Context-indexed Counterfactuals

Studia Semiotyczne 35 (2):89-123 (2022)
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It is commonly believed that the role of context cannot be ignored in the analysis of conditionals, and counterfactuals in particular. On truth conditional accounts involving possible worlds semantics, conditionals have been analysed as expressions of relative necessity: “If A, then B” is true at some world w if B is true at all the A-worlds deemed relevant to the evaluation of the conditional at w. A drawback of this approach is that for the evaluation of conditionals with the same antecedents at some world, the same worlds are deemed as relevant for all occasions of utterance. But surely this is inadequate, if shifts of contexts between occasions are to be accounted for. Both the linguistic and logical implications of this defect are discussed, and in order to overcome it a modification of David Lewis’ ordering semantics for counterfactuals is developed for a modified language. I follow Lewis by letting contexts determine comparative similarity assignments, and show that the addition of syntactic context parameters (context indices) to the language gives the freedom required to switch between sets of relevant antecedent worlds from occasion to occasion by choosing the corresponding similarity assignment accordingly. Thus an account that extends Lewis’ analysis of a language containing a single counterfactual connective > to a language containing infinitely many counterfactual connectives >_c, each indexed by a different context name c, overcomes the limitations of traditional analyses. Finally it is also shown that these traditional accounts can be recovered from the modified account if certain contextual restrictions are in place.

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Mariusz Popieluch
University of Queensland


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