In Defense of Imperative Inference

Journal of Philosophical Logic 39 (1):59 - 71 (2010)
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"Surrender; therefore, surrender or fight" is apparently an argument corresponding to an inference from an imperative to an imperative. Several philosophers, however (Williams 1963; Wedeking 1970; Harrison 1991; Hansen 2008), have denied that imperative inferences exist, arguing that (1) no such inferences occur in everyday life, (2) imperatives cannot be premises or conclusions of inferences because it makes no sense to say, for example, "since surrender" or "it follows that surrender or fight", and (3) distinct imperatives have conflicting permissive presuppositions ("surrender or fight" permits you to fight without surrendering, but "surrender" does not), so issuing distinct imperatives amounts to changing one's mind and thus cannot be construed as making an inference. In response I argue inter alia that, on a reasonable understanding of 'inference', some everyday-life inferences do have imperatives as premises and conclusions, and that issuing imperatives with conflicting permissive presuppositions does not amount to changing one's mind

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Peter Vranas
University of Wisconsin, Madison


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