(Counter)factual want ascriptions and conditional belief

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What are the truth conditions of want ascriptions? According to a highly influential and fruitful approach, championed by Heim (1992) and von Fintel (1999), the answer is 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 ~p worlds. This approach faces a well-known and as-yet unsolved problem, however: it makes the entirely wrong predictions with what we call '(counter)factual want ascriptions', wherein the agent either believes p or believes ~p—e.g., ‘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 bring out 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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Archival date: 2020-07-30
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