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Scientific counterfactuals as make-believe

Iranzo-Ribera, Noelia (2022) Scientific counterfactuals as make-believe. Synthese, 200 (6). ISSN 1573-0964

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Counterfactuals abound in science, especially when reasoning about and with models. This often requires entertaining counterfactual conditionals with nomologically or metaphysically impossible antecedents, namely, counternomics or counterpossibles. In this paper I defend the <jats:italic>make-believe view of scientific counterfactuals</jats:italic>, a naturalised fiction-based account of counterfactuals in science which provides a means to evaluate their meanings independently of the possibility of the states of affairs their antecedents describe, and under which they have non-trivial truth-values. Fiction is here understood as imagination (in contrast with its most typical association with falsity), characterised as a propositional attitude of pretense or ‘make-believe’ (Walton 1990). The application of this theory to scientific counterfactuals makes their evaluation a game of make-believe: a counterfactual is (fictionally) true iff its antecedent and the rules of the game prescribe the imagining of its consequent (Kimpton-Nye 2020). The result is a practice-based account of counterfactuals and counterfactual reasoning in science which incorporates insights from theoretical and experimental analytic philosophy as well as cognitive science. This way, the make-believe view of scientific counterfactuals shows that the evaluation of scientific counterfactuals is none other than a question of scientific representation in disguise.

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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Iranzo-Ribera, Noelia0000-0002-5214-2575
Keywords: scientific counterfactuals, counternomics, counterpossibles, fictionalism about counterfactuals, make-believe, scientific models
Subjects: General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Laws of Nature
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Depositing User: Ms Noelia Iranzo-Ribera
Date Deposited: 18 May 2023 15:09
Last Modified: 18 May 2023 15:09
Item ID: 22112
Journal or Publication Title: Synthese
Publisher: Springer
Official URL:
DOI or Unique Handle:
Subjects: General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Laws of Nature
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Date: 2022
Volume: 200
Number: 6
ISSN: 1573-0964

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