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34.2 - Counterfactual Thinking

Special Issue
Mixed Issue
HSR Vol. 34 (2009) No. 2: Special Issue: Counterfactual Thinking

Roland Wenzlhuemer (Hrsg.): Counterfacutal Thinking as a Scientific Method

Counterfactual thinking is a common occurrence in everyday-life situations. What if I had bought a ticket before boarding the bus? What if I had not gone to the rock concert and never met my partner? On first glance such counterfactual thoughts appear to be nothing more than a sentimental and all too human trait. What practical use is there in thinking about alternatives of the past that have never been realized? It is, therefore, no surprise that counterfactual thinking in a scientific context has for a long time been eyed suspiciously. Can it have any analytical value to systematically think about things that have never happened and surely will never happen? While some academic disciplines such as law, economics or philosophy have answered this question in the affirmative and have employed counterfactuals as a matter of course, others – such as history or political science – have been particularly critical of the practice.

This volume brings together contributions from a variety of different fields and seeks to illustrate how counterfactual thinking can, indeed, be useful from a scientific perspective. It builds on the results of recent psychological research and the experiences that researchers in disciplines such as law or economics have made with counterfactual thinking. The volume ultimately seeks to highlight the common analytical ground between counterfactual thinking in everyday life and in academic contexts – particularly in the field of historical research.