counterfactual, counterfactual conditional
A proposition which states what would have followed had the actual sequence of events or circumstances been different. Thus, to claim that the Battle of Alamein altered the outcome of the Second World War is to imply the counterfactual that, had victory in the desert actually gone to the defeated German forces, then the Allies would have lost the War.
Counterfactual reasoning is clearly inherent in causal explanation: the identification of a cause implies that, ceteris paribus, in its absence things would have happened differently. It is frequently claimed that any meaningful and falsifilable sociological proposition will necessarily have a corresponding counterfactual. In practice, however, it may be difficult to assess the plausibility of the counterfactual (or ‘conditional’) claim-which can be supported only indirectly by comparative analysis of similar or parallel circumstances elsewhere which (for some identifiable reason) yielded different outcomes.
Many sociological claims (for example those relating to the allegedly functional consequences of certain social institutions) are notoriously without counterfactuals. If the argument is put that the state in capitalist society serves the long-term interests of capital, then it is difficult to see how this statement can be subject to falsification , unless one can specify both what the precise interests of capital are and what would count as evidence of the state acting against these interests. Understandably, therefore, proponents of the more grandiose sociological theories attach little (some would say far too little) importance to the possibilities of formulating counterfactual propositions. See also cliometrics ; community power.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Counterfactual — may refer to: Counterfactual conditional, a grammatical form (which also relates to philosophy and logic) Counterfactual subjunctive, grammatical forms which in English are known as the past and pluperfect forms of the subjunctive mood… …   Wikipedia

  • counterfactual — adj. contrary to fact; of assertions, ideas, assumptions. [WordNet 1.5] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • counterfactual — [kount΄ər fak′cho͞o əl] adj. contrary to the facts of an event, situation, etc. n. a counterfactual idea, assumption, or argument …   English World dictionary

  • counterfactual — 1946, from COUNTER (Cf. counter ) + FACTUAL (Cf. factual) …   Etymology dictionary

  • counterfactual — adjective Date: 1946 contrary to fact < counterfactual assumptions > …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • counterfactual — counterfact, n. counterfactually, adv. /kown teuhr fak chooh euhl/, n. Logic. a conditional statement the first clause of which expresses something contrary to fact, as If I had known. [1945 50; COUNTER + FACTUAL] * * * …   Universalium

  • counterfactual — 1. adjective /ˌkaʊntɚˈfæktʃuəl,ˌkaʊn.tə(ɹ)ˈfæk.tʃu.əl/ Contrary to the facts; untrue. 2. noun /ˌkaʊntɚˈfæktʃuəl,ˌkaʊn.tə(ɹ)ˈfæk.tʃu.əl/ a) A claim, hypothesis, or other belief that is contrary to the facts. In recent years there has been… …   Wiktionary

  • counterfactual — (Roget s Thesaurus II) adjective Devoid of truth: false, specious, spurious, truthless, untrue, untruthful, wrong. See TRUE …   English dictionary for students

  • counterfactual — n. statement which expresses what could or would happen under different circumstances …   English contemporary dictionary

  • counterfactual — coun·ter·factual …   English syllables

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