The Content of Counterfactuals and their Role in Explanation
( Or The Benefit of Hindsight)
By Dorothy Edgington
What are counterfactuals for? The question is pressing. Why do we evaluate counterfactuals the way we do? What would go wrong for us if we chose to evaluate them in some other way, e.g. according to the "standard picture"? The question deserves more attention than it has had in the vast literature on counterfactuals. I don't pretend to an exhaustive answer, but highlight some important aspects of their use.
We use counterfactuals in empirical inferences to conclusions about what is actually the case. We need to try to get them right, in order to avoid, as much as possible, arriving at wrong conclusions about what is the case.
We have seen a way in which our counterfactual judgements explain and justify our other beliefs. Of course they play other roles. As is implicit in several of my earlier examples, they also explain and justify our reactions of being glad or sorry, relieved or regretful, that such-and-such has happened.