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Perhaps it's just me and my zero study of philosophy, but the sentences at Counterfactual Fallacies look too long and incomprehensible! E.g.

  1. what's the "first premise" that I bolded?

  2. what's the "second premise" that I bolded?

I abbreviated the names and shortened some of the words like changing "go to the party" to just "party".

The Problem: An argument is invalid if and only if all of the premises of the argument can be true and the conclusion false at the same time. The pattern of reasoning above does not guarantee a true conclusion when the premises are true. We can imagine an exception to the pattern, which would illustrate that it does not guarantee a true conclusion given true premises. If we can produce such an example, we can never trust this pattern of reasoning as a guarantor of truth.

Scenario: A loves P and P loves A, they do most things together, but their love is so secure that they don't do everything together. Sometimes A parties without P. M loves Anna too and he chases after her whenever P is not around. P despises M and threatens to hurt him because M follows A around. M fears P, so M never risks meeting P. On the evening of the party Pablo was in jail, so he isn't able to party with A as they had planned. A decided to party anyway but did not (because her bicycle had a flat tire and it was too far to walk). Had A partied, M would have gone since he knew P was in jail.

Analysis: In this scenario, while it is true that had P partied, then A would have parties, and it is true that if A would have partied, then M would have partied, it is not true that had P partied, then M would have partied. If A had partied, Pablo still wouldn't have partied, but M would've partied (because he heard about P's arrest). The first premise is true and the second premise is true. This exceptional case proves that this form of argument is invalid because it overlooks the possibility that even if P had gone, Miguel would still not have gone. Notice, however, we may avoid the fallacy if we could assume that if A would have gone, then P would have gone. Sometimes by adding another premise we can rule out all cases where transitivity fails. But in this scenario, we need not make that assumption.

Conclusion: Transitivity does not always fail for counterfactual arguments, but since it does sometimes, hypothetical syllogisms are unreliable and thus invalid.

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  • The premises are given explicitly in the page you linked to. – Eliran Mar 23 '20 at 4:22
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I think the first premise is meant to be the statement "had P partied, then A would have partied" and the second premise is meant to be the statement "if A would have partied, then M would have partied". They are trying to say that the principle of transitivity would imply that if both premises are true, the conclusion "had P partied, then M would have partied" is true as well, but since this conclusion isn't actually true that implies transitivity doesn't apply to counterfactuals.

This seems like a dumb argument to me because the second premise is not generally true according to their own description of the problem, the second premise simply doesn't state whether or not P partied along with A, and the problem states that "M never risks meeting P". So the second premise should be "if A partied and P did not, M would have partied, but if A and P both partied, M would not have partied." And if you used that as the second premise instead, then there's no longer a problem with transitivity, so the whole argument falls apart.

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    Whether transitivity fails has nothing to do with the truth of the premises. – Eliran Mar 23 '20 at 4:23
  • @Eliran -- If you could imply some transitive principle to two true premises in order to generate a conclusion which turned out to be false, that would imply the transitive principle is incorrect in that situation (or to put it another way, if you add the transitive rule as a third premise, all three premises cannot be true if they would logically imply a false conclusion). That is what the author of the page is trying to say, but I think their argument fails because the second premise they listed is not in fact true in the scenario they described. – Hypnosifl Mar 23 '20 at 4:39
  • Yes, if the premises are true and the conclusion false the principle is incorrect. But the fact that a premise is not true is not relevant at all. – Eliran Mar 23 '20 at 14:53
  • @Eliran - It's relevant in the sense that you could prove the principle incorrect if the first two premises were true and adding the principle led to a false conclusion, but since the first two premises are not true, then the fact that adding the principle leads to a false conclusion is no longer a reason to conclude the principle is incorrect. Do you disagree in that you think the page's argument does still justify discarding the principle, in spite of one of the other premises being false? Or are you just saying that even if the page's argument fails, this is not relevant to the question? – Hypnosifl Mar 23 '20 at 18:27

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