Counterfactual reasoning has been used to account for many aspects of scientific reasoning. More recently, it has also been used to account for the scientific practice of modeling. Truth in a model is truth in a situation considered as counterfactual. When we reason with models, we reason with counterfactuals. Focusing on selected models like Bohr’s atom model or models of population dynamics, I present an account of how the imaginative development of a counterfactual supposition leads us from reality to interesting (...) model assumptions; how it guides our reasoning from these assumptions to interesting consequences for the model scenario via counterfactual entailment; and how it leads us back to conclusions on real target phenomena. (shrink)
Many philosophers since Hume have accepted that imagining/conceiving a scenario is our prime guide to knowing its possibility. Stephen Yablo provided a more systematic criterion: one is justified in judging that p is possible if one can imagine a world which one takes to verify p. I defend a version of Yablo’s criterion against van Inwagen’s moderate modal scepticism. Van Inwagen’s key argument is that we cannot satisfy Yablo’s criterion because we are not in a position to spell out far-fetched (...) possible scenarios in relevant detail. Van Inwagen’s argument can be applied to the use of conceivability for everyday possibility claims, leaving us with the spectre of pervasive modal scepticism. In order to answer the sceptical threat, I combine van Inwagen’s main example with general considerations about the nature of metaphysical modality to motivate a version of Yablo’s criterion and show that it does not lead to scepticism. One structural condition of p being metaphysically possible is that it coheres with a complete reality. This condition gives rise to Yablo’s criterion. However, for the criterion to be of any avail, we have to disregard details we are not in a position to specify. To account for our practice of doing so, I use Yablo’s distinction between imagining a world as determinate and imagining it determinately. I present a condition when we may simply disregard details as determinate. The condition results from integrating analogical reasoning into the conceivability test. (shrink)
I present an exemplary Humean modal epistemology. My version takes inspiration from but incurs no commitment to both Hume’s historical position and Lewis’s Humeanism. Modal epistemology should meet two challenges: the Integration challenge of integrating metaphysics and epistemology and the Reliability challenge of giving an account of how our epistemic capacities can be reliable in detecting modal truth. According to Lewis, modal reasoning starts from certain Humean principles: there is only the vast mosaic of spatiotemporally distributed local matters of fact. (...) The facts can be arbitarily recombined. These principles cannot be taken for granted. I suggest a bottom-up approach instead: Humean principles of recombining the mosaic of facts can be retrieved from the evolutionarily instilled and empirically informed use of imagination in exploring everyday circumstantial possibilities. This use of imagination conforms to a primitive conception of matter as freely recombinable. The modal beliefs that can be obtained from generalizing the more elementary exercise of imagination have to be corrected. Recombination is limited by sortal criteria of identity. Moreover, the overall picture of a recombinable spatiotemporal mosaic must be weighed against the results of science. (shrink)
It has been suggested that intuitions supporting the nonvacuity of counterpossibles can be explained by distinguishing an epistemic and a metaphysical reading of counterfactuals. Such an explanation must answer why we tend to neglect the distinction of the two readings. By way of an answer, I offer a generalized pattern for explaining nonvacuity intuitions by a stand-and-fall relationship to certain indicative conditionals. Then, I present reasons for doubting the proposal: nonvacuists can use the epistemic reading to turn the table against (...) vacuists, telling apart significant from spurious intuitions. Moreover, our intuitions tend to survive even if we clear-headedly intend a metaphysical reading. -/- . (shrink)
Orthodoxy has it that all counterpossibles are vacuously true. Yet there are strong arguments both for and against the use of non-vacuous counterpossibles in metaphysics. Even more compelling evidence may be expected from science. Arguably philosophy should defer to best scientific practice. If scientific practice comes with a commitment to non-vacuous counterpossibles, this may be the decisive reason to reject semantic orthodoxy and accept non-vacuity. I critically examine various examples of the purported scientific use of non-vacuous counterpossibles and argue that (...) they are not convincing. They neither establish that scientific practice comes with a commitment to the non-vacuity of counterpossibles, nor that incurring such a commitment would be useful in scientific practice. I illustrate a variety of counterstrategies on behalf of orthodoxy. (shrink)
Sobel sequences have had a huge impact on the discussion of counterfactuals. They can be composed of conditionals and mere descriptions. What is especially puzzling about them is that they are often felicitously uttered when their reversal is not. Up to now, there is no unified explanation. I examine two strategies. We might begin with conditionals and proceed to descriptions. Or we might begin with descriptions and proceed to conditionals. I argue for the latter variant and outline a universal theory (...) of Sobel sequences in terms of presuppositional anaphora. One relevant result is that the phenomenon neither counts against nor in favour of the simplified standard account of counterfactuals à la Stalnaker-Lewis. (shrink)
I compare two prominent approaches to knowledge of metaphysical modality, the more traditional approach via conceiving viz. imagining a scenario and a more recent approach via counterfactual reasoning. In particular, Timothy Williamson has claimed that the proper context for a modal exercise of imagination is a counterfactual supposition. I critically assess this claim, arguing that a purely conceivability/imaginability-based approach has a key advantage compared to a counterfactual-based one. It can take on board Williamson’s insights about the structure of modal imagination (...) while avoiding aspects of counterfactual reasoning which are orthogonal to figuring out metaphysical modality. In assessing whether A is possible, we creatively devise test scenarios, psychologically and metaphysically apt A-scenarios, which manifest the relevant metaphysical requirements and test them for their compatibility with A. In this exercise, imagination is subject to implicit constraints as Williamson has it, but it is not bound to drawing consequences from minimally altering actuality such as to make room for A. (shrink)
The method of thought experiments or possible cases is widespread in philosophy and elsewhere. Thought experiments come with variegated theoretical commitments. These commitments are risky. They may turn out to be false or at least controversial. Other things being equal, it seems preferable to do with minimal commitments. I explore exemplary ways of minimising commitments, focusing on modal ones. There is a near-consensus to treat the scenarios considered in thought experiments as metaphysical possibilities. I challenge this consensus. Paradigmatic thought experiments (...) do not have to come with a commitment to metaphysical possibilities. In the first section, I point out difficulties with the prevailing focus on metaphysical possibilities. In the second section, I present alternative formalisations of a paradigmatic thought experiment, the Gettier experiment. Gettier’s words leave open the kind of possibilities under consideration. The standard way of spelling out Gettier’s argument uses metaphysical possibilities. One alternative proposal uses nomological possibilities. A second one uses epistemic possibilities. My modest conclusion: as long as it is not established that a thought experiment requires a commitment to metaphysical modality, one should avoid such a commitment. My preferred way of doing so is to replace the commitment to one particular formalisation by a commitment to a disjunction of alternative formalisations. (shrink)
Many philosophers are very sanguine about the cognitive contributions of fiction to science and philosophy. I focus on a case study: Ichikawa and Jarvis’s account of thought experiments in terms of everyday fictional stories. As far as the contribution of fiction is not sui generis, processing fiction often will be parasitic on cognitive capacities which may replace it; as far as it is sui generis, nothing guarantees that fiction is sufficiently well-behaved to abide by the constraints of scientific and philosophical (...) discourse, not even by the minimum requirements of conceptual and logical coherence. (shrink)
Robert Brandom charakterisiert singuläre Termini durch ihre symmetrische substitutionsinferentielle Rolle. Er entwickelt ein transzendentales Argument, wonach solche Termini notwendig für jede Sprache sind, welche die üblichen logischen Ausdrucksressourcen wie Negation und Konditional besitzt. Verschiedene Einwände werden diskutiert. Brandom kann die Forderung erfüllen, dass die Semantik einer Sprache kompositional sein muss. Er kann auch mit der asymmetrischen inferentiellen Rolle bestimmter singulärer Termini umgehen, sofern diese nicht systematisch ist. Aber er kann der Möglichkeit nicht gerecht werden, singuläre Termini einzuführen, die nicht durch (...) eine symmetrische substitutionsinferentielle Rolle konstituiert sind. Ungeachtet der Einführung solcher Termini bleiben normale logische Ausdrucksressourcen erhalten. (shrink)
Andy Egan has presented a dilemma for decision theory. As is well known, Newcomb cases appear to undermine the case for evidential decision theory. However, Egan has come up with a new scenario which poses difficulties for causal decision theory. I offer a simple solution to this dilemma in terms of a modified EDT. I propose an epistemological test: take some feature which is relevant to your evaluation of the scenarios under consideration, evidentially correlated with the actions under consideration albeit, (...) causally independent of them. Hold this feature fixed as a hypothesis. The test shows that, in Newcomb cases, EDT would mislead the agent. Where the test shows EDT to be misleading, I propose to use fictive conditional credences in the EDT-formula under the constraint that they are set to equal values. I then discuss Huw Price’s defence of EDT as an alternative to my diagnosis. I argue that my solution also applies if one accepts the main premisses of Price’s argument. I close with applying my solution to Nozick’s original Newcomb problem. (shrink)
According to moral sentimentalism, there are close connections between moral truths and moral emotions. Emotions largely form our moral attitudes. They contribute to our answerability to moral obligations. We take them as authoritative in guiding moral judgement. This role is difficult to understand if one accepts a full-blown moral realism, according to which moral truths are completely independent of our emotional response to them. Hence it is tempting to claim that moral truths depend on our emotional responses. I outline a (...) problem for this view: we are adamant that, if our moral sentiments were different, things would be the same, morally speaking. Moral truth does not seem to counterfactually depend on moral sentiments. I show how this independence can be reconciled with the role of moral sentiments in guiding our moral outlook. I draw on Yablo’s distinction between response-dependent and response-enabled properties. I propose that moral truths are response-enabled: their supervenience base does not include anything about our emotions. Hence they do not counterfactually depend on changes in our emotional response. However, their factual supervenience base being naturally ineligible, it is ultimately our response that enables them to play their role as an independent moral compass. (shrink)
Abstract. I outline the standard picture of fiction. According to this picture, fiction is centred on making believe some truth-apt content. I take a closer look at everyday usage of the expressions ‘according to the fiction’ and ‘in the fiction’ to countervail the streamlining tendencies that come with the standard picture. Having outlined highly variegated use patterns, I argue for a metaexpressivist picture: ‘according to the fiction’ does not primarily report fictional truth but a complex pattern of reactions the fiction (...) seems intended to elicit. In the corresponding expressivist picture of the act of fiction-making, the latter is not primarily modeled on stating and believing truth but on the variegated pattern of intended reactions. (shrink)
I outline Hume’s views about conceivability evidence. Then I critically scrutinize two threats to conceivability-based modal epistemology. Both arise from Hume’s criticism of claims to knowing necessary causal relationships: Firstly, a sceptical stance towards causal necessity may carry over to necessity claims in general. Secondly, since – according to a sceptical realist reading – Hume grants the eventuality of causal powers grounded in essential features of objects, conceivability-based claims to comprehensive metaphysical possibilities seem endangered. I argue that although normal conceivability-based (...) claims are defeasible, they are prima facie vindicated. (shrink)
Descartes wants to show that clear and distinct ideas are trustworthy. However, his argument seems circular. For his premise that God is trustworthy depends on clear and distinct insight. Descartes’ reaction to the circularity reproach can be interpreted in two ways. The first is a psychological one. Clear and distinct insights are coercing. Thus they cannot be doubted as long as one attends to them. The argument is only meant to extend this instantaneous coercion to the whole range of psychological (...) states. This reaction does not fit Descartes’ aim of more reliable beliefs. The second interpretation integrates this aim of reliability into the demands of clarity and distinctness. Clear and distinct insights are to bridge the gap between internal accessibility and external reliability. Yet in this interpretation the invocation of God’s trustworthiness seems superfluous. Departing from contemporary epistemological ideas two possibilities to nevertheless make sense of this invocation are discussed. The first is that the argument of God’s trustworthiness provides a gain in reflective coherence. However, this reasoning conflicts with the situation of methodic doubt which involves suspending one’s whole system of belief. The second, more promising possibility is that it is an epistemic aim to provide an account of origin and purpose of our cognitive faculties. (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)
Against modal rationalism, Manolo Martínez argues that elementary bodily mechanisms allow cognizers to know possibility. He presents an exemplary behavioral mechanism adapted to maximizing expected outcome in a random game. The bodily mechanism purportedly tracks probabilities and related possibilities. However, it is doubtful that cognizers like us can know metaphysical modalities purely by virtue of bodily mechanisms without using rational capacities. Firstly, Martínez’s mechanism is limited. But knowledge of probabilities arguably has to cover a variety of probabilistic outcomes. One may (...) need an ability to calculate probabilities. Bodily mechanisms can realize such an ability, but this will presumably amount to instantiating rational capacities. Secondly, the purported connection between the items tracked by the bodily mechanism and genuine metaphysical possibilities is tenuous. There are points at which it may fail. Further, we would need to know by rational metaphysical considerations that the connection holds in order to bodily know possibilities. (shrink)
The model-theoretic argument known as Putnam´s paradox threatens our notion of truth with triviality: Almost any world can satisfy almost any theory. Formal argument and intuition are at odds. David Lewis devised a solution according to which the very stucture of the world fixes how it is to be divided into elite classes which determine the reference of any true theory. Three claims are defended: Firstly, Lewis´ proposal must be completed by an account of successful referential intentions. Secondly, contrary to (...) Catherine Elgin´s criticism of Lewis, natural properties corresponding to elite classes may play a role in sound scientific inquiry. Thirdly, despite Bas van Fraassen´s objection that the sceptic cannot consistently maintain doubts about reference, there is a promising sceptical strategy of exploiting Putnam´s results which is answered by Lewis´ account. (shrink)
I take issue with two claims of DeRose: Conditionals of deliberation must not depend on backtracking grounds. ‘Were’ed-up conditionals coincide with future-directed indicative conditionals; the only difference in their meaning is that they must not depend on backtracking grounds. I use Egan’s counterexamples to causal decision theory to contest the first and an example of backtracking reasoning by David Lewis to contest the second claim. I tentatively outline a rivaling account of ‘were’ed-up conditionals which combines features of the standard analysis (...) of counterfactuals with the contextual relevance of the corresponding indicative conditionals. (shrink)
A basic intuition about epistemic possibility is the following: It might be that p iff it is open whether p. The standard way of cashing out this intuition is: It might be that p iff it is reconcilable with one’s informational state that p. However, there are certain examples which point to a lacuna in this conception. They indicate that epistemic possibility is restricted to what one can conceive as an alternative, what one can have a cognitive attitude to.
Interpretive charity is an important principle in devising the content of propositional attitudes and their expression. I want to argue that it does not square well with externalism about content. Although my argument clearly also applies to a principle of maximizing truth (as it requires only the true belief - component of knowledge), I will focus my attention to Timothy Williamson’s more intriguing recent proposal of maximizing knowledge.
I critically assess Stephen Yablo’s claim that cassinis are ovals is an a posteriori conceptual necessity. One does not know it simply by mastering the relevant concepts but by substantial empirical scrutiny. Yablo represents narrow content by would have turned out -conditionals. An epistemic reading of such conditionals does not bear Yablo’s claim. Two metaphysically laden readings are considered. In one reading, Yablo’s conditionals test under what circumstances concepts remain the same while their extensions diverge. As an alternative, I develop (...) a more literal metaphysical interpretation: Yablo’s conditionals draw on scenarios which are qualitatively identical to some original situation. None of these interpretations sustains Yablo’s core thesis. (shrink)
In a series of articles, David Barnett (2006, 2009, 2010) has developed a general theory of conditionals. The grand aim is to reconcile the two main rivals: a suppositional and a truth-conditional view (Barnett 2006, 521). While I confine my critical discussion to counterfactuals, I will give some hints how they might spell trouble for his suppositional view in general.
Matthew Soteriou provides an analysis of authoritatively knowing one’s own mental acts which depends on a surprising assumption: One cannot truly judge that one is judging. After briefly criticizing his account of one’s awareness that one is judging, I critically scrutinize two of his arguments against the possibility of truly judging that one is judging. Firstly, assuming such a possibility leads to a regress. Secondly, the second-order judgement inevitably replaces the first-order judgement such as to make the former wrong.
A ‘Big Bad Bug’ threatens Lewis’s Humean metaphysics of chance (Lewis 1986a, p. XIV); his Principal Principle provides an intuitive link between chance and credence. Yet on the one hand, certain future developments are incompatible with the true theory of chance, but on the other hand, such future developments have a positive chance to occur. The combination of these two claims with the Principal Principle leads to inconsistent credences. I present a Humean solution to the Bug: chances are relative to (...) a limited perspective. The perspective comprises facts available as evidence to an ideal cognizer at a point in space-time. As a consequence, the same future event can have different chances of occurring provided the perspective is different. I show how this dissolves the Bug. (shrink)
Since our capacities and methods of cognizing reality merely seem to tell us how things are but only within close limits how they could or must be, our claims to knowledge of mere possibilities and necessities raise the suspicion of exceptionalism: the capacities and methods used in developing these claims seem special compared to those involved in cognizing reality. One may be sceptical especially with regard to them, and there are doubts that they can be naturalistically explained. To avoid exceptionalism, (...) Timothy Williamson has proposed to reduce the epistemology of modality to the epistemology of everyday counterfactuals. There are doubts that the proposal succeeds. One objection is that the counterfactual-based epistemology fails to account for metaphysical necessities like the necessity of origin. For the account to cover such necessities, constitutive facts like the origin of a living being would have to form implicit constraints built into the capacity for everyday counterfactual reasoning. But is counterfactual reasoning indeed so constrained? I answer this question in the affirmative, presenting an epistemology of counterfactuals for modal epistemology to build on. The constraints gradually emerge by a broadly abductive process, starting from within everyday counterfactual reasoning. The process does not presuppose any independent knowledge of the constitutive status of certain facts. (shrink)
I scrutinize the relationship between the way emotions give rise to modal judgement and the metaphysical necessity we ascribe to the latter. While moral concepts are often described as response-dependent, I propose to analyse them as response-enabled or grokking. I discuss how grokkingness is embedded in the emotional mechanisms that provoke imaginative resistance; how it shapes our manifest image of the world and the place of morality in it; the latter’s deep contingency as contrasted to its metaphysical necessity; and what (...) is essential to a moral outlook notwithstanding deep contingency. (shrink)
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)
Ever since the term ‘thought experiment’ was coined by Ørsted, philosophers have struggled with the question of how thought experiments manage to provide knowledge. Ernst Mach’s seminal contribution has eclipsed other approaches in the Austrian tradition. I discuss one of these neglected approaches. Faced with the challenge of how to reconcile his empiricist position with his use of thought experiments, Moritz Schlick proposed the following ‘Sinnkriterium’: a thought experiment is meaningful if it allows to answer a question under discussion by (...) imagining the experiences that would confi rm that the thought experimental scenario is actual. I trace this view throughout three exemplary thought experiments of Schlick’s. (shrink)
ABSTRACTIf-thenism is a strategy of paraphrasing seemingly obvious claims in order to avoid their problematic commitments. The success of this strategy, says Yablo, depends on the possibility of reading everyday language conditionals incrementally. The incremental reading is to exclude that the supposition of the antecedent might interfere with the truth of the consequent, as in the standard or ‘interference’ reading. I argue that Yablo's main arguments for the incremental reading are question-begging.
The following semantics for counterfactuals is fairly standard: for a counterfactual to be true, the closest antecedent worlds have to be consequent worlds. Closeness is measured by overall similarity of worlds to an evaluation world. There is a range of interrelated challenges to this account: counterfactual scepticism, ‘Hegel’-, ‘Sobel’-, and ‘Heim’-sequences. So far there is no unified solution to these challenges. I discuss a solution that preserves the standard semantics by writing the shifty parameter into pragmatics. The solution has been (...) suggested by Križ for Sobel- and Heim-sequences, yet I argue that it can be generalized to counterfactual scepticism. Conditionals are subject to a pattern which is familiar from descriptions. Everyday counterfactuals are semantically homogeneous and pragmatically non-maximal. Homogeneity: a counterfactual is neither true nor false if only some but not all closest antecedent worlds are consequent worlds. Non-maximality: in many contexts, not all but only practically all closest antecedent worlds have to be consequent worlds for the utterance of a counterfactual to say something true if the difference does not matter for the purposes of conversation. (shrink)
Prediction draws on both simulation and theory. I ask how simulation is defined, and what the roles of simulation and theory are, respectively. Simulation is flexible in structure and resources. Often simulation and theory are combined in prediction. The function of simulation consists of representing a situation that is relevantly like the target situation with regards to the feature predicted.
I outline Hume’s views about conceivability evidence. Then I critically scrutinise two threats to conceivability-based modal epistemology. Both arise from Hume’s criticism of claims to knowing necessary causal relationships: Firstly, a sceptical stance towards causal necessity may carry over to necessity claims in general. Secondly, since – according to a sceptical realist reading – Hume grants the eventuality of causal powers grounded in essential features of objects, conceivability-based claims to comprehensive metaphysical possibilities seem endangered. I argue that although normal conceivability-based (...) claims are defeasible, they are prima facie vindicated. Humes Ansichten über Vorstellbarkeit als Indikator für Möglichkeit werden zusammengefasst. Dann werden zwei Schwierigkeiten für eine auf Vorstellbarkeit basierende modale Erkenntnistheorie aufgeworfen. Beide entstehen aus Humes Kritik an Ansprüchen aufWissen notwendiger kausaler Beziehungen. Erstens könnte sich eine skeptische Haltung gegenüber kausaler Notwendigkeit auf Ansprüche, notwendige Zusammenhänge zu kennen, im allgemeinen auswirken. Zweitens gesteht Hume gemäß einem skeptischen Realismus die Eventualität kausaler Kräfte zu, die in wesentlichen Eigenschaften der Dinge gründen. Dies scheint unvereinbar mit der auf Vorstellbarkeit gestützten Behauptung umfassender metaphysischer Möglichkeiten. Dagegen soll gezeigt werden, dass auf Vorstellbarkeit gestützte modale Wissensansprüche zwar widerlegbar, aber prima facie gerechtfertigt sind. (shrink)
Drawing on a rich digitalized corpus of early modern texts, Hans-Juergen Diller argues that the concepts expressed by the English words >passion emotion emotion passion emotion<. But there are two concepts of a concept. According to the first, the meaning of a word expressing a concept is not sharply distinguished from the complete discourse in which it figures. According to the second, meaning is more narrow. For instance, it is restricted to the explicit definition an author provides. I show that (...) Descartes provides an explicit definition of passion and emotion in purely physical, a-moral terms. So Diller's method is not apt to trace concepts in the second, more restricted sense which Descartes himself has in mind. (shrink)
Adam Elga has presented an anti-thermodynamic process as a counterexample to Lewis’s default semantics for counterfactuals. The outstanding reaction of Jonathan Schaffer and Boris Kment is revisionary. It sacrifices Lewis’s aim of defining causation in terms of counterfactual dependence. Lewis himself suggested an alternative: «counter-entropic funnybusiness» should make for dissimilarity. But how is this alternative to be spelled out? I discuss a recent proposal: include special science laws, among them the laws of thermodynamics. Although the proposal fails, it serves to (...) uncover the limits of Elga’s example. (shrink)