Counterfactual and Causal Thoughts about Exceptional Events

Ruth M.J. Byrne

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

Counterfactual and Causal Thoughts about Exceptional Events

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This chapter examines the counterfactual thoughts and causal explanations that people create for exceptional and unexpected antecedents and outcomes. Four questions have puzzled psychologists and philosophers interested in causation and counterfactuality: (1) How do counterfactual ‘if only’ thoughts affect causal thoughts? (2) How do causal thoughts affect counterfactual thoughts? (3) How do causal and counterfactual thoughts differ? And (4) How do semi-factual ‘even if’ thoughts affect causal thoughts? I sketch answers to these four questions based on two central claims. First, counterfactual thoughts require people to construct a mental representation of two possibilities, the counterfactual conjecture and the presupposed factual reality. Second, there are different sorts of causes: ‘strong’ causes are necessary and sufficient for their outcome; and ‘enabling’ causes are necessary but not sufficient for their outcome.

Keywords: counterfactual conditional; exceptionality effect; semi-factual ‘even if’ thoughts; strong causes; enabling causes; reasoning; imagination

Chapter.  11045 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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