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This talk is concerned with the meanings of the words cause and because. We propose that a single mechanism is responsible for three seemingly distinct properties of their semantics. The properties are, firstly, their comparative nature: interpreting cause and because involves comparing what would happen in the presence of the cause (a positive condition) with what would happen in the absence of the cause (a negative condition). Secondly, there is an asymmetry in logical strength between the two conditions: the positive condition involves a necessity modal while the negative condition involves a possibility modal. Thirdly, the positive and negative conditions must have the same modal base, i.e. must be interpreted while assuming the same set of background facts.
Despite the apparent dissimilarity of these properties, we show that they can be explained by a single mechanism: exhaustification. We show that this exhaustification operator is obligatory – even when it leads to an overall weaker meaning – suggesting that it is part of the lexical semantics of cause and because.