Counterfactual Contamination

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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.
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Archival date: 2021-02-03
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