Counterfactuals is David Lewis' forceful presentation of and sustained argument for a particular view about propositions which express contrary to fact conditionals, including his famous defense of realism about possible worlds and his theory of laws of nature.
Counterfactual thinking has become an established method to evaluate decisions in a range of disciplines, including history, psychology and literature. Elke Reinhuber argues it also has valuable applications in the Fine Arts and popular media. A fascination with the path not taken is a logical consequence of a world saturated with choices. Art which provokes and explores these tendencies can help to recognise and contextualise the impulse to avoid or endlessly revisit individual or collective decisions. Reinhuber describes the term in (...) broad strokes through the disciplines, to show how counterfactualism finds shape in contemporary art forms, especially in photography, film, immersive and interactive media art. (such as 360° content, virtual reality and augmented reality).She analyses the different stages of counterfactuals with examples where artists experience counterfactual thoughts in the process of art production, explore these thoughts in their artwork, or where the artwork itself evokes counterfactual thoughts in the audience. A fascinating exploration for scholars and students of Art, Media and the Humanities, and anybody else with an interest in choices, the art of decision making and - counterfactualism. (shrink)
Counterfactual attitudes like imagining, dreaming, and wishing create a problem for the standard formal semantic theory of de re attitude ascriptions. I show how the problem can be avoided if we represent an agent's attitudinal possibilities using "multi-centered worlds", possible worlds with multiple distinguished individuals, each of which represents an individual with whom the agent is acquainted. I then present a compositional semantics for de re ascriptions according to which singular terms are "assignment-sensitive" expressions and attitude verbs are "assignment shifters".
In Counterfactual Conditionals, Daniel Dohrn discusses the standard account of counterfactuals, conditionals of the form ‘If A had been the case, then B would have been the case’. According to the standard account, a counterfactual is true if the then-sentence is true in all closest worlds in which the if-sentence is true. Closeness is spelled out in terms of an ordering of worlds by their similarity. Dohrn explores resources of defending the standard account against several challenges. In particular, he (...) defends the standard logics for counterfactuals. He discusses exemplary doubts as to whether conditionals have truth conditions. He inquires into the interaction between truth and probability of counterfactuals. He tackles problems with the similarity ordering. He address the interaction between counterfactuals and normalcy conditions. He closes with elaborating peculiarities of future-directed counterfactuals. (shrink)
A standing challenge in the theory of counterfactuals is to solve the “deviation problem”. Consider ordinary counterfactuals involving an antecedent concerning a difference from the actual course of events at a particular time, and a consequent concerning, at least in part, what happens at a later time. In the possible worlds framework, the problem is often put in terms of which are the relevant antecedent worlds. Desiderata for the solution include that the relevant antecedent worlds be governed by (...) the actual laws of nature with no miracles; that the past in those worlds before the antecedent time matches the actual past; that the account is compatible with determinism, and that many of our ordinary counterfactual judgments are correct, and would be correct even given determinism. Many theorists have compromised on one or more of these desiderata, but this paper presents an account employing impossible worlds that satisfies them all. (shrink)
If the laws are deterministic, then standard theories of counterfactuals are forced to reject at least one of the following conditionals: 1) had you chosen differently, there would not have been a violation of the laws of nature; and 2) had you chosen differently, the initial conditions of the universe would not have been different. On the relevant readings---where we hold fixed factors causally independent of your choice---both of these conditionals appear true. And rejecting either one leads to trouble (...) for philosophical theories which rely upon counterfactual conditionals---like, for instance, causal decision theory. Here, I outline a semantics for counterfactual conditionals which allows us to accept both (1) and (2). And I discuss how this semantics deals with objections to causal decision theory from Arif Ahmed. (shrink)
There is long standing agreement both among philosophers and linguists that the term ‘counterfactual conditional’ is misleading if not a misnomer. Speakers of both non-past subjunctive (or ‘would’) conditionals and past subjunctive (or ‘would have’) conditionals need not convey counterfactuality. The relationship between the conditionals in question and the counterfactuality of their antecedents is thus not one of presupposing. It is one of conversationally implicating. This paper provides a thorough examination of the arguments against the presupposition view as applied to (...) past subjunctive conditionals and finds none of them conclusive. All the relevant linguistic data, it is shown, are compatible with the assumption that past subjunctive conditionals presuppose the falsity of their antecedents. This finding is not only interesting on its own. It is of vital importance both to whether we should consider antecedent counterfactuality to be part of the conventional meaning of the conditionals in question and to whether there is a deep difference between indicative and subjective conditionals. (shrink)
Berit Brogaard and Joe Salerno (2008) have defended the validity of counterfactual hypothetical syllogism (CHS) within the Stalnaker-Lewis account. Whenever the premisses of an instance of CHS are non-vacuosly true, a shift in context has occurred. Hence the standard counterexamples to CHS suffer from context failure. Charles Cross (2011) rejects this argument as irreconcilable with the Stalnaker-Lewis account. I argue against Cross that the basic Stalnaker-Lewis truth condition may be supplemented in a way that makes (CHS) valid. Yet pace Brogaard (...) and Salerno, there are alternative ways of spelling out the basic truth condition which are standard in most debates; and given these ways, the counterexamples to CHS are successful. (shrink)
In this chapter we examine the relation between mechanisms and laws/counterfactuals by revisiting the main notions of mechanism found in the literature. We distinguish between two different conceptions of ‘mechanism’: mechanisms-of underlie or constitute a causal process; mechanisms-for are complex systems that function so as to produce a certain behavior. According to some mechanists, a mechanism fulfills both of these roles simultaneously. The main argument of the chapter is that there is an asymmetrical dependence between both kinds of mechanisms (...) and laws/counterfactuals: while some laws and counterfactuals must be taken as primitive (non-mechanistic) facts of the world, all mechanisms depend on laws/counterfactuals. (shrink)
Primary goal of this paper is to show that counterfactual reasoning, as many other kinds of common sense reasoning, can be studied and analyzed through what we can call a cognitive approach, that represents knowledge as structured and partitioned into different domains, everyone of which has a specific theory, but can exchange data and information with some of the others. Along these lines, we are going to show that a kind of ``counterfactual attitude'' is pervasive in a lot of forms (...) of common sense reasoning, as in theories of action, beliefs/intentions ascription, cooperative and antagonistic situations, communication acts. The second purpose of the paper is to give a reading of counterfactual reasoning as a specific kind of contextual reasoning, this latter interpreted according to the theory of MultiContext Systems developed by Fausto Giunchiglia and his group. (shrink)
Among the many philosophers who hold that causal facts1 are to be explained in terms of—or more ambitiously, shown to reduce to—facts about what happens, together with facts about the fundamental laws that govern what happens, the clear favorite is an approach that sees counterfactual dependence as the key to such explanation or reduction. The paradigm examples of causation, so advocates of this approach tell us, are examples in which events c and e— the cause and its effect— both occur, (...) but: had c not occurred, e would not have occurred either. From this starting point ideas proliferate in a vast profusion. But the remarkable disparity among these ideas should not obscure their common foundation. Neither should the diversity of opinion about the prospects for a philosophical analysis of causation obscure their importance. For even those philosophers who see these prospects as dim—perhaps because they suffer post-Quinean queasiness at the thought of any analysis of any concept of interest—can often be heard to say such things as that causal relations among events are somehow “a matter of” the patterns of counterfactual dependence to be found in them. (shrink)
I argue for a soft compatibilist theory of free will, i.e., such that free will is compatible with both determinism and indeterminism, directly opposite hard incompatibilism, which holds free will incompatible both with determinism and indeterminism. My intuitions in this book are primarily based on an analysis of meditation, but my arguments are highly syncretic, deriving from many fields, including behaviorism, psychology, conditioning and deconditioning theory, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, simulation theory, etc. I offer a causal/functional analysis of (...) meta-mental control, or 'metacausality', cashed out in counterfactual terms, to solve what I call the easy problem of free will. (shrink)
I present data that suggest the universal entailments of counterfactual donkey sentences aren’t as universal as some have claimed. I argue that this favors the strategy of attributing these entailments to a special property of the similarity ordering on worlds provided by some contexts, rather than to a semantically encoded sensitivity to assignment.
This paper is concerned with counterfactual logic and its implications for the modal status of mathematical claims. It is most directly a response to an ambitious program by Yli-Vakkuri and Hawthorne (2018), who seek to establish that mathematics is committed to its own necessity. I claim that their argument fails to establish this result for two reasons. First, their assumptions force our hand on a controversial debate within counterfactual logic. In particular, they license counterfactual strengthening— the inference from ‘If A (...) were true then C would be true’ to ‘If A and B were true then C would be true’—which many reject. Second, the system they develop is provably equivalent to appending Deduction Theorem to a T modal logic. It is unsurprising that the combination of Deduction Theorem with T results in necessitation; indeed, it is precisely for this reason that many logicians reject Deduction Theorem in modal contexts. If Deduction Theorem is unacceptable for modal logic, it cannot be assumed to derive the necessity of mathematics. (shrink)
The principle of Conditional Excluded Middle has been a matter of longstanding controversy in both semantics and metaphysics. According to this principle, we are, inter alia, committed to claims like the following: If the coin had been flipped, it would have landed heads, or if the coin had been flipped, it would not have landed heads. In favour of the principle, theorists have appealed, primarily, to linguistic data such as that we tend to hear ¬(A > B) as equivalent to (...) (A > ¬B). Williams (2010), provides one of the most compelling recent arguments along these lines by appealing to intuitive equivalencies between certain quantified conditional statements. We argue that the strategy Williams employs can be parodied to generate an argument for the unwelcome principle of Should Excluded Middle: the principle that, for any A, it either should be that A or it should be that not A. Uncovering what goes wrong with this argument casts doubt on a key premise in Williams’ argument. The way we develop this point is by defending the thesis that, like "should", "would" is a so-called neg-raising predicate. Neg-raising is the linguistic phenomenon whereby “I don’t think that Trump is a good president” strongly tends to implicate “I think that Trump is not a good president,” despite the former not semantically entailing the latter. We show how a defender of a Lewis-style semantics for counterfactuals should implement the idea that the counterfactual is a “neg-raiser”. (shrink)
As part of Timothy Williamson’s inquiry into how we gain knowledge from thought experiments he submits various ways of representing the argument underlying Gettier cases in modal and counterfactual terms. But all of these ways run afoul of the problem of deviance - that there are cases that might satisfy the descriptions given by a Gettier text but still fail to be counterexamples to the justified true belief model of knowledge). Problematically, this might mean that either it is too hard (...) to know the truth of the premises of the arguments Williamson presents or that the relevant premises might be false. I argue that the Gettier-style arguments can make do with weaker premises (and a slightly weaker conclusion) that suffice to show that “necessarily, if one justifiably believes some true proposition p, then one knows p” is not true. The modified version of the argument is preferable because it is not troubled by the existence of deviant Gettier cases. (shrink)
Counterfactuals have become an important area of interdisciplinary interest, especially in logic, philosophy of language, epistemology, metaphysics, psychology, decision theory, and even artificial intelligence. In this study, we propose a new form of analysis for counterfactuals: analysis by algorithmic complexity. Inspired by Lewis-Stalnaker's Possible Worlds Semantics, the proposed method allows for a new interpretation of the debate between David Lewis and Robert Stalnaker regarding the Limit and Singularity assumptions. Besides other results, we offer a new way to answer (...) the problems raised by Goodman and Quine regarding vagueness, context-dependence, and the non- monotonicity of counterfactuals. Engaging in a dialogue with literature, this study will seek to bring new insights and tools to this debate. We hope our method of analysis can make counterfactuals more understandable in an intuitively plausible way, and a philosophically justifiable manner, aligned with the way we usually think about counterfactual propositions and our imaginative reasoning. (shrink)
Expressions typically thought to be rigid designators can refer to distinct individuals in the consequents of counterfactuals. This occurs in counteridenticals, such as “If I were you, I would arrest me”, as well as more ordinary counterfactuals with clearly possible antecedents, like “If I were a police officer, I would arrest me”. I argue that in response we should drop rigidity and deal with de re modal predication using something more flexible, such as counterpart theory.
This article is concerned with the place counterfactual reasoning occupies in South African law, and how philosophy might be able to help the law. I point out some of the more important and unavoidable uses of counterfactual reasoning in our law. Following this I make some suggestions as to how philosophy, and especially informal logic, can be of help to the law. Finally, I make some suggestions as to how the law in turn can help philosophy.
A proposal by Baron, Colyvan, and Ripley to extend the counterfactual theory of explanation to include counterfactual reasoning about mathematical explanations of physical facts is discussed. Their suggestion is that the explanatory role of mathematics can best be captured counterfactually. This paper focuses on their example with a number-theoretic antecedent. Incorporating discussions on the structure and de re knowledge of numbers, it is argued that the approach leads to a change in the structure of numbers. As a result, the counterfactual (...) is not about the natural numbers anymore. Linking the antecedent and consequent of the counterfactual also becomes problematic. (shrink)
I defend counterfactual decision theory, which says that you should evaluate an action in terms of which outcomes would likely obtain, were you to perform it. Counterfactual decision theory has traditionally been subsumed under causal decision theory as a particular formulation of the latter. This is a mistake. Counterfactual decision theory is importantly different from, and superior to, causal decision theory, properly so-called. Causation and counterfactuals come apart in three kinds of cases. In cases of overdetermination, an action can (...) cause a good outcome without the latter counterfactually depending on the former. In cases of constitution, an action can constitute a good outcome rather than causing it. And in cases of determinism, either the laws or the past counterfactually depend on your action, even though your action cannot cause the laws or the past to be different. In each of these cases, it is counterfactual decision theory which gives the right verdict, and for the right reasons. (shrink)
How are causal judgements such as 'The ice on the road caused the traffic accident' connected with counterfactual judgements such as 'If there had not been any ice on the road, the traffic accident would not have happened'? This volume throws new light on this question by uniting, for the first time, psychological and philosophical approaches to causation and counterfactuals. Traditionally, philosophers have primarily been interested in connections between causal and counterfactual claims on the level of meaning or truth-conditions. (...) More recently, however, they have also increasingly turned their attention to psychological connections between causal and counterfactual understanding or reasoning. At the same time, there has been a surge in interest in empirical work on causal and counterfactual cognition amongst developmental, cognitive, and social psychologists--much of it inspired by work in philosophy. In this volume, twelve original contributions from leading philosophers and psychologists explore in detail what bearing empirical findings might have on philosophical concerns about counterfactuals and causation, and how, in turn, work in philosophy might help clarify the issues at stake in empirical work on the cognitive underpinnings of, and relationships between, causal and counterfactual thought. (shrink)
There is a traditional view, maintained by Aquinas and others, which holds that there is a mutual entailment between the power to Create Ex Nihilo and the property of omnipotence. In his Metaphysical Disputations, however, Suarez attacks the traditional view by pointing out a seriousflaw in Aquinas’s argument. Suarez claims that there is no reason in principle why God cannot miraculously bestow CEN-power to creatures––albeit in a limitedform––even on the assumption that God cannot make creatures omnipotent. In this paper the (...) authors argue that the debate can be resolved in favor of Aquinas;that CEN-power does indeed strictly imply omnipotence. After clarifying a sufficient condition for the property of omnipotence, the authors argue that attention to amodest possible worlds semantics and some interesting properties of counterfactuals are together sufficient to show that beings with CEN-power are in every case beings that are omnipotent. (shrink)
[p.225] Introduction (i) Although the following essay attempts to deal in a connected way with a number of connected conceptual tangles, it is by no means monolithic in design. It divides roughly in two, with the first half (Parts I and II) devoted to certain puzzles which have their source in a misunderstanding of the more specific structure of the language in which we describe and explain natural phenomena; while the second half (Parts III and IV) attempts to resolve the (...) more sweeping controversy over the nature of the connection between 'cause' and 'effect,' or, in modem dress, the logical status of 'lawlike statements.' (ii) The essay begins with a case analysis of a puzzle, taken from recent philosophical literature, relating to the analysis of counterfactual conditionals, statements of the form "If that lump of salt had been put in water, it would have dissolved." The diagnosis of this puzzle, which occupies the whole of Part I, shows it to rest on a misunderstanding of the conceptual framework in terms of which we speak of what things do when acted upon in certain ways in certain kinds of circumstance. Although the puzzle is initially posed in terms of examples taken from everyday life, the logical features of these examples which, misunderstood, generate the puzzle, are to be found in even the more theoretical levels of the language of science, and the puzzle is as much at home in the one place as in the other. For the framework in which things of various kinds (e.g. matches, white rats) behave ('respond') in various ways (catch fire, leap at a door) when acted upon ('submitted to such and such stimuli') under given conditions (presence of oxygen, 24 hours of food deprivation) is far more basic than the distinctions between metrical and non-metrical concepts, molar and micro-things, [p.226] observable and unobservable.. (shrink)
Stalnaker's Thesis about indicative conditionals is, roughly, that the probability one ought to assign to an indicative conditional equals the probability that one ought to assign to its consequent conditional on its antecedent. The thesis seems right. If you draw a card from a standard 52-card deck, how confident are you that the card is a diamond if it's a red card? To answer this, you calculate the proportion of red cards that are diamonds -- that is, you calculate the (...) probability of drawing a diamond conditional on drawing a red card. Skyrms' Thesis about counterfactual conditionals is, roughly, that the probability that one ought to assign to a counterfactual equals one's rational expectation of the chance, at a relevant past time, of its consequent conditional on its antecedent. This thesis also seems right. If you decide not to enter a 100-ticket lottery, how confident are you that you would have won had you bought a ticket? To answer this, you calculate the prior chance--that is, the chance just before your decision not to buy a ticket---of winning conditional on entering the lottery. The central project of this article is to develop a new uniform theory of conditionals that allows us to derive a version of Skyrms' Thesis from a version of Stalnaker's Thesis, together with a chance-deference norm relating rational credence to beliefs about objective chance. (shrink)
This article compares David Lewis’s understanding of counterfactuals with a Platonic theory of counterfactual truthmakers. By pointing to some weaknesses in Lewis’s theory, it will highlight some of the strengths of the Platonic theory. The article will progress in the following way. First, I present David Lewis’s understanding of counterfactuals, and discuss some problems the theory has. Next, I discuss Platonic truthmakers, in general, and then show how this applies to counterfactuals. Finally, I discuss the strengths and (...) weaknesses of the Platonic theory, and how it is superior to Lewis’s theory. (shrink)
A counterfactual is a conditional statement in the subjunctive mood. For example: If Suzy hadn’t thrown the rock, then the bottle wouldn’t have shattered. The philosophical importance of counterfactuals stems from the fact that they seem to be closely connected to the concept of causation. Thus it seems that the truth of the above conditional is just what is required for Suzy’s throw to count as a cause of the bottle’s shattering. If philosophers were reluctant to exploit this idea (...) prior to 1970, it was because of a widespread feeling that the truth-conditions of the counterfactual conditional were not sufficiently well understood. The development of a formal semantics for counterfactuals by Robert Stalnaker  and David Lewis [1973b] stands as a major recent achievement in philosophical logic. (shrink)
It is often argued that inferential role semantics (IRS) entails semantic holism as long as theorists fail to answer the question about which inferences, among the many, are meaning-constitutive. Since analyticity, as truth in virtue of meaning, is a widely dismissed notion in indicating which inferences determine meaning, it seems that holism follows. Semantic holism is often understood as facing problems with the stability of content and many usual explanations of communication. Thus, we should choose between giving up IRS, to (...) avoid these holistic entailments, and defending holism against this charge, to rescue IRS. I try to pursue the second goal by analyzing certain patterns of counterfactual reasoning. Wilfrid Sellars and Robert Brandom claim that, to defend IRS, content-constitutive inferences are those counterfactually robust. While it is difficult to assess the goodness of such a view, it nonetheless entails that counterfactually non-robust inferences (which I call “modally ruled out inferences”) are not content-constitutive. If this is true, and if we take certain remarks about the grasp of concepts on board, there is a way to restrict the scope of the holism entailed by IRS to the extent of reshaping problems with the stability of content. (shrink)
People tend to judge more recent events, relative to earlier ones, as the cause of some particular outcome. For instance, people are more inclined to judge that the last basket, rather than the first, caused the team to win the basketball game. This recency effect, however, reverses in cases of overdetermination: people judge that earlier events, rather than more recent ones, caused the outcome when the event is individually sufficient but not individually necessary for the outcome. In five experiments (N (...) = 5507), we find evidence for the recency effect and the primacy effect for causal judgment. Traditionally, these effects have been a problem for counterfactual views of causal judgment. However, an extension of a recent counterfactual model of causal judgment explains both the recency and the primacy effect. In line with the predictions of the extended counterfactual model, we also find that, regardless of causal structure, people tend to imagine the counterfactual alternative to the more recent event rather than to the earlier one (Experiment 2). Moreover, manipulating this tendency affects causal judgments in the ways predicted by this extended model: asking participants to imagine the counterfactual alternative to the earlier event weakens (and sometimes eliminates) the interaction between recency and causal structure, and asking participants to imagine the counterfactual alternative to the more recent event strengthens the interaction between recency and causal structure (Experiments 3 & 5). We discuss these results in relation to work on counterfactual thinking and causal modeling. (shrink)
Robert van Rooij proposed an analysis of counterfactual donkey sentences by combining the Stalnaker–Lewis analysis of counterfactuals with standard dynamic semantics. This paper points out some problems with van Rooij's treatment of counterfactual sentences in the language of first-order logic and provides a new interpretation using dynamic semantics.
I offer a novel solution to the problem of counterfactual skepticism: the worry that all contingent counterfactuals without explicit probabilities in the consequent are false. I argue that a specific kind of contextualist semantics and pragmatics for would- and might-counterfactuals can block both central routes to counterfactual skepticism. One, it can explain the clash between would- and might-counterfactuals as in: If you had dropped that vase, it would have broken. and If you had dropped that vase, it (...) might have safely quantum tunneled to China. Two, it can explain why counterfactuals like can be true despite the fact that quantum tunneling worlds are among the most similar worlds. I further argue that this brand of contextualism accounts for the data better than other existing solutions to the problem. (shrink)
The classic Lewis-Stalnaker semantics for counterfactuals captures that Sobel sequences are consistent sequences, for example: a.If Sophie had gone to the parade, she would have seen Pedro dance. b.But if Sophie had gone to the parade and been stuck behind someone tall, she would not have seen Pedro dance. But reverse a sequence like this one and it no longer sounds so good, which is surprising on the classic semantics. This observation motivated Kai von Fintel and Thony Gillies to (...) propose dynamic semantic accounts of counterfactual conditionals. Subsequently, Sarah Moss defended the classic semantics against the charge that it need be abandoned in the face of these order effects, arguing that the infelicity of the reverse sequences is pragmatic. I argue that both accounts are ultimately untenable, but each account has strengths. Seeing what works and what doesn't in each account points the way to the right positive view. With this in mind, I defend a contextualist account of counterfactuals that takes conversational relevance to play a central role. (shrink)
Philosophers who take rationality to consist in the satisfaction of rational requirements typically favour rational requirements that govern mental attitudes at a time rather than across times. One such account has been developed by Broome in Rationality through reasoning. He claims that diachronic functional properties of intentions such as settling on courses of actions and resolving conflicts are emergent properties that can be explained with reference to synchronic rational pressures. This is why he defends only a minimal diachronic requirement which (...) characterises forgetting as irrational. In this paper, I show that Broome’s diachronically minimalist account lacks the resources to explain how a rational agent may resolve incommensurable choices by an act of will. I argue that one can solve this problem by either specifying a mode of diachronic deliberation or by introducing a genuinely diachronic requirement that governs the rational stability of an intention via a diachronic counterfactual condition concerning rational reconsideration. My proposal is similar in spirit to Gauthier’s account in his seminal paper ‘Assure and threaten’. It improves on his work by being both more general and explanatorily richer in its application with regard to diachronic phenomena such as transformative choices and acts of will. (shrink)
Aristotle is essentially human; that is, for all possible worlds metaphysically consistent with our own, if Aristotle exists, then he is human. This is a claim about the essential property of an object. The claim that objects have essential properties has been hotly disputed, but for present purposes, we can bracket that issue. In this essay, we are interested, rather, in the question of whether properties themselves have essential properties (or features) for their existence. We call those who suppose they (...) do “property essentialists”; those who do not, “property anti-essentialists,” or “quidditists.” We offer two complementary arguments. Our total argument is under-girded by two assumptions: transworld identity theory and “received view” counterfactual semantics, a la David Lewis. We then argue that, if one presumes that these are true, then one risks running headlong into paradox if one also accepts property anti-essentialism. That's the first argument. By contrast, if one accepts these same assumptions in conjunction with property essentialism, then the paradox is avoided. This is the second argument. We take it that our arguments work to show that, between property essentialism and quidditism, the property essentialist is on better footing. Plausibly, properties themselves do have essential properties for their existence. (shrink)
Counterfactuals are typically thought--given the force of Sobel sequences--to be variably strict conditionals. I go the other way. Sobel sequences and (what I call) Hegel sequences push us to a strict conditional analysis of counterfactuals: counterfactuals amount to some necessity modal scoped over a plain material conditional, just which modal being a function of context. To make this worth saying I need to say just how counterfactuals and context interact. No easy feat, but I have something (...) to say on the matter. (shrink)
This book is a sustained defense of the compatibility of the presence of idealizations in the sciences and scientific realism. So, the book is essentially a detailed response to the infamous arguments raised by Nancy Cartwright to the effect that idealization and scientific realism are incompatible.
The paper provides an explanation of our knowledge of metaphysical modality, or modal knowledge, from our ability to evaluate counterfactual conditionals. The latter ability lends itself to an evolutionary explanation since it enables us to learn from mistakes. Different logical principles linking counterfactuals to metaphysical modality can be employed to extend this explanation to the epistemology of modality. While the epistemological use of some of these principles is either philosophically implausible or empirically inadequate, the equivalence of ‘Necessarily p’ with (...) ‘For all q, if q were the case, p would be the case’ is a suitable starting-point for an explanation of modal knowledge. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
The basic idea of counterfactual theories of causation is that the meaning of causal claims can be explained in terms of counterfactual conditionals of the form “If A had not occurred, C would not have occurred”. While counterfactual analyses have been given of type-causal concepts, most counterfactual analyses have focused on singular causal or token-causal claims of the form “event c caused event e”. Analyses of token-causation have become popular in the last thirty years, especially since the development in the (...) 1970's of possible world semantics for counterfactuals. The best known counterfactual analysis of causation is David Lewis's (1973b) theory. However, intense discussion over thirty years has cast doubt on the adequacy of any simple analysis of singular causation in terms of counterfactuals. Recent years have seen a proliferation of different refinements of the basic idea to achieve a closer match with commonsense judgements about causation. (shrink)
Counterfactual analysis is an interesting feature of thought experiments, because it requires the imagination of alternative states of the world (see also publications by Fearon, Lebow and Stein, Reiss, and Tetlock and Belkin, who suggest the same). In historical analysis, the use of imagination is often the focus of criticisms of such counterfactual analysis. In this article, I consider three strategies for constraining imagination: making limited counterfactual changes, limiting counterfactual changes to the decisions of important figures, and using evidence to (...) restrict the scope for imagination. Given the focus of this special issue, I will relate this discussion to Lewis’s and Woodward’s analyses of counterfactuals in the philosophy of science. I show that counterfactual analysis in historical cases has some resemblance to Lewis’s and Woodward’s analyses, but that what Lewis calls “transition periods” cannot be left entirely vague, as Lewis suggests, nor can counterfactual changes be seen simply as interventions, as Woodward suggests. I propose that efforts to limit imagination in historical counterfactuals are ultimately problematic, but that imagination can nevertheless play a useful role in counterfactual analysis. (shrink)
A ‘might’ counterfactual is a sentence of the form ‘If it had been the case that A, it might have been the case that C’. Recently, John Hawthorne has argued that the truth of many ‘might’ counterfactuals precludes the truth of most ‘would’ counterfactuals. I examine the semantics of ‘might’ counterfactuals, with one eye towards defusing this argument, but mostly with the aim of understanding this interesting class of sentences better.
A widely accepted claim about counterfactuals is that they differ from strict conditionals, that is, there is no adequate representation of them as sentences of the form . To justify this claim, Stalnaker and Lewis have argued that some fallacious inferences would turn out valid if counterfactuals were so represented. However, their argument has a flaw, as it rests on a questionable assumption about the relation between surface grammar and logical form. Without that assumption, no consequence (...) of the alleged kind is obtained, hence the claim may be rejected. (shrink)