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Special-Science Counterfactuals

List, Christian (2022) Special-Science Counterfactuals. The Monist, 105 (2). pp. 194-213.

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Abstract

On the standard analysis, a counterfactual conditional such as “If P had been the case, then Q would have been the case” is true in the actual world if, in all nearest possible worlds in which its antecedent (P) is true, its consequent (Q) is also true. Despite its elegance, this analysis faces a difficulty if the laws of nature are deterministic. Then the antecedent could not have been true, given prior conditions. So, it is unclear what the relevant “nearest possible worlds” are. David Lewis suggested that they are ones in which a local breach of the laws occurred: a “small miracle”. Others have suggested that they are ones in which the initial conditions were different (“backtracking”). I propose another response. It builds on the idea that the special sciences, where counterfactual reasoning is most common, operate at a higher level of description from fundamental physics, and that the world may behave indeterministically at higher levels even if it behaves deterministically at the fundamental physical one. The challenge from determinism can then be bypassed for many special-science counterfactuals.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
List, Christianc.list@lse.ac.uk
Keywords: Counterfactuals, conditionals, special sciences, determinism, indeterminism, laws of nature, local miracles, backtracking, David Lewis, levels of description
Subjects: General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Determinism/Indeterminism
General Issues > Laws of Nature
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
Depositing User: Christian List
Date Deposited: 20 Mar 2022 03:38
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2022 03:38
Item ID: 20358
Journal or Publication Title: The Monist
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1093/monist/onab031
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1093/monist/onab031
Subjects: General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Determinism/Indeterminism
General Issues > Laws of Nature
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
Date: 9 March 2022
Page Range: pp. 194-213
Volume: 105
Number: 2
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/20358

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