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On the Supposed Temporal Asymmetry of Counterfactual Dependence; or: It Wouldn’t Have Taken a Miracle!

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Abstract:

Abstract

The thesis that a temporal asymmetry of counterfactual dependence characterizes our world plays a central role in Lewis’s philosophy, as, among other things, it underpins one of Lewis most renowned theses – that causation can be analyzed in terms of counterfactual dependence. To maintain that a temporal asymmetry of counterfactual dependence characterizes our world, Lewis committed himself to two other theses. The first is that the closest possible worlds at which the antecedent of a counterfactual conditional is true is one in which a small miracle occurs – i.e. one whose laws differ from the actual laws in a small spatiotemporal region. The second is that our world is characterized by a temporal asymmetry of miracles. In this paper, I will argue, first, that the latter thesis is either false or incompatible with the picture of the relations among temporal asymmetries endorsed by Lewis and, second, that former thesis conflicts with some of the intuitions which seem to guide us when engaging in counterfactual reasoning. If there is any fact of the matter as to which possible worlds in which the antecedent of a counterfactual conditional is true are closest to the actual world, these are not worlds at which a small miracle occurs.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1746-8361.2006.01085.x

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, University of Rochester, Box 270078, Rochester, NY 14627-0078, USA;, Email: gabriele.contessa@rochester.edu

Publication date: 2006-12-01

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