Counterfactual Discourse in Context

Noûs 52 (3):481-507 (2018)
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The classic Lewis-Stalnaker semantics for counterfactuals captures that Sobel sequences are consistent sequences, for example: a.If Sophie had gone to the parade, she would have seen Pedro dance. b.But if Sophie had gone to the parade and been stuck behind someone tall, she would not have seen Pedro dance. But reverse a sequence like this one and it no longer sounds so good, which is surprising on the classic semantics. This observation motivated Kai von Fintel and Thony Gillies to propose dynamic semantic accounts of counterfactual conditionals. Subsequently, Sarah Moss defended the classic semantics against the charge that it need be abandoned in the face of these order effects, arguing that the infelicity of the reverse sequences is pragmatic. I argue that both accounts are ultimately untenable, but each account has strengths. Seeing what works and what doesn't in each account points the way to the right positive view. With this in mind, I defend a contextualist account of counterfactuals that takes conversational relevance to play a central role.



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Karen S. Lewis
Barnard College

Citations of this work

Contra counterfactism.Alan Hájek - 2020 - Synthese 199 (1-2):181-210.
Strict conditional accounts of counterfactuals.Cory Nichols - 2017 - Linguistics and Philosophy 40 (6):621-645.
Counterfactuals and modality.Gabriel Greenberg - 2021 - Linguistics and Philosophy 44 (6):1255-1280.

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References found in this work

Counterfactuals.David Lewis - 1973 - Philosophy of Science 42 (3):341-344.
A Uniform Theory of Conditionals.William B. Starr - 2014 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 43 (6):1019-1064.
A Philosophical Guide to Conditionals.Jonathan Bennett - 2003 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 66 (2):379-380.
Counterfactual scorekeeping.Anthony S. Gillies - 2007 - Linguistics and Philosophy 30 (3):329 - 360.
Elusive Counterfactuals.Karen S. Lewis - 2016 - Noûs 50 (2):286-313.

View all 13 references / Add more references