Thought Experiments, Modal Knowledge and Counterfactuals

Date: September 2- September 3, 2013 - Humboldt Universität zu Berlin 

In philosophy, claims to knowledge are often based on considering non-actual scenarios. But it is not so clear what explains and justifies such practices. Opposing the traditional view that the knowledge at stake is conceptual or based on rational intuitions, Timothy Williamson has come up with a revolutionary proposal: both modal claims and thought experiments can be accounted for in terms of our capacity for evaluating everyday counterfactuals. No wonder this innovative proposal has sparked an intense debate. To mention just two critical points:

First, one might wonder whether our ability to evaluate the relevant counterfactuals depends upon prior knowledge of metaphysical necessity or essentiality; in that case, there is a danger for the account of modal knowledge to be circular. Second, Williamson’s account of thought experiments is designed to address the problem that any case description could be realised in a deviant way. One might suspect that Williamson’s own counterfactual account falls prey to the same difficulty. The workshop aims at promoting the critical discussion of the counterfactual account of both modal knowledge and thought experiments.

Detailed Conference Program: