About this topic
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. Hale on Some Arguments for the Necessity of Necessity.Arif Ahmed - 2000 - Mind 109 (433):81-91.
    The paper argues against Bob Hale's (1999) argument that enquirers must regard some truths as necessary truths. Hale's argument against Quinean skepticism. like many similar arguments due to McFetridge, Wright and others, involves a quantifier shift fallacy.
  2. Impossible Worlds and the Logic of Imagination.Francesco Berto - forthcoming - Erkenntnis:1-21.
    I want to model a finite, fallible cognitive agent who imagines that p in the sense of mentally representing a scenario—a configuration of objects and properties—correctly described by p. I propose to capture imagination, so understood, via variably strict world quantifiers, in a modal framework including both possible and so-called impossible worlds. The latter secure lack of classical logical closure for the relevant mental states, while the variability of strictness captures how the agent imports information from actuality in the imagined (...)
  3. On Conceiving the Inconsistent.Francesco Berto - 2014 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 114:103-21.
    I present an approach to our conceiving absolute impossibilities—things which obtain at no possible world—in terms of ceteris paribus intentional operators: variably restricted quantifiers on possible and impossible worlds based on world similarity. The explicit content of a representation plays a role similar in some respects to the one of a ceteris paribus conditional antecedent. I discuss how such operators invalidate logical closure for conceivability, and how similarity works when impossible worlds are around. Unlike what happens with ceteris paribus counterfactual (...)
  4. The Rational Imagination: How People Create Alternatives to Reality.Ruth M. J. Byrne - 2005 - MIT Press.
    A leading scholar in the psychology of thinking and reasoning argues that the counterfactual imagination—the creation of "if only" alternatives to ...
  5. Counterfactuals and Modal Knowledge.Albert Casullo - 2012 - In Essays on a Priori Knowledge and Justification. Oxford University Press. pp. 251-270.
    One infl uential argument in support of the existence of a priori knowledge is due to Kant, who claimed that necessity is a criterion of the a priori—that is, that all knowledge of necessary propositions is a priori. Th at claim, together with two others that Kant took to be evident—we know some mathematical propositions and such propositions are necessary—led directly to the conclusion that some knowledge is a priori. Kripke ( 1971 , 1980 ) challenged Kant’s central claim by (...)
  6. The Logic(s) of Modal Knowledge.Daniel Cohnitz - 2012 - In Greg Restall & Gillian Russell (eds.), New Waves in Philosophical Logic. MacMillan.
  7. What Zif.Daniel Dohrn - manuscript
    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.
  8. Knowledge by Imagination - How Imaginative Experience Can Ground Knowledge.Fabian Dorsch - forthcoming - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy.
    In this article, I defend the view that we can acquire factual knowledge – that is, contingent propositional knowledge about certain (perceivable) aspects of reality – on the basis of imaginative experience. More specifically, I argue that, under suitable circumstances, imaginative experiences can rationally determine the propositional content of knowledge-constituting beliefs – though not their attitude of belief – in roughly the same way as perceptual experiences do in the case of perceptual knowledge. I also highlight some philosophical consequences of (...)
  9. An Interpretation of McCall’s “Real Possible Worlds” and His Semantics for Counterfactuals.Alexandru Dragomir - 2016 - Symposion. Theoretical and Applied Inquiries in Philosophy and Social Sciences 3 (1):65-78.
    McCall (1984) offered a semantics of counterfactual conditionals based on “real possible worlds” that avoids using the vague notion of similarity between possible worlds. I will propose an interpretation of McCall’s counterfactuals in a formal framework based on Baltag-Moss-Solecki events and protocols. Moreover, I will argue that using this interpretation one can avoid an objection raised by Otte (1987).
  10. Counterfactual Reasoning and Knowledge of Possibilities.Dominic Gregory - 2017 - Philosophical Studies 174 (4):821-835.
    Williamson has argued against scepticism concerning our metaphysically modal knowledge, by arguing that standard patterns of suppositional reasoning to counterfactual conclusions provide reliable sources of correct ascriptions of possibility and necessity. The paper argues that, while Williamson’s claims relating to necessity may well be right, he has not provided adequate reasons for thinking that the familiar modes of counterfactual reasoning to which he points generalise to provide a decent route to ascriptions of possibility. The paper also explores another path to (...)
  11. Counterfactual Reasoning (Philosophical Aspects)—Quantitative.Alan Hájek - 2002 - In N. J. Smelser & P. B. Baltes (eds.), International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Elsevier. pp. 2872-2874.
    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 (...)
  12. Modality: Metaphysics, Logic, and Epistemology.Bob Hale & Aviv Hoffmann (eds.) - 2009 - 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 (...)
  13. Modality, Modal Epistemology, and the Metaphysics of Consciousness.Christopher Hill - 2006 - In Shaun Nichols (ed.), The Architecture of the Imagination: New Essays on Pretense, Possibility, and Fiction. Oxford University Press.
  14. Why Follow the Royal Rule?Franz Huber - forthcoming - Synthese:1-26.
    This note is a sequel to Huber. It is shown that obeying a normative principle relating counterfactual conditionals and conditional beliefs, viz. the royal rule, is a necessary and sufficient means to attaining a cognitive end that relates true beliefs in purely factual, non-modal propositions and true beliefs in purely modal propositions. Along the way I will sketch my idealism about alethic or metaphysical modality.
  15. What Should I Believe About What Would Have Been the Case?Franz Huber - 2015 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 44 (1):81-110.
    The question I am addressing in this paper is the following: how is it possible to empirically test, or confirm, counterfactuals? After motivating this question in Section 1, I will look at two approaches to counterfactuals, and at how counterfactuals can be empirically tested, or confirmed, if at all, on these accounts in Section 2. I will then digress into the philosophy of probability in Section 3. The reason for this digression is that I want to use the way observable (...)
  16. Modal Knowledge, Counterfactual Knowledge and the Role of Experience.C. S. Jenkins - 2008 - 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 (...)
  17. Modal Objectivity.Clarke-Doane Justin - manuscript
    It is widely held that the intelligibility of modal metaphysics has been vindicated. Quine’s arguments to the contrary supposedly confused analyticity with metaphysical necessity, and rigid with non-rigid designators. But even if modal metaphysics is intelligible, it could be misconceived. It could be that metaphysical necessity is not absolute necessity – the strictest “non-epistemic” (non-deontic) notion of necessity – and that no proposition of traditional metaphysical interest is necessary in every non-epistemic sense. If there were nothing otherwise “uniquely metaphysically significant” (...)
  18. Counterfactuals and the Analysis of Necessity.Boris Kment - 2006 - Philosophical Perspectives 20 (1):237–302.
  19. Modal Knowledge, Evolution, and Counterfactuals.Thomas Kroedel - 2017 - In Robert William Fischer & Felipe Leon (eds.), Modal Epistemology After Rationalism. Dordrecht.
    The chapter defends an evolutionary explanation of modal knowledge from knowledge of counterfactual conditionals. Knowledge of counterfactuals is evolutionarily useful, as it enables us to learn from mistakes. Given the standard semantics for counterfactuals, there are several equivalences between modal claims and claims involving counterfactuals that can be used to explain modal knowledge. Timothy Williamson has suggested an explanation of modal knowledge that draws on the equivalence of ‘Necessarily p’ with ‘If p were false, a contradiction would be the case’. (...)
  20. Counterfactuals and the Epistemology of Modality.Thomas Kroedel - 2012 - 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 (...)
  21. Review of Bob Hale's Necessary Beings. [REVIEW]Nils Kürbis - 2015 - Disputatio (40).
    Review of Bob Hale's "Necessary Beings: An Essay on Ontology, Modality, and the Relations Between Them". Oxford: Oxford University Press 2013, ISBN 9780199669578.
  22. The Necessity of God and the Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking.Robin Le Poidevin - 2012 - In Yujin Nagasawa (ed.), Scientific Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion. Palgrave-Macmillan.
  23. Blocking Blockage.Ken Levy - 2016 - Philosophia 44 (2):565-583.
    The Blockage Argument is designed to improve upon Harry Frankfurt’s famous argument against the Principle of Alternative Possibilities by removing the counterfactual intervener altogether. If the argument worked, then it would prove in a way that Frankfurt’s argument does not that moral responsibility does not require any alternative possibilities whatsoever, not even the weakest “flicker of freedom”. -/- Some philosophers have rejected the Blockage Argument solely on the basis of their intuition that the inability to do otherwise is incompatible with (...)
  24. Modality, Mechanism and Translational Indeterminacy.Duncan MacIntosh - 1989 - 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. (...)
  25. Cue Competition Effects and Young Children's Causal and Counterfactual Inferences.Teresa McCormack, Stephen Andrew Butterfill, Christoph Hoerl & Patrick Burns - 2009 - Developmental Psychology 45 (6):1563-1575.
    The authors examined cue competition effects in young children using the blicket detector paradigm, in which objects are placed either singly or in pairs on a novel machine and children must judge which objects have the causal power to make the machine work. Cue competition effects were found in a 5- to 6-year-old group but not in a 4-year-old group. Equivalent levels of forward and backward blocking were found in the former group. Children's counterfactual judgments were subsequently examined by asking (...)
  26. What Do Philosophers Know? A Critical Study of Williamson's "The Philosophy of Philosophy". [REVIEW]Andrew Melnyk - 2010 - 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”.
  27. An Uncomfortable Armchair.Nenad Miščević - 2013 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 13 (1):5-28.
    The paper addresses Williamson’s original and challenging proposal for understanding of thought experiments . First, it puts it on the map of positions, describing it as “ordinarism”, the view that sees thinker’s reaction to the thought-experimental question as nothing extraordinary, let alone mysterious. Then, it passes to Williamson’s proposal to use counterfactuals in order to understand TEs, agrees with the main idea, but proposes a more structured view of capacities or “competences” active in the understanding and answering. Intuitions are important, (...)
  28. Moderately Naturalistic Metaphysics.Matteo Morganti & Tuomas E. Tahko - forthcoming - Synthese:1-24.
    The present paper discusses different approaches to metaphysics and defends a specific, non-deflationary approach that nevertheless qualifies as scientifically-grounded and, consequently, as acceptable from the naturalistic viewpoint. By critically assessing some recent work on science and metaphysics, we argue that such a sophisticated form of naturalism, which preserves the autonomy of metaphysics as an a priori enterprise yet pays due attention to the indications coming from our best science, is not only workable but recommended.
  29. Neither Scientists, nor Moralists: We Are Counterfactually Reasoning Animals.Bence Nanay - 2010 - 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.
  30. The Architecture of the Imagination: New Essays on Pretence, Possibility, and Fiction.Shaun Nichols (ed.) - 2006 - Oxford University Press UK.
    This volume presents new essays on the propositional imagination by leading researchers. The propositional imagination---the mental capacity we exploit when we imagine that everyone is colour-blind or that Hamlet is a procrastinator---plays an essential role in philosophical theorizing, engaging with fiction, and indeed in everyday life. Yet only recently has there been a systematic attempt to give a cognitive account of the propositional imagination. These thirteen essays, specially written for the volume, capitalize on this recent work, extending the theoretical picture (...)
  31. Understanding, Modality, Logical Operators. [REVIEW]Christopher Peacocke - 2011 - 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 (...)
  32. The World-Time Parallel: Tense and Modality in Logic and Metaphysics.A. A. Rini & M. J. Cresswell - 2012 - Cambridge University Press.
    Is what could have happened but never did as real as what did happen? What did happen, but isn't happening now, happened at another time. Analogously, one can say that what could have happened happens in another possible world. Whatever their views about the reality of such things as possible worlds, philosophers need to take this analogy seriously. Adriane Rini and Max Cresswell exhibit, in an easy step-by-step manner, the logical structure of temporal and modal discourse, and show that every (...)
  33. Essentialist Blindness Would Not Preclude Counterfactual Knowledge.Sonia Roca-Royes - 2012 - 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.
  34. Modal Knowledge and Counterfactual Knowledge.Sonia Roca-Royes - 2011 - 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 (...)
  35. Concrete Possible Worlds and Counterfactual Conditionals: Lewis Versus Williamson on Modal Knowledge.Andrea Sauchelli - 2010 - 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.
  36. Concrete Possible Worlds and Counterfactual Conditionals: Lewis Versus Williamson on Modal Knowledge.Andrea Sauchelli - 2010 - 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.
  37. Evidence, Hypothesis, and Grue.Alfred Schramm - 2014 - 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 (...)
  38. Doxastic Voluntarism, Epistemic Deontology and Belief-Contravening Commitments.Michael J. Shaffer - 2013 - 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 (...)
  39. Three Problematic Theories of Conditional Acceptance.Michael J. Shaffer - 2011 - 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.
  40. On The Impossibility of Nonactual Epistemic Possibilities.Ori Simchen - 2004 - 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 (...)
  41. Hypothetical Reasoning.Ernest Sosa - 1967 - 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.
  42. Counterfactual Support: Why Care?Michael Strevens - manuscript
    It seems very important to us whether or not a generalization offers counter-factual support—but why? Surely what happens in other possible worlds can neither help nor hurt us? This paper explores the question whether counter-factual support does, nevertheless, have some practical value. (The question of theoretical value will be addressed but then put aside.) The following thesis is proposed: the counterfactual-supporting generalizations are those for which there exists a compact and under normal circumstances knowable basis determining the fine-grained pattern of (...)
  43. Perceptual Knowledge of Nonactual Possibilities.Margot Strohminger - 2015 - Philosophical Perspectives 29 (1):363-75.
    It is widely assumed that sense perception cannot deliver knowledge of nonactual (metaphysical) possibilities. We are not supposed to be able to know that a proposition p is necessary or that p is possible (if p is false) by sense perception. This paper aims to establish that the role of sense perception is not so limited. It argues that we can know lots of modal facts by perception. While the most straightforward examples concern possibility and contingency, others concern necessity and (...)
  44. Moderate Modal Skepticism.Margot Strohminger & Juhani Yli-Vakkuri - forthcoming - In Matthew A. Benton, John Hawthorne & Dani Rabinowitz (eds.), Knowledge, Belief, and God: New Insights in Religious Epistemology. Oxford University Press.
    This paper examines "moderate modal skepticism", a form of skepticism about metaphysical modality defended by Peter van Inwagen in order to blunt the force of certain modal arguments in the philosophy of religion. Van Inwagen’s argument for moderate modal skepticism assumes Yablo's (1993) influential world-based epistemology of possibility. We raise two problems for this epistemology of possibility, which undermine van Inwagen's argument. We then consider how one might motivate moderate modal skepticism by relying on a different epistemology of possibility, which (...)
  45. Counterfactuals and Modal Epistemology.Tuomas E. Tahko - 2012 - 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 (...)
  46. Computational Metaphysics.Terrance Tomkow - manuscript
    Introduces 'Turing Worlds' as a device for thinking about Metaphysical Problems and uses them to examine several different theories of counter-factuals.
  47. The Epistemology of Modality.Anand Vaidya - 2007 - The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  48. Comparative Syllogism and Counterfactual Knowledge.Linton Wang & Wei-Fen Ma - 2014 - Synthese 191 (6):1327-1348.
    Comparative syllogism is a type of scientific reasoning widely used, explicitly or implicitly, for inferences from observations to conclusions about effectiveness, but its philosophical significance has not been fully elaborated or appreciated. In its simplest form, the comparative syllogism derives a conclusion about the effectiveness of a factor (e.g. a treatment or an exposure) on a certain property via an experiment design using a test (experimental) group and a comparison (control) group. Our objective is to show that the comparative syllogism (...)
  49. Reply to Vetter.Timothy Williamson - 2016 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 46 (4-5):796-802.
  50. The Philosophy of Philosophy.Timothy Williamson - 2007 - Blackwell.
    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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