Thoughts about counterfactual situations are a central feature of human cognition, key to planning in any domain of activity: What would happen if I missed a mortgage payment? What if Britain were to leave the EU? It seems that knowledge about counterfactual situations is possible under some circumstances. The project’s general aim is to improve our understanding of those circumstances, and what role the imagination plays in specifying them. The specific objectives are to investigate: (1) the connection between the epistemology of counterfactual conditionals and the epistemology of claims involving modal terms like “possible”, “necessary”, and “can”, (2) the role of the imagination in the epistemology of thought experiments in science, and (3) the cognitive architecture underlying counterfactual thinking. Over the course of investigating (1)-(3), I develop and defend the view that certain constrained imaginative exercises can provide knowledge about counterfactual situations.
I will carry out this research within the interdisciplinary setting of the Institute for Logic, Language and Computation and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. My supervisor Francesco Berto is investigating questions highly relevant to my project’s, especially in his current work that develops a logic of conceivability. I will also make two visits to Oxford Philosophy to discuss my project research with Timothy Williamson, who has made some of the key contributions to the epistemology of counterfactual thinking and the imagination to date.
The project will give me the opportunity to establish myself as an important scholar in analytic philosophy. By the project’s end, I will have submitted four articles to internationally leading journals in the field. The project will also enhance cooperation between UvA (ILLC/Philosophy) and Oxford (Philosophy).
Fields of science
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