Why do the Laws Support Counterfactuals?

Erkenntnis 87 (2):545-566 (2020)
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This paper aims to explain why the laws of nature are held fixed in counterfactual reasoning. I begin by highlighting three salient features of counterfactual reasoning: it is conservative, nomically guided, and it uses hindsight. I then present a rationale for our engagement in counterfactual reasoning that aims to make sense of these features. In particular, I argue that counterfactual reasoning helps us evaluate the evidential relations between unanticipated pieces of evidence and various hypotheses of interest about the history of the actual world. Given this goal, it makes a great deal of sense that counterfactual reasoning would have the aforementioned features. Additionally, it turns out that this account of counterfactual reasoning is nicely congruent with Humean views of laws. Specifically, it can explain, in a Humean-friendly way, both why the laws are counterfactually resilient, and why we may be inclined to have anti-Humean intuitions in the first place, even if some form of Humeanism is correct.



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Chris Dorst
University of Florida

Citations of this work

Revisiting McKay and Johnson's counterexample to beta.Pedro Merlussi - forthcoming - Philosophical Explorations 25 (2):189-203.
Can Pragmatic Humeanism Account for the Counterfactual Invariance of Natural Laws?Marc Lange - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
Non-Humean Laws and Scientific Practice.Robert Smithson - 2020 - Erkenntnis 87 (6):2871-2895.

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References found in this work

Fact, Fiction, and Forecast.Nelson Goodman - 1965 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Philosophical papers.David Kellogg Lewis - 1983 - New York: Oxford University Press.
What is a Law of Nature?D. M. Armstrong - 1983 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Sydney Shoemaker.
The metaphysics within physics.Tim Maudlin - 2007 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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