Understanding Counterfactuals and Causation
We provide an introduction to some of the key issues raised in this volume by considering how individual chapters bear on the prospects of what may be called a ‘counterfactual process view’ of causal reasoning. According to such a view, counterfactual thought is an essential part of the processing involved in making causal judgements, at least in a central range of cases that are critical to a subject’s understanding of what it is for one thing to cause another. We argue that one fruitful way of approaching the different contributions to the volume is to think of them as providing materials, conceptual as well as empirical, for challenging counterfactual process views of causal thinking, or for responding to such challenges. Amongst the challenges we consider are ones that arise out of or parallel objections to counterfactual theories of causation in philosophy, or ones that appeal to apparent developmental dissociations between causal and counterfactual reasoning abilities. Possible responses turn on questions such as the following: What should count as engaging in counterfactual reasoning? How should we think of the cognitive prerequisites of such reasoning? Is it right to ask what the relationship is between causal and counterfactual reasoning, or are there in fact a number of different ways in which the two are connected?
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