Counterfactual reasoning within physical theories

Samuel C. Fletcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


If one is interested in reasoning counterfactually within a physical theory, one cannot adequately use the standard possible world semantics. As developed by Lewis and others, this semantics depends on entertaining possible worlds with miracles, worlds in which laws of nature, as described by physical theory, are violated. Van Fraassen suggested instead to use the models of a theory as worlds, but gave up on determining the needed comparative similarity relation for the semantics objectively. I present a third way, in which this similarity relation is determined from properties of the models contextually relevant to the truth of the counterfactual under evaluation. After illustrating this with a simple example from thermodynamics, I draw some implications for future work, including a renewed possibility for a viable deflationary account of laws of nature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3877-3898
Number of pages22
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Springer Nature B.V.


  • Counterfactual conditionals
  • Laws of nature
  • Models
  • Relevance
  • Similarity


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