The Temporal Asymmetry of Counterfactuals

We think that what happens in the future depends upon what happens now in a way the past does not.  Lewis attempted to explain this in terms of the temporal asymmetry of counterfactual dependence.  On Lewis’s theory, counterfactuals describe worlds with pasts like ours save a miracle– a violation of our laws– has made the antecedent true.  At our world, he says, the future overdetermined the past. This makes for an “asymmetry of miracles” which explains the counterfactual asymmetry.  But Lewis’s account fails. His account of counterfactuals is circular and his explanation of asymmetry self-contradictory.  Jonathan Bennett’s Simple Theory of counterfactuals does not involve miracles: it supposes counterfactuals describe worlds where the antecedent comes about as a result of differences in the past.  Because it roots counterfactuals in laws, Bennett’s theory allows us to explain temporal asymmetries as the result of the logical irreversibility of natural laws.

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