Thursday, June 29, 2006

Being doctored, and might counterfactuals

Last week there was a reunion of the PhD students from St Andrews, five of whom (myself included) worked at the Arche centre. In an act of coordination rarely seen among philosophers, we managed to all get our dissertations submitted and passed within a few months of each other, and so everyone was able to graduate at the same time.

I have to say, it's kinda funky being an official "doctor". Leastwise, I now have ways to distinguish myself from the other Robbie Williams. One thing I did while up in St Andrews was give a talk about "might" counterfactuals (continued below the fold).

While at St Andrews, I gave a talk on "might" counterfactuals based on this paper, defending the claim that there are cases where both "If p, it might be that not q" and " If p then it would be that q" are true. If that's right, then an argument that Lewis uses against "conditional excluded middle" doesn't work. And I like conditional excluded middle). The issue ends up turning on attitudes to the lottery paradox, and how exactly we formulate modal constraints on knowledge (safety, sensitivity etc).

After reading a paper that Antony Eagle has just put up online, I'm getting more and more interested in these "might" counterfactuals---it feels like I'm just looking at the tip of an iceberg at the moment. Antony's paper is highly recommended, by the way: it's central theme is to explain why it sounds bad to assert the "if p, would be that q, but if p, might be that not q". I really owe an opinion on this issue myself, as my position in the paper I gave was exactly to argue for the truth of instances of this claim (Carrie Jenkins was acting as my conscience on this point while I was up in St Andrews). Possibly more on this later, therefore...

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