Most Counterfactuals Are Still False by Alan Hajek

Most Counterfactuals Are Still False

I have long argued for a kind of ‘counterfactual skepticism’: most counterfactuals are false. I maintain that the indeterminism and indeterminacy associated with most counterfactuals entail their falsehood. For example, I claim that these counterfactuals are both false:
(Indeterminism) If the chancy coin were tossed, it would land heads.
(Indeterminacy) If I had a son, he would have an even number of hairs on his head at his birth.
And I argue that most counterfactuals are relevantly similar to one or both of these, as far as their truth-values go. I also have arguments from the incompatibility of ‘would’ and ‘might not’ counterfactuals, and from Heim (‘reverse Sobel’) sequences.
However, counterfactual reasoning seems to play an important role in science, and ordinary speakers judge many counterfactuals that they utter to be true. A number of philosophers have defended our judgments against counterfactual skepticism. David Lewis and others appeal to ‘quasi-miracles’; Robbie Williams to ‘typicality’; John Hawthorne and H. Orri Stefánsson to ‘counterfacts’, primitive counterfactual facts; Moritz Schulz to an arbitrary-selection semantics; Jonathan Bennett and Hannes Leitgeb to high conditional probabilities; Karen Lewis to contextually-sensitive ‘relevance’.
I argue against each of these proposals. A recurring theme is that they fail to respect certain valid inference patterns. I conclude: most counterfactuals are still false.

Date: 25 May 2018, Friday
Time: 2pm to 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3-05-23)

About the Speaker:
Alan Hájek studied statistics and mathematics at the University of Melbourne (B.Sc. (Hons). 1982), where he won the Dwight Prize in Statistics. He took an M.A. in philosophy at the University of Western Ontario (1986) and a Ph.D. in philosophy at Princeton University (1993), winning the Porter Ogden Jacobus fellowship. He has taught at the University of Melbourne (1990) and at Caltech (1992-2004), where he received the Associated Students of California Institute of Technology Teaching Award (2004). He has also spent time as a visiting professor at MIT (1995), Auckland University (2000), and Singapore Management University (2005). Hájek joined the Philosophy Program at RSSS, ANU, as Professor of Philosophy in February 2005. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He was the President of the Australasian Association of Philosophy, 2009-10.
Hájek’s research interests include the philosophical foundations of probability and decision theory, epistemology, the philosophy of science, metaphysics, and the philosophy of religion. His paper “What Conditional Probability Could Not Be” won the 2004 American Philosophical Association Article Prize for “the best article published in the previous two years” by a “younger scholar”. The Philosopher’s Annual selected his “Waging War on Pascal’s Wager” as one of the ten best articles in philosophy in 2003.

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