Counterfactuals, thought experiments, and singular causal analysis in history
Philosophy of Science , Volume 76 - Issue 5 p. 712- 723
Thought experiments are ubiquitous in science and especially prominent in domains in which experimental and observational evidence is scarce. One such domain is the causal analysis of singular events in history. A long-standing tradition that goes back to Max Weber addresses the issue by means of 'what-if' counterfactuals.
In this paper I give a descriptive account of this widely used method and argue that historians following it examine difference makers rather than causes in the philosopher's sense. While difference making is neither necessary nor sufficient for causation, to establish difference makers is more consistent with the historians' more ultimate purposes.