Superexplanations for counterfactual knowledge

Philosophical Studies (forthcoming)
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Abstract
I discuss several problems for Williamson’s counterfactual-theory of modal knowledge and argue that they have a common source, in that the theory neglects to elucidate the proper constraints on modal reasoning. Williamson puts forward an empirical hypothesis that rests on the role of counterfactual reasoning for modal knowledge. But he overlooks central questions of normative modal epistemology. In order for counterfactual reasoning to yield correct beliefs about modality, it needs to be suitably constrained. I argue that what is needed is, specifically, information concerning the nature or essence of things. By integrating this information, essentialist deduction arguably provides a better account of our knowledge of modality. Furthermore, I argue that essences have distinctive causal and explanatory powers—indeed, essences are superexplanatory for how things are. Compared to Williamson’s counterfactual-theory, superexplanatory essentialism clarifies what the proper constraints on modal reasoning are, and why they have such a special status.
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Archival date: 2020-05-27
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2020-05-27

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