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Counterfactuals in economics : a commentary.

Cartwright, N. (2007) 'Counterfactuals in economics : a commentary.', in Causation and explanation. Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 191-216.


Counterfactuals are a hot topic in economics today, at least among economists concerned with methodology. I shall argue that on the whole this is a mistake. Usually the counterfactuals on offer are proposed as causal surrogates. But at best they provide a “sometimes” way for finding out about causal relations, not a stand-in for them. I say a “sometimes way” because they do so only in very special -- and rare -- kinds of systems. Otherwise they are irrelevant to establishing facts about causation. On the other hand, viewed just as straight counterfactuals, they are a washout as well. For they are rarely an answer to any genuine “What if…?” questions, questions of the kind we pose in planning and evaluation. For these two reasons I call the counterfactuals of recent interest in economics, impostor counterfactuals.

Item Type:Book chapter
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
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Publisher statement:Deposited with kind permission of the MIT Press for non-commercial, scholarly use only. This chapter was originally published in J.K. Campbell, M. O'Rourke, and H.S. Silverstein (Eds.), Causation and Explanation, © 2007 MIT, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, (pp. 191-216).
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:21 April 2016
Date of first online publication:2007
Date first made open access:No date available

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