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September 29th, 2014
Samuel Wheeler III
(University of Connecticut, Storrs, USA)

Modals, Counterfactuals, and Conditionals


This essay revises and supplements the account of modals proposed in Neo-Davidsonian Metaphysics.

The first section discusses "must," which is obviously at least sometimes a relation between a proposition and a set of propositions, which can be described, but need not be such that membership in the set can be determined. I propose that all modals have similar analyses. The set of propositions intended, the modality-base, can vary, so that a modal may have several readings. An "if"-clause adds a proposition to the modality-base.

The second section extends this analysis to counterfactual conditionals. I argue that Goodman's "The Problem of Counterfactual Conditionals" was on the right track, but was over-ambitious. The modality-base is modified by the "if"-clause. The proposal is that, unless we hope to have a reduction, is to take "how things would be" as primitive.

The third section extends the analysis of "if"-clauses as applied to modals to conditionals generally. There are two kinds of expressions that have been called "counterfactual conditionals," and two uses of "would," the subjunctive and the past of "will." They have different analyses. The subjunctive counterfactual conditional works just as well in the indicative, and means much the same thing. So, the analysis of the indicative conditional should be the same. Thus, I treat "if"-clauses as always adding something to a modal base. So, I treat bare sentences as modals with modality bases. I propose that this unpronounced modal is "is an element of how things are."