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

Mental Causation for Standard Dualists.Bram Vaassen - 2024 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
Necessities Overboard: A Reply to Lange.Harjit Bhogal - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
Revisiting McKay and Johnson's counterexample to ( β).Pedro Merlussi - 2022 - Philosophical Explorations 25 (2):189-203.
Productive Laws in Relativistic Spacetimes.Chris Dorst - forthcoming - Philosophers' Imprint.
Does the Best System Need the Past Hypothesis?Chris Dorst - forthcoming - Philosophy of Science.

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References found in this work

Fact, Fiction, and Forecast.Nelson Goodman - 1973 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
The metaphysics within physics.Tim Maudlin - 2007 - New York: Oxford 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.

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