Aboutness and Modality, Proceedings of the 23rd Amsterdam Colloquium
In this paper I would like to offer a new framework for hypothetical reasoning, with the goal of predicting what scenarios we consider when we interpret a conditional or causal claim (such as a sentence containing the word because). The idea is that when we interpret a conditional or causal claim, we identify a part of the world to change and imagine changing that. Sentences are about parts of the world: when we interpret a conditional antecedent or because clause, we allow the part of the world it is about to vary. This expands our modal horizons, which we restrict to those scenarios where the sentence we are asked to imagine true is indeed true. To evaluate a whole conditional or causal claim we look to the possible futures after this change.
My main evidence for this approach is that it gives just the right range of hypothetical scenarios to account for how we interpret both conditionals and causal claims. Some approaches (such as Stalnaker and Lewis’s semantics of conditionals based on similarity, and Kratzer’s premise semantics) consider too few scenarios, while others (such as Fine’s 2012 truthmaker semantics of conditionals) consider too many. The present approach inhabits a Goldilocks zone between these extremes: not too restrictive, not too permissive, but just right.
Foundations of Human Mechanistic Reasoning: The structure of asking 'How?'
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