Intervention in deontic reasoning

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WooJin Chung


The ‘if p, ought p’ problem, famously known as Zvolenszky’s puzzle (Zvolenszky 2002), questions whether possible world semantics can assign proper truth conditions to sentences of the form ‘if p, ought p’. This paper suggests that it is not a problem of possible worlds semantics of modality, but rather, the ‘if p, ought p’ problem reveals the counterfactual nature of deontic modals which otherwise would have gone unnoticed. I propose that a counterfactual-based formulation of deontic necessity that implements intervention, jointly with the assumption that indicative conditionals facilitate backtracking, offers a principled solution to the ‘if p, ought p’ problem. I also present empirical evidence in favor of an interventionist approach to counterfactuals as opposed to similarity-based theories, at least in the domain of deontic reasoning.

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