To check my understanding, the following is an indicative deontic conditional, correct?

"If you live in Texas, you ought to watch football."

It is indicative in the sense that it is reporting on a factual relationship about the actual world (it's not saying "If you were in Texas, you would be obligated to watch football."). It is deontic in that its consequent is normative.

Is the correct way to think about things?

  • Moved the comment to an answer. – user9166 Nov 19 '14 at 19:43

Yes I believe your understanding is correct. The statement is indicative because it expresses a known state of affairs. The statement is conditional because it uses the classic "if/then" or "antecedent/consequent" structure. The statement is deontic because it refers to what "ought to be" or what is "permissible."

A related statement, "if it were necessary that you live in Texas, you would be ought to watch football," would be classified as subjunctive deontic conditional because it expresses an unknown state of affairs.

So, yes, you're correct as far as I can see...


What is the real difference between this and

If you live in Texas you should watch football.

Is that sentence subjunctive or indicative? You can look at 'should' as just another transitive verb. Right? It is the past tense of "shall", and we push it into the past tense to indicate the subjunctive. Well "ought" is an old form of "owe", indicating subjunction was part of the process of its formation in the past.

Either way, at its deepest intention, this is something beyond merely indicative, it is something else as well.

To the broader issue, I think constructions like these are deontological, but indicative in form.

  1. He owes it to them. (When this is not about money -- I am making a moral deduction.)
  2. You will do as the Good Book says. (I am either stating or enforcing a rule.)
  3. This is to be rectified. (It is your obligation to see to it.)

The question is whether my expectation is a real or ideal thing that exists, which is being indicated, or whether it is always a potential duty of yours, being recognize by me.

If you allow for the kind of idealism upon which mathematics is based, all told, I think the category of 'non-indicative' itself does not make sense in anything but a linguistic sense. In a world with mathematical ideal forms that can be referenced as real things, everything is indicative, and my also be deontic, or otherwise subjunctive.

  • This might have been a good answer had it been asked on ELU. However, it was asked here at philosophy. In philosophy the terms "subjunctive" and Indicative" with reference to conditionals have little directly to do with grammar. They are different classes of sentence with different types of truth value. On ELU one response you'd get is that you're confusing the backshifting of tense with the term subjunctive. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Feb 4 '16 at 11:34
  • I was careful not to say that you were confusing these things because I'm not sure it makes sense to say that you are. However, I did say that that is one of the responses you'd get on EL&U (which I'm sure is true). You've said "we push it into the past tense to indicate the subjunctive", but modal verbs don't participate in subjunctive constructions in English. The term 'subjunctive' means something quite different and quite specific. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Feb 4 '16 at 15:36
  • Your objection is acknowledged in the question itself, and raising it redundantly is just pointless. The same notion of 'owed' as being either subjunctive or indicative depending upon the perspective survives in the "philosophical' concept of subjunction. English only has this difficutly because of the underlying logical problem. The English subjunctive in all but a few cases is formed off of the past tense. Describing the process of formation does not indicate confusion on my part. – user9166 Feb 4 '16 at 15:39
  • @Arucaria I have edited to avoid English, putting mathematics in its place. The linguistic problem and its proposed linguistic solution express a more basic problem, which is solved in a parallel way in mathematics. – user9166 Feb 4 '16 at 15:49

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