The Time of Possibilities: Truth and Felicity of Subjunctive Conditionals

M. Ippolito, 2002

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This dissertation is a study of modality and, in particular, of conditional statements within the framework of possible world semantics.  I argue that in order to understand what the meaning of a modal sentence is we need to look closely at the internal composition of accessibility relations.  Accessibility relations are shown to be complex relations involving both a world and a time evaluation, and it is shown that temporal and aspectual operators can be interpreted in the modal domain, and may not occur inside the scope of the modal operator. When interpreted in this position, temporal and aspectual operators contribute to the selection of the possible worlds by defining the relevant notion of accessibility.  Capitalizing on work by Irene Heim, David Lewis and Robert Stalnaker, I show that this proposal allows us to develop a semantic analysis of those conditionals that are traditionally called subjunctive conditionals, and to provide an answer to how to select the worlds that the modal operator quantifies over.  Finally, I argue that the semantic analysis of the asymmetry of counterfactual dependence discussed by Lewis (1979) cannot be maintained in that it does not account for the contrast between the felicity conditions of different types of subjunctive conditionals.  Instead, I contend that our theory based on a time-dependent notion of accessibility can.

Thesis Supervisor:         Irene Heim

Title:                             Professor of Linguistics

Table of Contents

Chapter 1         Introduction                                                                                          10

            I.          Modality and the selection of possible worlds                            10

            II.         Subjunctive conditionals                                                                        14

            III.       Overview of the dissertation                                                                  18

Chapter 2         Temporal Mismatches in Subjunctive Conditionals: The Puzzle   20

            I.          Future counterfactuals                                                                           20

            II.         Temporal mismatches                                                                           23

            III.       A theory of mismatched past subjunctive conditionals: Ogihara

(2000)                                                                                                  29

Chapter 3         A Semantic Analysis of Subjunctive Conditionals                                   36

            Part I:   Subjunctive conditionals                                                                        36

                        I.          Introduction                                                                              36

                        II.         The puzzle of subjunctive conditionals                            45

                                    II.1       How to revise the context set                                        48

                                    II.2       The puzzle of subjunctive conditionals revisited  51

            Part II:  What looks like past is perfect                                                  55

                        I.          The semantic analysis of subjunctive conditionals                       55

                                    I.1        What looks like past is perfect                          56

                        II.         The puzzle of subjunctive conditionals solved                 65

                                    II.1       Indicative conditionals                                       74

                                    II.2       Implicature                                                                   77

                        III.       Conclusion                                                                               82

Chapter 4         Temporal Mismatches in Subjunctive Conditionals: The Solution            84

            I.          Mismatched past subjunctive counterfactuals                             84

            II.         Proposal                                                                                               87

                        II.1       The felicity puzzle: one versus two layers of past                        90

                        II.2       Cancelability                                                                             93

            III.       Entailment and anaphora                                                                       94

            IV.       Presuppositions without presupposition triggers                         103

                        IV.1     Definite descriptions of events                                       105

            V.        A classification of conditionals                                                   114

            VI.       The content of accessibility relations                                                      117

                        VI.1     Worlds and direction of time: Lewis 1979                                 118

                        VI.2     Overall similarity is not enough                                      121

                        VI.3     The time of divergence                                                  123

            VII.      Conclusion                                                                                           126

Chapter 5         The Perfect in Disguise                                                              128

            I.          High and low perfects                                                                          128

            II.         The perfect of evidentiality                                                                    142

            III.       Conclusion                                                                                           151

Chapter 6         Remarks on Inverted Conditionals and Conclusion                                154

            I.          Inverted conditionals                                                                             154

            II.         Conclusion of the dissertation                                                                164