Counterfactuals, Causation and Humean Supervenience

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Counterfactual theories of causation are standardly put forward by proponents of the doctrine of Humean Supervenience. Nevertheless, the plausibility of such counterfactual theories does not rely upon, nor does it entail, the truth of Humean Supervenience. To illustrate the significance of these points, I consider three problem areas for the counterfactual theory of causation arising from the key component in evaluating its success: the semantics of the counterfactuals constituting the analysis. The first is the future similarity objection. The second relates to the connection between counterfactuals and chance. The third concerns the relationship between counterfactual asymmetry and causal asymmetry. In response to the first two difficulties, I place a constraint upon Lewis’s perfect match condition for the similarity weighting for counterfactuals and recommend appealing, more generally, to the idea of failure of fit rather than law violation in formulating the conditions. I explain how the constraint is motivated, and distinguished from something stronger that applies in certain contexts, and not others, by considering the connection between chance and frequency. I argue that the combination of this solution to the first two problems and recognition of the, at best, contingent truth of the doctrine of Humean Supervenience provides a successful treatment of the third problem. I draw out the methodological implications of my approach both with regard to the traditional aims of analysis and, more particularly, with regard to the proper understanding of the aims of counterfactual analyses of causation in the final section of the chapter.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWorldviews, Science and Us
Subtitle of host publicationStudies of Analytic Metaphysics
EditorsRobrecht Vanderbeeken, Bart D'Hooghe
Place of PublicationSingapore
PublisherWorld Scientific Publishing
Number of pages39
ISBN (Print)13 978-981-4295-81-9
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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