# Remko van der Pluijm 307114

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Counterfactuals: solution or side-step
To solve the various problems with the regularity account of causation and the problems he identified with this account, David Lewis developed a counterfactual account of causation. This essay will describe this counterfactual account of causation and the problems associated with it, especially in relation to the problems it sought to solve. I'll argue that the counterfactual position isn't that much better of than the theory it sought to replace.

Lewis identifies four different problems within the regularity account in its strongest form (Lewis, 1973). First, Lewis identifies the problem of effect. The only way for a regularity theorist to distinguish between an effect and a cause is by introducing a time ordering: an effect is preceded by a cause. But to introduce a time-ordering is to exclude a priori all forms of causation which are backward causations, something which is for Lewis at a too high cost, as some physical theories, which are not highly implausible, do include backward causation. Second, he notices the problem of epiphenomena. An epiphenomenon is an extra effect which has a type of regularity relation with a cause. Within a regularity account, one cannot distinguish between the relation between a cause and an effect and the relation between an epiphenomenon caused by the same cause and the effect of that cause. So, when suppose I'm working from Monday till Friday from 9 to 5, I live half an hour from my job and also suppose that there is an elementary school which rings its bells at 8.30. According to the regularity analysis, the ringing of the school bells is the cause for me leaving for work, although the ringing of the bells is an epiphenomenon of it being 8.30. Third, there is the problem of pre-emption. With pre-emption, there are two causes c 1 and c2 which could have caused e. Only, c2 only causes e when c1 is absent. Because both c1 and c2 occur, both are 'causes' to e, although we would want to differentiate between both. According to Lewis, his account of causation should solve these problems. But do they indeed in a satisfying fashion?

Lewis's account of causation
For Lewis, c is a cause of e iff (Lewis, 1973): 1. c and e are both particular, distinct1 events; 2. a causal chain exists between the c and e. The first thing we should note that this account is, as is the regularity account, a reductive account: counterfactuals are 'nothing more and nothing less' than causal chains of two or more particular distinct events. The second thing to not is that Lewis his account is 'absolute', meaning that 'context' doesn't play a role in his analysis of causation. The third thing one should as is how we should understand a 'causal chain'. To understand this, we should first look at the meaning of a counterfactual and the related term counterfactual dependence. A counterfactual is a subjunctive conditional (stating a situation which isn't the case, but could have been) which is 'contrary-to-fact', suggesting a false antecedent (Collins, Hall, & Paul, 2004). A simple example would be:”If Paul had thrown a brick at the window, the window would have shattered.”, suggesting that Paul didn't threw a brick (but was perhaps contemplating on it). However, one counterfactual doesn't make a counterfactual dependence. We speak of a counterfactual dependence when in all cases that e didn't occur, c also didn't occur. So, in the case of Paul throwing a brick, if the window was still intact, the brick wouldn't have been thrown would
1 Cf Menzies(2009).

Remko van der Pluijm 307114

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be a 'universal' fact. The question arises how we determine whether a counterfactual dependence is in some way 'universal'. How do we determine whether a counterfactual is valid? To analyse whether a counterfactual is valid, Lewis introduces the notion of possible worlds. An event e is counterfactually dependent on an event c when at all the closest possible worlds where c is absent, e is also absent (or when there are no worlds where c is absent and e is present closer than worlds where both c and e are absent)2. Ofcourse, this begs the question by which method we determine which possible world is 'closest' to our actual world. Lewis does this by 'comparative similarity'. Formally, this means first that there is a weak ordering of possible worlds (meaning that two possible worlds can be relatively closer, equally as far or further away to each other towards the actual world) and second that the actual world is per definition the closest possible world. For Lewis, this is a natural way of thinking, as we tend to think of causes as events that 'make a difference' (Menzies, 2009). I'll discuss Lewis's ideas about how to define comparative similarity further when discussing counterexamples to his theory of causation. As we have now a small definition of the account of causation, we can now discuss why Lewis thinks a causal dependence is only sufficient but not necessary. Because Lewis thinks causality always is transitive, and causal dependence isn't, he has to add the causal chain clausule, meaning that for e to be causally dependent on c and given an intermediate event d, d has to be causally dependent on c and e has to be causally dependent on d (Lewis, 1973).

Solving the regularity problematic
But how is this account of causation helping us solve the problems in the regularity account? For the effects and epiphenomena, Lewis chooses to “flatly [to] deny the counterfactual that causes the trouble”. When we e.g. suggest an example for the problem of effect, namely one in which c causes an subsequent event e and that, under current laws, c could not have not caused e. Then, it seems that we should acknowledge e as a cause of c, even though the reverse is true 3. Instead, we should acknowledge that it “is less of a departure from actuality to get rid of e by holding c fixed and giving up some or other of the laws [..] of which c could not have failed to caus e, rather than to hold those laws [..] and get rid of e by going back and abolishing its cause c.” 4 Here, Lewis doesn't seem to really solve the problem, but instead assumes counterfactuals and redefines the correct 'closeness' for the ideal possible world in which the situation is desired5. This solution to the problem of effect does raise a question regarding the 'direction' of a counterfactual. According to Lewis, they go in the direction of the counterfactual dependence. However, we do see that most causes go from the past to the present. Here, he argues a posteriori, using Popper's analogy of the rock in the water, that most of the time causes go from past to present and from present to future. In Popper's example, when we throw a rock in the water, the water creates waves, which have a concentric form an go away of the location of the rock. Lewis states that, although it is perfectly possible to have a wave coming back at the rock, we see in practice that they do go away. With the problem of pre-emption we find Lewis's reason for insisting that causality should be transitive: the potential cause (the one which is prevented by the actual cause) is the one which doesn't connect to a (theoretical) intermediate event d. Therefore, the causal dependence is
2 3 4 5 Lewis 1973, p560-561. Ibid, p565-566. Ibid idem. I do not want to state that this type of method is by definition wrong (it does remind a bit of the transcendental research Kant uses when he assumes freedom of choice and God as a necessity for ethics). However, it does pose a problem when this denial of a certain type of counterfactual would solve one problem but create another in another situation (not the epiphenomena or problem of effect). For Lewis his theory to remain consistent, he has to insist that in all instances when such a situation occurs, it has to be denied, and we cannot be certain that this won't create a potential problem in the future. Therefore, I do have my reserves for this type of stipulation.

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intransitive and the second cause isn't a cause of e. Similarity of worlds One of the problems Lewis was confronted with was how we should determine the closest world. After all, it seems perfectly possible that we can devise a correctly crafted possible world which is just as similar as other close possible world, but with an intervention which keeps the cause happening. An example is given by Kit Fine, who objects that Nixon pushing the button isn't the cause of a nuclear holocaust, because the closest by world would be one in which Nixon pushes the button and a nuclear holocaust doesn't happen, since in our actual world we didn't have a nuclear holocaust (Lewis, 1979). In his reaction, Lewis seems to use a strategy of 'reverse engineering' (Collins, Hall & Paul, 2004; p8): he takes these intuitions and determines which rules we should use to compare similarity. These rules are: first avoid a big, widespread diverse violation of law, second to maximise the correctness of time and space for facts, third to avoid small localised violations of law and it is of little importance that facts are preserved. As I stated above in the footnote regarding this method of reverse engineering, the problem is that although there aren't any theoretical problems with using this method, the difficulty is that it is perfectly possible for these rules to only apply in the situations we've have encountered and it doesn't ensure that we are save of other counterexamples, for which we have to create other rules. One thing is certain, however, that it doesn't save us of the epicycles of which Lewis said he would save us.

General problems of the counterfactual account
An example that these stipulated solutions can be problematic can be seen when we look at the problems with transitivity. One of the problems of the transitivity is that there are a number of cases in which a causal chain doesn't seem intuitive. One example is given by Michael McDermott(2004)6. Suppose that two people sit in a room, both having a switch which, when both switches are set in the same direction, sent an electrical shock to a third person in the room. Now furthermore suppose that person 1 doesn't want the third person to be shocked and moves his switch to the right, but person 2 also does, since he wants to shock the third person. In this case, according to a counterfactual account of causation, person 1 caused the shock, which is counter-intuitive as he tried to prevent the shock. It isn't easy to see a solution to this, also since Lewis explicitely wants his account to be non-perspective, i.e. not taking into account any context, even though at this particular situation this seems exactly the problem. This non-perspectivity is also problematic when determining closeness of worlds. One example is a heavy smoker who is strongly addicted to smoking and smokes two packs per day. The nearest possible world where to determine whether smoking causes lung cancer would be the one in which the smoker smokes three packs per day. Giving the fact that all other factors are equal, this option is more closer to our would than one in which the smoker would quit smoking. Also, with more advanced problems of pre-emption, it isn't clear that Lewis his account can solve the situation. Imagine for instance that two people shoot at the same time at a burglar. We cannot determine an intermediate event in which the first shot takes away the opportunity of the second one (Menzies(2009)), meaning that the counterfactual that if person 1 wouldn't have shot, the burglar wouldn't die is false. When we try to add time and manner as a property of the event, we might be able to conclude that the counterfactual is true, but this would introduce some other strange causal dependencies. When, e.g. I ingested a poison which would kill me when I have a full stomach, me eating my diner would cause me to die from poisoning, as I would die on an earlier time as I would in my own world, which then would be sufficient for the counterfactual to be true. It suffices to say that the counterfactual account of Lewis isn't quite able to solve the problems of the regularity account without resorting to stipulations or 'falling victim to worse problems', as
6 Cf Menzies(2009).

Remko van der Pluijm 307114

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Lewis famously put it. The problems already associated with some of the new alternatives to Lewis's account, e.g. contrast-theories, but also the structural equations framework (Menzies(2009)) suggest that the counterfactual account is far from having solved the problems because of which it was originally created.

Bibliography
Collins, J., Hall, N., & Paul, L. (2004). Counterfactuals and Causation: History, Problems, and Prospects. In J. Collins, N. Hall, & L. Paul, Causation and Counterfactuals (pp. 1-58). Cambridge (MA): MIT Press. Lewis, D. (1973). Cauasation. Journal of Philosophy, 70, 556-567. Lewis, D. (1979). Counterfactual dependence and Time's arrow. Noûs, 13, 455-47. Menzies, P. (2009). Counterfactual Theories of Causation. In E. N. Zalta, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2009 .). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2009/entries/causation-counterfactual/.