Mental Simulation and the Nexus of Causal and Counterfactual Explanation

David R. Mandel

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

Mental Simulation and the Nexus of Causal and Counterfactual Explanation

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This chapter examines the role of mental simulation in causal and counterfactual explanations of outcomes of past cases. Following the Introduction, Part 2 outlines the author’s reasons for his emphasis on explanation as opposed to thinking or reasoning. Part 3 traces the development of the mental simulation construct, expands on previous notions, and critically examines how psychologists have used the mental simulation construct to make claims about the nature of causal explanation. Part 4 summarizes an alternative functional account of the relationship between causal and counterfactual explanation called Judgment Dissociation Theory (JDT). In JDT, mental simulations are posited to play a role in both causal and counterfactual explanations, but the focus of each type of explanation is different. Specifically, causal explanations tend to focus on antecedents that were sufficient under the circumstances to yield the actual event, whereas counterfactual explanations tend to focus on (the mutation of) antecedents that would have been sufficient to prevent the actual outcome and others like it from occurring. These different foci lead to predictable dissociations in explanatory content, which have been confirmed in recent experiments. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the compatibility of JDT with an interventionist account of causal thinking.

Keywords: mental simulation; counterfactual thinking; causal thinking; explanation

Chapter.  11461 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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