Preservation, Commutativity and Modus Ponens: Two Recent Triviality Results

Mind 126 (502):579-602 (2017)
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In a recent pair of publications, Richard Bradley has offered two novel no-go theorems involving the principle of Preservation for conditionals, which guarantees that one’s prior conditional beliefs will exhibit a certain degree of inertia in the face of a change in one’s non-conditional beliefs. We first note that Bradley’s original discussions of these results—in which he finds motivation for rejecting Preservation, first in a principle of Commutativity, then in a doxastic analogue of the rule of modus ponens —are problematic in a significant number of respects. We then turn to a recent U-turn on his part, in which he winds up rescinding his commitment to modus ponens, on the grounds of a tension with the rule of Import-Export for conditionals. Here we offer an important positive contribution to the literature, settling the following crucial question that Bradley leaves unanswered: assuming that one gives up on full-blown modus ponens on the grounds of its incompatibility with Import-Export, what weakened version of the principle should one be settling for instead? Our discussion of the issue turns out to unearth an interesting connection between epistemic undermining and the apparent failures of modus ponens in McGee’s famous counterexamples.
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