Maarten Maartensz:    Philosophical Dictionary | Filosofisch Woordenboek                      

 C - Counterfactual


Counterfactual: Term for statements that involve locutions like "it were", "it would be", "it might be", "it could be" and the like, that involve some sort of hypothesis that is not known to be true or - whence the name, that is somewhat misleading - known to be false.

A simple example is: "If kangaroos had no tails, they would topple over" or "If Eve had not sinned, surely Adam would have, humans being what they are" or "If human beings were capable of a paradisical society, they would have had it for ages".

There are many problems and subtleties involved in counterfactuals (also known as 'subjunctives' in some of the logical literature), and an adequate analysis of counterfactuals is important for many fields, since in fact many human decisions and ideas somehow rest at least in part on counterfactuals of some kind, and many of the conditionals used in ordinary reasoning are in fact counterfactual conditionals, in which one considers what would be the case if something else were the case, and decides what one will do from considerations involving these hypothetical terms.


See also: Conditionals


Adams, Gabbay, Lewis, Pollock, Rescher,

 Original: Dec 10, 2004                                                Last edited: 12 December 2011.   Top