Foundations of Science

, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 681–704 | Cite as

Hypothetical Interventions and Belief Changes

  • Holger AndreasEmail author
  • Lorenzo Casini


According to Woodward’s (Making things happen. A theory of causal explanation, Oxford University Press, New York, 2003) influential account of explanation, explanations have a counterfactual structure, and explanatory counterfactuals are analysed in terms of causal relations and interventions. In this paper, we provide a formal semantics of explanatory counterfactuals based on a Ramsey Test semantics of conditionals. Like Woodward’s account, our account is guided by causal considerations. Unlike Woodward’s account, it makes no reference to causal graphs and it also covers cases of explanation where interventions are impossible.


Belief revision theory Causal models Causation Conditionals Explanation Interventionist account 



Lorenzo Casini acknowledges the generous support of the Swiss National Science Foundation, Grants Nos. CRSII 1 147685/1 and 100012E 160866/1.


  1. Andreas, H., & Günther, M. (2018). On the Ramsey test analysis of ‘Because’. Erkenntnis. Scholar
  2. Andreas, H. (2011). A structuralist theory of belief revision. Journal of Logic, Language, and Information, 20(2), 205–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brewka, G. (1991). Belief revision in a framework for default reasoning. In: Proceeding of the workshop on the logic of theory change (pp. 602–622). London: Springer.Google Scholar
  4. Briggs, R. (2012). Interventionist counterfactuals. Philosophical Studies, 160(1), 139–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dowe, P. (1995). Causality and conserved quantities: A reply to Salmon. Philosophy of Science, 62(2), 321–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Eva, B., & Stern, R. (2018). Causal explanatory power. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. Scholar
  7. Gärdenfors, P. (1978). Conditionals and changes of belief. In I. Niiniluoto & R. Tuomela (eds.), The logic and epistemology of scientific change (Vol. 30, pp. 381–404). Acta Philosophica Fennica.Google Scholar
  8. Gebharter, A. (2017). Causal nets, interventionism, and mechanisms., Philosophical foundations and applications Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Glymour, C., & Glymour, M. R. (2014). Commentary: Race and sex are causes. Epidemiology, 25(4), 488–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hempel, C. G., & Oppenheim, P. (1948). Studies in the logic of explanation. Philosophy of Science, 2(15), 135–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Jansson, L. (2015). Explanatory asymmetries: Laws of nature rehabilitated. The Journal of Philosophy, 112(11), 577–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Levi, I. (1988). Iteration of conditionals and the Ramsey test. Synthese, 76(1), 49–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lewis, D. (1973a). Causation. Journal of Philosophy, 70(17), 556–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lewis, D. (1973b). Counterfactuals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Lewis, D. (1979). Counterfactual dependence and time’s arrow. Noûs, 13(4), 455–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lewis, D. (1986). Philosophical papers (Vol. II). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Pauling, L. (1960). Nature of the chemical bond. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Psillos, S. (2004). A glimpse of the secret connexion: Harmonising mechanisms with counterfactuals. Perspectives on Science, 12(3), 288–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ramsey, F. P. (1950). General propositions and causality. In R. B. Braithwaite (Ed.), Foundations of mathematics and other logical essays (pp. 237–257). New York: Humanities Press.Google Scholar
  20. Rott, H. (1986). Ifs, though, and because. Erkenntnis, 25(3), 345–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Saatsi, J., & Pexton, M. (2013). Reassessing Woodward’s account of explanation: Regularities, counterfactuals, and noncausal explanations. Philosophy of Science, 80(5), 613–624.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Salmon, W. C. (1984). Scientific explanation and the causal structure of the world. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Salmon, W. C. (1997). Causality and explanation: A reply to two critiques. Philosophy of Science, 64(3), 461–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Schupbach, J. N., & Sprenger, J. (2011). The logic of explanatory power. Philosophy of Science, 78, 105–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Stalnaker, R. (1968). A theory of conditionals. In N. Rescher (Ed.), Studies in logical theory (Vol. 2, pp. 98–112)., American philosophical quarterly monograph series Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  26. Strevens, M. (2008). Depth: An account of scientific explanation. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Woodward, W. (2003). Making things happen. A theory of causal explanation. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics, Philosophy, and Political ScienceUniversity of British Columbia (Okanagan Campus)KelownaCanada
  2. 2.Département de PhilosophieUniversité de GenèveGenevaSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations