Counterfactual skepticism is (just) skepticism

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 108 (1):259-286 (2023)
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Counterfactual skepticism says that most ordinary counterfactuals are false. While few endorse counterfactual skepticism, the precise costs of the view are disputed and not generally well-understood. I have two aims in this paper. My first and primary aim is to establish, on grounds acceptable to all parties, that counterfactual skepticism is not benign. I argue it leads to significant skepticism about the future: if counterfactual skepticism is true, then we can have only very limited knowledge about the future. I give three arguments to this conclusion, taking as premises principles connecting knowledge of indicative conditionals to knowledge of disjunctions; and principles linking knowledge of indicative conditionals to knowledge of counterfactual conditionals.My second aim is to examine the consequences for non-skeptical theories. My arguments indicate that not only are many ordinary counterfactuals true, but that we also know them. How can this be reconciled with the very real tension between counterfactuals and chance? I consider two solutions, one purely epistemic and one contextualist. Together they suggest something like contextualism about knowledge is required to fully resolve the skeptical threat.

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David Boylan
Texas Tech University

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References found in this work

Knowledge and lotteries.John Hawthorne - 2004 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Elusive knowledge.David Lewis - 1996 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74 (4):549 – 567.
Solving the skeptical problem.Keith DeRose - 1995 - Philosophical Review 104 (1):1-52.
Philosophical Explanations.Robert Nozick - 1981 - Mind 93 (371):450-455.

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