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Counterfactual Reasoning within Physical Theories

Fletcher, Samuel C. (2019) Counterfactual Reasoning within Physical Theories. Synthese. ISSN 1573-0964

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Abstract

If one is interested in reasoning counterfactually within a physical theory, one cannot adequately use the standard possible world semantics. As developed by Lewis and others, this semantics depends on entertaining possible worlds with miracles, worlds in which laws of nature, as described by physical theory, are violated. Van Fraassen suggested instead to use the models of a theory as worlds, but gave up on determining the needed comparative similarity relation for the semantics objectively. I present a third way, in which this similarity relation is determined from properties of the models contextually relevant to the truth of the counterfactual under evaluation. After illustrating this with a simple example from thermodynamics, I draw some implications for future work, including a renewed possibility for a viable deflationary account of laws of nature.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Fletcher, Samuel C.scfletch@umn.edu0000-0002-9061-8976
Additional Information: This is a postprint, pre-copyedited version.
Keywords: Counterfactual conditionals, Similarity, Relevance, Models, Laws of nature
Subjects: General Issues > Laws of Nature
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Physics
Depositing User: Prof. Samuel C. Fletcher
Date Deposited: 26 May 2020 23:06
Last Modified: 26 May 2020 23:06
Item ID: 17240
Journal or Publication Title: Synthese
Publisher: Springer (Springer Science+Business Media B.V.)
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.1007/s11229-019-02085-0
Subjects: General Issues > Laws of Nature
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Physics
Date: 7 January 2019
ISSN: 1573-0964
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/17240

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