Counterfactuals in Context
von Dirk Buschbom
Datum der mündl. Prüfung:2013-06-03
Betreuer:Prof. Dr. Regine Eckardt
Gutachter:Prof. Dr. Regine Eckardt
Gutachter:Prof. Dr. Manfred Sailer
EnglischThis thesis is concerned with questions regarding the semantics and pragmatics of counterfactual conditionals. Its point of departure is provided by a problem mentioned in Veltman , which I call 'Veltman's puzzle'. Veltman observes that in certain kinds of contexts the antecedent of a counterfactual conditional may be left implicit, while in others it cannot be left implicit without rendering the result pragmatically infelicitous. This asymmetry in discourse behavior pertains to two sentence sequences in which the discourse initial sentence makes the presupposition of the antecedent of a subsequent counterfactual explicit. While in cases like e.g. 'John did not drink any wine. He would have become sick.' the antecedent of the counterfactual 'If John had drunk any wine, he would have become sick.' can be left implicit, the introduction of a negation changes the picture: the counterfactual 'If John had not drunk any wine, he would not have become sick.' can not felicitously be paraphrased by the sequence 'John drank too much wine. He would not have become sick.' This discourse is not acceptable. The phenomenon is strikingly systematic: building the opposite of an acceptable discourse via the introduction of negation apparently renders the result invariably infelicitous. While in the literature on modal subordination an account of the phenomenon can be found, the discussion shows that the proposal is empirically and theoretically inadequate, making wrong predictions with regards to the felicity resp. infelicity of the data. The same also holds for an approach initially pursued in this thesis in terms of what I call 'negation-induced alternatives'. Although the discussion provides sound and independent support of the empirical reality of the concept, it ultimately turns out to be not essential for the solution of Veltman's puzzle. The key to solving Veltman's puzzle is instead gained by a shift of attention towards the 'because'-sentence paraphrase of the discourses under consideration. Crucial for the phenomenon is a difference in the logical structure of the premise set of the counterfactual conditional. It is mediated by the occurrence of negation and systematically (the point can indeed be axiomatically motivated) characterizes premises to build either a disjunctive or conjunctive array. Based on this, Veltman's puzzle is explained as a clash at the semantics-pragmatics interface depending on the logical structure of the premise set into which the implicit antecedent of the counterfactual is to be accommodated. In addition to solving Veltman's puzzle by working out the semantic demands that the meaning of a counterfactual's consequent puts forth on the logical structure of its antecedent – a result which is arguably of general importance for any theoretical account of counterfactual conditionals –, another general result of this thesis relates to what I call the 'radical interpretation' of counterfactuals. It connects to counterfactual conditionals that, although lacking any semantic support, are nonetheless still accepted as true in conversation. The mechanism of pragmatic reasoning that is employed in the interpretation of such counterfactuals is spelled out in detail. The discussion involves the concept of conditional strengthening and highlights that the interpretation of counterfactual conditionals more often than not relies on tacit pragmatic rescue strategies. Finally, the account formulated in this thesis further answers certain questions regarding the relation between Veltman's data and the corresponding 'because'-sentence paraphrase, and also provides a Lewis-style semantics of subjunctive 'because' which had not been attended to so far.
Keywords: elliptic counterfactual conditionals; presupposition accommodation; conditional strengthening; negation-induced alternatives; modal subordination; radical interpretation; subjunctive 'because'; (dynamic) semantics; pragmatics; the semantics-pragmatics interface