Hiddleston Causal Cfs web - Eric Hiddleston...

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Eric Hiddleston edhiddle@syr.edu Dec. 2003 “A Causal Theory of Counterfactuals” (forthcoming in Nous ) I develop an account of counterfactual conditionals using “causal models”, and argue that this account is preferable to the currently standard account in terms of “similarity of possible worlds” due to David Lewis and Robert Stalnaker. I diagnose the attraction of counterfactual theories of causation, and argue that it is illusory. 1. Lewis’s theory and some problem cases. 2. Diagnosis. 3. Causal models and counterfactuals. 4. Context-dependence and comparison to Lewis. 5. Good models. 6. Contrastive causal influences. 7. Conclusion.
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I develop an alternative to standard semantic theories of subjunctive or “counterfactual” conditionals using “causal models” of roughly the sort investigated by Judea Pearl (1999, 2000) and Spirtes et al. (2000). The currently standard approach, due primarily to Robert Stalnaker (1968, 1970) and David Lewis (1973, 1986b), appeals to relations of “similarity” of possible worlds. On this view, ‘If A had been, then C would have been’ is true iff C is true in all possible worlds in which A is true and which are otherwise “similar” to actuality. Lewis suggests that similarity of possible worlds is a sort of global resemblance, something like the overall similarity of cities, faces, and philosophies (1973 94-5). Similarity of worlds can be specified without reference to causal relations, natural necessities, or other “nonHumean” rubbish. The idea is that we can then use counterfactuals to provide reductive analyses of causation, dispositions, and other causal concepts. I argue that this approach gets the order of analysis backward: a proper understanding of counterfactuals requires reference to causal relations and practically nothing else. The general idea that I urge is nicely expressed by Igal Kvart (1986 44): In considering the contrary-to-fact assumption, we consider this change, and only this change, and contemplate the possible effects of this change against the background of the actual course of events, and only these effects. Consequently, in considering this change, we are not prompted to question those actual events which have nothing to do with it. In evaluating ‘If A had been, then C would have been’, we start with a causal network of actual events. If A is actually false, we introduce a minimal break in that causal network that allows A to be true. Then we trace out the causal consequences of that break, holding fixed other matters which are not influenced by the initial break or its consequences. ‘If A had been, then C would have been’ is true iff C is true in such situations. I will use “causal models” roughly like those of Judea Pearl (1999, 2000) and Spirtes et al. (2000) to represent causal networks and “minimal breaks” in them. §1 presents Lewis’s theory of counterfactuals and raises some counterexamples.
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Hiddleston Causal Cfs web - Eric Hiddleston...

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