Probabilistic language in indicative and counterfactual conditionals

Daniel Lassiter


This paper analyzes indicative and counterfactual conditionals that have in their consequents probability operators: probable, likely, more likely than not, 50% chance and so on. I provide and motivate a unified compositional semantics for both kinds of probabilistic conditionals using a Kratzerian syntax for conditionals and a representation of information based on Causal Bayes Nets. On this account, the only difference between probabilistic indicatives and counterfactuals lies in the distinction between conditioning and intervening. This proposal explains why causal (ir)relevance is crucial for probabilistic counterfactuals, and why it plays no direct role in probabilistic indicatives. I conclude with some complexities related to the treatment of backtracking counterfactuals and subtleties revealed by probabilistic language in the revision procedure used to create counterfactual scenarios. In particular, I argue that certain facts about the interaction between probability operators and counterfactuals motivate the use of Structural Equation Models (Pearl 2000) rather than the more general formalism of Causal Bayes Nets.

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