Fall 2011 Schedule of Courses


SECTION 1, 2:00 - 3:15 P.M.


Jonathan Bennett, A Philosophical Guide to Conditionals, (Oxford University Press)

Paul Grice, Studies In The Ways Of Words, (Harvard University Press)
David Lewis, Counterfactuals, (Blackwell)
William Lycan, Real Conditionals, (Oxford University Press)

No word is more familiar than ‘if’; no coordinating construction more common than the conditional. Any competent speaker of English can deploy and understand a bewildering variety of ‘if-then’ statements. But what do they mean? This question belongs primarily to the philosophy of language and logic, but answering it also requires discussion of issues in metaphysics, philosophy of mind, epistemology, and probability theory.

Conditionals are intrinsically interesting, but they are also important in many areas of philosophy, so careful consideration of their nature has instrumental value. Here are a few examples:

1. Metaphysics and philosophy of science: conditional analyses of causation, dispositions, the laws of nature, and free action

2. Epistemology: conditional analyses of knowledge; issues concerning epistemic modality

3. Philosophy of religion: God’s knowledge of conditionals concerning future human actions (the “middle knowledge” debates)

Philosophers traditionally divide conditionals into two categories: “indicatives” and “subjunctives”. The easiest way to distinguish the categories is by example; here is a famous pair from Ernest Adams:

(ind) If Oswald didn’t kill Kennedy, then someone else did.
(sub) If Oswald hadn’t killed Kennedy, then someone else would have.

While (ind) seems obviously correct, (sub) is tendentious. (sub) concerns an alternative possible history of the world, while (ind) is in some difficult-to-specify sense about the way things actually are.

In the first part of the course, we will examine two approaches to understanding indicatives: the material conditional analysis (according to which ‘If A, then C’ is truth if and only if either A is false or C is true), and the no-truth-value approach, according to which indicatives are not (or at least not always) truth-apt. The deep chasm between these approaches is bridged by what Bennett calls The Equation, the plausible claim that the probability of the conditional ‘If A, then C’ is equivalent to the probability of C conditional on A.

In the second part of the course, we will study the dominant framework for understanding subjunctive conditionals: the possible worlds approach to counterfactuals developed by David Lewis and Robert Stalnaker. Many fascinating and daunting questions arise when attempting to turn the approach into a theory.

Finally, we will consider a few uni?ed accounts of indicatives and subjunctives. One (Stalnaker’s) incorporates indicatives within a possible worlds framework. Another (Edgington’s) extends the no-truth-value approach to subjunctives. We will also examine the work of Angelika Kratzer, which strongly suggests that indicatives and subjunctives share a common semantic core, and consider William Lycan’s theory of conditionals as quanti?ers over events.

Seminar. Seven quizzes, one presentation, research paper (3,000 - 4,000 words).