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Elusive Counterfactuals

Noûs 50 (2):286-313 (2016)

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  1. Levelling Counterfactual Scepticism.Katie Steele & Alexander Sandgren - 2020 - Synthese 199 (1-2):927-947.
    In this paper, we develop a novel response to counterfactual scepticism, the thesis that most ordinary counterfactual claims are false. In the process we aim to shed light on the relationship between debates in the philosophy of science and debates concerning the semantics and pragmatics of counterfactuals. We argue that science is concerned with many domains of inquiry, each with its own characteristic entities and regularities; moreover, statements of scientific law often include an implicit ceteris paribus clause that restricts the (...)
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  • Counterfactual Skepticism and Multidimensional Semantics.H. Orri Stefánsson - 2018 - Erkenntnis 83 (5):875-898.
    It has recently been argued that indeterminacy and indeterminism make most ordinary counterfactuals false. I argue that a plausible way to avoid such counterfactual skepticism is to postulate the existence of primitive modal facts that serve as truth-makers for counterfactual claims. Moreover, I defend a new theory of ‘might’ counterfactuals, and develop assertability and knowledge criteria to suit such unobservable ‘counterfacts’.
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  • Indicatives at Stake.Javier González de Prado Salas - 2019 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 62 (7):755-778.
    ABSTRACTSeveral authors have claimed that indicative conditionals are sensitive to the epistemic perspective of agents. According to this sort of view, the truth of an indicative conditional depends on the background evidence of some relevant agent or group of agents. In this paper, I argue that the context-dependence of indicative conditionals goes beyond this. Indicative conditionals are not only sensitive to the evidence of agents, but also to contextual factors that determine what is inferable from such background evidence. More specifically, (...)
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  • Counterfactuals, Indeterminacy, and Value: A Puzzle.Eli Pitcovski & Andrew Peet - 2022 - Synthese 200 (1):1-20.
    According to the Counterfactual Comparative Account of harm and benefit, an event is overall harmful for a subject to the extent that this subject would have been better off if it had not occurred. In this paper we present a challenge for the Counterfactual Comparative Account. We argue that if physical processes are chancy in the manner suggested by our best physical theories, then CCA faces a dilemma: If it is developed in line with the standard approach to counterfactuals, then (...)
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  • Strict Conditional Accounts of Counterfactuals.Cory Nichols - 2017 - Linguistics and Philosophy 40 (6):621-645.
    von Fintel and Gillies : 329–360, 2007) have proposed a dynamic strict conditional account of counterfactuals as an alternative to the standard variably strict account due to Stalnaker and Lewis. Von Fintel’s view is motivated largely by so-called reverse Sobel sequences, about which the standard view seems to make the wrong predictions. More recently Moss :561–586, 2012) has offered a pragmatic/epistemic explanation that purports to explain the data without requiring abandonment of the standard view. So far the small amount of (...)
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  • Relevance First: Relocating Similarity in Counterfactual Semantics.Cory Nichols - 2020 - Synthese 198 (11):10529-10564.
    The last several decades of research on counterfactual conditionals in the fields of philosophy and linguistics have yielded a predominant paradigm according to which the notion of similarity plays the starring role. Roughly, a counterfactual of the form A > C is true iff the closest A-worlds are all C-worlds, where the closeness of a world is a function of its similarity, in a certain sense, to the actual world. I argue that this is deeply misguided. In some cases we (...)
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  • Should We Be Skeptics or Contextualists About Counterfactual Conditionals?Yael Loewenstein - 2021 - Philosophy Compass 16 (10).
  • Heim Sequences and Why Most Unqualified ‘Would’-Counterfactuals Are Not True.Yael Loewenstein - 2021 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 99 (3):597-610.
    ABSTRACT The apparent consistency of Sobel sequences famously motivated David Lewis to defend a variably strict conditional semantics for counterfactuals. If Sophie had gone to the parade, she would have seen Pedro. If Sophie had gone to the parade and had been stuck behind someone tall, she would not have seen Pedro. But if the order of the counterfactuals in a Sobel sequence is reversed—in the example, if is asserted prior to —the second counterfactual asserted no longer rings true. This (...)
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  • Counterfactual Discourse in Context.Karen S. Lewis - 2018 - Noûs 52 (3):481-507.
    The classic Lewis-Stalnaker semantics for counterfactuals captures that Sobel sequences are consistent sequences, for example: a.If Sophie had gone to the parade, she would have seen Pedro dance. b.But if Sophie had gone to the parade and been stuck behind someone tall, she would not have seen Pedro dance. But reverse a sequence like this one and it no longer sounds so good, which is surprising on the classic semantics. This observation motivated Kai von Fintel and Thony Gillies to propose (...)
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  • Does Chance Undermine Would?Alexander W. Kocurek - 2022 - Mind 131 (523):747-785.
    Counterfactual scepticism holds that most ordinary counterfactuals are false. The main argument for this view appeals to a ‘chance undermines would’ principle: if ψ would have some chance of not obtaining had ϕ obtained, then ϕ □→ ψ is false. This principle seems to follow from two fairly weak principles, namely, that ‘chance ensures could’ and that ϕ □→ ψ and ϕ ⋄→ ¬ ψ clash. Despite their initial plausibility, I show that these principles are independently problematic: given some modest (...)
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  • Non-Measurability, Imprecise Credences, and Imprecise Chances.Yoaav Isaacs, Alan Hájek & John Hawthorne - 2022 - Mind 131 (523):892-916.
    – We offer a new motivation for imprecise probabilities. We argue that there are propositions to which precise probability cannot be assigned, but to which imprecise probability can be assigned. In such cases the alternative to imprecise probability is not precise probability, but no probability at all. And an imprecise probability is substantially better than no probability at all. Our argument is based on the mathematical phenomenon of non-measurable sets. Non-measurable propositions cannot receive precise probabilities, but there is a natural (...)
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  • You ought to have known: positive epistemic norms in a knowledge-first framework.Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa - 2022 - Synthese 200 (5):1-23.
    There are two central kinds of epistemological mistakes: believing things you shouldn’t, and failing to believe things that you should. The knowledge-first program offers a canonical explanation for the former: if you believe something without knowing it, you violate the norm to believe only that which you know. But the explanation does not extend in any plausible way to a story about what’s wrong with suspending judgment when one ought to believe. In this paper I explore prospects for a knowledge-centering (...)
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  • Contra Counterfactism.Alan Hájek - 2020 - Synthese 199 (1-2):181-210.
    ‘If I were to toss a coin 1000 times, then it would land heads exactly n times’. Is there a specific value of n that renders this counterfactual true? According to an increasingly influential view, there is. A precursor of the view goes back to the Molinists; more recently it has been inspired by Stalnaker, and versions of it have been advocated by Hawthorne, Bradley, Moss, Schulz, and Stefánsson. More generally, I attribute to these authors what I call Counterfactual Plenitude:For (...)
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  • Counterfactual Scepticism and Antecedent-Contextualism.Alan Hájek - 2020 - Synthese 199 (1-2):637-659.
    I have argued for a kind of ‘counterfactual scepticism’: most counterfactuals ever uttered or thought in human history are false. I briefly rehearse my main arguments. Yet common sense recoils. Ordinary speakers judge most counterfactuals that they utter and think to be true. A common defence of such judgments regards counterfactuals as context-dependent: the proposition expressed by a given counterfactual can vary according to the context in which it is uttered. In normal contexts, the counterfactuals that we utter are typically (...)
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  • Counterfactuals and Modality.Gabriel Greenberg - 2021 - Linguistics and Philosophy 1 (6):1-26.
    This essay calls attention to a set of linguistic interactions between counterfactual conditionals, on one hand, and possibility modals like could have and might have, on the other. These data present a challenge to the popular variably strict semantics for counterfactual conditionals. Instead, they support a version of the strict conditional semantics in which counterfactuals and possibility modals share a unified quantificational domain. I’ll argue that pragmatic explanations of this evidence are not available to the variable analysis. And putative counterexamples (...)
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  • Defeasibility and Inferential Particularism.Javier González de Prado Salas - 2017 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 25 (1):80-98.
    In this paper I argue that defeasible inferences are occasion-sensitive: the inferential connections of a given claim depend on features of the circumstances surrounding the occasion of inference. More specifically, it is an occasion-sensitive matter which possible defeaters have to be considered explicitly by the premises of an inference and which possible defeaters may remain unconsidered, without making the inference enthymematic. As a result, a largely unexplored form of occasion-sensitivity arises in inferentialist theories of content that appeal to defeasible inferences.
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  • The Metaphysical Consequences of Counterfactual Skepticism.Nina Emery - 2017 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 94 (2):399-432.
    A series of recent arguments purport to show that most counterfactuals of the form if A had happened then C would have happened are not true. These arguments pose a challenge to those of us who think that counterfactual discourse is a useful part of ordinary conversation, of philosophical reasoning, and of scientific inquiry. Either we find a way to revise the semantics for counterfactuals in order to avoid these arguments, or we find a way to ensure that the relevant (...)
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  • The Non-Maximality-Solution to Counterfactual Scepticism.Daniel Dohrn - 2020 - Synthese 199 (1-2):1499-1520.
    The following semantics for counterfactuals is fairly standard: for a counterfactual to be true, the closest antecedent worlds have to be consequent worlds. Closeness is measured by overall similarity of worlds to an evaluation world. There is a range of interrelated challenges to this account: counterfactual scepticism, ‘Hegel’-, ‘Sobel’-, and ‘Heim’-sequences. So far there is no unified solution to these challenges. I discuss a solution that preserves the standard semantics by writing the shifty parameter into pragmatics. The solution has been (...)
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  • Perceived Similarity of Imagined Possible Worlds Affects Judgments of Counterfactual Plausibility.Felipe De Brigard, Paul Henne & Matthew L. Stanley - 2021 - Cognition 209 (C):104574.
    People frequently entertain counterfactual thoughts, or mental simulations about alternative ways the world could have been. But the perceived plausibility of those counterfactual thoughts varies widely. The current article interfaces research in the philosophy and semantics of counterfactual statements with the psychology of mental simulations, and it explores the role of perceived similarity in judgments of counterfactual plausibility. We report results from seven studies (N = 6405) jointly supporting three interconnected claims. First, the perceived plausibility of a counterfactual event is (...)
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  • Simple Belief.John Collins - 2020 - Synthese 197 (11):4867-4885.
    We have reasons to want an epistemology of simple belief in addition to the Bayesian notion of belief which admits of degree. Accounts of simple belief which attempt to reduce it to the notion of credence all face difficulties. We argue that each conception captures an important aspect of our pre-theoretic thinking about epistemology; the differences between the two accounts of belief stem from two different conceptions of unlikelihood. On the one hand there is unlikelihood in the sense of improbability, (...)
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  • Inheritance: Professor Procrastinate and the Logic of Obligation.Kyle Blumberg & John Hawthorne - forthcoming - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
    Inheritance is the principle that deontic `ought' is closed under entailment. This paper is about a tension that arises in connection with Inheritance. More specifically, it is about two observations that pull in opposite directions. One of them raises questions about the validity of Inheritance, while the other appears to provide strong support for it. We argue that existing approaches to deontic modals fail to provide us with an adequate resolution of this tension. In response, we develop a positive analysis, (...)
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  • A Graded Semantics for Counterfactuals.Libor Běhounek & Ondrej Majer - 2021 - Synthese 199 (5-6):11963-11994.
    This article presents an extension of Lewis’ analysis of counterfactuals to a graded framework. Unlike standard graded approaches, which use the probabilistic framework, we employ that of many-valued logics. Our principal goal is to provide an adequate analysis of the main background notion of Lewis’ approach—the one of the similarity of possible worlds. We discuss the requirements imposed on the analysis of counterfactuals by the imprecise character of similarity and concentrate in particular on robustness, i.e., the requirement that small changes (...)
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  • Disposition Ascriptions.Simona Aimar - 2019 - Philosophical Studies 176 (7):1667-1692.
    I argue that disposition ascriptions—claims like ‘the glass is fragile’—are semantically equivalent to possibility claims: they are true when the given object manifests the disposition in at least one of the relevant possible worlds.
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  • Counterfactual Conditionals: Orthodoxy and its Challenges.Daniel Dohrn - 2020 - Milan: Mimesis International.
    In Counterfactual Conditionals, Daniel Dohrn discusses the standard account of counterfactuals, conditionals of the form ‘If A had been the case, then B would have been the case’. According to the standard account, a counterfactual is true if the then-sentence is true in all closest worlds in which the if-sentence is true. Closeness is spelled out in terms of an ordering of worlds by their similarity. Dohrn explores resources of defending the standard account against several challenges. In particular, he defends (...)
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  • "Knowledge First" and Its Limits.Tammo Lossau - 2022 - Dissertation, Johns Hopkins University
    I discuss three understandings of the idea of “Knowledge First Epistemology”, i.e. Timothy Williamson’s suggestion that we should take knowledge as a starting point, rather than trying to analyze it. Some have taken this to be a suggestion about the role of the concept of knowledge, but Williamson also seems to be concerned with intuition-based metaphysics. As an alternative, I develop the idea that knowledge may be a social kind that can be understood through a functional analysis in the tradition (...)
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  • And Therefore.Bram Vaassen & Alex Sandgren - 2021 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy.
    This article focuses on `therefore' constructions such as ‘The switch is on, and therefore the lights are on’. We submit that the contribution of `therefore’ is to express a dependence as part of the core content of these constructions, rather than being conveyed by conventional implicature (Grice 1975, Potts 2005, Neta 2013) or a triggered presupposition (Pavese 2017, forthcoming, Stokke 2017). We argue that the standard objections to this view can be answered by relying on the general projection hypothesis defended (...)
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  • How to Reject a Counterfactual.Vittorio Morato - 2017 - Logique Et Analyse 239:317-335.
    Aaccording to D. K. lewis (1973), would-couterfactuals and might-counterfactuals are duals. from this, it follows that the negation of a would-counterfactual is equiv- alent to the corresponding “might-not”-counterfactual and that the negation of a might-counterfactual is equivalent to the corresponding “would-not”- counterfactual. there are cases, however, where we seem to be entitled to accept the would- counterfactual and we are also equally entitled to accept the corresponding might-not-counterfactual and cases where we seem to be entitled to accept the might-counterfactual without (...)
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  • Dynamic Semantics.Karen S. Lewis - 2017 - Oxford Handbooks Online.
    This article focuses on foundational issues in dynamic and static semantics, specifically on what is conceptually at stake between the dynamic framework and the truth-conditional framework, and consequently what kinds of evidence support each framework. The article examines two questions. First, it explores the consequences of taking the proposition as central semantic notion as characteristic of static semantics, and argues that this is not as limiting in accounting for discourse dynamics as many think. Specifically, it explores what it means for (...)
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  • Counterfactuals and Knowledge.Karen S. Lewis - 2017 - In Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Contextualism. pp. 411-424.
  • Conditionals.R. A. Briggs - 2019 - In Richard Pettigrew & Jonathan Weisberg (eds.), The Open Handbook of Formal Epistemology. PhilPapers Foundation. pp. 543-590.
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