Keynote Speakers

Sabine Iatridou (MIT)

Titel: What Non-Conditionals Can Tell Us about Conditionals

Joint work with Kai von Fintel

Abstract: In this talk, we explore hypotheses for the meaning of the morphology that turns non-counterfactual conditionals into counterfactual ones, by looking at environments where this morphology appears outside of conditionals. Specifically, we will investigate modals and desire predicates.

Boris Kment (Princeton University)

Titel: Why We Reason Counterfactually

Abstract: I argue that counterfactual conditionals, and modal notions more generally, are special-purpose devices that we developed as a useful tool for various cognitive activities in which we employ causal and explanatory notions, such as determining what causes or grounds what, or choosing the action that is most likely to promote the outcomes we value. This hypothesis yields a functional explanation of the rules that govern counterfactual reasoning.

Katrin Schulz (University of Amsterdam)

Titel: Conditionals, Causality and Conditional Probability

Joint work with Robert van Rooij

Abstract: The appropriateness, or acceptability, of a conditional does not just `go with' the corresponding conditional probability. A condition of dependence is required as well (cf. Douven, 2008, 2016; Skovgaard-Olsen et al., 2016). In this paper a particular notion of dependence is proposed. It is shown that under both a forward causal and a backward evidential (or diagnostic) reading of the conditional, this appropriateness condition reduces to conditional probability under some natural circumstances. Because this is in particular the case for the so-called diagnostic reading of the conditional, this analysis might help to explain some of Douven and Verbrugge's (2010) empirical observations. 

Sonja Smets (University of Amsterdam)

Titel:  A Semantic Modal View on Ramsey’s Test

Abstract: This presentation is based on joint work with Alexandru Baltag on a semantic analysis of the Ramsey test. The Ramsey test was proposed in 1929 by F. P. Ramsey as an evaluation procedure for certain conditionals.  While most discussions on such Ramsey conditionals assume a purely syntactic, and purely propositional, perspective, we adopt a semantic and more specifically a modal (and in particular a dynamic-doxastic) point of view. Hence we replace the standard (static) interpretation of the Ramsey conditional with a dynamic-doxastic one which captures a true revision operation for higher-order beliefs. The price we pay for having this belief-revision operator that is compatible with our dynamic-doxastic Ramsey conditional is that it will not satisfy all the AGM belief revision postulates. This might sound worrying, but in this presentation, I will show that the dynamic semantics for the belief revision operator has its advantages.

Johannes Roessler (University of Warwick)

Title: The Role of Counterfactuals in Belief Understanding

Abstract: A striking implication of some recent views of the nature of belief is that our understanding of the causal role of beliefs turns on our understanding of certain counterfactual conditionals. For example, according to John Hyman, "we can define the belief that p as the disposition to act (think,feel) as one normally or generally would if one knew that p". My aim in this talk is to try to articulate a version of this account that is not committed to the (as I shall argue) problematic thesis that we think of belief as a disposition. I also look at how the account bears on recent findings in developmental psychology regarding the relationship between children's developing understanding of counterfactual conditionals and of belief.

Georg Witte (FU Berlin)

Title: Repetition as Intervention: Counterfactual Historical Novels as Fictitious Reenactments

Abstract: In this talk, alternate history novels are discussed as an objection against a deterministic understanding of history. My considerations are set in the wider context of a reflection about potentials of historical fiction: namely, to pursue intervention in the history for the purpose of its retro-active opening. By returning the past its future, the historical fiction corresponds to a general experience of time in novels: the experience of unconcluded past. In alternate history novels two subjects of historical imagination meet: the subject of the re-imagining fantasy and the intradiegetic subject of the anticipating fantasy, that experiences history in situ and its possible courses. By the example of Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” and Christian Kracht’s “Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten” (“I will be there in the sunshine and the shade”), alternate history fiction will be discussed as a re-actualization of past anticipations.

Collaborative Talks

María Biezma (University of Konstanz) & Arno Goebel (University of Konstanz)

Titel: Interpreting ‘if p, q’ 

Abstract: The utterance of I will make some biscuits if you are hungry indicates that the speaker will make biscuits under the condition that the addressee is hungry. The prominent feature of this utterance, for our purposes, is that the truth of the consequent is taken to depend on the truth of the antecedent. These if-constructions are labeled hypothetical conditionals (HCs). In contrast, by uttering there are biscuits on the table if you want some, the speaker conveys that there are biscuits on the sideboard and that s/he is inviting the addressee to eat them. The truth of the consequent, in this case, does not depend on the truth of the antecedent. These if-constructions are traditionally dubbed biscuit conditionals (BCs). In this talk, we address the semantics and pragmatics of BCs. Our aim is to argue for a simple common semantics for BCs and HCs and to derive their differences pragmatically. We build on recent pragmatic accounts of BCs and bring them together with machinery from premise semantics for counterfactuals and the QUD theory of discourse structure. We argue that BC-interpretations are triggered when there is a contextual assumption of law-like independence.

Daniel Dohrn (HU Berlin) & Brigitte Obermayr (LMU Munich)

Titel: Historical Counterfactuals in Literature and Philosophy

Abstract: Historical counterfactuals, alternate history, and uchronia play an important albeit often contested role in literature and philosophy. We discuss selected patterns of their use and its reflection in metahistorical debate.

Brian Leahy (Harvard University) & Eva Rafetseder (University of Stirling)

Titel: On the Development of Counterfactual Reasoning

Abstract: Increasing evidence suggests that counterfactual reasoning is involved in false belief reasoning. Existing work is correlational; we developed a causal manipulation that revealed a signature of counterfactual reasoning in participants’ answers to false belief questions. In several experiments we tested children and found high positive correlations between counterfactual and false belief questions. Children were very likely to respond to both questions with the same answer, systematically making the same type of error. We discuss several theories and their ability to account for each aspect of our findings and conclude that reasoning about others’ beliefs and actions requires similar cognitive processes as using counterfactual suppositions.

Our experimental design exploits the established fact that children manage counterfactual suppositions in different ways over the course of development. Younger children use simple tools to reason from counterfactual suppositions, while older children are more sophisticated. Young children’s simple strategy yields the same results as mature reasoning with counterfactuals in many contexts, but careful design allows us to tease them apart. We conclude with a formal model that uses conditional logic to describe how children’s reasoning with counterfactuals changes as they age.

Thomas Müller (University of Konstanz) & Paul Ziche (Utrecht University)

Titel: Empiricist Necessity and Novel Objects: Moritz Pasch and Hans Vaihinger in Context

Abstract: We address an interesting companion of the hypothetical "What if?", the fictional "As if", via a study of the interaction between the early 20th century champion of a radically fictionalist "As if"-philosophy, Hans Vaihinger, and the rigourous mathematician Moritz Pasch. At first sight, any interaction between them, the more so an interaction bordering on cooperation, appears unlikely: Vaihinger finds in mathematics a key area for developing and applying contradictory fictions, whereas Pasch aims at explicit and fully consistent foundations for geometry and arithmetic. The tension is mitigated once we situate Pasch and Vaihinger in their historical context of a flourishing culture of generalizations around 1900. Both Pasch and Vaihinger can be seen as wrestling with the ontological commitments of the introduction of novel objects in the sciences and especially in mathematics, in both cases driven by -- subtly different -- empiricist concerns. We study in detail Pasch's key instrument for introducing talk "as if" of novel objects, implicit definitions, which Pasch explicitly links to Vaihinger's philosophy in a paper for the latter's journal, Annalen der Philosophie. One key point on which Pasch and Vaihinger can be seen to agree is their emphasis on the relation between mathematical and non-mathematical, everyday discourse. We end our study by situating both Pasch and Vaihinger within the divergent cultures of generalization around 1900, with special focus on Husserl.

Eric Raidl (University of Konstanz) & Niels Olsen (University of Goettingen)

Titel: Ranking Theoretic Semantics for Conditionals

Abstract: Expressivism is the thesis that the acceptance of a conditional depends on the epistemic or doxastic state. If the underlying doxastic states are relatively well understood, expressivism can be seen as a doxastic alternative to reductivist attempts of grounding conditionals in ontically conceived similarity relations. Doing so will bring semantics based on similarity relations closer into contact with psychological investigations of the linguistic competence of ordinary speakers. In the empirical part of the talk, we present a new dialogical, experimental paradigm for probing the participants' acceptance of entailments and present some first data on centering and conditional excluded middle for indicative conditionals. In the second logical part of the talk, we develop expressivism by using Spohn's (1988, 2012) ranking functions as doxastic states, where acceptance of a conditional (in a world) can be interpreted as a conditional belief (in that world). We show that the Lewisian hierarchy of conditional logics can be reproduced within the resulting ranking semantics, provided we slightly stretch the notion of a ranking function. We also address the following problem of vacuism: standard conditionals are trivially true for impossible antecedents. The talk investigates three modifications in a doxastic setting.

Antje Rumberg (University of Konstanz) & Sven Lauer (University of Konstanz)

Titel: What if, and when? Conditionals, Tense, and Branching Time

Abstract: Indicative conditionals with present tense antecedents can have 'shifted' readings that are unexpected given the semantic behavior of tenses outside of conditionals. In our talk, we compare two accounts of this phenomenon due to Kaufmann (2005) and Schulz (2008), by translating them into the framework of branching time. We then propose a novel account of indicative conditionals based on the branching time semantics suggested in Rumberg (2016), viz. the so-called transition semantics. We show that not only is the account of 'shifted' readings with present tense antecedents within this semantics very natural, but it also is empirically superior to its rivals in some respects.

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