Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 207–244 | Cite as

Counterfactuals, correlatives, and disjunction

Research Article


The natural interpretation of counterfactuals with disjunctive antecedents involves selecting from each of the disjuncts the worlds that come closest to the world of evaluation. It has been long noticed that capturing this interpretation poses a problem for a minimal change semantics for counterfactuals, because selecting the closest worlds from each disjunct requires accessing the denotation of the disjuncts from the denotation of the disjunctive antecedent, which the standard boolean analysis of or does not allow (Creary and Hill, Philosophy of Science 43:341–344, 1975; Nute, Journal of Philosophy 72:773–778, 1975; Fine, Mind 84(335):451–458, 1975; Ellis et al. Journal of Philosophical Logic 6:335–357, 1977). This paper argues that the failure to capture the natural interpretation of disjunctive counterfactuals provides no reason to abandon a minimal change semantics. It shows that the natural interpretation of disjunctive counterfactuals is expected once we refine our assumptions about the semantics of or and the logical form of conditionals, and (i) we assume that disjunctions introduce propositional alternatives in the semantic derivation, in line with independently motivated proposals about the semantics of or (Aloni, 2003a; Simons, Natural Language Semantics 13:271–316, 2005; Alonso-Ovalle, Disjunction in Alternative Semantics. PhD thesis, 2006); and (ii) we treat conditionals as correlative constructions, as advocated in von Fintel (1994), Izvorski (Proceedings of NELS 26, 1996), Bhatt and Pancheva (2006), and Schlenker (2004).


Disjunction Minimal change semantics for conditionals Alternative semantics 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Massachusetts BostonBostonUSA

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