(Counter)factual want ascriptions and conditional belief

Journal of Philosophy 119 (12):641-672 (2022)
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What are the truth conditions of want ascriptions? According to an influential approach, they are intimately connected to the agent’s beliefs: ⌜S wants p⌝ is true iff, within S’s belief set, S prefers the p worlds to the not-p worlds. This approach faces a well-known problem, however: it makes the wrong predictions for what we call (counter)factual want ascriptions, wherein the agent either believes p or believes not-p—for example, ‘I want it to rain tomorrow and that is exactly what is going to happen’ or ‘I want this weekend to last forever, but of course it will end in a few hours’. We solve this problem. The truth conditions for want ascriptions are, we propose, connected to the agent’s conditional beliefs. We substantiate this connection by pursuing a striking parallel between (counter)factual and non-(counter)factual want ascriptions on the one hand and counterfactual and indicative conditionals on the other.

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Milo Phillips-Brown
University of Edinburgh


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