Two switches in the theory of counterfactuals: A study of truth conditionality and minimal change

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Abstract
Based on a crowdsourced truth value judgment experiment, we provide empirical evidence challenging two classical views in semantics, and we develop a novel account of counterfactuals that combines ideas from inquisitive semantics and causal reasoning. First, we show that two truth-conditionally equivalent clauses can make different semantic contributions when embedded in a counterfactual antecedent. Assuming compositionality, this means that the meaning of these clauses is not fully determined by their truth conditions. This finding has a clear explanation in inquisitive semantics: truth-conditionally equivalent clauses may be associated with different propositional alternatives, each of which counts as a separate counterfactual assumption. Second, we show that our results contradict the common idea that the interpretation of a counterfactual involves minimizing change with respect to the actual state of affairs. We propose to replace the idea of minimal change by a distinction between foreground and background for a given counterfactual assumption: the background is held fixed in the counterfactual situation, while the foreground can be varied without any minimality constraint.
Reprint years
2018
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PhilPapers/Archive ID
CIATSI-2
Revision history
First archival date: 2016-11-06
Latest version: 4 (2018-02-09)
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References found in this work BETA
Counterfactuals.Lewis, David K.
Semantics in Generative Grammar.Heim, Irene & Kratzer, Angelika
Inquisitive Semantics.Ciardelli, Ivano; Groenendijk, Jeroen & Roelofsen, Floris
Causality: Models, Reasoning and Inference.Hitchcock, Christopher & Pearl, Judea

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Citations of this work BETA
Conditional Heresies.Cariani, Fabrizio & Goldstein, Simon
Choice and prohibition in non-monotonic contexts.Gotzner, Nicole; Romoli, Jacopo & Santorio, Paolo

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2016-11-06

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