Counterfactuals and explanation

Mind 115 (458):261-310 (2006)
On the received view, counterfactuals are analysed using the concept of closeness between possible worlds: the counterfactual 'If it had been the case that p, then it would have been the case that q' is true at a world w just in case q is true at all the possible p-worlds closest to w. The degree of closeness between two worlds is usually thought to be determined by weighting different respects of similarity between them. The question I consider in the paper is which weights attach to different respects of similarity. I start by considering Lewis's answer to the question and argue against it by presenting several counterexamples. I use the same examples to motivate a general principle about closeness: if a fact obtains in both of two worlds, then this similarity is relevant to the closeness between them if and only if the fact has the same explanation in the two worlds. I use this principle and some ideas of Lewis's to formulate a general account of counterfactuals, and I argue that this account can explain the asymmetry of counterfactual dependence. The paper concludes with a discussion of some examples that cannot be accommodated by the present version of the account and therefore necessitate further work on the details.
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DOI 10.1093/mind/fzl261
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Rachael Briggs (2012). Interventionist Counterfactuals. Philosophical Studies 160 (1):139-166.
Elijah Chudnoff (2013). Intuitive Knowledge. Philosophical Studies 162 (2):359-378.
Boris Kment (2006). Counterfactuals and the Analysis of Necessity. Philosophical Perspectives 20 (1):237–302.

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Cross-posted from

Boris Kment - Counterfactuals and Explanation

A really interesting paper this week - it can be found here, and the presentation is here.

Kment's main proposal is that match of matters of particular fact should be relevant to closeness of two worlds for the purposes of evaluating counterfactuals if and only if the matters of fact have the same explanation in both worlds. Secondarily, he proposes that we should allow for laws to have exceptions, and hence that all worlds which share the same laws as ours should be closer to actuality than any world with different laws.

We quite liked the main proposal, but worried about the individuation of explanations it relies upon. What are the conditions for two events to have the same explanation? For example, consider the counterfactual 'if I had tossed the coin five minutes earlier, it would still have come up heads'. This seems false, but perhaps Kment can account for this falsity by sayi ... (read more)