Volume 14, 1988/1989
On the Tense Structure of Conditionals
When philosophers and linguists theorize about the nature of conditionals, they tend to make a number of assumptions about the linguistic structure of these sentences. For example, they almost invariably assume that conditionals have “antecedents” and “consequents” and that these have the structure of independent clauses. With a few exceptions, they assume that conditionals are categorized according to whether they are in the “indicative” or the “subjunctive” “mood”. However, rarely do they formulate criteria for identifying these moods, or for distinguishing between indicative and subjunctive conditionals.
Through an analysis of the coordinated verb tense structures of the clauses of English conditionals, I challenge these and other related assumptions and show that the one relatively well-developed attempt to provide criteria for distinguishing between indicative and subjunctive conditionals---that of Gibbard (1980)---fails in its task. I then offer an alternative account of the linguistic structure of conditional constructions. To represent their structure I use first-order predicate logic with added devices to indicate deictic and anaphoric reference.