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Counterfactuals and explanation

Mind 115 (458):261-310 (2006)

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  1. Safety, sensitivity and differential support.José L. Zalabardo - 2017 - Synthese 197 (12):5379-5388.
    The paper argues against Sosa’s claim that sensitivity cannot be differentially supported over safety as the right requirement for knowledge. Its main contention is that, although all sensitive beliefs that should be counted as knowledge are also safe, some insensitive true beliefs that shouldn’t be counted as knowledge are nevertheless safe.
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  • Fictionalism, the Safety Result and counterpossibles.Lukas Skiba - 2019 - Analysis 79 (4):647-658.
    Fictionalists maintain that possible worlds, numbers or composite objects exist only according to theories which are useful but false. Hale, Divers and Woodward have provided arguments which threaten to show that fictionalists must be prepared to regard the theories in question as contingently, rather than necessarily, false. If warranted, this conclusion would significantly limit the appeal of the fictionalist strategy rendering it unavailable to anyone antecedently convinced that mathematics and metaphysics concern non-contingent matters. I try to show that their arguments (...)
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  • Explanatory fictions—for real?Samuel Schindler - 2014 - Synthese 191 (8):1741-1755.
    In this article I assess Alisa Bokulich’s idea that explanatory model fictions can be genuinely explanatory. I draw attention to a tension in her account between the claim that model fictions are explanatorily autonomous, and the demand that model fictions be justified in order for them to be genuinely explanatory. I also explore the consequences that arise from Bokulich’s use of Woodward’s account of counterfactual explanation and her abandonment of Woodward’s notion of an intervention. As it stands, Bokulich’s account must (...)
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  • On the Epistemology of Modal Rationalism: the Main Problems and Their Significance.Mihai Rusu - 2015 - Logos and Episteme 6 (1):75-94.
    In this paper, I discuss the main characteristics of the epistemology of modal rationalism by proceeding from the critical investigation of Peacocke’s theory of modality. I build on arguments by Crispin Wright and Sonia Roca-Royes, which are generalised and supplemented by further analysis, in order to show that principle-based accounts have little prospects of succeeding in their task of providing an integrated account of the metaphysics and the epistemology of modality. I argue that it is unlikely that we will able (...)
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  • From Physical to Metaphysical Necessity.Alexander Roberts - 2021 - Mind 131 (524):1216-1246.
    Let Nomological Bound be the thesis that there is nothing objectively possible beyond what is physically possible. Nomological Bound has struck many as a live hypothesis. Nevertheless, in this article I provide a novel argument against it. Yet even though I claim that Nomological Bound is false, I argue that the boundaries of objective possibility can still be characterized intimately in terms of physical necessity. This is philosophically significant, for on a natural understanding it constitutes the powerful anti-sceptical result that (...)
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  • A Positivist Route for Explaining How Facts Make Law.David Plunkett - 2012 - Legal Theory 18 (2):139-207.
    In “How Facts Make Law” and other recent work, Mark Greenberg argues that legal positivists cannot develop a viable constitutive account of law that meets what he calls the “the rational-relation requirement.” He argues that this gives us reason to reject positivism in favor of antipositivism. In this paper, I argue that Greenberg is wrong: positivists can in fact develop a viable constitutive account of law that meets the rational-relation requirement. I make this argument in two stages. First, I offer (...)
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  • Relevance first: relocating similarity in counterfactual semantics.Cory Nichols - 2020 - Synthese 198 (11):10529-10564.
    The last several decades of research on counterfactual conditionals in the fields of philosophy and linguistics have yielded a predominant paradigm according to which the notion of similarity plays the starring role. Roughly, a counterfactual of the form A > C is true iff the closest A-worlds are all C-worlds, where the closeness of a world is a function of its similarity, in a certain sense, to the actual world. I argue that this is deeply misguided. In some cases we (...)
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  • Causal Decision Theory, Context, and Determinism.Calum McNamara - forthcoming - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
    The classic formulation of causal decision theory (CDT) appeals to counterfactuals. It says that you should aim to choose an option that would have a good outcome, were you to choose it. However, this version of CDT faces trouble if the laws of nature are deterministic. After all, the standard theory of counterfactuals says that, if the laws are deterministic, then if anything—including the choice you make—were different in the present, either the laws would be violated or the distant past (...)
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  • The Non‐Occurrence Of Events.Neil McDonnell - 2017 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (2):269-285.
    What is it for an event not to occur? This is an urgent, yet under explored, question for counterfactual analyses of causation quite generally. In this paper I take a lead from Lewis in identifying two different possible standards of non-occurrence that we might adopt and I argue that we need to apply them asymmetrically: one standard for the cause, another for the effect. This is a surprising result. I then offer a contextualist refinement of the Lewis approach in light (...)
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  • Wierenga on theism and counterpossibles.Fabio Lampert - 2019 - Philosophical Studies 176 (3):693-707.
    Several theists, including Linda Zagzebski, have claimed that theism is somehow committed to nonvacuism about counterpossibles. Even though Zagzebski herself has rejected vacuism, she has offered an argument in favour of it, which Edward Wierenga has defended as providing strong support for vacuism that is independent of the orthodox semantics for counterfactuals, mainly developed by David Lewis and Robert Stalnaker. In this paper I show that argument to be sound only relative to the orthodox semantics, which entails vacuism, and give (...)
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  • Dualist Mental Causation and the Exclusion Problem.Thomas Kroedel - 2015 - Noûs 49 (2):357-375.
    The paper argues that dualism can explain mental causation and solve the exclusion problem. If dualism is combined with the assumption that the psychophysical laws have a special status, it follows that some physical events counterfactually depend on, and are therefore caused by, mental events. Proponents of this account of mental causation can solve the exclusion problem in either of two ways: they can deny that it follows that the physical effect of a mental event is overdetermined by its mental (...)
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  • Counterfactual Dependence and Arrow.Thomas Kroedel & Franz Huber - 2012 - Noûs 47 (3):453-466.
    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 (...)
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  • A new future similarity objection.Thomas Kroedel - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (6):1477-1493.
    The future similarity objection against David Lewis’s theory of counterfactuals re-emerges once the space-time of possible worlds is adequately represented. Given such a representation, it can be shown that a number of counterfactuals that seem clearly true, such as Kit Fine’s example ‘If Nixon had pressed the button, there would have been a nuclear holocaust’, come out false, even if determinism is assumed. Lewis’s similarity criteria can be modified in different ways to avoid the problem, but some of the modifications (...)
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  • Counterfactuals and the analysis of necessity.Boris Kment - 2006 - Philosophical Perspectives 20 (1):237–302.
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  • Replies to Sullivan and Lange.Boris Kment - 2015 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 91 (2):516-539.
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  • Causation: Determination and difference-making.Boris Kment - 2010 - Noûs 44 (1):80-111.
    Much of the modern philosophy of causation has been governed by two ideas: (i) causes make their effects inevitable; (ii) a cause is something that makes a difference to whether its effect occurs. I focus on explaining the origin of idea (ii) and its connection to (i). On my view, the frequent attempts to turn (ii) into an analysis of causation are wrongheaded. Patterns of difference-making aren't what makes causal claims true. They merely provide a useful test for causal claims. (...)
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  • Decision, causality, and predetermination.Boris Kment - 2023 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 107 (3):638-670.
    Evidential decision theory (EDT) says that the choiceworthiness of an option depends on its evidential connections to possible outcomes. Causal decision theory (CDT) holds that it depends on your beliefs about its causal connections. While Newcomb cases support CDT, Arif Ahmed has described examples that support EDT. A new account is needed to get all cases right. I argue that an option A's choiceworthiness is determined by the probability that a good outcome ensues at possible A‐worlds that match actuality in (...)
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  • Essence and modal knowledge.Boris Kment - 2018 - Synthese 198 (Suppl 8):1957-1979.
    During the last quarter of a century, a number of philosophers have become attracted to the idea that necessity can be analyzed in terms of a hyperintensional notion of essence. One challenge for proponents of this view is to give a plausible explanation of our modal knowledge. The goal of this paper is to develop a strategy for meeting this challenge. My approach rests on an account of modality that I developed in previous work, and which analyzes modal properties in (...)
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  • Haecceitism, Chance, and Counterfactuals.Boris Kment - 2012 - Philosophical Review 121 (4):573-609.
    Antihaecceitists believe that all facts about specific individuals—such as the fact that Fred exists, or that Katie is tall—globally supervene on purely qualitative facts. Haecceitists deny that. The issue is not only of interest in itself, but receives additional importance from its intimate connection to the question of whether all fundamental facts are qualitative or whether they include facts about which specific individuals there are and how qualitative properties and relations are distributed over them. Those who think that all fundamental (...)
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  • Modality and Explanatory Reasoning By Boris Kment.Boris Kment - 2017 - Analysis 77 (1):129–133.
    The aim of Modality and Explanatory Reasoning (MER) is to shed light on metaphysical necessity and the broader class of modal properties to which it belongs. This topic is approached with two goals: to develop a new and reductive analysis of modality, and to understand the purpose and origin of modal thought. I argue that a proper understanding of modality requires us to reconceptualize its relationship to causation and other forms of explanation such as grounding, a relation that connects metaphysically (...)
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  • Précis of Modality and Explanatory Reasoning.Boris Kment - 2015 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 91 (2):489-498.
    The aim of Modality and Explanatory Reasoning (MER) is to shed light on metaphysical necessity and the broader class of modal properties to which it belongs. This topic is approached with two goals: to develop a new and reductive analysis of modality, and to understand the purpose and origin of modal thought. I argue that a proper understanding of modality requires us to reconceptualize its relationship to causation and other forms of explanation such as grounding, a relation that connects metaphysically (...)
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  • Backtracking Counterfactuals Revisited.Justin Khoo - 2017 - Mind 126 (503):841-910.
    I discuss three observations about backtracking counterfactuals not predicted by existing theories, and then motivate a theory of counterfactuals that does predict them. On my theory, counterfactuals quantify over a suitably restricted set of historical possibilities from some contextually relevant past time. I motivate each feature of the theory relevant to predicting our three observations about backtracking counterfactuals. The paper concludes with replies to three potential objections.
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  • Counterfactuals and laws with violations.Cameron Gibbs - 2020 - Synthese 198 (11):10643-10659.
    Evaluating counterfactuals in worlds with deterministic laws poses a puzzle. In a wide array of cases, it does not seem plausible that if a non-actual event were to occur that either the past would be different or that the laws would be different. But it’s also difficult to see how we can avoid this result. Some philosophers have argued that we can avoid this dilemma by allowing that a proposition can be a law even though it has violations. On this (...)
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  • Decision and foreknowledge.J. Dmitri Gallow - 2024 - Noûs 58 (1):77-105.
    My topic is how to make decisions when you possess foreknowledge of the consequences of your choice. Many have thought that these kinds of decisions pose a distinctive and novel problem for causal decision theory (CDT). My thesis is that foreknowledge poses no new problems for CDT. Some of the purported problems are not problems. Others are problems, but they are not problems for CDT. Rather, they are problems for our theories of subjunctive supposition. Others are problems, but they are (...)
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  • Counterfactual Decision Theory Is Causal Decision Theory.J. Dmitri Gallow - 2024 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 105 (1):115-156.
    The role of causation and counterfactuals in causal decision theory is vexed and disputed. Recently, Brian Hedden (2023) argues that we should abandon causal decision theory in favour of an alternative: counterfactual decision theory. I argue that, pace Hedden, counterfactual decision theory is not a competitor to, but rather a version of, causal decision theory – the most popular version by far. I provide textual evidence that the founding fathers of causal decision theory (Stalnaker, Gibbard, Harper, Lewis, Skyrms, Sobel, and (...)
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  • Causal counterfactuals without miracles or backtracking.J. Dmitri Gallow - 2022 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 107 (2):439-469.
    If the laws are deterministic, then standard theories of counterfactuals are forced to reject at least one of the following conditionals: 1) had you chosen differently, there would not have been a violation of the laws of nature; and 2) had you chosen differently, the initial conditions of the universe would not have been different. On the relevant readings—where we hold fixed factors causally independent of your choice—both of these conditionals appear true. And rejecting either one leads to trouble for (...)
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  • A theory of structural determination.J. Dmitri Gallow - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (1):159-186.
    While structural equations modeling is increasingly used in philosophical theorizing about causation, it remains unclear what it takes for a particular structural equations model to be correct. To the extent that this issue has been addressed, the consensus appears to be that it takes a certain family of causal counterfactuals being true. I argue that this account faces difficulties in securing the independent manipulability of the structural determination relations represented in a correct structural equations model. I then offer an alternate (...)
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  • Against Counterfactual Miracles.Cian Dorr - 2016 - Philosophical Review 125 (2):241-286.
    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 counterfactuals by (...)
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  • Should Special Science Laws Be Written into the Semantics of Counterfactuals?Daniel Dohrn - 2019 - Kairos 22 (1):86-108.
    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 (...)
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  • Intuitive knowledge.Elijah Chudnoff - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 162 (2):359-378.
    In this paper I assume that we have some intuitive knowledge—i.e. beliefs that amount to knowledge because they are based on intuitions. The question I take up is this: given that some intuition makes a belief based on it amount to knowledge, in virtue of what does it do so? We can ask a similar question about perception. That is: given that some perception makes a belief based on it amount to knowledge, in virtue of what does it do so? (...)
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  • Remarks on counterpossibles.Berit Brogaard & Joe Salerno - 2013 - Synthese 190 (4):639-660.
    Since the publication of David Lewis’ Counterfactuals, the standard line on subjunctive conditionals with impossible antecedents (or counterpossibles) has been that they are vacuously true. That is, a conditional of the form ‘If p were the case, q would be the case’ is trivially true whenever the antecedent, p, is impossible. The primary justification is that Lewis’ semantics best approximates the English subjunctive conditional, and that a vacuous treatment of counterpossibles is a consequence of that very elegant theory. Another justification (...)
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  • I-‘Actual Instead’.Sarah Broadie - 2013 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 113 (1pt1):1-19.
    It is argued that acceptance of determinism sits badly with the way we use counterfactual conditionals when considering gains and losses in light of how things would have been if such‐and‐such had or had not happened; it is further suggested that one type of indeterminism runs into the same difficulty; also that the difficulty may escape notice through failure to distinguish different uses of counterfactuals.
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  • Interventionist counterfactuals.Rachael Briggs - 2012 - Philosophical Studies 160 (1):139-166.
    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 (...)
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  • Ambifictional Counterfactuals.Andrew D. Bassford - 2023 - Philosophies 8 (6):108.
    In this paper, I argue that David Lewis’s possible world semantics for counterfactual discourse and for fictional discourse are apparently inconsistent and in need of revision. The problem emerges for Lewis’s account once one considers how to evaluate ambifictional counterfactuals. Since this is likely not a concept familiar to most, and since it does not appear that the problem has been previously recognized in the critical literature, I will begin by rehearsing Lewis’s possible worlds semantics for counterfactuals and fiction. Then (...)
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  • Why counterpossibles are non-trivial.Berit Brogaard & Joe Salerno - 2007 - In Vincent Hendricks (ed.), Synthese volume.
    I. Non-Trivial Counterpossibles On Lewis’ account, a subjunctive of the form ‘if it were the case that p, it would be the case that q’ (represented as ‘p → q’) is to be given the following rough meta-linguistic truth-conditions1.
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  • Modal Knowledge and Counterfactual Knowledge.Sonia Roca-Royes - 2011 - Logique Et Analyse 54 (216):537-552.
    The paper compares the suitability of two different epistemologies of counterfactuals—(EC) and (W)—to elucidate modal knowledge. I argue that, while both of them explain the data on our knowledge of counterfactuals, only (W)—Williamson’s epistemology—is compatible with all counterpossibles being true. This is something on which Williamson’s counterfactual-based account of modal knowledge relies. A first problem is, therefore, that, in the absence of further, disambiguating data, Williamson’s choice of (W) is objectionably biased. A second, deeper problem is that (W) cannot satisfactorily (...)
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  • A Defense of Hume's Dictum.Cameron Gibbs - 2019 - Dissertation, University of Massachusetts Amherst
    Is the world internally connected by a web of necessary connections or is everything loose and independent? Followers of David Hume accept the latter by upholding Hume’s Dictum, according to which there are no necessary connections between distinct existences. Roughly put, anything can coexist with anything else, and anything can fail to coexist with anything else. Hume put it like this: “There is no object which implies the existence of any other if we consider these objects in themselves.” Since Hume’s (...)
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  • Counterfactual Conditionals: Orthodoxy and its Challenges.Daniel Dohrn - 2020 - Milan: Mimesis International.
    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 (...)
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  • Counterfactual Similarity, Nomic Indiscernibility, and the Paradox of Quidditism.Andrew D. Bassford & C. Daniel Dolson - 2024 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 67 (1):230-261.
    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 (...)
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  • Modality and Explanatory Reasoning.Boris Christian Kment - 2014 - New York: Oxford University Press.
    Boris Kment takes a new approach to the study of modality that emphasises the origin of modal notions in everyday thought. He argues that the concepts of necessity and possibility originate in counterfactual reasoning, which allows us to investigate explanatory connections. Contrary to accepted views, explanation is more fundamental than modality.
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  • Explaining Explanations in AI.Brent Mittelstadt - forthcoming - FAT* 2019 Proceedings 1.
    Recent work on interpretability in machine learning and AI has focused on the building of simplified models that approximate the true criteria used to make decisions. These models are a useful pedagogical device for teaching trained professionals how to predict what decisions will be made by the complex system, and most importantly how the system might break. However, when considering any such model it’s important to remember Box’s maxim that "All models are wrong but some are useful." We focus on (...)
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  • Counterpossibles.Barak Krakauer - 2012 - Dissertation, University of Massachusetts
    Counterpossibles are counterfactuals with necessarily false antecedents. The problem of counterpossibles is easiest to state within the "nearest possible world" framework for counterfactuals: on this approach, a counterfactual is true (roughly) when the consequent is true in the "nearest" possible world where the antecedent is true. Since counterpossibles have necessarily false antecedents, there is no possible world where the antecedent is true. On the approach favored by Lewis, Stalnaker, Williamson, and others, counterpossibles are all trivially true. I introduce several arguments (...)
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  • Measuring freedom, and its value.Nicolas Cote - 2021 - Dissertation, London School of Economics
    This thesis concerns the measurement of freedom, and its value. Specifically, I am concerned with three overarching questions. First, can we measure the extent of an individual’s freedom? It had better be that we can, otherwise much ordinary and intuitive talk that we would like to vindicate – say, about free persons being freer than slaves – will turn out to be false or meaningless. Second, in what ways is freedom valuable, and how is this value measured? It matters, for (...)
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  • A Naturalistic Account of Content and an Application to Modal Epistemology.Manolo Martínez - 2010 - Dissertation, Universitat de Barcelona
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