Synthese

, Volume 185, Issue 3, pp 365–386 | Cite as

Counterfactual reasoning and the problem of selecting antecedent scenarios

Article

Abstract

A recent group of social scientists have argued that counterfactual questions play an essential role in their disciplines, and that it is possible to have rigorous methods to investigate them. Unfortunately, there has been little (if any) interaction between these social scientists and the philosophers who have long held that rigorous counterfactual reasoning is possible. In this paper, I hope to encourage some fresh thinking on both sides by creating new connections between them. I describe what I term “problem of selecting antecedent scenarios,” and show that this is an essential challenge in real-life counterfactual reasoning. Then, I demonstrate that the major extant theories of counterfactuals (especially the Lewis/Stalnaker theory and Igal Kvart’s rival account) are unable to solve this problem. I show that there are instances of real-life counterfactual reasoning in the social sciences that are counterexamples to both of these accounts. And finally, I develop a new theory of how to select antecedent scenarios that overcomes these difficulties, and so would be part of a more adequate theory of counterfactuals (and counterfactual reasoning).

Keywords

Counterfactual Counterfactual reasoning Antecedent scenario David Lewis Igal Kvart 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Bennett J. (2003) A philosophical guide to conditionals. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cowley, R. (eds) (2000) What if? The world’s foremost military historians imagine what might have been. Berkley Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Cowley, R. (eds) (2002) What if? 2: Eminent historians imagine what might have been. Berkley Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Cowley, R. (eds) (2004) What ifs of American history. Berkley Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Eire C. M. N. (2006) Religious kitsch or industrial revolution?. In: Tetlock P. E., Lebow R. N., Parker G. (eds) Unmaking the west: “What if” scenarios that rewrite world history. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI, pp 145–167Google Scholar
  6. Elster J. (1978) Logic and society: Contradictions and possible worlds. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  7. Fearon J. (1991) Counterfactuals and hypothesis testing in political science. World Politics 43: 169–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fearon J. (1996) Causes and counterfactuals in social science. In: Tetlock P. E., Belkin A. (eds) Counterfactual thought experiments in global politics: Logical, methodological, and psychological perspectives. Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp 39–68Google Scholar
  9. Ferguson, N. (eds) (1999) Virtual history: Alternatives and counterfactuals. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. Fogel R. W. (1964) Railroads and economic growth. Johns Hopkins Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  11. Goodman N. (1983) Fact, fiction, and forecast. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  12. Hawthorn G. (1991) Plausible worlds: Possibility and understanding in history and the social sciences. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  13. Kahneman D. (1995) Varieties of counterfactual thinking. In: Roese N. J., Olson J. M. (eds) The social psychology of counterfactual thinking. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ, pp 1–56Google Scholar
  14. Kahneman D., Miller D. (1986) Norm theory: Comparing reality to its alternatives. Psychological Review 93: 136–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Khong Y. F. (1996) Confronting Hitler and its consequences. In: Tetlock P. E., Belkin A. (eds) Counterfactual thought experiments in global politics: Logical, methodological, and psychological perspectives. Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp 95–118Google Scholar
  16. Kvart I. (1986) A theory of counterfactuals. Hackett Publishing Company, IndianapolisGoogle Scholar
  17. Kvart I. (1992) Counterfactuals. Erkenntnis 36: 139–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kvart I. (1994) Counterfactuals: Ambiguities, true premises, and knowledge. Synthese 100: 133–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lebow R. N. (2000) What’s so different about a counterfactual?.  World Politics 52: 550–585CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lebow R. N. (2001) Contingency, catalysts, and international systems change. Political Science Quarterly 115(4): 591–616CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lebow R. N., Breslauer G. (2004) Leadership and the end of the cold war. In: Herrmann R. K., Lebow R. N. (eds) Ending the cold war: Interpretations, causation and the study of international relations. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp 161–188Google Scholar
  22. Lewis D. (1973) Counterfactuals. Basil Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  23. Lewis D. (1979) Counterfactual dependence and time’s arrow. Nous 13: 455–476CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lewis, D. (1986). Postscripts to ‘Counterfactual dependence and time’s arrow’. In Philosophical papers (Vol. 2, pp. 52–66). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. McMullen M. N., Markman K. D., Gavanski I. (1995) Living in neither the best nor the worst of all possible worlds. In: Roese N. J., Olson J. M. (eds) The social psychology of counterfactual thinking. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ, pp 133–168Google Scholar
  26. Roese N. J., Olson J. M. (1995a) Counterfactual thinking: A critical overview. In: Roese N. J., Olson J. M. (eds) The social psychology of counterfactual thinking. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ, pp 1–56Google Scholar
  27. Roese N. J., Olson J. M. (1995b) Functions of counterfactual thinking. In: Roese N. J., Olson J. M. (eds) The social psychology of counterfactual thinking. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ, pp 169–198Google Scholar
  28. Stalnaker R. (1968) A theory of conditionals. In: Rescher N. (eds) Studies in logical theory. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  29. Tetlock P. E., Belkin A. (1996) Counterfactual thought experiments in global politics: Logical, methodological, and psychological perspectives. In: Tetlock P. E., Belkin A. (eds) Counterfactual thought experiments in global politics: Logical, methodological, and psychological perspectives. Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp 3–38Google Scholar
  30. Tetlock P. E., Parker G. (2006a) Counterfactual history. In: Tetlock P. E., Lebow R. N., Parker G. (eds) Unmaking the west: “What if” scenarios that rewrite world history. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI, pp 363–392Google Scholar
  31. Tetlock P. E., Parker G. (2006b) Counterfactual thought experiments. In: Tetlock P. E., Lebow R. N., Parker G. (eds) Unmaking the west: “What if” scenarios that rewrite world history. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI, pp 14–46Google Scholar
  32. Tsouras, P. G. (eds) (2001) Rising sun victorious: The alternate history of how the Japanese won the Pacific War. Greenhill Books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  33. Tsouras, P. G. (eds) (2002) Third reich victorious: Alternate decisions of WWII. Greenhill Books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  34. Weber M. (1949) The methodology of the social sciences. Free Press, Glencoe, ILGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Integrated Science and TechnologyJames Madison UniversityHarrisonburgUSA

Personalised recommendations