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Title: What if? : an enquiry into the semantics of natural language conditionals
Authors: Hjálmarsson, Guðmundur Andri
Supervisors: Read, Stephen
Keywords: Conditionals
Natural language conditionals
Indicative conditionals
Subjunctive conditionals
Modus ponens
Ramsey test
Information networks
Modal and amodal conditionals
Generative grammar
Compositional semantics
Syntax of English conditionals
Issue Date: 25-Jun-2010
Abstract: This thesis is essentially a portfolio of four disjoint yet thematically related articles that deal with some semantic aspect or another of natural language conditionals. The thesis opens with a brief introductory chapter that offers a short yet opinionated historical overview and a theoretical background of several important semantic issues of conditionals. The second chapter then deals with the issue of truth values and conditions of indicative conditionals. So-called Gibbard Phenomenon cases have been used to argue that indicative conditionals construed in terms of the Ramsey Test cannot have truth values. Since that conclusion is somewhat incredible, several alternative options are explored. Finally, a contextualised revision of the Ramsey Test is offered which successfully avoids the threats of the Gibbard Phenomenon. The third chapter deals with the question of where to draw the so-called indicative/ subjunctive line. Natural language conditionals are commonly believed to be of two semantically distinct types: indicative and subjunctive. Although this distinction is central to many semantic analyses of natural conditionals, there seems to be no consensus on the details of its nature. While trying to uncover the grounds for the distinction, we will argue our way through several plausible proposals found in the literature. Upon discovering that none of these proposals seem entirely suited, we will reconsider our position and make several helpful observations into the nature of conditional sentences. And finally, in light of our observations, we shall propose and argue for plausible grounds for the indicative/subjunctive distinction.distinction. The fourth chapter offers semantics for modal and amodal natural language conditionals based on the distinction proposed in the previous chapter. First, the nature of modal and amodal suppositions will be explored. Armed with an analysis of modal and amodal suppositions, the corresponding conditionals will be examined further. Consequently, the syntax of conditionals in English will be uncovered for the purpose of providing input for our semantics. And finally, compositional semantics in generative grammar will be offered for modal and amodal conditionals. The fifth and final chapter defends Modus Ponens from alleged counterexamples. In particular, the chapter offers a solution to McGee’s infamous counterexamples. First, several solutions offered to the counterexamples hitherto are all argued to be inadequate. After a couple of observations on the counterexamples’ nature, a solution is offered and demonstrated. the solution suggests that the semantics of embedded natural language conditionals is more sophisticated than their surface syntax indicates. The heart of the solution is a translation function from the surface form of natural language conditionals to their logical form. Finally, the thesis ends with a conclusion that briefly summarises the main conclusions drawn in its preceding chapters.
Type: Thesis
Publisher: University of St Andrews
Appears in Collections:Philosophy Theses

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