Modalised conditionals: a response to Willer


A paper by Schulz (Philos Stud 149:367–386, 2010) describes how the suppositional view of indicative conditionals can be supplemented with a derived view of epistemic modals. In a recent criticism of this paper, Willer (Philos Stud 153:365–375, 2011) argues that the resulting account of conditionals and epistemic modals cannot do justice to the validity of certain inference patterns involving modalised conditionals. In the present response, I analyse Willer’s argument, identify an implicit presupposition which can plausibly be denied and show that accepting it would blur the difference between plain assumptions and their epistemic necessitations.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    For instance, see the accounts developed by Kratzer (1977, 1979, 1981, 1986).

  2. 2.

    See Weatherson (2009) and the suggestions made in the final section of MacFarlane and Kolodny (2010). For relativist theories of epistemic modals, see Egan et al. (2005) and MacFarlane (2011).

  3. 3.

    Cp. e.g. Barnett (2006) and Edgington (1995).

  4. 4.

    Schnieder (2010) is a notable exception.

  5. 5.

    Strictly speaking, formalising the inference as \(\ulcorner {\square (A \vee B) \therefore \neg A \Rightarrow B}\urcorner\) would be more adequate, but the formalisation above displays the relation to the material conditional more perspicuously.

  6. 6.

    Cp. e.g. Williamson (2007: ch. 5).

  7. 7.

    As possible definitions of modal operators, these equivalences were already introduced by Lewis (1973, p. 22) and Stalnaker (1968).

  8. 8.

    Cp. Kratzer (1986) and Lewis (1975).

  9. 9.

    Cp. Geurts (2004: 8ff.).

  10. 10.

    For an argument of why this will be so, see Willer (2011, 368ff.).

  11. 11.

    This strikes me to be the most straightforward alternative explanation, but it is perhaps not the only possible one. For instance, it might also be the case that we take the second premise in the second argument to be implicitly modalised, i.e. read ‘John is not in Chicago’ as ‘It must be that John is not in Chicago’. Then the conditional in the second argument would be valid on a wide scope reading just like the first argument. Another possibility might be that we interpret some of the occurrences of ‘must’ not as an epistemic modal but rather as an inference marker. Many thanks to David Liggins and Thomas Kroedel for pointing this out to me.

  12. 12.

    It is a theorem in the two different logics suggested by Schulz and Willer.

  13. 13.

    As far as I can see, this is indeed the case in the semantics advocated by Willer (2011) at the end of his paper.

  14. 14.

    There may be a sense in which this inference is not as bad as it looks and which may explain why someone could be tempted to take it as valid. Moving from an assertion of ‘A’ to an assertion of \(\ulcorner {\square A}\urcorner\) does not seem to be so terrible. This may be because assertion is governed by a certain epistemic norm whose satisfaction comes close to the acceptability conditions of \(\ulcorner {\square A}\urcorner\). Another possible sense in which moving from the premise to the conclusion would be fine is when we interpret ‘must’ as an inference marker expressing the validity of the inference \(\ulcorner {A \, \therefore \, A}\urcorner. \) Thanks again to David Liggins and Thomas Kroedel for discussion.


  1. Barnett, D. (2006). Zif is if. Mind, 115, 519–566.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Edgington, D. (1995). On conditionals. Mind, 104, 235–329.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Egan, A., Hawthorne, J., & Weatherson, B. (2005). Epistemic modals in context. In G. Preyer & G. Peter (Eds.), Contextualism in philosophy: Knowledge, meaning, and truth (pp. 131–170). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Geurts, B. (2004). On an ambiguity in quantified conditionals. MS, University of Nijmegen.

  5. Jackson, F. (Ed.). (1991). Conditionals. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Kratzer, A. (1977). What ‘Must’ and ‘Can’ Must and Can Mean. Linguistics and Philosophy, 1, 337–355.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Kratzer, A. (1979). Conditional necessity and possibility. In R. Bäuerle, U. Egli, & A. von Stechow (Eds.), Semantics from different points of view (pp. 117–147). Berlin: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Kratzer, A. (1981) The notional category of modality. In H. J. Eikmeyer & H. Rieser (Eds.), Words, worlds, and contexts (pp. 38–74). Berlin: de Gruyter, a revised version of this paper is forthcoming in Kratzer (forthcoming: ch. 2).

  9. Kratzer, A. (1986) Conditionals. In A. M. Farley, P. Farley, K. E. McCollough (Eds.), Papers from the parasession on pragmatics and grammatical theory (pp. 115–135). Chicago: Chicago Linguistics Society, reprinted in von Stechow and Wunderlich (1991: ch. 30, 651–656). A revised version of this paper is forthcoming in Kratzer (forthcoming: ch. 4).

  10. Kratzer, A. (forthcoming). Modals and conditionals again. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  11. Lewis, D. (1973). Counterfactuals. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Lewis, D. (1975). Adverbs of quantification. In E. L. Keenan (Ed.), Formal semantics of natural language (pp. 3–15). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. MacFarlane, J. (2011). Epistemic modals are assessment-sensitive. In A. Egan & B. Weatherson (Eds.), Epistemic modality (pp. 144–178). Oxford University Press.

  14. MacFarlane, J., & Kolodny, N. (2010). Ifs and oughts. Journal of Philosophy, 107, 115–143.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Schnieder, B. (2010). Expressivism concerning epistemic modals. The Philosophical Quarterly, 60, 601–615.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Schulz, M. (2010). Wondering what might be. Philosophical Studies, 149, 367–386.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Stalnaker, R. (1968). A theory of conditionals. Studies in logical theory (Vol. 2, pp. 98–112), reprinted in Jackson (1991: ch. 2).

  18. von Stechow, A., & Wunderlich, D. (Eds.). (1991). Handbook semantics. Berlin: de Gruyter.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Weatherson, B. (2009). Conditionals and indexical relativism. Synthese, 166, 333–357.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Willer, M. (2011). Realizing what might be. Philosophical Studies, 153, 365–375.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Williamson, T. (2007). The philosophy of philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


The present material has been presented at the workshop Phlox in Flux in Berlin 2011. Many thanks to all the participants for their helpful comments. In writing this article, I have benefited from partial funds by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation for the project CONSOLIDER-INGENIO 2010 CSD2009-00056 on Philosophy of Perspectival Thoughts and Facts (PERSP) and for the project FFI2009-13436, I+D+i programme, on Semantic Content and Context Dependence.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Moritz Schulz.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Schulz, M. Modalised conditionals: a response to Willer. Philos Stud 163, 673–682 (2013).

Download citation


  • Indicative conditionals
  • Epistemic modals
  • Modalised conditionals
  • Suppositional view