The Grice Club


The Grice Club

The club for all those whose members have no (other) club.

Is Grice the greatest philosopher that ever lived?

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Grice on ‘if’-beliefs


  1. This doctoral dissertation investigates what influence indicative conditionals have on belief updating and how learning from conditionals may be modelled in a probabilistic framework. Because the problem is related to the interpretation of conditionals, we first assess different semantics of indicative conditionals. We propose that conditionals should be taken as primary concepts. This allows us to defend a claim that learning a conditional is equivalent to learning that the relevant conditional probability is 1. This implies that learning a conditional can be modelled as learning a material conditional. We then turn to a few competing approaches to the problem of learning from a conditional -- an approach that models these situations with regards to changes in the explanatory status of the antecedent, as minimising probability distances between the prior and posterior probability distributions, and, particularly, an approach based on epistemic entrenchment. It is argued that although all approaches are important for their pioneering contributions, none of them ultimately provides a fully satisfactory solution. We then formulate a proposal according to which learning a conditional may be modelled as learning a material conditional in conjunction with other contextually inferred or observed information. We show that the view has an intuitive appeal on the grounds of pragmatics and empirical research in psychology of reasoning. We also show that the proposed approach successfully resolves all standard cases from the literature. The proposal is then extended to left-nested conditionals. To do so, we first inspect some preliminary empirical data about actual reasoning with nested conditionals and then show that the proposed approach also successfully models these cases. We then investigate how the approach may be extended to the so-called imperative conditionals. We introduce a tripartite typology of imperative conditionals and argue that although imperatives cannot be probabilistically modelled in any straight-forward way, at least some general insights of the proposed method help us understand the influence that the three different types of imperative conditionals have on listeners’ beliefs. We conclude with a summary and some open questions that should be addressed in future work (e.g. the influence of counterfactuals on belief updating).

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