Counterfactuals, Thought Experiments, and Singular Causal Analysis in History

  title={Counterfactuals, Thought Experiments, and Singular Causal Analysis in History},
  author={Julian Reiss},
  journal={Philosophy of Science},
  pages={712 - 723}
  • J. Reiss
  • Published 1 December 2009
  • Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Science
Thought experiments are ubiquitous in science and especially prominent in domains in which experimental and observational evidence is scarce. One such domain is the causal analysis of singular events in history. A long‐standing tradition that goes back to Max Weber addresses the issue by means of ‘what‐if’ counterfactuals. In this paper I give a descriptive account of this widely used method and argue that historians following it examine difference makers rather than causes in the philosopher’s… 
So close no matter how far: counterfactuals in history of science and the inevitability/contingency controversy
Whether and to what degree counterfactual histories of science can advance the cause of the so-called “contingency thesis” is assessed, namely, the claim that history of science might have followed a path leading to alternative, non-equivalent theories, as successful as the ones that the authors currently embrace.
Applying D. K. Lewis’s Counterfactual Theory of Causation to the Philosophy of Historiography
A theory of causation suitable for historiography must accommodate the many types of causal claims historians make. In this paper, I examine the advantages of applying D. K. Lewis’s counterfactual
Backtracking Analysis and Causal Ascription of Singular Historicals
One task of historians is to construct causal ascription of singular historicals between eminent historical events. For instance, the controversy resulting from the confusing butterfly ballot of
Causation in the Social Sciences
All univocal analyses of causation face counterexamples. An attractive response to this situation is to become a pluralist about causal relationships. “Causal pluralism” is itself, however, a
Contextualising Causation Part II
In recent years, a number of philosophers have attempted to fix paradoxes of the counterfactual account of causation by making causation contrastive. In this framework, causation is understood to be
Causal inquiry in the social sciences : the promise of process tracing
In this thesis I investigate causal inquiry in the social sciences, drawing on examples from various disciplines and in particular from conflict studies. In a backlash against the pervasiveness of
Thought Experiments and the Role of Coherent Economic Explanations
That thought experiments (TEs) are widely used across the sciences and social sciences poses a riddle for those who think that we can learn new facts only through observation and experimentation. The
Determinism and Causal Feedback Loops in Montesquieu's Explanations for the Military Rise and Fall of Rome
Montesquieu's Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence (1733/1734) is a methodological exercise in causal explanation on the meso-level applied to the subject of
What-If at Waterloo. Carl von Clausewitz’s use of historical counterfactuals in his history of the Campaign of 1815
ABSTRACT In this article, I analyze the use of historical counterfactuals in the Campaign of 1815 by Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831). Such is the importance of counterfactuals in this work that its
Explanation and Understanding Revisited 1
Georg Henrik von Wright’s book Explanation and Understanding (1971) is a modern classic in analytic hermeneutics, and in the philosophy of the social sciences and humanities in general. In this work,


Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics Logical, Methodological, and Psychological Perspectives
List of ContributorsAcknowledgments1Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics: Logical, Methodological, and Psychological Perspectives12Causes and Counterfactuals in Social Science:
Counterfactual Dependence and Time's Arrow
Today I am typing words on a page. Suppose today were different. Suppose I were typing different words. Then plainly tomorrow would be different also; for instance, different words would appear on
A Stillborn West? Themistocles at Salamis, 480 BC
  • 2006
“ A Stillborn West ? Themistocles at Salamis , 480 BC ” , in
  • 2006
“ A Stillborn West ? Themistocles at Salamis , 480 BC ” , in
  • Unmaking the West : “ What - If ? ” Scenarios That Rewrite World History
  • 2006
Confronting Hitler and Its Consequences’, in Philip Tetlock and Aaron Belkin (eds), Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics, Princeton (NJ)
  • 1996
Causation’, Journal of Philosophy
  • 1973
Objective Possibility and Adequate Causation in Historical Explanation
  • The Methodology of the Social Sciences
  • 1905