A Philosophical Guide to Conditionals

A Philosophical Guide to Conditionals

A Philosophical Guide to Conditionals

A Philosophical Guide to Conditionals


Conditional sentences are among the most intriguing and puzzling features of language, and analysis of their meaning and function has important implications for, and uses in, many areas of philosophy. Jonathan Bennett, one of the world's leading experts, distils many years' work and teaching into this book, making it the fullest and most authoritative treatment of the subject.


Perhaps a 'Guide' should cover its field in an even-handed manner, whereas the present work takes sides in some active debates. Still, I try to be informative about positions that I reject, fitting them into the picture and giving them their hour in court; so this book can serve as a guide to as much of the literature as I have been able to understand.

Why should anyone want to be helped to manage the literature on conditionals? My answer appears in §1.

There is more original work here than is usual in guides. I make no apology for that. I venture to remark that Chapter 22 is, in my opinion, my weightiest original contribution to the understanding of conditionals.

Conditionals had a regular place in my tutorial teaching in Cambridge (1956-68), and I lectured on them a little at the University of British Columbia (1970-9). At Syracuse University (1979-97) they were the subject of five semester-long graduate seminars, the book-length notes for which grew through four rewritings to resemble a book in other ways too. Since retiring from teaching, I have consulted more philosophers, read more, thought harder and more carefully, and kneaded the material into better shape. Here it is, the best I can do, though Iris Murdoch was right: 'No philosophy book is ever finished, it is only abandoned.'

This Guide is aimed primarily at graduate students and senior undergraduates, but it may have something to offer also to their teachers.

Much philosophical writing on conditionals is, to put it vaguely, technical, and its authors have a facility with such things that has been denied to me. My painful crawl towards understanding may have helped me to be useful. In the literature as it stands, moves are often made with a swiftness that declares them to be obviously sound, whereas for many of us they are not obviously anything. My own struggles warn me against cutting expository corners in that way.

They also limit what I can tackle. My sad consciousness of the range of daunting technical logical work by van Fraassen, Thomason, Stalnaker, Skyrms, Pollock, Nute, McGee, Lewis, Levi, Jeffreys, Harper, Hall, Hájek, Gupta, Gibbard, Adams, and others has intensified through the years. I cannot get this work under my belt securely enough to be able to report on it decently, but two thoughts console me. Even if I did master those materials, to expound them for my intended readers would require an intolerably long book; and I do understand

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