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Another basic confusion

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2010 by Leo

Like Jenny I also have a basic question that I hope can be resolved fairly easily.

Lewis says that causal “dependence consists in the truth of two counterfactuals: O(c) [] -> O(e) and ~O(c) [] -> ~O(e).” (563) Here the O(c) and O(e) refer to families of events. Lewis then goes on say that if we refer not to families but individual events c and e and if we assume further that the individual events c and e are actual, then the first counterfactual in the quote above is automatically true and that this leaves us only with the second counterfactual to deal with. “But if c and e are actual events, then it is the first counterfactual that is automatically true. Then e depends causally on c iff, if c had not been, e never had existed.” (563)

Maybe its just my intuitions but it feels like there’s a jump between positing the first counterfactual requirement in terms of individual events: “e would have occurred if c had occurred” and fulfilling that counterfactual requirement by merely stipulating that in this particular world both e and c have occurred, especially if we’re making claims about causality. Just because e and c have occurred doesn’t seem to mean the same thing as “if c had occurred then e would have occured”. I’ve talked with Josh about this and I think he shares this intuition as well. Does this seem to anyone else to be a bit shifty?

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2 Responses to “Another basic confusion”

  1. If the particular event c has actually occurred, then the nearest c world is the actual world. Given that the particular event e also occurred, the counterfactual comes out true, assuming Lewis’ analysis.

  2. Like Chris said, given Lewis’ analysis since the actual world is the closest world in which c holds, the first counterfactual comes out true whenever c and e both occur in the actual world. There surely is a difference between the cases of families of events and particular events. However, the structure of the counterfactuals used to determine dependence is exactly the same. Also, remember that satisfying the first counterfactual is only part of the story. If in the actual world c and e both occur, then the crucial question is whether or not “had c not occured, would e still have occured”. That will presumably tell us if it is the occurence of c that makes a difference to whether or not e. That c and e both occur doesn’t tell us whether they are causally related to one another. That is why it isn’t too slippery for Lewis’ to claim that the first counterfactual is sometimes trivially satisfied in this way.

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