Conditionals and specific links—an experimental study

Synthese 199 (3-4):7365-7399 (2021)
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Abstract

Based on the new experimental evidence, we argue that a link between a conditional antecedent and the consequent is semantically expressed rather than pragmatically conveyed. In our paper, we focus on particular kinds of links which conditionals may convey in a context. For instance, a conditional ‘If p, q’ may convey a thought equivalent to ‘p will cause q’, ‘p is the best explanation for q’, ‘q follows from p’, etcetera. The traditional theoretical literature on conditionals seems to imply that these specific links are generated pragmatically and are akin to conversational implicatures. In order to test this hypothesis, we used a well-recognized linguistic test from ‘reinforceability’, which serves to distinguish between a semantic and pragmatic level of meaning, and we designed an experimental study based on that test. The outcome of our study is that specific links conveyed by conditionals exhibit features of semantic entailments rather than conversational implicatures. This result accords with some of the recent findings in empirical investigations on conditionals. In the final part of our paper, we discuss various accounts of conditionals which can accommodate the results of our study.

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