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Summary One of the central approaches to explaining the epistemology of modality is the counterfactual approach. The counterfactual approach attempts to show that our knowledge of metaphysical modality is grounded in our reasoning about counterfactuals. 
Key works The central work on the counterfactual approach is Williamson 2009. In this work Williamson argues that metaphysical necessity and possibility are logically equivalent to certain counterfactual conditionals, and that reasoning via these counterfactual conditionals we can come to be justified in holding certain beliefs about modality. Other authors that have provided important insight on this approach are Hill 2006 and Kment 2006. Important criticisms of the approach have been raised by Jenkins 2008 and Roca-Royes 2011.
Introductions A key introduction is given by Vaidya 2007
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  1. Arif Ahmed (2000). Hale on Some Arguments for the Necessity of Necessity. Mind 109 (433):81-91.
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  2. Ruth M. J. Byrne (2005). The Rational Imagination: How People Create Alternatives to Reality. Mit Press.
    A leading scholar in the psychology of thinking and reasoning argues that the counterfactual imagination—the creation of "if only" alternatives to ...
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  3. Daniel Cohnitz (2012). The Logic(s) of Modal Knowledge. In Greg Restall & Gillian Russell (eds.), New Waves in Philosophical Logic. MacMillan.
  4. Daniel Dohrn, What Zif.
    In a series of articles, David Barnett (2006, 2009, 2010) has developed a general theory of conditionals. The grand aim is to reconcile the two main rivals: a suppositional and a truth-conditional view (Barnett 2006, 521). While I confine my critical discussion to counterfactuals, I will give some hints how they might spell trouble for his suppositional view in general.
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  5. Alan Hájek, Counterfactual Reasoning (Philosophical Aspects)—Quantitative.
    Counterfactuals are a species of conditionals. They are propositions or sentences, expressed by or equivalent to subjunctive conditionals of the form 'if it were the case that A, then it would be the case that B', or 'if it had been the case that A, then it would have been the case that B'; A is called the antecedent, and B the consequent. Counterfactual reasoning typically involves the entertaining of hypothetical states of affairs: the antecedent is believed or presumed to (...)
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  6. Bob Hale & Aviv Hoffmann (eds.) (2010). Modality: Metaphysics, Logic, and Epistemology. Oxford University Press.
    The philosophy of modality investigates necessity and possibility, and related notions--are they objective features of mind-independent reality? If so, are they irreducible, or can modal facts be explained in other terms? This volume presents new work on modality by established leaders in the field and by up-and-coming philosophers. Between them, the papers address fundamental questions concerning realism and anti-realism about modality, the nature and basis of facts about what is possible and what is necessary, the nature of modal knowledge, modal (...)
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  7. Christopher Hill (2006). Modality, Modal Epistemology, and the Metaphysics of Consciousness. In Shaun Nichols (ed.), The Architecture of the Imagination: New Essays on Pretense, Possibility, and Fiction. Oxford University Press.
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  8. C. S. Jenkins (2008). Modal Knowledge, Counterfactual Knowledge and the Role of Experience. Philosophical Quarterly 58 (233):693-701.
    In recent work Timothy Williamson argues that the epistemology of metaphysical modality is a special case of the epistemology of counterfactuals. I argue that Williamson has not provided an adequate argument for this controversial claim, and that it is not obvious how what he says should be supplemented in order to derive such an argument. But I suggest that an important moral of his discussion survives this point. The moral is that experience could play an epistemic role which is more (...)
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  9. Boris Kment (2006). Counterfactuals and the Analysis of Necessity. Philosophical Perspectives 20 (1):237–302.
  10. Thomas Kroedel (2012). Counterfactuals and the Epistemology of Modality. Philosophers' Imprint 12 (12).
    The paper provides an explanation of our knowledge of metaphysical modality, or modal knowledge, from our ability to evaluate counterfactual conditionals. The latter ability lends itself to an evolutionary explanation since it enables us to learn from mistakes. Different logical principles linking counterfactuals to metaphysical modality can be employed to extend this explanation to the epistemology of modality. While the epistemological use of some of these principles is either philosophically implausible or empirically inadequate, the equivalence of ‘Necessarily p’ with ‘For (...)
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  11. Duncan MacIntosh (1989). Modality, Mechanism and Translational Indeterminacy. Dialogue 28 (03):391-.
    Ken Warmbrod thinks Quine agrees that translation is determinate if it is determinate what speakers would say in all possible circumstances; that what things would do in merely possible circumstances is determined by what their subvisible constituent mechanisms would dispose them to do on the evidence of what alike actual mechanisms make alike actual things do actually; and that what speakers say is determined by their neural mechanisms. Warmbrod infers that people's neural mechanisms make translation of what people say determinate. (...)
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  12. Andrew Melnyk (2010). What Do Philosophers Know? [REVIEW] Grazer Philosophische Studien 80 (1):297-307.
    This is a critical notice of Timothy Williamson's, The Philosophy of Philosophy (Blackwell, 2007). It focuses on criticizing the book's two main positive proposals: that we should “replace true belief by knowledge in a principle of charity constitutive of content”, and that “the epistemology of metaphysically modal thinking is tantamount to a special case of the epistemology of counterfactual thinking”.
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  13. Bence Nanay (2010). Neither Scientists, nor Moralists: We Are Counterfactually Reasoning Animals. Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
    We are neither scientists nor moralists. Our mental capacities (like attributing intentionality) are neither akin to the scientist’s exact reasoning, nor are they “suffused through and through with moral considerations”. They are more similar to all those simple capacities that humans and animals are equally capable of, but with enhanced sensitivity to counterfactual situations: of what could have been.
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  14. Shaun Nichols (ed.) (2006). The Architecture of the Imagination: New Essays on Pretence, Possibility, and Fiction. Oxford University Press.
    This volume brings together specially written essays by leading researchers on the propositional imagination. This is the mental capacity we exploit when we imagine that Holmes has a bad habit or that there are zombies. It plays an essential role in philosophical theorizing, engaging with fiction, and indeed in everyday life. The Architecture of the Imagination capitalizes on recent attempts to give a cognitive account of this capacity, extending the theoretical picture and exploring the philosophical implications.
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  15. Christopher Peacocke (2011). Understanding, Modality, Logical Operators. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 82 (2):472 - 480.
    where F is a contradiction (I use his numbering). Tim says about these equivalences: (1) “modulo the implicit recognition of this equivalence, the epistemology of metaphysically modal thinking is a special case of the epistemology of counterfactual thinking. Whoever has what it takes to understand the counterfactual conditional and the elementary logical auxiliaries ~ and F has what it takes to understand possibility and necessity operators.” (158) (2) The idea that we evaluate metaphysically modal claims “by some quite different means (...)
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  16. Sonia Roca-Royes (2012). Essentialist Blindness Would Not Preclude Counterfactual Knowledge. Philosophia Scientiae 16 (2):149-172.
    This paper does two things. First, it defends, against a potential threat to it, the claim that a capacity for essentialist knowledge should not be placed among the core capacities for counterfactual knowledge. Second, it assesses a consequence of that claim—or better: of the discussion by means of which I defend it—in relation to Kment's and Williamson's views on the relation between modality and counterfactuals.
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  17. Sonia Roca-Royes (2011). Modal Knowledge and Counterfactual Knowledge. Logique Et Analyse 54 (216):537-552.
    The paper compares the suitability of two different epistemologies of counterfactuals—(EC) and (W)—to elucidate modal knowledge. I argue that, while both of them explain the data on our knowledge of counterfactuals, only (W)—Williamson’s epistemology—is compatible with all counterpossibles being true. This is something on which Williamson’s counterfactual-based account of modal knowledge relies. A first problem is, therefore, that, in the absence of further, disambiguating data, Williamson’s choice of (W) is objectionably biased. A second, deeper problem is that (W) cannot satisfactorily (...)
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  18. Andrea Sauchelli (2010). Concrete Possible Worlds and Counterfactual Conditionals: Lewis Versus Williamson on Modal Knowledge. Synthese 176 (3):345-359.
    The epistemology of modality is gradually coming to play a central role in general discussions about modality. This paper is a contribution in this direction, in particular I draw a comparison between Lewis’s Modal realism and Timothy Williamson’s recent account of modality in terms of counterfactual thinking. In order to have criteria of evaluation, I also formulate four requirements which are supposed to be met by any theory of modality to be epistemologically adequate.
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  19. Alfred Schramm (2014). Evidence, Hypothesis, and Grue. Erkenntnis 79 (3):571-591.
    Extant literature on Goodman’s ‘New Riddle of Induction’ deals mainly with two versions. I consider both of them, starting from the (‘epistemic’) version of Goodman’s classic of 1954. It turns out that it belongs to the realm of applications of inductive logic, and that it can be resolved by admitting only significant evidence (as I call it) for confirmations of hypotheses. Sect. 1 prepares some ground for the argument. As much of it depends on the notion of evidential significance, this (...)
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  20. Michael J. Shaffer (2013). Doxastic Voluntarism, Epistemic Deontology and Belief-Contravening Commitments. American Philosophical Quarterly 50 (1):73-82.
    Defenders of doxastic voluntarism accept that we can voluntarily commit ourselves to propositions, including belief-contravening propositions. Thus, defenders of doxastic voluntarism allow that we can choose to believe propositions that are negatively implicated by our evidence. In this paper it is argued that the conjunction of epistemic deontology and doxastic voluntarism as it applies to ordinary cases of belief-contravening propositional commitments is incompatible with evidentialism. In this paper ED and DV will be assumed and this negative result will be used (...)
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  21. Michael J. Shaffer (2011). Three Problematic Theories of Conditional Acceptance. Logos and Episteme 2 (1):117-125.
    In this paper it is argued that three of the most prominent theories of conditional acceptance face very serious problems. David Lewis' concept of imaging, the Ramsey test and Jonathan Bennett's recent hybrid view all face viscious regresses, or they either employ unanalyzed components or depend upon an implausibly strong version of doxastic voluntarism.
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  22. Ori Simchen (2004). On the Impossibility of Nonactual Epistemic Possibilities. Journal of Philosophy 101 (10):527-554.
    A problem inherited from Kripke is the reconciliation of commitments to various necessities with conflicting intuitions of contingency, intuitions that things "might have turned out otherwise." Kripke's reconciliation strategy is to say that while it is necessary that X is Y, and so impossible for X not to be Y, it is nevertheless epistemically possible for X not to be Y. But what are nonactual epistemic possibilities? Several answers are considered and it is concluded that scenarios adduced to explain away (...)
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  23. Ernest Sosa (1967). Hypothetical Reasoning. Journal of Philosophy 64 (10):293-305.
    In his important monograph, Hypothetical Reasoning, Nicholas Rescher develops a modal theory in order to throw some light on the nature of hypothetical reasoning and on the so-called "problem of counterfactual conditionals." I should like both to expound the theory and consider its application.
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  24. Tuomas E. Tahko (2012). Counterfactuals and Modal Epistemology. Grazer Philosophische Studien 86 (1):93–115.
    What is our epistemic access to metaphysical modality? Timothy Williamson suggests that the epistemology of counterfactuals will provide the answer. This paper challenges Williamson's account and argues that certain elements of the epistemology of counterfactuals that he discusses, namely so called background knowledge and constitutive facts, are already saturated with modal content which his account fails to explain. Williamson's account will first be outlined and the role of background knowledge and constitutive facts analysed. Their key role is to restrict our (...)
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  25. Terrance Tomkow, Computational Metaphysics.
    Introduces 'Turing Worlds' as a device for thinking about Metaphysical Problems and uses them to examine several different theories of counter-factuals.
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  26. Anand Vaidya, The Epistemology of Modality. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  27. Timothy Williamson (2007). Philosophical Knowledge and Knowledge of Counterfactuals. Grazer Philosophische Studien 74 (1):89-123.
    Metaphysical modalities are definable from counterfactual conditionals, and the epistemology of the former is a special case of the epistemology of the latter. In particular, the role of conceivability and inconceivability in assessing claims of possibility and impossibility can be explained as a special case of the pervasive role of the imagination in assessing counterfactual conditionals, an account of which is sketched. Thus scepticism about metaphysical modality entails a more far-reaching scepticism about counterfactuals. The account is used to question the (...)
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  28. Timothy Williamson (2007). The Philosophy of Philosophy. Blackwell Pub..
    The second volume in the Blackwell Brown Lectures in Philosophy, this volume offers an original and provocative take on the nature and methodology of philosophy. Based on public lectures at Brown University, given by the pre-eminent philosopher, Timothy Williamson Rejects the ideology of the 'linguistic turn', the most distinctive trend of 20th century philosophy Explains the method of philosophy as a development from non-philosophical ways of thinking Suggests new ways of understanding what contemporary and past philosophers are doing.
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  29. Timothy Williamson (2005). I *-Armchair Philosophy, Metaphysical Modality and Counterfactual Thinking. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 105 (1):1-23.
    A striking feature of the traditional armchair method of philosophy is the use of imaginary examples: for instance, of Gettier cases as counterexamples to the justified true belief analysis of knowledge. The use of such examples is often thought to involve some sort of a priori rational intuition, which crude rationalists regard as a virtue and crude empiricists as a vice. It is argued here that, on the contrary, what is involved is simply an application of our general cognitive capacity (...)
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  30. Juhani Yli-Vakkuri (2013). Modal Skepticism and Counterfactual Knowledge. Philosophical Studies 162 (3):605-623.
    Abstract Timothy Williamson has recently proposed to undermine modal skepticism by appealing to the reducibility of modal to counterfactual logic ( Reducibility ). Central to Williamson’s strategy is the claim that use of the same non-deductive mode of inference ( counterfactual development , or CD ) whereby we typically arrive at knowledge of counterfactuals suffices for arriving at knowledge of metaphysical necessity via Reducibility. Granting Reducibility, I ask whether the use of CD plays any essential role in a Reducibility-based reply (...)
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