Chances, Counterfactuals, and Similarity

John Hawthorne in a recent paper takes issue with Lewisian accounts of counterfactuals, when relevant laws of nature are chancy. I respond to his arguments on behalf of the Lewisian, and conclude that while some can be rebutted, the case against the original Lewisian account is strong.I develop a neo-Lewisian account of what makes for closeness of worlds. I argue that my revised version avoids Hawthorne’s challenges. I argue that this is closer to the spirit of Lewis’s first (non-chancy) proposal than is Lewis’s own suggested modification
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DOI 10.1111/j.1933-1592.2008.00196.x
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References found in this work BETA
David Lewis (1983). New Work for a Theory of Universals. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 61 (December):343-377.

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Citations of this work BETA
Alastair Wilson (2013). Schaffer on Laws of Nature. Philosophical Studies 164 (3):653-667.

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Cross-posted from


The handout for this week is here, the original paper is here.

I found this a particularly interesting paper. I’m in firm agreement with the main gist of Williams’ view- that the notion of typicality is in principle better adapted to deal with chancy similarity than the notion of ‘non-remarkableness’. That said, we found plenty of potential pressure points.

- Firstly, I’m not sure that quantum mechanics really has as wide-reaching consequences as is assumed in the paper. Depending on your response to the measurement problem, it could be that outcomes such as plates flying off sideways are not genuine quantum possibilities after all, because the low-amplitude branches are in some way ‘lost in the noise’. Although I think this issue is worth further investigation, I don’t think it’s critical to the debate between Williams, Hawthorne, and Lewis. Their worries can be raised about considerably less unlikely events – in fact, we can restrict ... (read more)