Julian Reiss

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780195392753
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks


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This article, which is concerned with counterfactuals insofar as they relate to causal inference about singular events, concentrates on counterfactuals that are closely connected to claims about actual causation. The claims about actual causation are important in the social sciences and the counterfactual approach to actual causation is a significant one, even if it is not universally valid. In David Lewis's account, the notion of natural law plays a crucial role. Social science counterfactuals sometimes involve backtracking. The article then introduces a (philosophical) theory of counterfactuals that makes use of causal modeling tools. Furthermore, the problems of circularity, backtracking, actual causation, and indeterminacy are the four problems that trouble the theory of counterfactuals. It is noted that the counterfactuals are useful for purposes other than causal inference. Counterfactual speculation may sometimes be the only way to make causal inferences about singular events.

Keywords: counterfactuals; causal inference; singular events; actual causation; social sciences; David Lewis; circularity; backtracking; indeterminacy

Article.  14222 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Philosophy of Science

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