New foundations for counterfactuals

Synthese 191 (10):2167-2193 (2014)
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Philosophers typically rely on intuitions when providing a semantics for counterfactual conditionals. However, intuitions regarding counterfactual conditionals are notoriously shaky. The aim of this paper is to provide a principled account of the semantics of counterfactual conditionals. This principled account is provided by what I dub the Royal Rule, a deterministic analogue of the Principal Principle relating chance and credence. The Royal Rule says that an ideal doxastic agent’s initial grade of disbelief in a proposition \(A\) , given that the counterfactual distance in a given context to the closest \(A\) -worlds equals \(n\) , and no further information that is not admissible in this context, should equal \(n\) . Under the two assumptions that the presuppositions of a given context are admissible in this context, and that the theory of deterministic alethic or metaphysical modality is admissible in any context, it follows that the counterfactual distance distribution in a given context has the structure of a ranking function. The basic conditional logic V is shown to be sound and complete with respect to the resulting rank-theoretic semantics of counterfactuals
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