MoL-2018-15: Factual Conditionals and Hypothetical Commitments

MoL-2018-15: Pesetsky, Jonathan (2018) Factual Conditionals and Hypothetical Commitments. [Report]

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A very general intuition about conditionals is that they ask us to consider their consequents in light of their antecedents. Different theories cash out this intuition in different ways, but one common assumption is that an agent parsing a conditional must consider only the ways in which the antecedent affects the information and issues present in discourse. In this thesis, I argue that one must also consider the conventional discourse effects brought about by its antecedent.
My central argument comes from the contrast between ‘if so’ and ‘if yes’. While the former can occur felicitously as a response either to a question or to an assertion, the latter can only occur in response to a question. This restriction cannot arise from constraints on informational or inquisitive content, since ‘so’ and ‘yes’ have the same content when they are anaphoric to the same proposition. Rather, it must arise from the fact that ‘yes’ commits its speaker to its anaphoric antecedent on the basis of their private inquisitive-evidentiary state (i.e. it creates a self-sourced commitment), while ‘so’ creates a commitment based exclusively on testimony (i.e. a dependent commitment). Therefore, this contrast motivates a treatment of conditionals which is sensitive to these kinds of discourse-level distinctions.
To explain this data, I propose a stack-based analysis of conditionals in which an ‘if so’ conditional creates a temporary hypothetical context where the speaker has a dependent commitment, while ‘if yes’ creates a hypothetical context where the speaker has a self-sourced commitment. I show that this analysis can help us make sense of factual conditionals, an otherwise mysterious class of conditionals whose antecedents echo a previous utterance.

Item Type: Report
Report Nr: MoL-2018-15
Series Name: Master of Logic Thesis (MoL) Series
Year: 2018
Subjects: Logic
Depositing User: Dr Marco Vervoort
Date Deposited: 13 Sep 2018 12:40
Last Modified: 13 Sep 2018 12:40

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