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Journal of Philosophical Logic

, Volume 43, Issue 6, pp 1019–1064 | Cite as

A Uniform Theory of Conditionals

  • William B. Starr
Article

Abstract

A uniform theory of conditionals is one which compositionally captures the behavior of both indicative and subjunctive conditionals without positing ambiguities. This paper raises new problems for the closest thing to a uniform analysis in the literature (Stalnaker, Philosophia, 5, 269–286 (1975)) and develops a new theory which solves them. I also show that this new analysis provides an improved treatment of three phenomena (the import-export equivalence, reverse Sobel-sequences and disjunctive antecedents). While these results concern central issues in the study of conditionals, broader themes in the philosophy of language and formal semantics are also engaged here. This new analysis exploits a dynamic conception of meaning where the meaning of a symbol is its potential to change an agent’s mental state (or the state of a conversation) rather than being the symbol’s content (e.g. the proposition it expresses). The analysis of conditionals is also built on the idea that the contrast between subjunctive and indicative conditionals parallels a contrast between revising and consistently extending some body of information.

Keywords

Conditionals Dynamic semantics Meaning Logic 

Notes

Acknowledgments

I benefitted greatly from participants in my Spring 2012 graduate seminar at Cornell and from audiences at NYU and the University of Michigan Philosophy and Linguistics Workshop. The basic ideas here come from my dissertation [90, Ch.3], so the lengthy acknowledgments there apply again here. I owe a special debt to conversations with Barbara Abbott, Ana Arregui, Josh Armstrong, Maria Bittner, Carlos Fasola, Thony Gillies, Gabe Greenberg, Michael Johnson, Jeff King, Philipp Koralus, Ernie Lepore, Karen Lewis, Barry Loewer, Salvador Mascarenhas, Sarah Murray, Carlotta Pavese, Adam Rigoni, Bob Stalnaker, Jason Stanley, James Shaw, Matthew Stone, Rich Thomason, Brian Weatherson and Malte Willer. I also wish to thank two anonymous reviewers whose insightful comments improved this paper significantly.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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