Hesperus is Bosphorus

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Talk at Bogazici, Cory Nichols (Princeton), “Strict Conditional Accounts of Counterfactuals”

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Tuesday, May 24th, 3-5pm, TB 130 (Anderson Hall)


“Strict Conditional Accounts of Counterfactuals”
Cory Nichols

Until recently, the idea that counterfactuals — conditionals of the form “If A were the case, then C would be the case” — might simply be strict conditionals — universal modal quantifiers scoping over material conditionals — was not taken seriously. For a strict conditional says that in all worlds, if A is the case then C is the case. But this seems too demanding: it might be true that if I had gone to the party, then I would’ve had a good time; but surely there is some possible world where I go to the party and don’t have a good time, e.g. if a fire breaks out halfway through.

In the last 15 years, however, Kai von Fintel and Thony Gillies have offered similar analyses of counterfactuals according to which they are strict conditionals supplemented with dynamic modal domains, i.e. modal domains of quantification that change systematically from one context to the next. A major motivation of their view is the asymmetry of so-called Sobel sequences, which sound fine in one direction but infelicitous in the reverse, such as:

If Jeff had come to the party, it would’ve been great. But if Jeff and Lars had come to the party, it would’ve been awful (because they would’ve fought).
If Jeff and Lars had come to the party, it would’ve been awful. #But if Jeff had come to the party, it would’ve been great.
The orthodox view of counterfactuals, due to David Lewis and Robert Stalnaker, doesn’t seem to predict this asymmetry, but the von Fintel-Gillies view does. So a new view is now on the table that challenges the standard approach to counterfactuals of the last 40-50 years.
But so far the relevant literature has focused primarily on a narrow class of cases. What is needed is a thorough examination of the predictions of the dynamic strict conditional view for a broader range of data. In this paper I do just this, and discover several classes of cases that are problematic for the strict conditional view. I then entertain some possible responses and “fixes” for the view, finding none to be especially satisfying.

Written by markedwardsteen

May 20, 2016 at 9:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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