THE CAUSAL-PROCESS-CHANCE-BASED ANALYSIS OF CONTERFACTUALS

Abstract

Abstract In this paper I consider an easier-to-read and improved to a certain extent version of the causal chance-based analysis of counterfactuals that I proposed and argued for in my A Theory of Counterfactuals. Sections 2, 3 and 4 form Part I: In it, I survey the analysis of the core counterfactuals (in which, very roughly, the antecedent is compatible with history prior to it). In section 2 I go through the three main aspects of this analysis, which are the following. First, it is a causal analysis, in that it requires that intermediate events to which the antecedent event is not a cause be preserved in the main truth-condition schema. Second, it highlights the central notion to the semantics of counterfactuals on the account presented here -- the notion of the counterfactual probability of a given counterfactual, which is the probability of the consequent given the following: the antecedent, the prior history, and the preserved intermediate events. Third, it considers the truth conditions for counterfactuals of this sort as consisting in this counterfactual probability being higher than a threshold. In section 3, I re-formulate the analysis of preservational counterfactuals in terms of the notion of being a cause, which ends up being quite compact. In section 4 I illustrate this analysis by showing how it handles two examples that have been considered puzzling – Morgenbesser's counterfactual and Edgington's counterfactual. Sections 5 and on constitute Part II: Its main initial thrust is provided in section 5, where I present the main lines of the extension of the theory from the core counterfactuals (analyzed in part I) to counterfactuals (roughly) whose antecedents are not compatible with their prior history. In this part II, I elaborate on counterfactuals that don't belong to the core, and more specifically on so-called reconstructional counterfactuals (as opposed to the preservational counterfactuals, which constitute the core counterfactual-type). The heart of the analysis is formulated in terms of processes leading to the antecedent (event/state), and more specifically in terms of processes likely to have led to the antecedent, a notion which is analyzed entirely in terms of chance. It covers so-called reconstructional counterfactuals as opposed to the core, so-called preservational counterfactuals, which are analyzed in sections 2 and 3 of part I. The counterfactual probability of such reconstructional counterfactuals is determined via the probability of possible processes leading to the antecedent weighed, primarily and roughly, by the conditional probability of the antecedent given such process: The counterfactual probability is thus, very roughly, a weighted sum for all processes most likely to have led to the antecedent, diverging at a fixed time. In section 6 I explain and elaborate further on the main points in section 5. In section 7 I illustrate the reconstructional analysis. I specify counterfactuals which are so-called process-pointers, since their consequent specifies stages in processes likely to have led to their antecedent. I argue that so-called backtracking counterfactuals are process-pointers counterfactuals, which fit into the reconstructional analysis, and do not call for a separate reading. I then illustrate cases where a speaker unwittingly employs a certain counterfactual while charitably construable as intending to assert (or ‘having in mind’) another. Here I also cover the issue of how to construe what one can take as back-tracking counterfactuals, or counterfactuals of the reconstructional sort, and more specifically, which divergence point they should be taken as alluding to (prior to which the history is held fixed). Some such cases also give rise to what one can take as a dual reading of a counterfactual between preservational and reconstructional readings. Such cases may yield an ambiguity, where in many cases one construal is dominant. In section 8 I illustrate the analysis by applying it to the famous Bizet-Verdi counterfactuals. This detailed analysis of counterfactuals (designed for the indeterministic case) has three main distinctive elements: its being chance-based, its causal aspect, and the use it makes of processes most likely to have led to the antecedent-event. This analysis is couched in a very different conceptual base from, and is an alternative account to, analyses in terms of the standard notion of closeness or distance of possible worlds, which is the main feature of the Stalnaker-Lewis-type analyses of counterfactuals. This notion of closeness or distance plays no role whatsoever in the analysis presented here. (This notion of closeness has been left open by Stalnaker, and to significant extent also by Lewis's second account.)

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Igal Kvart
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Citations of this work

Counterfactuals.Dorothy Edgington - 2008 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 108 (1pt1):1-21.
I-Counterfactuals.Dorothy Edgington - 2008 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 108 (1pt1):1-21.

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