Counterfactuals, probabilistic counterfactuals and causation

Mind 108 (431):427-469 (1999)
Abstract
It seems to be generally accepted that (a) counterfactual conditionals are to be analysed in terms of possible worlds and inter-world relations of similarity and (b) causation is conceptually prior to counterfactuals. I argue here that both (a) and (b) are false. The argument against (a) is not a general metaphysical or epistemological one but simply that, structurally speaking, possible worlds theories are wrong: this is revealed when we try to extend them to cover the case of probabilistic counterfactuals. Indeed a type of counterfactual probability exists which cannot be expressed in possible worlds terms at all. The argument against (b) emerges when we look at the form of an adequate account of both probabilistic and non-probabilistic counterfactuals. I do this by sketching and defending an approach to counterfactuals that, first, invoke a generalized notion of cause as primitive and, secondly, is algorithmic in form: counterfactuals are evaluated algorithmically in terms of other counterfactuals, without vicious circularity. Structures like possible worlds do not play a role either in general truth-conditions or in evaluation. They are simply the wrong sorts of structures.
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