Presupposing counterfactuality

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Julia Zakkou


There is long standing agreement both among philosophers and linguists that the term ‘counterfactual conditional’ is misleading if not a misnomer. Speakers of both non-past subjunctive (or ‘would’) conditionals and past subjunctive (or ‘would have’) conditionals need not convey counterfactuality. The relationship between the conditionals in question and the counterfactuality of their antecedents is thus not one of presupposing. It is one of conversationally implicating. This paper provides a thorough examination of the arguments against the presupposition view as applied to past subjunctive conditionals and finds none of them conclusive. All the relevant linguistic data, it is shown, are compatible with the assumption that past subjunctive conditionals presuppose the falsity of their antecedents. This finding is not only interesting on its own. It is of vital importance both to whether we should consider antecedent counterfactuality to be part of the conventional meaning of the conditionals in question and to whether there is a deep difference between indicative and subjective conditionals.


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