Contra counterfactism

Alan Hájek*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    ‘If I were to toss a coin 1000 times, then it would land heads exactly n times’. Is there a specific value of n that renders this counterfactual true? According to an increasingly influential view, there is. A precursor of the view goes back to the Molinists; more recently it has been inspired by Stalnaker, and versions of it have been advocated by Hawthorne, Bradley, Moss, Schulz, and Stefánsson. More generally, I attribute to these authors what I call Counterfactual Plenitude: For any antecedent A, there is a world wisuch that A ☐→ wiis true. Moreover, some of these authors are also committed to Primitive Counterfacts Realism: There exist primitive modal facts that serve as truth-makers for counterfactual claims. Call the conjunction of these italicized theses counterfactism. I clarify it and suggest some of its virtues, while ultimately rejecting it. Stefánsson’s counterfactism is motivated by and targeted at my “counterfactual skepticism”—I argue that most counterfactuals are false—and counterfactism has various other sources of support. I briefly defend that skepticism, and I seek to undercut those sources of support. I then argue more directly against counterfactism, especially on grounds of its ontological profligacy, and its leading to another kind of skepticism about counterfactuals that I believe is more problematic than my kind. In the process, I discuss how Bradley’s multidimensional semantics bears on counterfactism; I offer some new considerations against some central theses regarding conditionals (Conditional Excluded Middle, Stalnaker’s Thesis, and Skyrms’ Thesis); and I reflect more generally on the epistemology of modality and the choice of primitives in our theorizing.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)181-210
    Number of pages30
    JournalSynthese
    Volume199
    Issue number1-2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

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