Advertisement

Philosophical Studies

, Volume 163, Issue 2, pp 317–335 | Cite as

Why historians (and everyone else) should care about counterfactuals

  • Daniel Nolan
Article

Abstract

There are at least eight good reasons practicing historians should concern themselves with counterfactual claims. Furthermore, four of these reasons do not even require that we are able to tell which historical counterfactuals are true and which are false. This paper defends the claim that these reasons to be concerned with counterfactuals are good ones, and discusses how each can contribute to the practice of history.

Keywords

Philosophy of history Counterfactuals Conditionals 

References

  1. Armstrong, D. M. (1999). The open door: Counterfactual vs. singularist theories of causation. In H. Sankey (Ed.), Causation and laws of nature (pp. 175–185). Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bunzl, M. (2004). Counterfactual history: A user’s guide. The American historical review 109.3 (pp. 1–12 page numbers are from the online version).Google Scholar
  3. Carr, E. H. (1986). What is history, 2nd edition (1st edition 1961). London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  4. Collingwood, R. G. (1939). An autobiography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Croce, B. (1966). Philosophy poetry history: An anthology of essays (trans: Sprigge, C.). London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Edgington, D. (1995). On conditionals. Mind, 104, 235–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fearon, J. D. (1996). Causes and counterfactuals in social science: Exploring an analogy between cellular automata and historical processes. In P. E. Tetlock & A. Belkin (Eds.), Counterfactual thought experiments in world politics (pp. 39–67). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Ferguson, N. (1997). Virtual history: Towards a ‘chaotic’ theory of the past. In N. Ferguson (Ed.), Virtual history: Alternatives and counterfactuals (pp. 1–90). London: Pan Macmillan.Google Scholar
  9. Fischer, D. H. (1970). Historians’ fallacies: Toward a logic of historical thought. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  10. Gould, J. D. (1969). Hypothetical history. The Economic History Review, 22(2), 195–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Greif, A. (1998). Self-enforcing political systems and economic growth: Late medieval Genoa. In R. Bates, A. Greif, J. Rosenthal, & B. Weingast (Eds.), Analytic narratives (pp. 28–63). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Hájek, A. (in preparation). Most counterfactuals are false. http://philrsss.anu.edu.au/people-defaults/alanh/papers/MCF.pdf.
  13. Hawthorn, G. (1991). Plausible worlds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Herrmann, R. K. & Fisherkeller, M. P. (1996). Counterfactual reasoning in motivational analysis: U.S. policy toward Iran. In P. E. Tetlock & A. Belkin (Eds.), Counterfactual thought experiments in world politics (pp. 149–167). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Jackson, F. C. (1977). A causal theory of counterfactuals. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 55, 3–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lebow, R. N. (2000). What’s so different about a counterfactual? World Politics, 52, 550–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lewis, D. (1973). Counterfactuals. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Lewis, D. (2000). Causation as influence. Journal of Philosophy, 97, 182–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Macintyre, S., & Scalmer, S. (2006). What if? Australian history as it might have been. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Nolan, D. (2003). Defending a possible-worlds account of indicative conditionals. Philosophical Studies, 116(3), 215–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rosenfeld, G. D. (2005). The world Hitler never made: Alternate history and the memory of Nazism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Scalmer, S. (2006). Introduction in Macintyre and Scalmer 2006 (pp. 1–11).Google Scholar
  23. Tetlock, P. E., & Belkin, A. (1996a). Counterfactual thought experiments in world politics: Logical, methodological, and psychological perspectives. In P. E. Tetlock & A. Belkin (Eds.), Counterfactual thought experiments in world politics (pp. 1–36). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Tetlock, P. E., & Belkin, A. (Eds.). (1996b). Counterfactual thought experiments in world politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Tetlock, P. E., & Parker, G. (2006). Counterfactual thought experiments: Why we can’t live without them and how we must learn to live with them. In P. E. Tetlock, R. N. Lebow, & G. Parker (Eds.), Unmaking the West: “What-if?” scenarios that rewrite world history (pp. 14–44). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  26. Tetlock, P. E., Lebow, R. N., & Parker, G. (Eds.). (2006). Unmaking the West: “What-if?” scenarios that rewrite world history. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  27. Woodward, J. (2003). Making things happen: A theory of causal explanation. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PhilosophyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

Personalised recommendations