Counterfactuals and the fixity of the past

Philosophical Studies 168 (2):1-19 (2014)
Penelope Mackie
Nottingham University
I argue that David Lewis’s attempt, in his ‘Counterfactual Dependence and Time’s Arrow’, to explain the fixity of the past in terms of counterfactual independence is unsuccessful. I point out that there is an ambiguity in the claim that the past is counterfactually independent of the present (or, more generally, that the earlier is counterfactually independent of the later), corresponding to two distinct theses about the relation between time and counterfactuals, both officially endorsed by Lewis. I argue that Lewis’s attempt is flawed for a variety of reasons, including the fact that his own theory about the evaluation of counterfactuals requires too many exceptions to the general rule that the past is counterfactually independent of the present. At the end of the paper, I consider a variant of Lewis’s strategy that attempts to explain the fixity of the past in terms of causal, rather than counterfactual, independence. I conclude that, although this variant avoids some of the objections that afflict Lewis’s account, it nevertheless seems to be incapable of giving a satisfactory explanation of the notion of the fixity of the past
Keywords Counterfactual dependence  Past  Fixity  Open future  Backtracking
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DOI 10.1007/s11098-013-0135-5
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Philosophical Papers.David K. Lewis - 1983 - Oxford University Press.
Causation.David Lewis - 1973 - Journal of Philosophy 70 (17):556-567.

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