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.
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)
A number of recent authors (Galles and Pearl, Found Sci 3 (1):151–182, 1998; Hiddleston, Noûs 39 (4):232–257, 2005; Halpern, J Artif Intell Res 12:317–337, 2000) advocate a causal modeling semantics for counterfactuals. But the precise logical significance of the causal modeling semantics remains murky. Particularly important, yet particularly under-explored, is its relationship to the similarity-based semantics for counterfactuals developed by Lewis (Counterfactuals. Harvard University Press, 1973b). The causal modeling semantics is both an account of the truth conditions (...) of counterfactuals, and an account of which inferences involving counterfactuals are valid. As an account of truth conditions, it is incomplete. While Lewis's similarity semantics lets us evaluate counterfactuals with arbitrarily complex antecedents and consequents, the causal modeling semantics makes it hard to ascertain the truth conditions of all but a highly restricted class of counterfactuals. I explain how to extend the causal modeling language to encompass a wider range of sentences, and provide a sound and complete axiomatization for the extended language. Extending the truth conditions for counterfactuals has serious consequences concerning valid inference. The extended language is unlike any logic of Lewis's: modus ponens is invalid, and classical logical equivalents cannot be freely substituted in the antecedents of conditionals. (shrink)
This paper considers how counterfactuals should be evaluated on the assumption that determinism is true. I argue against Lewis's influential view that the actual laws of nature would have been false if something had happened that never actually happened, and in favour of the competing view that history would have been different all the way back. I argue that we can do adequate justice to our ordinary practice of relying on a wide range of historical truths in evaluating (...) class='Hi'>counterfactuals by saying that, in typical cases, history would have been only *very slightly* different until shortly before the relevant time. The paper also draws some connections between the puzzle about counterfactuals under determinism and the debate about whether determinism entails that no-one can ever do otherwise than they in fact do. (shrink)
Recent literature on non-causal explanation raises the question as to whether explanatory monism, the thesis that all explanations submit to the same analysis, is true. The leading monist proposal holds that all explanations support change-relating counterfactuals. We provide several objections to this monist position. 1Introduction2Change-Relating Monism's Three Problems3Dependency and Monism: Unhappy Together4Another Challenge: Counterfactual Incidentalism4.1High-grade necessity4.2Unity in diversity5Conclusion.
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".
It has recently been argued that indeterminacy and indeterminism make most ordinary counterfactuals false. I argue that a plausible way to avoid such counterfactual skepticism is to postulate the existence of primitive modal facts that serve as truth-makers for counterfactual claims. Moreover, I defend a new theory of ‘might’ counterfactuals, and develop assertability and knowledge criteria to suit such unobservable ‘counterfacts’.
The desirability of what actually occurs is often influenced by what could have been. Preferences based on such value dependencies between actual and counterfactual outcomes generate a class of problems for orthodox decision theory, the best-known perhaps being the so-called Allais Paradox. In this paper we solve these problems by extending Richard Jeffrey's decision theory to counterfactual prospects, using a multidimensional possible-world semantics for conditionals, and showing that preferences that are sensitive to counterfactual considerations can still be desirability maximising. We (...) end the paper by investigating the conditions necessary and sufficient for a desirability function to be an expected utility. It turns out that the additional conditions imply highly implausible epistemic principles. (shrink)
In this paper, we develop a novel response to counterfactual scepticism, the thesis that most ordinary counterfactual claims are false. In the process we aim to shed light on the relationship between debates in the philosophy of science and debates concerning the semantics and pragmatics of counterfactuals. We argue that science is concerned with many domains of inquiry, each with its own characteristic entities and regularities; moreover, statements of scientific law often include an implicit ceteris paribus clause that restricts (...) the scope of the associated regularity to circumstances that are ‘fitting’ to the domain in question. This observation reveals a way of responding to scepticism while, at the same time, doing justice both to the role of counterfactuals in science and to the complexities inherent in ordinary counterfactual discourse and reasoning. (shrink)
On the received view, counterfactuals are analysed using the concept of closeness between possible worlds: the counterfactual 'If it had been the case that p, then it would have been the case that q' is true at a world w just in case q is true at all the possible p-worlds closest to w. The degree of closeness between two worlds is usually thought to be determined by weighting different respects of similarity between them. The question I consider in (...) the paper is which weights attach to different respects of similarity. I start by considering Lewis's answer to the question and argue against it by presenting several counterexamples. I use the same examples to motivate a general principle about closeness: if a fact obtains in both of two worlds, then this similarity is relevant to the closeness between them if and only if the fact has the same explanation in the two worlds. I use this principle and some ideas of Lewis's to formulate a general account of counterfactuals, and I argue that this account can explain the asymmetry of counterfactual dependence. The paper concludes with a discussion of some examples that cannot be accommodated by the present version of the account and therefore necessitate further work on the details. (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)
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)
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)
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)
I argue that the suppositional view of conditionals, which is quite popular for indicative conditionals, extends also to subjunctive or counterfactual conditionals. According to this view, conditional judgements should not be construed as factual, categorical judgements, but as judgements about the consequent under the supposition of the antecedent. The strongest evidence for the view comes from focusing on the fact that conditional judgements are often uncertain; and conditional uncertainty, which is a well-understood notion, does not function like uncertainty about matters (...) of fact. I argue that the evidence for this view is as strong for subjunctives as it is for indicatives. (shrink)
In this paper, I raise a problem for standard precisifications of the Relational Analysis of attitude reports. The problem I raise involves counterfactual attitude verbs. such as ‘wish’. In short, the trouble is this: there are true attitude reports ‘ S wishes that P ’ but there is no suitable referent for the term ‘that P ’. The problematic reports illustrate that the content of a subject’s wish is intimately related to the content of their beliefs. I capture this fact (...) by moving to a framework in which ‘wish’ relates subjects to sets of pairs of worlds, or paired propositions, rather than—as is standardly assumed—sets of worlds. Although other types of counterfactual attitude reports, for example those involving ‘imagine’, may be similarly problematic, at this stage it is unclear whether they can be handled the same way. (shrink)
We argue that a semantics for counterfactual conditionals in terms of comparative overall similarity faces a formal limitation due to Arrow’s impossibility theorem from social choice theory. According to Lewis’s account, the truth-conditions for counterfactual conditionals are given in terms of the comparative overall similarity between possible worlds, which is in turn determined by various aspects of similarity between possible worlds. We argue that a function from aspects of similarity to overall similarity should satisfy certain plausible constraints while Arrow’s impossibility (...) theorem rules out that such a function satisfies all the constraints simultaneously. We argue that a way out of this impasse is to represent aspectual similarity in terms of ranking functions instead of representing it in a purely ordinal fashion. Further, we argue against the claim that the determination of overall similarity by aspects of similarity faces a difficulty in addition to the Arrovian limitation, namely the incommensurability of different aspects of similarity. The phenomena that have been cited as evidence for such incommensurability are best explained by ordinary vagueness. (shrink)
ABSTRACT Our goal in this paper is to extend counterfactual accounts of scientific explanation to mathematics. Our focus, in particular, is on intra-mathematical explanations: explanations of one mathematical fact in terms of another. We offer a basic counterfactual theory of intra-mathematical explanations, before modelling the explanatory structure of a test case using counterfactual machinery. We finish by considering the application of counterpossibles to mathematical explanation, and explore a second test case along these lines.
This article is a selective review of David Lewis's Counterfactuals, a challenging, provocative, absorbingly interesting attempt to analyze statements of the form “If it were the case that P, then it would be the case that Q.” I shall follow Lewis in calling these “counterfactuals,” and shall nearly follow him in abbreviating them to the form P→Q.Chapter 1, which is nearly a third of the whole, gives the analysis and proves that it endows counterfactuals with some properties (...) which they evidently do have. Chapter 2 presents some “alternative formulations” of the analysis—a logical jeu d'esprit which I shall not discuss except for the section about “cotenability.”. (shrink)
The overdetermination problem has long been raised as a challenge to nonreductive physicalism. Nonreductive physicalists have, in various ways, tried to resolve the problem through appeal to counterfactuals. This essay does two things. First, it takes up the question whether counterfactuals can yield an appropriate notion of causal redundancy and argues for a negative answer. Second, it examines how this issue bears on the mental causation debate. In particular, it considers the argument that the overdetermination problem simply does (...) not arise on a dependency conception of causation and shows why this idea, though initially appealing, does not address the real problem. As the essay shows, the idea derives its spurious plausibility from the fact that the dependency conception cannot even make sense of our pretheoretic idea of causal redundancy. The essay concludes by briefly discussing a possible picture of mental causation that suggests itself in light of these results. (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)
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)
I have argued for a kind of ‘counterfactual scepticism’: most counterfactuals ever uttered or thought in human history are false. I briefly rehearse my main arguments. Yet common sense recoils. Ordinary speakers judge most counterfactuals that they utter and think to be true. A common defence of such judgments regards counterfactuals as context-dependent: the proposition expressed by a given counterfactual can vary according to the context in which it is uttered. In normal contexts, the counterfactuals that (...) we utter are typically true, the defence insists, while granting that there may be more rarefied contexts in which they are false. I give a taxonomy of such contextualist replies. One could be a contextualist about the counterfactual connective, about its antecedent, or about its consequent. I offer some general concerns about all these varieties of contextualism. I then focus especially on antecedent-contextualism, as I call it. I firstly raise some high-level objections to it. Then, I look at such a contextualist account due to Sandgren and Steele. I think it has many virtues, but also some problems. I conclude with some avenues for future research. (shrink)
Mathematics appears to play a genuine explanatory role in science. But how do mathematical explanations work? Recently, a counterfactual approach to mathematical explanation has been suggested. I argue that such a view fails to differentiate the explanatory uses of mathematics within science from the non-explanatory uses. I go on to offer a solution to this problem by combining elements of the counterfactual theory of explanation with elements of a unification theory of explanation. The result is a theory according to which (...) a counterfactual is explanatory when it is an instance of a generalized counterfactual scheme. (shrink)
Deterministic physical theories are not beyond the reach of scientific discovery. From this fact I show that David Lewis was mistaken to think that small counterfactual perturbations from deterministic worlds involve violations of those world’s laws.
[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)
Recently, von Fintel (2001) and Gillies (2007) have argued that certain sequences of counterfactuals, namely reverse Sobel sequences, should motivate us to abandon standard truth conditional theories of counterfactuals for dynamic semantic theories. I argue that we can give a pragmatic account of our judgments about counterfactuals without giving up the standard semantics. In particular, I introduce a pragmatic principle governing assertability, and I use this principle to explain a variety of subtle data concerning reverse Sobel sequences.
There is, no doubt, a temptation to treat preventions, such as ‘the father’s grabbing the child prevented the accident’, and cases of ‘causation’ by omission, such as ‘the father’s inattention was the cause of the child’s accident’, as cases of genuine causation. I think they are not, and in this paper I defend a theory of what they are. More specifically, the counterfactual theory defended here is that a claim about prevention or ‘causation’ by omission should be understood not as (...) being directly about actual genuine causation but primarily as a counterfactual claim about genuine causation.1 The relation between actual causation and the mere possibility of causation allows my theory to explain both the difference and the similarity between the two notions (causation and prevention/omission). Further, the difference explains certain intuitions we have and the similarity justifies and explains the fact that for practical purposes we usually treat preventions and omissions as if they were genuine causation. Finally, the fact that this counterfactual theory of prevention and omission takes causation as primitive suggests that it is consistent with any theory of causation. This allows us to construct two arguments against what I will call genuinism, the view that cases of prevention and ‘causation’ by omission really are cases of genuine causation. In section II I show that genuinism does not account for the so-called intuition of difference. In section III I outline a number of problems that various theories of causation have with preventions and ‘causation’ by omission. These problems are ipso facto problems for genuinism, whereas I show in section V how the counterfactual theory solves those problems. Further, I answer a genuinist argument based on another type of intuition—the genuinist intuition—by showing why we have that intuition and how it should be handled (section VI). (shrink)
Rational agents face choices, even when taking seriously the possibility of determinism. Rational agents also follow the advice of Causal Decision Theory (CDT). Although many take these claims to be well-motivated, there is growing pressure to reject one of them, as CDT seems to go badly wrong in some deterministic cases. We argue that deterministic cases do not undermine a counterfactual model of rational deliberation, which is characteristic of CDT. Rather, they force us to distinguish between counterfactuals that are (...) relevant and ones that are irrelevant for the purposes of deliberation. We incorporate this distinction into decision theory to develop ‘Selective Causal Decision Theory’, which delivers the correct recommendations in deterministic cases while respecting the key motivations behind CDT. (shrink)
Common sense suggests that counterfactuals are capable of truth and falsity, and that their truth values depend on more than just the actual course of events. Projectivists, like Mackie, deny the first; reductivists, like Lewis, deny the second. I criticize Mackie's and Lewis's theories, thereby defending realism. There are parallel issues and positions concerning the other concepts of the natural necessity family. A realist theory may also have a positive part, consisting of an account of some of the conceptual (...) relations within this family. I try to cast light on the counterfactual by postulating a relation of accessibility between possible worlds - accessibility at the 'point' at which an event occurs. (shrink)
The Exclusion Problem for mental causation suggests that there is a tension between the claim that the mental causes physical effects, and the claim that the mental does not overdetermine its physical effects. In response, Karen Bennett puts forward an extra necessary condition for overdetermination : if one candidate cause were to occur but the other were not to occur, the effect would still occur. She thus denies one of the assumptions of EP, the assumption that if an effect has (...) two sufficient causes, it is overdetermined. If sound, her argument does two things: it solves EP, and it shows how to use counterfactuals in order to make the notion of overdetermination precise. However, the argument is not sound. (shrink)
David Lewis’s semantics for counterfactuals remains the standard view. Yet counter-examples have emerged, which suggest a need to invoke causal independence, and thus threaten conceptual circularity. I will review some of these counter-examples (§§1–2), illustrate how causal independence proves useful (§3), and suggest that any resulting circularity is unproblematic (§4).
This article is about the epistemic basing relation, which is the relation that obtains between beliefs and the reasons for which they are held. We need an adequate account of the basing relation if we want to have a satisfactory account of doxastic justification, which we should want to have. To that end, this article aims to achieve two goals. The first is to show that a plausible account of the basing relation must invoke counterfactual concepts. The second is to (...) set out two related analyses of the basing relation, each of which seems quite plausible. (shrink)
The natural interpretation of counterfactuals with disjunctive antecedents involves selecting from each of the disjuncts the worlds that come closest to the world of evaluation. It has been long noticed that capturing this interpretation poses a problem for a minimal change semantics for counterfactuals, because selecting the closest worlds from each disjunct requires accessing the denotation of the disjuncts from the denotation of the disjunctive antecedent, which the standard boolean analysis of or does not allow (Creary and Hill, (...) Philosophy of Science 43:341–344, 1975; Nute, Journal of Philosophy 72:773–778, 1975; Fine, Mind 84(335):451–458, 1975; Ellis et al. Journal of Philosophical Logic 6:335–357, 1977). This paper argues that the failure to capture the natural interpretation of disjunctive counterfactuals provides no reason to abandon a minimal change semantics. It shows that the natural interpretation of disjunctive counterfactuals is expected once we refine our assumptions about the semantics of or and the logical form of conditionals, and (i) we assume that disjunctions introduce propositional alternatives in the semantic derivation, in line with independently motivated proposals about the semantics of or (Aloni, 2003a; Simons, Natural Language Semantics 13:271–316, 2005; Alonso-Ovalle, Disjunction in Alternative Semantics. PhD thesis, 2006); and (ii) we treat conditionals as correlative constructions, as advocated in von Fintel (1994), Izvorski (Proceedings of NELS 26, 1996), Bhatt and Pancheva (2006), and Schlenker (2004). (shrink)
Why do utterances of counterfactual conditionals typically, but not universally, convey the message that their antecedents are false? I demonstrate that two common theoretical commitments–commitment to the existence of scalar implicature and of informative presupposition—can be supplemented with an independently motivated theory of the presuppositions of competing conditional alternatives to jointly predict this information when and only when it appears. The view works best if indicative and counterfactual conditionals have a closely related semantics, so I conclude by undermining two familiar (...) arguments for a nonunified semantics of indicative and counterfactual conditionals. (shrink)
Counterfactual thinking involves imagining hypothetical alternatives to reality. Philosopher David Lewis argued that people estimate the subjective plausibility that a counterfactual event might have occurred by comparing an imagined possible world in which the counterfactual statement is true against the current, actual world in which the counterfactual statement is false. Accordingly, counterfactuals considered to be true in possible worlds comparatively more similar to ours are judged as more plausible than counterfactuals deemed true in possible worlds comparatively less similar. (...) Although Lewis did not originally develop his notion of comparative similarity to be investigated as a psychological construct, this study builds upon his idea to empirically investigate comparative similarity as a possible psychological strategy for evaluating the perceived plausibility of counterfactual events. More specifically, we evaluate judgments of comparative similarity between episodic memories and episodic counterfactual events as a factor influencing people's judgments of plausibility in counterfactual simulations, and we also compare it against other factors thought to influence judgments of counterfactual plausibility, such as ease of simulation and prior simulation. Our results suggest that the greater the perceived similarity between the original memory and the episodic counterfactual event, the greater the perceived plausibility that the counterfactual event might have occurred. While similarity between actual and counterfactual events, ease of imagining, and prior simulation of the counterfactual event were all significantly related to counterfactual plausibility, comparative similarity best captured the variance in ratings of counterfactual plausibility. Implications for existing theories on the determinants of counterfactual plausibility are discussed. (shrink)
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)
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)
This article defends the use of interventionist counterfactuals to elucidate causal and explanatory claims against criticisms advanced by James Bogen and Peter Machamer. Against Bogen, I argue that counterfactual claims concerning what would happen under interventions are meaningful and have determinate truth values, even in a deterministic world. I also argue, against both Machamer and Bogen, that we need to appeal to counterfactuals to capture the notions like causal relevance and causal mechanism. Contrary to what both authors suppose, (...)counterfactuals are not "unscientific" - a substantial tradition within statistics and the causal modelling literature makes heavy use of them. (shrink)
The standard view about counterfactuals is that a counterfactual (A > C) is true if and only if the A-worlds most similar to the actual world @ are C-worlds. I argue that the worlds conception of counterfactuals is wrong. I assume that counterfactuals have non-trivial truth-values under physical determinism. I show that the possible-worlds approach cannot explain many embeddings of the form (P > (Q > R)), which intuitively are perfectly assertable, and which must be true if (...) the contingent falsity of (Q > R) is to be explained. If (P > (Q > R)) has a backtracking reading then the contingent facts that (Q > R) needs to be true in the closest P-worlds are absent. If (P > (Q > R)) has a forwardtracking reading, then the laws required by (Q > R) to be true in the closest P-worlds will be absent, because they are violated in those worlds. Solutions like lossy laws or denial of embedding won't work. The only approach to counterfactuals that explains the embedding is a pragmatic metalinguistic approach in which the whole idea that counterfactuals are about a modal reality, be it abstract or concrete, is given up. (shrink)
Counterfactual conditionals have been appealed to in various ways to show how the mind can be causally efficacious. However, it has often been overestimated what the truth of certain counterfactuals actually indicates about causation. The paper first identifies four approaches that seem to commit precisely this mistake. The arguments discussed involve erroneous assumptions about the connection of counterfactual dependence and genuine causation, as well as a disregard of the requisite evaluation conditions of counterfactuals. In a second step, the (...) paper uses the insights of the foregoing analyses to formulate a set of counterfactuals-based conditions that are characterized as sufficient to establish singular causal claims. The paper concludes that there are ample reasons to believe that some mental events satisfy all these conditions with respect to certain further events and, hence, that mental events sometimes are causes. (shrink)
What is our epistemic access to metaphysical modality? Timothy Williamson suggests that the epistemology of counterfactuals will provide the answer. This paper challenges Williamson's account and argues that certain elements of the epistemology of counterfactuals that he discusses, namely so called background knowledge and constitutive facts, are already saturated with modal content which his account fails to explain. Williamson's account will first be outlined and the role of background knowledge and constitutive facts analysed. Their key role is to (...) restrict our imagination to rule out irrelevant counterfactual suppositions. However, background knowledge turns out to be problematic in cases where we are dealing with metaphysically possible counterfactual suppositions that violate the actual laws of physics. As we will see, unless Williamson assumes that background knowledge corresponds with the actual, true laws of physics and that these laws are metaphysically necessary, it will be difficult to address this problem. Furthermore, Williamson's account fails to accommodate the distinction between conceivable yet metaphysically impossible scenarios, and conceivable and metaphysically possible scenarios. This is because background knowledge and constitutive facts are based strictly on our knowledge of the actual world. Williamson does attempt to address this concern with regard to metaphysical necessities – as they hold across all possible worlds – but we will see that even in this case the explanation is questionable. These problems, it will be suggested, cannot be addressed in a counterfactual account of the epistemology of modality. The paper finishes with an analysis of Williamson's possible rejoinders and some discussion about the prospects of an alternative account of modal epistemology. (shrink)