Counterfactuals: The epistemic analysis

Philosophia Scientiae 9 (1):83-126 (2005)
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Abstract
Ordinarily counterfactuals are seen as making statements about states of affairs, albeit ones that hold in merely possible or alternative worlds. Thus analyzed, nearly all counterfactuals turn out to be incoherent. Any counterfactual, thus analyzed, requires that there be a metaphysically (not just epistemically) possible world w where the laws are the same as here, and where almost all of the facts are the same as here. (The factual differences relate to the antecedent and consequent of the counter-factual.) But, as I show, this requirement typically involves the positing of worlds whose necessary non-existence can be shown by fairly elementary deductions. Further, the possible-worlds analysis of counterfactuals is guilty of covert circularity. For, thus analyzed, counterfactuals can only be understood in terms of laws of nature (the laws that apply here are assumed in the hypothetical world - except in the atypical case where the counterfactual is also a counter-nomic). But the concept of a law cannot itself be defined except in terms of the notion of a counterfactual (a law is given by a counterfactual-supporting proposition). I give a purely epistemic analysis of counterfactuals, arguing that they are crypto-probability propositions. I also argue that the relevant kind of probability can be defined wholly in terms of what has happened (not what would happen and not even what must happen in a nomic sense). So my analysis isn’t guilty of any kind of circularity.
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First archival date: 2012-09-29
Latest version: 2 (2015-10-31)
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