Counterfactuals and Case Studies

Jack S. Levy

in The Oxford Handbook of Political Methodology

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780199286546
Published online September 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780191577307 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Political Science

Counterfactuals and Case Studies

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This article shows that counterfactuals can be used along with case studies to make inferences, although strong theories are needed for this. The article also argues that game theory is one approach that provides this kind of theory because a game explicitly models all of the actors' options including those possibilities that are not chosen. The article then indicates that any counterfactual argument requires a detailed and explicit description of the alternative antecedent which is plausible and involves a minimal rewrite of history, and suggests that one of the strengths of game theory is its explicitness about alternatives. The validity of counterfactual arguments is assessed in explaining cases or testing theoretical propositions. Counterfactuals should change as few aspects of the real world as possible in order to isolate their causal effects.

Keywords: counterfactuals; case studies; game theory; counterfactual arguments

Article.  8615 words. 

Subjects: Comparative Politics ; Political Methodology

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