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Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

Volume 85, Issue 3, November 2012

J. Robert, G. Williams
Pages 648-670

Counterfactual Triviality
A Lewis-Impossibility Argument for Counterfactuals

I formulate a counterfactual version of the notorious 'Ramsey Test'. Whereas the Ramsey Test for indicative conditionals links credence in indicatives to conditional credences, the counterfactual version links credence in counterfactuals to expected conditional chance. I outline two forms: a Ramsey Identity on which the probability of the conditional should be identical to the corresponding conditional probabihty/expectation of chance; and a Ramsey Bound on which credence in the conditional should never exceed the latter. Even in the weaker, bound, form, the counterfactual Ramsey Test makes counterfactuals subject to the very argument that Lewis used to argue against the indicative version of the Ramsey Test. I compare the assumptions needed to run each, pointing to assumptions about the time-evolution of chances that can replace the appeal to Bayesian assumptions about credence update in motivating the assumptions of the argument. I finish by outlining two reactions to the discussion: to indicativize the debate on counterfactuals; or to counterfactualize the debate on indicatives.