Counteractuals, Counterfactuals and Semantic Intuitions

Jesper Kallestrup*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Machery et al. (Cognition 92: B1–B12, 2004; Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 79: 332–356, 2009a, Analysis 69: 689–694, b; Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 86: 618–635, 2012) claim that analytic philosophers of language are committed to a method of cases (MC) according to which theories of reference are assessed by consulting semantic intuitions about actual and possible cases. Since empirical evidence suggests that such intuitions vary both within and across cultures, these experimental semanticists conclude that the traditional attempt at pursuing such theories is misguided. Against the backdrop of Kripke’s anti-descriptivist arguments, this paper offers a novel response to the challenge posed by Machery et al., arguing that they either misplace or exaggerate the role played by (MC). The lesson is that while semantic intuitions carry evidential weight in evaluating certain subjunctive conditionals reflecting counterfactual possibilities, they neither play an epistemic role in determining the actual reference of proper names, nor in evaluating certain indicative conditionals reflecting so-called counteractual possibilities. Moreover, once an asymmetry is acknowledged in Machery et al’s vignette between the narrator and the subject’s suppositions about the actual world, a corresponding ambiguity can account for the alleged culturally determined variation in semantic intuitions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-54
Number of pages20
JournalReview of Philosophy and Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2016


  • definite description
  • epistemic possibility
  • competent speaker
  • incompleteness theorem
  • indicative conditional


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