Monday, February 17, 2014

Counterfactual Propositions

I am often struck by the strong conviction with which people argue in favor of various counterfactual propositions (e.g., if Lincoln had not been assassinated, Reconstruction would have been milder and more successful; if the Germans had built atomic bombs before the USA did, they would have won World War II; if the USA had not stood up to the Russians globally in the Cold War, the Russians would have conquered the world; and so on and on).

Counterfactual propositions by their very nature defy observational assessment; they are statements about conditions that never obtained. Hence, one might think that people would advance such propositions with great diffidence -- after all, no one can know the truth about them because they can be neither confirmed nor refuted.-Robert Higgs

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