What Killed Your Plant? Profligate Omissions and Weak Centering

Erkenntnis 88 (4):1683-1703 (2023)
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This paper is on the problem of profligate omissions. The problem is that counterfactual definitions of causation identify as a cause anything that could have prevented an effect but that did not actually occur, which is a highly counterintuitive result. Many solutions of this problem appeal to normative, epistemic, pragmatic, or metaphysical considerations. These existing solutions are in some sense substantive. In contrast, this paper concentrates on the semantics of counterfactuals. I propose to replace Strong Centering with Weak Centering. This allows that the actual world is not the only world that is closest to the actual world. As a result, some counterfactuals that would otherwise have been true, turn out to be false. When these counterfactuals concern causation, fewer causal claims are true. In addition to describing steps towards solving the problem of profligate omissions, the proposal captures an abstraction that is shared by many of the existing solutions: depending on how the distance ordering underlying the Weak Centering condition is constructed and interpreted, some of these existing solutions can be recovered.



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Johannes Himmelreich
Syracuse University

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References found in this work

Counterfactuals.David K. Lewis - 1973 - Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.
The Philosophy of Philosophy.Timothy Williamson - 2007 - Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Causation.David Lewis - 1973 - Journal of Philosophy 70 (17):556-567.

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