Time travel and counterfactual asymmetry

Synthese 198 (3):1983-2001 (2021)
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Abstract

We standardly evaluate counterfactuals and abilities in temporally asymmetric terms—by keeping the past fixed and holding the future open. Only future events depend counterfactually on what happens now. Past events do not. Conversely, past events are relevant to what abilities one has now in a way that future events are not. Lewis, Sider and others continue to evaluate counterfactuals and abilities in temporally asymmetric terms, even in cases of backwards time travel. I’ll argue that we need more temporally neutral methods. The past shouldn’t always be held fixed, because backwards time travel requires backwards counterfactual dependence. Future events should sometimes be held fixed, because they’re in the causal history of the past, and agents have evidence of them independently of their decisions now. We need temporally neutral methods to maintain connections between causation, counterfactuals and evidence, and if counterfactuals are used to explain the temporal asymmetry of causation.

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Alison Sutton Fernandes
Trinity College, Dublin

References found in this work

Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2008 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Causality: Models, Reasoning and Inference.Judea Pearl - 2000 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
The direction of time.Hans Reichenbach - 1956 - Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. Edited by Maria Reichenbach.
Causation.David Lewis - 1973 - Journal of Philosophy 70 (17):556-567.

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