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Alternatives for the Future: On the Role of Real Possibilities and Historical Conditionals for our Hypothetical and Counterfactual Thinking and Acting


PI: Prof. Dr. Thomas Müller, Department of Philosophy, University of Konstanz

Postdoc: Antje Rumberg, Department of Philosophy, University of Konstanz


We take a close look at an important class of conditionals: historical conditionals, both in the indicative ("If I leave now, I will make the 5:03 train") and in the subjunctive ("If I had left earlier, I would have made the 3:03 train"). It is characteristic for these conditionals that they refer to time-dependent, dynamic real possibilities. Such real possibilities are either still open alternatives for the future, as in the first example, or they were once alternatives for the future at some time in the past, as in the second example.

Even though historical conditionals play an important role both in everyday life and in examples discussed in the literature on conditionals, the way these conditionals are anchored in time has not been investigated in detail so far. The aim of our project is to fill this lacuna by focusing on taxonomical, semantic and pragmatic aspects of historical conditionals:

(i) With respect to taxonomy, we will study the demarcation of the class of historical conditionals in contrast to other classes of conditionals based on different, non-temporal notions of possibility.

(ii) With respect to semantics, we will develop a uniform semantics for both indicative and subjunctive historical conditionals. We will work in a branching time framework, building forth on a novel branching time semantics based on transitions.

(iii) With respect to pragmatics, we will study the interrelation between the inherent temporal dynamics of historical conditionals and the epistemic dynamics of conditionals in discourse.


(This project will commence in the summer of 2015.)