Anankastic conditionals are still a mystery

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Milo Phillips-Brown


‘If you want to go to Harlem, you have to take the A train’ doesn’t look special. Yet a compositional account of its meaning, and the meaning of anankastic conditionals more generally, has proven an enigma. Semanticists have responded by assigning anankastics a unique status, distinguishing them from ordinary indicative conditionals. Condoravdi & Lauer (2016) maintain instead that “anankastic conditionals are just conditionals.” I argue that Condoravdi and Lauer don’t give a general solution to a well-known problem: the problem of conflicting goals. They rely on a special, “effective preference” interpretation for want on which an agent cannot want two things that conflict with her beliefs. A general solution, though, requires that the goals cannot conflict with the facts. Condoravdi and Lauer’s view fails. Yet they show, I believe, that previous accounts fail too. Anankastic conditionals are still a mystery.

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Milo Phillips-Brown, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Graduate student