the conditionals of deliberation are indicatives. Key to the argument is an account of the relation between 'straightforward' future-directed conditionals like ' If the house is not painted, it will soon look quite shabby' and * "w e r e ' (...) ' e d F D C s like ' If the house were not to be painted, it would soon look quite shabby': an account on which both of these types of FDCs are grouped with the indicatives for semantic treatment and on which, while conditionals of both types are properly used in means/ends deliberations, those of the ' were'ed-up variety are especially well suited for that purpose. (shrink)
We examine the notion of conditionals and the role of conditionals in inductive logics and arguments. We identify three mistakes commonly made in the study of, or motivation for, non-classical logics. A nonmonotonic consequence relation based on evidential probability is formulated. With respect to this acceptance relation some rules of inference of System P are unsound, and we propose refinements that hold in our framework.
I give an account of the compositional semantics of unconditionals that explains their relationship to if -conditionals in the Lewis/Kratzer/Heim tradition. Unconditionals involve an alternative-denoting adjunct that supplies domain restrictions pointwise to a main-clause operator such as a modal. The differences from if -clauses follow from the structure of the adjuncts; both are conditionals in the Lewisian sense. In the course of treating unconditionals, I provide a concrete implementation of conditionals where conditional adjuncts in general are a (...) species of correlative, and show what detaching this hypothesis from if involves. (shrink)
The appropriateness, or acceptability, of a conditional does not just ‘go with’ the corresponding conditional probability. A condition of dependence is required as well. In this paper a particular notion of dependence is proposed. It is shown that under both a forward causal and a backward evidential reading of the conditional, this appropriateness condition reduces to conditional probability under some natural circumstances. Because this is in particular the case for the so-called diagnostic reading of the conditional, this analysis might help (...) to explain some of Douven and Verbrugge’s empirical observations. (shrink)
A number of papers have argued in favour of the material account of indicative conditionals, but typically they either concentrate on defending the account from the charge that it has counterintuitive consequences, or else focus on some particular positive argument in favour of the theory. In this paper, I survey the various positive arguments that can be given, presenting simple versions where possible and showing the connections between them. I conclude with some methodological considerations.
Higginbotham (1986) observed that quantified conditionals have a stronger meaning than might be expected, as attested by the apparent equivalence of examples like No student will pass if he goofs off and Every student will fail if he goofs off. Higginbotham's observation follows straightforwardly given the validity of conditional excluded middle (CEM; as observed by von Fintel & Iatridou 2002), and as such could be taken as evidence thereof (e.g. Williams forthcoming). However, the empirical status of CEM has been (...) disputed, and it is invalid under many prominent theories of conditionals—notably Lewis (1973) for counterfactuals, also Kratzer (1979, 1991). More acutely, Higginbotham's observation holds even for quantified counterparts of conditionals that appear not to obey CEM (Higginbotham 2003), and the standard way of explaining (away) such apparent counterexamples to the principle, à la Stalnaker (1981), does not directly yield an account of our apparent truth-conditional intuitions about the quantified counterparts (Leslie 2009). This article provides an explanation for the latter intuitions within Stalnaker's framework, the upshot being that CEM does remain a viable explanation, in principle, for Higginbotham's observation. (shrink)
Conditionals and conditional reasoning have been a long-standing focus of research across a number of disciplines, ranging from psychology through linguistics to philosophy. But almost no work has concerned itself with the question of how hearing or reading a conditional changes our beliefs. Given that we acquire much—perhaps most—of what we believe through the testimony of others, the simple matter of acquiring conditionals via others’ assertion of a conditional seems integral to any full understanding of the conditional and (...) conditional reasoning. In this paper we detail a number of basic intuitions about how beliefs might change in response to a conditional being uttered, and show how these are backed by behavioral data. In the remainder of the paper, we then show how these deceptively simple phenomena pose a fundamental challenge to present theoretical accounts of the conditional and conditional reasoning – a challenge which no account presently fully meets. (shrink)
The paper presents a non-monotonic inference relation on a language containing a conditional that satisfies the Ramsey Test. The logic is a weakening of classical logic and preserves many of the ‘paradoxes of implication’ associated with the material implication. It is argued, however, that once one makes the proper distinction between supposing that something is the case and accepting that it is the case, these ‘paradoxes’ cease to be counterintuitive. A representation theorem is provided where conditionals are given a (...) non-bivalent semantics and epistemic states are represented via preferential models. (shrink)
"If you turn left at the next corner, you will see a blue house at the end of the street." That sentence -- a conditional -- might be true even though it is possible that you will not see a blue house at the end of the street when you turn left at the next corner. A moving van may block your view; the house may have been painted pink; a crow might swoop down and peck out your eyes. Still, (...) in some contexts, we might ignore these possibilities and correctly assert the conditional. In this book, Christopher Gauker argues that such context-relativity is the key to understanding the semantics of conditionals. Contexts are defined as objective features of the situation in which a conversation takes place, and the semantic properties of sentences -- conditionals included -- are defined in terms of assertibility in a context. One of the primary goals of a theory of conditionals has to be to distinguish correctly between valid and invalid arguments containing conditionals. According to Gauker, an argument is valid if the conclusion is assertible in every context in which the premises are assertible. This runs counter to what Gauker sees as a systematic misreading of the data by other authors, who judge arguments to be invalid if they can think of a context in which the premises are judged true and some other context in which the conclusion is judged false. Different schools of thought on conditionals reflect fundamentally different approaches to semantics. Gauker offers his theory as a motive and test case for a distinctive kind of semantics that dispenses with reference relations and possible worlds. (shrink)
Practical deliberation often involves conditional judgements about what will happen if certain alternatives are pursued. It is widely assumed that the conditionals useful in deliberation are counterfactual or subjunctive conditionals. Against this, I argue that the conditionals of deliberation are indicatives. Key to the argument is an account of the relation between ‘straightforward’ future-directed conditionals like ‘If the house is not painted, it will soon look quite shabby’ and ‘ “were”ed-up’ FDCs like ‘If the house were (...) not to be painted, it would soon look quite shabby’: an account on which both of these types of FDCs are grouped with the indicatives for semantic treatment and on which, while conditionals of both types are properly used in means/ends deliberations, those of the ‘were’ed-up variety are especially well suited for that purpose. (shrink)
More than a decade of research has found strong evidence for P(if A, then C) = P(C|A) (“the Equation”). We argue, however, that this hypothesis provides an overly simplified picture due to its inability to account for relevance. We manipulated relevance in the evaluation of the probability and acceptability of indicative conditionals and found that relevance moderates the effect of P(C|A). This corroborates the Default and Penalty Hypothesis put forward in this paper. Finally, the probability and acceptability of concessive (...)conditionals (“Even if A, then still C”) were investigated and it was found that the Equation provides a better account of concessive conditionals than of indicatives across relevance manipulations. (shrink)
Case-based reasoning is a familiar method of evaluating sentences. But when applied to conditionals, it seems to lead to implausible conclusions. In this paper I argue that the problem arises from equating the probability of a conditional sentence on the evidential supposition of some condition with the conditional probability of the former, given the latter.
Making sense of our reasoning in disputes about necessary truths requires admitting nonvacuous counterpossibles. One class of these is the counteressentials, which ask us to make contrary to fact suppositions about essences. A popular strategy in accounting for nonvacuous counterpossibles is to extend the standard possible worlds semantics for subjunctive conditionals by the addition of impossible worlds. A conditional A □-> C is then taken to be true if all of the nearest A worlds are C worlds. I argue (...) that a straightforward extension of the standard possible worlds semantics to impossible worlds does not result in a viable account of counteressentials and propose an alternative covering law semantics for counteressentials. (shrink)
I propose an account of indicative conditionals that combines features of minimal change semantics and information semantics. As in information semantics, conditionals are interpreted relative to an information state in accordance with the Ramsey test idea: “if p then q” is supported at a state s iff q is supported at the hypothetical state s[p] obtained by restricting s to the p-worlds. However, information states are not modeled as simple sets of worlds, but by means of a Lewisian (...) system of spheres. Worlds in the inner sphere are considered possible; worlds outside of it are ruled out, but to different degrees. In this way, even when a state supports “not p”, it is still possible to suppose p consistently. I argue that this account does better than its predecessors with respect to a set of desiderata concerning inferences with conditionals. In particular, it captures three important facts: that a conditional is logically independent from its antecedent; that a sequence of antecedents behaves like a single conjunctive antecedent ; and that conditionals restrict the quantification domain of epistemic modals. I also discuss two ways to construe the role of a premise, and propose a generalized notion of entailment that keeps the two apart. (shrink)
The dominance conditional 'If I drink the contents of cup A, I will drink more than if drink the contents of cup B' is true if we know that the first cup contains more than the second. In the first part of the paper, I show that only one kind of theory of indicative conditionals can explain this fact — a Stalnaker-type semantics. In the second part of the paper, I show that dominance conditionals can help explain a (...) long-standing mystery: the question of how one-boxers and two-boxers are guided by conditionals to their respective answers to the Newcomb problem. I will suggest that both implicitly appeal to a decision theoretic principle I will call the Dominance Norm (DN), a principle that connects indicative dominance conditionals with rational courses of action. Finally, I show that DN in combination with a Stalnaker-type theory of indicatives commits us to the two-boxing answer in the Newcomb problem. (shrink)
This work explores the hypothesis that natural language is a tool for changing a language user's state of mind and, more specifically, the hypothesis that a sentence's meaning is constituted by its characteristic role in fulfilling this purpose. This view contrasts with the dominant approach to semantics due to Frege, Tarski and others' work on artificial languages: language is first and foremost a tool for representing the world. Adapted to natural language by Davidson, Lewis, Montague, et. al. this dominant approach (...) has crystalized as truth-conditional semantics: to know the meaning of a sentence is to know the conditions under which that sentence is true. Chapter 1 details the animating ideas of my alternative approach and shows that the representational function of language can be understood in terms of the more general function of changing representational mental states. Chapters 2-4 argue that the additional resources of this more general conception of meaning allow us to explain certain phenomena involving conditionals and grammatical mood that truth-conditional semantics does not. In the analysis of these specific phenomena and the articulation of the general approach on offer, it emerges that this approach combines insights and benefits from both use-theoretic and truth-theoretic work on meaning. (shrink)
It is argued that indicative conditionals are best viewed as having truth conditions (and so they are in part factual) but that these truth conditions are ‘gappy’ which leaves an explanatory gap that can only be filled by epistemic considerations (and so indicative conditionals are in part epistemic). This dual nature of indicative conditionals gives reason to rethink the relationship between logic viewed as a descriptive discipline (focusing on semantics) and logic viewed as a discipline with a (...) normative import (focusing on epistemic notions such as ‘reasoning’, ‘beliefs’ and ‘assumptions’). In particular, it is argued that the development of formal models for epistemic states can serve as a starting point for exploring logic when viewed as a normative discipline. (shrink)
Conditionals are sentences of the form 'If A, then B', and they play a central role in scientific, logical, and everyday reasoning. They have been in the philosophical limelight for centuries, and more recently, they have been receiving attention from psychologists, linguists, and computer scientists. In spite of this, many key questions concerning conditionals remain unanswered. While most of the work on conditionals has addressed semantical questions - questions about the truth conditions of conditionals - this (...) book focuses on the main epistemological questions that conditionals give rise to, such as: what are the probabilities of conditionals? When is a conditional acceptable or assertable? What do we learn when we receive new conditional information? In answering these questions, this book combines the formal tools of logic and probability theory with the experimental approach of cognitive psychology. It will be of interest to students and researchers in logic, epistemology, and psychology of reasoning. (shrink)
According to what is now commonly referred to as “the Equation” in the literature on indicative conditionals, the probability of any indicative conditional equals the probability of its consequent of the conditional given the antecedent of the conditional. Philosophers widely agree in their assessment that the triviality arguments of Lewis and others have conclusively shown the Equation to be tenable only at the expense of the view that indicative conditionals express propositions. This study challenges the correctness of that (...) assessment by presenting data that cast doubt on an assumption underlying all triviality arguments. (shrink)
Curry's paradox for "if.. then.." concerns the paradoxical features of sentences of the form "If this very sentence is true, then 2+2=5". Standard inference principles lead us to the conclusion that such conditionals have true consequents: so, for example, 2+2=5 after all. There has been a lot of technical work done on formal options for blocking Curry paradoxes while only compromising a little on the various central principles of logic and meaning that are under threat. -/- Once we have (...) a sense of the technical options, though, a philosophical choice remains. When dealing with puzzles in the logic of conditionals, a natural place to turn is independently motivated semantic theories of the behaviour of "if... then...". This paper argues that the closest-worlds approach outlined in Nolan 1997 offers a philosophically satisfying reason to deny conditional proof and so block the paradoxical Curry reasoning, and can give the verdict that standard Curry conditionals are false, along with related "contraction conditionals". (shrink)