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Counterfactuals are interested in events which have already occurred, rather than saying something about all possible cases. The main idea of counterfactuals is that in order to find out the cause of an event we have to see if it would still occur if the antecedent did not occur. If it does not, then the antecedent is the cause of the event. “However, since there are intuitively clear cases of causation without simple counterfactual dependence, counterfactual dependence is not necessary for causation; (pg.159 Paul)” as an event can still occur by other means that just by the antecedent which was tested. It appears that dropping a pencil causes it to fall, because if we had not dropped the pencil, it would not have fallen. Causality does not have to be a relationship between events. Suppose I do not rob a bank, then I do not go to jail. It is implausible to say that not robbing a bank is an event. Sometimes causality does not involve events. There is a way in which the world is, but there are many ways in which the world could have been. I am typing this paper on an Apple, but I could have been typed in on an HP. Each way that the world could have been, is a possible world. To solve whether dropping the chalk causes it to fall, we must consider the closest possible world (closest possible being the world where the past is preserved as much as possible, and the least changes are made) where not dropping the chalk results in it not falling. Since not dropping the chalk causes it to not fall in the closest of possible worlds, then dropping the chalk causes it to fall. All worlds must be possible, and no world exists in which contradictions are true. The first problem that we run into is that counterfactuals do not seem to be transitive in the same way that conditionals are. If dropping of the chalk causes it to fall, and its falling causes it to hit the ground; counterfactually letting go does not cause it to hit the ground. Take the example of J. Edgar Hoover being a communist who was born in Russia. In the nearest of possible worlds, Hoover was a communist who was born in the U.S.A. So, if he would have been a communist, he would have been a traitor. But if he was born in Russia and he was a communist, he would not have been a traitor, he would have been a good Russian. The way we fix this is by saying that there is a relationship of immediate counterfactual dependence. Dropping the chalk causes it to hit the ground if and only if there is a chain of immediate counterfactual dependencies. If then ‘transitivity’ works in this way, where: A ☐→ B, (A&B) ☐→ C ∴ A ☐→ C; we can not go the world where Hoover is a communist and an american. We would have to choose the closest world where he is a Russian. This fixes the problem, but takes us to a world which is very far away from our own. When antecedents involve things in the past, we are forced to go to worlds that are very unlike our own. When we consider worlds that are very far from our own, we get lost, because we do not know how things happen in situations that we are unfamiliar with. We want to be able to say that there would be causation without any minds around to perceive it, that is, that causation is mind-independent. This is why we will want to come up with a ontological reductive description of what causation is. “Reductive ontologies of the causal relation hold that facts about what causes what are fixed (pg.163 Paul)”. We will want to take this approach over a pragmatic one because it seems that “counterfactual dependence are cases of causal dependence (pg.166 Paul). If we have three or more things, we want two of them to be more similar to each other than they are to the third outside of our minds. We want similarity to be in the objects themselves, as we want causation to be in the events themselves. Similarity must also be mindindependent, as if it were mind-dependent, then the similarity of ranking possible worlds will also be mind-dependent, which would make counterfactuals mind-dependent, which in turn would make causality mind-dependent, which we clearly do not want.


Counterfactuals rightly deny the existence of backtracking conditionals in which an event at an earlier time is dependent on an event at a later time. If backtracking conditionals were allowed, then backwards causation would be allowed, which can not be the case. The pencil was dropped because it hit the floor does not work because there are other ways in which the pencil could have got to the floor, i.e it was placed there. If C causes both B and D to occur, and D causes E to occur: some people might want to say that if B did not occur, that means that C did not; and if C did not, then E would not. We can not backtrack this way. C would have still occurred, causing D, which in turn causes E (pg.167 Paul). Two of the more prominent problems with counterfactuals are that of overdetermination, and pre-emption. We will focus on a problem of pre-emption: which “are cases where C causes E, but if C had not caused E, one or more bak-up causes (merely potential causes) would have caused E instead (pg.173 Paul).” Suppose at a bowling alley, Hit and Miss both roll bowling balls down the same lane. Hit's heavier ball deflects Miss’s lighter ball en route to the pin. Hit's throw caused the pin to fall. But there is no direct counterfactual dependence. There is no direct counterfactual dependence because if Hit had not thrown the ball, Miss’ ball would not have been deflected, and would have caused the pin to fall. The pin falling does not depend on Hit throwing the ball, so how could it be the cause? A solution to this problem of early pre-emption might be that whatever Miss’ throwing causes is not the Pin falling, because the pin falling is necessarily caused by Hit’s throw, which “is independent of other entities not causally or otherwise connected to them (pg.173 Paul)”. This ends up not working because: if “we are trying to give an account of what causation is. We cannot individuate events by their causes and effects while reducing or analysing causation in terms of counterfactual relations between events, since without an independent account of which events occur, there is no way to determine which counterfactual relations exit! (pg.174 Paul)” If we take causation to be the ancestral relation (connected by a series of events) (pg.174 Paul). Such that if Hit had not thrown the ball, then the chain would have not been caused, and if that end of the chain had not been caused, then the pin would not have fallen. Hit is then a cause of the pin falling, because the pin falling depends on the ancestral change which depends on Hit throwing the ball. They are connected “by a chain of counterfactual dependencies, even if [P] doesn’t depend on [H] outright.(pg.174 Paul)” Consider a case of late pre-emption: the pianist knows to start the piece when either the spotlight shines on her, or the conductor points to her. Suppose that the person working the lights is not entirely familiar with the piece and is always a little slow on getting the spotlight on the soloist, so that the conductor usually points to the pianist before the spotlight falls on her. The pianist would then start to play when she was pointed at, but if she was not pointed at for one reason or another, she would have started anyways (when the spotlight shined on her). This problem can not be solved by transitivity in the same way that the bowling example could be. There is no point where the starting of the piece counterfactually depends on any such intermediate event (as it did with the bowling example). Thus, we cannot take the pointing of the conductor to be a cause in virtue of being connected to the starting of the piece by a chain of dependencies. (pg. 175 Paul) If we take events to be temporally fragile then we can say that if the piece had started later than it actually did it would not be the piece that actually was performed as it was. If the conductor had not have pointed (or at all) exactly as it did, the piece would not have occurred exactly as it did.


The final view “is the thesis that, if whether, when, and how E occurs, C is a cause of E. (pg. 176 Paul). This fixes the problem, but creates another one: it seems that temporally and otherwise fragile events can occur. We want to be able to say that if I loose an arm, I am still me, or that I can arrive somewhere later than I did, or I could have ordered my yacht slightly larger than it actually is. We do not want to say that any difference is a decisive one, because that is not how we experience the world. If that were the case then the above examples (amongst many others) would not be possible. Beebee, Helen, Christopher Hitchcock, and Peter Menzies. The Oxford Handbook of Causation. Oxford ;; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. The Oxford Handbooks Series Web.

Counterfactual Theories Of Causation  
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