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 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".
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)
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)
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)
Counterfactual thinking—the capacity to reflect on what would, could, or should have been if events had transpired differently—is a pervasive, yet seemingly paradoxical human tendency. On the one hand, counterfactual thoughts can be comforting and inspiring (Carroll & Shepperd, Chapter 28), but on the other they can be anxiety provoking and depressing (Zeelenberg & Pieters, Chapter 27). Likewise, such thoughts can illuminate pathways toward better future outcomes (Wong, Galinsky, & Kray, Chapter 11), yet they can also promote confusion and lead (...) us astray (Sanna, Schwarz, & Kennedy, Chapter 13). The first part of this chapter focuses on work that supports the prevailing Zeitgeist in the counterfactual thinking literature: Counterfactual thinking is beneficial. The second part of the chapter, however, strikes a more cautionary tone by reviewing work that describes some deleterious consequences of counterfactual thinking. We conclude by offering a tentative reconciliation of these conflicting perspectives and suggesting directions for future research. (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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Recent advances in causal reasoning have given rise to a computational model that emulates the process by which humans generate, evaluate, and distinguish counterfactual sentences. Contrasted with the “possible worlds” account of counterfactuals, this “structural” model enjoys the advantages of representational economy, algorithmic simplicity, and conceptual clarity. This introduction traces the emergence of the structural model and gives a panoramic view of several applications where counterfactual reasoning has benefited problem areas in the empirical sciences.
Many defend the thesis that when someone knows p, they couldn’t easily have been wrong about p. But the notion of easy possibility in play is relatively undertheorized. One structural idea in the literature, the principle of Counterfactual Closure (CC), connects easy possibility with counterfactuals: if it easily could have happened that p, and if p were the case, then q would be the case, it follows that it easily could have happened that q. We first argue that while (...) CC is false, there is a true restriction of it to cases involving counterfactual dependence on a coin flip. The failure of CC falsifies a model where the easy possibilities are counterfactually similar to actuality. Next, we show that extant normality models, where the easy possibilities are the sufficiently normal ones, are incompatible with the restricted CC thesis involving coin flips. Next, we develop a new kind of normality theory that can accommodate the restricted version of CC. This new theory introduces a principle of Counterfactual Contamination, which says roughly that any world is fairly abnormal if at that world very abnormal events counterfactually depend on a coin flip. Finally, we explain why coin flips and other related events have a special status. A central take home lesson is that the correct principle in the vicinity of Safety is importantly normality-theoretic rather than (as it is usually conceived) similarity-theoretic. (shrink)
What are counterfactuals and what is their point? In many cases, none at all. It may be true that if kangaroos didn't have tails, they would fall over, but they do have tails and if they didn't they wouldn't be kangaroos (or would they?). This is the sort of thing that can give counterfactuals a bad name, as inhabitants of a La La Land of the mind. On the other hand, counterfactuals do useful service across a broad (...) range of disciplines in both the sciences and the humanities, including philosophy, history, cosmology, biology, cognitive psychology, jurisprudence, economics, art history, literary theory. They are also richly, albeit sometimes treacherously, present in the everyday human realm of how our lives are both imagined and lived: in the 'crossroads' scenario of decision-making, the place of regret in retrospective assessments of paths taken and not taken, and, at the outer limit, as the wish not to have been born. Christopher Prendergast take us on a dizzying exploratory journey through some of these intellectual and human landscapes, mobilizing a wide range of reference from antiquity to the present, and sustained by the belief that, whether as help or hindrance, and with many variations across cultures, counterfactual thinking and imagining are fundamental to what it is to be human. (shrink)
Counterfactual reasoning -- envisioning hypothetical scenarios, or possible worlds, where some circumstances are different from what (f)actually occurred (counter-to-fact) -- is ubiquitous in human cognition. Conventionally, counterfactually-altered circumstances have been treated as "small miracles" that locally violate the laws of nature while sharing the same initial conditions. In Pearl's structural causal model (SCM) framework this is made mathematically rigorous via interventions that modify the causal laws while the values of exogenous variables are shared. In recent years, however, this purely interventionist (...) account of counterfactuals has increasingly come under scrutiny from both philosophers and psychologists. Instead, they suggest a backtracking account of counterfactuals, according to which the causal laws remain unchanged in the counterfactual world; differences to the factual world are instead "backtracked" to altered initial conditions (exogenous variables). In the present work, we explore and formalise this alternative mode of counterfactual reasoning within the SCM framework. Despite ample evidence that humans backtrack, the present work constitutes, to the best of our knowledge, the first general account and algorithmisation of backtracking counterfactuals. We discuss our backtracking semantics in the context of related literature and draw connections to recent developments in explainable artificial intelligence (XAI). (shrink)
Kit Fine (1994. “Essence and Modality”, Philosophical Perspectives 8: 1-16) argues that the standard modal account of essence as de re modality is ‘fundamentally misguided’ (p. 3). We agree with his critique and suggest an alternative counterfactual analysis of essence. As a corollary, our counterfactual account lends support to non-vacuism the thesis that counterpossibles (i.e., counterfactual conditionals with impossible antecedents) are not always vacuously true.
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.
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)
This paper investigates propositional hyperintensionality in counterfactuals. It starts with a scenario describing two children playing on a seesaw and studies the truth-value predictions for counterfactuals by four different semantic theories. The theories in question are Kit Fine’s truthmaker semantics, Luis Alonso-Ovalle’s alternative semantics, inquisitive semantics and Paolo Santorio’s syntactic truthmaker semantics. These predictions suggest that the theories that distinguish more of a given set of intensionally equivalent sentences (Fine and Alonso-Ovalle’s) fare better than those that do not (...) (inquisitive semantics and Santorio’s). Then we investigate how inquisitive semantics and Santorio can respond to these results. They can respond to them by helping themselves to considerations from Hurford disjunctions, disjunctions whose disjuncts stand in an entailment relation to one another. I argue that considerations from Hurford disjunctions are ad hoc modifications merely to predict the expected results. I conclude that the scenarios suggest a need for more fine-grained theories of sentential meaning in general. (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)
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)
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)
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)
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’.
A great deal has been written about 'would' counterfactuals of causal dependence. Comparatively little has been said regarding 'would' counterfactuals of ontological dependence. The standard Lewis-Stalnaker semantics is inadequate for handling such counterfactuals. That's because some of these counterfactuals are counterpossibles, and the standard Lewis-Stalnaker semantics trivializes for counterpossibles. Fortunately, there is a straightforward extension of the Lewis-Stalnaker semantics available that handles counterpossibles: simply take Lewis's closeness relation that orders possible worlds and unleash it across impossible (...) worlds. To apply the extended semantics, an account of the closeness relation for counterpossibles is needed. In this paper I offer a strategy for evaluating 'would' counterfactuals of ontological dependence that understands closeness between worlds in terms of the metaphysical concept of grounding. (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.
Three studies examined the motivational implications of thinking about how things could have been worse. It was hypothesized that when these downward counterfactuals yield negative affect, through consideration of the possibility of a negative outcome, motivation to change and improve would be increased (the wake-up call). When downward counterfactuals yield positive affect, through diminishing the impact of a potentially negative outcome, motivation to change and improve should be reduced (the Pangloss effect). Results from three studies supported these hypotheses. (...) Studies 1 and 2 showed that a manipulation of the counterfactual made about an investment influenced decisions toward that investment. Study 3 showed that students’ academic motivation was influenced by a manipulation of the type of downward counterfactual they made after an exam and that affect mediated the relationship between the counterfactual and motivation. (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)
The present research extends previous functional accounts of counterfactual thinking by incorporating the notion of reflective and evaluative processing. Participants generated counterfactuals about their anagram performance, after which their persistence and performance on a second set of anagrams was measured. Evaluative processing of upward counterfactuals elicited a larger increase in persistence and better performance than did reflective processing of upward counterfactuals, whereas reflective processing of downward counterfactuals elicited a larger increase in persistence and better performance than (...) did evaluative processing of downward counterfactuals. Moreover, path analyses indicated that whereas the relationship between counterfactual thinking and persistence was accounted for by emotional responses following upward and downward counterfactual generation, the relationship between counterfactual thinking and performance was accounted for by enhanced persistence following reflective processing of downward counterfactuals, but was accounted for by both enhanced persistence and strategic thinking following evaluative processing of upward counterfactuals. (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)
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.