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Counterfactuals 2nd Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0631224259
ISBN-10: 0631224254
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"'Contrary-to-fact conditionals have provided logical analysts with fascinating puzzles. (This book) has a unitary theme presented clearly and attractively for the most part with only the unavoidable minimum of formal apparatus. The theme is pursued confidently and relentlessly without evasions or qualifications." Times Literary Supplement

"This is an excellent book. It combines shrewd philosophical sense with a fine technical expertise. The statement of views is concise and forthright." Kit Fine, Mind

"This essay is a virtuoso performance." British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

"Beautifully and lucidly written and full of clever ideas. It contains very many philosophical insights and comparisons." J. J. C. Smart, Australasian Journal of Philosophy

From the Back Cover

Counterfactuals is David Lewis's forceful presentation of and sustained argument for a particular view about propositions which express contrary-to-fact conditionals, including his famous defense of realism about possible worlds. Since its original publication in 1973, it has become a classic of contemporary philosophy, and is essential reading for anyone interested in the logic and metaphysics of counterfactuals. The book also includes an appendix of related writings by Lewis.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 2nd edition (January 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631224254
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631224259
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.5 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #542,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
"Counterfactuals" is not for the kiddies, or even the "interested general reader", if such a person exists. It is a book by an analytic philosopher, for analytic philosophers. Even among them, it will interest only the mandarins, the true devotees of contemporary analytical metaphysics and modal logic. But, for that select audience, this book is a treasure. It is a paradigm of philosophical analysis, lucid, concise, rigorous, and informed throughout by a luminous clarity of vision. The book concerns itself with a single problem of fundamental philosophical interest and importance: what do counterfactual conditionals mean, and when are they true? And such is the author's consummate brilliance that he manages to solve this problem, in its essentials, in less than a hundred and fifty pages. In this review, I will not attempt to detail its contents, since Amazon already has information about that. I will simply give my own opinion of its significance. The reader who wants to know more should get a copy.
"Counterfactuals" is that rarest of things: a truly original philosophical work that actually *succeeds* in its stated aim. To my knowledge, the only person, in the whole history of philosophy, to have developed an even remotely similar approach to the problem of counterfactuals is Robert Stalnaker, and Lewis' work is I think indisputably superior, subsuming Stalnaker's approach as a special (and doubtful) case. (Both works were, historically speaking, made yesterday--a mere generation ago.) If I am right in thinking that Lewis' theory is substantially correct, then he would seem to be the first man in history to have achieved a philosophically adequate understanding of counterfactuals. This book, in my opinion, represents a fundamental breakthrough in logic and metaphysics, for which we owe its author a debt as great as that owed to Kripke, perhaps even comparable to that which mathematics and logic owe to the works of Frege.
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David Lewis is possibly the most famous and oft quoted philosopher of the 20th Century. He was best known for his work in metaphysics and ontology, and all of this work was heavily grounded in his theory of "alternate worlds", The use of counterfactuals as a philosophic method for understanding truth were around long before Lewis. But Lewis organized the idea and gave it its most elaborate treatment by connecting it up to his notion of alternate worlds. This book is the core of his work in this area, his exploration of how, using the alternate worlds idea, counterfactuals reflect the truth of propositions. This is a very technical work. It would be helpful to have a good grounding in modern (that is 20th Century) analytic philosophy including familiarity with the terms of symbolic logic.
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It provides a kind of advanced overview of modal realism, which is not really a logical system so much as a logical approach. These guys are forever getting it wrong. But, some would say, with their approach there's not always much to say. It's pared down to very fundamental assumptions, and the graphics, when they use them, are pretty sparse. But as such, this book provides an excellent guide to thoughts that otherwise would only be found in journals such as Synthese or Techne. I know some professional philosophers would object, saying that what Lewis says is completely original. But it must be said, he swallows much of the conventional methods entirely, at least as far as using them as a context goes.

Readers may be entertained by Lewis' occasional mention of flamingos and black and white swans to illustrate the subtle problems present in modal realism.

I was deeply inspired by the book, including it as a reference in The Dimensional Philosopher's Toolkit, my recently published book. However, as a warning, it is not really light reading. It just happens to have a very light approach to logic which is commonly more complex than it appears in this treatment. But unlike many other books, in this case the light treatment is combined with a rigorous understanding of how to not make mistakes. What may be unfortunate is that that may be the ultimate conclusion of the book, and that conclusion is really only reserved for advanced readers. But advanced readers modal realists are. So the only question is, does the book add anything to modal realism? I think it does, although I don't give it five stars, because this is not (literally) a book of aphorisms, or, in fact, the quickest approach. But it provided serious hints for a perspective on philosophy that is utterly different.
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This is an excellently written book on modal logic. Serious readers, please. Just a warning. Hah.
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I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Lewis's theory of possible worlds, part of which is contained in Counterfactuals. I regret every second of it.
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