Counterfactuals and explanation

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Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-309
Number of pages49
JournalMind
Volume115
Issue number458
DOIs
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy

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