, Volume 194, Issue 12, pp 4983–5003 | Cite as

Counterlegal dependence and causation’s arrows: causal models for backtrackers and counterlegals

  • Tyrus Fisher


A counterlegal is a counterfactual conditional containing an antecedent that is inconsistent with some set of laws. A backtracker is a counterfactual that tells us how things would be at a time earlier than that of its antecedent, were the antecedent to obtain. Typically, theories that evaluate counterlegals appropriately don’t evaluate backtrackers properly, and vice versa. Two cases in point: Lewis’ (Noûs 13:455–476, 1979a) ordering semantics handles counterlegals well but not backtrackers. Hiddleston’s (Noûs 39(4):632–657, 2005) causal-model semantics nicely handles backtrackers but not counterlegals. Taking Hiddleston’s account as a starting point, I offer steps toward a theory capable of handling both counterlegals and backtrackers. The core contribution of this paper is a means for evaluating counterlegals relative to minimally-illegal models.


Counterfactuals Causal models Backtracking counterfactuals Counterlegal conditionals Conditionals 



Thanks to Aldo Antonelli, Adam Edwards, Bas van Fraassen, Bernard Molyneux, and Ted Shear for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. Thanks to Alex Kocurek for some especially detailed and helpful comments on an earlier version. And most of all, thanks to my adviser, Adam Sennet, for all his help.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.1240 Social Science and HumanitiesUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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