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The Journal of Philosophy

Volume 116, Issue 1, January 2019

Peter Tan
Pages 32-60
DOI: 10.5840/jphil201911612

Counterpossible Non-vacuity in Scientific Practice

The longstanding philosophical orthodoxy on counterfactuals holds, in part, that counterfactuals with metaphysically impossible antecedents (“counterpossibles”) are indiscriminately vacuously true. Drawing on a number of examples from across scientific practice, I argue that science routinely treats counterpossibles as non-vacuously true and also routinely treats other counterpossibles as false. In fact, the success of many central scientific endeavors requires that counterpossibles can be non-vacuously true or false. So the philosophical orthodoxy that counterpossibles are indiscriminately vacuously true is inconsistent with scientific practice. I argue that this provides a conclusive reason to reject the orthodoxy.