Does Chance Undermine Would?

Mind 131 (523):747-785 (2022)
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Counterfactual scepticism holds that most ordinary counterfactuals are false. The main argument for this view appeals to a ‘chance undermines would’ principle: if ψ would have some chance of not obtaining had ϕ obtained, then ϕ □→ ψ is false. This principle seems to follow from two fairly weak principles, namely, that ‘chance ensures could’ and that ϕ □→ ψ and ϕ ⋄→ ¬ ψ clash. Despite their initial plausibility, I show that these principles are independently problematic: given some modest closure principles, they entail absurdities. Moreover, on the most promising strategy for saving these principles, they do not, in the relevant sense, entail the chance-undermines-would principle. Instead, they entail a principle that only supports counterfactual indeterminism, the view that most ordinary counterfactuals are chancy, that is, not settled true. I demonstrate this by developing an indeterminist semantics that vindicates the clash and chance-ensures-could principles but not the chance-undermines-would principle. This view, I argue, offers a better account of our credal and linguistic judgements than counterfactual scepticism.

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Alexander W. Kocurek
Cornell University


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