Modalised conditionals: a response to Willer

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  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.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Schulz, M. Modalised conditionals: a response to Willer. Philos Stud 163, 673–682 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-011-9838-7

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Keywords

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