Counterfactual Support: Why Care?

Abstract: It seems very important to us whether or not a generalization offers counterfactual support—but why? Surely what happens in other possible worlds can neither help nor hurt us? This paper explores the question whether counterfactual support does, nevertheless, have some practical value. (The question of theoretical value will be addressed but then put aside.) The following thesis is proposed: the counterfactual-supporting generalizations are those for which there exists a compact and under normal circumstances knowable basis determining the fine-grained pattern of actual variation between the properties associated by the generalization (e.g., for the generalization Fs tend to be G, the exact circumstances under which any particular F is G); further, the better we understand the basis and the scope of the support offered, the greater our knowledge of fine-grained variation. We care about counterfactual support because we care about actual fine-grained variation.

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