Scientific counterfactuals as make-believe

Noelia Iranzo-Ribera

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Abstract

Counterfactuals abound in science, especially when reasoning about and with models. This often requires entertaining counterfactual conditionals with nomologically or metaphysically impossible antecedents, namely, counternomics or counterpossibles. In this paper I defend the make-believe view of scientific counterfactuals, a naturalised fiction-based account of counterfactuals in science which provides a means to evaluate their meanings independently of the possibility of the states of affairs their antecedents describe, and under which they have non-trivial truth-values. Fiction is here understood as imagination (in contrast with its most typical association with falsity), characterised as a propositional attitude of pretense or ‘make-believe’ (Walton 1990). The application of this theory to scientific counterfactuals makes their evaluation a game of make-believe: a counterfactual is (fictionally) true iff its antecedent and the rules of the game prescribe the imagining of its consequent (Kimpton-Nye 2020). The result is a practice-based account of counterfactuals and counterfactual reasoning in science which incorporates insights from theoretical and experimental analytic philosophy as well as cognitive science. This way, the make-believe view of scientific counterfactuals shows that the evaluation of scientific counterfactuals is none other than a question of scientific representation in disguise.
Original languageEnglish
Article number473
Number of pages27
JournalSynthese
Volume200
Issue number6
Early online date10 Nov 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Nov 2022

Keywords

  • counterfactuals
  • Scientific reasoning
  • Fiction
  • Make-believe

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