Counterfactuals and modality

Linguistics and Philosophy 44 (6):1255-1280 (2021)
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This essay calls attention to a set of linguistic interactions between counterfactual conditionals, on one hand, and possibility modals like could have and might have, on the other. These data present a challenge to the popular variably strict semantics for counterfactual conditionals. Instead, they support a version of the strict conditional semantics in which counterfactuals and possibility modals share a unified quantificational domain. I’ll argue that pragmatic explanations of this evidence are not available to the variable analysis. And putative counterexamples to the unified strict analysis, on careful inspection, in fact support it. Ultimately, the semantics of conditionals and modals must be linked together more closely than has sometimes been recognized, and a unified strict semantics for conditionals and modals is the only way to fully achieve this.

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Gabriel Greenberg
University of California, Los Angeles


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