Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Saturday, November 26, 2016

"The Journal of the Philosophy of History" Explores Historical Counterfactuals

I am happy to help publicize the appearance of a special issue of The Journal of the Philosophy of History on historical counterfactuals.  The editor, Aviezer Tucker, was kind enough to invite me last year to contribute to the volume and I responded by writing an article entitled, “The Ways We Wonder What If?  Towards a Typology of Historical Counterfactuals.”

At the moment, the article is accessible only on The Journal of the Philosophy of History’s website.   Once I am legally permitted, I will provide a link to a PDF version of the article (but that will take a bit of time, I imagine).

Before saying a few things about the article, I should note that the issue contains a variety of fascinating essays, including:

·      Aviezer Tucker, “Historiographic Counterfactuals and the Philosophy of Historiography.”
·      Alexander Marr, “Applying D. K. Lewis’s Counterfactual Theory of Causation to the Philosophy of Historiography.”
·      Yemima Ben-Menahem, “If Counterfactuals Were Excluded from Historical Reasoning….”
·      Daniel Woolf, “Concerning Altered Pasts: Reflections of an Early Modern Historian.”
·      Cass Sunstein, “Historical Explanations Always Involve Counterfactual History.”
·      Daniel Nolan, “The Possibilities of History.”
·      Richard Evans, “Response.”

As for my article: as I point out in the introduction, the article draws much of its material from work I’ve done over the last three years for The Counterfactual History Review.  And as the abstract makes clear, the article “seeks to refine our understanding of historical counterfactuals by classifying them into a new typology.  After providing a systematic definition of counterfactuals, I divide them up into five different categories: causal, emotive, temporal, spatial, and manneristic. Within each of these categories, I identify eighteen different types of counterfactuals, which I classify with descriptive names and illustrate with specific examples from recent works of historiography.  The different types of counterfactuals vary in numerous ways, but they are all linked by their rhetorical elements.   These elements, in turn, help explain the present-day popularity of wondering how history might have been different.”

For those of you who are interested, the eighteen types of counterfactuals that comprise the larger typology are as follows:


1. The Cleopatra’s Nose Counterfactual
2. The Deterministic Counterfactual
3. The Reversionary Counterfactual


1. The Missed Oppportunity Counterfactual
2. The Close Call Counterfactual
3. The Silver Lining Counterfactual


1. The Rewind Counterfactual
2. The Fast Forward Counterfactual
3. The Clockstopper Counterfactual
4. The Rip Van Winkle Counterfactual
5. The Connecticut Yankee Counterfactual
6. The Transmigrating Soul Counterfactual


1. The Trading Places Counterfactual
2. The Transplant Counterfactual
3. The Geographical Counterfactual


1. The Polemical Analogy Counterfactual
2. The Nesting Doll Counterfactual
3. The Hybrid Counterfactual

Readers of this blog will recognize many of these types, which I’ve coined over the last several years in different postings.  They are still a work in progress insofar as I continue to tinker with them conceptually and typologically.  But one of these days, they will be included in an early chapter of my larger book on the history of counterfactualism. 

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