Conditionals in Context
"If you turn left at the next corner, you will see a blue house at the end of the street." That sentence—a conditional—might be true even though it is possible that you will not see a blue house at the end of the street when you turn left at the next corner. A moving van may block your view; the house may have been painted pink; a crow might swoop down and peck out your eyes. Still, in some contexts, we might ignore these possibilities and correctly assert the conditional. In this book, Christopher Gauker argues that such context-relativity is the key to understanding the semantics of conditionals. Contexts are defined as objective features of the situation in which a conversation takes place, and the semantic properties of sentences—conditionals included—are defined in terms of assertibility in a context.
One of the primary goals of a theory of conditionals has to be to distinguish correctly between valid and invalid arguments containing conditionals. According to Gauker, an argument is valid if the conclusion is assertible in every context in which the premises are assertible. This runs counter to what Gauker sees as a systematic misreading of the data by other authors, who judge arguments to be invalid if they can think of a context in which the premises are judged true and some other context in which the conclusion is judged false. Different schools of thought on conditionals reflect fundamentally different approaches to semantics. Gauker offers his theory as a motive and test case for a distinctive kind of semantics that dispenses with reference relations and possible worlds.
About the Author
Christopher Gauker is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cincinnati.
"Christopher Gauker has produced the most sophisticated and comprehensive theory of the semantics and logic of conditionals yet available, and his book should be read by all philosophers, logicians, and linguists interested in the subject. His theory provides the first completely general and entirely rigorous account of the context-relativity of conditionals. It explains in a novel and extremely plausible fashion the semantic distinction between indicative and subjunctive conditionals and the consequent differences between their logics. Gauker shows convincingly how his theory is superior to its best-known rivals both in accommodating our linguistic intuitions and in avoiding the logical puzzles that beset other approaches."
—E. J. Lowe, Department of Philosophy, University of Durham
"A bold attempt to rethink the analysis of conditionals and the foundations of semantics at one fell swoop. In accounting for the logical validity of arguments involving conditionals, Gauker highlights their context-relativity. The 'context-logical' approach he advocates is comparable in orientation and scope to situation theory, and it deserves a comparably wide audience."
—François Recanati, Institut Jean-Nicod, Paris
"Indicative and subjunctive conditionals have presented some of the more difficult problems in the philosophy of language and logic. In this impressive book, Christopher Gauker brings his earlier work on logic and pragmatics to bear on these intriguing problems. His theory is rich in detail, and shows great sensitivity both to issues of how we use language in context and to logical issues such as validity and even decidability. His arguments are carefully crafted and incisive, but also presented in a clear and accessible style."
—Michael Glanzberg, Department of Philosophy, University of California, Davis
"This original account of how semantics might usefully be broadened to include kinds of context-relativity that hitherto have been thought of as belonging to pragmatics weaves together a number of novel lines of thought. The success of an enterprise of this shape and ambition should be judged more by its capacity to stimulate than by its capacity to convince. By that standard, Conditionals in Context is a resounding success."
—Robert B. Brandom, Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh