Psychological Studies of Causal and Counterfactual Reasoning

James Woodward

in Understanding Counterfactuals, Understanding Causation

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199590698
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731242 | DOI:

Series: Consciousness & Self-Consciousness Series

Psychological Studies of Causal and Counterfactual Reasoning

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This paper explores some interconnections between studies of causal and counterfactual reasoning conducted by psychologists and treatments of causation and counterfactuals in the philosophical literature. Among the issues discussed are the following: (1) the different understandings of counterfactual reasoning employed by psychologists and philosophers, including the status of the distinction between counterfactuals and future hypotheticals; (2) whether there is a developmental transition with respect to the capacity for counterfactual thinking that occurs around 3–4 years and the possible implications of this for the relationship between causal and counterfactual reasoning; (3) the variety of different ways in which causal and counterfactual claims may be connected, including the use of counterfactuals to elucidate the differences between casual and correlational claims, to elucidate the differences between causes and conditions, and to elucidate actual cause judgments; (4) whether, as a psychological matter, causal reasoning sometimes or always involves assessment of counterfactuals; and (5) whether and under what circumstances counterfactual reasoning may be regarded as implicit.

Keywords: counterfactual reasoning; causal reasoning; future hypotheticals; development of counterfactual thinking; causes and conditions; counterfactual theories of causation

Chapter.  21018 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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