Counterfactual Thinking - Counterfactual Writing 9783110268669, 9783110268584

Counterfactuality is currently a hotly debated topic. While for some disciplines such as linguistics, cognitive science,

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Table of contents :
Introduction: England Win
First Steps Toward an Explication of Counterfactual Imagination
Thought Experiments and Literature
Counterfactual Explanation in Literature and the Social Sciences
Counterfactual Thinking in Physics
Counterfactuals in the Social Context: The Case of Political Interviews and Their Effects
A Cognitive Linguistic Perspective on Counterfactuality
Significance and Abstraction: Scientific Uses of Counterfactual Thought Experiments in the Early 20th Century
What-If? Counterfactuality and History
Counterfactuals, Contingency, and Causation
Plot vs. Story: Towards a Typology of Counterfactual Historical Novels
“If I Were a Man”: Functions of the Counterfactual in Feminist Fiction
Temporal Tourism: Time Travel and Counterfactuality in Literature and Film
“What Might Have Been Is Not What Is”: Dickens’s Narrative Refusals
How To Do Things With Worlds: From Counterfactuality to Counterfictionality
List of Contributors
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Counterfactual Thinking - Counterfactual Writing linguae & litterae

12

linguae & litterae Publications of the School of Language & Literature Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies

Edited by

Peter Auer · Gesa von Essen · Werner Frick Editorial Board Michel Espagne (Paris) · Marino Freschi (Rom) Erika Greber (Erlangen) · Ekkehard König (Berlin) Per Linell (Linköping) · Angelika Linke (Zürich) Christine Maillard (Strasbourg) · Pieter Muysken (Nijmegen) Wolfgang Raible (Freiburg) Editorial Assistant Aniela Knoblich

12

De Gruyter

Counterfactual Thinking Counterfactual Writing Edited by Dorothee Birke, Michael Butter, Tilmann Köppe

De Gruyter

ISBN 978-3-11-026858-4 e-ISBN 978-3-11-026866-9 ISSN 1869-7054 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. Bibliografische Information der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek verzeichnet diese Publikation in der Deutschen Nationalbibliografie; detaillierte bibliografische Daten sind im Internet über http://dnb.d-nb.de abrufbar. 2011 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin/Boston Druck: Hubert & Co. GmbH & Co. KG, Göttingen Gedruckt auf säurefreiem Papier Printed in Germany www.degruyter.com

Contents

V

Contents

Dorothee Birke/Michael Butter/Tilmann Köppe Introduction: England Win . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1

Andrea Albrecht/Lutz Danneberg First Steps Toward an Explication of Counterfactual Imagination .

12

Tobias Klauk Thought Experiments and Literature . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

30

Daniel Dohrn Counterfactual Explanation in Literature and the Social Sciences .

45

Miko Elwenspoek Counterfactual Thinking in Physics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

62

Patrizia Catellani Counterfactuals in the Social Context: The Case of Political Interviews and Their Effects . . . . . . . . .

81

Martin Hilpert A Cognitive Linguistic Perspective on Counterfactuality . . . . . .

95

Bernhard Kleeberg Significance and Abstraction: Scientific Uses of Counterfactual Thought Experiments in the Early 20th Century . . . . . . . . . . 112 Georg Christoph Berger Waldenegg What-If ? Counterfactuality and History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130 Richard Ned Lebow Counterfactuals, Contingency, and Causation . . . . . . . . . . . . 150 Andreas Martin Widmann Plot vs. Story: Towards a Typology of Counterfactual Historical Novels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 170

VI

Contents

Birte Christ “If I Were a Man”: Functions of the Counterfactual in Feminist Fiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 190 Rüdiger Heinze Temporal Tourism: Time Travel and Counterfactuality in Literature and Film . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 212 Robyn Warhol “What Might Have Been Is Not What Is”: Dickens’s Narrative Refusals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 227 Richard Saint-Gelais How To Do Things With Worlds: From Counterfactuality to Counterfictionality . . . . . . . . . . . 240 List of Contributors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 253

Introduction

1

Michael Butter, Dorothee Birke (Freiburg), and Tilmann Köppe (Göttingen)

Introduction: England Win

On June 26, 2010, the German soccer team beat England 4–1 in the first knockot stage of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Afterwards, the international media hailed this victory as the inevitable triumph of a young, inspired, and well-organized side over an aged and spiritless opponent. However, there were also voices that stressed that despite the German superiority throughout most of the match the result could have been quite different if England’s second goal had not been disallowed by the referee, who did not see that Frank Lampard’s shot in the 39th minute had crossed the line. “[I]f it was a draw that would have been very important for us”, the enraged England manager Fabio Capello complained afterwards, reminding journalists that the goal would have leveled the score at 2–2 and suggesting that his team might then have gone on to win the match.1 Based on the premise of “what if …”, Capello’s complaint is a wonderful example of counterfactual thinking, which the social psychologist Keith Markman and his colleagues define as “the imagination of alternatives to reality”.2 We have chosen this example not only because it allows for the playful reversal of the most prominent illustration used in introductory texts on counterfactual thinking – what if Germany had won World War II – but because it captures two important aspects of developing such scenarios. First, it shows that mentally constructing alternatives to what really happened is indeed a wide-spread human practice, “something familiar to everyone”, even if they have never heard about the concept, as Neal Roese and Jim Olson have pointed out.3 After all, it was not only Capello who harbored the thought that things could have turned out differently but everybody who had watched the game. 1

2

3

Capello quoted in Sachin Nakrani, “Fabio Capello Says ‘Little Thing’ behind England Exit”, in: The Guardian, June 27, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/ 2010/jun/27/world-cup-england-germany1 (July 15, 2010). Keith D. Markman/Igor Gavanski/Stephen J. Sherman/Matthew N. McCullen, “The Mental Simulation of Better and Worse Possible Worlds”, in: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 29/1993, pp. 87–109, p. 93. Neal Roese/James M. Olson, “Preface”, in: Neal Roese/James M. Olson (eds.), What Might Have Been: The Social Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking, Mahwah, NJ, 1995, pp. vii–xi, p. vii.

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Dorothee Birke, Michael Butter, and Tilmann Köppe

Second, the example of the disallowed goal illustrates nicely the two major effects that counterfactual thinking achieves according to psychologists. To begin with, counterfactuals achieve a “contrast effect”, as they sharpen the awareness of an actual state or outcome through the mental juxtaposition with a possible one. As Roese and Morrison put it: “[A] factual outcome may be judged to be worse if a more desirable alternative outcome is salient, and that same outcome may be judged better if a less desirable alternative outcome is salient”.4 Capello feels the sting of defeat all the more because he can easily imagine a match in which England equalize and eventually win. He thus constructs what psychologists call an “upward” counterfactual. For the German side, the situation is more complicated. The players and the coach may mentally construct a “downward” counterfactual in which they lost the game and therefore feel especially relieved that they haven’t. But they may also construct an upward counterfactual in which there is no disallowed goal so that their otherwise convincing victory shines all the brighter. Thus, the phantom goal may increase or decrease their joy. By contrast, what psychologists describe as the “causal inference effect” refers to the power of counterfactual scenarios to yield insights into the causes of the actual outcome.5 If FIFA had been using the video proof, the goal would have been allowed and all subsequent discussions about the effect of disallowing it mute, all sides agreed after the game. And in fact, due to the public outcry over the referee’s mistake, FIFA announced its intention to reconsider its stance on this issue. Counterfactual thinking, then, can at least potentially influence future decisions.6 4

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Neal Roese/Mike Morrison, “The Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking”, in: Historical Social Research 34.2/2009 (Special Issue: Counterfactual Thinking as a Scientific Method, ed. Roland Wenzlhuemer), pp. 16–26, p. 19. Cf. Roese/Morrison, “Psychology”, pp. 19–20. On the influence on future decisions, cf. also Orit E. Tycocinski/Thane S. Pittman, “The Consequences of Doing Nothing: Inaction Inertia as Avoidance of Anticipated Counterfactual Regret”, in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 75/1998, pp. 607–616. Moreover, the example highlights that counterfactual scenarios and the probability ascribed to them are very often closely connected to, and in fact dependent on, the ideological position of those who develop them. Driven by the motivation to justify his team’s performance, to shield them against criticism, and maybe to protect his job, England manager Capello stresses that the disallowed goal was the turning point of the game. He thus ascribes a high probability to the counterfactual scenario that England would have won if the goal had counted. Unsurprisingly, his German counterpart, keen to play down the significance of the scene and to praise his own team, argued that his side would have won even if the goal had been allowed. Most of the English media supported this reading of events, because the journalists did not want to provide Capello with an opportunity to distract from the poor performance of his team throughout the tournament.

Introduction

3

We have begun with an example that illustrates what psychologists have to say about counterfactual thinking, since their take on the concept is the most easily accessible one. As pointed out above, the discipline operates with a common-sense notion of what constitutes “counterfactuality”. Moreover, the many studies that psychologists have conducted over the past two decades have surely impacted heavily on the use of the concept in various other disciplines such as economics, historiography, or political science.7 However, we believe that Roland Wenzlhuemer – in the introduction to a recent collection of essays on “Counterfactual Thinking as a Scientific Method” – is only presenting part of the picture when he argues that the research in psychology “has paved the way for the current revival of the issue [of counterfactual thinking] in other disciplines”.8 There are a number of disciplines where the concept is currently en vogue too, but which operate with notions of counterfactuality very different from the one prevalent in psychology and other social sciences. Whereas, for example, psychologists and historians alike hold that “[a]ll counterfactual conditionals are causal assertions”,9 cognitive linguistics rejects this idea. And while this branch of linguistics regards counterfactual thinking as a very common feature of human cognition and language, analytical philosophy inquires into the intricate logical and semantic features of counterfactual conditionals and puts them to use for analyzing various objectives in metaphysics or the philosophy of science. The aim of this volume, therefore, is to provide an overview of the current definitions and uses of the concept of counterfactuality across the disciplines of philosophy, historiography, political sciences, psychology, linguistics, physics, and literary studies. Although Andrea Albrecht and Lutz Danneberg’s essay as well as the contribution by Bernhard Kleeberg investigate the history of counterfactual thinking, it is not our objective here to provide a genealogy of this mode of reasoning. Rather, we wish to map the field as it currently is. A basic distinction that we wish to propose – one that organizes the volume – is between disciplines such as psychology, for which counter7

8 9

Cf. Roland Wenzlhuemer, “Editorial: Unpredictability, Contingency and Counterfactuals”, in: Historical Social Research 34.2/2009 (Special Issue: Counterfactual Thinking as a Scientific Method, ed. Roland Wenzlhuemer), pp. 9–15, p. 12. Wenzlhuemer, “Editorial”, p. 12. Neal Roese/James M. Olson, “Counterfactual Thinking: A Critical Overview”, in: Neal Roese/James M. Olson (eds.), What Might Have Been: The Social Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking, Mahwah, NJ, 1995, pp. 1–55, p. 11. For the historian’s perspective, cf. Roland Wenzlhuemer, “Counterfactual Thinking as a Scientific Method”, in: Historical Social Research 34.2/2009 (Special Issue: Counterfactual Thinking as a Scientific Method, ed. Roland Wenzlhuemer), pp. 27–54, pp. 30–33.

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Dorothee Birke, Michael Butter, and Tilmann Köppe

factuals constitute an object of study, and disciplines such as historiography that employ counterfactual thinking as a method. In the former case, researchers investigate the thought experiments undertaken by others; in the latter they engage in thought experiments themselves.10 While the former seems to be fairly uncontroversial, the latter is a highly contested practice. With such different notions and uses of counterfactuality in circulation, it is obviously impossible to synthesize the various definitions and deployments in a fashion that all disciplines can agree on. This, however, we would like to suggest, should not be regarded as a problem that needs to be solved, but rather as a starting point for interdisciplinary exchange. The controversy that is bound to arise when irreconcilable definitions of a concept are put next to each other can, as cultural theorist Mieke Bal has argued, be seen as “an asset rather than a liability” – as long as we openly reflect and discuss them.11 Bal suggests that scholars who use such concepts within the boundaries of their own disciplines are often tempted to take their understanding of them for granted. This is no longer possible once we encounter other ways of understanding and using them. As Bal puts it: “Concepts are sites of debate, awareness of difference, and tentative exchange. Agreeing doesn’t mean agreeing on content, but agreeing on the basic rules of the game: if you use a concept at all, you use it in a particular way so that you can meaningfully disagree on content”.12 For example, the definitions of counterfactuality in cognitive linguistics and analytical philosophy are obviously at odds with each other. However, putting these different notions into a dialogue with each other brings to the fore the differing assumptions about the nature of language and cognition that inform their mutually exclusive usage. The common reference to counterfactuality thus enables a discussion about the larger issues at stake. This is not to say, of course, that there are no similarities in the ways counterfactuality is theorized by several disciplines, and we have explained above that disciplines such as psychology, historiography, or political sciences define the concept almost exactly alike. What we wish to emphasize, though, is that interdisciplinary exchange is not only possible in cases where several disciplines more or less agree on a definition of counterfactuality, but that it might be of particular interest if they do not. 10

11 12

Our volume thus covers considerably more ground than the recent special issue of Historical Social Research dedicated to “Counterfactual Thinking as a Scientific Method”. Mieke Bal, Travelling Concepts in the Humanities: A Rough Guide. Toronto, 2002, p. 25. Bal, Concepts, p. 13.

Introduction

5

In arranging the articles in this volume, we opted for a roughly disciplinary ordering of the articles. Starting with three contributions with a broadly philosophical orientation, including the philosophy of literature and the philosophy of science, we will then move on to physics, psychology, cognitive linguistics, history of science, history, political science, and, finally, various historical as well as systematic investigations of different kinds of counterfactuality in literature. Surveying the articles, however, one quickly notices that the idea of a neat disciplinary classification ought to be taken with a grain of salt. Scholars inquiring into counterfactuals seem to have a predilection for poaching in neighboring fields. Therefore, not only is the ordering of the disciplines themselves somewhat arbitrary, but the very idea of disciplinary boundaries seems to be under attack when it comes to counterfactuals. We certainly feel that this must be welcomed rather than bemoaned. The first three articles share philosophical points of reference. Starting with a semi-formal definition of counterfactual imagination, Andrea Albrecht and Lutz Danneberg enquire into its various types, cognitive functions, and criteria of success, emphasizing that both the functions and criteria of success are highly context-sensitive aspects which have to be studied on a caseby-case basis. The bulk of their paper is then devoted to differentiating counterfactual imaginations from neighboring notions, namely metaphors, fictions, ceteris-paribus clauses, abstractions, idealizations, presumptions, and models. In doing this, they are setting the stage for both Tobias Klauk’s more extended comparison of possible-worlds accounts of fiction and Daniel Dohrn’s discussion of counterfactual aspects of abstraction and idealization in scientific experiments. Finally, Albrecht and Danneberg employ their insights for the analysis of two extended historical case studies. Tobias Klauk’s paper carefully examines the thesis that in writing and reading fiction we typically conduct counterfactual thought experiments. Based on an account of philosophical thought experiments according to which they consist of three consecutive steps, namely the imagining of a scenario, its evaluation concerning a certain question, and its argumentative utilization, he concludes that this thesis is, ultimately, false. This does not mean, however, that we cannot gain insight from comparing fiction to counterfactual scenarios as they are employed in thought experiments. Two domains that prove especially fruitful in this respect are the possible-worlds theory of fiction and the cognitive significance of fiction. As Klauk shows, the philosophical theory of counterfactuals can shed considerable light on both of these contested fields of inquiry. Daniel Dohrn takes up the issue of the cognitive significance of fiction. He argues that in reading fiction, we typically explain fictional facts (“Why

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does Ahab chase Moby Dick?”) in ways analogous to our explanations of actual facts. In order to do so, we employ counterfictional thoughts, for which the world of the fiction plays the role that the actual world plays for counterfactual thought as we know it. What is more, for some fictions, we can relate our counterfictional explanations of fictive facts to the real world in just the way in which we transfer the results of counterfactual thought experiments to the real world. Fiction, therefore, can be said to have the same cognitive value as scientific thought experiments. In order to substantiate this claim, Dohrn develops and discusses various accounts of scientific thought experiments as well as models of explanation in natural and social science. Miko Elwenspoek carries on this theme and explains in how far counterfactual thinking is a core research tool in physics. When physicists evaluate their theories, they often have to confront them with situations which for several reasons cannot be found in nature or reconstructed in the laboratory. In these cases, counterfactual thinking proves indispensible for evaluating these theories, as Elwenspoek illustrates using two examples from astronomy and the theory of electromagnetic forces. In the remaining part of his paper, he poses counterfactual what if-questions concerning the so-called cosmological anthropic principle, which states, roughly, that the fact that human beings exist tells us something about certain cosmological conditions. By contrast, any alteration of the expansion rate of the universe, its three-dimensionality, its gravitational force, or the stability of atomic nuclei would make human life impossible. Patrizia Catellani introduces counterfactual thinking from the perspective of social psychology. Here, different types and patterns of counterfactual thinking are distinguished and analyzed with regard to the different effects and functions they fulfill, such as their impact on our affective system and their use in preparing future actions as well as in explaining past actions and events. Her own research focuses on the uses and effects of counterfactual claims in political discourse. By way of qualitative and experimental studies, Catellani and her team have shown that the employment of counterfactual claims in Italian political discourse exhibits particular patterns, depending on parameters such as speaker, target, direction of the change imagined in the counterfactual, or controllability of the behavior addressed by the counterfactual. Understanding these patterns, she suggests, can heighten our political awareness and especially sharpen our sensibility to manipulative strategies employed by politicians as well as journalists. Martin Hilpert’s paper adds to the psychological perspective by focusing on the mental operations involved in counterfactual thinking. His field of re-

Introduction

7

search, cognitive linguistics, is one of the most important branches of contemporary linguistics. It is concerned with the analysis of linguistic structures conceived of as direct reflections of human cognition. Counterfactual reasoning is thus explained by Hilpert as involving conceptual blending, that is, the ability to mentally overlap two conflicting situations. There is a large number of linguistic devices that involve blending mechanisms; these include grammatical phenomena of sentence length, negation, modality, causation, attributive constructions, and compounding. In closing, Hilpert suggests that, due to their fundamental character, the study of the mechanisms of conceptual integration can also shed some light on problems tackled in disciplines other than linguistics, thus foreshadowing the themes of several papers from literary studies. Bernhard Kleeberg’s exploration of Ernst Mach’s and Max Weber’s respective takes on thought experiments, a contribution to the history of science, moves the volume into the realms of the social sciences and humanities. Mach and Weber, he argues, endorsed thought experiments as powerful means of abstraction that allow researchers to understand the causal connections they are investigating. As Kleeberg demonstrates, they tried to define criteria that would prevent the counterfactual scenarios constructed in these thought experiments from turning into mere fantasy. In this regard, both of them, but Weber in particular, did not completely dismiss but heavily caution against the use of counterfactual thinking as a means of historical inquiry, as scholars are especially prone to let their imagination run wild and thus produce “grotesque results”, as Weber puts it, when discussing how history could have taken a different course. As Kleeberg observes in his conclusion, most historians have so far heeded Weber’s warning and abstained from imagining, let alone writing counterfactual history. In recent years, however, an increasing number of historians, among them highly renowned scholars such as Alexander Demandt and Niall Ferguson, have begun to challenge the view that historiography should be concerned with what happened and not with what might have been. Georg Christoph Berger Waldenegg does not embrace counterfactual scenarios in historiography as wholeheartedly as these scholars have done, but he emphasizes that historians engage in counterfactual thinking all the time, although they are only seldom aware of it. His article sets out by summarizing extreme positions on the value of counterfactual thinking held by historians, gives an overview of the different definitions of counterfactuality employed by these scholars, and addresses the heavily debated question of whether only those possible courses of history that contemporaries contemplated should become the object of a historian’s counterfactual reasoning.

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Dorothee Birke, Michael Butter, and Tilmann Köppe

After proposing a preliminary typology of the counterfactuals discernible in historiography, Berger Waldenegg provocatively concludes by suggesting that historians should reflect more deeply on their methods in general and that they must face the challenges posed by counterfactual historiography. If Berger Waldenegg carefully weighs the pros and cons of constructing historical counterfactuals, Richard Ned Lebow’s article makes a powerful argument in favor of counterfactual thinking in international relations and insists on the necessity of using counterfactuals in all social sciences. By way of two case studies of 20th-century history, Lebow demonstrates the shortcomings of the traditional approach taken in international relations, which rests on Humean causation and searches for regularities, and makes the case for counterfactual thinking as a way to recognize the importance of agency, immediate causes, and non-linear confluences. Lebow thus employs counterfactual scenarios in order to stress the pitfalls and limits of large-scale structural approaches and to insist on the contingencies of historical developments. For him, then, counterfactuals are a means both of historical inquiry and of further theorizing the field he is working in. The last five contributions in the volume all come from the field of literary studies, and convey some idea of the broad scope of the uses of counterfactuality in literary texts – as well as of the concept of counterfactuality within this discipline. The most obvious of these uses (and, to date, the one that has been most extensively considered in research) is represented by a genre that can be seen as a fictional treatment of the historical “what if ” scenarios as they are also looked at by Berger Waldenegg and Lebow: the so-called “alternate history” or “counterfactual historical novel”. Andreas Martin Widmann’s contribution outlines a typology of novels which deliberately deviate from accepted versions of historical events. Drawing on the narratological distinction between “plot” and “story”, as it was proposed by the English novelist E.M. Forster, Widmann identifies two distinct types: the first is the “story-type”, which presents a fictional world in which an imagined event alters the course of history as we know it. While this is the kind of historical novel that is usually described as “counterfactual”, Widmann argues that there is also a second type, which has so far not been incorporated into studies on counterfactuality: the “plot-type”, in which the events stay the same, but the explanation for their causal connection is altered. He offers two case studies from contemporary German literature: Thomas Brussig’s Helden wie wir (1995), in which a new explanation is offered for the fall of the Berlin wall, represents the plot-type, while Christian Kracht’s Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten (2008), in which a counterfactual alteration of Lenin’s biography has led to a drastically altered world order, is read as

Introduction

9

an example of the story-type. Among the major functions that Widmann ascribes to counterfactual historical novels are the foregrounding of contingency in historical developments, but also the critique of dominant national self-images, which are exposed as ideological constructs. In the feminist fictions that Birte Christ analyzes in her article, counterfactuality is also employed for social critique. Whether these works project alternate societies in which the hierarchy between male and female has been reversed or abandoned altogether, or imagine individuals who change their gender, they use counterfactual patterns to expose traditional gender roles as arbitrary and unjust. Christ shows how the binary logic of “fact” and “counterfact” serves to playfully reverse and thus question the kind of thinking that structures and hierarchizes society according to the binarism of “male” and “female”. Her analysis of four American feminist works from the 1910s and the 1970s, respectively, illustrates how these achieve both contrast effects and causal inference effects, which contribute to two overarching functions: “analytical”, i.e. offering an investigation and evaluation of existing structures of thought and power in American society, and “synthetic”, i.e. offering ways of rethinking or abandoning these structures. Both Christ and Widmann emphasize the different ways in which novels with counterfactual plots can achieve the contrast effect: They can either explicitly compare counterfactual aspects to the actual reality of the reader, or they can rely on the recipient’s ability to spot the discrepancies. A genre that typically offers an explicit comparison between two levels of reality, or worlds, is the time travel narrative that Rüdiger Heinze treats in his contribution. Counterfactuality becomes central to time travel narratives either when a protagonist travels back in time and his behavior changes the course of history, or when she travels forward and is faced with a version of “what might happen if ”. Heinze looks at three prominent examples – two 19th-century novels, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, and the film trilogy Back to the Future from the 1980s. He shows how the time travel trope is, for one thing, used for social commentary – especially Wells’ and Twain’s works are, in this respect, comparable to the works looked at by Widmann and Christ. Moreover, he focuses on the different notions of temporality and causality that are implicitly or explicitly endorsed by the texts. While the previous three articles feature examples where counterfactual scenarios are in some sense presented as storyworlds in which characters interact, Robyn Warhol looks at the phenomenon from a different angle: She is interested in the way in which texts evoke counterfactual alternatives that are not acted out. Warhol focuses on the level of narrative mediation and traces

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Dorothee Birke, Michael Butter, and Tilmann Köppe

the use of what she calls “narrative refusals” – references to “what might have been and yet is not” – in the narrators’ commentaries in Charles Dickens’ novels. She demonstrates how by drawing the reader’s attention to events that are left out (“unnarration”) or that did not happen (“disnarration”), the novels create counterfactual storyworlds that prompt us to evaluate the world that is actually represented. Moreover, narrative refusals referring to characters’ actions contribute to an impression of psychological complexity. As in the examples analyzed by Daniel Dohrn, in these works the “factual” to which the “counterfactual” is opposed is no state in the actual world of the reader, but a fictional reality. Like Dohrn, Warhol proposes the term “counterfictionality” to clearly distinguish these cases from the kind of counterfactuality in fiction as it is described by Widmann or Christ. “Counterfictionality” is also at the center of Richard Saint-Gelais’ contribution. What distinguishes his use of the term from Warhol’s, however, is that he uses it in a more specific way, to describe the phenomenon of one fictional text changing the events told in a pre-existing one – as for example in Jacques Cellard’s novel Emma, oh! Emma!, which retells the story of Madame Bovary with a different ending. Saint-Gelais examines a wide scope of texts which feature this kind of counterfictionality, with a special focus on the question of how they foreground or, conversely, conceal their status as fiction. As he shows, counterfictionality can be employed to very different ends. In some cases it may be employed to remind the reader of the artificiality of the textual universe, which can be rewritten. The notion that counterfictionality is a quintessentially postmodernist strategy, however, would be mistaken: In other cases, it serves to strengthen narrative illusion, for example when the original fiction is “exposed” as a lie and the counterfiction presented as “what really happened”.13 All five articles on literary studies proceed from an understanding of counterfactuality that does not conflate it with the general notion of “fictionality”. In other words: the essays do not operate with the notion that all fictional literature should be regarded as “counterfactual” because it repre13

These findings parallel one of the points made by Hilary P. Dannenberg in Coincidence and Counterfactuality: Plotting Time and Space in Narrative Fiction (2008): Far from being limited to the realm of science fiction or postmodernist fiction, counterfactuality has played an important role in the history of narrative fiction. It has often contributed to a reality effect: When characters or narrators speculate about what could have happened, this may “strengthen the impression that the narrative world is ‘real’ by constructing a further, contrastive ‘less real’ sequence of events that reinforces the apparent reality of the narrative world” (p. 54). Characters may appear more complex, narrators more trustworthy.

Introduction

11

sents invented scenarios. At the same time, however, they also show how productively literary texts employ the interplay between fictionality and counterfactuality in order to involve the reader in their fictional world, to make him or her think about the state of his or her actual world, or about the way in which texts themselves shape out thinking about “reality”. As a consequence, from the perspective of literary studies there are many ways of looking at counterfactual thinking as an “imagination of alternatives to reality”. Literary scholars may use counterfactual patterns to explore the ways in which our notions of ‘the real’ are engendered – a concern they share with historians and social scientists. Or they may, like psychologists, be interested in the impact of counterfactuals on our emotions and evaluations. For literary studies, then, ‘counterfactuality’ should prove a particularly valuable concept in the foreseeable future, one that will require and enable scholars interested in literature to enter into dialogues with colleagues from a broad variety of disciplines.

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Andrea Albrecht and Lutz Danneberg

Andrea Albrecht (Freiburg) and Lutz Danneberg (Berlin)

First Steps Toward an Explication of Counterfactual Imagination

I. What Is a Counterfactual Imagination? Max Weber warns in Critical Studies in the Logic of the Cultural Sciences that “[t]he attempt to construct in a positive way what ‘would’ have happened can, if it is made, lead to monstrous results”.1 In recent years, such attempts have received increasing attention, usually less critical than Weber’s, to the extent that one could speak of a veritable boom of what would now be termed “counterfactual imaginations”. There exists now a considerable number of studies in philosophy and in the methodology and history of science on the functions counterfactual thinking can perform in argumentative contexts, as well as on the understanding and analysis of concrete examples from intellectual history and the history of knowledge. Counterfactual imaginations are most often considered in connection with thought experiments,2 1

2

Max Weber, “Critical Studies in the Logic of the Cultural Sciences”, in: Edward A. Shils/Henry A. Finch (eds.), The Methodology of the Social Sciences, Illinois 1949, pp. 113–187, p. 180. We have slightly modified the translation. Cf. Tamara Horowitz/Gerald J. Massey (eds.), Thought Experiments in Science and Philosophy, Pittsburgh 1991; Wulf Rehder, “Versuche zu einer Theorie von Gedankenexperimenten”, in: Grazer Philosophische Studien, 11/1980, pp. 105–123; Tyler Burge, “Two Thought Experiments Reviewed”, in: Notre Dame Journal of Symbolic Logic, 23/1982, pp. 284–292; David Cole, “Thought and Thought Experiments”, in: Philosophical Studies, 45/1984, pp. 432–444; C. Mason Myers, “Analytical Thought Experiments”, in: Metaphilosophy, 17/1986, pp. 109–118; David Gooding, Experiment and the Making of Meaning. Human Agency in Scientific Observation and Experiment, Dordrecht 1990; Antoni Gomila, “What Is a Thought Experiment?”, in: Metaphilosophy, 22/1991, pp. 84–92; Roy A. Sorensen, Thought Experiments, Oxford 1992; Roy A. Sorensen, “Thought Experiments and the Epistemology of Laws”, in: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 22/1992, pp. 15–44; D. H. M. Brookes, “The Method of Thought Experiment”, in: Metaphilosophy, 25/1994, pp. 71–83; Sören Häggqvist, Thought Experiments in Philosophy, Stockholm 1996; Martin Bunzl, “The Logic of Thought Experiment”, in: Synthese, 106/1996, pp. 227–240; James W. McAllister, “The Evidential Significance of Thought Experiment in Science”, in: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 27/1996, pp. 233–250; James W. McAllister, “Thought Experiments and the Belief in Phenomena”, in: Philosophy of Science, 71/2004, pp. 1164–1175; Verena Mayer, “Was zeigen Gedanken-

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i.e. mental arrangements that, according to the classical definition of Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, cannot be realized.3 Galilei’s thought experiment leading to a reductio ad absurdum of the Aristotelian kinematics is a particularly popular example,4 supposedly even the “greatest example of all”.5 What is addressed as a thought experiment, however, is often a cognitive formation that merely has some overlap with a counterfactual imagination. In a certain sense, counterfactual imagining can indeed be understood as experimentation. But not all thought experiments are counterfactual in the sense of being based on assumptions that are a priori unsatisfiable and, thus, unrealizable. Despite the differences that have to be taken into account for the classification of thought experiments (including counterfactual ones), the first step toward an explication of a concept of counterfactual

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experimente?”, in: Philosophisches Jahrbuch, 106/1999, pp. 357–378; Richard Arthur, “On Thought Experiments as a priori Science”, in: International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 13/1999, pp. 215–229; Eduard Glas, “Thought-Experimentation and Mathematical Innovation”, in: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 30/1999, pp. 1–19; Alisa Bokulich, “Rethinking Thought Experiments”, in: Perspectives on Science, 9/2001, pp. 285–307; Lawrence Souder, “What Are We to Think About Thought Experiments?”, in: Argumentation, 17/2003, pp. 203–217; Nicholas Rescher, What If ? Thought Experimentation in Philosophy, New Brunswick 2005; Kirk Ludwig, “The Epistemology of Thought Experiments: First Person versus Third Person Approaches”, in: Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 31/2007, pp. 128–159; Marco Buzzoni, Thought Experiment in the Natural Sciences, Würzburg 2008. Cf. Albert Einstein/Leopold Infeld, Die Evolution der Physik [The Evolution of Physics], Vienna/Hamburg 1950, pp. 18–22. Cf. Ernan McMullin, “Galilean Idealization”, in: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 16/1985, pp. 247–273; Gad Prudovsky, “The Confirmation of the Superposition Principle: On the Role of a Constructive Thought Experiment in Galileo’s Discorsi”, in: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 20/1989, pp. 453–468; Tamar Szabó Gendler, “Galileo and the Indispensability of Scientific Thought Experiment”, in: British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 49/1998, pp. 397–424; Paolo Palmieri, “Mental Models in Galileo’s Early Mathematization of Nature”, in: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 34/2003, pp. 229–264; Paolo Palmieri, “‘Spuntar lo scoglio più duro’: Did Galileo Ever Think the Most Beautiful Thought Experiment in the History of Science?”, in: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 36/2005, pp. 223–240; James W. McAllister, “Das virtuelle Labor: Gedankenexperimente in der Mechanik des siebzehnten Jahrhunderts”, in: Helmar Schramm/Ludger Schwarte/Jan Ladzarzig (eds.), Kunstkammer – Laboratorium – Bühne. Schauplätze des Wissens im 17. Jahrhundert, Berlin/New York 2003, pp. 35–55; see also Alexandre Koyré, “Galileo’s Treatise ‘De Motu Gravium’: The Use and Abuse of Imaginary Experiment”, in: Revue d’Histoire des Sciences, 13/1960, pp. 197–245. James R. Brown, “Thought Experiments: A Platonic Account”, in: Horowitz/ Massey (eds.), Thought Experiments, pp. 119–128, p. 125.

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imagination must determine a condition of adequacy which addresses its counterfactuality.6 We assume that a simple type of counterfactual imagination consists of assumptions – the antecedent a – and implications – the consequent b – so that its structure is: If a then b, where the antecedent a and the consequent b are more or less elaborate verbal expressions. We have a counterfactual imagination only when at least one of the assumptions is, at the moment they are made and relative to a certain (shared) knowledge, obviously false to both the author and the addressee of the imagination.7 This means, in particular, that this kind of imagination has neither an uncertain nor an arguable epistemic status. Nor does it have anything to do with the opinion that our knowledge lacks a specific relation to reality, or that all knowledge is “uncertain” and “facts are no objective things”.8 In this respect, counterfactual imaginations are perfectly unambiguous – however epistemically questionable this unambiguity may be. Therefore, counterfactual imaginations are a propositional disposition. Something is assumed which is known or believed to be obviously false. Since there has never been doubt that any true proposition can be deduced from a false one, our first condition implies that every counterfactual imagination is a priori trivial, inasmuch as its truth value is always true. But counterfactual imaginations are clearly meant to state something that, within concrete situations of its application, cannot be trivialized in this way. This leads to a second condition of adequacy for counterfactual imaginations: In spite 6

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For a concept of explication and the conditions of adequacy, cf. Lutz Danneberg, “Zwischen Innovation und Tradition: Begriffsbildung und Begriffsentwicklung als Explikation”, in: Christian Wagenknecht (ed.), Zur Terminologie der Literaturwissenschaft, Stuttgart 1989, pp. 50–68. Cf. Lutz Danneberg, “Überlegungen zu kontrafaktischen Imaginationen in argumentativen Kontexten und zu Beispielen ihrer Funktion in der Denkgeschichte”, in: Toni Bernhart/Philipp Mehne (eds.), Imagination und Innovation, Berlin 2006, pp. 73–100; Lutz Danneberg, “Säkularisierung, epistemische Situation und Autorität”, in: Lutz Danneberg/Sandra Pott/Jörg Schönert/Friedrich Vollhardt (eds.), Säkularisierung in den Wissenschaften seit der Frühen Neuzeit, vol. 2, Zwischen christlicher Apologetik und methodologischem Atheismus, Berlin/New York 2002, pp. 19–66. Cf. Gregor Weber, “Vom Sinn kontrafaktischer Geschichte”, in: Kai Brodersen (ed.), Virtuelle Antike. Wendepunkte der Alten Geschichte, Darmstadt 2000, pp. 11–23, p. 14: “Dabei ist der Begriff ‘kontrafaktisch’, also gegen die historisch-wissenschaftlich eruierten Fakten, insofern nicht unproblematisch, als diese Fakten selbst ja keine objektiven Gegenstände sind, sondern aus einer zufällig auf uns gekommenen Überlieferung herauspräpariert und durch Interpretation in den Rang eines Faktums erhoben wurden”.

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of being obviously false, they are claimed to perform a cognitive function within the context of argument or discourse. Intellectual history and the history of knowledge since antiquity and the middle ages reveal that cognitive functions are attributed to counterfactual imaginations in varying epistemic situations.9 That this relevance has been recognized historically is apparent from the terminology: While in some instances the imaginations that may be called counterfactual appear under the name of quaestiones, the most common terms are argumentum per experimentum secundum imaginationem10 or positio impossibilis.11

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Cf. Lutz Danneberg, “Kontrafaktische Imaginationen in der Hermeneutik und in der Lehre des Testimoniums”, in: Lutz Danneberg/Carlos Spoerhase/Dirk Werle (eds.), Begriffe, Metaphern und Imaginationen in Philosophie und Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Wiesbaden 2009, pp. 287–449. For the procedures of secundum imaginationem, cf. John E. Murdoch, “The Development of a Critical Temper: New Approaches and Modes of Analysis in Fourteenth-Century Philosophy, Science, and Theology”, in: Siegfried Wenzel (ed.), Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Proceedings of the Southeastern Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Chapel Hill 1978, pp. 51–79, p. 53: “Philosophers and theologians repeatedly remind us of the fact that they are reasoning secundum imaginationem and appealing to God’s absolute power. And they frequently, and appropriately, connect these two factors: God furnishes them a warrant to argue and to make their points imaginative as they wished”. Cf. also John E. Murdoch, “Philosophy and the Enterprise of Science in the Later Middle Ages”, in: Yehuda Elkana (ed.), The Interaction Between Science and Philosophy, Atlantic Highlands 1974, pp. 51–74, pp. 64–70; John E. Murdoch/Edith Sylla, “The Science of Motion”, in: David C. Lindberg (ed.), Science in the Middle Ages, Chicago/London 1978, pp. 206–264, pp. 246–247. For the positio impossibilis, cf. Christopher J. Martin, “Impossible Positio as the Foundation of Metaphysics or, Logic on the Scotist Plan?”, in: Costantino Marmo (ed.), Vestigia, Imagines, Verba: Semiotics and Logic in Medieval Theological Texts (XII th–XIV th Century), Turnhout 1997, pp. 255–276. The theory of obligationes, combined with the construction of Sophismata, is also seen as instruction for (counterfactual) thought experiments – more generally speaking: as arguments or representations which function secundum imaginationem per impossibile. Cf. Mikko Yrjönsuuri, “Obligations as Thought Experiments”, in: Ignacio Angelelli/Maria Cerezo (eds.), Studies on the History of Logic, Berlin/New York 1996, pp. 79–96; Paul Spade, “Three Theories of Obligationes: Burley, Kilvington and Swyneshed on Counterfactual Reasoning”, in: History and Philosophy of Logic, 3/1982, pp. 1–32; Peter King, “Medieval Thought-Experiments: The Metamethodology of Medieval Science”, in: Horowitz/Massey (eds.), Thought Experiments, pp. 43–64, pp. 53–54: “The general conclusion I want to draw should be apparent: the literature on obligationes express the mediaeval theory of thought-experiments, including various forms of reasoning which at first glance appear to have little to do with one another”.

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It is obvious that counterfactual imaginations can have different functions relative to the context of their usage. When the context changes, a given counterfactual imagination can change its status as such only if the knowledge with respect to which the imagination is counterfactual is re-evaluated. Hence, it can easily be deprived of its function and, over time, even lose its persuasiveness entirely. This may or may not happen. In any case, it suggests that the cognitive function a counterfactual imagination can have is extremely context-sensitive. What may be achieved by counterfactual imaginations is neither limited to the reductio ad absurdum, nor to imagined argumenta probantia or illustrantia for the thinkable and representable. Depending on the context, their function can be critical, affirmative, explanatory, heuristic, illustrative, or pedagogical. Counterfactual imaginations can be used to solve problems, analyze notions, and facilitate conclusions. However, the question is rarely asked wherein the general scientific utility and cognitive value of counterfactual imaginations lies, or whether they serve a distinct (scientific) cognitive purpose. And, even if it is asked, there is hardly an answer that is specific to counterfactual imaginations alone. Attempts to find a general answer quickly show that, unlike for thought experiments, a closer analysis of counterfactual imaginations has not yet been carried out. The reason for this is probably that such a question cannot be answered in general; instead, the general question has to be resolved in concrete cases and local situations. For instance, what purpose could or did particular counterfactual imaginations have in particular epistemic situations in intellectual history and the history of knowledge, and wherein lies the cognitive value in each concrete case of actual usage? The reconstruction and analysis necessary to answer these questions, however, is a much more involved and time-consuming endeavor than the friends of counterfactual thinking are generally willing to undertake. With such complex and obviously false cognitive formations as those which counterfactual imaginations prove to be, a considerable added value should certainly be expected from their cognitive functions. One might rather suspect that the relevance or value of the cognitive function should increase proportionally to the self-evidence of the falseness of a counterfactual imagination. In spite of their falseness, counterfactual imaginations can demonstrate something “true”, but also something false or misleading. In cases of counterfactual imagining the problem of arbitrariness is always at hand. With the exception of those imaginations that are absurd in a given epistemic context, the possibilities for cognitive imagination seem to be unlimited – and this, one might suspect, does not speak in favor of their cognitive value and, even less, in favor of the possibility of a meaningful critical discussion of

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their adequacy. Only if their type and range of application open the possibility of a critique, counterfactual imaginations do not seem arbitrary. A condition for this seems to be a minimal understanding of their characterization that makes the arguments based on them comprehensible. However, typical of the discussion of the criteria that can be used to evaluate the quality of counterfactual imaginations are statements as the following, which is taken from a recent contribution to scholarly discourse by Richard Ned Lebow: At the outset, I advance a novel and provocative epistemological claim: that the difference between so-called ‘factual’ and counterfactual arguments is more one of degree than of kind. Both rest on assumptions about the world and how it works and connect hypothesized causes to outcomes by means of a chain of logic consistent with available evidence.12

Unfortunately, the content of the subsequent elaborations of the subject fails to live up to the audacity of this far-reaching claim. Lebow thus concedes: The fundamental similarity between the structure of counterfactual and factual arguments means that many of the criteria for assessing the plausibility of one kind of argument are appropriate to the other. There are nevertheless additional criteria for good counterfactual arguments, and here we must be careful to distinguish good from valid counterfactuals. The criteria for a [sic] good counterfactuals says a lot about their utility for purpose of analysis but nothing about their external validity.

What and which exactly these “criteria” are, is left to the imagination of the reader – even in the elaborate example of a counterfactual Mozart imagination. The conclusion offered is: “External validity can sometimes be tested on the basis of evidence. Like all propositions, counterfactuals can be falsified but never validated”.13 Even for non-counterfactual propositions this seems to be a bold assertion. Although for the multifaceted phenomenon of counterfactual imaginations there is no standard function, although their arbitrariness is not easily controlled, and although for their variety of forms and usages there can be no simple answer to the question of what has to be considered a good counterfactual argument,14 there is still something to be said about their 12

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Richard Ned Lebow, “Counterfactuals, History and Fiction”, in: Historical Social Research, 34/2009, pp. 57–73, p. 67. Richard Ned Lebow, “Counterfactuals”, pp. 67–68. Cf. Philip E. Tetlock/Aaron Belkin, “Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics: Logical, Methodological, and Psychological Perspectives”, in: Tetlock/Belkin (eds.), Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics: Logical, Methodological, and Psychological Perspectives, Princeton 1996, pp. 3–38, p. 16: “Given the diverse goals that people have in mind when they advance counterfactual argu-

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achievements and their comparative evaluation. Time and again, critical literature offers six criteria for the evaluation of counterfactual imaginations: (1) clarity – mostly with regard to the specification of the antecedent and the consequent of the imagination; (2) logical consistency or cotenability – this refers to the assumptions that connect the antecedent and the consequent; (3) historical consistency – this means that there is a minimal deviation of the shared knowledge claims (“minimal-rewrite rule”); (4) theoretical consistency – this means primarily that the knowledge necessary for the implications of the counterfactual imagination ought to be consistent with generally accepted theoretical knowledge claims; (5) statistical consistency – here the same requirement as in (4) is made with respect to well-established statistical generalizations; and finally, (6) projectability – informed by a concept of Nelson Goodman, this means that the applied rules of inference are not contingent, arbitrary generalizations, but essentially law-like operations that can support projections to the past as well as to the future.15 While these criteria offer an impetus for the discussion of requirements for the quality of counterfactual imaginations, they remain geared to certain types of such imaginations. Once again, we are relegated to the reconstruction and analysis of concrete cases. To sum up: Counterfactual imaginations (1) appear in different types that can and shall (2) perform different cognitive functions in (3) diverging argumentative contexts. In addition, there are (4) the overarching assumptions of the respective epistemic situation. The aptitude and quality of counterfactual imaginations depend on such an epistemic context, and only in relation to their contexts can imaginations avoid the suspicion of arbitrariness. For the analytic reconstruction of concrete cases of counterfactual imaginations, several levels have to be considered: the reconstruction must start with (i) the counterfactual imagination itself – at whatever point in time –, then (ii) continue with the assessment of the act of such an imagination, its reception, but also its criticism relative to the given standards of the respective time, and finish with (iii) the retrospective reconstruction from the present time. Here, we must distinguish whether the reconstruction is made (iii1) with a historically given instrument of analysis alone, or (iii2) with an application of present standards of plausibility, adequacy, and quality for counterfactual imaginations.

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ments – from hypothesis generation to hypothesis testing, from historical understanding to theory extension – our contributors convinced us that the quest for a one-size-fits-all epistemology is quixotic”. Tetlock/Belkin, “Counterfactual Thought Experiments”, pp. 16–31.

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Perhaps one end of a potential scale for measuring the quality of counterfactual imaginations is not only marked by the requirement that counterfactual imaginations must make a contribution to the acquisition of new knowledge, but also that they are unique in this respect, i.e. that they alone can make this very contribution. The other end of the scale may be marked by apologetic usages as mere quasi-argumentative trickeries to fabricate the expost justification of their authors’ claims to knowledge, because a concrete form of counterfactual imaginations often follows individual or collective predilections, fantasies, or ideologies. In which form their functions are performed depends, not least, on the shared knowledge and the epistemic situation of their usage. Hence, it is decisive how they are tied to the respective knowledge, not only for the historical access to counterfactual imaginations in intellectual history and the history of knowledge, but also for their present usage, because this actually determines when a counterfactual imagination acquires any value by performing a cognitive function. The epistemic situation ensures that not just any arbitrary counterfactual imagination is possible and that, perhaps with regard to a given cognitive function, competing counterfactual imaginations possess different degrees of plausibility.

II. Counterfactual Imaginations in Relation to Neighboring Notions The adequacy condition that a counterfactual imagination must be obviously false is only a necessary and certainly not a sufficient condition. There are other cognitive formations that are obviously false in one regard or another, but that do not tend to be identified as counterfactual imaginations. An explication of the concept of counterfactual imaginations is, therefore, meaningful only in conjunction with and delimitation to neighboring notions. Among those are – beside the already mentioned thought experiments – metaphors, fictions, ceteris paribus clauses, abstractions, idealizations, presumptions, and models. While a relatively clear line can be drawn for metaphors, fictions, and presumptions, some overlap between the other notions and counterfactual imaginations is possible. The difference between a metaphor and a counterfactual imagination can be determined rather easily. For a metaphor, the obvious contradiction to shared knowledge (at a given moment) suggests a transition of meaning which can be characterized as follows. A meaning first attributed to the expression is obviously false, but it does not yet need to be clear what the second, more appropriate meaning of the metaphorical usage of language should be. Here, the character of obvious falseness is to be eliminated. Thus,

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when counterfactual imaginations are treated as metaphorical speech, they lose their status and significance. Counterfactual imaginations are sometimes addressed as fictions or counted among them. Here, the delimitation is less apparent than for the metaphorical use of language. For the purpose of explication, it suffices that the counterfactual imaginations which are of interest to us are those that appear in argumentative contexts, and that fictional texts themselves do not “argue”, although arguments or even counterfactual imaginations may appear in them (e.g. in what characters say). While we do not want to dwell on the controversy about fictionality and factuality, we note that the appearance of a sentence that has a literal meaning which can be related to a world distinguished as real where it represents a true assertion does not make a fictional text a factual one or even a mixed fictional-factual text.16 Just as little does the appearance of a counterfactual narrative in an argumentative text transform it into a fictional one;17 furthermore, it does not make sense to speak of a semi-factual or semi-fictional imagination without a special clarification. Ceteris paribus is a clause to identify certain factors, meaning as much as: under the assumption that all basic conditions, except the ones given previously, remain the same. Here, it is not particularly clear what ceteris paribus clauses are for scientific laws, and it is, moreover, questionable which role they play within the sciences:18 whether there are ceteris paribus laws at 16

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Cf. Lutz Danneberg, “Weder Tränen noch Logik: Über die Zugänglichkeit fiktionaler Welten”, in: Uta Klein/Katja Mellmann/Steffanie Metzger (eds.), Heuristiken der Literaturwissenschaft. Einladung zu disziplinexternen Perspektiven auf Literatur, Paderborn 2006, pp. 35–83; Lutz Danneberg/Carlos Spoerhase, “Wissen in Literatur als Herausforderung einer Pragmatik von Wissenszuschreibungen: sechs Problemfelder, sechs Fragen und zwölf Thesen”, in: Tilmann Köppe (ed.), Literatur und Wissen. Theoretisch-methodische Zugänge, Berlin/New York 2010, pp. 29–76. A recent, but unsatisfying attempt to describe counterfactuals as short stories and to associate them with Kendall Walton’s concept of truth in fiction is offered by Seahwa Kim and Cei Maslen: “Counterfactuals as Short Stories”, in: Philosophical Studies, 129/2006, pp. 81–117. More illuminating is David Davies, “Thought Experiments and Fictional Narratives”, in: Croatian Journal of Philosophy, 7/2007, pp. 29–45. John Earman/John Roberts/Sheldon Smith argue against the common view that ceteris paribus clauses play a significant role in physics and are, therefore, also justified within other contexts of less exact disciplines (cf. “Ceteris Paribus Lost”, in: Erkenntnis, 57/2002, pp. 281–301). They also point to the fact that Hempel’s provisos are not to be confounded with ceteris paribus clauses (cf. Carl Gustav Hempel, “Provisos: A Problem Concerning the Inferential Function of Scientific Theories”, in: Adolf Grünbaum/Wesley Salmon [ed.], The Limitations of Deductivism, Berkeley 1988, pp. 19–36; John Earman/John Roberts, “Ceteris Paribus, There Are

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all,19 and which types can be distinguished.20 Nonetheless, the condition for an overlap of ceteris paribus clauses with counterfactual imaginations can be stated independently: It is given when it can be excluded beforehand that these clauses cannot be satisfied by already existing, shared knowledge. The problem of the delimitation and overlap of abstractions and idealizations, on the one hand, and counterfactual imaginations, on the other, is complicated by the fact that there is a multitude of definitions for abstractions and idealizations and no generally accepted classification. In addition, we have to take into account historical definitions. In particular, the various abstractiones, including the separatio, have a long conceptual history that begins, at the latest, with the Early Middle Ages (admittedly being of antique descent). Whatever the definition of abstraction turns out to be in each case, it is always a disregard of something, with the intention not to deceive the other (abstrahentium non est mendacium), as much as it is the case for counterfactual imaginations, when the truth is disregarded for a non-deceptive exposition. But abstraction is not based on an intentionally false statement, and this marks its difference to counterfactual imaginations. Like counterfactual imaginations, idealizations are, in some sense, based on a disregard for the truth. Here, though, it is for the purpose of simplification that something viewed as irrelevant can be disregarded. Although idealizations are, strictly speaking, neither verifiable nor falsifiable, attempts to determine their cognitive functions are always viewed as constituents of a complex scientific modus operandi with respect to which performed or expected cognitive functions are determined – for example, for the explanation or prediction of empirical phenomena. At this point, a difference to counterfactual imaginations can already be seen, for neither unverifiability nor unfalsifiability imply obvious falseness; and in the case of counterfactual imaginations, obvious falseness does not just include unverifiability or unfalsifiability. What is more, idealizations must either represent the properties of real entities that are considered to be essential, or they must approximately reflect real circumstances. Therefore, establishing the cognitive functions of

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No Provisos”, in: Synthese, 118/1999, pp. 439–478). See also Nancy Cartwright, “In Favor of Laws That Are Not Ceteris Paribus After All”, in: Erkenntnis, 57/2002, pp. 425–439; Clark Glymour, “A Semantics and Methodology for Ceteris Paribus Hypotheses”, in: Erkenntnis, 57/2002, pp. 395–405. Cf. Jim Woodward, “There Is No Such Thing as a Ceteris Paribus Law”, in: Erkenntnis, 57/2002, pp. 303–328. Different types of ceteris paribus clauses are distinguished by Gerhard Schurz, “Ceteris paribus Laws: Classification and Deconstruction”, in: Erkenntnis, 57/2002, pp. 351–372.

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idealizations usually means establishing their relations to scientific assertions of a certain methodological quality, for example, by embedding the idealizations into sequences of theories. Or one could try to specify the relations that explain the relationship to assertions considered to be methodologically sound – relations like concretization, factualization, specification, or approximation – so that for such entities a piecemeal improvability may be given.21 A further difference can be added: For certain idealizations, it may be possible to establish, ex post, that a certain assertion really is an idealization. For a counterfactual imagination, however, this is not possible. In a certain respect, a presumption is a special case of an idealization. A certain assumption is presumed, as long as there are no hints that it is not valid in a certain case – e.g., for the explanation of human action by presuming the principle of rationality. This definition confirms that counterfactual imaginations which continue to be false are not presumptions and vice versa. Closely connected to abstractions and idealizations are models. Models usually offer an idealized simplification or abstraction with regard to an intended purpose. The relation of modeling is at least quaternary and is based on one or more relations of resemblance. Depending on the type of resemblance, we can distinguish, for example, visual models, theoretical models, and simulations. Implied are assumptions concerning which resemblances are to be preserved as relevant, and these assumptions of relevance are determined by the cognitive functions the modeling is designed to achieve. What is crucial here is the claim that the resemblance between the model and the modeled leads to true assertions. The disregard of certain properties may also lead to the obvious falseness of a model, but it is justified by the assump21

The discussion of these questions started in the middle of the 1970s in the Poznan School, first and foremost led by Leszek Nowak and Izabella Nowakowa, who summarize their results in: Idealization X. The Richness of Idealization, Amsterdam/ Atlanta 2000. Since then, the number of studies has been exponentially growing; cf., for the more recent discussion, the series Idealization: Craig Dilworth (ed.), Idealization IV : Intelligibility in Science, Amsterdam/Atlanta 1992; Martti Kuokkanen (ed.), Idealization VII : Structuralism, Idealization and Approximation, Amsterdam/ Atlanta 1994. Cf. also Hans Lind, “A Note on Fundamental Theory and Idealizations in Economics and Physics”, in: British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 44/1993, pp. 493–503; Michaela Haase, Galileische Idealisierung. Ein pragmatisches Konzept, Berlin/New York 1995; Andreas Hüttemann, Idealisierungen und das Ziel der Physik. Eine Untersuchung zum Realismus, Empirismus und Konstruktivismus in der Wissenschaftstheorie, Berlin/New York 1997; Chang Liu, “Approximation, Idealization, and Laws of Nature”, in: Synthese, 118/1999, pp. 229–256; Michael J. Shaffer, “Bayesian Confirmation of Theories That Incorporate Idealizations”, in: Philosophy of Science, 68/2001, pp. 36–52.

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tion of irrelevance. This distinguishes modeling from counterfactual imagining and leads, at most, to overlaps. In general, models can be criticized with regard to the dissimilarities between the model and the modeled by evaluating a negative analogy, i.e. their dissimilarities. In this way, wrong models as parts of theories can be a means to better theories.22 A difference between models and counterfactual imaginations becomes apparent when we assume an evolutionary process for the modeling:23 It starts with a metaphorical insight that is false when taken literally but, at the same time, insinuates a more or less vague similarity between two areas; the insinuation leads to a “reasoned analogy”, where the metaphorical insight is made precise by an explicit analogy between the two fields; it eventually ends with empirical modeling that transforms the initial metaphorical insight into a precise scientific model. What characterizes such a process – where the scientific model still describes only a relation of analogy and resemblance –, does not, or at least not necessarily, apply to counterfactual imaginations. It would translate into the prospect that an obviously wrong but also vague counterfactual imagination – and falseness need not imply vagueness – can be transformed into a still false but more precise imagination. In other words, parallels and overlaps between models and counterfactual imaginations would exist, if there were a given function of counterfactual imagination for which a cognitive gain could be achieved by increasing the precision. Due to the variety of concurrent definitions of abstraction, idealization, and modeling, general delimitations to counterfactual imaginations can be given only hypothetically. For an abstraction, the generated entity – as already seen – need not be obviously false. For an idealization and a model this is already more likely to be the case. An idealized law, for example, can always be reformulated in such a way that it contains, explicitly or implicitly, an unsatisfied and, therefore, false antecedent. In fact, one can take the point of view that all scientific theories, the constituents of which are natural laws, are idealizations in this sense, inasmuch as they are true only under the condition that they are just not realized in the world viewed as real. From this point of view, they can always be reformulated as a counterfactual statement: If the idealized object, say, an ideal gas, were given, then the theory of the ideal gas 22

23

Cf., among others, William C. Wimsatt, “False Models as Means to Truer Theories”, in: Matthew H. Nitecki/Antoni Hoffman (eds.), Neutral Models in Biology, New York/Oxford 1987, pp. 23–55. Cf., for example, Karl H. Pribram, “From Metaphors to Models: The Use of Analogy in Neuropsychology”, in: David E. Leary (ed.), Metaphors in the History of Psychology, Cambridge 1990, pp. 79–103.

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would be true (and no other). At the same time, the possibility of concretization or approximation of abstractions, idealizations, and models marks a central difference to counterfactual imaginations, especially with regard to their amenability to criticism. Abstractions, idealizations, and models can be criticized or evaluated by viewing them as gradual and, hence, demanding concretizations. For most counterfactual imaginations such an approach would be without merit.

III. Two Examples After these first steps toward an explication of counterfactual imaginations, we would like to give two concrete examples to demonstrate the necessity but also the complexity of judging the merits of their cognitive functions. It goes without saying that these considerations are only preliminary and cannot do justice to the variety of counterfactual imaginations. That identifying an imagination as counterfactual can already be controversial shall be demonstrated with regard to the economic concept of the homo oeconomicus or, as Walter Eucken and Fritz Machlup wrote derisively, the “homunculus oeconomicus”.24 Introduced by John Stuart Mill as an “abstraction”,25 the economic man remains to this day, in changing conceptualizations,26 a constitutive part of economic theory. As such, the homo oeconomicus is not in contradiction to the shared knowledge about economies and economic behavior. The concept is not consciously false, but stands in a complicated relation to what is factually known. In this case, it is the presumed economic reality from which the homo oeconomicus is derived by way of abstraction, idealization, ideal typization, or to which it is juxtaposed as counterfactual imagination. “[No] political economist was ever so absurd as to suppose that mankind are really thus constituted”, Mill states,27 knowing about the only 24

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Fritz Machlup, “The Universal Bogey: Economic Man”, in: Fritz Machlup, Methodology of Economics and Other Social Sciences, New York 1978, pp. 283–301; Walter Eucken, Die Grundlagen der Nationalökonomie, Jena 1940, p. 251. John Stuart Mill, “On the Definition of Political Economy; and on the Method of Investigation Proper to It”, in: John M. Robson (ed.), Collected Works of John Stuart Mill: Essays on Economics and Society, Toronto 1963–1991, vol. 4, pp. 309–339, p. 321. Cf. Mary S. Morgan, “Economic Man as Model Man: Ideal Types, Idealization and Caricatures”, in: Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 28/2006, pp. 1–27; Manfred Tietzel, “Die Rationalitätsannahme in den Wirtschaftswissenschaften oder Der homo oeconomicus und seine Verwandten”, in: Jahrbuch für Sozialwissenschaft, 32/1981, pp. 115–139. Mill, “On the Definition”, p. 322.

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partial agreement of his abstraction with the economic reality. At the same time, he insists on the adequacy of the psychological factors that enter in isolated and abstract form into his concept, namely: “desire of wealth”, “aversion to labor, and desire of the present enjoyment of costly indulgences”.28 It is exactly this characterization that stimulated Mill’s critics to denounce his theory as counterfactual. From the ongoing controversy surrounding the homo oeconomicus we can only highlight a few exemplary positions. Carl Menger’s theory of marginal utility, for example, in which the homo oeconomicus plays a decisive part, is criticized by Karl Knies on the grounds that it takes into account only self-interest but neither “Gemeinsinn” (sense of community) nor a “sense for justice and equitability”, even though the latter are also “facts” rather than “fiction”.29 Menger replies to this criticism that no national economist ever claims that “men are actually guided only by self-interest”.30 The concept is just supposed to represent “one of the most important sides of human life”.31 With this argument, Menger does endorse self-interest as an actual motive for economic behavior, but, at the same time, legitimizes the concept under criticism by referring to the essentiality of the abstracted factor. Shifting the perspective to the methodology, i.e. the choice of the aspect under which an economic theorist considers his object, he prepares for a new, formal conceptualization of the homo oeconomicus that competes with Mill’s abstraction as well as with the holistic model of the historical economists. According to the formal conceptualization, the homo oeconomicus is, as, for example, Max Weber argues, a “constructed economic agent” that is deliberately “in opposition to the empirical man” because he is ascribed “feigned” qualities such as “economic omniscience”, “absolute ‘efficiency’”, and “leisureless productivity”. This “mathematical ideal type”32 has little in common with Mill’s “instinct-driven” economic man. Conceptualized as homo rationalis, he acts rationally in a formal sense, that is, guided by a rational strategy that can, in principle, be reconstructed by the economic theorist without prior need for a closer psychological or materialist specification.33 28 29

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31 32

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Mill, “On the Definition”, p. 321. Karl Knies, Die politische Ökonomie vom geschichtlichen Standpunkte, Brunswick 1883, pp. 240–241. Carl Menger, Untersuchungen über die Methode der Socialwissenschaften, und der Politischen Ökonomie insbesondere, Leipzig 1883, p. 80. Menger, Untersuchungen, p. 78. Max Weber, Grundriss zu den Vorlesungen über allgemeine (“theoretische”) Nationalökonomie, Tübingen 1990, p. 30. Cf. Lionel Robbins, An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science, 2nd ed., London 1945, pp. 94–95.

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But this conceptualization does still not meet the demands of the historical school for a holistic, empirically saturated consideration and can, thus, again be disqualified as a counterfactual assumption. It is the “naive doctrine that needs”34 “the silly and objectionable fiction of the homo oeconomicus”,35 Friedrich Gottl-Ottlilienfeld quips in 1931 against Weber and his followers. According to Gottl-Ottlilienfeld, such a conceptualization curbs “Mr. Everyman” until “his soul withers in the pursuit of that highest profit, presented by this principle” – a “vain act of violence against reality”.36 Or, as Götz Briefs writes, it is a disregard of the German reality of 1915, a time of pronounced Anglophobia, claiming that Mill’s point of view is a factually correct description, albeit only of English society: The old classics believed to have solid ground under their feet, when they assumed self-interest and the other basic premises, which in their eyes were corroborated by experience, as foundation of their inquiries; premises, the partly subtle, partly coarse and brutal realities of which everybody had experienced in the England of their time.37

For the contemporary German economy, however, this description is alleged to be false – an argument that saved the dignity of the English economic theorists, while confirming the image of the English “folk character” (“Volkscharakter”) and separating it from the German one. The “pallid ‘homo oeconomicus’”, as Gerhart von Schulze-Gaevernitz suggests one year later, must be adjusted to the German situation, that is, the model must be pluralized and adapted to historical and cultural differences.38 But a further twist complicates the controversy: Beyond the criticism of its reality and validity, the homo oeconomicus has also been criticized as a model that was used to promote a certain ideological agenda, insofar as the counterfactual assumptions about the (self-interested, rational) behavior of the economic agents shape the factual (altruistic, instinctive-folkish) behavior,39 and thus advance a liberal, capitalistic economic order. This form of criti-

34

35 36 37 38

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Friedrich von Gottl-Ottlilienfeld, Wirtschaft und Wissenschaft, Jena 1931, vol. 1, p. 200. Gottl-Ottlilienfeld, Wirtschaft und Wissenschaft, p. 204. Gottl-Ottlilienfeld, Wirtschaft und Wissenschaft, p. 201. Götz Briefs, Untersuchungen zur klassischen Nationalökonomie, Jena 1915, pp. 280–281. Gerhart von Schulze-Gaevernitz, “Wirtschaftswissenschaft?”, in: Theodor Heuss/Lujo Brentano (eds.), Festschrift für Lujo Brentano zum siebzigsten Geburtstag, Munich 1916, pp. 401–427, p. 423. Cf. Markus Haller, “Mixing Economics and Ethics: Carl Menger vs. Gustav von Schmoller”, in: Social Science Information, 43/2004, pp. 5–33.

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cism was still en vogue after World War II . Similarly, notions analogous to the homo oeconomicus (e.g. the homo sociologicus) are often criticized or denounced with regard to their alleged ideologically-inspired counterfactuality. Friedrich Tenbruck, for example, complains about sociology’s “unprecedented new form of dehumanization”40 that replaces the individual with the homo sociologicus: “Person and culture are – it must be said poignantly – annihilated by the social sciences”.41 In summary, it becomes clear that the identification of a cognitive formation as abstraction, model, fiction, or counterfactual imagination is highly context dependent and based, within its epistemic situation, on theoretical premises and argumentative strategies that must, in each case, be reconstructed and evaluated, if the cognitive functions are to be determined and taken seriously. Let’s move on to the second example. In his “Letter to Mr. Werner in Gießen, concerning the Newtonian theory of light” [“Schreiben an Herrn Werner in Gießen, die Newtonische Theorie vom Licht betreffend”] Lichtenberg writes quizzically: “These are dreams, novels, that in effect are best refuted by writing another novel […] therein they equal the Maybe of some philosophers which by a single maybe is not immediately knocked over”.42 The conflicting counterfactual imaginations to which Lichtenberg alludes are those in which the antecedent and the cognitive function essentially agree but in which the consequent differs. Counterfactual imaginations can be criticized and improved directly, but they can also be confronted with an opposing imagination. As it is the case with thought experiments, they can enter into a competition against each other. In his 1935 retrospective of “Goethe Veneration in Five Decades” [“Goetheverehrung in fünf Jahrzehnten”] the German scholar Julius Petersen (1878–1941) maintains that “the day of Potsdam”, when Hitler symbolically bowed before the Prussian tradition, meant “a rejection of the false spirit of Weimar, but not a defection from Goethe”. Instead, Goethe stays “in honor as purest and richest embodiment of the German character, as greatest custodian and keeper of our primordium, as Alfred Rosenberg calls

40

41 42

Friedrich H. Tenbruck, Die unbewältigten Sozialwissenschaften oder Die Abschaffung des Menschen, Graz/Vienna/Cologne 1984, p. 23. Tenbruck, Die unbewältigten Sozialwissenschaften, p. 238. Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, “Schreiben an Herrn Werner in Gießen, die Newtonische Theorie vom Licht betreffend”, in: Lichtenberg/Friedrich Kries (eds.), Vermischte Schriften, vol. 2, transl. Lichtenberg/Kries, Göttingen 1801, pp. 363–432, pp. 366–367.

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him”.43 And yet, Petersen must also mention the irksome circumstance that Goethe “has not led the way into battle”.44 In Petersen’s assessment “we cannot avoid the question of what Goethe’s position would have been on the enormous transformations his people has undergone in recent years”45 – a welcome occasion for a counterfactual imagination. But what knowledge of Goethe would be relevant answering such a question? To what knowledge can we take recourse in order to imagine Goethe not merely as a contemporary of a certain time, but to deduce a specific Goethean reaction? Petersen relies on Goethe’s “patriotic feeling”, determining this “feeling” by an anecdote that describes Goethe’s behavior in a particular situation that, after being decontextualized, gives a hint about how he would have “felt” after 1933: As in the spring of 1813 at the Elbe, when he blessed the weapons of the Lützow rangers who were to move into the battle for freedom, he would not have denied the salute to the black-clad companions and brown-clad comrades [SS and SA ], who were ready to sacrifice themselves 120 years later for the inner liberation of Germany. As back then, when he was converted by the miracle of the uprising of the people and saw in the liberation of Germany things he had not thought to be possible but hoped for deep down in his heart, he would have stood in awe before the awakening of the people’s force reaching a goal that lay in his farthest hopes. He had himself not believed to ever witness the day when all Germans would feel as one and they too would achieve what other peoples had long been granted: the building of a nation.46

A contribution written in exile in 1937–38 by Ferdinand Lion (1883–1963) offers a number of counterfactual imaginations that can be read as counterimaginations to those of Petersen, even though there is no evidence for a direct reference. While Lion’s imaginations are in better accord with today’s view, their justification is not sound any more. In the section “Goethe and today” of his essay “Goethean Politics”, Lion presents a survey of counterfactual imaginations entitled “League of nations”, “Federalism”, “Parlia43

44

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Julius Petersen, “Goetheverehrung in fünf Jahrzehnten: Ansprache zur Feier des 50jährigen Bestehens der Goethe-Gesellschaft am 27. August 1935”, in: Jahrbuch der Goethe-Gesellschaft, 21/1935, pp. 1–25, p. 23 (translations are ours). Petersen, “Goetheverehrung”, p. 23; cf. Paul Fechter, “Vom Wilhelm Meister zur SA”, in: Deutsche Rundschau, 59/1933, pp. 1–7. Petersen, “Goetheverehrung”, p. 23. Petersen, “Goetheverehrung”, p. 23. After 1933 Petersen’s behavior is difficult to evaluate, cf. Wolfgang Höppner, “Wissenschaft und Macht. Julius Petersen (1878–1941) und Franz Koch (1888–1969) am Germanischen Seminar in Berlin”, in: Zeitschrift für Germanistik, 20/2010, pp. 324–338.

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mentary matters”, “Social matters”, “German History” – containing, among others, the surprising claim that “most of all he [Goethe] would have been captivated by the new physics”47 –, “Mythology”, “Dictators”, “Celebrations”, “Armament”, “Fate of the Faustian”, “Politicizations”, and “Mediations”. Lion is of the opinion that the veneration of Goethe “cannot content itself with the philological and aesthetic interpretation”, but must be an “active following”.48 Although he does warn that such exegesis cannot “lay claim to determine something authentic”, this almost seems to be within reach. He suggests that “a circle of Goethe connoisseurs ought to continually deliberate and ponder what his hypothetical statements could have been on a case-to-case basis”.49 Imaginations such as these, which appear in intellectual history and the history of knowledge in all conceivable varieties, seem only to be put forward in order to authorize the author’s own opinion by transferring it to a contemporized authority: Goethe is promoted to a contemporary guide in all matters of the present world, although, in this generality, there can hardly be a counterfactual imagination the contrary of which is not equally implausible. It is the sign of an impoverished present when an age needs the forebears as authorities secundum imaginationem to justify what is considered as right and good, or to protect the authorities themselves against a present that has limited appreciation for them. These cases also demonstrate that Max Weber’s caveat quoted at the beginning of this essay must be taken seriously. More often than not the attempts “to construct in a positive way what ‘would’ have happened […] lead to monstrous results”. As our provisional analyses and reconstructions have shown, the enormous, but interesting problems that arise in the study of concrete historic examples need more than just the first steps toward an explication of the concept of counterfactual imagination that we have given here. This shall be done elsewhere.50

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Ferdinand Lion, “Goethesche Politik”, in: Maß und Wert, 1/1937–38, pp. 764–782, p. 775 (and cf. Lion, Geist und Politik in Europa. Verstreute Schriften aus den Jahren 1915–1961, Heidelberg 1980, pp. 174–192). Translations are ours. Lion, “Goethesche Politik”, p. 771. Lion, “Goethesche Politik”, p. 771. We would like to thank Matthew Handelman for his assistance in the translation of this article.

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Tobias Klauk (Göttingen)

Thought Experiments and Literature

I. Introduction In this paper, I will be concerned with the thesis (LT ) that in writing and reading literature we typically conduct thought experiments as well as with the consequences of comparing literature and philosophical thought experiments. Part II of the paper is designed to show that (LT ) is false, despite many interesting similarities between literature and thought-experimental scenarios. Parts III and IV will explore two of the similarities that might prove valuable for scholars. But first, I will start by explaining what is meant by (LT ). Many people in literary studies believe that writing and reading literature has something to do with conducting thought experiments. After all, what could be more self-evident? In reading, it seems, we are imagining scenarios that are quite different from the way things actually are. And to imagine a counterfactual scenario is simply to conduct a thought experiment. To argue this way is perfectly all right. However, such an argument hinges on a very broad understanding of the term “thought experiment”. If by a thought experiment we understand any cognitive action that somehow includes describing or imagining things differently than they actually are, (LT ) is surely true. Sadly, it then turns out to be a fairly uninteresting thesis. Not only does everyone believe it anyway, it also does not shed light on any interesting topic. Accordingly, to sharpen the thesis, I will take “thought experiments” to mean something more specific. Roughly, my use stems from philosophical discourse, and I will explain it below. Again, this is not to say that it is wrong to use the term “thought experiment” in the wider sense. But if we are willing to engage in the more specific use of the term, we might actually learn something. Unfortunately, even the sharpened thesis is, in and of itself, still uninteresting – a characteristic it shares with most classificatory theses. The trick is to put the thesis to good use. Therefore, parts III and IV will exploit (LT ) – or what is still left of it by then – to transport ideas from philosophy over to literary theory. In order not to get confused, it will be important to distinguish between two types of phenomena that are frequently described as counterfactual thinking. One phenomenon is using counterfactual conditionals, the other imagining a counterfactual scenario. Let me make the difference clear: When

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using a counterfactual conditional, we utter, or think, or rely on a sentence with a counterfactual conditional in it. Examples include “If Paul had come to the party, then Petra would also have come”, and “If there had been more beer, everybody would have stayed longer”. Notice that we typically use counterfactual conditionals if we think that the antecedent is false, but that it can turn out to be true. For instance, consider the following case: We are driving home and I say “It’s a good thing I turned off the oven. If I had not turned it off, the house would have burned down”. Then we arrive in our street and see the smoking ruins. Sadly, we found the antecedent of the counterfactual to be true; I really forgot to turn off the oven. Still, I used a counterfactual conditional. By contrast, in imagining a counterfactual scenario, we imagine a situation that is not the case. At the moment of writing this, Angela Merkel is chancellor of Germany. But I can easily imagine a scenario in which somebody else is chancellor right now. A counterfactual scenario cannot turn out to be true. If it did, it would not have been counterfactual in the first place. Counterfactual conditionals and imagining a counterfactual scenario often go hand in hand, and this is why people tend to conflate the two. In imagining counterfactual scenarios we typically draw conclusions by using counterfactual conditionals. But a counterfactual scenario can come without any counterfactual conditionals attached. Again, using counterfactual conditionals and imagining counterfactual scenarios is not the same thing. Let us now turn to philosophical thought experiments. I said that I would like to sharpen (LT ) by taking “thought experiments” to roughly mean “thought experiments as we find them in philosophy”. Why not speak of scientific thought experiments here? I believe that scientific thought experiments generally do not work any differently than philosophical thought experiments. If I am right, nothing is lost by concentrating on the philosophical case. What if I am wrong? The main reason for distinguishing between scientific and philosophical thought experiments probably lies in the wish to link scientific thought experiments to proper experiments. The idea, going back to Ernst Mach, is that we first let experiments run in our heads before taking them to the laboratory.1 This simulation idea has taken many forms since, although I think it is wrong at least for the more interesting scientific thought experiments. But let us for a moment imagine the theory were true. Then (LT ) is obviously false, since literary texts are quite certainly not some kind of experiment we run in our head. We do not let a simulation go on and 1

For Ernst Mach’s take on experiments and thought experiments, see his chapter on thought experiments in Erkenntnis und Irrtum, 4th ed., Leipzig 1920, pp. 183–200.

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find out what happens. So even if the simulation idea was fruitful for scientific thought experiments, it still would not translate to literature. But if it does not apply to thought experiments in the first place, it is of no relevance for (LT ). Either way it does not help us in understanding literature, and we should look for a more fruitful idea. I also refrain from talking about experiments that are thought experiments only by name. The following is a good example from a popular, though not scientific, linguistic book: David Crystal states that speakers of English like two- or three-syllable words with m, n, l, and r in them better than one-syllable ones with p, k, and g in them. You can do linguistic thought experiments to see whether these tendencies work. Imagine you are in a space-ship approaching a new planet, Xarg. All you know about Xarg is that it contains two races, one friendly towards Earth-people, the other antagonistic. One race is called the Lamonians. The other is called the Gataks. Which do you think is the friendly race?2

Despite Crystal’s explicit statement to the contrary, this is not a thought experiment at all. It is not enough to ask yourself if you think whether the Lamonians are friendlier than the Gataks. Only a “real” experiment that confronts a significant number of speakers of English with a significant number of examples can establish the thesis mentioned above. Crystal relies on the assumption that his readers find an answer for themselves and that every reader finds the same answer. Again, reading or writing literature obviously does not work like conducting experiments and (LT ) would become trivially false if we defined “thought experiments” as “real experiments that have been labelled thought experiments”. Philosophical thought experiments are diverse, and one might easily despair when confronted with the sheer mass of phenomena we tend to call “thought experiments”. But it is not impossible to find some general rules that will allow us to find out if (LT ) is true or not. Philosophical thought experiments typically have three steps:3 (a) We imagine a scenario. (b) We judge the scenario concerning a certain question. (c) We make use of this judgement. 2

3

David Crystal, By Hook or by Crook: A Journey in Search of English, London 2008, p. 158. For a more complete but also more complex view of the three steps, as well as an overview of different kinds of thought experiments, see chapters 1 and 3 of my Gedankenexperimente in der Philosophie: Eine Familie philosophischer Verfahren, Diss. University of Göttingen 2008, http://resolver.sub.uni-goettingen.de/purl/?webdoc-1924 (May 26, 2011).

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To imagine a scenario at the least means to describe the scenario consistently or to understand such a description. In most cases it is not necessary to actually have a picture in mind. That might be helpful or distracting, but typically it is just irrelevant. The scenario is then judged concerning a certain question. The judgement and the question always take the form of a counterfactual conditional: If the scenario were the case, what else would be the case? If the scenario were the case, what would be the morally right thing to do? The judgement then will be used to argue for a philosophical point. It might be used as a counterexample, as an analogy, or in any other way.4 But it is important to see that we only have a complete thought experiment if the third step is present. The following may serve as an example: There are theories of knowledge that define knowledge as justified true belief. With a simple thought experiment we can show that this kind of theory cannot be true.5 Jan walks by the library and looks through a window. He sees the back of someone whom he identifies as his friend Julia. He comes to believe that Julia is in the library and enters, since he wants to talk to Julia. As he walks through the door, Julia comes down the stairs. Although Julia actually is in the library, the person Jan has seen through the window cannot have been Julia. So Jan believed that Julia was in the library, he was justified (he had good reason, because he thought he saw her), and it was true (she was in the library). This concludes step (a). Step (b): If this situation were the case, would Jan (after looking and before entering) know that Julia was in the library? No, he would not. Step (c): If this is possible, then the definition of knowledge as justified true belief is false, since we found a counterexample. Note how the scenario is designed for a special purpose, in this case giving a counterexample. Without this third step, we would have talked about a scenario, we even would have evaluated it concerning some question, but we would not have completed the thought experiment. There are no thought experiments without step (c). Note also that even in the special case of a thought experiment in which step (a) is missing since we fail to imagine a scenario, this failure will be used philosophically in step (c). Philosophers often throw a scenario at us because they think it is obvious what to do with it. But unless we actually do something with the scenario, i.e. proceed to 4

5

In fact, it need not be the judgement that is used in a subsequent argumentation. It might be the impossibility of imagining a certain scenario; it might even be the comparison between two different scenarios. Thought experiments of this kind have been made famous bei Edmund L. Gettier, see his “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”, in: Analysis, 23/1963, pp. 121–123.

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steps (b) and (c), we do not have a thought experiment. This is especially important since there is a loose way of talking about philosophical thought experiments where a scenario alone counts as a thought experiment. The situation is quite similar to what we encounter in the case of literature. But although we sometimes talk that way, it is not helpful for our project at hand. On the contrary, it obscures two important elements of thought experiments, namely steps (b) and (c).

II. Finding the Three Steps in the Case of Literature Let us now take a look at fictional literature. If it is true that we conduct thought experiments in literature we should be able to find the three steps. Step (a) looks promising. We often find especially rich and complex scenarios in literature. This is true at least for prose and drama, so let us forget about poetry for the moment, where it is much harder to determine what a scenario consists in. The problem will return with the subsequent steps sure enough. Things are not as easy when it comes to step (b). At first glance, it just seems to be missing. A text rarely discusses the consequences of its content in the sense that it asks what would be the case if “p” were the case, or what should have been done if “p” were the case. Notice that it is not enough for a text to contain passages like “If only she had known then, things would have turned out differently”. Though this is a counterfactual conditional, there is still a difference to philosophical thought experiments: In philosophy, there is always a special reason why someone is conducting a thought experiment. People are not inventing scenarios for the fun of it, and their scenarios are found useful by other philosophers. A philosophical thought experiment comes with a question directed at the scenario, a question that carries a special interest. In our example it was the question whether Jan knew that Julia was in the library. And the whole thought experiment was built in order to find out about the nature of knowledge. “If only she had known then, things would have turned out differently” does not transport such a special interest. In literature, questions related to the purpose of the text normally do not occur in the text. Most texts do not ask questions regarding the text itself. It is up to the reader to find a special interest in the text. Of course, there is always the question what the intention of the author might have been. But we are free to ignore the author’s intention and question the text for completely different reasons. Literary texts are polyvalent. There is, therefore, a slight difference between philosophical thought experiments and literary texts. But the difference is not important enough to

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justify giving up on (LT ) already. Firstly, something like polyvalence can be found in philosophy, too. Anybody can take a thought-experimental scenario and use it for a different thought experiment. In fact, people have taken up scenarios to show exactly the opposite of what the author of the original thought experiment wanted to show. Secondly, step (b) is sometimes hidden in philosophy. The question might not be put clearly; the evaluation of the scenario might be only implicit or even be left to the reader. Therefore, one could try to argue that certain conventions in literature just dictate not mentioning step (b), but that it is nevertheless always implied and intended. In any case, this is certainly true: In reading a text, we can, and do, judge if some behaviour was moral, if the detective was clever, if a choice was wise, etc. In fact, without such reasoning, our reading experience would be rather shallow and dull. I will exploit this feature of our reading behaviour in part IV. The real problems begin with step (c). In philosophical thought experiments the judged scenario will be used to argue some point. But this is normally not the case in literature. Again, there are counterexamples. In his children’s books, Erich Kästner sometimes explicitly declares what he thinks can be learnt from the text, and Jean Paul sometimes explains to the reader what he thinks the point of the story is, but all in all these cases are rather rare. When talking about step (b) I mentioned that it might be enough for step (b) to be present, that somebody could judge the literary scenario concerning a certain question. But this will not do here. Philosophers often use examples from literature as scenarios for philosophical thought experiments. But that does not make the literary texts thought experiments; it just makes them a quarry for thought-experimental scenarios. What would be needed to establish step (c) is a literary way of exploiting the judgement about the literary scenario. But there do not seem to be any examples and counterexamples, analogies, explorative thought experiments, etc., in literature, all the things, that is, scenarios are used for in philosophy. Step (c) is just missing. But this is no defect of literature. It just means that however reading literature works, it typically does not work in the same way that conducting a thought experiment works. As always, there are exceptions. David Lewis, for example, has the idea that “fiction might serve as a means for the discovery of modal truth”.6 He thinks a literary text might help establish, for example, if it is possible to be a dignified beggar. Such a text, he says, “serves the same purpose as an example in philosophy, though it 6

David Lewis, “Postscripts to ‘Truth in Fiction’”, in: Philosophical Papers I, Oxford 1983, pp. 276–280, p. 278.

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will not work unless the story […] is more fully worked out than our usual examples”.7 Establishing a possibility clearly counts as step (c) of the thought-experimental schema I have given above. In fact, some philosophical thought experiments work just that way. Establishing a possibility is not as easy as refuting one, where we could come up with a counterexample. Instead, one promising way to proceed is to explore the counterfactual consequences of a scenario and show that we cannot establish contradictions where they seem most probable. If a story was written or read with the aim of showing that something is possible, we would have a literary thought experiment. But again, this seems to be the exception, not the rule. Therefore, as long as we do not want to claim that one of literature’s central aims is to provide other disciplines with scenarios, we should not say that literature usually conducts thought experiments. Step (c) is – most of the time – just missing. There are certainly texts that are intended by their authors to be literary thought experiments in the strict sense we are concerned with here. And it is always possible to take a literary scenario and turn it into a thought experiment. But the idea that in reading or writing literature we typically conduct thought experiments has proven false. (LT ) is wrong. Where does this leave us? We can already see that one should be careful about linking literature to thought experiments. As soon as we define “thought experiment” more precisely in the sense that only nonfactual scenarios are involved, differences between literature and thought experiments begin to show. As I mentioned in the beginning, apart from this cautious note, an answer to the question if (LT ) is true or not has limited cognitive value. But we did find similarities between philosophical thought experiments and literature in steps (a) and (b). And we can now start to exploit these similarities. I will give two examples of how to make the comparison fruitful.

III. Learning from Step (A): Defending the Possible-Worlds Theory of Fiction We know a lot more about the three steps of thought experiments than I have revealed so far. The comparison of thought-experimental scenarios and literary texts allows us to transport ideas from one area to the other. Let us forget about step (c), since we generally find it missing in literature. The matter is different with steps (a) and (b). 7

Lewis, “Postscripts”, p. 278.

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Take a second look at step (a). Imagining a scenario might involve feeling how it is to be in the scenario. This is an element that is sometimes involved in ethical thought experiments, and it is certainly present in our reading of many literary texts. Exploring this similarity and explaining how feeling with somebody can be an essential element in understanding a scenario seem to be interesting projects to me, but I will not concern myself with such aspects here. Imagining a scenario might also involve seeing something before the mind’s eye. Other senses might be involved, though typically to a lesser extent, since we are rather visual beings. If I am not mistaken, there is a further distinction between philosophical thought experiments and literature that goes back to these “pictures in the mind”. In philosophy, the inner pictures are almost always unimportant, as a test going back to Descartes shows: He imagines seeing a polygon with 1000 angles. Then he imagines seeing a polygon with 1001 angles. The pictures before the mind’s eye, he says, look exactly the same.8 What distinguishes imagining those two things is just our understanding of the two phrases “1000 angles” and “1001 angles”. Therefore, inner pictures do not add to our understanding of the difference, since the two pictures are the same. Philosophical thought experiments mostly are similar to this case. Inner pictures play a minor role, if any. It seems to me that literature works differently. The power of literature often consists exactly in letting us live through certain events, to conjure up pictures, sounds, emotions. It is a major difference for most people if they read a scientific book on some phenomenon, or read a novel in which the phenomenon is described. Literature can give a feeling of “this could happen to me”, which can be a joyful or even a very disturbing experience. Again, to explain how exactly this aspect of reading literature works is not my project. Instead, let us focus on a similarity between philosophical thought experiments and literature. To conceive of a scenario at the least means, as I pointed out above, to describe the scenario consistently or to understand a consistently described scenario. No inner pictures need to be involved in this process. Conceiving of a scenario in this sense can still fail. I cannot imagine a scenario in which I have just one body (of roughly its actual size) and am in Göttingen and at the same time in Freiburg. Such a scenario is not consistently describable. As one can see, consistency here means:

8

The passage can be found in Descartes’s Meditations (René Descartes, Oeuvres de Descartes, Charles Adam/Paul Tannery [eds.], Paris 1897–1910, VII , 6, 2).

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possible, as far as the description goes.9 A scenario might turn out to be impossible not because its description directly leads to a contradiction but because counterfactual consequences turn out to be contradictory. Nonetheless, we can analyse thought-experimental scenarios by talking about possible worlds. Let us apply all this to literature. There is a well-known, and by now a bit rusty, theory that tries to explain fiction in terms of possible worlds – and there is a well-known reply to this theory: Scenarios in literature are sometimes impossible; their descriptions are sometimes even inconsistent. Call this the impossibility argument. It is one of two arguments that have led to the current unpopularity of the “fiction-in-terms-of-possible-worlds” theory. But the argument does not suffice, and we can show that it does not suffice with the help of the comparison to philosophical thought experiments.10 Before we do so, let us refute the other important argument. Worlds, it claims, are complete insofar as every fact is determined. Literary scenarios are not complete in this sense. There always will be things left undecided by the text and any interpretation. Call this the completeness argument. It looks like a crushing argument, but there are two rather obvious ways to save the theory, or at least its spirit. Firstly, one might adopt some many-valued logic. If we allow sentences to be not only true or false but, e.g., neither true nor false, we can again attempt to model literary scenarios as possible worlds in which anything that is left open by the text counts as neither true nor false.11 The details of how to make such an account work are, of course, delicate, but however things work out in the end, it is not the incompleteness argument that brings down the possible-worlds theory of fiction. Secondly, we can switch from possible-worlds to possible scenarios, which are thought of as incomplete in the sense introduced above. This solution might not be as elegant as the first one, but in principle it does the trick: Why not think of literary scenarios as possible scenarios? 9

10

11

I leave aside the further complications that arise when we acknowledge that there are different kinds of possibility. For example, a scenario might be logically possible, but still nomologically impossible, i.e. impossible according to the laws of nature. The general point I am trying to make is not affected by this. To avoid misunderstanding and confusion: I do believe that the possible-worlds theory of fiction has serious flaws. The main question is if the theory can be made fruitful at all. Here, I am only concerned with the rather technical question if the spirit of the theory can be saved against the two main arguments. For an excellent introduction into non-classical logic, see Graham Priest, An Introduction to Non-Classical Logic, 2nd ed., Cambridge 2009.

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So the burden of proof lies heavily on the impossibility argument. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you are an adherent of the possible-worlds theory) this argument does not suffice. That does not mean that the possible-worlds theory is without problems. As we will see, these are just not the problems that brought people to regard the theory as false. What could we possibly learn from philosophical thought experiments about the impossibility argument? It is a strange feature of philosophical examples that, often enough, they are inconsistent. We allow for mistakes in a scenario as long as the relevant judgement is not corrupted. Sometimes it is enough that we believe the scenario to be repairable, i.e. believe that there are similar scenarios without the defect. There exist many examples of such problematic scenarios. Putnam’s twin earth scenario (at least in some versions) operates with the idea of humans who are, molecule for molecule, identical while water is not H2O.12 Or take Plato’s thought experiment The Ring of Gyges.13 In the dialogue, Glaukon constructs a thought experiment in order to show that people act justly only because they are forced to behave that way. He introduces the idea that there is a ring which makes its bearer invisible and thereby allows him to evade punishment. Glaukon thinks that a person acting justly under normal circumstances would, if given the ring, act like a person that is unjust under normal circumstances. People have argued that the scenario does not allow Glaukon’s judgement since it is underdetermined and physically impossible.14 Does the ring really allow its bearer to evade punishment? Could he be caught by accident and would therefore still be motivated to behave justly? If he could not be caught by accident, does that also mean he could not be touched? But then how can he pick up something he wants to steal, for example? And would not a ring that makes its bearer invisible also make him blind, again rendering him incapable of stealing something? We can easily put all these questions aside. Philosophers who try to address these questions are usually ignored – and rightly so. We understand that the story of Gyges is just an example of a general kind of situation in which people do not have to fear social correction of their behaviour. It does not matter that the scenario itself is probably

12

13

14

Cf. Hilary Putnam, “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’”, in: Hilary Putnam, Mind, Language and Reality, Philosophical Papers, vol. 2, Cambridge 1975, pp. 215–271. Platon, Politeia, sec. 359b–360c. Socrates dissociates himself from the thought experiment given by Glaukon in the dialogue; a complication we can safely ignore here. Cf. for example Kathleen V. Wilkes, Real People: Personal Identity without Thought Experiments, Oxford 1988, p. 11.

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physically impossible, since there are enough scenarios of its type which are not.15 We can even invent logically inconsistent scenarios. Imagine Hume proving that (p f Gp). Would that have made him famous? How would the scientific community have reacted? The scenario is logically impossible and therefore inconceivable. Nobody can prove that (p f Gp). But we can take the scenario as a stand-in for some other, consistent scenario in which Hume made a spectacular logical or mathematical discovery, and we have a good notion of what would have happened then. So we need to distinguish between scenarios for which there exist similar possible or actual scenarios and scenarios for which there do not exist such substitutes. As long as we believe that there are consistent substitute scenarios, we might as well keep working with the flawed scenario. How does this apply to literature? It is quite a triviality that in literature we are especially interested in scenarios that bear resemblance to our life in relevant aspects. But that is just another way of saying that in literature there often is a consistent substitute scenario that is in relevant aspects similar to the scenario of the literary text. And if we allow ourselves to use the instrument of possible-world analysis in philosophy when such inconsistent but repairable scenarios are used, why not in literature? In the light of this, it seems to me that the impossibility argument against the possible-worlds theory of fiction loses much of its appeal. Now someone could grant all that, but still insist on the impossibility argument. Saving the possible-worlds theory of fiction against this argument, one could say, is not a matter of showing that some inconsistent scenario can be exchanged. The original idea of the theory was that fictional scenarios are possible worlds. And that is still wrong, no matter how much substitution we perform. I think this reminder is correct. Under standard logic, fictional scenarios are not possible worlds, although there might be ways to make even this thesis work by using non-standard logic with impossible worlds. I will not pursue that strategy here. Instead, I want to point out something else that is strange about the possible-worlds theory of fiction as its opponents (and possibly many of the theory’s adherents) understand it: That something is a possible world is not much of an explanation at all, since there is a constant philosophical discussion about what exactly possible worlds are. Such an 15

The thought experiment fails because of a different kind of underdetermination. It ignores that humans have very complex combinations of reasons for their actions. Without knowing about the motivations, wishes, hopes, beliefs, and plans of the ring bearer, it is very difficult to predict how he would act.

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explanation of fictionality just substitutes one complicated concept for another. It is therefore better to state the thesis this way: Fictional scenarios are analysable in terms of possible worlds, where we understand possible worlds as research tools whose features are well known without even touching the extra question what possible worlds are. This strategy also evades the objection. Moreover, the possible-worlds theorist of fiction should not state that all literary scenarios are analysable in terms of possible worlds but that typically literary scenarios are. If all this is correct, we can also explain another phenomenon. When you listen to people talking about impossible scenarios you will find that they are very good at making sense of those scenarios. One reason for that, I think, lies exactly in our ability to substitute impossible scenarios for possible ones or to understand the impossible scenario as just one element of a class of scenarios that also contains possible scenarios. Here is an example: Fables typically contain animals which are talking, thinking, and behaving just like humans. Animals cannot do all these things, and therefore fables contain scenarios that are nomologically impossible, i.e. impossible given the laws of nature. But of course nobody reacts to fables by saying how weird it is to hear about talking foxes and bears. Fables do not interest us because we want to learn about talking animals. They are supposed to reveal something about humans. The animals depicted may talk, and that is nomologically impossible. We know that fables are not about animals; they are about humans. Since we know that fables are about humans we could say that the scenario really is one in which, for example, a strong but dumb person interacts with a clever and cunning person, not a scenario in which a bear and a fox interact. But this scenario is not impossible at all. As in the philosophical case, we can work with the impossible scenario because we know that there are scenarios of this type which are possible. The possible-worlds theory of fictionality surely has its flaws. But I do not think that they lie in the impossibility argument. Our comparison between thought experiments and literature has given adherents of the theory argumentative resources against such an attack. I would like to mention one further complication. It seems to me that literary texts often contain two levels, which we could both call the scenario. When confronted with a text, which at face value describes something impossible, we normally do not despair. To the contrary: We are very good at making sense even of the weirdest impossibilities. I believe that many of these cases share one similarity. In reading and interpreting texts we are not content until we have found a scenario that is not impossible. Sometimes we only need to understand that the animals in fables are stand-ins for humans.

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Sometimes we need to go to a very abstract level and say that what is shown in a play, seemingly full of impossibilities, are really the fears and wishes of the protagonists. So there is one level at which the text describes an impossible scenario. But, on a different level, we can always find a perfectly possible scenario. As soon as we think that a text really is just inconsistent, we are not interested in it anymore. I think this is another feather in the hat of the possible-worlds theorist. What a text really is about, it seems, will always be possible in some sense.

IV. Learning from Step (B): Gaining Knowledge from Literature? In philosophy, the thought-experimental scenario is judged using a counterfactual conditional. The material conditional (p f q) does not suffice, because it is already true if the antecedent is false. But we do not want every consequence of the counterfactual scenario to be true. Lewis’s classical example to illustrate the difference between the two conditionals compares “If Oswald did not kill Kennedy, then someone else did” with “If Oswald had not killed Kennedy, then someone else would have”.16 While the first sentence is true, the second might turn out to be false. Typically we also do not aim for the strict conditional ( Y (p f q)). We do not want to know what necessarily is the case. Remember the Gettier case including Jan and Julia. We do not want to know if there are any circumstances under which Jan would know that Julia is in the library. The story leaves open many possibilities that we automatically sort out. Jan might have sufficiently awkward background beliefs for us to subscribe the relevant knowledge to him. What we do want to know is if Jan knows in those worlds in which the scenario is true and which are then closest to us. And that is exactly what the counterfactual conditional (p Y f q) captures. It seems to me that the same is true for literature. In evaluating literary scenarios we are interested in the counterfactual question, not in the material or the strict conditional. It is not the material conditional, since the counterfactuality of a scenario would suffice to make any material conditional true. “If Sherlock Holmes orders Watson about, then he is silently in love with Watson” is just as true as “If Sherlock Holmes orders Watson about, then he is not silently in love with Watson”, and the only reason is that “Sherlock Holmes orders Watson about” is false. There is not even a Sherlock 16

Cf. David Lewis, Counterfactuals, Oxford 1973, p. 3.

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Holmes.17 This shows that in reading we are typically not interested in the material conditional. But the same holds for the strict conditional. “Necessarily, if Sherlock Holmes orders Watson about, then he is silently in love with Watson” is false. We can think up many scenarios in which Sherlock Holmes orders Watson about and is not secretly in love with him. What we want to know is if, given that in the stories of Conan Doyle Holmes orders Watson about, those worlds in which he is silently in love with Watson are closer to ours than those in which he is not. And those are precisely the truth conditions of the counterfactual conditional. If that is true, then a point about literature follows. In order to know if a counterfactual is true, it is not enough to know the scenario. We also have to know many things about our world. In this case, we need to know something about psychology and how people who are secretly in love typically act. The reason for our need for background knowledge is that we do not get single counterfactual premises. Here is an example: If I was not here, lots of other things would also change. The space where I am now would be filled by air molecules. People looking at the space where I am now would be looking at the wall behind me. Maybe somebody would miss me, wonder where I am, or bemoan my sudden illness. In any case, people would have lots of different beliefs. What exactly would have to be different, if I were not here? When we judge what would be the case, given that I am not here, we try to stay as close as possible to our world, i.e. we try to hold as many sentences true as possible. That is what we call a conservative judgement, and it means that in using counterfactuals we always rely on background knowledge. David Lewis brought up the question if in evaluating fictional truths we try to stay as close as possible to our background knowledge, to the background beliefs of the author, or the background beliefs of his intended readers. Actually, I believe that there is no fixed set of background beliefs that would be appropriate to all interpretations, since I believe the polyvalence thesis to be right. But no matter which kind of background beliefs you choose, the point remains that we use counterfactual conditionals to evaluate literary scenarios 17

You might want to argue that the sentence is not false but has no truth value, since a precondition for its being true or false is not fulfilled, namely that Sherlock Holmes exists. Indeed this idea has some advantages. But the point stands: We do not use material conditionals in answering questions about the text, since no material conditionals then would have truth value.

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and that in order to use counterfactual conditionals we have to rely on some kind of background knowledge. We can now use this piece of information to learn something about the question of knowledge acquisition through literature. Putnam, for example, seems to say, and certainly was read by some to say, that we cannot acquire knowledge through literature but only hypotheses.18 Only when those hypotheses are tested by science do they become knowledge or are refuted. Such a position is especially plausible if the question of knowledge acquisition through literature is put this way: Can we learn something from literature alone, without the help of other disciplines? It is this question that makes the whole matter seem urgent and important. There are different sources of knowledge; the question is if literature is one of them. And one might then reasonably claim that we do not acquire knowledge from literature since the author could be falsely informed, could be lying, or could simply err, etc. But as plausible as such a position might seem at first glance, it ignores how we evaluate literature. For we use counterfactual conditionals and, as we have seen, in using counterfactual conditionals we always rely on background knowledge. Therefore the whole picture of literature as one source of knowledge totally isolated from other sources is wrong from the very start. If we rely on background knowledge to evaluate literature, we already bring in scientific and other disciplines while reading. Therefore, the idea that what we gain through literature are mere hypotheses that only afterwards may be tested for their truth is false. Of course the story does not end here. One can still ask how reliable the knowledge is that we gain from literature. One can ask if it is different from knowledge gained by other means. One can discuss the problems of testimony and knowledge by hearsay, of unreliable authors and propaganda. But one cannot go back to the simple picture of literature leading only to hypotheses. We can learn that much from our comparison between literature and thought experiments.

18

Cf. Hilary Putnam, “Literature, Science, and Reflection”, in: New Literary History, 7/1976, pp. 483–491, p. 488.

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Daniel Dohrn (Aachen)

Counterfactual Explanation in Literature and the Social Sciences

Some philosophers doubt that artistic fiction can contribute to knowledge: “A story therefore enables its audience to assimilate events, not to familiar patterns of how things happen, but rather to familiar patterns of how things feel ”.1 But in feeling a familiar “Aha. Of course”, […] the audience of narrative history is subject to a projective error. Having made subjective sense of historical events, by arriving at a stable attitude toward them, the audience is liable to feel that it has made objective sense of them, by understanding how they came about.2

The audience of a fictional narrative is liable to projective error.3 My aim is to cope with these doubts, therefore I develop an account of explanation in literary fiction. This account is based on a special variant of counterfactual thinking, counterfictional thinking. Elaborating on the idea that literary fiction may convey thought experiments, I draw a parallel to scientific thought experiments. One cognitive function of literature is to represent explanatory relationships under idealized circumstances. These relationships can be expressed by counterfictionals. I use this account to counter doubts about the cognitive function of fiction and narrative in general.

I. Explanation in Fiction When reading literary fiction, it is natural to ask such questions as “Why does Ahab chase Moby Dick?” The right kind of answer is “because Moby has hurt him”. In some accounts, this explanatory “because” must be sustained by a counterfactual: “If Moby had not hurt Ahab, Ahab would not pursue Moby”. However, this intuitively true counterfactual does not fit the standard analysis of counterfactuals: 1

2 3

J. David Velleman, “Narrative Explanation”, in: The Philosophical Review, 112/2003, pp. 1–25, p. 19. Velleman, “Explanation”, pp. 21, 20. By “narrative history” Velleman here means a fictional narrative; it is not completely clear whether he wants his misgivings to apply to historical narratives as well.

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Daniel Dohrn A counterfactual of the form ‘If it were that , then it would be that ’ is nonvacuously true if some possible world where both  and  are true differs less from our actual world, on balance, than does any world where  is true but  is not true.4

It is completely open whether a world in which Moby has not hurt Ahab and Ahab does not pursue Moby differs less from the actual world than any world in which Moby has not hurt Ahab and Ahab pursues Moby. What seems relevant to evaluating the counterfactual is closeness not to the actual world but to the world(s) which make(s) the fiction true.5 I propose to define counterfictionals in the same way as counterfactuals, with the difference that the worlds which make the fiction true play the role the actual world plays in counterfactuals: A counterfictional of the form ‘According to the fiction F, if it were that , then it would be that ’ is non-vacuously true if some possible world where both  and  are true differs less from the world of F (i.e. the world in which every sentence Y is true that figures in a true sentence of the form ‘in the fiction F, Y’) than does any world where  is true but  is not true.6

Counterfictionals are not confined to explanation. Normally, a subjunctive conditional in a piece of fiction is a counterfictional. And some fiction, for instance rewriting Moby Dick so that Ahab is saved from drowning, may be interpreted as a piece of counterfictional reasoning with regard to the world of a fiction, in this case Moby Dick. However, what interesting facts can be learnt from explanation in fiction? How do we proceed from explaining in fiction to explanation by fiction? There must be some mechanism of transferring explanation in fiction to the actual world. Counterfictional explanatory relationships may make us aware of corresponding counterfactual relationships. I want to draw a parallel to the way counterfictionals in scientific thought experiments relate to counterfactuals which figure in explanations of actual facts. In some pieces of fiction, which I would like to refer to as cognitive fictions, counterfictionals relate to actual-world counterfactuals in just this way. 4

5

6

David Lewis, “Truth in Fiction”, in: Philosophical Papers 1, Oxford 1983, pp. 261–280, p. 269. Cf. Lewis, “Truth”, pp. 270–273, and Daniel Dohrn, “Counterfactual Narrative Explanation”, in: Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 67/2009, pp. 37–47, pp. 41–42. An intricate issue is whether in evaluating a counterfictional we interpret words like “water” according to our use in non-fiction or according to how they are used in the world of the fiction. For instance, if water in the world of the fiction is not H2O, the first alternative in contrast to the latter yields that water stands for H2O.

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II. Cognition by Fiction: Literature as Thought Experiment Noël Carroll draws a parallel between “wheels of virtue” in narrative literature and philosophical thought experiments: A virtue wheel or virtue tableau comprises a studied array of characters who both correspond and contrast with each other along the dimension of a certain virtue or package of virtue – where some of the characters possess the virtue in question, or nearly so, or part of it, while others possess the virtue, but only defectively […]. Thought experiments […] by systematically varying possibly contributing factors enable us to identify conceptual dependencies and other relations.7

Literary thought experiments like E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End imaginatively manipulate certain variables such as, in Forster’s case, the opposite virtues of imagination and practicality in order to consider which changes in certain dependent variables result, in Forster’s case, in a more or less “complete and virtuous way of living”.8 Our concepts of virtues and vices are thus sharpened: “a virtue wheel can provide the opportunity for initiating a guided conceptual analysis or grammatical investigation”.9 Conceptual analysis may proceed by considering purely fictional cases: “Since the knowledge in question is conceptual, it makes no difference that the cases are fictional”.10 Carroll enumerates several functions of fictional thought experiments: Some of the primary functions of philosophical thought experiments include: defeating alethic claims concerning possibility or necessity or deontic claims, […] advancing modal claims about what is possible, and, finally motivating conceptual distinctions.11

By varying instantiations of virtues and corresponding vices, virtue tableaux uncover necessary or relevant conditions of applying concepts despite the vagueness of language use in literature: in determining whether we have found an invariant condition for some concept or a reminder of an important variable in certain contexts – the worry about the vagueness of literary implications can be allayed somewhat.12

Without conveying new empirical data, thought experiments advance by reorganizing tacit knowledge in order to achieve new explicit propositional 7

8 9 10 11 12

Noël Carroll, “The Wheel of Virtue: Art, Literature, and Moral Knowledge”, in: Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 60/2002, pp. 3–23, p. 12. Carroll, “Wheel”, p. 12. Carroll, “Wheel”, p. 14. Carroll, “Wheel”, p. 19. Carroll, “Wheel”, p. 9. Carroll, “Wheel”, p. 15.

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knowledge: “philosophical thought experiments, examples, and counterexamples function by mobilizing and reorganizing what the listener already knows”.13 Some caveats, however, are in order here: (i) It is not a matter of course that fictional cases are suited to solve conceptual issues. (ii) Since philosophy, according to Carroll, consists of conceptual analysis, in order to answer philosophical questions, a literary thought experiment must form part of a piece of conceptual analysis. But recently the idea that philosophy consists of conceptual analysis has come under severe attack.14 (iii) Carroll does not answer how we come to appreciate ideal situations like the virtue tableau. Imagining a set of characters and actions cannot be reduced to conceptual analysis. Rather, a host of cognitive capacities, sensory, imaginative, and conceptual, are involved. Reducing the cognitive function of fiction to conceptual knowledge unduly narrows it down.15 So we should rather analyse Carroll’s wheel of virtues along the lines of counterfactual and counterfictional thinking respectively: In an experimental setting, certain variables are imaginatively manipulated in order to substantiate a certain functional relationship which specifies how certain other variables change. In order to spell out such an analysis, I elaborate on the parallel to thought experiments in the natural sciences.

III. Scientific Thought Experiments: Galilei’s Lesson The discussion of scientific thought experiments centres on Galilei’s famous experiment on free fall. James McAllister elucidates the dialectical situation of Galilei’s reasoning “by which he claimed simultaneously to discredit the Aristotelian account of free fall and establish his own law that the rate of fall of a body is independent of the body’s mass”.16 Galilei imagines two bodies, 13 14 15

16

Carroll, “Wheel”, p. 8. Cf. Timothy Williamson, The Philosophy of Philosophy, Oxford 2007. “What one gets from a text is not a concept (‘justice’) or a claim (‘justice is for the weak’) but the experience of what it would be like to be a specific individual suffering a specific injustice. This is a cognitive gain.” (Scott R. Stroud, “Simulation, Subjective Knowledge, and the Cognitive Value of Literary Narrative”, in: Journal of Aesthetic Education, 42/2008, pp. 19–41, p. 32). James McAllister, “Thought Experiments and the Belief in Phenomena”, in: Philosophy of Science, 71/2004, pp. 1164–1175, p. 1168.

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B1 and B2, with the masses m1 and m2, and m1 > m2, joint together so as to yield one body B12 with mass m1 + m2. In the Aristotelian view, if B12 is dropped under ideal conditions, it falls faster than B1 and B2 as its mass is bigger, but its speed ranges in the middle between B1 and B2 because B12 combines their natural velocities. The problem this poses can be avoided by regarding speed as independent of weight.17 Comparable with Carroll’s view that philosophy deals with conceptual analysis, Tamar Gendler contends that scientific thought experiments are, like philosophical thought experiments, designed to test our tacitly known conceptual commitments in imaginary cases:18 What the Galilean does is provide the Aristotelian with conceptual space for a new notion of the kind of thing natural speed might be: […] there was no room on the Aristotelian picture for the thought that natural speed might be constant, not varying […], that it might be dependent not on some specific features of the body in question, but only on the fact that it is a body at all. After contemplation of the case, there seems to be no conceptual space for the view that it might be variable.19

The disagreement between Galilei and the Aristotelian pertains to a fact about speed: Does natural speed depend on the specific features of the body in question or not? If Gendler is right, Galilei and the Aristotelian must take this issue to be decided by our concept of speed. But Gendler gives no further argument for her conceptual interpretation. For this reason, I prefer McAllister’s analysis. The Aristotelians’ aim of minutely describing how physical bodies behave in actual situations conflicts with Galilei’s metaphysical background convictions: The world contains causal factors of two kinds: phenomena and accidents. Phenomena are universal and stable modes in which physical reality is articulated. Accidents, by contrast, are local, variable, and irreproducible. Whereas phenomena account for the underlying uniformities and invariances of the world, accidents are responsible for the great variability of natural occurrences […]. Mechanics, for Galileo, aims solely to identify and describe phenomena; no scientific knowledge of accidents is possible in his view.20

17

18

19 20

Cf. Tamar Szabó Gendler, “Galileo and the Indispensability of Scientific Thought Experiment”, in: The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 49/1998, pp. 397–424, p. 403. For competing accounts cf. John D. Norton, “Are Thought Experiments Just What You Thought?”, in: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 26/1996, pp. 333–366, pp. 341–342; James Robert Brown, The Laboratory of the Mind: Thought Experiments in the Natural Sciences, London 1991, pp. 76–77. Gendler, “Galileo”, p. 412. McAllister, “Thought Experiments”, p. 1167.

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The aim of a scientific experiment is to eschew the accidents and to elucidate the phenomena: if the influence of accidents could be reduced to zero, it would be possible to read off the properties of the phenomenon from an occurrence. Any such occurrence, of course, would have to be produced artificially.21

However, when this goal proves unattainable, thought experiments come into play: In other cases, however, […] it proved impossible to reduce the influence of accidents sufficiently to exhibit a phenomenon […]. Thought experiments represent a continuation of the process of polishing and smoothing […]. If a phenomenon is so subtle that no concrete occurrence can be produced in which the phenomenon is displayed in accident-free form, the phenomenon may be displayed only in an abstract occurrence.22

Sometimes, disturbing influences cannot be completely extinguished. But the empirically-based competence of performing “polishing and smoothing” procedures of extinguishing accidents can be continued in the imagination in order to see what would happen if all accidents disappeared. The result is a counterfactual claim which results from a – suitably constrained – creative act of the imagination. Given the counterfactual account of fiction, it may legitimately be called a piece of regimented fiction. This account of thought experiments can be supplemented by what Borsboom, Mellenbergh, and van Heerden call “functional” thought experiments (due to the idealizing function of thought experiments in science): The thought experiment […] is implicitly present in many applications of frequentist statistics. A long run of independent observations on the same unit does not exist anywhere in the real world. Almost independent, yes; practically independent, yes; truly independent, no. The notion of independent observations is an idealization, although it often is a useful assumption (it would certainly be a pathological case of hair-splitting to criticize the assumption of independent trials in throwing dice). In virtually every application of inferential statistics, however, the thought experiment is needed.23

The actual scientific practice of doing frequentist statistics with actual cases inevitably contains an element of thought experimentation, which allows to implement suitable idealization.

21 22 23

McAllister, “Thought Experiments”, p. 1167. McAllister, “Thought Experiments”, p. 1168. Denny Borsboom/Gideon J. Mellenbergh/Jap van Heerden, “Functional Thought Experiments”, in: Synthese, 130/2002, pp. 379–387, p. 383.

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One main task of thought experiments thus emerges: idealization. Thought experiments serve as implicit or explicit definers of explanatory scientific relationships as far as the latter rest on idealization.24 Behind Galilei’s thought experiment looms Newton’s law of gravitation: F = G m1 m2/r2 F is gravitational force, m are the masses of the bodies attracting each other, r is distance.

This holds only for certain ideal situations which are putatively never actually realized. The factors we “idealize away” from must be taken into account in order to apply Newton’s law to real-life situations. But sometimes properly appreciating an explanatory relationship requires appreciating it in an ideal situation. We cannot always derive it from real-life situations by an explicit and transparent procedure of subtracting the possibly infinitely many features of these situations which interfere with it such as to yield the ideal case. We must be able to distinguish interfering conditions from ideal conditions, those, that is, obtaining in the ideal situation. Among the latter are those that are explained by the relationship at stake. Without exerting abilities which guide our sense of what to polish away and what to retain, what to count as interfering conditions or as ideal background conditions, and what to count as intrinsic to the explanatory relationship at stake, we often would not be able to establish the latter. What is usually labelled ceteris paribus conditions is intimately related to thought experiments, which allow us to deal with these conditions without completely spelling them out. One cannot be required to specify ideal background conditions completely in a thought experiment. But perhaps one must be disposed to specify, if challenged, any single ideal condition and the ways it could be missed. For instance, in the case of Newton’s law, one could cash in the requirement that the masses m1 and m2 concentrate in mathematical points and so on. But in how far can thought experiments provide an advantage compared to using tacit knowledge to deal with explanatory relationships in real situations? Explicit thought experiments are only the tip of an iceberg consisting of implicit thought experimenting. When striving for knowledge, we con24

This result contrasts with Gendler’s concession: “Even if the development of Newtonian mechanics relied on a series of crucial thought experiments, its textbook presentation might well establish particular conclusions on the basis of more conventional forms of argument” (“Galileo”, p. 399). It may be impossible to even understand principles like the gravitational law without performing thought experiments.

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tinuously exert the idealizing and discriminating abilities I described. A thought experiment is not merely a result of polishing. Imaginative polishing already is exerting a thought experiment. Explicit thought experiments only make these processes available to public discourse. Sometimes this is necessary in order to trigger a process of publicly recalibrating certain dispositions – abilities which allow to distinguish interfering conditions, idealized background conditions, and the features which directly make up a certain explanatory relationship. The explicit thought experiment serves as a benchmark for calibration.25 The calibration process shows how we adapt implicit abilities of thought experimenting, although it cannot show how we arrive at them in the first place. They can be trained in the normal way of gathering inductive evidence: Upon encountering series of slightly varying real cases, we come to appreciate certain patterns by imaginatively continuing them. Whence do we know what accidents must be polished away and what features must be retained? I suggest that upon empirically encountering a series of slightly varying real cases, we develop a certain sense of similarity, which is exerted and trained by continuing the series in imagination until an ideal situation is reached. If explanatory relationships are confined to ideal situations, how can they be confirmed by evidence which does not come from such situations? And how can they in turn apply to other situations which are not ideal? It must be required that they apply to non-ideal situations, but only among many other factors. In order to vindicate them, their role in non-ideal situations must be distinguished from the role of other factors. The process of smoothing and polishing must allow one to discern and to anticipate the role of an explanatory relationship in non-ideal situations. This is best achieved in a continuous series of slightly changing non-ideal situations, which is continued by the idealization process. This series allows to feed empirical evidence into the thought experiment. For an explanatory relationship to play its role in explaining real situations, the process of smoothing and polishing must be reversible in order to get back from the ideal situation, in which a relationship holds perfectly, to real situations, in which it yields one explanatory factor 25

There is a parallel to Daniel Cohnitz’s “view that, in fact, the function of thought experiments in philosophy is to prepare the common ground upon which theories to resolve philosophical puzzles are to be constructed” (“Poor Thought Experiments. A Reply to Peijnenburg and Atkinson”, in: Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 37/2006, pp. 373–392, p. 389). Cohnitz, however, restricts his view to coordinating philosophical concepts, whereas I also emphasize coordinating implicit dispositional knowledge.

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among others. Again, this is best achieved in a series of slight changes from ideal conditions to non-ideal ones. Both series must be guided by the implicit abilities which guide idealization.

IV. Scientific Thought Experiments, Interventionism, and Counterfactuals According to the interventionist theory of explanation, an explanatory relationship must hold over a certain range of interventions, manipulating an explanans variable which can be stated by counterfactuals.26 For instance, my car going faster can be explained thus: The car allows a certain range of velocities depending on a certain range of interventions on the gas pedal. The car goes faster because I press the gas pedal more strongly. If I did not press the gas pedal more strongly, the car would not go faster.27 However, these counterfactuals must usually relate to the ideal situation in which the relationship obtains. Of course, there must be counterfactuals specifying with sufficient accuracy what would happen if some real situation were somehow different to allow for fruitful and testable interventions. But still, counterfactual thought pertaining not only to real-life situations but to ideal conditions may play an indispensable role in scientific theory-building: “Heuristically, we might think of interventions as manipulations that might be carried out by a human being in an idealized experiment”.28 According to McAllister, Galilei’s thought experiment merely establishes that, if the rate of fall of simple and compound bodies were a function of their total mass alone, then the rate of fall of bodies would necessarily be independent of their mass. Ours is not such a world: the rate of fall of bodies in our world is a function of many variables.29

Galilei merely establishes what would be the case in the ideal situation. Thus, there are three difficulties which are solved by my account of thought experiments: (i) Often descriptions of real-life situations and counterfactuals pertaining to interventions in real-life situations will leave underdetermined 26

27

28 29

Cf. Christopher Hitchcock/James Woodward, “Explanatory Generalizations, Part I: A Counterfactual Account”, in: Nous, 37/2003, pp. 1–24, p. 1. The notion of intervention employed here is very broad: The change does not have to be brought about by the experimenter. Within limits, it may even violate natural laws. Hitchcock/Woodward, “Generalizations”, p. 9. McAllister, “Thought Experiments”, p. 1171, italics added here for emphasis.

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what would happen in ideal circumstances. If a theory is formulated with regard to such ideal circumstances, it is necessary to have a procedure of figuring out what would happen under such circumstances. (ii) Since ideal situations usually do not really obtain, some counterfactuals describing interventions with regard to them must rather be counterfictionals. For instance, I imagine an ideal situation in which Newton’s law perfectly holds: The masses m1 and m2, given their distance r1, attract each other with force F1. I have suggested that the result of this imagination is a piece of fiction. Interventionism might require me to imagine what would happen in this ideal situation upon an intervention that changed the distance from r1 to r2. To evaluate this, we need a counterfictional: The possible world in which the ideal initial conditions hold must play the role the actual world plays in evaluating normal counterfactuals. (iii) I disagree with McAllister. In order to attain explanations of actual facts, Galilei’s experiment does not only have to reveal what would happen under ideal circumstances but to give rise to a procedure which leads from scientific counterfictionals to counterfactuals. The polishing process yields a continuous series of real-life experimental situations, which is further traced in the imagination in order to ultimately attain an ideal situation. In the same vein, a continuous series of slightly varied scenarios leads back from possible idealized situations to real-life situations. Abilities which guide the polishing process must also allow to reverse this process. Idealized situations give rise to counterfictionals, which describe variations relative to idealized situations, real situations to corresponding counterfactuals, which describe variations relative to real situations. The resulting correspondences between counterfictionals and counterfactuals allow for the former to sustain the latter. We might devise a continuous series of counterfictionals with regard to less and less ideal worlds until counterfactuals are reached which bear explanations of actual facts.

V. Thought Experiments from Science to Fiction and Philosophy The virtue tableau Forster presents by Carroll’s lights can be described as an ideal situation for testing a certain relationship between virtue, i.e. the balancing of imagination and practicality, and human flourishing. Forster’s individual protagonists may be seen as the values an input variable assumes upon intervention in a thought experiment. The better the balance an individual

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strikes, the greater the value of the explained variable human flourishing; the more an individual inclines to one extreme, the farther the explained variable diverges in one direction from its maximum. Note that it would be preposterous to claim that such a relationship lies in our concept of virtue. As in science, Forster starts from an empirical observation – his experience of life and society – and smoothes and polishes away interfering conditions in order to achieve an ideal relationship which explains human behaviour under suitable background conditions. He invites us to adapt our capacities of smoothing and polishing in our apprehending social situations and to reverse his thought experiment so as to apply to real situations.30 Philosophical thought experiments can also be interpreted along these lines: Carroll’s virtue tableau is an ethical thought experiment. As an alternative, consider Gettier examples. The definition of knowledge as justified true belief can be seen as an explanatory relationship. One knows that p in virtue of justifiably and truly believing that p (of course, the relationship is not a causal one and it does not compete with a causal explanation). This relationship allegedly holds over all normal cases of true belief and justification.31 The intervention variable is the justification.32 Gettier’s example can be described by a counterfactual which states a case of true belief which is clearly justified under suitable background conditions, but which does not amount to knowledge: For instance, I know that the faculty’s dean possesses a Ford because I have seen her buying one. But consider the following counterfactual variation: If, unbeknownst to me, she had bought the Ford for her daughter but happened to possess another one herself, I would have a justified belief without knowledge. But is there a polishing procedure comparable to Galilei’s? It is easy to add surrounding conditions which destroy the evidential achievement 30

31

32

Dostoevsky’s literary refutation of deterministic hedonist psychology is an example of a destructive thought experiment in fiction. Two cases must be distinguished: Firstly, take away justification, and knowledge will be taken away. Secondly, however ways of justification change, when there is justification, there will be knowledge. This squares nicely with Sorensen’s general definition of the thought experiment: “An experiment is a procedure for answering or raising a question about the relationship between variables by varying one (or more) of them and tracking any response by the other or others” (Roy Sorensen, Thought Experiments, New York/ Oxford 1992, p. 186). Sorensen also states that “[a] thought experiment is an experiment […] that purports to achieve its aims without the benefit of execution” (Sorensen, Thought Experiments, p. 205). However, it seems doubtful that thought experiments are not executed. They are executed in the mind by conceiving a situation in which the respective variable is varied.

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of Gettier cases that previously were in good standing: “In philosophy, examples can almost never be described in complete detail. An extensive background must be taken for granted”.33 In order to eschew such conditions, some idealized thought-experimental setting might be required. Philosophical thought experiments proceed by way of polishing, too. They represent an individual case, a concrete experimental setting, but without actually performing the experiment. This might be the reason why Gettier, like Galilei, presented his reasoning with regard to a concrete case and not as a general argument. So far, we do not have to assume that when we perform a thought experiment, we embark on analysing our concepts. Of course, reshaping concepts of virtue or knowledge may go hand in hand with devising a thought experiment. Yet, in any case, it is by no means clear that mere conceptual knowledge is sufficient for evaluating scenarios like virtue tableaux or Gettier cases.

VI. Fact, Fiction, and Narrative in the Social Sciences The role of explanation in the social and historical sciences is beset by two main problems: (i) the problem of laws, (ii) non-cognitivism about narrative form. I argue that these problems can be assuaged by the account proposed. I begin with outlining how interventionism allows to cope with the problem of laws.

Interventionism and the Problem of Laws in the Social Sciences An advantage of the interventionist account of explanation is that it allows to avoid the problem of laws. While laws usually are formulated as universally quantified statements “All A are B”, interventionist explanatory relationships can be confined to a particular object, provided there is a suitably stable functional relationship specifying how this very object behaves under different

33

Williamson, Philosophy, p. 185. When students are asked to consider the numbers problem (faced with the tragic choice to either save one person or three other persons from death, how are we to decide?), they tend to bring in additional assumptions about the individual persons at stake: What if one person were Jack the Ripper and another Florence Nightingale? It proves difficult to convince them that that this obscures the original problem.

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interventions.34 The interventionist account is also flexible concerning the range of interventions within which a relationship must be stable.35 Consider Dray’s famous example: “At the end of his life, Louis XIV became unpopular because he pursued policies which were detrimental to the national interests of France”.36 Dray doubts that a suitable covering-law explanation can be devised. According to the interventionist, we do not have to tailor a law. We merely have to consider a suitable range of counterfactual variations of the following sort: “Had Louis XIV not pursued politics which were detrimental to the national interest of France, he would not have been unpopular”. The high road to evaluating this counterfactual is the following thought experiment: Imagine an intervention on the policy of Louis XIV under suitable conditions. Now his policy did not damage the national interest of France. Ask yourself if Louis is likely to be unpopular in this scenario. If he is not, this might be sufficient to substantiate the claim that his detrimental policies were crucial to his loss of popularity. No laws have to be invoked.

Narrative (Non-)Cognitivism According to the “naïve” notion of science, it represents things as they are, and it provides true explanations of them. Especially in the aftermath of Hayden White and Louis Mink’s influential metahistorical studies, the role of narratives has served to question to the validity of this view for the historical and social sciences. Like Velleman, White insists that the emplotment of historical facts in a narrative serves to create a feeling of familiarity.37 It is completely open whether this feeling correlates with a cognitive achievement. One problem is that White views historical narratives only as convincing if they seem true: “The rhetorical force of historical prose usually depends upon the single solution, the true presentation of the past”.38 When we look through the mechanisms of historical prose and realize that it is not true, we should come to deem it unsatisfying. For this reason, White’s view is not reflectionproof. Once we adopt it, we should cease to accept historical narratives. I want to use this account to counter non-cognitivism by exposing the cognitive function of narrative. Conjoining facts and well-regimented fiction 34 35 36 37

38

Hitchcock/Woodward, “Generalizations”, p. 20. Hitchcock/Woodward, “Generalizations”, p. 5. William Dray, Laws and Explanation in History, Oxford 1957, p. 25. Cf. Björn Eriksson, “Understanding Narrative Explanation”, in: Croatian Journal of Philosophy, 13/2005, pp. 317–344, pp. 337–338. Hans Kellner, Language and Historical Representation, Madison 1989, p. 45.

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is part and parcel of much work in science. Uncovering elements of fiction and artistic writing in history and the social sciences as such does not destroy their credence, for elaborating explanatory relationships is partly fictional in that it draws on idealizing thought experiments. Drawing on the distinction of basic and thick narratives, I demonstrate the cognitive function of basic narratives. Then I show how this function is transmitted to thick narratives.

VII. Basic and Thick Narratives “Basic narrative” refers to whatever we would recognize as a story told. Probably a necessary but not sufficient condition is that a narrative renders a causal connection between at least two events.39 “I went to the bakery in order to buy a piece of bread” links two events: my going to the bakery, and my buying a piece of bread. It is a basic but not a thick narrative. My going to the bakery is a causal condition of my buying a piece of bread. Thick narratives are basic narratives enriched and embellished by the ways of storytelling established in our culture. Drawing on psychological evidence, I suggest a naturalistic view of basic narratives. They are privileged as they serve the cognitive task of processing information about one’s environment in order to efficiently deal with it. It is a fact well-established by developmental psychology that we are better in dealing with information if it conforms to typical basic narrative structures.40 Arguably, one main cognitive task in human development is to develop a sufficiently comprehensive mental map of causal networks to deal with surrounding macroscopic objects, especially other people.41 Narratives are natural forms of storing and processing certain informational input, namely facts of individual and social life. They make salient what is relevant to acting and anticipating the actions of others. They impose a relevance structure on causal maps. In doing so, they simplify these maps. This is why they may occasionally mislead. This point does not as a matter of course transfer to the more ambitious thick narratives which are culturally shaped. Yet, narratives in the historical and social sciences achieve their persuasive force mainly due to embedding 39 40

41

Cf. Noël Carroll, Beyond Aesthetics, New York 2001, pp. 118–133. Cf. Rolf Zwaan, “Situation Models: The Mental Leap Into Imagined Worlds”, in: Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8/1999, pp. 15–18. Cf. Alison Gopnik/Clark Glymour/David Sobel/Laura Schulz/Tamar Kushnir/ David Danks, “A Theory of Causal Learning in Children: Causal Maps and Bayes Nets”, in: Psychological Review, 111/2004, pp. 3–32.

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basic narratives. We may ask why the conventions guiding thick narratives have developed. One answer is that they try to capture what is especially relevant from a human standpoint. To put it with Lewis Coser citing Henry James: “there is no impression of life, no manner of seeing it and feeling it, to which the plan of the novelist may not offer a place”.42 The novelist’s plan may serve to organize impressions of life, seeing, and feeling.43 To be sure, I do not want to deny that literature often liberates us from the bounds of cognitive tasks and rationality. Often artistic form may be used as a tool of such liberation. And often it may be used to convey prejudice or satisfy a simplifying sense of fit. But so far nothing rules out that thick narratives may serve, among others, objective cognitive tasks. This rudimentary account gives rise to a classification of narratives along the demarcation between fact and fiction.

VIII. Factual, Facto-Fictional, and Fictional Narratives Mink insists that thick narratives are usually underdetermined by evidence: just as evidence does not dictate which story is to be constructed, so it does not bear on the preference of one story to another. When it comes to the narrative treatment of an ensemble of interrelationships, we credit the imagination or the sensibility or the insight of the individual historian.44

However, we praise the successful historian’s “imagination or sensibility or insight” as giving rise to a cognitive achievement. Thick narratives may insert pieces of fiction into historical knowledge. These pieces of fiction usually invest facts with further structure. In doing so, they may feed these facts into a thought experiment. One function of the latter is to fill the gaps in our historical knowledge by ideal conditions. To be sure, the situation is differ42 43

44

Lewis Coser, Sociology through Literature, Englewood Cliffs 1972, p. xv. Consider Eriksson’s example, the murder of Olof Palme: “The murder lacks explanation […]. Nevertheless many Swedes are in agreement that the event was part of a tragedy. But this means that we have, in White’s sense, an explanation of the tragedy. This is unsatisfactory” (Eriksson, “Understanding”, p. 337). Consider someone who only knows about the murder of Palme that many Swedes regard it as a tragedy. Even this sparse information allows her to infer a lot about Palme’s role in Swedish social life, potential causes of the murder, and so on. Otherwise tragedy would not be the appropriate form to render the murder. Louis Mink, “Narrative Form as a Cognitive Instrument”, in: Robert Canary/ Henry Kozicky (eds.), The Writing of History: Literary Form and Historical Understanding, Madison 1978, pp. 129–149, pp. 144–145.

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ent from the Galilei case. We want to understand an individual event, but in order to do so, the individual event must be considered as normal as possible within the constraints imposed by known fact. Normality here is characterized with regard to a process of polishing those features that distinguish the case from a paradigmatic application of folk causal reasoning. The filling procedure allows to match actual facts on the one hand and candidates for explanatory relationships and the ideal conditions of their obtaining on the other hand. In filling the gaps in the situation of Louis XIV as we know it with ideal conditions, we assess how probable it is under such circumstances that his detrimental behaviour caused his unpopularity. Given basic narratives are supplemented so as to correspond to further, more demanding explanatory relationships. The historical narratives I have discussed combine fact and fiction. There is another sort of narrative which eschews fictional parts: “purely factual narrative”, as in a protocol. There are also “pure” thought experiments in the social sciences, which are not strictly bound by actual facts but partially revise them so as to yield ideal conditions, as Galilei’s thought experiments did. To R. G. Collingwood, historiography as opposed to fiction is bound by evidence and consistency.45 I suggest to somewhat blur Collingwood’s distinction. There may be fiction which revises evidence and nevertheless contributes to understanding history. And as scientists may consider different polishing procedures leading to inconsistent explanatory relationships, historiographers may supplement given facts by several mutually inconsistent pieces of fiction in order to explore by thought experiment how putative explanatory relationships fare. The inconsistency arises from supplementing the same facts by diverging ideal conditions. All these seemingly disparate aspects – a keen strive for accuracy, fictional elements, mutually inconsistent fictions – can be found combined in historiography, for instance in the work of the ancient Chinese historian Ssu-ma Ch’ien.46 A salient contemporary example is Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, which arguably “has contributed to wider public understanding of development in ways that no academic writing ever has”.47 Ali acknowledges her direct inspiration by

45 46

47

Cf. Robin George Collingwood, The Idea of History, Oxford 1946, p. 246. Grant Hardy, “Can an Ancient Chinese Historian Contribute to Modern Western Theory? The Multiple Narratives of Ssu-ma Ch’ien. History and Theory”, in: Studies in the Philosophy of History, 33/1994, pp. 20–38, p. 34. David Lewis/Dennis Rodgers/Michael Woolcock, “The Fiction of Development: Literary Representation as a Source of Authoritative Knowledge”, in: Journal of Developmental Studies, 44/2008, pp. 198–216, p. 208.

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social research about Bangladeshi women workers.48 We may see Ali’s narrative as a thought-experimental supplementation of empirical developmental science. Ali describes the counterfactual ideal-typical fates of two sisters working in Dhaka and London. Picturing two sisters makes one prone to imagine their fates switched. It allows to abstract from certain background and personal differences and to focus on the general social structure.49

48 49

Cf. Lewis/Rodgers/Woolcock, “Fiction of Development”, p. 208. This view of narrative as continuous with fiction does not have to be opposed to more scientific tendencies in the social sciences, for instance in economics. The openness of narrative for such tendencies can be seen in the concept of analytic narrative (cf. Avner Greif, “Self-Enforcing Political Systems and Economic Growth: Late Medieval Genoa”, in: Robert Bates/Avner Greif/Margaret Levi/Jean-Laurent Rosenthal/Barry Weingast (eds.), Analytic Narratives, Princeton 1998, pp. 23–63).

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Miko Elwenspoek (Freiburg/Enschede)

Counterfactual Thinking in Physics

Counterfactual thinking plays a key role in research in physics, and, I believe, in research in all natural sciences. In this contribution I will describe a few examples of counterfactual thinking: how it is used, the power of this method of inquiry, and the types of results that it can achieve. A brief account of the way physicists carry out research will be given, and three main types of questions will be identified. Two of them will be used to illustrate the value of counterfactual thinking: one example regarding astronomy, and another example dealing with electromagnetic forces. The latter might be quite tough for non-physicists. The last and longest part of this paper gives an analysis of counterfactual situations; it deals with the question of what the world would look like if the constants of nature had different values. This discussion leads to the conclusion that even minor changes in these constants would lead to uninhabitable worlds.

I. How Physicists Work Before I discuss counterfactual thinking in physics, I want to describe what it is that physicists actually do. Physicists have a method of inquiry that puts them, in a sense, into a most comfortable position. They have equations that can be used to examine a situation and predict what would happen in this situation. The results of these examinations are constantly compared to what can be seen in the real world. This is most often done in experiments, but there are many cases when the experiments are impossible because of current technology, because they are impossible in principle, or even undesirable. The general method in physics and in other so-called “exact sciences” is to develop a quantitative theory (that is why these sciences are called “exact”) and to compare the predictions of the theory with what can be seen in the real world.1 1

This situation also has uncomfortable aspects, in particular, not everything that we find interesting can be cast into equations, and not everything can be quantified or measured in a sensible manner. Physics deals only with those aspects of the world for which the quantitative method is adequate. It appears, however, that the realm of physics is expanding, and that the method can now be applied to situations that had been thought inaccessible earlier.

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The power of this method lies in the possibility of quantitative comparison: The theory does not only predict that – as an example – there is light, but how much light there is, its color, its polarization, its speed, the interrelation between speed, wavelength and frequency, its interaction with matter, and so on. Comparisons can be done very precisely, and if the results of the theory do not match the observation, something is wrong: the theory, the observation, or both. Theory and observation go hand in hand. Observations give rise to changes of a theory, to further refinements of it, or to its abandonment. Moreover, the theory helps to design experiments, to interpret the observations, and it calls for new observations. There are three exciting situations for physicists: (i) When a critical test of a theory is possible. The theory results from a large number of experiments and observations and makes predictions about previously unknown facts (if the theory does not predict new facts it just describes what has been observed and is not very interesting). In the next section there is an example involving a comparison of Kepler’s empirical laws and Newton’s theory of gravitation. (ii) When the critical tests yield a result that shows that the theory is wrong, that is, when all possible errors from the tests have been examined and eliminated, but a discrepancy remains between the theoretical prediction and the observational results. This situation is encountered constantly in physics. The real world is so complex that in nearly all situations the theory cannot be used directly because the complexity makes exact calculations impossible. Therefore one has to rely on approximations. In most situations it is not clear beforehand what the best route and the most appropriate approximation is. (iii) When one detects internal inconsistencies within a theory. Below I will describe one of the most famous examples in the history of physics. The interesting point here is that counterfactual thinking is a key method to tackle the problems in all these situations – albeit, or, maybe, because it is usually not really known in physics what is counterfactual and what is not.

Counterfactual Thinking as a Method of Inquiry Generally, scientists try to make sense of the world, and they go to great lengths to be as precise and critical as possible. They collect all available data and try to find rules that fit all data. To do this, they work with experiments, measurements, mathematical theories, and computer simulations. Counterfactual thinking is an indispensable tool for their analysis. Basically, it consists of confronting the consequences of our ideas with observations,

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extending our ideas over the domain where observations are technically possible with current technology, and searching for inconsistencies of various aspects in the whole set of our ideas. To set the stage, counterfactual thinking of several types can be defined here as pondering a problem in physics by asking the “what if ” question in the sense that the “if ” refers to a statement believed to be incorrect, outside the range where ideas are thought to be applicable, or outside the range accessible for observation. A meteorologist once told me that he would like to stop the revolution of the earth just to see how the climate would change. This is physically impossible, but a simulation on a computer, or the examination of the equations that describe the climate, is possible, although quite challenging. Of course, meteorologists work with simulations – which are counterfactual, because the earth is spinning – since they are very curious as to whether their theories (e.g. no cyclones on a non-spinning world) yield reasonable results, and they want to test the predictions. In this example we see that counterfactual thinking can, in principle, be used to test theories. The theory is thought to be valid generally. For a certain situation, when a certain aspect of the situation is changed, the theory accurately predicts the results of the change: One can test this prediction in an experiment. In a sense, every experiment is in itself counterfactual, as in an experiment an environment is constructed that does not actually exist. When Galileo performed his experiments on free fall, he tried to eliminate all forces (except the force we now call gravity) acting on a mass which was dropped from some height. He was lucky because the drag of air becomes appreciable only at rather high speeds and for small masses. Galileo’s experiments studied the free fall of heavy bodies from a small height. He inferred that all masses at any speed are accelerated by gravity in the same way. When masses fall from a given height, they all attain exactly the same speed, and the fall takes exactly the same time for all masses. His claim was that this would happen if only gravity worked on the mass in question. However, to perfectly conduct the experiment, the air around the mass has to be removed in order to eliminate friction. Galileo could not do this, but now we can: We can prepare an artificial world to perform the experiment in. In this example we also see that a rule can be discovered (all masses tested attain the same acceleration) and extended to situations where the test cannot be performed. Since the formulation of the rule extrapolates beyond what can be seen in practice – the “factual” –, the rule itself in its strict formulation is literally counterfactual.

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II. Kepler’s Laws and Newton’s Theory of Gravitation A famous example of the first situation in the list above is Newton’s theory of gravitation (shown in fig. 1).2 Newton was able to reproduce Kepler’s observations about the motion of the planets. Kepler found that planets move along ellipses around the sun, with the sun located in one of the two focuses of the ellipse. Newton’s theory made a similar prediction: Planets do revolve along an ellipse, but so does the sun. The figure schematically represents how the orbits of earth (top left, dark) and sun (right, light) move along ellipses (the large one is the earth’s, the small one is the sun’s orbit) with a common center of mass (the black dot inside the sun). A well-defined mathematical point, the center of mass – not the sun – is at the focus. Because of the enormous difference in masses between the sun and the planets, the sun is very close to the center of mass. It was quite difficult to confirm this particular prediction, but we know now that it – and many other predictions which neither Kepler nor Newton thought of – is correct. The precision of the measurement of the position of stars is now such that the slight wobble of those stars having planets can be detected. This way several hundred socalled exoplanets have been found. In this example, the aspect of counterfactual thinking lies in the extension of the theory of gravitation beyond observations technologically possible in Newton’s time.

Figure 1: © Miko Elwenspoek

III. Maxwell’s Theory of Light Sometimes counterfactual thinking leads to more than the test of a theory, namely to the discovery of elements of a new theory. We are held together by so-called electromagnetic forces. These forces are described by a set of 2

Cf. Richard P. Feynman, The Character of Physical Law, London 1992.

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equations James Clerk Maxwell wrote down for the first time, which is why they are named after him.3 In fact, Maxwell added only one little piece to equations that had been found earlier, but this piece turned out to be essential. To get the flavor of the story some explanation of these equations is necessary – although it is not necessary to actually write them down. All matter is the source of gravitational forces and all matter feels these forces. Additionally, visible matter is the source of a second fundamental force. Visible matter is composed of atoms which have a very compact nucleus surrounded by electrons. Electrons repel each other as do nuclei, but nuclei and electrons attract each other. We say, quite arbitrarily, that electrons carry a negative, and nuclei a positive charge.4 Charges cause two types of forces to which they also react. There is a force between two charges that works in a straight line connecting the charges. When the charges are at rest, this force is called the electrostatic force. A moving charge additionally causes magnetic forces, which in turn act only on moving charges. In general, both forces are present, and what is seen as the magnetic and what is seen as the electric force depends on the observer. The phenomena of electric and magnetic forces are so interlinked that the whole subject area is called electromagnetism. Mathematically, these forces are described by an abstract concept called a field. In figure 2 two types of fields are shown: On the left is a field with field lines starting at a source (a mass or a charge); on the right is a field with lines without an end. In this case, a current through a straight wire coming out of the page (in the center) is surrounded by a magnetic field similar to the one shown.5 One can envision a field as something which changes the properties of space everywhere: If there is an electromagnetic field at some point in space then a charge at this point would feel a force. A familiar field is the gravitational field at the surface of the earth. I expect that a mass falls down whenever I let it go. To visualize a field one draws lines parallel to the direction of the field. In principle, there are two kinds of such lines: those that begin and end somewhere, and those that do not begin or end anywhere.6 The latter ones form closed loops. 3 4

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Cf. David J. Griffiths, Introduction to Electrodynamics, Upper Saddle River 1999. We could also have called the charges white and black, high and low, a and b. Incidentally, plus and minus turns out to be handy. The arrows represent the field strength at the points where they start; their length represents the strength, and the orientation shows the direction of the field. The lines are everywhere parallel to the field, and the density of the lines is related to the field strength. Fields may “end” at infinity, but infinity is not somewhere.

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Figure 2: © Miko Elwenspoek

Maxwell’s equations describe these aspects of the electric and magnetic fields in relation to the charges and their velocities. There is one aspect of a force field in which a field starts at a charge and ends at a charge. This is quite analogous to a machine gun: bullets start at the gun and end where they hit. Loosely speaking, an electric field made by a charge (at rest or moving) starts at a positive charge and ends at a negative charge. (The field shown at the left-hand side of figure 2 is that of the positive spherical charge in its vicinity, all other charges are very far away.) A magnetic field is very different. It is generated by a moving charge, and the field starts and ends nowhere; the field forms closed lines. A wire through which a current flows creates a magnetic field that winds in circles around the wire (see right-hand side of fig. 2). However, electric fields can also be generated by changing the value or direction of a magnetic field. This happens in generators, where a magnet is forced to rotate (e.g. by connecting the magnet to the wheel of a bicycle). The resulting electric fields are similar to magnetic fields, as they have no beginning and no end. In some cases they form closed circular loops. In order to let the lamp of the bicycle glow, a wire is wrapped around the rotating magnet, the charges in the wire are forced by the electric field which is generated by the changing magnetic field, a current flows, and the lamp glows. Maxwell discovered that, in order to get a consistent theory, a changing electric field must also generate a magnetic field in the same way that a changing magnetic field generates an electric field. Inconsistency occurs when the magnetic field is calculated in a situation where a current carrying wire is interrupted. Then there are two ways to calculate the magnetic field, which have different results.

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The equations he published in 1864 can be put into words as follows: – Ending electric field lines are connected to charges. – Not ending electric field lines are connected to changing magnetic fields. – Ending magnetic field lines do not exist. – Not ending magnetic field lines are connected to moving charges and to changing electric fields. Maxwell’s addition is printed in italics. This little addition has enormous consequences. Most importantly, it predicts the existence of light, and it describes all the properties of light that had been detected at the time when Maxwell was working. When combined with quantum mechanics, it predicts even properties of light that had not yet been detected at that time. All modern inventions made long after Maxwell’s death – including radio, TV, wireless mobile phones, optical telecommunication – are based on these four equations. In all cases where a precision experiment is possible, the predictions hold true. For example, the theory says that the speed of light is independent of the speed of both the source and the receiver, and, in a vacuum, the speed of light is independent of its color. These predictions turn out to be true with an experimental uncertainty of one in one hundred billion (1020).7 Figure 3 shows a graphic representation of an electromagnetic wave. The arrows indicate the orientation and the magnitude of the fields. The electric field (solid lines) points in the vertical direction, the magnetic field (dashed lines) in the horizontal direction.

Figure 3: © Miko Elwenspoek

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For a discussion, cf. John David Jackson, Classical Electrodynamics, Hoboken 1999.

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Let me stress that there was no experimental evidence that forced Maxwell to add the extra term. On the contrary, the first reactions of his colleagues were skeptical, and, at this time, it was experimentally very difficult to measure the effects of the extra term. It took until 1887 for Heinrich Hertz to show that Maxwell’s theory was correct in its description of electromagnetic waves. Actually, Maxwell’s addition was not based on anything known: it was a counterfactual theory at that time. The theory is the result of the critical analysis of the ideas on electric and magnetic forces, which turned out to be inconsistent. There is an oddity in the equations in that they are asymmetric. There is no fundamental reason known to us why ending magnetic field lines do not exist. To put it differently, there are no magnetic charges. Magnetic poles only exist in pairs. A piece of iron has a magnetic north pole and a magnetic south pole. Cutting the iron into pieces does not deliver isolated poles. Instead all newly created pieces have north and south poles. Maxwell’s equations provide a neat explanation of this fact: The magnetic fields are the result of current loops, analogous to a current-carrying wire in a closed loop. The poles are located on either side of the loop. In this analogy cutting the loop into pieces must be done along the loop (otherwise the loop would not be closed anymore). This delivers two thinner loops with two poles. Thus, the poles will always come in pairs. If there were magnetic charges, the equations would look like this: – Ending electric field lines are connected to charges. – Not ending electric field lines are connected to moving magnetic charges and to changing magnetic fields. – Ending magnetic field lines are connected to magnetic charges. – Not ending magnetic field lines are connected to moving charges and by changing electric fields. This is a counterfactual theory. It is deliberately counterfactual. It explores the consequences of what would change in our world if the theory were different. One of the great physicists who investigated these ([wrong] counterfactual) equations was Nobel laureate Paul Dirac. He discovered that if there was one single magnetic charge somewhere in the universe, both electric and magnetic charges would occur only in lumps. This means that both types of charge would be composed of elementary charges that could not be divided. Without magnetic charges Maxwell’s equations say nothing about lumped charges. But charges do come in lumps. Dirac assumed something counterfactual, and reached a factual result that had been previously unexplained. Physicists like magnetic charges because they explain something very basic. No one has ever found a magnetic charge. Once, in a balloon experiment,

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something was found with the right signature,8 but only once, so it is very probable that this event was an error.9 Very recently it was found that in a certain type of material, called spin ice, the magnetic properties are such that it is as if there were magnetic monopoles.10 However, these are not elementary particles but the result of the collective behavior of moving electrons. Magnetic charges play a part in the theory of elementary particle physics,11 and theories beyond the so-called standard model. These theories predict that magnetic charges were generated in the early universe in enormous numbers and with large masses (for elementary particles). It would have been impossible to miss them if they were around, and yet, they do not exist now. Allan Guth came up with a brilliant idea of a brief period of very fast expansion in the very early universe that diluted the density of the magnetic charges so that now there is, maybe, a single magnetic charge in the observable universe. Guth’s idea has other attractive consequences for cosmology and is, therefore, taken quite seriously. In fact, all the data we have now supports the idea of a period of extremely fast expansion. This idea is now known by the name of cosmic inflation. This will be discussed further in the next section. So Dirac possibly was right: Magnetic charges might exist, but are just too few to be found.

IV. The Cosmological Anthropic Principle: A Short History of the Cosmos The properties of space, time, matter, and interaction are combined in the standard model. There are two aspects of the standard model: One is related to the types of material particles and their interactions, the other relates to the beginning and evolution of the universe as a whole. This aspect states that the universe began 13.8±0.1 billion years ago with the so-called big bang.12 The 8

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Cf. P.B. Price/E.K. Shirk/W.Z. Osborne/L.S. Pinsky, “Evidence for Detection of a Moving Magnetic Monopole”, in: Physical Review Letters, 35/1975, pp. 487–490. A review regarding the present state of affairs is given by Kimball A. Milton, “Theoretical and Experimental Status of Magnetic Monopoles”, in: Reports on Progress in Physics, 69/2006, pp. 1637–1711. Cf. I.S. Bramwell/S.R. Giblin/S. Calder/R. Aldus/D. Prabhakran/T. Fennell, “Measurement of the Charge and Current of Magnetic Monopoles in Spin Ice”, in: Nature, 461/2009, pp. 956–959. Cf. Alan Guth, The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins, New York 1997. The phrase “big bang” was coined by Fred Hoyle, who curiously never believed in this idea. Instead, he supported the steady state theory, which states that the uni-

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picture we have of the big bang is that the universe started with an infinitely large temperature and density, and experienced a brief period of inflation during which it expanded by the enormous factor of about 1050. When this period ended, after a tiny fraction of a second, our currently observable universe had a size of 1m. The universe continued to expand at a much slower pace, closer to the rate that is currently observed. In doing so, it cooled down, and the density of matter decreased. Once it was cool enough, protons (the positively charged nuclei of the lightest element, hydrogen) and neutrons (neutral particles a little heavier than protons) formed. From these a certain amount of helium (the second lightest element) and tiny amounts of heavier nuclei were synthesized within the first few minutes after the big bang. About 400,000 years after the big bang, the free electrons and nuclei combined to form atoms of hydrogen and helium. From this time on, the universe was transparent for light. This light can still be seen as a cosmic microwave background. It comes from all directions with the same intensity and uniformly pervades the universe. It has the signature of a body in perfect thermal equilibrium at a temperature of 3.7°K, with tiny fluctuations in intensity of 1 in 100,000. A common misunderstanding regarding the big bang is that it was an explosion that happened at some location and from which material is flying away. Actually, the big bang theory describes a space filled with matter and radiation, and it is the space itself that is expanding. A helpful analogy is the increase of the surface of a balloon or an expanding checkerboard (see fig. 4).13 The checkerboard’s surface increases by homogeneous and isotropic stretching.14 The increase does not start from a spot on the surface; instead, the surface itself becomes larger. While the balloon is inflated at a constant rate, spots on the surface drift apart with some velocity. The greater the separation between the spots, the larger is the velocity. Sitting at any spot, one would see all other spots drift away and it would appear as if one was sitting in the center. This is not the case of course, this is just what is observed, and one would have this impression from every spot. All but a few spots – notably the Andromeda nebula – move away from us with a velocity that increases with distance. We are not at the center of the universe.

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verse is infinitely old. The steady state idea has generally been abandoned by cosmologists because existing observations do not support it, but they do support the idea of a big bang. The galaxies shown do not expand since their internal parts (stars, dust) are held together by gravitational forces. “Homogeneous” means “everywhere the same”; “isotropic” means “in all directions the same”.

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Figure 4: © Miko Elwenspoek

The cosmic background radiation contains a great amount of information. This information, together with a host of other measurements and observations, enables scientists to determine, quite precisely, the age of the universe, its current expansion rate, and the global geometry (the universe is “flat”, which means that it is infinitely large and that Euclidean geometry applies). Quite disturbingly, we also know that only 4 % of all matter in the universe is made of “ordinary” visible matter, the rest is made up of “dark matter” (ca. 30 %) and “dark energy” (ca. 70 %). Scientists have only vague ideas as to what dark matter could be, and no good ideas at all as to the nature of dark energy. All that is known are the gravitational effects of these types of matter. Dark matter is thought to be composed of elementary particles which interact, like all other matter, by ordinary gravitation alone. There is little doubt that dark matter really exists. Dark energy has the effect of pushing space apart. Einstein introduced into his theory of gravitation, known as the “Theory of General Relativity” (1916), a quantity that he called the cosmological constant. This constant pushes space apart in the same manner as dark energy. For ca. 400 million years the cosmic background radiation was the only light in the universe. It was around this time that the first stars were born. According to current theory, these stars were much bigger than our sun, and exploded in gigantic cataclysms a few million years after their birth (for com-

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Figure 5: © NASA

parison, our sun has a life span of ca. ten billion years, some thousand times longer). At the same time, visible matter started to organize into small galaxies which grew, over time, into the gigantic galaxies with up to 100 billion stars that can be seen today. All elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were formed in stars – we are literally made of star dust! It took approximately seven billion years before enough matter made from heavy elements was available for the formation of planetary systems with rocky planets that were able to sustain life. In the centers of galaxies this happened earlier; however, galactic centers are not friendly for living organisms because of high radiation levels and frequent supernovae explosions which sterilize their neighborhood. Only at a safe distance, such as our current location, organic life is able to develop and thrive over extended periods of time. It is an interesting fact that life on earth originated close to the earliest possible cosmic time. The evolution of the universe is shown schematically in figure 5.15

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Note the increase in the expansion rate starting about 5 billion years ago.

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V. Dark Energy A serious hint at the existence of dark energy was found only ten years ago.16 This result was supported a few years later by the measurements of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP ). This probe measured the tiny ripples in the cosmic background radiation mentioned above. All observational results seem to support the conclusion that today, about 70 % of all energy in the universe is dark energy. Dark energy pushes space apart. The expansion of the universe under the influence of dark matter is exponential,17 and there is no known mechanism that could halt it. To fully appreciate the consequences of dark matter, an explanation of a special type of horizon is needed. On earth, the horizon is the line beyond which one cannot see due to the curvature of the earth. In cosmology there is a horizon beyond which one cannot see due to a much more fundamental reason: The velocity of galaxies seen drifting away from us increases with the distance. There is no limit to this velocity because the galaxies are not moving in space, while space itself expands. Thus, at a certain distance, called the Hubble distance, space and everything in it moves away from us with a velocity greater than that of light.18 The value for this distance is given by the velocity of light divided by the expansion rate. A large expansion rate leads to a small Hubble distance. Only events within the Hubble distance can be causally related to each other. Beyond this distance, signals characterizing the event never reach that far. Exponential expansion means that the expansion rate will increase beyond all limits, therefore the Hubble distance, which is the diameter of the causally connected space (in other words, the observable universe) will decrease beyond all limits.

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Cf. Craig J. Hogan/Robert P. Kirshner/Nicholas B. Suntzeff, “Surveying SpaceTime with Supernovae”, in: Scientific American, January 1999, pp. 45–51, and Lawrence M. Krauss, “Cosmological Antigravity”, in: Scientific American, January 1999, pp. 52–59. Exponential growth means that the scale of the universe doubles within a certain time interval and this will continue. As a consequence, the rate of expansion will also grow exponentially and double within the same time interval. Special relativity forbids the motion of masses in space with a velocity higher than the speed of light. However, the expansion of space at a speed faster than light is not in conflict with the theory of relativity.

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VI. The Cosmological Anthropic Principle Life as we know it would be impossible without hydrogen and stars to synthesize the other materials which we are made of, walk on, eat, etc. As we have seen, it took a certain amount of time to produce sufficient amounts of the required materials, and for the development of life. There is also a minimum amount of time required for the emergence of creatures that can admire their own existence. So the following question could be posed: What are the essential conditions the cosmos must meet for our existence? Or to put it differently: What conclusions can we reach about the properties of the cosmos from the fact that we exist? The latter question is related to the cosmological anthropic principle. It states that the fact that we exist tells us something about the world. There are several formulations. One of them is the so-called strong anthropic principle, which claims that the world is such that we (or life) must emerge. The method used to tackle the question above is generally counterfactual thinking: What would the universe look like if this or that were different? This inquiry yields some astonishing results, and I want to discuss a few of them. I refer the interested reader to John Barrow and Frank Tippler’s rather technical book;19 but there is also a popular science book by Martin Rees, which is a much easier read.20

VII. Expansion Rate Three effects control the expansion of the universe: dark energy (which is of no importance for the following point), the global curvature, and the energy content. These turn out to be balanced in such a way that the curvature in today’s universe is very small. Astonishingly, it is as if the density of our universe is fine-tuned so that the expansion is slow enough to allow sufficient time for the formation of stars and galaxies before they drift apart. This would not be the case if the density of the universe was a little bit smaller than it is. On the other hand, if the density was greater, the universe would have ceased expanding, and instead it would have collapsed to an infinite density again a long time ago. A schematic representation of the scale of the 19

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Cf. John D. Barrow/Frank J. Tippler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, New York 1986. Cf. Martin J. Rees, Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe, New York 2000.

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universe as a function of time is shown in figure 6. The shading indicates the region in which star formation is possible. Note that the curves are very similar early on. This means that in the very beginning of the universe the density and the expansion rate must have been extremely fine-tuned in order to end up in the shaded region. Outside the shaded region, there are no stars in the universe and therefore there is no life comparable to our life. In the region in the lower right, the expansion of the universe is so slow that it collapses; this situation is analogous to a rocket shot into the sky with a speed too small to escape earth. In the upper left region, the expansion is too fast to allow stars and galaxies to form; space is ripped apart so that the density of matter quickly becomes too diluted for the star formation process. It can be seen that all lines merge into a single line at the lower left of the figure. Extremely small deviations from the actual evolution of the universe in the beginning would lead to either a too fast collapse or a too fast expansion.

VIII. Three Dimensions Our world is three-dimensional. It seems to be silly to contemplate a world with four or two dimensions, but only at first sight. Why are there three dimensions instead of two or four? The anthropic principle says: because we can exist only in three dimensions. If the world had two or four dimensions we would not be here to pose silly questions. The equations of physics are all easily extended to greater or fewer dimensions. The case of the two dimensions is simple: There is no interesting world in two dimensions. Maxwell’s equations work only in three dimensions – there is no light in two dimensions. Light waves come about because a changing magnetic field creates an electric field and vice versa. These fields are intimately connected with each other. There are no electric fields without magnetic fields, and no magnetic fields without electric fields. In light waves these fields are oriented regularly to each other and the propagation of the light is in the third direction. Three dimensions are needed for light. The world in two dimensions would be dark. There would be no electromagnetic interaction possible, and therefore no atoms, no molecules, no life – only darkness. In four dimensions there are neither stable atoms, nor stable planetary systems, nor stable galaxies. Gravitational forces between masses would not depend on the distance between them as in our actual world, but would decay faster. One of the consequences of this is, as a second year student of

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Figure 6: Checkerboard analogy of the expanding universe © Miko Elwenspoek

physics would be able to calculate, that Kepler’s laws would be very different. The orbits would no longer form closed ellipses, and they would be much more complicated; they would look rather similar to ellipses but such that the ellipses themselves would rotate in space. In Kepler’s laws the orientation of the ellipse is fixed in space. In four dimensions, the planets would constantly sweep through each other’s orbits, giving rise to an unstable system. Similarly, the electrons in atoms would not be in fixed stable orbits. Having more than four dimensions does not improve this situation. These equations have also been analyzed for the case that time was twodimensional instead of one-dimensional.21 Again, no stable systems would exist in such a world. We might say: I am, therefore the world has three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension.

IX. Gravitational Forces Gravitational forces are much weaker than the other forces. The repulsive electromagnetic force between two electrons is much, much larger than the attractive gravitational force.22 Yet, if gravitation was 1,000 times weaker, 21 22

Cf. Max Tegmark, “Parallel Universes”, in: Scientific American, May 2003, pp. 40–51. The factor between these forces is 1046. No one is able to imagine such a large number. The ratio of the circumference of the earth to my length is 2x107, 1039

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the light that is created when matter condenses in the star-forming process would blow the matter apart. If it was stronger by a similar amount, black holes would form instead of stars: massive objects that release no light since gravitation is so strong that light cannot escape from the object. The universe would be dark.

X. Stability of Atomic Nuclei Atomic nuclei are formed by protons and neutrons. There is a delicate balance of forces; there are attractive nuclear forces and repulsive electromagnetic forces. This balance leads to the stable elements we have in our world. One might ask what would happen if the balance of these two forces changed. The consequences would be disastrous. If the nuclear force was a tiny amount stronger, two protons would stick together forming the element helium – without the two neutrons that we have in our real world. Helium is stable because the two neutrons push the two protons a little bit farther away from each other. Therefore, the repulsive electromagnetic force is insufficient to rip the nucleus apart; the neutrons make helium stable. A nuclear force 1 % stronger is sufficient to stabilize a helium nucleus without neutrons. This (not existing) nucleus is called the diproton. Assuming a stronger nuclear force during the period in which helium was formed, during the first few minutes, all protons in the universe would have formed diprotons, and some would have included neutrons. There would be no free protons left. There would be no hydrogen, and, accordingly, no water, no organic chemistry, no life. Helium is an inert, chemically inactive element. On the other hand, if the nuclear force was a little bit weaker, oxygen, carbon, and all the heavier elements would be radioactive. There would be an abundance of hydrogen but, again, no water, no organic chemistry, no life. There are many more of these remarkable facts. For example, to form heavier elements in stars, there must be a collision between three helium nuclei. This would be a very ineffective process, were there not a so-called resonance, an energy state of the nucleus of carbon, which makes the triple collision effective enough for the production of heavy elements. The resonance is a consequence of the value of the forces in the nucleus. The synthesis times smaller! The ratio of the diameter of the milky way (100,000 light-years) to my length is 1021, unimaginably large but still vastly smaller. The visible universe is believed to be as large as 13 billion light years, 1026 times larger than me, still not close to 1046 – a factor of 1020 to go.

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of heavy elements would have stopped if this resonance was not at this particular energy. Water is so important for life because it is very special compared to other molecules. This is related to the position of the two protons that form a triangle together with the oxygen. This special form causes an unusual interaction of water molecules that makes many molecular processes possible which are essential for life. It is also the cause of the fact that solid water (ice) is less dense than liquid water, therefore ice drifts on the ocean’s surface. Otherwise it would sink down to the bottom of the ocean, and most of the water in the ocean would be frozen. Counterfactual thinking in physics leads to an amazing conclusion: If one mapped possible worlds in a space spanned by the values of fundamental constants, our world would be found on an isolated, tiny island in this space that supports complex structures. Deviate a little from the constants of nature, and no complex structures are possible. These universes would be mostly dark, dull places. The few where light existed would be without interesting chemistry. These universes would either be too small, or they would exist for too short a time to develop interesting structures, or matter would be too diluted to form stars leading to an interesting chemistry.

XI. Why Does Life Exist at All? If we can agree that life is necessarily complex, we arrive at the conclusion that life is impossible everywhere except in the close neighborhood of this small island.23 This property of our world begs for explanation. However, the explanations proposed are quite speculative, or even outside science. There is a line of argument related to cosmologic inflation, the physical mechanism of which is also the subject of speculation.24 The laws of physics (to be precise: the standard model) give no hint as to why the constants of nature have these particular values. It could be that these values are the result of processes during inflation – what is known about physics does not exclude this possibility. It could very well be that the values emerged through an erratic, random process, and that they are not the same everywhere in the 23

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Current state of research cannot strictly exclude the existence of other islands (cf. Alejandro Jenkins/Gilad Perez, “Looking for Life in the Multiverse”, in: Scientific American, January 2010, pp. 42–49). Cf. Leonard Susskind, The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design, New York 2006.

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universe. If this was the case, it is no coincidence that we happen to live in a region where the constants enable the emergence of life, because in other regions where life is impossible there simply are no observers. An alternative speculation (put forward by Robbert Dijkstra, for example) is that some, as yet unknown, physics forces the constants to assume the values they actually have, and that there is no possibility for other values. Some authors (for instance, Cees Dekker25 ) conclude that the universe must have been made by some superior being. This must be a cruel kind of god who has equipped the universe with a small density of dark energy, which causes exponential expansion of space. Due to dark energy the observable universe shrinks exponentially, making causally connected regions of space smaller and smaller, until galaxies, planetary systems, plants, continents, and finally molecules, atoms, and nuclei are ripped apart. The prospects of life are bleak.26 Freeman Dyson has shown that some form of thinking will stay possible in an expanding universe without dark energy.27 The demiurge created a universe made fit for life only for some time. He condemned life to death even before it came into existence.

XII. Conclusions Counterfactual thinking is one of the physicist’s core tools, and, given its importance in physics, it would be astonishing if this was not the case for all other natural sciences. The “what if ” question stands at the beginning of many scientific inquiries. Here, only some highlights in physics have been described, but much more mundane examples would have led to the same conclusion. In particular, we have seen that in cosmology the “what if ” question leads to quite remarkable consequences: The laws of nature seem to be finetuned to make possible the existence of life and the existence of observers. Slight changes in the laws and the values of the basic constants would lead to uninhabitable universes.

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Cees Dekker/Ronald Meester/Rene van Woudenberg (eds.), Schitterend ongeluk of sporen van ontwerp? Over toeval en doelgerichtheid in de evolutie, Kampen 2005. Cf. Lawrence M. Krauss/Glenn D. Starkman, “The Fate of Life in the Universe”, in: Scientific American, November 1999, pp. 58–66. Cf. Freeman Dyson, “Physics and Biology in an Open Universe”, in: Reviews of Modern Physics, 51/1974, pp. 447–460.

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Patrizia Catellani (Milan)

Counterfactuals in the Social Context: The Case of Political Interviews and Their Effects

On April 6, 2009, a tremendous earthquake stroke Abruzzo, a central southern Italian region. In the following days, the earthquake became one of the main issues of political discussion in Italy. On April 30, Antonio Di Pietro, one of the major antagonists of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, stated in a public declaration, among other things: “All these deaths could have been avoided, if only the government had listened to those who warned of the imminent danger”. This statement is an example of counterfactual communication, evidently aimed at attacking the government’s performance. For some time now, my colleagues and I have been studying how politicians employ counterfactuals in political discourse, comparing what (allegedly) happened with what might (or should) have happened. Our basic assumption is that politicians can use counterfactual communication to promote their own representations of past political events, to defend themselves, to attack their adversaries, and, more generally, to influence citizens’ representation of political reality and of politicians. In particular, we focus on two main questions: a) What counterfactuals do politicians use in discourse? b) What effects do these counterfactuals have on voters? In addressing these questions, we build on what previous psychological research has shown regarding counterfactual thinking and its relations with other psychological processes, such as causal reasoning, emotional reactions, and decision making. In the two following sections, I will briefly deal with the functions and the activation conditions of counterfactual thinking. Taking these notions as a background, I will then describe the method and the results of two studies aimed at investigating counterfactual communication in the political context, as well as its effects on citizens’ evaluations.

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I. The Functions of Counterfactual Thinking Previous research has shown that counterfactual thinking serves several psychological functions, which may come down to three main ones:1 Affective function. Counterfactuals influence emotional reactions. For example, after being involved in a car accident, thinking that things might have gone better (an upward counterfactual) is likely to trigger a negative emotion such as discomfort or regret. On the contrary, thinking that things could have gone worse (a downward counterfactual) is likely to trigger a positive emotion like relief. This seems to be due to a “contrast effect”.2 An outcome, even a negative one, triggers more positive emotions when an even less desirable outcome is made salient to one’s mind. After a negative event, people have been shown to spontaneously generate more upward than downward counterfactuals.3 However, people may also react to the spontaneous upcoming of upward counterfactuals through intentionally focusing on the generation of downward counterfactuals. Actually, the more frequent generation of downward counterfactuals after an unsuccessful outcome has been shown to distinguish optimistic from pessimistic people.4 Preparatory function. Besides cognitively restructuring the past, counterfactuals “construct” the future, that is, they can favor the preparation of future actions. Past research has shown that the best way to plan an action consists in mentally simulating both the process (i.e., the various steps) leading to an expected goal and the goal itself.5 Similarly, counterfactual thinking is a form of “post hoc” simulation, including both the process leading to an expected outcome and the outcome itself. Thus, it may serve as “correction” of an un1

2

3

4

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Cf. Neal J. Roese, “The Functional Basis of Counterfactual Thinking”, in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66/1994, pp. 805–818. Cf. Norbert Schwarz/Herbert Bless, “Constructing Reality and Its Alternatives: Assimilation and Contrast Effects in Social Judgment”, in: Leonard L. Martin/ Abraham Tesser (eds.), The Construction of Social Judgment, Hillsdale 1992, pp. 217–245. Cf. Keith D. Markman/Igor Gavanski/Steven J. Sherman/Matthew N. McMullen, “The Mental Simulation of Better and Worse Possible Worlds”, in: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 29/1993, pp. 87–109. Cf. Lawrence J. Sanna, “Defensive Pessimism, Optimism, and Simulating Alternatives: Some Ups and Downs of Prefactual and Counterfactual Thinking”, in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71/1996, pp. 1020–1036. Cf. Lien B. Pham/Shelley E. Taylor, “From Thought to Action: Effects of Process- Versus Outcome-Based Mental Simulations on Performance”, in: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25/1999, pp. 250–260.

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satisfying past outcome, increasing the probability of getting a more satisfying outcome in case similar events occur again in the future. For example, Morris and Moore demonstrated that, in a training program including a series of virtual landings, pilots who had generated counterfactuals regarding their past performances offered better performances than those who had not generated counterfactuals.6 Some counterfactuals have been shown to serve a preparative function better than others. This is the case for upward counterfactuals as compared with downward counterfactuals.7 In stating that things might have gone better if one or another element of a past event had been different, upward counterfactuals stress the negativity of the actual event, but at the same time they may serve a preparatory function, suggesting what might be done in the future to increase the possibility for similar events to have a better outcome. The subtractive versus additive nature of counterfactuals has also been shown to matter with regard to their preparatory function. When we generate a subtractive counterfactual we remove an element which was present in the real scenario. For example: “If the government hadn’t approved that budget, the economic conditions of the country would be better now”. By contrast, when we generate an additive counterfactual we introduce elements that were not present in the real scenario. For example: “If the government had taken special measures to reduce the inflation rate, the economic conditions of the country would be better now”. While subtractive counterfactuals are constrained to what already happened, additive counterfactuals are creative regarding what happened in the past, introducing new elements that were not part of reality in the past but might become real in the future. As such, they have been shown to contribute to preparing future action better than subtractive counterfactuals.8 Explanatory function. Previous research has shown that generating and being exposed to counterfactuals regarding a given event may have consequences in terms of the explanation of the event and the perception of the event’s actors, especially the attribution of responsibility and blame. The actor focused on as the person who might have changed the outcome if he or she had acted differently is often considered responsible for the obtained

6

7

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Cf. Michael W. Morris/Paul C. Moore, “The Lessons We (Don’t) Learn: Counterfactual Thinking and Organizational Accountability after a Close Call”, in: Administrative Science Quarterly, 45/2000, pp. 737–765. Cf. Lawrence J. Sanna/Kandi J. Turley-Ames, “Counterfactual Intensity”, in: European Journal of Social Psychology, 30/2000, pp. 273–296. Cf. Roese, “Basis”.

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outcome.9 For example, after listening to the above-mentioned counterfactual by Antonio Di Pietro, one might think that the government was at least partly responsible for the terrible consequences of the earthquake. In fact, when faced with a negative event, people have been shown to be more likely to attribute counterfactuals to individual actors rather than to external conditions, even when these conditions may have played a relevant role in causing the event.10 Focusing attention on actors who are perceived as capable of exerting some control on the event, instead of on fortuitous or uncontrollable external circumstances, would well serve the consolatory function of convincing people that the same negative event could be prevented from happening again in the future.

II. Reference to Norms in Counterfactual Thinking What elements of the real event are more likely to trigger counterfactuals? According to the so-called Norm Theory,11 elements perceived as “exceptional” are more likely to trigger counterfactual thinking because “normal” alternatives are easily available to the person’s mind. But what are “normal” alternatives or, in other words, what norms do we refer to when generating counterfactuals? Early research on counterfactual thinking was mainly focused on laboratory studies where participants were presented with events in which exceptionality consisted in deviation from routine. For example, a man has a car accident after having changed his usual way back home from work. Faced with this event, participants were likely to generate the counterfactual “If the man had followed his usual route home, the accident would not have happened”.12 More recently, research has been extended to more ecological, that 9

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Cf. Michelle R. Nario-Redmond/Nyla R. Branscombe, “It Could Have Been Better or It Might Have Been Worse: Implications for Blame Assignment in Rape Cases”, in: Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 18/1996, pp. 347–366; Gary L. Wells/ Igor Gavanski, “Mental Simulation of Causality”, in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56/1989, pp. 161–169. Cf. John I. McClure/Denis J. Hilton/Robbie M. Sutton, “Judgments of Voluntary and Physical Causes in Causal Chains: Probabilistic and Social Functionalist Criteria for Attributions”, in: European Journal of Social Psychology, 37/2007, pp. 879–901. Cf. Daniel Kahneman/Dale T. Miller, “Norm Theory: Comparing Reality to Its Alternatives”, in: Psychological Review, 93/1986, pp. 136–153. Cf. Daniel Kahneman/Amos Tversky, “The Simulation Heuristic”, in: Daniel Kahneman/Paul Slovic/Amos Tversky (eds.), Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, New York 1982, pp. 201–208.

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is, less artificial, scenarios and this has led to focusing attention on how counterfactuals may be triggered not only by deviations from routine-based norms, but also by deviations from social-based norms, such as stereotypical expectations regarding the behavior of people involved in a given event. Let us consider the following event. A woman who usually goes to work by train decides to go by car for a change. Her car has a breakdown and she accepts a lift from a male stranger who afterwards rapes her. Faced with this event, a juror might generate a counterfactual like: “If only she had taken the train, things would have been different”. In this case, the reference norm would be a routine-based or intrapersonal norm. The woman’s behavior is compared with her own standard behavior, and the element showing low consistency with this standard is mutated in the counterfactual.13 However, in a socially embedded context the actor of an event may be perceived not only as an individual, but also as a member of a given social category (for example, a woman, an old person, or a gipsy). As a consequence, the actor’s behavior may be compared not only with intrapersonal norms, but also with social norms triggered by the social category the actor belongs to. Thus, faced with the same event, our juror might also generate a counterfactual like: “If only she had not accepted a lift from a stranger, things would have been different”. In this case, the reference norm would be a stereotype-based or social norm. The woman’s behavior is compared with the perceived standard behavior of a (non-raped) woman, which includes not accepting lifts from strangers.14 Trying to assess what kind of norm violations are more likely to trigger counterfactuals is especially relevant if we take into account the already mentioned relationships between counterfactual thinking, responsibility attribution, and blame. In the above example, a juror generating the counterfactual “If the woman had not accepted the lift …” is more likely to perceive her as responsible for what happened, than a juror who did not generate the same counterfactual. Some research has indeed demonstrated that reference to social norms (such as the one of not accepting lifts from strangers) may in13

14

Cf., among others, Karl C. Klauer/Thomas Jacobsen/Gerd Migulla, “Counterfactual Processing: Test of a Hierarchical Correspondence Model”, in: European Journal of Social Psychology, 25/1995, pp. 577–595; Gary L. Wells/Brian R. Taylor/ John W. Turtle, “The Undoing of Scenarios”, in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53/1987, pp. 421–430. Cf., among others, Patrizia Catellani/Augusta I. Alberici/Patrizia Milesi, “Counterfactual Thinking and Stereotypes: The Nonconformity Effect”, in: European Journal of Social Psychology, 34/2004, pp. 421–436; Patrizia Catellani/Patrizia Milesi, “Counterfactuals, Stereotypes, and Suspicion”, in preparation.

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fluence jurors’ judgments even if these norms do not have any correspondence in legal norms.15 So far, we have made reference to how single individuals generate counterfactuals, but counterfactuals may also be conveyed through interpersonal and public communication. The dynamics underlying counterfactual communication have not been widely investigated so far.16 Our research on counterfactuals in political discourse is aimed at deepening our knowledge of how counterfactuals are employed in communication and what effects they have on receivers. Our basic assumption is that, through the evocation of given counterfactual scenarios a speaker is likely to enhance the salience of given reference norms to the receiver’s mind, and thus to influence the receiver’s perception of the real scenarios. For example, through the above-mentioned sentence “Things would be better if the government had listened to warnings of danger”, Antonio Di Pietro presumably made the reference norm “a government should listen to warnings of danger” salient to the mind of the citizens. Very likely, he also highlighted that the government did not respect a shared norm, and thus enhanced the likelihood that the government would be held responsible for the negative outcome of the event the counterfactual referred to. In other words, through counterfactuals speakers may communicate that shared expectations or reference norms have been violated. In this way, those norms that might otherwise have gone unnoticed are made more salient to receivers’ minds. For example, when reconstructing past political events, politicians may compare the actual events with a variety of possible alternatives. Very likely, politicians will choose one or another alternative in a way that may be functional to their discursive goals, among which are the defense of a positive image of themselves and their group as well as the attack against their adversaries.17 For example, in replying to Di Pietro’s “counterfactual attack” regarding the government’s inadequate reaction to the danger of an earthquake, Berlusconi might employ a “counterfactual defense” by saying something like: “If the opposition had taken care of the interests of 15

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Cf. Patrizia Catellani/Patrizia Milesi, “Juries in Italy: Legal and Extra-Legal Norms in Sentencing”, in: Martin F. Kaplan/Ana M. Martin (eds.), Understanding World Jury Systems through Social Psychological Research, New York 2006, pp. 125–145. An exception is Nurit Tal-Or/David S. Boninger/Amir Poran/Faith Gleicher, “Counterfactual Thinking as a Mechanism in Narrative Persuasion”, in: Human Communication Research, 30/2004, pp. 301–328. Cf. William L. Benoit/Joseph R. Blaney/P.M. Pier, “Acclaiming, Attacking, and Defending: A Functional Analysis of Nominating Convention Keynote Speeches, 1960–1996”, in: Political Communication, 17/2004, pp. 61–84.

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the country, they would have made the government action easier”. In this way, Berlusconi would suggest that the opposition had violated the widely shared reference norm according to which “politicians should act in the interests of the country”, thus shifting the responsibility for the negative consequences of the event from himself to the opposition.

III. Our Research Our research on counterfactual communication in political discourse has two main aims: a) identifying what types of counterfactuals politicians are more likely to evoke in their political discourses; b) assessing what effects these counterfactuals may have on receivers. To reach these two aims we adopt two different research approaches in an integrated way, both of them widely employed in social psychological research. The first is an ecological and qualitative research approach. We look for counterfactuals embedded in actual political discourses and interviews, we code them according to a series of criteria, and finally we analyze them through the application of non-parametrical statistic analyses. Building on the results of these qualitative studies, we develop a series of experimental studies. They consist in the creation of a research setting in which different versions of fictitious political discourses and interviews, including different types of counterfactuals, are individually submitted to separate groups of participants. After reading the text, participants are required to answer a series of questions in order to assess the degree of persuasiveness of what they have read and their perception of the speaker. In the remaining sections of this paper, I will briefly outline the research questions and the results of two studies, one for each of the main aims pursued by our research program. The first study consists in the analysis of counterfactuals embedded in a sample of actual political discourses by the two leaders who were competing in the 2006 Italian general election, Romano Prodi and Silvio Berlusconi.18 The second study consists of an experimental simulation, including fictitious political discourses, and aims at assessing the effects on receivers of counterfactuals employed by politicians.19 18

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Cf. Patrizia Catellani/Venusia Covelli, “Group-Protective Bias in Counterfactual Communication: The Case of Politicians”, submitted. Cf. Patrizia Catellani/Mauro Bertolotti/Venusia Covelli, “Counterfactuals in Political Interviews: The Effects of Self-Defending Through ‘If Only …’ Thoughts”, in preparation.

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These two studies offer examples of the theoretical and methodological approach adopted by social psychology when studying counterfactual thinking in applied domains.

IV. Counterfactuals in Political Discourse In the two months preceding the 2006 Italian general elections, we recorded and fully transcribed a number of televised pre-electoral broadcastings with Silvio Berlusconi and Romano Prodi as main guests. Transcribed texts were then analyzed by two independent coders, who looked for the presence of counterfactuals, in either an explicit or an implicit form. Counterfactuals can be expressed in discourse explicitly, through the use of hypothetical periods of unreality. More often, however, counterfactuals are conveyed implicitly, through linguistic indicators alluding to scenarios that have never occurred in reality. Linguistic markers of counterfactuals include, among others, adverbs such as even, at least, without, or besides.20 In our study, implicit counterfactuals were turned into their explicit form (e.g., the sentence “The euro was introduced too quickly, without taking the necessary precautions” was turned into “If the necessary precautions had been taken, things would have been better”). After having identified all counterfactuals, the two coders independently classified them according to a series of criteria, the main ones being listed below: a) The speaker who produces the counterfactual, either the incumbent leader (Silvio Berlusconi) or the challenging leader (Romano Prodi). b) The target on which the counterfactual antecedent is focused, distinguishing among antecedents focused on the government (e.g., “If the government had checked more strictly the transformation of prices from lira into euro, things would have been better”), the opposition (e.g., “If the opposition had not thwarted the government …”), and others, including political actors and events of the national or international political/economic context (e.g., “If the terrorist attacks of September 11 had not happened …”).

20

Cf. Patrizia Catellani/Patrizia Milesi, “Counterfactuals and Roles: Mock Victims’ and Perpetrators’ Accounts of Judicial Cases”, in: European Journal of Social Psychology, 31/2001, pp. 247–264; Christopher G. Davis/Darrin R. Lehman/Camille B. Wortman/Roxane C. Silver/Suzanne C. Thompson, “The Undoing of Traumatic Life Events”, in: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21/1995, pp. 109–124; Sanna/Turley-Ames, “Intensity”.

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c) The direction of the change imagined in each counterfactual, distinguishing between upward counterfactuals, in which it is imagined how things might have gone better (e.g., “If I had had 51 % of the votes, reforms would have been made much more quickly”), and downward counterfactuals, in which it is imagined how things might have gone worse (e.g., “If the government hadn’t increased minimal pensions, things would have been worse”). d) The structure of the counterfactual antecedents, distinguishing between additive counterfactuals, in which an antecedent is hypothetically added in the counterfactual scenario (e.g. “If the government had given the needed resources to the local authority …”), and subtractive counterfactuals, in which an antecedent of the real scenario is hypothetically deleted in the counterfactual one (e.g., “If the euro had not been introduced …”). e) The controllability of the behavior quoted in the counterfactual antecedent, distinguishing between controllable counterfactuals, in which behavior under the target’s control is imagined (e.g., “If the opposition had voted in favor of this law …”) and uncontrollable counterfactuals, in which behavior out of the target’s control is imagined (e.g., “If I could have counted on more financial resources …”). All counterfactuals were also coded according to other criteria, such as whether they appeared in a text following the intervention of either a journalist or the opposing leader, or whether they were generated during a given program instead of another. Here, however, we will not take into account these further criteria, because they turned out not to have a strong influence on the frequency and type of counterfactuals generated by the two leaders. As already mentioned, both the identification of counterfactuals in the texts and their classification were carried out separately by two coders, who turned out to have a high agreement rate. Any discrepancy was resolved through discussion. Overall, our analyses showed that both Silvio Berlusconi and Romano Prodi employed a consistent number of counterfactuals in their discourses (periods including counterfactuals amounted to 6 % of the global number of periods in the texts analyzed), in either an explicit (27 %) or an implicit (73 %) form. Besides, analyses carried out separately on each coding criterion showed that some categories of counterfactuals were more frequent than others, independent of the speaker who generated them. First of all, the government was the most frequent target of the counterfactuals, followed by the opposition and by other political actors. This is not surprising, since the performance of the incumbent government is usually one of the main issues on which both politicians’ and citizens’ attention is focused during electoral campaigns.

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As to the other coding criteria, upward counterfactuals prevailed over downward counterfactuals, additive counterfactuals over subtractive counterfactuals, and counterfactuals focused on controllable behaviors over counterfactuals focused on uncontrollable ones. These results are consistent with what was found by previous research as regards the categories of counterfactuals that tend to prevail in spontaneous counterfactual generation.21 Moreover, more refined analyses of our data (the application of hierarchical log-linear models) allowed us to take into account several coding criteria at the same time (target, direction, controllability, etc.) and to compare the characteristics of counterfactuals employed by the two leaders. Results showed that some combinations of criteria were more frequent than others and that there were significant differences in the counterfactuals employed by the incumbent leader as compared to the challenging leader. First of all, each leader showed a marked tendency to employ upward controllable counterfactuals that targeted his adversary. For example, Berlusconi stated that “If Prodi had defended Italy’s interests, things would have been better” (March 8, 2006). Conversely, Prodi stated that “If Berlusconi had carried out reforms in the country’s general interest, the process of growth wouldn’t have been arrested” (March 7, 2006). As mentioned above, previous research has shown that the targets of upward controllable counterfactuals are more likely to be perceived as responsible of negative events.22 Evidently, the two leaders employed these types of counterfactuals as a way of charging their adversary with the responsibility for what was wrong in the country. Conversely, both leaders employed more upward uncontrollable counterfactuals that targeted themselves (and not their adversary). In this case, it is as if the two leaders said that “getting better results was simply impossible for them”. For example, Berlusconi said: “If the government had been able to counter the negative actions of the Left, things would be better now” (March 8, 2006). In his turn, Prodi said: “If our party had had the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as we had proposed, we would have a common foreign politics within Parliament now” (March 7, 2006). Downward controllable 21

22

Cf., among others, Markman/Gavanski/Sherman/McMullen, “Mental Simulation”; Seymour Epstein/Abigail Lipson/Carolyn Holstein/Eileen Huh, “Irrational Reactions to Negative Outcomes: Evidence for Two Conceptual Systems”, in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62/1992, pp. 328–339; Vittorio Girotto/Paolo Legrenzi/Antonio Rizzo, “Event Controllability in Counterfactual Thinking”, in: Acta Psychologica, 78/1991, pp. 111–133. Cf. Nario-Redmond/Branscombe, “Blame Assignment”; Wells/Gavanski, “Mental Simulation”.

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counterfactuals were also more frequently focused on the speakers themselves than on their adversary. In this case, it is as if the politician said something like: “Had I acted in a different way, things would have been worse”. For example, Silvio Berlusconi stated: “If we hadn’t intervened on tax evasion with the Budget, the tax system would be worse now” (April 3, 2006). Other characteristics of counterfactuals, such as their additive or subtractive structure, did not significantly differ as a function of the counterfactual speaker or target, nor were any significant differences found between the leaders as regards the frequency and the characteristics of counterfactuals having other actors as targets. To conclude, this study offered an overview of how politicians employ counterfactual communication. We found that counterfactuals show up rather frequently in politicians’ discourse (in either an implicit or an explicit form) and that some types of counterfactuals are generally more frequent than others. Most importantly, however, we also found that the two politicians preferably employed specific types of counterfactuals to either attack their adversary (upward controllable counterfactuals having their adversaries as target) or to defend themselves (upward uncontrollable or downward controllable counterfactuals having themselves as targets).

V. The Effects of Counterfactuals Employed by Politicians Starting from the results of qualitative studies such as the one presented above, we have designed a series of experimental studies in which different versions of fictitious political discourses and interviews are submitted to different groups of participants. These texts vary as to the types of counterfactuals embedded in them in order to assess whether and how far the use of specific counterfactuals may influence the receivers’ perception of the politician employing them. It may well be the case that some types of counterfactuals are more effective than others. Besides, counterfactuals may have a differential influence according to some characteristics of the citizens who are exposed to them, such as their degree of political sophistication or their sharing or not sharing the ideology of the speaker. It should be mentioned that an in-depth investigation of the effects of counterfactual communication requires a number of experimental studies, because only a few independent variables may be taken into account in one single study at the same time. In one of these studies, 203 university students were presented with an excerpt of an interview of a hypothetical incumbent politician. In the interview, a journalist told the politician that he had not

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done enough to improve the bad financial conditions of the country. The intervention of the journalist ended with the following sentence: “Voters are skeptical regarding your intervention on public expenses. Many of them think you could have done much more”. In his reply, the politician employed some counterfactuals, such as: “Surely, the situation would be better if I had firmly stated my position within the coalition and if I had insisted in putting forward my ideas”. Four different versions of the politician’s reply were prepared, differing according to the target (either the politician or the adversary) and the direction (either upward or downward) of the counterfactuals embedded in it. For example, the sentences quoted above are examples of politician-focused upward counterfactuals. But we also employed examples of politician-focused downward counterfactuals such as: “Sure, but the situation would be worse if I had hesitated in stating my position within the coalition and if I had given up my ideas”. The remaining versions included adversary-focused upward counterfactuals and adversary-focused downward counterfactuals. The four versions of the politician’s reply were submitted to four different subgroups of participants. After reading the interview, all participants were asked to evaluate the politician according to a number of criteria in order to assess whether the evaluations would vary as a function of the characteristics of the counterfactuals employed by the politician. First of all, participants rated the politician with regard to a series of personality traits that past research has shown to be crucial in voters’ judgment of political leaders. These traits can be linked back to two larger dimensions: the leadership dimension, measured through personality traits such as “dynamic”, “energetic”, and “decided”, and the morality dimension, measured through personality traits such as “honest”, “loyal”, and “sincere”. Results showed that participants attributed different traits to the politician according to the different characteristics of the counterfactuals he employed in his reply to the journalist. The politician employing downward counterfactuals having himself as target (“the situation would be worse if I …”) was perceived as more energetic than the politician employing upward counterfactuals still having himself as target (“the situation would be better if I …”). In both cases the politician was perceived as fairly moral. By contrast, the politician was perceived as less moral, but still very energetic, when he employed upward counterfactuals having the opposition as target (“the situation would be better if they …”). Overall, evaluations of the politician were significantly more positive when the politician’s reply included downward counterfactuals than when it included upward counterfactuals. These results suggest that politicians, when required to account for a negative outcome of their performance, may

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successfully preserve their credibility by stressing how things could have been worse than they actually have been, rather than focusing on what they could have done to get a better outcome. Figuring out a scenario where things “went bad, but could have been worse” seems more rewarding for the incumbent politician than openly recognizing the presence of a negative outcome and figuring out a better scenario. Also, shifting responsibility from themselves to the adversary seems, at least from the point of view of leadership evaluations, a rewarding defensive strategy for a politician. If the study described above has shown the effects of counterfactual direction on citizens’ judgments, other studies of ours have investigated the effects of other characteristics of the counterfactuals employed by politicians. For example, we observed that politicians employing additive counterfactuals are perceived as more likely to act successfully in the future and as deserving more trust than politicians employing subtractive counterfactuals. As mentioned above, additive counterfactuals serve a preparatory function better than subtractive ones. It is therefore likely that politicians employing additive counterfactuals are perceived as more inclined to prepare future action. Interestingly, people with a high degree of political sophistication appear to be more sensitive to the additive versus subtractive structure of counterfactuals, as compared with people with a lower degree of political sophistication. High sophisticates give a better evaluation of politicians employing additive counterfactuals (e.g., “Certainly, if I had imposed my ideas and my proposals, some decisions would have been made more easily”) than of politicians employing subtractive counterfactuals (e.g., “Certainly, if I had not given up my ideas and my proposals, some decisions would have been made more easily”). Such a difference between high and low sophisticates may probably be ascribed to the fact that high sophisticates are more inclined to make plans for future political activity, and are therefore more likely to prefer politicians who appear to be doing the same.

VI. Conclusion Our studies have demonstrated that politicians make wide use of counterfactuals in their discourses. When publicly accounting for political events and their performance, politicians focus not only on what they, or other political actors, actually did, but also on what they (or others) could/should (or could not/should not) have done. These comparisons between reality and its possible alternatives are made in a way that is consistent with politicians’ discursive goals, specifically the ones of presenting a positive image of themselves

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and their party and a negative image of their adversaries. Accordingly, opposing politicians differ with regard to the characteristics of the counterfactuals they employ in discourse, mainly in terms of their target, direction, and controllability. Our studies have also shown that counterfactual communication may influence citizens’ perception of politicians. Some types of counterfactuals seem to be more powerful than others in influencing the citizen in favor of the politician who is using them, while the positive influence of other types of counterfactuals seems to vary according to some characteristics of the citizens, first of all their degree of political sophistication. Interestingly, exposure to counterfactual communication has been shown to influence not only citizens’ evaluations of what the politician did in the past, but also their expectations regarding what the politician may do in the future. This is consistent with the fact that counterfactual thinking has been shown to serve not only the psychological function of explaining the past but also that of preparing the future. What is left to do in order to fully investigate the effects of counterfactual communication in the political context? Quite a lot. For example, exploring of the effects of counterfactuals employed by journalists when they interview politicians. Nowadays, interviews are the most frequent form through which politicians communicate with citizens, and what journalists say or ask (including their use of counterfactuals) is very likely to influence citizens’ perceptions of both the journalist and the politician. We hope this line of research on counterfactual communication in politics may turn out to be useful both on a scientific and on a more applied level. On a scientific level, it might help our understanding of how counterfactuals are conveyed in discourse, as well as of their effects on people who are exposed to them. On a more applied level, it might help politicians, but also citizens, to become more aware of the dynamics underlying political communication, and thus to develop a critical consciousness about it.

A Cognitive Linguistic Perspective on Counterfactuality

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Martin Hilpert (Freiburg)

A Cognitive Linguistic Perspective on Counterfactuality

I. Introduction This paper aims to broaden the scope of the present volume by providing a cognitive linguistic perspective on counterfactuality. The commonplace idea of counterfactuality as meaning that is contrary to fact may serve as an initial working model that captures important central aspects but ultimately falls short of a satisfactory characterization. It will therefore be re-cast in theoretical concepts of cognitive linguistics, in particular the concept of conceptual integration.1 The main objective of this paper is to show that counterfactuality is not an exotic or rare mode of human thought. As will be explained and exemplified, the cognitive processes that underlie counterfactual reasoning are not only at work in linguistic expressions of counterfactuality, but also in a multitude of other expressions. This paper is organized as follows: Section II provides the background for the analysis of counterfactuality by outlining central notions and research areas of cognitive linguistics. Section III builds on that initial excursus and explains how cognitive linguistics approaches the issue of counterfactuality. Section IV concludes by offering a few thoughts on the question how the proposed approach can contribute to the study of counterfactuality in disciplines other than linguistics.

II. What is Cognitive Linguistics? Cognitive linguistics is a discipline that emerged during the 1970s as an alternative to formal generative grammar. It is commonly associated with the study of non-literal meaning, especially conceptual metaphor,2 but its framework does in fact encompass all aspects of linguistic inquiry: The areas of phonology, morphology, and syntax are concerned with formal aspects 1

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Cf. Gilles Fauconnier/Mark Turner, The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities, New York 2002. Cf. George Lakoff/Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, Chicago 1980.

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of language; semantics and pragmatics address linguistic meaning. Several works offer book-length introductions into the field;3 the overview that is given here may serve as a primer for those resources. In a one-line definition, cognitive linguistics can be characterized as the analysis of linguistic structures as direct reflections of human cognition. The next paragraphs flesh out this preliminary definition in more detail.

Linguistic Structures and Human Cognition The above definition makes references to linguistic structures, which are the bits and pieces into which linguistic material can be analyzed. Structures range from the very small to the very large: there are single sounds (the vowel /a/ in “car”), parts of words (the suffix “-ment” in “enjoyment”), words (“brunch”, “table”), phrases (“gone with the wind”, “a dime a dozen”), syntactic constructions (“The Spice Girls sang their way into the charts”), conversations, texts, and genres. The task of linguistics in general is the description of these structures: Linguists investigate the sound inventories of languages, catalogue the vocabulary, study the ways in which words and phrases can be combined into sentences, and how different communicative settings lead to the use of different linguistic structures. In studying such structures, cognitive linguists take into account general principles of human reasoning, trying to establish connections between these capacities and the characteristics of human language. What then are the organizational principles of human thought? One of them is the principle of iconicity,4 which refers to a perceivable similarity between an expression and its referent. Many linguistic structures are manifestly iconic. In the phrase “a looong time”, prolonged duration is expressed by means of prolonged pronunciation. The sentence “We studied hard, passed the exam, and celebrated” expresses three events in a sequential order that maps precisely onto their temporal order of occurrence. Somewhat more abstractly, the relative closeness of linguistic structures may map onto degrees of affectedness: The sentence “I taught the students Old English” suggests that the teaching had a measurable effect on the students. By 3

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Cf. William Croft/Daniel A. Cruse, Cognitive Linguistics, Cambridge 2004; Vyvyan Evans/Melanie Green, Cognitive Linguistics: An Introduction, Edinburgh 2006; and Friedrich Ungerer/Hans-Jörg Schmid, An Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics, 2nd ed., New York 2006. Cf. John Haiman, “The Iconicity of Grammar: Isomorphism and Motivation”, in: Language, 56/1980, pp. 515–540; Haiman, “Iconic and Economic Motivation”, in: Language, 59/1983, pp. 781–819.

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contrast, in “I taught Old English to the students”, the words “taught” and “students” are further apart, and the sentence allows the interpretation that little or no learning took place. Another important cognitive capacity that permeates many linguistic structures is metaphorical reasoning.5 The general point of conceptual metaphor theory is that abstract issues are understood and talked about in terms of things that can be experienced directly through the body. It is thus no coincidence that for instance technological innovations are talked about in terms of simple spatial language: People download files from a server, have trouble getting into their email accounts, leave one webpage to go to another, and log out once they are done. The systematicity of these expressions is pervasive; the evidence suggests that the internet is not only talked about in terms of space, it is in fact comprehended as a spatially organized entity. A third fundamental characteristic of human cognition is its embodied nature – how we perceive and describe the world is greatly influenced by the way our bodies function within their physical and social environments.6 There is now substantial empirical evidence that the activity of producing and understanding language draws on the same cognitive resources that are responsible for perception,7 motion,8 social cognition,9 and emotion.10 For example, when participants are asked to make a sad face during an experiment, they will be faster to process and understand language expressing sad events.

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Cf. George Lakoff/Mark Johnson, Philosophy In The Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought, New York 1999; Lakoff/Johnson, Metaphors, p. 22, passim. Cf. Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind, Oxford 2008. Cf. Rolf A. Zwaan/Robert A. Stanfield/Richard H. Yaxley, “Language Comprehenders Mentally Represent the Shapes of Objects”, in: Psychological Science, 13/2002, pp. 168–171. Cf. Benjamin Bergen/Kathryn Wheeler, “Sentence Understanding Engages Motor Processes”, in: Proceedings of the 27th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 2005, pp. 238–243. Cf. Laura Staum Casasanto, “Does Social Information Influence Sentence Processing?”, in: Proceedings of the 30th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 2008, pp. 799–804. Cf. David Havas/Arthur M. Glenberg/Mike Rinck, “Emotion Simulation During Language Comprehension”, in: Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14/2007, pp. 436–441.

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Issues in Cognitive Linguistics Research in cognitive linguistics is thus driven by the question how these and other general principles of human cognition are reflected in the structures of grammatical and lexical items. Given this general outlook, how does actual work in cognitive linguistics proceed? Central issues include the analysis of meaning, the relation of form and meaning, the relation of language and thought, language understanding, and the cognitive capacities underlying language use. Each of these issues is illustrated below with a brief example. Meaning in cognitive linguistics is not studied in terms of truth conditions,11 but rather as the outcome of human-scale reasoning. The theory of frame semantics holds that human experience is organized in terms of recurrent situations, such as “going to a restaurant” or “working a day job”.12 These situations are called frames. Linguistic expressions evoke frames and denote parts of those frames; each part gets its meaning only by virtue of belonging to a larger frame. To give a simple example, the frame of “running a risk” involves the elements of a protagonist, an action, an asset, and a potentially bad outcome. In a sentence such as “Publish that paper and you run the risk of hurting your career”, the phrase “run the risk” prompts the addressee to map the remaining parts of the sentence onto the elements of the frame: “publish that paper” is mapped onto the action, “hurting your career” is mapped onto the bad outcome. Frame elements that are not overtly expressed will nonetheless be evoked; the protagonist in this case is the addressee, who is not mentioned explicitly. Linguistic meaning is highly contingent on framing – two otherwise identical situations will be understood very differently if they are viewed through the respective frames of “theft” or “forgetting to pay”. A core issue in cognitive linguistics is the relation of form and meaning. In accordance with what has been said above, the form of linguistic structures is seen as motivated by their meanings, as in the phrase “a looong time”. Motivation does not only pertain to isolated examples such as this one, but also to more abstract formal issues concerning the composition of syntactic constructions. An example from English syntax is the phenomenon of subject auxiliary inversion. Whereas the default order in English declarative sen11 12

Cf. Donald Davidson, “Truth and Meaning”, in: Synthese, 17/1967, pp. 304–323. Cf. Charles J. Fillmore, “Frame Semantics and the Nature of Language”, in: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: Conference on the Origin and Development of Language and Speech, 280/1976, pp. 20–32; and Fillmore, “Frame Semantics”, in: Linguistics in the Morning Calm, edited by The Linguistic Society of Korea, Seoul 1982, pp. 111–137.

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tences is that the auxiliary follows the subject (1a), a number of constructions invert this sequence (1b–e). (1a) I[SUB ] will[AUX ] order you a taxi. (1b) (1c) (1d) (1e)

Do[AUX ] you[SUB ] like Sushi? Had[AUX ] I[SUB ] known this earlier! Never would[AUX ] I[SUB ] leave you. May[AUX ] he[SUB ] return safely!

On a cognitive linguistic perspective, a difference in form always implies a difference in meaning. Conversely, similarities in form should be motivated by semantic similarities. The examples in (1b–e) seem to challenge this assumption: Questions, exclamatives, and wishes clearly do convey different meanings. Still, it can be argued that these structures share the semantic trait of non-factuality, which unites them in a contrast with (1a) and which thus motivates the shared use of subject auxiliary inversion.13 Another concern of cognitive linguists is the complex relation of language and thought, which is often discussed in connection with the so-called SapirWhorf hypothesis.14 In its strong form, the hypothesis holds that language has an influence on thought that speakers cannot escape: People who speak different languages will inevitably perceive and think about the world in different ways. While a strong version of the hypothesis is clearly problematic, a number of recent experimental findings suggest that language does influence thought in measurable ways: One such study compares speakers of English with speakers of Russian in an experiment that investigates the perception of color.15 Importantly, the neural circuitry that allows human beings to perceive color is the same for everyone, regardless of one’s native language. However, languages do encode colors in different ways. Russian for instance distinguishes between light blue and dark blue; there is no overarching color term that would subsume both. In the experiment, subjects were asked to perform a matching task on displays such as the one shown in figure 1 (which has shades of gray, whereas subjects saw shades of blue). Sub13

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Cf. Adele E. Goldberg, Constructions at Work: The Nature of Generalization in Language, Oxford 2006. Cf. Benjamin L. Whorf, Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings, Cambridge, MA , 1956. Cf. Jonathan Winawer/Nathan Witthoft/Michael C. Frank/Lisa Wu/Alex R. Wade/Lera Boroditsky, “Russian Blues Reveal Effects of Language on Color Discrimination”, in: PNAS, 104/2007, pp. 7780–7785.

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Figure 1: Which of the two bottom squares matches the square at the top? © Martin Hilpert

jects had to decide which one of two bottom squares matched the square at the top. Reaction times were measured. Interestingly, a behavioral difference emerged between speakers of English and speakers of Russian. Russian speakers were slower to respond when the two bottom squares were from the same linguistic category, i.e. both were either “light blue” or “dark blue”. No such difference was found for the English speakers, who lack such a linguistic distinction. This finding suggests that language actually does have an effect on non-linguistic thought. Current work thus goes beyond the debate whether or not the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis holds true. Instead, it investigates in what areas of cognition and to what extent it holds true. Moving on to another issue, a cognitive approach to linguistic structures must have an account of how language is processed and understood. Drawing on the theory of perceptual symbols,16 current work in cognitive linguistics subscribes to the notion that language is understood through mental simulation. A simple sentence such as “I missed the bus this morning” prompts the hearer to mentally simulate such a scenario, envisioning a departing bus, empathizing with the person left behind, considering consequences of arriving late at work, etc. This imaginative activity is not the result of understanding; rather it is thought to be the act of understanding itself. Again, there is recent 16

Cf. Lawrence W. Barsalou, “Perceptual Symbol Systems”, in: Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22/1999, pp. 577–609; Barsalou, “Simulation, Situated Conceptualization, and Prediction”, in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences, 364/2009, pp. 1281–1289.

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Fig. 2: Setup of the ACE experiment © Martin Hilpert

experimental evidence to support this view. The so-called action-sentence compatibility effect (ACE ) constitutes an important piece of the evidence. The central idea behind this research is that understanding a sentence about an action should facilitate the actual performance of that action. To illustrate, Glenberg and Kaschak asked subjects to read test sentences on a computer screen and assess the meaningfulness while pressing down a “start” button.17 The assessments were given by pressing “yes” and “no” buttons which were either closer to the subjects or farther away. This order was varied among participants (Figure 2 shows the “yes is near” condition). Crucially, the example sentences that Glenberg and Kaschak used implied movement towards or away from the body. A sentence such as “Give Andy the pizza” denotes movement away from one’s body; “Open the drawer” denotes movement towards the body. Glenberg and Kaschak found that subjects were faster to identify towards-sentences such as “Open the drawer” as meaningful if indicating the correct response required a move17

Cf. Arthur M. Glenberg/Michael P. Kaschak, “Grounding Language in Action”, in: Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 9/2002, pp. 558–565.

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ment towards the body, as in the “yes is near” condition. Compatibility between the meaning of a test sentence and the required action thus had a facilitating effect. This result receives a natural explanation in a model of language understanding that is based on the notions of mental simulation and embodiment of meaning. Before the next section finally gets to the topic of counterfactuality, a few remarks are in order on the relation of language use to other human cognitive capacities. Whereas the program of generative linguistics was founded on the premise that language was a cognitive module that could be analyzed without reference to other systems, cognitive linguistics seeks to understand language as a human behavior that is rooted in a number of other capacities that closely interact with it. An example of such a system would be gesture,18 which is ubiquitous in spoken-language interaction and which human beings share as a communicative strategy with certain primates.19 Another crucial ability concerns the so-called phenomenon of joint attention,20 in which two communicative partners engage in a triadic unit with a shared object of attention. Of course, language would not be possible without the ability to use and interpret symbols,21 which allow human beings to communicate aspects of the world that are not present in the immediate environment. Lastly, language affords the communication of completely new and original states of affairs. A finite set of linguistic structures can be rearranged and combined in a multitude of ways. The ability to understand familiar items in new contexts draws on a process known as conceptual integration,22 which is of central importance to the discussion of counterfactuality that follows in the next sections.

III. How Does Cognitive Linguistics Approach Counterfactuality? This section focuses on the phenomenon of conceptual integration, which is also known as “conceptual blending”.23 Counterfactual reasoning draws on the human ability to mentally overlay two mutually conflicting situations: 18

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Cf. Alan Cienki/Cornelia Müller, “Metaphor, Gesture, and Thought”, in: R.W. Gibbs Jr. (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Metaphor and Thought, Cambridge 2008, pp. 483–501. Cf. Michael Tomasello, Origins of Human Communication, Cambridge, MA , 2008. Cf. Michael Tomasello, Constructing a Language, Cambridge, MA , 2003. Cf. Charles F. Hockett, “The Origin of Speech”, in: Scientific American, 203/1960, pp. 88–96. Cf. Fauconnier/Turner, Conceptual Blending, p. 42, passim. Cf. Fauconnier/Turner, Conceptual Blending, p. 42, passim.

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A sentence such as “Had I been at the bus stop five minutes earlier, I would not have missed the bus” is understood by mentally simulating the scenario of being on time and experiencing the discrepancy by overlaying that scenario with the actual state of affairs. It is explained in more detail below how exactly this overlay can be modeled. While conceptual integration is a cognitive capacity that is crucial for the comprehension of counterfactual conditionals, it actually runs much deeper than that. Conceptual integration is not only at work in counterfactual thought, but it permeates many aspects of human cognition and numerous domains of grammar. In order to give some substance to this argument, the next paragraphs briefly outline several theoretical notions that are of importance in conceptual integration, specifically input spaces and blends, vital relations and compression, selective projection, and emergent structures.

Input Spaces and Blends The term “conceptual integration” presupposes the involvement of at least two distinct conceptual entities that are being integrated. These entities are called input spaces and can be thought of as semantic frames. The example sentences in (2) illustrate different pairings of frames that can serve as input spaces. (2a) The Germans might not have elected Obama. (2b) If Clinton had been the Titanic, the iceberg would have sunk. (2c) What if computer operating systems were airlines? UNIX : Each passenger brings a piece of the airplane and a box of tools to the airport. (2d) I wonder if my brother and I would get along if he were still alive. In (2a), the two frames that are overlaid are American politics and German politics. These frames exhibit some differences, such as the respective roles of president and chancellor, but on the whole, they afford a far-reaching analogy. By contrast, many examples of conceptual integration involve the overlay of highly dissimilar frames, as in (2b), which integrates the frames of American politics and seafaring. Example (2c) is similarly creative, blending air traffic with computer operating systems. Pre-existing similarities between frames is thus not a precondition for conceptual integration – human beings are creative enough to see connections between the most disparate of things. On the other hand, conceptual integration is also applied to near-identical frames such as being at the bus stop on time and being there five minutes too late.

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Example (2d) illustrates the blending of near-identical scenarios, which in this case differ only in the presence or absence of a family member and the attendant consequences that the hearer is invited to simulate mentally. The product of a mental overlay of frames is called a blend. In example (2a), the blend is a version of the German political system with an Obama-like candidate running for a leading position. The blend thus exhibits characteristics that are inherited from both of the input spaces, but crucially, as will be explained below, the blend also has characteristics that go beyond the input spaces.

Vital Relations and Their Compression Fauconnier and Turner use the term “vital relations” to refer to correspondences between elements of different frames.24 The most important types of vital relations are time, identity, space, role, and cause-effect, among several others. An element of one frame corresponds to a certain element in another, by virtue of a vital relation. Conceptual integration involves the socalled compression of these vital relations: For instance, frames that are remote in time may be compressed into a single counterfactual blend. The sentence “Had Beethoven lived today, what music would he have composed?” achieves a compression of time that integrates a protagonist from the late 18th century with the frame of present-day culture. Compression of identities is involved in example (2b), which maps Clinton from the politics frame onto the Titanic of the seafaring frame. In counterfactuals, the compression of distinct or incompatible frame elements generates meanings that are manifestly “contrary to fact”: Beethoven died in 1827; Bill Clinton is not a shipping vessel. In other cases of conceptual integration, the evoked compression of frame elements may be less noticeable: an utterance such as “Bob’s girlfriends get younger and younger” does not mean that Bob has several girlfriends, all of whom experience a reversed ageing process. Rather, the example compresses a sequence of girlfriends into a single conceptual entity, which then literally has the characteristic of getting younger as time goes on. Another compression of identities is achieved in the above-mentioned example of the Germans not electing Obama. In this case time, an unspecified present, is the same across the two inputs, but the blend includes a political candidate that unifies the identity of the actual Barack Obama with his counterfactual German equivalent.

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Fauconnier/Turner, Conceptual Blending, p. 89.

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Selective Projection The principle of selective projection captures the insight that not all elements of an input frame necessarily have counterparts in the second input frame, and that not all elements of the input frames are projected into the blend. To take the Clinton-Titanic example, some frame elements clearly correspond to one another across the two input frames and also represent an identifiable element of the blend. Bill Clinton corresponds to the Titanic; a political career corresponds to a sea journey; a scandal corresponds to a grave accident that may put an end to the sea journey. These elements are mapped into a blend that unites aspects of political life and sea voyaging in a new and creative way. An important characteristic of this creativity is the fact that many aspects of both input frames are not mapped into the blend. The Titanic frame centrally involves passengers, but these do not directly correspond to any aspect of American politics, and they do not matter in the blend. The Clinton-Titanic does not have any passengers. Conversely, the process of impeachment is not easily mapped onto the Titanic frame. Correspondences for these frame elements may be conjured up, but such mappings are not strictly necessary to get the point of the blend. These asymmetries show that conceptual integration is a creative, non-deterministic act. It exhibits a number of regularities and recurring tendencies, but there can be no algorithm that would automatically derive the meaning of a certain blend from the characteristics of its input frames.

Emergent Structure The term “emergent structure” describes a notion that is converse to the idea of selective projection. While not all aspects of the input frames are mapped into the blend, it is also true that the blend contains meanings that are not present in either of the input frames. Emergent structure in blends thus shows that conceptual integration is not the mere addition of two input spaces: There is a surplus of meaning. The above-mentioned example “Bob’s girlfriends get younger and younger” illustrates this. Neither of Bob’s girlfriends is actually getting any younger; this meaning only arises as an emergent property of the blend, which compresses girlfriends of different ages into a single entity. Another example that carries emergent meaning is the utterance “I’d really like to meet myself at age 90”. This sentence evokes the science-fiction scenario of time travel. The conceptual integration of present and future has the emergent property that the time traveler can have a conversation with his older self: The “same” person corresponds to two dif-

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ferent individuals in the blend. The emergent structures of a blend can be highly suggestive and hardly noticeable at the same time. A sales pitch such as “Buy two shirts and save $25!” is designed to convince a customer that buying the shirts will be equivalent with putting away $25 for future use. This is at odds with the reality in which the customer is actually parting with money, not saving it. The sales pitch creates this powerful cognitive illusion by evoking a counterfactual frame in which the two shirts are available at the full price. The customer is invited to blend his own situation with the frame of a hypothetical customer who is willing to buy the shirts at the full price. If these two frames are blended, the actual customer is in fact $25 richer, if only in comparison to his hypothetical alter ego. It is only in the emergent structure of the blend that any money is being saved.

Is Counterfactual Thought a Restricted Grammatical Phenomenon? In the examples above, conceptual integration is illustrated with sentencelength examples, many of which conform to the general “if-then” schema of counterfactual conditional clauses in English. This may be taken to mean that counterfactual thought is a phenomenon that is evoked only by a small set of grammatical structures. Quite to the contrary, conceptual integration, the process that underlies counterfactual thought, is at work in many grammatical domains. The following sections discuss some of these domains, spelling out the meanings that they encode and pointing out the relations to counterfactuality.

Negation The first grammatical category to be discussed here is negation, which is illustrated by the example in (4): “I see nobody on the road”, said Alice. “I only wish I had such eyes”, the King remarked, in a fretful tone. “To be able to see Nobody. And at that distance, too! Why, it’s as much as _I_ can do to see real people, by this light!”25

In this passage from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the King’s remark exposes the cognitive complexity that underlies a simple grammatical category such as negation. A full understanding of Alice’s utterance involves the conceptual overlay of two scenes that differ in the presence or absence 25

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass [Oxford World’s Classics], Oxford 2009 [1871], pp. 198–199.

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of a visible person. It is only the counterfactual positioning of a non-existent person on an empty road that results in the concept of a road with nobody on it.

Modality A further grammatical domain that requires conceptual integration is the category of modality, which encodes meanings such as obligation, possibility, or necessity. In English, a grammatically distinct set of modal auxiliaries expresses these meanings. Each of the examples in (5) evokes two conflicting scenarios, requiring the hearer to simulate the consequences of integrating the two. (5a) I would attend your talk, but I have a class to prepare. (5b) They have to score one more goal to win. (5c) You may now kiss the bride. Example (5a) evokes a counterfactual scenario in which the speaker does not have any prior commitments. The second scenario is the actual situation, in which the addressee’s talk is taking place. In the blend, the speaker’s counterfactual alter ego is able to attend the talk. Similarly, examples (5b) and (5c) evoke two almost parallel scenarios. The hearer is prompted to imagine an alternative scenario, in which a single event (scoring a goal, being pronounced husband and wife) leads to a complete transformation of the situation that holds at the moment of speech.

Causation In many of the world’s languages, the meaning of causation is expressed by grammatical means, for instance by a suffix that attaches to a verb. English does not have such structures, but it has a number of constructions with verbs such as “cause” that serve the same purpose. The examples in (6) illustrate some of these. (6a) Warning: Smoking causes impotence! (6b) My inner 3-year old made me do it. (6c) Experiences, not possessions, lead to greater happiness. The ability to reason about cause and effect crucially draws on conceptual integration. Understanding the cause of an event always involves the mental

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simulation of an alternative counterfactual scenario that has a different outcome. In order to understand (6c), it is hence necessary to imagine several scenarios of happy and unhappy people and their respective histories with regard to material and experiential affluence.

Clause Linkage Complex sentences can be simply juxtaposed, but speakers can also resort to a range of grammatical structures that indicate the semantic relation that holds between the components of such sentences. English has a set of conjunctions that have the grammatical function of clause linkage, and, at the same time, the semantic function of guiding the conceptual integration of the frames that are described in each clause. The relations between events are manifold; the examples in (7) offer some illustrations. (7a) Bob speaks excellent French, even though he has never lived there. (7b) You only won because you cheated. (7c) I will believe that when I see the evidence. In concessive clause linkage (7a), the speaker expresses the opinion that the co-occurrence of two frames is in some way surprising. The example thus invites the hearer to consider the French proficiency of other people who have not lived in France and to draw a comparison with Bob. The speaker states that in a mental simulation of this kind, Bob compares rather well. Example (7b) is another illustration of grammatically expressed causation, which was discussed above. The third example prompts the conceptual integration of two scenarios that differ in time and in the presence of visible evidence.

Attributive Constructions In English, nouns can be modified through a preceding attributive adjective, as in “a red apple”. Since adjectives encode properties, it is not surprising that such attributive constructions are understood as assigning a property to the referent of the head noun. This could be thought to happen in a strictly compositional fashion: “a red apple” is simply a red thing that is an apple. The examples in (8) show that the conceptual integration of nouns and their attributive adjectives can be much more complex.

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a likely candidate a safe distance a guilty pleasure an intellectual desert

To single out just one of these examples for discussion, the expression “a safe distance” blends a frame of danger with a second frame of physical location, denoting the distance between a protagonist and a source of danger at which the protagonist is no longer at risk. Understanding the example necessitates the counterfactual simulation of what would happen to the protagonist were he any closer to the source of danger.

Compounding Categories such as negation, causation, adjectival modification, or clause linkage reflect relatively complex grammatical matters. It is important to realize that conceptual integration is also at work in comparatively simpler linguistic structures, for instance in lexical formations. The phenomenon of noun-noun compounding serves as an example. Given a compound such as “apple juice”, the resultant meaning is derivable from a simple algorithm such as “A compound XY denotes a kind of Y that is made out of X”. This nicely accounts for examples such as “leather jacket”, “chocolate bar”, or “gold watch”. However, many compounds follow different patterns, as a comparison of “steel knife” and “butter knife” reveals. The expectable point made here is that the meaning of any given compound is the result of conceptual integration. The examples below show three particularly ingenious blends. (9a) fire station (9b) money problem (9c) one-hit wonder In these examples, the two respective components clearly relate to one another, but the relations are non-trivial and different in each case. To point out the relation to counterfactuality, a “money problem” is understood as the undesirable scenario of not having enough money. The compound evokes a counterfactual state of affairs in which enough money is available and the problem disappears.

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Interim Summary The preceding sections have presented a cognitive linguistic perspective on counterfactuality. The mainstay of such a perspective is that conceptual integration makes use of general input frames and that counterfactual scenarios result from the fusion of several input frames into a blend. The process of blending involves the compression of vital relations such as time, space, identity, role, and others. The elements that are projected into the blend are drawn from the input frames in a selective, non-deterministic fashion. By the same token, conceptual integration creates emergent structure in the blend, which conveys meaning that is not present in either of the input spaces. The brief survey of grammatical categories has made the case that conceptual integration and counterfactual reasoning are not limited to counterfactual conditional clauses. Instead, these processes extend over a multitude of grammatical domains and even permeate the meaning of lexical elements. Importantly, Fauconnier and Turner do not see conceptual integration as a cognitive process that is only at work in language.26 They make the much stronger claim that conceptual integration, and hence the ability to reason counterfactually, is a prerequisite for human culture. This claim will not be further explored here; instead, the next section briefly explores the implications of conceptual integration for work on counterfactuality in disciplines other than linguistics.

IV. What Can the Theory of Conceptual Integration Offer to Other Disciplines? Fauconnier and Turner’s theory of conceptual integration has been subject to the criticism that it does not make any falsifiable predictions, which renders it difficult to apply in experimental psychological work.27 Despite this drawback, blending theory has attracted a fair amount of attention, inspiring work not only in cognitive linguistics, but also in literature studies,28 human-computer interaction,29 musicology,30 and other fields. The particu26 27

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Cf. Fauconnier/Turner, Conceptual Blending, p. 389. Cf. Raymond W. Gibbs, “Making Good Psychology out of Blending Theory”, in: Cognitive Linguistics, 11/2000, pp. 347–358. Cf. Vera Tobin, “Ways of Reading Sherlock Holmes: The Entrenchment of Discourse Blends”, in: Language and Literature, 15/2006, pp. 73–90. Cf. Manuel Imaz/David Benyon, Designing with Blends: Conceptual Foundations of Human-Computer Interaction and Software Engineering, Cambridge 2007. Cf. Lawrence Zbikowski, Conceptualizing Music: Cognitive Structure, Theory, and Analysis, New York 2002.

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lar value of blending theory lies in its usefulness as an analytical heuristic: it can open up original perspectives on works of art or other products of human imagination. With regard to the study of counterfactuality, blending theory seems a particularly conspicuous analytical framework because it reveals that counterfactual thought is basic, not ornamental. As was argued above, the conceptual mechanisms that underlie counterfactuality fully permeate language. While counterfactual thought thus cannot be avoided, it can be made explicit and exposed for analysis. For instance, given a theme such as time travel in science fiction literature, blending theory provides a descriptive apparatus that allows the researcher to capture a number of basic insights: What frames are being used as inputs? What correspondences exist across those frames? Which correspondences are compressed? What is projected into the blend? What is not? What emergent structures appear in the blend? Answering these questions and thereby spelling out the component parts of a blend will yield a new and perhaps surprising understanding of the time travel scenario, which can then inform a subsequent literary analysis. Similarly, dissecting the structure of counterfactual blends may prove useful in analyses of ethical dilemmas, visual art, or advertising. Summing up, it was the goal of the present paper to show that the theory of conceptual integration is fruitfully applied to the study of counterfactuality. In order to do so, it was necessary to provide a brief survey of the general cognitive linguistic enterprise. If at least some of these ideas appeal to the non-linguist reader, this paper has met its objectives. Any misappropriation is highly encouraged.

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Bernhard Kleeberg (Konstanz)

Significance and Abstraction: Scientific Uses of Counterfactual Thought Experiments in the Early 20th Century

I. Introduction The historian […] must always maintain towards his subject an indeterminist point of view. He must constantly put himself at a point in the past at which the known factors still seem to permit different outcomes. If he speaks of Salamis, then it must be as if the Persians might still win […]. Only by continually recognizing that possibilities are unlimited can the historian do justice to the fullness of life.1

Though counterfactuals come easily to historians of science, they have only recently started to systematically reflect on the epistemic status and analytical uses of counterfactuals.2 Thus it does not come as a surprise that the history of systematic reflection on counterfactuals has been largely neglected as well – although the subject has been touched on in accounts of the history of causality and the history of experiments in particular. The attention focused on the natural sciences and on how they modeled reality by means of counterfactual thought experiments in order to gain knowledge about natural laws and to design real experiments, whilst the humanities seemed to be of lesser interest since they followed the approach of verstehen and therefore put less emphasis on causal explanations of reality.3 Yet, in historiography, the question of reality and its representations seems to be particularly challenging. Unaided by direct observation or experimental tests, historians face a range of epistemological and methodological problems when trying to 1

2

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Johan Huizinga, “The Idea of History”, in: Fritz Stern (ed.), The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present, New York 1973, pp. 290–303, p. 292. All translations are mine except where indicated otherwise. I would like to thank Florian Ernst for corrections and bibliographical assistance. See the special edition of Isis (99/2008) on Counterfactuals and the Historian of Science, ed. by Gregory Radick. The German term “Wissenschaft” applies to the natural sciences and the humanities. In this article, the term “science” is generally used as a translation for “Wissenschaft”, while “natural science” is equivalent to the German “Naturwissenschaft”.

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establish accounts of historical facts and developments, proposing general concepts to describe the past, or creating historical narratives. If deductive reasoning and causal explanation cannot be regarded as core practices in historiography, if “[k]nowing in the historical sense rarely if ever means indicating a strictly closed causality”, and indeterminacy rules, as Johan Huizinga put it – how can historical fact and fiction be kept apart?4 The problem points to a long history of debates about the epistemological status and cultural impact of scientific theories, which have been fought along the alleged opposition between the natural sciences and the humanities – the former associated with realism, objectivity, and truth, the latter with constructivism, subjectivity, and opinion. This dichotomization points to the late 19th-century opposition between the practices of erklären and verstehen in the natural sciences and humanities: While the natural sciences dealt with empirical data, which they explained by means of observation and experiment, by relating facts to natural laws, the humanities dealt with the meaning of culture, which they tried to understand on the basis of shared experiences. Causality and causal explanations seemed to belong to the realm of the natural sciences, whilst teleology and hermeneutic interpretations were tied to the humanities.5 It is this historical context that serves as a starting point for the following remarks on the history of systematic reflection on counterfactuals in the natural sciences and humanities, because within the processes of epistemological and methodological self-reflection of the Wissenschaften around 1900, a new technique was being discussed that seemed to hold an intermediate position: thought experiments.6 Thought experiments came to be seen as a legitimate means – both in prognostic and in retrospective analyses – to determine significant factors within natural or cultural developments, and to meet concerns about adequate abstraction from a confusing plenitude of data. With respect to questions about the relation between the particular and the general, thought experiments offered an alternative to strictly nomological or inductive reasoning, as well as to hermeneutic interpretations of teleological action or idiographic restriction to unique events. Heuristically, they could provide for undisturbed ideal situations in order to simulate the design and course of real experiments, or offer ideal-typical orientation for the interpre4

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Johan Huizinga, “The Task of Cultural History”, in: Men and Ideas: Essays by Johan Huizinga, trans. James S. Holmes/Hans van Marie, New York 1959, pp. 17–76, p. 39. For recent positions challenging this opposition, cf. Uljana Feest (ed.), Historical Perspectives on ‘Erklären’ and ‘Verstehen’, Vienna/New York 2009. Cf. Ulrich Kühne, Die Methode des Gedankenexperiments, Frankfurt a.M. 2005.

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tation of (historical) contexts of human action; they could serve as tools to evaluate the significance of actions or events, to logically reconstruct chains of action or events, and initiate possible changes of perspective. In this sense, the epistemic status of thought experiments around 1900 was discussed from two allegedly opposite directions: In the positivist and empiricist view of the natural sciences, thought experiments helped to explain natural phenomena, whereas in the hermeneutic view of the humanities, they helped to understand historical and social phenomena. These perspectives can be exemplified by two articles, which both stressed the necessity of abstracting from concrete multi-causal connections by means of thought experiments in order to be able to gain knowledge about significant causal relations: Ernst Mach’s “On Thought Experiments”, and the chapter on “Objective Possibility and Adequate Causation in Historical Explanation” from Max Weber’s Critical Studies in the Logic of the Cultural Sciences, both first published around 1900.7 Mach proposed three levels of experience: basic human experience, physical experiments, and thought experiments. He considered imagination a legitimate tool for the natural sciences, and thought experiments of vital importance to scientific research, since they helped to predict possible outcomes. To Weber, in contrast, thought experiments in the sense of retrospective prognoses about possible outcomes of historical conditions formed a crucial part of research practices in the humanities. Here, they served as epistemic tools to substantiate historical causality and validate historical narratives. As will be discussed in the following paper, counterfactuality in both cases served as the starting point for epistemological self-reflection on the relation between reality and scientific imagination.

II. Nomological Imagination Thought experiments are not real experiments. They merge the mental design of experiments with the procedure of conducting them, hence their hypotheses cannot be validated independently – there is no external resistance that has impact on their operational sequence and could thus open up the 7

Cf. Max Weber, “Critical Studies in the Logic of the Cultural Sciences”, in: Weber, The Methodology of the Social Sciences, trans. and ed. Edward A. Shils/Henry A. Finch, Chicago, IL , 1949, pp. 113–188; Ernst Mach, “Über Gedankenexperimente”, in: Mach, Erkenntnis und Irrtum: Skizze zur Psychologie der Forschung, 2nd ed., Leipzig 1906, pp. 181–197, in part trans. W.O. Price/S. Krimsky, “On Thought Experiments. A Translation and Adaptation of a Work by Ernst Mach (1897) ‘Über Gedankenexperimente’”, in: Philosophical Forum, 4/1973, pp. 446–457.

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possibility of arriving at unexpected novel knowledge.8 Hence, only the plausibility of certain hypotheses as compared to alternative hypotheses can be canvassed under ideal and undisturbed conditions. Yet, at the same time, thought experiments cannot simply be regarded as fiction. They are no products of mere imagination, with their sequences obeying the arbitrary demands of a subjective experimenter. Their design, operational sequence, and outcome follow presumed logical, causal, or other interdependencies that serve as a standard for judgments of the validity of the conclusions. Thought experiments thus neither meet the epistemic ideals of an (aperspectival) objectivity that requires independent and quantifiable data, nor can they be relegated to the realm of arbitrary and subjective imagination. Rather, they form a third technique to substantiate scientific knowledge: They heuristically serve as “intuition pumps”,9 as epistemological mediators that help to merge logical or causal sequences in a way suggesting a direct correspondence between models and reality. In addition, they can be used to test a corpus of knowledge, to observe the observer, helping to differentiate between the actual course of events and its potential alternatives in the sense of “second order concepts”, as Yehuda Elkana put it.10 Ernst Mach, a protagonist of a positivistic-phenomenological epistemology of the sciences, argued that the scientist had to submit his view on reality to a process of clarification if he wanted to differentiate between relevant causes and irrelevant conditions of natural processes. To this aim, Mach proposed thought experiments as a technique of scientific imagination in order to predict a course of events. In his essay “On Thought Experiments” he 8 9

10

Cf. Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What?, Cambridge, MA , 2000, pp. 71–72. Elke Brendel, “Intuition Pumps and the Proper Use of Thought Experiments”, in: Dialectica, 58/2004, pp. 89–108; Mary S. Morgan, “Models, Stories and the Economic World”, in: Journal of Economic Methodology, 8/2001, pp. 361–384, p. 363. Similar to historical narratives, these thought experiments lead towards a specific ending (cf. Hayden White, The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, Baltimore/London 1987). Cf. Yehuda Elkana, “Das Experiment als Begriff zweiter Ordnung”, in: Rechtshistorisches Journal, 7/1988, pp. 244–271, p. 249; Niklas Luhmann, Die Wissenschaft der Gesellschaft, Frankfurt a.M. 1998, pp. 75–87; Marcus Krause/Nicolas Pethes, “Zwischen Erfahrung und Möglichkeit: Literarische Experimentalkulturen im 19. Jahrhundert”, in: Krause/Pethes (eds.), Literarische Experimentalkulturen: Poetologien des Experiments im 19. Jahrhundert, Würzburg 2005, pp. 7–18, p. 14. According to Max Weber, scientific objects, their observer, and the concepts permanently change, rendering it necessary to permanently rethink them (cf. John Drysdale, “How are Social-Scientific Concepts Formed? A Reconstruction of Max Weber’s Theory of Concept Formation”, in: Sociological Theory, 14/1996, pp. 71–88, p. 75).

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presented the practice of experimenting and its method of variation as basic anthropological operations. Human beings could either gain experience by passively observing changes in their environment, or by actively manipulating their environment, which helped to acquire highly reliable, though vague, perceptions of reality.11 Finally, experiments directed by reason arranged settings in reflection of everyday experiences: They intentionally extended experiences, provided far more details, and thus formed the basis of science. Still, in order to link detailed experimental knowledge to experiential certainty, a third kind of experiment was required – thought experiments.12 Thought experiments helped to evaluate expectations about the effects of specific events or actions without actually carrying them out. Based on a special kind of experience, “thought experience”, imagination thus could help form assumptions of the consequences of certain conditions. The main uses of thought experiments hence lay in “saving” experience by varying causes and circumstances in a simulated counterfactual scenario in order to determine significance and facilitate abstraction. Due to their relatively low cost, as compared to physical experiments, they constituted a necessary precondition for designing experimental settings and averting failures. Sometimes a thought experiment could even be so decisive and definitive that the experimenter would not render it necessary to verify it by physical experiments,13 and even if it did not provide a decisive solution, it could serve as a starting point and support an educated guess about factors relevant for the real experiment.14 Thus, thought experiments meet Mach’s ideal of parsimonious cognitive effort – “economy of thought” (“Denkökonomie”): It is the object of science to replace, or save, experiences, by the reproduction and anticipation of facts in thought. Memory is handier than experience, and often answers the same purpose. This economical office of science, which fills its whole life, is apparent at first glance; and with its full recognition all mysticism in science disappears.15 11

12 13

14 15

Mach, “Gedankenexperimente”, p. 183. This kind of playful instinctive experiments could be found in animals as well, according to studies in experimental animal psychology by C. Lloyd Morgan (p. 184). Mach, “Gedankenexperimente”, p. 193. Cf. Mach, “Gedankenexperimente”, p. 188 (pointing to Pierre Duhem); Kühne, Methode des Gedankenexperiments, pp. 165–224. Mach, “Gedankenexperimente”, p. 194. Cf. Ernst Mach, The Science of Mechanics: A Critical and Historical Exposition of its Principles, trans. Thomas J. McCormack, Chicago 1893, p. 481; Kühne, Methode des Gedankenexperiments, pp. 177–178. Unless indicated otherwise, all italics in quotations from this and other texts are in the original.

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In order to gain prognoses from thought experiments, the experimenter – in this aspect differing from the poet, as Mach points out – was to reflect reality in a “logico-economic process of clarification” that helped him to determine causal significance.16 Thus, counterfactual thought experiments provided valuable aid to the nomological core practices of scientific research: Circumstances identified as non-influential could be varied arbitrarily, so that scenarios might be constructed that differed considerably from the original situation, facilitating generalizations. On the other hand, the continuous variation of influential circumstances helped to get to a “complete synopsis of possible cases” – and thus to analytically distinguish significant and non-significant causes.17 One way to achieve this was by quantitatively reducing one or more conditions until they disappeared, so that the remaining conditions had to be regarded as solely relevant. Mach referred to this procedure as “idealization” or “abstraction”; it provided the foundations to scientific laws and concepts: “All general physical terms and laws […] are being obtained by means of idealization”.18 Although Mach offered many useful insights into the scientific uses of thought experiments, and although he pointed to their general scientific relevance even for mathematics as a purely deductive science, where concepts took the place of thought experiments after their success was known,19 there obviously is a difference between using counterfactuals for conceptualizing future experiments and employing them to assess the causal relation of past actions or events in a way historians might do. But Mach does not only apply thought experiments to answer “what if ?”-questions about future possibilities, but to past events as well. Of course, he states, the reliability of prognoses depends on the question whether the experimenters stuck to reality. Whilst project designers, utopists, or poets use their imagination to combine circumstances and effects that did not coincide in reality, the concepts of “respectable merchants” or “devoted inventors or researchers” are “apt im-

16 17

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Mach, “Gedankenexperimente”, p. 188. Mach, “Gedankenexperimente”, pp. 188–191. As Mach claims, these thought experiments led to the most important transformations in human thought and opened up the most significant new paths for research. Often, rules made from common sense could be falsified by thought experiments. Mach, “Gedankenexperimente”, p. 192. Mach, “Gedankenexperimente”, p. 198: “Here, we are dealing with a construction of thought which took the place of previous thought experiments after its outcome was completely clear and familiar to the author. Any explanation, any proof, any deduction is a result of this procedure”.

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ages of facts”;20 and the more exact our memory of the “involuntary images of facts” is, the higher are the chances to become aware of details that escaped our attention during direct observation, and thus to discover something new.21 By interfering with the habitual frames of reasoning, Mach argued, involuntary variation of details helped create knowledge, especially if triggered by paradoxes.22 Used in retrospect, successful counterfactual thought experiments initially depended on diligent direct observation that led to an exact image of facts, but the power of imagination was able to call attention to neglected facts and circumstances, and thus allowed for shifts in perspective: In the reproduction of facts in thought, we never reproduce the facts in full, but only that side of them which is important to us, moved to this directly or indirectly by a practical interest. Our reproductions are invariably abstractions. Here again is an economical tendency.23

Although Mach did not relate thought experiments to historical investigation, his ideas on significance, abstraction, and perspectivity help to shed light on the epistemic status of counterfactuals in historiography – even though he himself placed emphasis on the contingent nature of historical developments: The historical investigation of the development of a science is most needful, lest the principles treasured up in it become a system of half-understood prescripts, or worse, a system of prejudices. Historical investigation not only promotes the understanding of that which now is, but also brings new possibilities before us, by showing that which exists to be in great measure conventional and accidental.24

20

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Mach, “Gedankenexperimente”, pp. 186–187: “The dreamer, the builder of castles in the air, the poet of social or technological utopias all experiment in thought. Even the respectable merchant as well as the devoted inventor or researcher does the same thing. Each of them conceives circumstances and associates with these the idea, expectation, or supposition of certain results; they create a thought experience” (trans. Price/Krimsky, p. 451). Cf. Mach, “Gedankenexperimente”, p. 187. Cf. Mach, “Gedankenexperimente”, pp. 196–197. Following association psychology, Mach points out that paradoxes interfere with the regular and nonreflective practices of observation and trigger a meta-perspective – the observation of the observer. Mach, Science of Mechanics, p. 482. Mach, Science of Mechanics, p. 255.

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III. Counterfactuals and Idiographic Causality Highlighting the role of thought experiments as a starting point for abstracting from empirical data and as a means of confining analyses to significant causes, Mach considerably diverged from one of the principal 19th-century theories of science – John Stuart Mill’s. As Weyma Lübbe and recently Michael Heidelberger have pointed out, Mill’s epistemic ideal of causality followed Laplace’s determinism, grounded on the idea that in order to explain effects, comprehensive knowledge was a necessary prerequisite. All conditions, Mill wrote, were “equally indispensable to the production of the consequent; and the statement of the cause is incomplete, unless in some shape or other we introduce them all”. The cause was the sum total of all conditions that invariably led to the consequent.25 Mill thus denied the possibility of discerning all conditions relevant for the emergence of complex social phenomena. We could not clearly assign the cause of an event to one single sufficient condition, hence the social sciences had to search for regularities and the “ultimate laws” on which social relations were based. This made them abstract sciences.26 Unwilling to submit historical development to a Hegelian master narrative, however, Wilhelm Windelband, Heinrich Rickert, Max Weber, and others at the turn of the 20th century claimed that historiography and the social sciences had to be understood as experiential sciences. Unlike the abstract nomothetic sciences, the “sciences of reality” (“Wirklichkeitswissenschaften”) dealt with real events. Whilst the nomothetic sciences inductively 25

26

John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic Ratiocinative and Inductive, Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence and the Methods of Scientific Investigation, in: J.M. Robson (ed.), Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Vol. 7, Toronto/London 1974, III , 3, qtd. in Michael Heidelberger, “From Mill via von Kries to Max Weber: Causality, Explanation, and Understanding”, in: Feest (ed.), Historical Perspectives, pp. 241–266, p. 246. Cf. also Heidelberger, “Origins of the Logical Theory of Probability: von Kries, Wittgenstein, Waismann”, in: International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 15/2001, pp. 177–188; Weyma Lübbe, “Die Fäden im Gewebe der Natur: Determinismus und Probabilismus in der Kausalitätstheorie John Stuart Mills”, in: Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung, 47/1993, pp. 370–387; Lübbe, “Die Theorie der adäquaten Verursachung: Zum Verhältnis von philosophischem und juristischem Kausalitätsbegriff ”, in: Zeitschrift für allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie, 24/1993, pp. 87–102, pp. 89–93. Cf. John Stuart Mill, “On the Definition of Political Economy”, in: Collected Works, Vol. 4, Toronto 1967, pp. 321–327; Heidelberger, “From Mill”, pp. 244–248; Mary S. Morgan, “Economic Man as Model Man: Ideal Types, Idealization and Caricatures”, in: Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 28/2006, pp. 1–27.

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inferred apodictic knowledge of regularities by means of abstracting from reality, sciences of reality aimed at assertoric knowledge of the specific and the unique. In order to do so, they proceeded idiographically, as Windelband put it, and tried to generate vivid images of a specific event, a series of deeds, a person, or gestalt.27 Yet, the idiographic sciences did not deal with the unique as a mere object of curiosity, but rather, like the natural sciences, had to set it into relation to a more general texture, thus creating meaningful facts as opposed to plain data.28 Windelband thus addressed a problem similar to the one Mill had identified with regard to the need for distinguishing between causally relevant facts and mere data in the natural sciences. Rickert refined Windelband’s distinction, pointing out that the cultural meaning of unique scientific objects lay in the significant difference to other objects, their individuality in contrast to mere differentness.29 The historian had to direct his attention to these unique objects as media of meaning, and in a next step select those that, due to their cultural value, were significant for cultural development: “historical individualities”.30 Historiography thus had to follow its own logical principles of selection, which had often been overlooked by historians who aimed at an objective representation of historical facts and claimed to simply describe history “how it essentially was”, as Leopold von Ranke and his followers demanded. In contrast to the claims of historism, historical selection was always based on mutual human sympathy and value judgments, which could not be put aside without destroying the scientificity of historiography because this would result in a “futile mass of nothing but different formations, which would all in the same way be meaningful and meaningless, and none of which would be of historical interest”.31 What Rickert aimed at was the perspectivity of historistic accounts, which lay hidden behind their alleged value-free objectivity. He thus embraced Eduard Meyer’s criticism of his distinction between significant and insignifi27

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Wilhelm Windelband, “Geschichte und Naturwissenschaft (Straßburger Rektoratsrede, 1894)”, in: Windelband, Präludien: Aufsätze und Reden zur Einleitung in die Philosophie, 3rd ed., Tübingen 1907, pp. 355–379, pp. 363, 369–370. Windelband, “Geschichte und Naturwissenschaft”, pp. 372–373. In this sense, Windelband understands “facts” as teleological. Cf. Heinrich Rickert, Kulturwissenschaft und Naturwissenschaft, 6th/7th ed., Tübingen 1926, pp. 79–81. Rickert, Kulturwissenschaft, p. 81. Rickert, Kulturwissenschaft, p. 84. Thus the scientific status of history had been challenged by Karl Lamprecht, Herbert Spencer, and others, who claimed it necessary to implement natural laws into historiography.

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cant historical events: Meyer complained that this judgment simply reflected different interests.32 For Rickert, this is precisely the point: He argues that the content of historical representations changed with the leading cultural values the historian relates to. A change in perspective led to different judgments on the historical significance of past events or actions – and accordingly to different stories told. Yet, this did neither imply that history was a teleological process, as presumed by philosophers of history, nor that historiography did not deal with causality. On the contrary, [a]n individualizing and value-relating historiography has to analyze the causal relations between the unique and individual processes it is concerned with, insofar as they do not coincide with general laws of nature, even though the portrayal of individual causal relations needs general terms as integral elements of historical concepts.33

The representation of historical development depended on the selection of significant historical facts and causes: Any incident had an effect, but only those incidents with significant value-related effects, to which we connect a meaning we can understand, were of historical efficacy.34 Any “real historical account” reflected not on general causes and causal laws, but only on individual causes for individual effects.35 Unfortunately, Rickert keeps us in the dark about the concrete techniques for distinguishing between significant and insignificant causes, relating them to transcendental values, as Daniel Sˇuber has argued.36 It was Max Weber who provided a practical solution to this problem, one that helped to differentiate between significant and arbitrary causal chains by establishing characteristic phenomena by means of selection and integration.37 In order to do so, Weber drew upon Gustav Radbruch’s concept of “objective potentiality” and Johannes von Kries’s “theory of adequate causation”, as Weyma Lübbe, Fritz Ringer, and most recently Sˇuber and Hei32

33 34 35 36

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Cf. Eduard Meyer, Zur Theorie und Methodik der Geschichte: Geschichtsphilosophische Untersuchungen, Halle 1902, qtd. in: Rickert, Kulturwissenschaft, p. 89; Rickert, Die Grenzen der naturwissenschaftlichen Begriffsbildung, 2nd ed., Tübingen 1913, pp. 290–291, 370–371, 424–425. Rickert, Kulturwissenschaft, p. 92, my italics. Cf. Rickert, Kulturwissenschaft, p. 93. Rickert, Grenzen, p. 377. Cf. Daniel Sˇuber, “Social Science Between Neo-Kantianism and Philosophy of Life: The Cases of Weber, Simmel, and Mannheim”, in: Feest (ed.), Historical Perspectives, pp. 267–290, p. 279. Max Weber, “Roscher und Knies und die logischen Probleme der historischen Nationalökonomie (1903–05)”, in: Johannes Winckelmann (ed.), Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre, Tübingen 1922, pp. 1–145, p. 5.

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delberger have pointed out.38 According to Sˇuber, Weber “introduced ‘evidence’ as an evaluative criterion for the verstehende approaches to science […], [which] eventually referred to rules of experience again”.39 Following Radbruch and von Kries, he thus “insisted on criteria that arose from within the confines of empirical science and would be derived from Erfahrung”.40 Similarly, Heidelberger has called attention to the fact that Weber’s concept of “interpretative understanding” “is much more distant from the tradition of Dilthey, Windelband, and Rickert and much closer to the usual conception of ‘explanation’ in the natural sciences than commonly believed”.41 Relying on the concepts of “objective potentiality” and “adequate causation”, Weber introduced counterfactual thought experiments as the crucial technique to establish a sound epistemological basis for historical knowledge. Counterfactual reasoning helped to create patterns of significance among empirically known historical causes, linking historiography to experience and causation and thus advancing its status as a Wirklichkeitswissenschaft in contrast to the writing of historical novels.42 Since they help to discern significant causes in historical development, counterfactual thought experiments provide the nodal points not only for historical explanations, but also for the construction of historical narratives – their logical structure or plot – if it is claimed that their epistemological status has to rely on reference to historical reality: “Obviously […] only those events and conditions belong in a historical narration which are decisive for historical causal connections”.43 Weber does not, however, explicitly tackle the question of how to construct a historical narrative. He is merely concerned with the causal struc38

39 40 41

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43

Cf. Lübbe, “Theorie der adäquaten Verursachung”; Fritz Ringer, “Max Weber on Causal Analysis, Interpretation, and Comparison”, in: History and Theory, 41/2002, pp. 163–178, pp. 163–164; Heidelberger, “From Mill”. Sˇuber, “Social Science”, p. 279. Sˇuber, “Social Science”, p. 279. Heidelberger, “From Mill”, p. 241; cf. also Sˇuber, “Social Science”, p. 2; Ringer, “Max Weber”, p. 163. Cf. Max Weber, “‘Objectivity’ in Social Science and Social Policy”, in: The Methodology of the Social Sciences, trans. and ed. Edward A. Shils/Henry A. Finch, New York 1949, pp. 50–112, p. 72. Weber, “Logic of the Cultural Sciences”, p. 138. The term “historical reality” is, of course, highly problematic. My argument only assumes that historiography claims epistemic validity as a system of reference that relies on something outside historiography itself. That is, historical narratives can be considered a specific – factual – mode of narration, a récit factual (Gérard Genette). Cf. Christian Klein/Matías Martínez, “Introduction”, in: Klein/Martínez (eds.), Wirklichkeitserzählungen: Felder, Formen und Funktionen nicht-literarischen Erzählens, Stuttgart 2009, pp. 1–13, p. 2.

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tures of historical development, which lift descriptions to the level of scientific historical explanations. Following Windelband and Rickert, Weber distinguished in Roscher and Knies: The Logical Problems of Historical Economics between the “sciences of reality” and the nomological sciences that inductively inferred laws and regularities by abstracting from the concrete and imaginable empirical reality of specific phenomena.44 In the end, they created unreal representations of quantifiable processes, which could be described by means of laws of causality. The sciences of reality, on the other hand, tried to gain knowledge about specific constellations. Since it was impossible to exhaustively reproduce even a narrow part of this infinitely differentiated reality, they had to concentrate on constituents of reality significant to us because of their singularity, exclude the arbitrary, and to classify the particular within the universal context of causes and effects by developing comprehensive concepts as selections of representative characteristics of reality. To do so, Weber followed the concept of adequate causation, which assessed adequacy by means of counterfactuals. He borrowed it from the physiologist, philosopher, and theoretician of probability Johannes von Kries (1853–1928). On the basis of probability theory, von Kries had identified conditions that were not accidentally but “intrinsically accountable for the causal outcome”.45 He thus defined adequate causation as antecedent conditions significantly favoring an outcome. The method von Kries applied was that of counterfactuals, imagining specific antecedents, absent or altered: “Asking for the causality of a certain object amounts to the question what would have happened had this real condition (a particular part) of the complex of conditions been missing, but everything else had stayed exactly the same”.46 Here, Weber ties in, using counterfactual reasoning for the “conjectural sorting and ranking of possible causes”, as Ringer put it.47 According to Weber, the problem: what might have happened if, for example, Bismarck had not decided to make war, is by no means an ‘idle’ one. It does indeed bear on something decisive for the historical moulding of reality, namely, on what causal significance is properly to be attributed to this individual decision in the context of the totality of infinitely numerous ‘factors,’ all of which had to be in such and such an arrangement and in no other if this result were to emerge, and what role it is therefore to 44 45 46

47

Cf. Max Weber, “Roscher und Knies”, p. 5. Heidelberger, “From Mill”, p. 249. Johannes von Kries, “Ueber den Begriff ”, p. 198, qtd. in Heidelberger, “From Mill”, p. 257; Ringer, “Max Weber”, p. 164. Ringer, “Max Weber”, p. 166.

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be assigned in an historical exposition. If history is to be raised above the level of a mere chronicle of notable events and personalities, it has no alternative but to pose such questions. And so indeed it has proceeded since its establishment as a science.48

Hence counterfactuality – a concept about causation, based on insights from probability calculus – formed the basis of the scientificity of historiography as a science that tries to understand the meaning and significance of historical actions and events: Historical understanding is based on counterfactual explanations. They help to make “judgments of possibility”, serve as tools to substantiate the significance of certain historical facts, and sustain historical narratives that combine these facts into a plot. Historical knowledge of the past always contains an implicit judgment of what is not historically true, what has not been the course of events, what has not been causally relevant or significant, but what is still possible: Representations of the factual world have to be judged against counterfactual possible worlds. Similar to the use of thought experiments to set up real experiments in the natural sciences, as Mach described them, thought experiments in history help to set up the real course of events, that is, factual historical development, by playing through possible events in a given historical setting. But although the practice of experimenting in thought depends on the faculty of imagination and thus might lead to the creation of detailed virtual historical scenarios, counterfactual thought experiments do not simply link fiction and science. They do, however, help to detect subjective idealizations of historical reality by playing with the logical structure of the patterns of historical narrations, that is, they manipulate those elements on the level of the histoire (in the narratological sense) that are crucial to the respective master narratives.49 Even more importantly, counterfactual thought experiments link historical narratives to experience, since they help to discern significant causal nodes in historical development: A historical narrative might be considered scientific, as opposed to historical novels, if its plot structure coincides with a logical structure that follows along the lines of historically significant causes and effects. 48 49

Weber, “Critical Studies”, p. 164. Superordinate forms of narration can be seen as ideal types which constitute the elements and limit the conditions of the narrated world. They are of vital importance because they influence the design of models (cf. Angela N.H. Creager et al. [eds.], Science without Laws: Model Systems, Cases, Exemplary Narratives, Durham/London 2007; Bernhard Kleeberg, “Gewinn maximieren, Gleichgewicht modellieren: Erzählen im ökonomischen Diskurs”, in: Klein/Martínez [eds.], Wirklichkeitserzählungen, pp. 136–159; Mary S. Morgan, “Models, Stories and the Economic World”, in: Journal of Economic Methodology, 8/2001, pp. 361–384).

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When simulating possible historical worlds, counterfactual thought experiments have to obey specific rules of experience in order not to lapse into pure imagination. Weber argues that “judgments of possibility”, “propositions regarding what ‘would’ happen in the event of the exclusion or modification of certain conditions”,50 depend on isolations and generalizations. We divide the given into components that fit under an “experiential rule”, so that we can determine what effect each of them (with the others present as conditions) could be expected to have: A judgment of possibility means the continuous reference to empirical rules. Possibility judgments are thus not negative judgments referring to incomplete knowledge or nescience, but relate to positive (quotidian) knowledge of laws of events, to our nomological knowledge.51 Significance, verified by means of counterfactual thought experiments, we might conclude, cannot easily be equated with meaning as something that is based on empathic understanding. In this respect it seems that Weber does not follow in the tradition of Wilhelm Dilthey’s distinction between the natural sciences and the humanities, but holds an epistemology based on regularities derived from experiments – an epistemology that, according to Dilthey, informed the theories of natural-scientific authors like Ernst Mach.52

IV. Counterfactuals and Concept Formation With history understood as a “science of reality”,53 the tension between reality and ideal types that serve as points of reference for historical explanations has to be met. Do ideal types directly refer to reality, or are they nothing but theory-related hybrid forms that claim to explain historical reality without relying on direct reference? Can ideal types be understood as models for his50 51

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Weber, “Logic of the Cultural Sciences”, p. 173. Weber, “Logic of the Cultural Sciences”, pp. 173–174: The “assertion that certain components of the historically given situation were objectively present”, Weber explains referring to Eduard Meyer, meant that “their presence was such as can now be ascertained with objective validity, and that they were, when we imagine the Battle of Marathon as not having happened or as having happened differently (including, naturally, a host of other components of the actual course of events), ‘capable’ according to general empirical rules, of producing such a theocratic-religious development, as we might say in borrowing for once from criminological terminology”. Wilhelm Dilthey, Der Aufbau der geschichtlichen Welt in den Geisteswissenschaften, Frankfurt a.M. 1981, p. 107. Weber, “Objectivity”, p. 170.

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torical narratives, as “cognitive tools” that generate narrative patterns in a “configurational mode”?54 And if so, do they help to simulate counterfactual narratives that may in turn help to evaluate historical representations by relating logical-deductive to chronological sequences? At least, it seems, counterfactuality and ideal types are connected in that counterfactual thought experiments are helpful in the process of concept formation:55 Historical hypotheses consist of idealizations, ideal types that condense diverse data from reality into something significant (from a specific perspective) with which we can compare and against which we can measure historical data. As Mary Morgan has argued, Weber’s ideal types are generalizations constructed from experience, but create abstract, conceptualized fictions. Ideal types don’t necessarily form usable scientific models (Weber’s own ideal type in his historical/sociological work on capitalism being one example), just as not all fictions nor analogies do. […] [I]t comes down to whether the ideal type is exactly and simply enough formed to manipulate and use in economic reasoning.56

Referring to Weber, John Drysdale has defined ideal types as our standard models of plausibility: They “function as indispensable ‘instruments’ in the service of observation, description, interpretation, and explanation”.57 They are crucial to the self-reflection of human culture, as Weber put it, since they form “a finite segment of the meaningless infinity of the world process, a segment on which human beings confer meaning and significance”.58 Ideal types are the work of the theoretical imagination, constrained by several factors. To construct them, “objectively possible” traits of phenomena are being selected and mentally accentuated, leading to an abstract representation:

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Referring to Deirdre McCloskey, “History, Differential Equations, and the Problem of Narration”, in: History and Theory, 30/1991, pp. 21–36; Morgan points to the counterfactual function of models that configure stories (cf. Mary S. Morgan/ Margaret Morrison, “Models as Mediating Instruments”, in: Morgan/Morrison [eds.], Models as Mediators: Perspectives on Natural and Social Science, Cambridge 1999, pp. 10–37). Concerning Weber’s first approaches to the problem of concept formation, cf. Daniel Sˇuber, Die Begründung der deutschen Soziologie zwischen Neukantianismus und Lebensphilosophie, Hamburg 2002, p. 152; Friedrich H. Tenbruck, “Max Weber und Eduard Meyer”, in: Wolfgang Mommsen/Wolfgang Schwentger (eds.), Max Weber und seine Zeitgenossen, Göttingen 1988, pp. 337–379, p. 341. Morgan, “Economic Man”, p. 8. Drysdale, “Social-Scientific Concepts”, p. 77. Weber, “Objectivity”, p. 81.

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An ideal type is formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and occasionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those one-sidedly emphasized viewpoints into a unified conceptual construct.59

Besides the meaning that has been culturally passed on – the “transcendental presupposition” of cultural science, as Weber calls it –, the significance of these concepts as scientific tools is judged by scholars. As a tool, the ideal type is a “conceptual construct” that “offers guidance to the construction of hypotheses”, Weber stresses.60 But historians often mistook the logical structure of knowledge, Weber points out, for the psychological origin of knowledge: They argued that in the actual practice of their work they relied on their “sense of the situation” and “intuition” to uncover causal connections, not on generalizations and reflections of rules.61 The “sense of the situation”, the “suggestive vividness” allowed the reader to empathize and thus to intuitively grasp the historical narration, just like the historian had constructed it by means of empathy, not ratiocination: Moreover, it is further asserted, an objective judgment of possibility regarding what ‘would’ have happened according to the general empirical rules, when a causal component is conceived as excluded or as modified, is often highly uncertain and often cannot be arrived at at all. Hence, such a basis for the attribution of causes in history must in fact be permanently renounced, and thus it cannot be a constitutive element in the logical value of historical knowledge.62

In contrast, Weber affirms the role of counterfactuals to determine the logical structure of knowledge. In this respect, thought experiments have an epistemic function analogous to physical experiments in the natural sciences, helping to advance knowledge which has to be formulated in a logically correct way: The great advances in scientific knowledge all arise intuitively in the intuitive flashes of imagination as hypotheses which are then ‘verified’ vis-a-vis the facts, i.e., their validity is tested in procedures involving the use of already available empirical knowledge and they are ‘formulated’ in a logically correct way. The same is true in history.63

Counterfactual thought experiments serve to do exactly this, they verify hypotheses vis-a-vis the facts “in case of doubt or dispute, for it is that [and not the way in which historical hypotheses are formed in the mind of the his59 60 61 62 63

Weber, “Objectivity”, p. 90. I follow Drysdale, “Concepts”, pp. 79–82. Weber, “Objectivity”, p. 90. Weber, “Logic of the Cultural Sciences”, p. 175. Weber, “Logic of the Cultural Sciences”, pp. 175–176. Weber, “Logic of the Cultural Sciences”, p. 176.

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torian, B.K.] which determines its [a hypothesis’] logical ‘structure’”.64 Like Mach, who criticized thought experiments that did not stick to reality as mere fantasy, Weber criticized historians who, instead of relying on experimental tests of their retrospective prognoses, acted like poets or as if they had extrasensory powers: “Ranke ‘divines’ the past, and even the advancement of knowledge by an historian of lesser rank, is poorly served if he does not possess this ‘intuitive’ gift. Where this is so, he remains a kind of lower rung bureaucrat in the historical enterprise”.65 To proceed in this way meant to endanger the scientificity of historical knowledge, to merely “suggest” a course of events. That way, the historian’s presentation would be a historical novel and not at all a scientific finding, as long as the firm skeletal structure of established causes behind the artistically formed facade is lacking. […] The most important phase of historical work […], the establishment of the causal regress, attains such validity only when, in the event of challenge, it is able to pass the test of the use of the category of objective possibility which entails the isolation and generalization of the causal individual components for the purpose of ascertaining the possibility of the synthesis of certain conditions into adequate causes.66

Mach had proposed counterfactual thought experiments as a “logico-economic process of clarification” that helped determine the significance of different elements in a simulated, albeit not outright imagined, setting. Weber located the difference between literary imagination and science in a logical substructure, the causal skeleton of a historical account, to which the historian must be able to reduce his narrative in order to validate it. It would seem that all those scientific approaches that follow a nomological methodology could easily stick to this requirement, applying general laws of human action and economics to the past in a kind of retrospective prognosis. Yet historiography did not explain development on the basis of deductive models, but used ideal types to construct plausible sequences of individual phenomena. These as well could be tested by means of counterfactual thought experiments, a technique that helped to respond to the question which historians continuously discussed since the Methodenstreit: “whether the historian should try to virtually localize himself in the presence of the past, i.e. make efforts to observe as if nothing is known to him or her about the future path of development”.67 Thus the alleged lack of nomological rea64 65 66 67

Weber, “Logic of the Cultural Sciences”, p. 176; cf. Ringer, “Max Weber”, p. 174. Weber, “Logic of the Cultural Sciences”, p. 176. Weber, “Logic of the Cultural Sciences”, pp. 176–177; my italics. Cf. Wolfgang Krohn, “Deliberative Constructivism”, in: STI Studies, 1/2006, pp. 41–60, p. 46.

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soning would not lead to subjective and arbitrary stories about the past if value-related meaning and causal significance could be correlated by means of counterfactuality. Still, it only served as a negative heuristic tool to judge the significance of actions and events, and the validity of conceptual abstractions – the construction of alternative histories was off-limits. To this day, most historians have embraced Weber’s warning: “The attempt to hypothesize in a positive way what ‘would’ have happened can, if it is made, lead to grotesque results”.68 It might be interesting, however, to apply his considerations about individual counter-facts to counter-scenarios in order to assess entire frames of historical factuality and trigger shifts in perspective of general theories and master narratives: While different facts can help to change the plot of a story, imagining different scenarios can lead to a change in genre, to new approaches established on the basis of alternate actors, forces, things, or discourses. Historians of ideas might ask what would have happened if a prominent theorist like Weber had not written about objective possibility and adequate causation. The historians’ answer certainly would not be that Alexander Demandt would not have worked on “history that never happened” a hundred years later.69

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Georg Christoph Berger Waldenegg (Vienna/Heidelberg)

What-If ? Counterfactuality and History

I. Introduction1 According to the philosopher Nancy Cartwright “counterfactuals are a hot topic in economics today”.2 This assessment resembles a recent judgement by her colleague Elazar Weinryb regarding counterfactual historiography:3 it “seems now to be flourishing”.4 On the one hand, this judgment appears to be compelling: Several publications – mostly miscellanies or articles – testify to the current standing of counterfactual historiography.5 While some of them focus on the theoretical aspects of such an undertaking,6 a good deal 1

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For reasons of space, footnotes have been limited to a minimum. All notes in square brackets within quotations are mine, and so are all translations from German into English unless otherwise noted. With regard to the scholars mentioned in my paper, in some cases I have provided relevant biographical information. Nancy Cartwright, “Counterfactuals in Economics: A Commentary”, in: Joseph K. Campbell/Michael O’Rourke/Harry S. Silverstein (eds.), Causation and Explanation: Topics in Contemporary Philosophy, 4th ed., Cambridge 2007, pp. 191–216, p. 191. To avoid confusion I use the term “history” with reference to “past events and processes” and “historiography” with reference to “the results of inquiries about history”, as suggested by Aviezer Tucker (“Introduction”, in: Tucker (ed.), A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography, Chichester 2009, pp. 1–6, p. 2). Elazar Weinryb, “Historiographic Counterfactuals”, in: Tucker, Companion, pp. 109–119, p. 109. Cf., in particular, Niall Ferguson (ed.), Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals, London 1997; Robert Cowley (ed.), What If ? The World’s Foremost Historians Imagine What Might Have Been, New York 1999; Robert Cowley (ed.), More What If ? Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been, New York 2000; Roland Wenzlhuemer, “Counterfactual Thinking as a Scientific Method”, in: Wenzlhuemer (ed.), Counterfactual Thinking as a Scientific Method, in: Historische Sozialforschung 34, 2/2009, pp. 27–54; Kai Brodersen (ed.), Virtuelle Antike: Wendepunkte der Alten Geschichte, Darmstadt 2000; Michael Salewski (ed.), Was Wäre Wenn: Alternativ- und Parallelgeschichte: Brücken zwischen Phantasie und Wirklichkeit, Historische Mitteilungen, Supplement 36, Stuttgart 1999. Cf. Arnd Hoffmann, Zufall und Kontingenz in der Geschichtstheorie: Mit zwei Studien zu Theorie und Praxis der Sozialgeschichte, Studien zur Europäischen Rechtsgeschichte 184, Frankfurt a.M. 2004, pp. 141–158; Geoffrey Hawthorn, Plausible Worlds: Possibility and Understanding in History and the Social Sciences, Cambridge 1995; Wolfgang Stegmüller, Probleme und Resultate der Wissenschaftstheorie und Analytischen Philosophie,

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more analyse concrete historical what-if scenarios (though mostly in a rather short fashion), for example putatively “inevitable results” such as “If Lincoln Had Not Freed the Slaves”7 or the “consequences” of “Socrates [dying] at Delium, 424 B. C.”.8 Rather strikingly, quite a few of these authors are appraised not only as “serious”,9 but also as “eminent” historians,10 and at times even as “the world’s foremost military historians”.11 These claims, though, are surely exaggerated and too self-confident, since not all contributions appear to be the result of “serious academic research”.12 However, there are more reasons why, on the other hand, Weinryb’s judgment appears somewhat exaggerated. First of all, to my knowledge, there are hardly any counterfactual monographs.13 Furthermore, quite a few of the mentioned publications were not written by historians, but by political scientists.14 Finally, rather many historians would presumably accept that counterfactual reflections are a nice intellectual game, but still challenge, if not downright negate, the value of proper counterfactual studies, arguing – amongst other things – that there are so many fingers in the pie, so many ifs and buts, so many historical factors and circumstances to consider that one simply cannot draw sensible counterfactual conclusions. Adam Wandruszka (1914–1997), the so-called “Doyen of Austrian history” after 1945,15 expressed this scepticism very bluntly in 1989:

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Vol. 1, Erklärung, Begründung, Kausalität, 2nd, revised and extended ed., Berlin/Heidelberg/New York 1983, pp. 329–345. Tom Wicker, “If Lincoln Had Not Freed the Slaves: The Inevitable Results of No Emancipation Proclamation”, in: Cowley (ed.), More What If ?, pp. 152–164. Victor D. Hanson, “Socrates Dies at Delium, 424 B.C.: The Consequences of a Single Battle Casualty”, in: Cowley (ed.), More What If ?, pp. 1–22. Michael Salewski, “Vorwort”, in: Salewski (ed.), Was Wäre Wenn, pp. 7–12, p. 9. Cf. the subtitle “Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been” of Cowley (ed.), More What If ?. Cf. the subtitle “The World’s Foremost Historians Imagine What Might Have Been” of Cowley (ed.), What If ?. Paul B. Miller, “Counterfactual History: Not ‘What If ?’ but ‘Why Not?’”, in: Chronicle of Higher Education, 50/2004, pp. B10–B11, p. B10. The probably “most famous” (Arthur Marwick, The New Nature of History: Knowledge, Evidence, Language, Houndsmill-Basingstoke 2001, p. 128), however contested exception is: Robert Fogel, Railroads and the American Growth: Essays in the Econometric History, Baltimore 1964. Cf., in particular, the numerous works by Richard N. Lebow, who has just published a monograph entitled Forbidden Fruit: Counterfactuals and International Relations, Princeton 2010. Werner Suppanz, “Maria Theresia”, in: Menschen – Mythen – Zeiten, Memoria Austriae, Vol. 1, Munich 2004, pp. 26–47, p. 28.

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In the end the question whether the doom of the Habsburg monarchy could have been avoided by a thorough remodelling in a federal-democratic sense […] cannot be answered and is, all things considered, an idle question.16

In other words: historians should “study what actually happened, not what could have, may have, or would have happened”.17 Yet, despite such scepticism and although “some contemporary historians still sternly warn us to avoid ‘what-might-have-been’ questions”,18 more scholars than ever seem to acknowledge the potential value of more or less detailed counterfactual reasoning. One of them is the German historian Alexander Demandt (b. 1937), who as early as 1984 published a pertinent study (translated into English in 1993)19 which has aptly been labelled “groundbreaking”20 – at least as far as contributions by professional historians go.21 Demandt has insistently defended the legitimacy of such reasoning, regardless of the criticism directed against his book22 (which often must acknowledge the “right of the probable to exist”).23 For instance, he writes: “Provided we always take into account the relevant prehistory, the actual

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Adam Wandruszka, “In der heutigen Welt eine Anomalie”, in: Wandruszka/Peter Urbanitsch (eds.), Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, Vol. VI , Part I, Die Habsburgermonarchie im System der internationalen Beziehungen, Vienna 1989, pp. xi–xvi, p. xv. Aviezer Tucker, “Causation in Historiography”, in: Tucker (ed.), Companion, pp. 98–108, p. 103. Philip E. Tetlock/Aaron Belkin, “Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics: Logical, Methodological, and Psychological Perspectives”, in: Tetlock/ Belkin (eds.), Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics: Logical, Methodological, and Psychological Perspectives, Princeton 1996, pp. 1–38, p. 1. A prominent example is: Marwick, New Nature, p. 128. The sociologist Randal Collins is also very sceptical (“Turning Points, Bottlenecks, and the Fallacies of Counterfactual History”, in: Sociological Forum, 3/2007, pp. 247–269). Cf. Alexander Demandt, History That Never Happened: A Treatise on the Question: What Would Have Happened If …?, trans. Colin D. Thomson, 3rd ed., Jefferson, NC, 1993. Wenzlhuemer, “Counterfactual Thinking”, p. 41. Cf. Alexander Demandt, Ungeschehene Geschichte: Ein Traktat über die Frage: Was wäre geschehen, wenn …?, 4th ed., Göttingen 2005. Cf., above all, Hubert Kiesewetter, Irreale oder reale Geschichte? Ein Traktat über Methodenfragen in der Geschichtswissenschaft, Herbolzheim 2002; Gregor Weber, “Vom Sinn kontrafaktischer Geschichte”, in: Brodersen (ed.), Virtuelle Antike, pp. 18–22. Frank Müller, “Might-have-been-history: Vom Sinn der Frage ‘Was wäre geschehen, wenn …?’”, in: ungewußt: Zeitschrift für angewandtes Nichtwissen, 12/2005, pp. 21–40, http://www.ifan-online.de/ungewu/heft12/mueller12.htm, p. 36 (February 2, 2010).

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contemporary history, and the general rules of experience, we arrive in many cases at lucid hypotheses concerning probabilities”.24 There is, however, also a middle ground between historians like Demandt and his opponents. The quintessence of this position is captured in an old Yiddish saying, taken up recently not by a historian, but by the political scientist Daniel Levine: I suppose it all comes down to “If, if, if … If my grandmother had wheels, she would be a trolley-car”. We can do without counterfactuals, except as heuristic expressions, and if we can we should.25

Obviously, unlike Wandruszka, Levine does not insist on the sheer idleness of counterfactual reasoning in all cases; yet, while he accepts its usefulness as a heuristic expression – unfortunately he does not tell us explicitly how this idea should be understood (I will get back to this) –, unlike Demandt he refutes its validity as a proper heuristic method. At any rate, counterfactual reasoning is an “all-too-human practice”, as the Call for Papers for this conference put it. And this goes for historians, too. In fact, they “have been doing it for two thousand years”.26 Therefore, even most of the sceptics would probably concede (and if not, one could charge them of a – to say the least – quite naïve perception of their own professional activity) that “counterfactuals are not as easy to avoid in the practice of history as one might think”.27 In fact, one must even go further: Historians – willy-nilly – make indirect or direct counterfactual claims when exploring the past, at least if they want to explain historical events, that is, when they formulate sentences of the form P because of Q.28 Let us take the following two statements: (1) “World War I caused the end of Austria-Hungary in 1918”. This sentence does not strictly imply but strongly suggest that without the war this end would not have occurred, at least not at that time. (2) “The course of World War I had negative effects on the survival of Austria-Hungary”. This sentence strongly suggests that a different course of the war would have had other effects, which, note well, could have been even more negative. Finally, take this statement:

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[T]he [political] forces responsible for the execution of the national loan [floated in 1854] shared some responsibility for the fact […] that the official [imperial] motto “viribus unitis”, sounding so nice, matched reality less and less. At the latest by 1918, even the most intransigent optimists had to apprehend this.29

I wrote these sentences a few years ago. Re-reading them today, I feel somewhat queasy. At the end of my article you will understand why this is so. One of the most remarkable results of counterfactual research is probably a recent book dedicated to the allegedly “most controversial what if in the history of American foreign policy”, that is, the question “What if John F. Kennedy had lived?”.30 The three authors, political scientists quite deeply interested in history and working to some extent like skilled historians, formulate a very peremptory counterfactual, namely: “Yes, there would have been no [Vietnam] war if Kennedy had lived”.31 However, not surprisingly, a historian notes in a foreword to this volume that one “never can know with certainty [what a surviving Kennedy would have done in Vietnam]”.32 One could even ask whether historians and scholars in general – in particular political scientists – command sufficient scholarly means to assess or establish the likelihood (plausibility, possibility)33 of counterfactuals regarding historical processes, events, and motives. This is one of the aspects I will concentrate on in the following (part III ). In addition, I will discuss three aspects which, at least in part, have been rather neglected so far. This holds particularly true with regard to problems concerning the definition of counterfactual historiography (part II ) and the different forms of such an undertaking (part IV ). Furthermore, I will reflect briefly on the question whether historians are aware of the conditions and implications counterfactual historiographic reasoning implies (part V). In conclusion, I will ponder on the utility of such reasoning. Deliberately, this will be done in a somewhat provocative manner, in the hope to ignite further discussion.

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Georg Christoph Berger Waldenegg, Mit vereinten Kräften! Zum Verhältnis von Herrschaftspraxis und Systemkonsolidierung im Neoabsolutismus am Beispiel der Nationalanleihe von 1854, Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für Neuere Geschichte Österreichs 94, Vienna 2002, p. 613. Fredrik Logevall, “Foreword”, in: James G. Blight/Janet M. Lang/David A. Welch, Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived: Virtual JFK , Lanham 2009, pp. ix–xi, p. ix. James G. Blight/Janet M. Lang/David A. Welch, “Epilogue”, in: Blight/Lang/ Welch, Vietnam, p. 251. Logevall, “Foreword”, p. ix. These two terms are used by Hawthorn (cf. Plausible Worlds, pp. 79, 123). One could even speak of “probability”.

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II. On the Definition of Counterfactual Historiography I start with reflections on the definition of counterfactuality and counterfactual historiography respectively. Most so-called “experts” define their topic without providing any justification, as if this was not necessary. A quite typical example in this respect is Weinryb: “A [historical] counterfactual is a subjunctive conditional that presupposes the falsity of its antecedent”.34 Although such a definition might be acceptable as a starting point, it might be prudent to operate with a less clear-cut definition, because antecedents can be completely or only partially false. As another writer has recently put it, “[c]ounterfactual history is a virtual history […] assuming that certain events didn’t take place or rather didn’t take place exactly as in reality”.35 Even though one might criticise the equation of counterfactual history or historiography with virtual history,36 we will see later on that the degree of falsehood – respectively likelihood of a counterfactual – might indeed make some difference. Another definition has been proposed by the German historian Roland Wenzlhuemer. He defines “counterfactual thinking”, thus in our case counterfactual historiography, as the “imagination of [historical] alternatives to [historical] reality”.37 One could dispute this definition for at least two reasons.38 First: What is “historical reality”? Often, historians equate this idea with hard historical facts. But are these facts really always so hard? Most people would probably not blame one of the founders of current historiography, Johann G. Droysen, for the fact that “in his private correspondence […] [he] didn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade”.39 Yet, he also acknowledged “that the facts do not speak except through the words of someone 34 35

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Weinryb, “Historiographic Counterfactuals”, p. 109. Reinhard Pohanka, Kein Denkmal für Maria Theresia: Eine alternative Geschichte Österreichs, Graz 2007, pp. 7–8. Cf. also Weber, “Vom Sinn”, p. 14. For some reflections on the various terms, cf. Weber, “Vom Sinn”, pp. 13–17. Wenzlhuemer, “Counterfactual Thinking”, p. 37. He refers back to the definition by Keith D. Markman/Igor Gavanski/Stephen J. Sherman/Matthew N. McMullen, “The Mental Situation of Better and Worse Possible Worlds”, in: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 29/1993, pp. 87–109, p. 88. For another critique of traditional definitions, cf. Todd S. Presner, “Subjunctive History? The Use of Counterfactuals in the Writing of the Disaster”, in: Storiografia, 4/2000, pp. 23–38. Philipp Müller, “Hermeneutics and Source-Criticism in Historical Scholarship”, in: Miriam Dobson/Benjamin Ziemann (eds.), Reading Primary Sources: The Interpretation of Texts from Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century History, London/New York 2009, pp. 21–36, p. 21.

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who has seized and understood them”.40 Indeed, “these facts themselves are not objective items, but rather dissected from a contingent transmission and elevated to the status of a fact by way of interpretation”.41 Second, and for our purpose more substantial: Are definitions as the ones mentioned above “reasonably precise”, as the editors of one stimulating related miscellany claim?42 This would be a great advantage because definitions are often subject to never-ending contention, not only among historians. But Demandt, for instance, holds that “counterfactual history describes reflections on likely events in the past which didn’t take place”.43 This is a crucial point: Must historiographic counterfactuals be likely? Let us take the following counterfactual: “If only the Soviet Union had had the atomic bomb in the summer of 1941 and if Joseph Stalin had been irrevocably determined to use it immediately after the German attack he wouldn’t have had to decide in the autumn of that year whether to leave Moscow or not”. Obviously enough, Stalin could not have had the bomb in the summer of 1941, therefore, I have created a kind of “miracle counterfactual”,44 which one might denounce as pointless or even as a kind of bogus science approach. However, it illustrates plainly the potential decisiveness of overwhelming military power. I assume that Levine has exactly such an “elucidation”45 in mind when he accepts historical counterfactuals as “heuristic expressions” (although it might be more appropriate to speak of a “heuristic device”).46 And whether such insights could as “easily be accomplished in ways more faithful to the historical record”,47 has yet to be seen.

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Qtd. in Müller, “Hermeneutics”, p. 27. Weber, “Vom Sinn”, p. 14. Tetlock/Belkin, “Thought Experiments”, p. 4. Alexander Demandt, “Kontrafaktische Geschichte”, in: Stefan Jordan (ed.), Lexikon Geschichtswissenschaft: Hundert Grundbegriffe, Stuttgart 2002, pp. 190–193, p. 190. Richard N. Lebow, “What’s so Different About a Counterfactual?”, in: World Politics, 52/2000, pp. 550–585, p. 566. Thomas G. Otte, “Neo-Revisionism or the Emperor’s New Clothes: Some Reflections on Niall Ferguson on the Origins of the First World War”, in: Diplomacy & Statescraft, 11/2000, pp. 271–290, p. 286. J. Cheryl Exum, “Why Virtual History? Alternatives, Counterfactuals, and the Bible”, in: Biblical Interpretation, 8/2000, pp. 1–7, p. 7; Steven Lukes, “Elster on Counterfactuals”, in: Inquiry, 23/1980, pp. 145–155. David Henige, “The Alchemy of Turning Fiction into Truth”, in: Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 40/2008, pp. 354–372, p. 371 (referring especially to the “contingency of history”). Cf. also Yemina Ben-Menahme, “Historical Contingency”, in: Ratio (New Series), 10/1997, pp. 99–107.

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Nevertheless, there remains one problem: Is it possible to assess the likelihood of historical counterfactuals? According to Demandt (in the 1984 version of his seminal study), there is a region of such low probability that in vernacular German one speaks of the impossibility of the conceivable. No […] Soviet General Secretary is able to denounce Marxism under the conditions prevailing today. To increase the number of such absurdities is of little interest. Of greater value is the consideration of events that lay in the narrower sphere of the objectively possible!48

Obviously, Demandt is a better historian than prophet, and perhaps historians should generally avoid making predictions about the future.49 At least he later frankly confessed his misjudgement: [N]o Soviet secretary general (so I wrote in 1984) could condemn Marxism. Alas! Tempora mutantur! Never say never! However, there is little inducement to multiply absurdities. It is more interesting to observe events that lie within the inner circle of the objectively possible.50

As already indicated, this point is quite central with regard to counterfactual reasoning, at least when its advocates claim to argue scholarly (“wissenschaftlich”) – however scholarship (“Wissenschaft”) might be defined. It demands an answer by historians, even if they do not look into the future but into the past instead – as they usually do –, exploring what alternative courses history could have taken at a particular moment. Let me ask again: What kind of ex-post counterfactuals are likely? And I refer once more to Demandt, who conjectures that “if the shots [that killed the throne successor Franz Ferdinand] had not been fired in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914” Austria-Hungary “would perhaps have become a commonwealth”.51 Now, this counterfactual – probably the “most popular and most discussed”52 – is much more cautious than the one regarding the possibility of denouncing Marxism. Yet, is it also more likely, as Demandt obviously thinks? And could we ever measure its likelihood? These two questions bring me to my next issue, the problem of assessing the likelihood of counterfactuals regarding historical processes, events, and motives (and, thus, reaching scholarly consensus regarding the likelihood of specific historiographic counterfactuals). 48

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Alexander Demandt, Ungeschehene Geschichte: Ein Traktat über die Frage: Was wäre geschehen, wenn …?, Göttingen 1984, p. 46. My translation, because the English version of this passage is imprecise. But obviously this is part of the problem of counterfactual reasoning, which quasi by definition implies to reflect on future developments. Demandt, History, p. 47. Demandt, History, pp. 107, 204. Pohanka, Kein Denkmal, p. 204.

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III. On the Likelihood of Historiographic Counterfactuals Holger Herwig, a German military historian teaching in Calgary (b. 1941), recently constructed a “close-call counterfactual”,53 thus adhering to the socalled “minimum-rewrite-of-history rule”,54 already set up by Max Weber55 (who is often used as a kind of reliable warrantor for the fruitfulness of counterfactual history).56 Herwig’s counterfactual concerns the very conduct of Stalin in the autumn of 1941. As German troops besieged Moscow, the Soviet leader “decided to leave the capital temporarily for the relative safety of Kuntsevo”, a village near the capital where he had a dacha. According to Herwig, Stalin changed his mind because of warnings by Lavrentyi Beria, head of the Soviet Secret Service. In fact, the dacha was located west of the capital and already mined. Herwig’s counterfactual asks: “What if Stalin had had none of this caution and instead demanded to be transported to Kuntsevo?” For Herwig the answer is clear: “The great dictator would have been dead”.57 Now, it is rather easy to question this conclusion. For example, Stalin could still have changed his mind on his way to Kuntsevo (or even before). Most of all, what about the likelihood of Herwig’s initial counterfactual question? First, there is a problem historians nearly always have to deal with: the reliability of their sources. Herwig claims to have “relied on the known historical record”.58 But he only refers to a biography of Stalin by Dmitri Volkogonov,59 whose account of the meeting between Stalin and Beria Herwig does not depict correctly altogether,60 while Volkogonov himself does not indicate the sources of his account. But even if we were in possession of a 53

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Holger H. Herwig, “Hitler Wins in the East but Germany Still Loses World War II ”, in: Philip E. Tetlock/Richard N. Lebow/Geoffrey Parker (eds.), Unmaking the West: ‘What-If ?’ Scenarios that Rewrite World History, Ann Arbor 2006, pp. 323–360, p. 331. Tim de Mey, “Remodeling the Past”, in: Foundations of Science, 10/2005, pp. 47–66, p. 59. Cf. Max Weber, “Objective Possibility and Adequate Causation in Historical Explanation”, in: Weber, The Methodology of the Social Sciences, trans. and ed. Edward A. Shils, Glencoe 1949, pp. 164–188. For an adequate assessment of Weber’s position, cf. Hoffmann, Zufall, p. 145. Herwig, “Hitler”, p. 331. Herwig, “Hitler”, p. 331. Cf. Dmitri Volkogonov, Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy, London 1991, pp. 434–435. According to Volkogonov, Beria was “somewhat nervous” and Stalin “angry” (Stalin, p. 435), while according to Herwig the latter was “not amused” and the former “nervous” (“Hitler”, p. 331).

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perfect record – and what ought this to be? – there would remain a second problem: Could Stalin really have demanded to be transported to Kuntsevo? According to some experts a counterfactual must be one already “contemplated by contemporaries”.61 This claim has been criticized quite harshly, and it has been argued, for instance, that such a restriction “would rule out all counterfactuals that were the result of impulsive behaviour (or the lack of it), of human accident”.62 Be that as it may, and coming back to Herwig’s example, Stalin apparently considered the possibility of going to Kuntsevo. Yet, maybe he had no option to act on this thought. If everything has a specific cause (or causes), then Stalin’s actual decision also resulted from a specific cause (or causes) which historians maybe are not able to identify. In our concrete case, Stalin could have been compelled (despite of his political power) to follow the advice of subordinates, in this case of Beria. According to the political scientist Richard N. Lebow – very much engaged in counterfactual case studies – a close counterfactual should not “strain our understanding of the world”,63 and thus not contradict “what was technologically, culturally, temporally, or otherwise possible”.64 And evidently, Stalin could have gone to Kuntsevo. This would not have “strain[ed] our understanding of the world”. But what is our understanding of Stalin, his character, and his ways of making decisions? Can we identify his motives of action? Can we ascribe to him a kind of typical, empirically observable behaviour in given, in specific circumstances? Admittedly, I am not very familiar with his life. But I know that historians still today quarrel over the personality of a man like Adolf Hitler. And most probably, they will continue to do so. To begin with, in most cases historians cannot put their patients on the famous couch. This statement appears to be trivial, but it is important, since even if they could do so, maybe they would not be better off. Apart from this, there is some trouble with the historian’s set of tools, the so-called “historical method” – or rather “methods” (because there is no single his61

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Cf., for example, Wenzlhuemer, “Counterfactual Thinking”, p. 52; Niall Ferguson, “Introduction: Virtual History: Towards a ‘Chaotic’ Theory of the Past”, in: Ferguson (ed.), Virtual History, pp. 1–90, p. 86. Lebow, “What’s so Different”, p. 569. Richard N. Lebow, “Francis Ferdinand Found Alive: World War I Unnecessary”, http://ir.emu.edu.tr/staff/ekaymak/courses/IR 515/Articles/ Lebow%20on%20WW 1 %20Counterfactuals.pdf, pp. 1–46, pp. 5, 27 (January 31, 2010). Richard N. Lebow, “Counterfactual Thought Experiments: A Necessary Teaching Tool”, in: The History Teacher, 40/2007, pp. 153–176, p. 160.

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torical method). Historians are working mainly with sources of different kinds. By tradition, they analyse them by asking specific questions, such as: who? (author), what? (content), where? (place), when? (time), and so on. Nowadays, that is, after the so-called “linguistic turn”, they even ask, or are supposed to ask, other, let us say more sophisticated, questions such as: “Does the text employ metaphors, and what is their specific function for the argument of the text?”65 Obviously, historians hope to get correct answers by asking such questions. But often they quarrel which answers are correct or more accurate, even with regard to so-called “hard facts” (evidently, this depends also on the definition of “fact”). Such controversies are an “everyday” phenomenon,66 and that is why it is simply not true that “the historical data and facts itself are in most cases without controversy”, as has been recently claimed,67 and that “truth […] is often little more, and nothing less, than that which is most widely believed”.68 But most of all, such disputes arise when historians try to describe, understand, interpret, and explain processes, events, and motives.69 Explanation is, after all, often considered the discipline’s fundamental goal,70 a “must” for serious historiographic works.71 Hence, these disputes arise exactly on the same level as counterfactual reasoning. And the natures of these disagreements are very often substantial.

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Dobson/Ziemann, “Introduction”, pp. 5–14. Cf. Gerd Tellenbach, “Ungeschehene Geschichte und ihre heuristische Funktion”, in: Historische Zeitschrift, 258/1994, pp. 297–316, p. 312. Cf. Nils Freytag/Wolfgang Piereth, Kursbuch Geschichte: Tipps und Regeln für wissenschaftliches Arbeiten, Paderborn 2004, p. 99. Henige, “Alchemy”, p. 355. Actually, these terms are used in different ways. For instance, the philosopher David Carr writes: “The goal of the historian is to come up with a satisfying account of the actions, whether we call it explanation, understanding, or just description” (“Place and Time: On the Interplay of Historical Points of View”, in: History & Theory, 40/2001, pp. 153–167, p. 154). Anton Froeyman states: “Historiography consists of giving answers to three different types of questions: What? How? Why?” (“Concepts of Causation in Historiography”, in: Scholarly Incursions: Historical Methods, 42/2009, pp. 116–128, p. 119). Cf., for instance, Lothar Gall, “Review of: Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte im 20. Jahrhundert”, in: Historische Zeitschrift, 279/2004, pp. 409–414, p. 415. Cf. Gregory Radick, “What If …? Exploring Alternative Scientific Parts”, in: New Scientist, 187/2005, http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18725131.500what-if-exploring-alternative-scientific-pasts.html?full=true (February 11, 2010).

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Now, to call for unanimous explanations is a rather tall order, the more so, as historians cannot conduct controlled experiments the way other disciplines are able to (although their results are often contested, too). Hence, many colleagues are satisfied if explanations fulfil two conditions established by the philosopher of science Aviezer Tucker (b. 1965). The first condition concerns consensus: “Usually, when the consensus involves hundreds of people who are geographically, institutionally, and professionally dispersed, it is safe to assume that it is large enough […] to avoid accidental results”.72 The second premise concerns the methodological basis on which the aforesaid consensus is achieved, namely “accuracy, consistency, scope, simplicity, and fruitfulness”.73 So far, so good! Yet, we should bear in mind three normal, but quite fundamental, experiences for historians: First, by and by, even dominant explanations become obsolete or at least require more or less substantial modifications (this also goes for so-called classics, even though their “form” or rather their structure might get “irrefutable”);74 second, rather often explanations shared only by a minority – members of the majority sometimes blemish them as “outsiders” (that is part of the historian’s power game) – turn out to be considered as more appropriate; third, even alleged hard historical facts in the course of time may turn out to be only interpretations, and thus, subjective. What is more, explanations contain certain hidden assumptions (this might be the case in all academic disciplines) such as: the view of mankind, ideas about whether mankind in the course of time makes progress or not, whether human history is made primarily by men, by impersonal forces, notorious structures, or even by accident and chaos, and – last but not least – whether human beings act rationally, as historians normally “assume”.75 Another hidden assumption regards the view what scholarship is and what it can achieve – if historiography is considered a scholarly endeavour and not something else, for instance art or “fiction”.76 Finally, there is the problem of 72

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Aviezer Tucker, Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography, Cambridge 2004, p. 34. Tucker, Knowledge, p. 36. Tucker refers only to “interpretations”, but his argument goes also for “explanations”. Hayden White, “Der historische Text als literarisches Kunstwerk”, in: Christoph Conrad/Martina Kessel (eds.), Geschichte schreiben in der Postmoderne: Beträge zur aktuellen Diskussion, Stuttgart 1994, pp. 123–157, p. 138. Bunzl, “Counterfactual History”, p. 852. Tim de Mey/Erik Weber, “Explanation and Thought Experiments in History”, in: History & Theory, 42/2003, pp. 28–38, p. 28.

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“free will”. Regarding our concrete example, maybe what appears to be “impulsive behaviour” is in reality behaviour resulting from certain brain activities.77 Hence, though “ultimately it is people who decide and act”,78 free will might be an illusion (Herwig himself professes to “believe in choice, […] and not in determinism”, and thus in free will).79 Overall, then, Herwig maybe did not reflect enough on the premises of his own counterfactual starting point. Now, it has been argued that historians “hold the keys to their own release”, as far as their “preconceptions” are concerned.80 I fear this is an illusion. But even if this were the case, I fear that the other epistemological problems mentioned remain on the table.

IV. On Different Forms of Historiographic Counterfactuals In this part I will consider different forms (not “styles”)81 of counterfactual historiography.82 For this purpose, I will rely on a historical example, or rather a historical puzzle, aptly expressed by the British historian Alan Sked (b. 1947): “[A]t what point did the collapse of the Habsburg Empire become inevitable?”83 This puzzle, traditionally troubling historians, is connected with another question formulated by Sked: “[C]ould anything have been done to avoid this [collapse]?”84 To begin with, we can distinguish between “direct” or “explicit” and “indirect” or “implicit” counterfactual statements. As Tucker rightly states, “historians […] use counterfactuals regularly though implicitly when they assign necessary causes, and sometimes in assigning degrees of importance to

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Lebow, “What’s so Different”, p. 569. Otte, “Neo-Revisionism”, p. 274. Cf. Herwig, “Hitler”, p. 325. Cf. Philip E. Tetlock/Richard N. Lebow, “Poking Counterfactual Holes in Covering Laws: Cognitive Styles and Historical Reasoning”, in: American Political Science Review, 95/2001, pp. 828–843, p. 830. On “different styles of counterfactual argumentation”, cf. Tetlock/Belkin, “Thought Experiments”, p. 6–7. As far as I see it, there is only one valuable contribution partly dedicated to this. Cf. Peter Burg, “Kontrafaktische Urteile in der Geschichtswissenschaft: Formen und Inhalte”, in: Archiv für Kulturgeschichte, 79/1997, pp. 211–227. Alan Sked, The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire 1815–1918, 2nd ed., Harlow 2001, p. 3. Sked, Habsburg Empire, p. 3.

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causes”.85 Maybe one could even argue that all indirect causal statements enclose counterfactuals. A rather typical “direct” statement is the following: “Had the Habsburg Empire enjoyed a homogeneous population, there is no reason to suppose that it would not have left the war intact”.86 Here is another example, put even more straightforwardly: If [the Austrian chancellor] Metternich had […] realized [“constitution” and “parliament”] […] already in 1848, in middle Europe too the “spring of people” [“Völkerfrühling”] would have led to a democratic solution of the social and political problems. But history took a different course.87

Here, by contrast, is an example of an indirect statement: “Reaction had destroyed a great opportunity”.88 Obviously, according to its author Robert A. Kann (1906–1981), a specialist on Austria-Hungary, absolutism yielded negative effects, but it remains unclear whether he would also claim a causal nexus between absolutism and the end of the monarchy. Frequently, both indirect and direct counterfactual statements are rather unspecified, because we are not told in detail why they should be correct. This point leads to another distinction: Counterfactuals can be “unspecified” or “detailed”. The latter ones mostly appear in the form of case studies. Now, many, if not most of the works on the history of Austria-Hungary after about 1848 are dedicated to the question of why the monarchy collapsed in 1918 and not at some other point. Yet, almost always this question is addressed only sketchily – a case in point for the observation that “most […] counterfactuals” are “found” incidentally “in ordinary historical texts”,89 and that they are unspecified, no matter if they are of direct or indirect nature. 85

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Aviezer Tucker, “Historiographical Counterfactuals and Historical Contingency (Review of Niall Ferguson’s Virtual History)”, in: History & Theory, 38/1999, pp. 264–276, p. 265, italics in the original. According to Johannes Bulhof counterfactuals are only “sometimes […] not explicit” (“What If ? Modality and History”, in: History & Theory, 38/1999, pp. 145–168, p. 148). Sked, Habsburg Empire, p. 271. Helmut Rumpler, “Einleitung: Grenzen der Demokratie im Vielvölkerstaat”, in: Rumpler/Peter Urbanitsch (eds.), Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, Vol. VII , Verfassung und Parlamentarismus, Part 1, Verfassungsrecht, Verfassungswirklichkeit, zentrale repräsentative Körperschaften, Vienna 2000, pp. 1–10, p. 3. By the way (and quite tellingly), Rumpler as well as Sked do not worry about potential methodological and/or theoretical difficulties to assess the likelihood of such a far-reaching counterfactual. Robert A. Kann, A History of the Habsburg Empire 1526–1918, Berkeley/Los Angeles/London 1974, p. 312. Bulhof, “What If ?”, p. 146.

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Moreover, one can also distinguish between “cautious” and “strong” claims. The former ones contain subjunctive formulations such as “such and such actions could have had these and these results” and expressions such as “perhaps” or “maybe”. Here is one example, taken once more from Kann: “In 1848/49 Austria could have realized reforms that perhaps could have assured his further existence for many generations […]”.90 An even more cautious statement is this one by Sked: It is quite possible that, had the Monarchy been spared a war [its] local nationalisms […] might have grown more serious, but it is equally likely that the Monarchy might have done more to solve its domestic problems and consolidate its position in international affairs.91

Now, there are good reasons to desist from claims one cannot defend. Yet, precisely because of such caution, it seems quite impossible to test the relevant hypothesis. Speaking in Popperian terms, it is not open to falsification. So maybe we are caught in a kind of dilemma. In other words, cautious counterfactuals can lead to vagueness or even to vacuity, while strong ones might be all too easy to falsify (could one establish a kind of happy medium between the two?), as, for example, this indirect counterfactual by Sked: “The [Habsburg] Empire fell because it lost a major war”.92 However, such claims might be taken as “heuristic expressions”, as starting points to analyse the impact of certain factors, in this case the degree of the impact of the lost war on the fate of the monarchy. Another distinction concerns the “temporal” and “substantive range” of counterfactual statements. I divide them into three forms: first, “temporal” (short-/mid-/long-range); second, “substantive” (small-/mid-/large-range); and I confine myself to one temporal long-range counterfactual: According to one historian, the “century-long ‘decline’ [of the Habsburg monarchy] that ultimately led to […] defeat and dissolution” began as early as 1815.93

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Robert A. Kann, Das Nationalitätenproblem der Habsburgermonarchie: Geschichte und Ideengehalt der nationalen Bestrebungen vom Vormärz bis zur Auflösung des Reiches im Jahre 1918, Vol. 2, Graz/Cologne 1964, p. 303. Alan Sked, “The European Empires: A Case of Fall Without Decline?”, in: Arnold Suppan/Klaus Koch/Elisabeth Vyslonzil (eds.), The Decline of Empires, Schriftenreihe des österreichischen Ost- und Südosteuropa-Instituts 26, Vienna 2001, pp. 149–173, p. 149. Sked, “European Empires”, p. 150. Charles Ingrao, The Habsburg Monarchy, 1615–1815, 2nd ed., Cambridge 2000, p. 243. The author alludes here, amongst other things, to the fact of missing internal reforms.

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Claims of this kind are open to criticism, even more so as they often are linear, not to say deterministic. Yet a further distinction concerns causality: Counterfactuals can be “pluri-causal” or “mono-causal” like the following one: The absolutistic Austrian political system between 1851 and 1860 failed to settle the social question in a fair manner. Therefore, even those parts of society which until then weren’t infected with national ideas became nationalist. In the end, this process decided upon the future of the monarchy.94

Most historians would denounce “mono-causal” claims as too simplistic. But “multi-causal” claims imply the problem “of weighting”: “How much importance should be assigned to factors A, B, C, and so forth?”95 The internal and external situation of the Habsburg monarchy was, of course, highly complex. Hence, I doubt, for example, that one could formulate a “well-constructed”,96 sufficiently “evidentially based”97 counterfactual that would withstand rather easy deconstruction, such as: “Even in case of a general European conflagration, the downfall of the Habsburg monarchy could have been avoided if there hadn’t existed Serbian nationalism or PanSlavism”. Naturally, one could claim: “If nationalism had not existed at all, there wouldn’t have been World War I and consequently the monarchy would have survived”. Apart from the fact that the monarchy could have fallen for other reasons, evidently, this is a “miracle counterfactual” whose only (and I have no problems with that) heuristic value is that it stresses the potential impact of nationalism. A final distinction: Counterfactuals often accentuate personal factors (human agency) instead of, in particular, structures. According to Walter Laqueur (b. 1921), counterfactual historiography forms a “reaction to the extreme de-personalization and determinism of current historical studies, with their emphasis on social history opposed to events and personality-driven history”.98 Be that as it may, obviously even apparently insignificant circum94

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Christoph Stölzl, Die Ära Bach in Böhmen: Sozialgeschichtliche Studien zum Neoabsolutismus 1849–1859, Veröffentlichungen des Collegium Carolinum, Vol. 26, Munich/ Vienna 1971, p. 312. Richard F. Hamilton/Holger H. Herwig, “World Wars: Definition and Causes”, in: Hamilton/Herwig (eds.), The Origins of World War I, Cambridge 2003, p. 41. Giovanni Capoccia/R. Daniel Kelemen, “The Study of Critical Junctures: Theory, Narrative, and Counterfactuals in Historical Institutionalism”, in: World Politics, 59/2007, pp. 341–369, p. 355. Martin Bunzl, “Posting”, September 8, 2004, http://www.historycooperative.org/ phorum/read.php?11,245,250,quote=1#REPLY (February 1, 2010). Walter Laqueur, “Disraelia: A Counterfactual History”, 2008, http://blogs.law. harvard.edu/mesh/files/2008/04/disraelia_laqueur.pdf (February 11, 2010).

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stances might help to explain historical events such as the outbreak of World War I: At the time of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian Chief of the General Staff was Conrad von Hötzendorf. Even before the killing he had insisted on a pre-emptive strike against Serbia. So his peremptory call for war in the summer of 1914 seems only consistent. Yet, maybe Conrad “calculated that, as a war hero, he would be free to marry his beloved Gina von Reininghaus”. Thus, his “infatuation cannot, obviously, explain the outbreak of the First World War. But it remains a reminder that the most banal and maudlin emotions, as well as the most deeply felt, interacted with the wider context”,99 that “little things”, too, “do” or at least “matter”.100 So what about the likelihood of the following counterfactual: “If Conrad had never met his beloved Gina, (maybe) he would not have opted for war the way he did, therefore (maybe) the war-party in Vienna would have had less influence, therefore, the ultimatum to Serbia (maybe) would have been at any rate formulated less drastically, therefore, the Serbian government (maybe) would have accepted its (crucial) terms, therefore, World War I (maybe) would not have taken place …”? In conclusion, I must emphasize three aspects: First of all, further distinctions could be made. Second, counterfactuals often combine some of the categories mentioned. A very striking example, being “mono-causal” as well as “indirect” and “strong”, is the one already quoted from Sked: “The Empire fell because it lost a major war”.101 Third, there are gradations in all categories of my typology; they are not binary categories, but arrayed on a continuum.

V. On the Historian’s Awareness of the Implications of Counterfactual Reasoning Now, are historians aware of the possible conditions and implications regarding counterfactual reasoning? The answer is simple and can therefore be stated briefly: In most cases this does not seem to be the case, since historians’ counterfactuals of whatever kind are almost never accompanied by ref99 100

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Hew Strachan, The Outbreak of the First World War, Oxford 2004, p. 127. Dylan Kissane, “The Balkan Bullett With Butterfly Wings”, in: Central and Eastern European Political Science Journal, 4/2006, pp. 85–106, p. 100, http:// works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=dylankissane (February 15, 2010). Sked, “European Empires”, p. 150.

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erences or even reflections. Put more generally in the form of a question: Why are “historians […] not more ‘historical’ in relation to their own professional practices”?102 I suppose, this results mainly from a certain disinclination, if not aversion, against the necessity of theoretical reflections regarding historians’ everyday work, notwithstanding the fact that nowadays most of them would probably underline the importance of such reflections, not seldom paying a kind of lip service. Let me just give one example: Lorraine Daston, a renowned historian of science, wrote in an article published about ten years ago: Debates on the […] literary character of history […] are welcome provocations, to reflect more precisely, to distinguish more exactly and to argue more forcefully, and – most of all – to research in a broader and more open way. But these are only turbulences on the surface. In the depths, where historians do their work, the water still flows calmly.103

Daston – all told – does not appear to be all too troubled about this state of affairs. Instead, I fear that the water flows all too calmly. And – alas – this also holds true for some of those historians who explicitly approve counterfactual historiography and have even written methodical-theoretical contributions about this subject. For instance, Demandt does not even mention the work of David Lewis.

VI. Conclusion In conclusion then, what is the use of counterfactual historiography? Evidently, I am rather sceptical as regards the historian’s power to interpret and/or explain rather complex historical events, processes, and actions; and maybe most events, processes, and actions are more complex than it may appear at first glance. Hence, can historians really “arrive in many cases at lucid hypotheses concerning probabilities”, as Demandt has suggested?104 Counterfactual historiography in my opinion involves more “perils” than “pleasures”.105 Nevertheless, I am neither convinced that historians can only construct “impostor 102 103

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Ludmilla Jordanova, History in Practice, 2nd ed., London 2006, p. 7. Lorraine Daston, “Die unerschütterliche Praxis”, in: Rainer M. Kiesow/Dieter Simon (eds.), Auf der Suche nach der verlorenen Wahrheit: Zum Grundlagenstreit in der Geschichtswissenschaft, Frankfurt a.M./New York 2000, pp. 13–25, p. 25. Demandt, History, p. 68. David Laibman, “What If ? The Pleasures and Perils of Counterfactual History”, in: Science & Society, 72/2008, pp. 131–135.

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counterfactuals”106 nor that they should follow Levine’s advice and use counterfactuals only as “heuristic expressions”. On the contrary. For at least four reasons I contend that historians should grapple with the challenge of counterfactual historiography: First – and as I already said – they willy-nilly argue counterfactually; in fact, such reasoning “plays a pivotal role in historical inquiries”.107 Second, I agree with Lebow that counterfactual historiography differs only in degree, not in substance from its so-to-say factual twin brother (or sister), and thus from the normal business of historians. In reverse this means, then, that historians who argue explicitly counterfactually should try to base their interpretations and/or explanations on as much evidence as possible;108 third, both “businesses” are inextricably interconnected. Fourth, and last but not least, many historians like what they are doing; so they should try to make the best of the problems, if not to say shortcomings, of their discipline. All told, I support a thesis by the editors of a recent volume dedicated to what-if scenarios: “The primary value of such an exercise […] is humility. The world we inhabit is but one of the vast array of possible worlds that might have been brought about”.109 Let us return to the outbreak of World War I – by the way this expression is not a fact but an interpretation: For good reasons, some historians consider this war to be already the fifth or even eighth World War.110 Soon after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Vienna sent an emissary to Berlin to assure unconditional German support in case of war, which was granted. What if this assassination had not taken place? No blank cheque and no war then? And could Austria-Hungary really “have become a Commonwealth”, as Demandt conjectured? In other words: Franz Ferdinand’s death mattered! Even historians who favour structural explanations are bound to admit its historical impact. But I fear it will remain uncertain how much it mattered. Thus, World War I – or something comparable – might have broken out for other reasons, if not in the summer of 1914, then rather soon.111 And in this 106 107 108

109

110 111

Cf. Cartwright on counterfactuals in economics,“Counterfactuals”, p. 191. De Mey, “Remodeling”, p. 62. Cf. Lebow, “What’s so Different”, pp. 555–557; T.A. Climo/P.G.A. Howells, “Possible Worlds in Historical Explanations”, in: History & Theory, 15/1976, pp. 1–20, p. 19. Philip E. Tetlock/Richard N. Lebow/Geoffrey Parker, “Preface”, in: Tetlock/ Lebow/Parker, Unmaking the West, p. 3. Cf., for example, Hamilton/Herwig, “World Wars”, p. 3. With regard to “second-order-counterfactuals” cf. Geoffrey Parker, “What If … Philip II had gone to the Netherlands?”, in: The History Teacher, 54/2004, pp. 40–46.

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case the end of the Habsburg Monarchy might have occurred in quite a similar way as it actually did. Unfortunately, I forgot to mention two things: First, the monarchy could have become a Commonwealth even in case of defeat or even score, and second, it could have won the war! Many experts would judge both claims as rather unlikely; yet, if “the world we inhabit is really but one of the vast array of possible worlds that might have been brought about”, they appear to be only two of so-to-say infinite likely counterfactuals! I would like to conclude with a reflection borrowed from Robert Musil, in my opinion an inexhaustible source of interesting, important, and useful insights: Whoever has the sense of possibility [Möglichkeitssinn], does not say, for instance: Here this or that has happened, will happen, must happen; but he invents: Here this or that might, could, or ought to happen. If he is told that something is the way it is, he will think: It could probably just as well be otherwise.112

112

Robert Musil, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, Reinbek 1978, p. 16, my translation.

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Richard Ned Lebow (Dartmouth)

Counterfactuals, Contingency, and Causation

Causation, as David Hume understood, is a creation of the human mind, not a feature of the world. Social science regularly ignores this caveat and attempts to “explain” human behavior and the outcomes to which it leads in terms of Humean causation. Social scientists search for regularities and distinguish cause from effect by means of temporal precedence. As the social world is open-ended and non-linear, the attempt to map Humean causes on to it is not only artificial but often unsuccessful. We need to rethink our understanding of cause and how we attempt to establish it in domains where simple, linear conceptions of causation offer little traction. I take a few hesitant steps in this direction. I begin by showing how counterfactual intra-case comparison can be used to explore complex causation in international relations. Case studies of the origins of World War I and the end of the Cold War – summarized here – suggest that both outcomes were the result of non-linear confluences that defy description in terms of Humean causation. These cases have negative implications for the project of theory building in international relations as it now rests on Humean causation and its search for linear regularities. I discuss these limitations as a prelude to offering an alternative: an approach to causation that recognizes the importance of agency, immediate causes, and non-linear confluence and works backwards from them to reconstruct a more complete and satisfying account of important international outcomes.

I. Case Studies Social scientists have long recognized the utility, even necessity, of using counterfactuals to help establish or buttress causal claims. If we hypothesize that “X” caused “Y”, we assume that in the absence of “X”, other things being equal, there would be no “Y”. The obvious way of testing such a proposition is in a large sample of comparable, independent cases where there is adequate variation on both the independent and dependent variables. This condition can rarely be met in international relations given the limited number of comparable and independent cases that are generally available. Scholars using the case study method often attempt to establish causation

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through process tracing.1 They try to document the links between a stated cause and a given outcome in lieu of establishing a statistical correlation. This strategy works best at the individual level of analysis, and only when there is enough evidence to document the calculations and motives of actors. Even when such evidence is available, it is often impossible to determine the relative weight of the hypothesized causes and which, if any of them, might have produced the outcome in the absence of others or in combination with other causes or background conditions not present in the case. It is often useful to supplement process tracing with some kind of comparative analysis. Counterfactual thought experiments can sometimes be utilized toward this end. Within a single case comparative analysis can take two forms: intra-case comparison and counterfactual analysis. Intra-case comparison breaks down a case into a series of similar interactions that are treated as separate and independent cases for purposes of analysis. Counterfactual analysis imagines parallel cases in which one or more hypothesized causes or contextual factors are mutated. The two techniques are closely related because they add or subtract what are thought to be key causes or enabling conditions while attempting as far as possible to hold everything else constant. Comparative case studies, when they are feasible, have the advantage of addressing real world cases, and the drawback of never being able to control all relevant factors beyond the cause that is allowed to vary. Counterfactual comparisons do just the reverse. I have used both methods of comparison in a case study of the origins of World War I.2 The Austrian leadership considered going to war with Serbia or Montenegro on four occasions between 1911 and 1914. These decision points can be broken out into individual cases and comparisons used to identify the reasons behind the decision for war in 1914. The most important difference was the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. The archduke, committed to peaceful relations with Russia, had been the principal opponent to war. Emperor Franz Josef, also inclined toward peace, was more willing to go to war in the aftermath of the assassinations, as was the German Kaiser. For Franz Josef, the assassinations transformed the conflict between Austria and Serbia from one of interest and security into one 1

2

Cf. Alexander L. George/Andrew Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development, Cambridge 2005; John Gerring, Case Study Research: Principles and Practices, Cambridge 2007. Cf. Richard Ned Lebow, Forbidden Fruit: Counterfactuals and International Relations, Princeton 2011, ch. 3.

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of honor, making him willing to run risks he abjured on previous occasions. The Kaiser’s anger and sympathy for Franz Ferdinand’s and Austria’s need for “satisfaction” led him to frame the contest as a duel and his role as a “second” to the Austrian Emperor. He responded favorably to Austria’s plea for support (the so-called Hoyos mission). The assassination also reversed the balance of power between hawks and doves in Vienna, which accounts for the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia in July 1914 and declaration of war five days later. Intra-case comparison is also possible for German decision-making. The Kaiser and his chancellors rejected military demands for war in 1905 and 1912 and urged diplomatic resolution of the 1912 and 1913 crises when they threatened to involve Austria in wars with Serbia and Montenegro. These intra-case comparisons reveal a significantly greater risk-taking propensity in 1914 for Kaiser and chancellor alike. The reason for the Kaiser’s shift has already been noted. That of Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg was due to his belief that, sooner or later, war was inevitable and that Germany could no longer be certain of winning it after 1917. This belief had been planted in his mind by chief-of-staff Helmuth von Moltke, who, like his Austrian counterpart, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, had been pushing for war for over a decade – and for reasons that had little to do with security. The shift in risk propensity in Germany enabled and reinforced the one in Austria. Intra-case comparisons indicate that policymakers in Vienna, Berlin, and St. Petersburg were more risk prone in 1914 than they had been even a year earlier and that these shifts were due to the synergistic effects of three largely independent causal chains. Counterfactual thought experiments help us assess the contingency of these chains and establish their confluence. The causal chain affecting Austria-Hungary was associated with the precipitous decline of Ottoman power which greatly exacerbated the Empire’s insecurity. The Ottoman decline had many internal causes but was dramatically accelerated by the Italian occupation of Tripoli in September 1911 and the war between the two countries that it provoked. The conflict in the Western Mediterranean provided Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece with the opportunity to take up arms and all but expel Turkey from Europe. Serbia doubled its population and territory and with Russia’s backing sought to organize an anti-Austrian alliance in the Balkans and incite national unrest within the Dual Monarchy. If Italy had not occupied Tripoli – and there was considerable opposition in Rome to this ill-conceived venture – there would have been no Balkan Wars in 1911–12, Serbia would not have constituted a threat to Austria-Hungary and could not have done so until a much later date. Credible minimal rewrites of history – the occupation of Tripoli is merely

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one possibility – can easily sever this causal chain or alter its timing. Had the Balkan events that Austria-Hungary found so threatening occurred a few years earlier or later the Austrian response would almost certainly have been different. If earlier, the German Kaiser and chancellor, given the causes and timing of their gestalt shifts, would have been much less likely to have encouraged Austria to draw its sword. If later – Franz Josef died in 1916 – the Archduke would have been emperor and in all likelihood engaged in a constitutional struggle with Hungary that would have made him and other Austrians even more inclined toward peace. Similar counterfactual interventions can be made in the German and Russian causal chains and the consequences of severing them or changing their timing have equally dramatic consequences for risk-taking in 1914. Counterfactual thought experiments suggest that World War I was highly contingent. It was the result of an unusual confluence whose timing was fortuitous. Elsewhere, Richard Herrmann and I use intra-case comparisons and counterfactual analysis to probe the causes and contingency of the end of the Cold War.3 We identified a single causal chain that led to the end of the Cold War. It began with the election of Mikhail Gorbachev as general secretary, followed by his decision to withdraw Soviet troops from Afghanistan, arms control agreements with the West, the political independence of Eastern Europe, and unification of Germany. We recruited authors to write case studies of these turning points and use counterfactuals to probe their contingency and timing. Most of the turning points proved malleable in both respects and could readily be untracked by credible minimal rewrites of history. The sensitivity of these turning points to a range of counterfactual interventions helps to establish not only their contingency but the conditions responsible for them. In the case of the Cold War, leadership turned out to be the important variable in most of them. Jacques Lévesque reasons – to offer one example – that if Gorbachev had pressed for the replacement of Erich Honecker by Hans Modrow – the preferred candidate of German reformers – and Modrow, as expected, had made overtures to the internal opposition, events in Germany and Eastern Europe in general would have unfolded differently. The German Democratic Republic (DDR ) might have remained independent for some time as existing opposition forces were in favor of its continued existence; the DDR might ultimately have been unified with the Federal Republic rather than being absorbed. The new governments in Poland and Hungary in the summer of 1989 did not call for an end to the 3

Cf. Richard K. Herrmann/Richard Ned Lebow (eds.), Ending the Cold War, New York 2006.

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Warsaw Pact and reserved a major and crucial role of their communist parties. It was the sudden collapse of the DDR and calls for German unification that upset the equilibria in Poland and Hungary and made dominoes fall in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Rumania, and with them, the Warsaw Pact.4 Counterfactual analysis of turning points helps us to understand why these events functioned as turning points: they were preconditions or catalysts for other turning points and changing understandings in Moscow and Washington about the nature and possibilities of their relationship. The selection of Gorbachev as president was critical to the Intermediate Nuclear Forces’ (INF ) accord with the United States and the general secretary’s public disavowal of the use of force to prevent political change in Eastern Europe. These developments paved the way for the unification of Germany. Political change in Eastern Europe arguably made German unification difficult to prevent, as Davis and Wohlforth demonstrate, but did not determine the form it took.5

II. The Limits of Theory Counterfactual probing of the origins of World War I and the end of the Cold War raises questions about the ability of our theories to explain, let alone predict, events of this kind. Theories in international relations are systemic or structural, and I use these terms interchangeably. They rely on some condition or set of conditions (e.g., balance of power, type of regime, nature and implications of military technology) or process (equilibria, or their absence) to explain and predict outcomes. They assume that selection effects are strong enough to shape behavior over time or that actors are sufficiently rational and self-interested to grasp the implications of these structures or bargaining games and respond as theorists expect they should. Critics identify numerous ontological and psychological reasons for the failure of such theories. The key ontological objections I noted in the introduction: the open-ended, non-linear, path-dependent, and reflexive nature of the social world. Systemic theories and formal models invariably ignore the cognitive limitations and emotional commitments of actors and the attention, even priority, they can give to other domestic and foreign problems they confront. Models of bargaining impose a format of move and counter4 5

Jacques Levesque, email to the author, October 16, 2000. Cf. James W. Davis/William C. Wohlforth, “German Unification”, in: Herrmann/ Lebow, Ending, pp. 131–169.

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move on interstate relations that bear little relationship to the understanding actors have of their interactions.6 Strategic logic, moreover, is not something universally but culturally contingent.7 Systematic theories take for granted that appropriate catalysts will come along when the underlying conditions for whatever they are trying to account for are present. The origins of World War I indicate that this is an unwarranted assumption; underlying and immediate causes are not necessarily linked, and the latter may be every bit as complicated and problematic. Sarajevo met a series of conditions without which war would have been unthinkable for German and Austrian leaders. It removed the principal Austrian opponent to war, angered Emperor Franz Josef and Kaiser Wilhelm in ways that made them more receptive to strong action against Serbia, made it possible for German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg to win over the Social Democrats by making Russia appear responsible for any war, and allowed the German Kaiser and chancellor – men unwilling to accept responsibility for war – to convince themselves at the outset that support for Austria would not escalate into a continental war, and that if it did, responsibility would lie elsewhere. Sarajevo was not a match that set the dry kindling of Europe alight – the metaphor routinely invoked by historians and international relations scholars. It was more like a permissive action link on a nuclear weapon, a trigger as complicated as the weapon itself that requires a specific code without which the warhead cannot be detonated. If catalysts fail to materialize in any kind of crisis other than a justification of hostility crisis, war is unlikely to occur. By not taking the independent and problematic causation of immediate causes into account, existing theories are incomplete and data sets used to test them are of questionable utility. All the underlying causes may be present, but no war will occur in the absence of an appropriate precipitant, and the case will be interpreted as disconfirming. The problem is further complicated by recognition that what are often described as precipitants may be important causes in their own right, with origins independent of underlying causes. This was certainly true of Sarajevo.8 6

7

8

Cf. Richard Ned Lebow, “Beyond Parsimony: Rethinking Theories of Coercive Bargaining”, in: European Journal of International Relations, 1/1998, pp. 31–66. Cf. Richard Ned Lebow, A Cultural Theory of International Relations, Cambridge 2008. Cf. William Thompson, “A Street Car Named Sarajevo: Catalysts, Multiple Causality Chains, and Rivalry Structures”, in: International Studies Quarterly, 47/2003, pp. 453–474; Richard Ned Lebow, “A Data Set Named Desire: A Reply to William P. Thompson”, in: International Studies Quarterly, 47/2003, pp. 458–475.

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Underlying causes are equally problematic for existing theories. My case studies demonstrate that the origins of World War I and the end of the Cold War were the result of non-linear confluences. In 1914, the intersection of several independent chains of causation brought about dramatic shifts in risk-taking that would not otherwise have occurred. There is no reason to think that World War I is atypical in this regard. A strong case can be made that what are commonly described as the three transformations of the international system in the twentieth century – those following World War I, World War II , and the Cold War – were all the result of non-linear confluences. If so, theories that attempt to account for hegemonic wars and other transformative events in terms of single factors (e.g., power transition, offensive-defensive balance), or even combinations of them, must be regarded as inadequate. To the extent that many major international developments are non-linear in nature – another question open to empirical investigation – we must search for multiple causes and the synergistic ways in which they interact. Events like World War I or the end of the Cold War are particularly interesting to theorists because of their consequences for the future of international relations. Theories that seek to explain them, or the transformations they bring about, assume that the latter follow ineluctably from the former. However, there is every reason to think that the consequences of events of this kind are as contingent as the events themselves. Because the AustroRussian conflict over Serbia escalated into a continental and then a world war, it is commonly assumed that any European war of this period would also have done so. However, a different kind of provocation, and one at another time, could have led to a very different kind of war, even one that remained localized in the East. If we mutate leaders or military strategies, all kinds of variation become possible and lead to very different kinds of postwar worlds. World War I – the war that was actually fought – could have ended by means of a diplomatic settlement or even a victory by the Central Powers as Germany came close to winning on more than one occasion. World War II – or at least its opening round – could have been ended by a diplomatic settlement in 1940 or 1941 if Britain had agreed to, as many conservatives favored, to Hitler’s peace overtures following the fall of France, or if Hitler had taken up Stalin’s peace feelers after the Red Army’s initial and catastrophic defeats.9 George Breslauer and I have demonstrated that the 9

Cf. John Lukacs, Five Days in London, May 1940, New Haven 1999; Holger Herwig, “Hitler Wins in the East but Germany Still Loses World War II ”, in: Philip E. Tetlock/Richard Ned Lebow/Geoffrey Parker (eds.), Unmaking the West: “What-If ” Scenarios That Rewrite World History, Ann Arbor 2006, pp. 323–362.

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Cold War could have ended in different ways at different times. When and how the Cold War was resolved was all-important for the character of postCold War international relations. Even theories that might alert us to the possibility of a European War or an end of the Cold War – valuable as they would be – could tell us only part of what we want to know. To make more meaningful statements about transformations – to link events to outcomes – we must take non-systematic factors into account.10 The origins of World War I and the end of the Cold War were very sensitive to timing. By 1917, Archduke Franz Ferdinand would have been Emperor and unlikely to travel to Sarajevo or any destination where his security would be at risk. Austria-Hungary would also have almost certainly been in the throes of a serious constitutional crisis, touched off by the new Emperor’s extension of the universal franchise to those parts of the empire controlled by the Hungarian minority. Germany would have been compelled to adopt a defensive military strategy, as even Moltke was on record to the effect that an offensive against France would not work by 1917. A defensive strategy, perhaps devised by his successor, or one based on an initial defense followed by counter-offensives on either or both fronts, would have removed any strategic pressure on Germany to go to war. According to some authorities, Russia might have faced a revolution, or at least a serious domestic crisis, without the setbacks and suffering of World War I. If a great power war did start in 1917 or sometime afterwards, it might have had different antagonists and a different outcome. The end of the Cold War and the way it was resolved were equally dependent on timing. If Andropov or Chernenko had lived a few years longer, Gorbachev might have had George Bush instead of Ronald Reagan as his initial American interlocutor. We know that when Bush assumed the presidency in 1988 he was still not convinced that Gorbachev was sincere and was inclined to slow down, if not halt altogether, Soviet-American rapprochement. Bush’s view was shared by a significant fraction of the official national security community. In the absence of Reagan, who was more committed to responding positively to Gorbachev’s overtures than any of his advisors, it could have proved difficult to wind down the Cold War while Gorbachev was still in power. If Saddam had still invaded Kuwait in August 1990 – or anytime in the 1990s – the Soviet Union would almost certainly not have been as supportive of the U.S. as it was under Gorbachev. The American re10

Cf. George W. Breslauer/Richard Ned Lebow, “Leadership and the End of the Cold War: A Counterfactual Thought Experiment”, in: Herrmann/Lebow, Ending, pp. 161–188.

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sponse might have also been different, and if not, war in the Persian Gulf might have intensified the Cold War. If the Cold War had dragged on into the twenty-first century, even in muted form, there is no reason to think that the attacks of September 11 against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon would not have occurred, as the U.S. would still have had a close relationship with Saudi Arabia. How the American response would have played out against the background of a still on-going Cold War is difficult to say. The international environment in which an American president acted and sought to cobble together a coalition of allies and local powers – critical for any invasion of Kuwait and Iraq – would have been very different than it was in 1991. In the absence of the Gulf War, subsequent relations between the U.S. and Iraq would also have developed differently. Timing effects are by no means limited to these two cases. Consider the fate of divided nations (the two Germanys, Koreas, Chinas, and Vietnams) and partitioned countries (Ireland, Cyprus, Palestine-Israel, India-Pakistan), the other great source of conflict in the second half of the twentieth century. India and South Korea consistently sought to isolate and undermine Pakistan and North Korea respectively. Their goals changed in the aftermath of the unification of Germany. Observing how much money it cost the Federal Republic to begin to integrate the people and territory of the former German Democratic Republic, Indian and South Korean politicians and business leaders grew fearful of the consequences of the possible collapse of their long-standing rivals. They envisaged themselves swamped with refugees and burdened with costs of occupation and reconstruction.11 Their policies have undergone an observable shift in favor of doing what they can to keep their rivals in business. If North Korea had collapsed first with absolutely chaotic consequences for the South, it is entirely conceivable that the German government would have responded differently to the prospect of unification. Counterfactual thought experiments prompt a radical conclusion. Variation across time, due to changing conditions and human reflection, the openness of social systems and the complexity of the interaction among stipulated causes make the likelihood of predictive theory extraordinarily low.12 Theories that rely on multiple variables run into the problem of 11

12

Interviews with Indian and South Korean officials: Washington, D.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Beijing, China; January 1999, March 2001, September 2007. Cf. Gabriel A. Almond/Stephen J. Genco, “Clouds, Clocks, and the Study of Politics”, in: World Politics, 4/1977, pp. 489–522, for an early but still powerful argument to this effect.

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negative degrees of freedom, and in international relations it is rare to have data sets in the high double digits. Where larger data sets can be constructed, they invariably group together cases that differ from one another in theoretically important ways. Complexity in the form of multiple causation and equifinality makes simple statistical comparisons misleading. But it is hard to elaborate more sophisticated statistical tests until one has a deeper baseline understanding of the nature of the phenomenon under investigation, as well as the categories and variables that make up candidate causes.13 In the case of wars and many other events of interest to international relations scholars, this is probably impossible given the relatively small number of comparable and independent events in any of these categories. As Milja Kurki argues, international relations theorists must free themselves of the limitations of Humean causation.14 In a practical sense, all social systems (and many physical and biological systems) are open. Empirical invariance does not exist in such systems and seeming probabilistic invariance may be causally unrelated.15 Evolution is the quintessential open system. It is the result of biological change and natural selection. The former is a function of random genetic mutation and mating. The latter depends on the nature and variety of ecological niches and the competition for them. These niches are in turn shaped by such factors as continental drift, the varying output of the sun, changes in the earth’s orbit, and local conditions that are difficult to specify. Biologists recognize that all the primary causes of evolution are random, or if not, interact in complex non-linear ways that make prediction impossible. Certain kinds of outcomes can be ruled out in a probabilistic sense but almost never absolutely. Biologists have attempted to document the course of evolution and explain the ways in which natural selection works. Historical and theoretical work has resulted in a robust theory of evolution that permits scientific reconstruction of the past in the context of a logic that explains why things turned out the way they did. As the social world is open-ended and non-linear, efforts to build parsimonious, predictive theories of international relations are misguided for all the same reasons. We would be better off to accept these limi-

13

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Cf. Ian Lustick, “Multiple Historical Records and the Problem of Selection Bias”, in: American Political Science Review, 90/1996, pp. 505–518; Robert Jervis, System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life, Princeton 1997. Cf. Milja Kurki, Causation in International Relations: Reclaiming Causal Analysis, Cambridge 2008. Cf. Rom Harré/Peter Secord, The Explanation of Social Behaviour, Oxford 1973; Jervis, System Effects.

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tations, focus more on explanation than prediction, and recognize that any theory in the social world is nothing more than a starting point for working through a policy problem or making a provisional forecast.

III. Theory Building We are predisposed to think of big events as having big causes, a bias routinely reflected in historical narratives and social science theories. Ever since Thucydides historians and international relations scholars have almost invariably privileged underlying over immediate causes. In the case of World War I, as we have seen, the conventional wisdom holds that if the assassinations in Sarajevo had not taken place, some other event, or set of events, would have triggered a European war. The end of the Cold War is also attributed to deep structural causes, most notably the failure of communism as a social-economic system, and with it, the loss of communism’s appeal and the relative decline of the Soviet Union vis-à-vis the West. Counterfactual priming and case studies have the potential to make us aware of the extent to which our theories build on and reinforce our proclivity to see history as a linear progression from which deviation was improbable. They can alert us to the shortcomings of linear models, so central to existing approaches to the study of international relations, and more fundamentally, to Humean causation and its search for regularities across cases – the “holy grail” of social science, as currently formulated. By loosening the hold of this primitive but psychologically satisfying approach to causation, counterfactuals can make us more receptive to complex, non-linear models that recognize that international relations is an open system and sensitive to the role of chance, agency, and confluence. Many simulations, including the so-called “game of life”, point to the same conclusions.16 Theory building along these lines would start from the premise that wars and other events (e.g., economic crises) that have the potential to transform the international system or behavior of actors are likely to be the result of multiple reinforcing causes. They may also require catalysts that have independent causes. The underlying and immediate causes of such events accordingly need to be addressed separately and in sequence. The problem can 16

Cf. James D. Fearon, “Causes and Counterfactuals in Social Science: Exploring an Analogy between Cellular Automata and Historical Processes”, in: Philip E. Tetlock/Aaron Belkin (eds.), Counterfactual Experiments in World Politics, Princeton 1996, pp. 39–68.

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be set up as a decision tree that encourages us to explore different branches, or lines of inquiry, depending on the answers to successive sets of questions. I used this method to work my way through the causes and contingency of World War I. I describe this model below and show how it can be used to understand other wars. In principle, it is applicable to any complex international event or development. With respect to war, we ought to begin by asking about its immediate causes: the incident, provocation, or crisis from which it arose. Was this situation novel or repetitive in the sense that it had occurred on more than one occasion in the past without leading to war? If novel, what might have brought it about? Was the incident, provocation, or crisis the result of a causal chain that can be traced back to underlying causes and enabling conditions? If the behavior was repetitive, or the situation in which it arose recurrent, it may be possible to conduct intra-case comparisons. We should ask how many other times the behavior or situation in question occurred and why it failed to lead to war in these instances. Can these failures be attributed to the absence of an appropriate catalyst, or did war require the presence of other behavior or conditions that might have been the product of other causal chains? If multiple causal chains are involved, to what degree were they independent of one another? The greater their independence, the more the war must be understood as the result of a confluence. Even satisfactory answers to these questions will provide only a partial account of the underlying causes of war. We must go on to consider background conditions that were essential for these causes to have their effects. These conditions are sometimes difficult to identify because they do not necessarily show variation in the short term. In the 1914 case, one of the critical background conditions was the belief among German policymakers that sooner or later war was inevitable. It made the Kaiser, chancellor, and chief-of-staff more willing to exploit the opportunity that arose as a result of the twin assassinations. In other war-threatening crises (e.g., Fashoda, 1898; Berlin, 1958–59 and 1961; and Cuba, 1962) policymakers believed and hoped that resolution of the crisis might enhance the prospects of a longer-term peace.17 Another important background condition in 1914 was the nearly universal commitment to offensive strategies by European general staffs. I attributed this orientation to the endurance of traditional aristocratic and warrior values, commitments more intense in Germany by vir-

17

Cf. chs. 7 and 9 in Richard Ned Lebow, Between Peace and War: The Nature of International Crisis, Baltimore 1981, for these conditions and relevant cases.

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tue of the difficulties the Junker class had in response to the political, economic, and social challenges of modernity.18 These examples indicate the extent to which critical background conditions in turn have deeper causes that must be traced and considered as the more fundamental underlying causes of war. Immediate causes of war are catalysts that trigger hostilities. Sometimes they are unproblematic in the sense that they are almost certain to arise when the underlying conditions for war are present. They cannot be taken for granted, as they sometimes have independent and infrequent causes of their own right, as with the assassinations at Sarajevo. I have tried to demonstrate that they had effects on Austrian and German policymaking that probably would not have been brought about by other kinds of provocations. In this sense they were causes of war in their own right, and call into question the usual hard-and-fast distinction between underlying and immediate causes. It is useful for purposes of analysis to identify four classes of catalysts or immediate causes (fig. 1). Type I catalysts are common occurrences linked to the underlying causes of the event we are trying to explain. “Fender benders” are minor road accidents; they are more likely in cities where there is lots of vehicular traffic. In this instance the increase in traffic – the underlying cause – brings with it an increase in accidents. Border incidents might also fit in this category. They are generally outgrowths of deeper conflicts between countries and historically have served to trigger wars. They have sometimes been arranged with this end in mind. Type of Catalyst

Characteristics

I II III IV

Linked to underlying causes Independent but frequent Independent and infrequent Independent and rare

Figure 1: Immediate Causes

Type II catalysts are events with independent causes but occur frequently and can serve as catalysts when the appropriate conditions are present. Rainfall is independent of traffic but a regular event in temperate climates. It will almost certainly bring about an increase in fender benders on heavily trafficked and slick streets, and more so still in aggressive driving cultures or in countries like India, where one does not need a license to purchase or drive a car. 18

Cf. Lebow, Cultural Theory, ch. 7.

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Type III catalysts are events that are not only independent of underlying causes but infrequent. Staying with our illustration of road accidents, this might include fatalities caused by a bridge collapse, as happened in August 2007 on Interstate 35 where it crosses the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. The collapse occurred during the rush hour and at dusk, a time of poor visibility, which increased the number of fatalities, but the timing was unconnected to the causes of the collapse. Bridge failures are relatively infrequent and their distribution is entirely independent of the underlying causes of the events in which we are primarily interested.19 Type IV catalysts are also independent of underlying causes. Like viruses that require a specific surface architecture to penetrate a target cell, they must meet a set of additional requirements to serve as catalysts. Sarajevo is the quintessential example. The assassinations were the outgrowth of an internal struggle for power in Serbia and their timing was entirely independent of the confluences that made leaders in Vienna, Berlin, and Petersburg more risk prone. As I noted earlier, Sarajevo created or helped to bring about four critical conditions without which Austria would not have declared war on Serbia. This is one of the reasons why World War I was so contingent. The likelihood of a catalyst appearing when underlying causes and enabling conditions of context are present varies as a function of type. Type I catalysts are the most common and can more or less be assumed to occur in these conditions. Type II through IV catalysts are increasingly problematic. We must treat them as causes with probabilities different from and independent of underlying causes. To the extent that they can readily be untracked by minimal rewrites we must consider the wars which they triggered to be highly contingent. My approach for probing the causes of events like wars is more or less the reverse of how scholars usually attempt to analyze such events. It is far more common to start with a theory or propositions about causes and test or evaluate them against an appropriate data set or in selected case studies. Instead of working deductively from theory to data, I have worked inductively from data to theory – with the understanding, of course, that what we select as relevant data is inevitably conditioned by the theoretical assumptions we bring to the problem. The advantage of this strategy, I believe, is that it is capable of capturing the richness of the causal nexus responsible for transformative events like wars. In contrast to approaches that test for the presence or absence of single 19

Cf. Matthew L. Wald/Kenneth Chang, “Minneapolis Bridge Had Passed Inspection”, in: New York Times, May 22, 2008.

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cause, or even multiple causes, and ignore other possible causes and enabling conditions, my approach foregrounds them, making it possible to account for the effects of open-ended systems and non-linear effects. This approach also stands in sharp contrast to historical narratives that often propose multiple causes for war, and may describe key enabling conditions, but do so in an atheoretical way that makes it difficult to see the connections among the many hypothesized causes and between them and relevant enabling conditions. In social science rigor needs to be balanced against richness. This is not infrequently done by excluding so-called contextual features from consideration and treating cases as fully comparable when they are not. This is bad science, and uses the claim of rigor as a rhetorical fig leaf. My strategy leads us to consider multiple causes and the importance of context and admittedly can lead to a proliferation of causes that makes theorizing difficult in the absence of any way of ranking the importance of these causes and of distinguishing those which were critical from those which were not. In an ideal world we would do this by constructing a data set of independent but comparable cases that was large enough and contained sufficient variation on its independent and dependent variables to allow us to run appropriate statistical tests. For reasons that have been made clear, this is simply not feasible with respect to wars and many other kinds of major international events. An alternative, admittedly less rigorous, but generally more feasible strategy is counterfactual probing. We remove one-by-one hypothesized causes of war and enabling conditions and ask ourselves if the outcome would have been any different. Would policymakers have behaved in similar ways in the absence of one or more of these causes and conditions? Answers to these questions invariably involve a degree of speculation, but there is often considerable evidence available that allows us to make informed and empirically defensible inferences. Suppose, for example, the German military had not been committed to an offensive strategy but had plans for conducting a defensive strategy on both fronts, intended to draw advancing French and Russian armies into traps where they could be repulsed, perhaps even destroyed, with relatively moderate German losses in long-planned and carefully prepared counter-offensives. Would the Kaiser and chancellor have given a “blank check” to Austria in these circumstances? Would they have felt the need to stiffen the spine of their Austrian ally? If it can be demonstrated from the documents – as I think it can – that the Kaiser framed the question as one of honor, not of security, and felt compelled to act, as he put it, as Franz Joseph’s “second” in his duel with Serbia, then he would probably still have acted aggressively even though security concerns were not determinant. This was not true for his chancellor, who had been convinced by

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chief-of-staff Moltke that war had to be fought before 1917 when the offensive Schlieffen Plan – really the Moltke plan – would no longer have any chance of success.20 With a good defensive strategy, the chancellor would have been relatively immune to Moltke’s blandishments. However, the Kaiser might well have ignored his chancellor’s pleas for caution in this circumstance, as he did in January 1917 when he supported his admirals’ demand for unrestricted submarine warfare.21 This counterfactual thought experiment suggests that an offensive military plan, while contributing to war, was not a decisive cause, as the Germans might have issued the blank check to Austria in its absence. They would have been less likely to have mobilized when they did, as they would not have been under the same strategic pressure. However, German support for Austria would still not have prevented Russian mobilization, which, in retrospect, would have remained the point of no return. Surgical counterfactuals are no more feasible than surgical air strikes, so we must also consider what else would have been different – or the same – when we remove a cause or enabling condition. As I noted above, a German defensive strategy would have removed the need for rapid mobilization and an unacceptable ultimatum to France demanding that key border fortresses be handed over to Germany. War on two fronts was inevitable once Germany and Russia went to war. However, a German defensive strategy would have preserved Belgian neutrality and in all likelihood kept Britain neutral. Germany would have been much more likely to have emerged victorious in these circumstances. But how plausible was a defensive strategy? It is difficult to imagine Germany adopting such a military plan as long as Moltke was chief-of-staff. If the Kaiser had not appointed him – and military authorities thought Moltke an unusual choice at the time – other generals would have favored an offensive strategy, although they may have been less outspoken in demanding war in every crisis from 1905 to 1914. Even this brief excursus indicates that offensive military doctrines, while not a decisive cause of war, were still important and would have been difficult to remove before 1916–17 with only minimal rewrites of history. Similar thought experiments with other causes and enabling conditions can, within reason, allow us to make some judgments about the extent to which they were necessary for war, how contingent they were and how closely linked they were to other causes and conditions. If we remove a cause 20 21

Cf. Lebow, Cultural Theory, ch. 7. Cf. Holger H. Herwig, The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914–1918, London 1997, pp. 312–317.

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or condition and other causes and conditions drop out as well by virtue of the counterfactuals we must introduce to do this, they can be said to be coupled. In effect, we can build up a causal map of the event in question that can help eliminate some causes as unnecessary or redundant, identify those that appear to be the most important and perhaps some that can be traced to similar origins. An example of the latter was the intense desire of so many Austrian military and political officials for war with Serbia, even though they recognized that it put Austria’s security at risk because it almost certainly entailed war with Russia in circumstances where little military help could be expected from Germany. For these officials and the Emperor, Austria’s honor demanded a military response almost regardless of the consequences. Austrian motives for war and those of the German Kaiser and his chief-of-staff can be traced back to the same source: an aristocratic honor code, not only kept alive by leading officials in both countries but adhered to with a vengeance because of the perceived threat of modernity and the concomitant spread of bourgeois values in society.22 The hindsight bias and historical scholarship encourage us to regard major developments as overdetermined. We know this is not the case and that there is considerable variation in the contingency of all important social outcomes. Found at one end of the continuum is the so-called butterfly effect, where small changes have amplifying effects, moving the course of developments far from the path they would otherwise have taken. Butterflies of this kind might have prevented events that were otherwise probable and have been responsible for others that appeared at the time to have a low probability. The determinist end of the continuum might be compared to a freight train highballing down the track. In the absence of switches it takes enormous counterforces to alter its course. Counterfactuals can be used to make a reasonable determination of where along this continuum a particular event lies. Causation is often framed in terms of agency and structure. My continuum recognizes that this is not an either-or choice and that agency is merely one of the factors we must consider at the contingent end of the spectrum. In chapter two of Forbidden Fruit I propose a six-step process for determining the contingency of an event, which I applied to the rise of the West, and later, to World War I and the end of the Cold War.23 I offer a brief restatement of these steps here: 1. What do we have to do to negate a cause or confluence? Causes or confluences should be altered in ways that are readily credible and render them innocu22 23

Cf. Herwig, First World War, pp. 312–317. Cf. Lebow, Forbidden Fruit, ch. 2.

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ous much the way small mutations in the genes of pathogens can eliminate or significantly reduce their virulence. 2. How many credible minimal rewrites can be found that might prevent, alter or stall the turning point? As a general rule, the more different components of a turning point can be removed by minimal rewrite counterfactuals, the more contingent the turning point. 3. How far back must we go to find credible minimal rewrites? The further back in time we go to find a minimal rewrite counterfactual, the more steps there are likely to be between antecedent and consequent and the lower its probability, as the probability of any counterfactual is the multiple of the probabilities of every step in the chain. Multiple-step counterfactuals also increase the possibility that other developments set in motion by the initial counterfactuals could sever the chain of causation leading to the desired alternative outcome. 4. At what level of analysis are our minimal rewrites? Minimal rewrites of history require small, plausible changes in reality that are likely to have big consequences. For this reason practitioners of counterfactual history most often invoke changes in personnel, policy, or the fortunes of war. Changes sometimes require intervention at the level of elites, bureaucracies, or domestic politics, and more elaborate arguments linking antecedents to consequences. When we change ideas, state structures, and the balance of power, the latter requiring intervention at the system level, minimal rewrites are out of the question unless we go back to a point in time when those ideas, structures, and balances had not jelled and might be significantly affected by small, plausible changes at levels one and two. The further back we introduce changes, the less plausible the consequent becomes because our antecedent is likely to introduce other changes with unknown interaction effects and consequences. So a turning point can be considered contingent if it can be untracked by numerous, plausible counterfactuals involving agents, confluence, or chance, and much less so if it requires intervention at the level of elites, bureaucracies, or ideas. 5. How redundant is the turning point? Different causal paths have different implications for contingency. A turning point described by the simple, linear pathway of A + B + C (and only A + B + C) might be prevented by severing any link in the three-step chain. If “A” and “B” are themselves the products of other chains of causation, there may be many possible ways of using minimal rewrite counterfactuals to prevent the turning point by preventing preconditions “A” and “B”. There are turning points that are the outcomes of simple linear chains. Others are likely to have one or more paths leading to them. If we prevent A + B + C, the possibility of G + H + C, and perhaps of M + N + C, remain. To prevent a turning point with a minimal rewrite

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counterfactual we need to know all the principal chains leading to it and something about their probability. In situations where multiple paths lead to the same outcome, estimates of probability are likely to be complicated by interaction effects. The removal of any causal chain may significantly change the probability (in either direction) of other paths. An outcome that requires the confluence of many independent causes, but could be prevented or transformed in magnitude by removing any one of them with a minimal, is highly contingent. But other confluences can have multiple pathways that lead them to “C” and require multiple interventions to prevent. Their contingency would depend on how many minimal rewrites were necessary to halt or deflect each possible pathway. 6. What about second order counterfactuals? Up to this point we have tried to prevent, alter, or delay turning points. But we must also consider how they might still come to pass in the aftermath of successful counterfactual intervention. Second order counterfactuals, either by themselves or in interaction with one another, might produce the turning point, or some variant of it, at a later date. The enabling counterfactuals necessary to bring about the antecedent can set in motion a chain of events that leads to the turning point, as can events arising from the antecedent itself. A rigorous attempt to assess contingency compels us to work through these possible pathways in search of the most likely ways that turning points could still come about. If secondary routes to turning points can be found, researchers need to find ways of stopping or delaying them with additional counterfactuals. Roughly speaking, the more alternatives we find, and the more likely they appear, the less contingent the turning point. By probing underlying and immediate causes this way we can develop a reasonable idea of the contingency of events. By examining multiple events this way we can develop some idea of the contingency of classes of events. Such an exercise allows us to evaluate theories with probabilistic or deterministic claims and to come away with some sense of the kinds of events that are most likely to be predictable – and thus amenable to positivistic theorizing – and those that are not, as they are so heavily context-dependent.

IV. Conclusion The methods I propose for conducting such experiments are not intended to replace traditional approaches but to supplement them. If theories and propositions work from the general to the particular, my approach moves from the particular to the general. It is more inductive than deductive, but com-

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plementary rather than antagonistic. By tacking back and forth between deductive theory and inductive counterfactual probes of empirical cases we can develop better theories and better understandings of both their potential and limitations. Such a project can be made more compelling when it is a collaborative one, bringing together scholars with different substantive expertise and even different initial estimates of the contingency of the event in question. Argument and counter-argument over counterfactuals and their implications have the potential to bring about a consensus or bracket disagreement when that is not possible. Such an exercise is not limited to the past. It is equally appropriate to forecasting, which makes use of many of the same techniques. It establishes possible branching points in scenarios and engages in speculative inquiry about how much (or how little) the alternative paths they create diverge from the main narrative.24

24

Cf. Steven Bernstein/Richard Ned Lebow/Janice Stein/Steven Weber, “Social Sciences as Case-Based Diagnostics”, in: Richard Ned Lebow/Mark I. Lichbach, Social Inquiry and Political Knowledge, New York 2007, pp. 229–260.

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Andreas Martin Widmann (Mainz)

Plot vs. Story: Towards a Typology of Counterfactual Historical Novels

I. Introduction “History”, the English writer and critic David Lodge states in his book The Novelist at the Crossroads, “may be, in a philosophical sense, a fiction but it does not feel like that when we miss a train or somebody starts a war”.1 Lodge’s remark refers to theories many scholars are familiar with these days but which were only starting to infuse critical debates when Lodge’s book was published in 1971. These theories, centered around the assumption that the writing of history is not an objective process of reconstruction but a creative and imaginative act, set out to remodel conceptions of reality, past and present, by stressing the impact of narrative discourse on its subjects. History was therefore to be evaluated as a construct, shaped by the needs, possibilities, and limitations of language. In order to understand the discomfort following in the wake of such claims one must bear in mind that at least since Leopold von Ranke established historiography as an academic discipline in the early 19th century, it was taken for granted, more or less, that language was an adequate tool to reproduce reality. The postmodernist thinkers Lodge hints at turned the former order around by arguing that language does not reproduce reality but generates it. Looking back, it seems that one of the first scholars to articulate such views was the American philosopher Arthur C. Danto, whose Analytical Philosophy of History prepared the ground for others in the 1960s. Danto argued that narrative sentences were a key feature of historical writing and he came to the conclusion that works of historiography were written according to the same principles as other narratives. Danto’s theses allowed for the assumption that the facts of history were not found but made. Since then, in the humanities these claims and their effects have become known as the linguistic turn. It challenged history as an academic discipline as it prompted historians to reflect on their methods, and it seems as if it helped to shape a zeitgeist in which the counterfactual thought experiment gained in importance. 1

David Lodge, “The Novelist at the Crossroads”, in: David Lodge, The Novelist at the Crossroads and Other Essays on Fiction, London 1971, pp. 3–34, p. 33.

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The shape that these experiments most often take are case scenarios in which a historical event is altered by changing its outcome or by substituting one or several of its constituents. Yet, obviously and maybe paradoxically, counterfactual versions of historical events require facts. The Dutch historian Chris Lorenz explains that the existence of facts is a vital necessity for a discourse about truth when he argues that the statement “Hitler died in 1945” is true because it is a fact that Hitler died in 1945, whereas the statements “Hitler died in 1944” or “Hitler died in 1946” are not true.2 Instead of “not true” one might say “counterfactual”. But how can we decide that an account of history is counterfactual if the facts themselves are not rooted in solid ground? This question concerns the triangle in which facts, language, and narrative strategies interact. Since history is essentially concerned with facts, it is statements about these facts by which truth value is assessed. Historiographers find themselves locked in a double bind: Specific facts must be established while the facts as such have become a bit slippery. Without pretending to solve the problem, however, it seems that Terry Eagleton has come up with an approach that is sensible and useful. Starting from the observation that there are hardly “brute facts”, but that facts must always include interpretations, Eagleton concludes that an “interpretation on which everyone is likely to agree is one way of defining a fact”.3 Eagleton’s definition acknowledges the rhetorical quality of historical facts without abandoning their status. Therefore, by means of a working definition, such representations of history can be understood as “counterfactual” that deviate from the version that is commonly known and accepted at least in one aspect of great significance. It is crucial that the deviation from the facts takes place deliberately. Why is this? In order to distinguish counterfactual propositions from other fictional images of history some preliminary assumptions can be made: Probably every historical novel ever written includes minor deviations or is inaccurate in certain details, sometimes on purpose and sometimes by mistake. Yet there are novels in which this kind of deviation is immediately visible because of its dimensions. We can assume that it is there to be recognized and that it is there for a reason. Both aspects are vital: Firstly, if the deviation from the facts occurs accidentally, it is a flaw. Secondly, if the disparity between the facts and the counterfactual version told in the novel is invisible, if it is successfully disguised, it is a falsification or a lie. If this turns 2

3

Cf. Chris Lorenz, Konstruktion der Vergangenheit: Eine Einführung in die Geschichtstheorie, Cologne 1997, p. 22. Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction, Minneapolis 2008, p. 75.

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out to be the case, the counterfactual depiction of history serves other purposes. The present essay will examine basic narrative strategies that are employed to create counterfactual scenarios in historical novels. In the first part, a theoretical concept for the analysis of narratives is introduced, which shall then be applied to two examples in the second part. The works discussed are of recent dates. The first one, Helden wie wir by the German writer Thomas Brussig, was published in 1995. It was made into a feature film shortly after and has been elevated into the canon of contemporary German fiction due to its unorthodox treatment of the German reunification. The second example is a novel by the Swiss author Christian Kracht called Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten which came out in 2008. It rewrites twentieth-century history by turning Switzerland into a communist superpower engaged in a seemingly endless war against fascist states. Both novels deal with episodes from the authors’ national histories, but in a way that deviates from the established versions.4 Both novels can be easily recognized as counterfactual in the sense outlined above. My analysis and interpretation of these works of fiction will focus on the way history is used as material for the fable told in each book. Thereby, I aim to show how these novels figure as representatives of two different types of counterfactual historical fiction.5

II. Aspects of Counterfactual Historical Novels So far, representations of counterfactual history in literature have mostly been equated with “what-if ” stories – not surprisingly, perhaps, considering that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche regarded the question “what if …?” as the most important question when it comes to history.6 Historians have frequently asked this question, sometimes explicitly, sometimes more tacitly,7 4

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7

I will use translated quotations from both novels in the text. The translations are mine; the original German quotes can be found in the footnotes. The argument presented here has been developed in detail and with regard to a broader range of literary texts from different countries in Andreas Martin Widmann, Kontrafaktische Geschichtsdarstellung: Untersuchungen an Romanen von Günter Grass, Thomas Pynchon, Thomas Brussig, Michael Kleeberg, Philip Roth und Christoph Ransmayr, Heidelberg 2009. Cf. Alexander Demandt, Ungeschehene Geschichte. Ein Traktat über die Frage: Was wäre geschehen, wenn …?, Göttingen 1984, p. 9. A number of edited volumes provide examples dealing with historical turning points from ancient Greece to the twentieth century. Barring the numerous publications from the popular history section, the volumes edited by Ferguson and

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and from the 1950s onwards, novelists have asked it more often than ever before. “Alternate history”, “alternative history”, “uchronia”, “uchronian fiction” and “parahistorical novels” are the terms most often used to name the phenomenon. Christoph Rodiek, Jörg Helbig, and Edgar Vernon McKnight Jr., among others, have described it by using similar parameters.8 Therefore the definition McKnight Jr. offers can stand on behalf of the others. He defines alternative history as “a fictional genre defined by speculation about what the present would be like had historical events occurred differently”.9 More recently, Michael Butter has further developed the understanding of what he argues should be labeled “alternate history”. Regarding it as “a genre of its own, a genre that exists at the intersections of historical fiction and dystopian literature”,10 Butter defines alternate histories as “narratives in which one or more past events are changed and the subsequent consequences on history imagined”.11 Within that framework, he distinguishes “between an affirmative and a revisionist type of alternate history”.12 A sensible definition when applied to the texts Butter analyzes, and probably even beyond, it should not be stretched to cover novels in which other strategies to construct counterfactual versions of history are pursued. Novels like Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Günter Grass’s Der Butt, or

8

9 10

11 12

Brodersen deserve to be mentioned in this context (cf. Niall Ferguson [ed.], Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals, New York 1999; and Kai Brodersen [ed.], Virtuelle Antike: Wendepunkte der Alten Geschichte, Darmstadt 2000). Lubomir Doleˇzel has summed up the principle according to which most case studies work: “The focus of alternative history is simple yes/no situations: win/lose a battle, war, election, a power struggle; a leader assassinated/not assassinated” (cf. “Possible Worlds of Fiction and History”, in: New Literary History, 29/1998, pp. 785–809, p. 802). The method does not stand uncontested but has given rise to criticism. Cf., for instance, Hubert Kiesewetter, Irreale oder reale Geschichte? Ein Traktat über Methodenfragen der Geschichtswissenschaft, Herbolzheim 2002. For a discussion of the methods and principles of employing counterfactuals in historiography, see also Berger Waldenegg’s essay in this volume. Cf. Christoph Rodiek, Erfundene Vergangenheit: Kontrafaktische Gechichtsdarstellung (Uchronie) in der Literatur, Frankfurt a.M. 1997; Jörg Helbig, Der parahistorische Roman: Ein literarhistorischer und gattungstypologischer Beitrag zur Allotopieforschung, Frankfurt a.M. 1988; Edgar Vernon McKnight Jr., “Alternative History: The Development of a Literary Genre”, Diss. University of North California 1994. McKnight, “Alternative History”, p. iii. Michael Butter, The Epitome of Evil: Hitler in American Fiction 1939–2002, New York 2009, p. 53. Butter, Evil, p. 9. Butter, Evil, p. 13.

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Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children deal with history in a way that qualifies as counterfactual although the authors do not employ the “what-if ” pattern. So far, two serious attempts have been made to discuss these novels by using parameters of counterfactuality. Referring to Rodiek, Elisabeth Wesseling has recast the concept of uchronian fiction as “uchronian fantasy”.13 It “locates utopia in history, by imagining an apocryphal course of events, which clearly did not take place, but which might have taken place”.14 Although she discusses Pynchon, Rushdie, and Grass, she cannot bring their novels to fit in with her own understanding of the type of fiction she has outlined.15 In one of the most comprehensive and thorough studies on the contemporary historical novel, Ansgar Nünning introduces a taxonomy that allows for the integration of the types of novels I discuss into the category of what he calls “revisionist historical novel”.16 Such novels, Nünning argues, push the limits of traditional historical fiction by questioning conventional ways of making sense of the past and by stressing the differences between past and present. Revisionist historical novels tend to take a critical position towards official interpretations of history and challenge them by providing counternarratives; in doing so, they frequently use innovative narrative strategies.17 Nünning’s definition – of which I can only present a highly condensed version – works with elements that are related to both the content and the formal structure of the novels. Convincing and insightful as it is on a broader scale, the integration of counterfactual novels into this scheme comes at the 13

14 15

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17

Cf. Elisabeth Wesseling, Writing History as a Prophet: Postmodernist Innovations of the Historical Novel, Amsterdam/Philadelphia 1991. Wesseling, Writing, p. 102. Wesseling’s understanding of counterfactuality is clearly based on the notion of an alternative development of history due to one or more altered events in the past. Accordingly, she concludes: “Gravity’s Rainbow’s version of the historical period in question may be unorthodox, but it is certainly not counterfactual” (Wesseling, Writing, p. 182). The major problem of her study on postmodernist historical fiction is, I believe, the inappropriate adaptation of the term “uchronian” as defined by Rodiek when she discusses counterfactual novels. Cf. Ansgar Nünning, Von historischer Fiktion zu historiographischer Metafiktion. Band 1: Theorie, Typologie und Poetik des historischen Romans, Trier 1995. Nünning argues that counterfactual references to reality must be included among the characteristic features of this type of the historical novel: “Zu den Merkmalen dieses Typus zählen etwa kontrafaktische Realitätsreferenzen, Anachronismen und Referenzen, die logische und/oder physikalische Gesetze der empirischen Welt durchkreuzen” (Nünning, Fiktion, p. 80). However, he does not spend much time on the discussion of counterfactual novels. The only example he refers to is Kingsley Amis’s The Alteration (1976). Cf. Nünning, Fiktion, pp. 268–276.

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prize of neglecting the features that make them unique.18 For that reason it seems advisable to reconsider the understanding of counterfactual history in literature as described above and to look for means of examining its different varieties. In order to do so I intend to look at the basic narrative operations by which counterfactual set-ups are produced. It is therefore necessary to return to the analogies between the writing of history and the writing of fiction that have already been mentioned. The American historian and philosopher Hayden White has prominently pointed out formal similarities between fiction and non-fiction. In The Tropics of Discourse White argues: Novelists might be dealing only with imaginative events whereas historians are dealing with real ones, but the process of fusing events, whether imaginary or real, into a comprehensible totality capable of serving as the object of representation, is a poetic process. Here historians must utilize precisely the same tropological strategies, the same modalities of representing relationships in words, that the poet or the novelist uses.19

Among the methods used by novelists as well as by historians there is, for example, the selection of material. Every selection includes interpretation because it must leave things out and give preference to others. Another important assumption is that both writers of history and writers of fiction adopt a specific perspective on a subject. They evaluate, they look for reasons, and finally they produce texts that are shaped by narrative patterns. It has been argued that two different layers can be found in narrative representations of history. On the one hand, there are dates and events in their chronological order. Whether depicted that way or not, the inherent chronology of their occurrence enables us to regard them as one level of the historical narrative. On the other hand, there are causal relations. This would be another level of the narrative. Arthur C. Danto has given a precise description of these levels by distinguishing the so-called “chronicle” from the so-called 18

19

As opposed to the understanding of counterfactual novels as a subgenre of the historical novel which I would generally subscribe to, there are attempts to define alternative or alternate histories as belonging into the vast realm of science fiction. As Karen Hellekson (The Alternate History, Kent 2001, p. 3) puts it: “One important point I wish to stress is that the alternate history is a subgenre of the genre of science fiction, which is itself a subgenre of fantastic (that is, not realistic) literature”. More recently Hilary P. Dannenberg has analyzed common elements in postmodernist literature and science fiction (Coincidence and Counterfactuality: Plotting Time and Space in Narrative Fiction, Lincoln 2008). Hayden White, The Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism, Baltimore 1982, p. 125.

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“proper history”. “Chronicle”, Danto explains, “is said to be just an account of what happened, and nothing more than that”.20 Although a pure, onehundred percent objective chronicle of events is rarely to be found, Danto hints at a general difference in the nature of historical accounts when he observes “that one kind of narrative explains, where the other merely describes”.21 Danto goes on to explain “that one can draw a distinction between perceiving that x is the case, and explaining why it is so”.22 With regard to history, “[o]ne might surely argue that there is a difference between saying only that Napoleon lost at Waterloo, and going on to explain why he did lose”.23 It is here that another feature which connects history and fiction can be seen, for Danto’s observation is valid for both. In this context, a study of how fictional narratives work, undertaken by E. M. Forster, helps to more closely describe these parallels. E. M. Forster was, of course, primarily a novelist and when he was invited to give a series of lectures in Cambridge in 1926, he spoke about what he was familiar with, namely aspects of the novel. Forster’s lectures were published as a book shortly after and since then the rather slim volume has come to be acknowledged as a key text in the theory of the modern novel.24 Among the aspects Forster addresses are “persons”, “pattern” and “rhythm”, “fantasy”, and, most important in this context, “story” and “plot”. Forster singles out these aspects because they function as components of which narratives are constructed, and he goes on to show that there are two levels on which a narrative is organized: the story and the plot. Forster defines a story as “a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence”.25 A plot, according to Forster, “is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality”.26 Forster illustrates his point by making up an example. The subject of this very short narrative involves the figures history has traditionally dealt with, namely kings and queens: “‘The king died and then the queen died’ is a story.

20 21 22 23 24

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Arthur C. Danto, Analytical Philosophy of History, Cambridge 1965, p. 116. Danto, Philosophy, p. 119. Danto, Philosophy, p. 130. Danto, Philosophy, p. 130. It continues to inspire critical discussions in the 21st century as a recent response from Frank Kermode proves (cf. Concerning E. M. Forster, London 2009). In this study Kermode reassesses the importance of Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, making the novelist’s work the subject of his own Clark Lectures at Cambridge eighty years after Forster. E. M. Forster, “Aspects of the Novel”, in: E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel and Related Writings, London 1974, p. 1–119, p. 60. Forster, “Aspects”, p. 60.

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‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief ’ is a plot,” says Forster.27 The difference is a simple one. In the first version of this very short narrative the two events that are referred to are arranged in a merely chronological order that is signaled by the word “then”. In the second version a cause is added. “The time sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it”, as Forster puts it.28 In order to find out whether it is a story or a plot, Forster suggests asking questions: “Consider the death of the queen. If it is in a story we say: ‘And then?’ If it is in a plot we ask: ‘Why?’ That is the fundamental difference between these two aspects of the novel”.29 With regard to the latter question one can think of a number of reasons without having to change the “story” of the narrative: “The king died, and then the queen died of joy” would be another version of the narrative which adds a different plot to the same story. The time sequence is preserved. The events stay the same in the sense that no death is substituted by entirely different events: “The king died and then the queen lived happily ever after” would be a different story altogether. By applying these considerations to counterfactual history I will argue that our understanding of literary representations of counterfactual history should not be restricted to narratives that imagine or depict possible historical consequences of missing or changed events in the past. In the discussion of the two examples below I want to employ Forster’s distinction to analyze and classify two types of counterfactual novels.

III. History’s Missing Link: Thomas Brussig’s Helden wie wir (1995) At the beginning of Thomas Brussig’s novel Helden wie wir the protagonist and first-person narrator makes a claim of great historical significance. “Yes”, he says, “it’s true, it was me: I toppled the Berlin Wall”.30 Exaggeration is not uncommon in picaresque novels but the narrator is serious here. That he has single-handedly brought about the downfall of the Berlin Wall is the idea upon which the counterfactual set-up is built. The narrative frame for this confession is an interview recorded on tape. The hero, Klaus Uhltzscht, whose name is hard to spell and almost impossible to pronounce, 27 28 29 30

Forster, “Aspects”, p. 60. Forster, “Aspects”, p. 60. Forster, “Aspects”, p. 60. “Ja, es ist wahr. Ich war’s. Ich habe die Berliner Mauer umgeschmissen” (Thomas Brussig, Helden wie wir, Berlin 1995, p. 7).

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tells the story of his life to a journalist of the New York Times. By carefully watching video tapes, an American reporter, Mr. Kitzelstein, has identified Klaus as the person whose deed changed history. Klaus promises to shed light on the events in question, but before doing so, he exploits the opportunity and speaks about his parents, about his childhood, and his education in the GDR . The sensational pun, although frequently announced, is only unveiled towards the end of the novel: In 1989, when the GDR government appears to be on the brink of a collapse and crowds of protesters assemble in the streets, Klaus is in Berlin. He listens to a speech the famous writer Christa Wolf is delivering to the people. Klaus, the most ill-informed person in the world, as he labels himself, mistakes her for Jutta Müller, the former ice skating champion and secret object of his teenage fantasies. When he tries to move closer to her he stumbles, falls down a flight of stairs, and gets hurt in the groin. He is taken to a hospital where the treatment he is given causes a mysterious enlargement of his genital. Afterwards he runs away and re-appears in the middle of another demonstration in Berlin. This is where his intertwining with history finally takes place. Addressing his interview partner and the reader at the same time, he says: “I ran away on the evening of November 9, as you may have gathered”.31 Klaus joins the masses and together with the other protestors he walks on to one of the border control points: The so-called masses were lining up in front of it. For reasons I didn’t understand at the time they kept hoping for the gates of heaven to be raised, for them to flow over into the West. […] What I didn’t know was that the masses had been stirred up by a mysterious utterance from Günter Schabowski at his press conference: For those who want to leave, Schabowski had meant to say, it is no longer necessary to take the long way via the Czech-West-German border, now they can use the inner German border – but just like any party politician he put the simple matter in such words that could mean almost anything, after which only minutes later the session of the Bundestag was hastily interrupted, some members of Parliament stood up, sang the national anthem, and believed the borders to be open. The Tagesschau took the same point of view, whereupon ten thousands of the Berlin people got up, only to find at the border control points that they were hoping in vain.32 31 32

“Sie ahnen bereits, ich floh am Abend des 9. November” (Brussig, Helden, p. 304). “Davor drängelten sich sogenannte Volksmassen, die aus mir damals unverständlichen Gründen darauf hofften, die Himmelspforte werde gleich geöffnet, auf das [sic] sie in den Westen strömen dürfen. […] Die Volksmassen waren, was ich nicht wußte, durch eine undurchsichtige Formulierung auf der Pressekonferenz von Günter Schabowski aufgescheucht: Wer ausreisen will, wollte Schabowski sagen, muß nicht mehr den Umweg über die tschechischwestdeutsche Grenze nehmen, sondern könne gleich über die deutsch-deutsche Grenze ausreisen – doch wie es

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Seeing these crowds helplessly in limbo provokes Klaus into doing something. This is the decisive moment. Klaus, who has always been obsessed with his genital, undoes his trousers, and at the sight of his enormous penis the soldiers give up and open the gate: Slowly I unbuttoned my coat, I undid my belt next, and finally my trousers and I looked the border guards straight into their eyes. […] Never before had they seen such a thing! This was something they never thought was possible. […] I took my time, plenty of time, I looked them in the eye one after another and finally one of them unlocked the door as if he had been hypnotized.33

At this point the counterfactual claim is finally fully explained. The Wall came down, but without Klaus the protesters would not have reached their goal. Brussig’s novel depicts the events prior to the opening of the inner German border most accurately. It provides the facts against which the counterfactual version is to be read and against which Klaus Uhltzscht’s narrative is explicitly set. In these passages the historical process is split up into two parts: First, citizens of the GDR organize peaceful protest, and then the Berlin Wall comes down. Usually both parts of that historical narrative are causally linked, which means that the collapse of the GDR is presented as the result of the protests. In Brussig’s novel, however, the cause and effect relation between the two events is dissolved. If we apply Forster’s terminology, we can say that the “story” of history has hardly been changed here. The real historical events are taking place in Helden wie wir but the plot is not the same. It could be summarized like this: In 1989 citizens of the GDR organize peaceful protests and then the Berlin Wall comes down because Klaus Uhltzscht undresses in front of the soldiers. In this version the cause of the downfall is to be found in Uhltzscht’s action. He explicitly states his claim to

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sich für einen Parteifunktionär gehört, drückte er diesen einfachen Sachverhalt so umständlich aus, daß es alles mögliche heißen konnte, worauf Minuten später im Bundestag aufgeregt die Sitzung unterbrochen wurde, ‘Wie wir soeben erfahren haben …’, sich ein Häuflein Parlamentarier erhob, spontan das Deutschlandlied anstimmte und die Grenze für geöffnet hielt. So sah es auch die Tagesschau, worauf sich Zehntausende Berliner auf die Beine machten, um an den Grenzübergängen enttäuscht festzustellen, daß sie sich falschen Hoffnungen hingaben” (Brussig, Helden, pp. 314–315). “Ich öffnete langsam den Mantel, dann den Gürtel und schließlich die Hosen und sah den Grenzern fest ins Auge. […] So was hatten sie noch nie gesehen! So was hätten sie nicht für möglich gehalten! […] Ich ließ mir Zeit, viel Zeit, ich sah nacheinander allen in die Augen und schließlich entriegelte einer von ihnen wie hypnotisiert das Tor” (Brussig, Helden, pp. 318–319).

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fame when he says: “Anyone who doesn’t believe my story won’t understand what’s going on in Germany! Without me it doesn’t make sense. For in Germany’s recent history I am the missing link”.34 Due to its depiction of the political changes of 1989, Brussig’s novel has immediately been recognized (or rather classified) as a so-called “Wenderoman”.35 This term designates a literary genre that came into being only with the historical event it is related to, the “Wende”. It was born out of the notion that a national process as groundbreaking as the German reunification demanded an aesthetic response that would reflect the caesura of 1989. Within academic criticism the counterfactual parts in Helden wie wir were noted as a violation of expectations attached to the traditional historical novel. Rachel Halverson states with regard to Brussig’s rearranging of the established facts: “Helden wie wir is far removed from the genre of historical fiction, which does provide its readers with personalized, yet believable accounts of historical events”.36 Unbelievable the plot may be, but Brussig does not make up this counterfactual version without a reason. However, he does not fully reveal his motives in the passages discussed but at various other points in the novel where the picaresque attitude giving shape to the narrator’s voice is abandoned. Uhltzscht’s distorted perception is replaced by a more sober and serious approach to the matter when he remarks: It’s a debate that’s totally distorted but no one seems to notice! How could this society continue to exist for decades if everyone was dissatisfied with it? Mr. Kitzelstein, I ask you to take my question seriously, it’s not a rhetorical question! Everybody was against it, but they were part of it, they cooperated, timidly, blindly, or simply stupidly. I really want to know, as I believe that all modern societies move

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“Wer meine Geschichte nicht glaubt, wird nicht verstehen, was mit Deutschland los ist! Ohne mich ergibt alles keinen Sinn! Denn ich bin das Missing Link der jüngsten deutschen Geschichte!” (Brussig, Helden, p. 323). The novel is dealt with accordingly in the following studies and articles: Stephan Brockmann, Literature and German Reunification, Cambridge 1999; Ulrike Bremer, Versionen der Wende: Eine textanalytische Untersuchung erzählerischer Prosa junger deutscher Autoren zur Wiedervereinigung, Osnabrück 2002; Stefan Neuhaus, Literatur und nationale Einheit in Deutschland, Tübingen 2002; Markus Symmank, “Muttersprache: Zu Thomas Brussigs Roman Helden wie wir”, in: Matthias Harder (ed.), Bestandsaufnahmen: Deutschsprachige Literatur der neunziger Jahre aus interkultureller Sicht, Würzburg 2001, pp. 177–194. Rachel J. Halverson, “Comedic Bestseller or Insightful Satire: Taking the Interview and Autobiography to Task in Thomas Brussig’s Helden wie wir”, in: Carol Anne Costabile-Heming/Rachel J. Halverson/Kristie A. Foell (eds.), Textual Responses to German Unification: Processing Historical and Social Change in Literature and Film, Berlin/New York 2001, pp. 95–105, p.103.

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along these lines. As long as millions of failures do not face their failings they will remain failures.37

As this paragraph as well as numerous others reveal, the intention of the novel is a political one. The question it poses seems to be: How could a society that was mostly at ease with the system under which it had to live suddenly turn into a society of would-be resistance fighters? For Klaus Uhltzscht this is impossible and therefore the conclusion must be that there never were any Wallbusting people. The novel functions as an instrument of criticism directed against the dominant discourse about the German reunification, which, according to Brussig, is based on an inappropriate image of the historical process. Instead of merely stating a point of view Brussig uses his counterfactual version as a method to deliver an interpretation of the real event.

IV. Chart of Darkness: Christian Kracht’s Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten (2008) Among the historical novelettes in the volume Sternstunden der Menschheit by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig there is one that deals with Lenin’s return from exile in Switzerland to Russia in a sealed train in 1917.38 Zweig sticks to the historical facts and handles them in a way that tends towards the journalistic. He clearly does not spend much time on speculation. Yet, at one point, he remarks that if Lenin had been run over by a careless driver he would have died unnoticed by the public and by future generations: “And if back then one of the magnificent automobiles rushing at great speed from embassy to embassy would accidentally have hit this man in the street, the world would never have known him, neither by the name of Ulianow nor of Lenin”.39 Ob37

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“Eine völlig verzerrte Diskussion, und keiner merkt es! Wie konnte diese Gesellschaft Jahrzehnte existieren, wenn alle unzufrieden gewesen sein wollen? Mr. Kitzelstein, nehmen Sie meine Frage ernst, es ist keine rhetorische Frage! Alle waren dagegen, und trotzdem waren sie integriert, haben mitgemacht, kleinmütig, verblendet oder einfach nur dumm. Ich will das genau wissen, denn ich glaube, daß sich alle modernen Gesellschaften in diesem Dilemma bewegen. Solange sich Millionen Versager ihrem Versagen nicht stellen, werden sie Versager bleiben” (Brussig, Helden, p. 312). Cf. Stefan Zweig, “Der versiegelte Zug”, in: Stefan Zweig, Sternstunden der Menschheit, Frankfurt a. M. 1998, pp. 240–252. “Und hätte damals eines der prächtigen Automobile, die in scharfem Tempo von Botschaft zu Botschaft sausen, diesen Mann durch einen Zufall auf der Straße zu

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viously, Zweig recognized the potential for a counterfactual scenario and he implicitly used it to underline his estimation of Lenin’s importance as an individual in a decisive moment. Another eighty years later Christian Kracht’s Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten comes up with its very own version of Lenin’s exile in Zürich.40 It tells “the story of the great Swiss citizen Lenin, who, instead of returning to the disintegrating, contaminated Russia, had stayed in Switzerland where after long years of war he established the Soviet, in Zurich, Basel, and New-Bern”.41 The novel, then, is based on the premise that Lenin never left Switzerland but started the communist revolution where he was. Exact dates are not given but almost a hundred years later, the world has become a place that is as unlike the world we know as another planet. Africa has been completely conquered and occupied by the Soviet-Swiss Republic, the SSR . There is a war going on between the communist and the fascist regimes in Europe, and although the narrator hints at “the Byzantine style knots, the almost surreal complexity of the military alliances” that characterize his age,42 the fronts are fairly clear: “The English King, so we learned, had formed an alliance against us with the fascists, the Germans. They were planning to build a decadent empire in which we Africans would be slaves and they would be the grinning masters”.43 Again, it is possible to describe the novel’s counterfactual representation of history by employing E. M. Forster’s terminology. Kracht substitutes a fictional event for an event in the established story of history. Thereby he tells a story that differs from the one the reader is familiar with. At the beginning of the novel the developments that function as constituents of that story have already taken place. A first-person narrator unfolds them before the reader’s eye only by dropping occasional bits and snippets, thus creating the impression that someone unfamiliar with the counterfactual history – as every

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Tode gestoßen, auch die Welt würde ihn weder unter dem Namen Ulianow noch unter jenem Lenins kennen” (Zweig, “Zug”, p. 242). Cf. Christian Kracht, Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten, Cologne 2008. “[…] die Geschichte des großen Eidgenossen Lenin, der, anstatt in einem plombierten Zug in das zerfallende, verstrahlte Russland zurückzukehren, in der Schweiz geblieben war, um dort nach Jahrzehnten des Krieges den Sowjet zu gründen, in Zürich, Basel und Neu-Bern” (Kracht, Sonnenschein, p. 58). “[…] byzantinische Verflechtung, die fast surreale Komplexität ihrer militärischen Allianzen” (Kracht, Sonnenschein, p. 32). “Der englische König, so hörten wir, hatte sich mit den Faschisten, den Deutschen, gegen uns verbündet, sie planten, ein dekadentes Großreich zu schaffen, in dem wir Afrikaner Sklaven sein würden und sie die grinsenden Herren” (Kracht, Sonnenschein, p. 59).

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reader approaching the text from the outside must be, naturally – can merely get a few fragments of the whole picture. The narrator and protagonist is a black soldier from Africa. He has been trained and educated in military academies, and he is now engaged in the fight for the communist cause. When he receives the order to track down and kill another officer named Brashinsky, because he has become insane, the protagonist embarks on a man-hunt. His journey takes him through Switzerland and to the Communist Army’s headquarters in the Alps, which have been turned into a giant fortress. In the deep tunnels of this mountain fortress he meets Brashinsky, but he does not complete his mission. In the end, he abandons all ideologies, even language. He ceases to speak and returns to Africa, where the new cities have all been deserted. Where technology used to reign, nature is taking over, and the African people return to their villages.44 Kracht’s novel abounds with mostly unmarked intertextual allusions to other works of literature. It borrows elements from other counterfactual historical novels such as Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, whose famous opening line is evoked at one point.45 Another telling allusion is made to Philip K. Dick and his prototypical counterfactual novel The Man in the High Castle when the narrator mentions a reference work on insects called “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy”.46 The fable of the novel itself is highly reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but it is obviously inverted in Ich 44

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“Ganze Städte wurden indes über Nacht verlassen, und ihre afrikanischen Einwohner kehrten, einer stillen Völkerwanderung gleich, zurück in die Dörfer” (Kracht, Sonnenschein, p. 148). The first line of Pynchon’s novel refers to the sound of German V2 rockets that could be heard only after their detonation: “A screaming comes across the sky” (Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, London 2000, p. 3). At one point Kracht’s narrator observes: “High up in the sky the missile from a German long range canon, coming from the north, was heading east with a hissing sound. Sometimes they would fall down and hit our territory. It was pure chance, although one quite naturally heard the impact first and only then the sound of the advancing rocket”. (“Unendlich weit oben am Himmel sirrte das Geschoss einer deutschen Langstreckenkanone, von Norden kommend, nach Osten. Manchmal fielen sie herab und schlugen bei uns ein. Es war reiner Zufall, wiewohl man natürlicherweise erst den Einschlag wahrnahm und dann das Geräusch des sich nähernden Geschosses” [Kracht, Sonnenschein, p. 21].) Notably, in this paragraph a dissolution of the cause-and-effect relation that makes the protagonist’s present a nunc stans in which the change of seasons no longer occurs is indicated. Cf. Kracht, Sonnenschein, p. 68. Dick’s novel pictures a world in which Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan have achieved world power after a World War II that lasted until 1948. As a novel within the novel, “The Grashopper Lies Heavy” tells a story about how things could have turned out differently if Germany had lost the war.

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werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten, as the protagonist is a black man. His journey takes him from Africa to Europe and to the heart of its ideological blood circle, from which societies all over the world shall be transformed for the better: “Racism did not exist, it should not exist”.47 Accordingly, the servant has become the master in the new Swiss society, as Claude D. Conter remarks.48 Kracht has for some time been considered a representative of a new aestheticism associated with a specifically German Pop-Literatur that emerged in the 1990s. It was only after his third novel was published that scholars began to seriously analyze his works.49 One of the merits of this new interest is that some articles link Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten to Kracht’s other books, especially to his novels. What several of these essays bring to the fore is that Kracht’s habit to comment on history is anything but new. Even his inclination towards the counterfactual could be detected very early, for the title of his first novel Faserland alludes to Robert Harris’s best-selling thriller Fatherland (1992), in which Nazi Germany continues to exist deep into the 1960s.50 In Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten the counterfactual serves as a cognitive tool for Kracht. Like Brussig, he reacts to a widely accepted version of history. That image is hidden in an instructive passage where the narrator finds the history of Switzerland carved into stone:51 I saw reliefs along the walls which told Swiss history in socialist-realist style, from the beginnings of the wars against the Habsburgers and Burgunders, from the 47 48

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“Es gab keinen Rassismus, sollte keinen geben” (Kracht, Sonnenschein, p. 59). Cf. Claude D. Conter, “Christian Krachts posthistorische Ästhetik”, in: Johannes Birgfeld/Claude D. Conter (eds.), Christian Kracht: Zu Leben und Werk, Cologne 2009, pp. 24–43, p. 37. Although miscellaneous articles were published before, a collection of articles edited by Johannes Birgfeld and Claude D. Conter is the first endeavor to discuss Kracht’s works in an academic context. Oliver Jahraus offers a convincing interpretation when he suggests that Kracht uses the title as a means to point at the fact that Germany has in some way won the war (cf. Oliver Jahraus, “Ästhetischer Fundamentalismus: Christian Krachts radikale Erzählexperimente”, in: Birgfeld/Conter, Christian Kracht, pp. 24–43, p. 16). Again, there is reason to assume that Kracht is using another work of literature as a basis upon which he crafts his own text, this time Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Der Winterkrieg in Tibet, as Moritz Baßler points out. Dürrenmatt depicts a similarly desolate world, with a Swiss government that is stuck inside a massif of rocks. Moreover, this dystopian text features a hero who finally carves his own story into labyrinth walls of a mountain fortress. Cf. Moritz Baßler, “Utopie und Apokalypse im deutschsprachigen Gegenwartsroman (Kracht, Dath, Uschmann)”, paper presented at the conference Utopie und Apokalypse in der Moderne: Internationales Symposium der Universität Freiburg/CH , Fribourg, October 3, 2009.

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peasant rising on the mythical Rütli field – easily to be recognized was the old Swiss salute that had been adapted by the SSR , the raised arm, two fingers held up and a thumb, the holy oath to stand brave in battle – next the short period of the Peace of Basel brought about by cowardly force, followed by the first expansion of Switzerland’s heartland through its mercenaries all the way to Milan.52

By turning its history into a petrified stream of battle scenes Kracht presents Switzerland as the opposite of what it is often seen as. The novel undermines a national myth which explains Switzerland’s independence as a consequence of its strong urge for freedom, for here it takes only one small step to turn the politically neutral, peaceful island into an empire torn by wars and ideology. At the same time, the novel inverts the outsider’s, and especially German, perspective on Switzerland, such as the one that Kracht employs in Faserland, which seeks comfort in its alleged cleanliness and neatness. Peter von Matt once argued that historical and philosophical speculations are rare in Switzerland because the country was bound to vanish all too soon in the course of such speculations.53 Kracht seems to prove him right in the sense that in his fictional history Switzerland has disappeared, paradoxically due to its expansion. The country’s legacy is the epitome of a noble idea gone bad. The master-servant structure has not been overcome but in a misguided attempt to achieve racial equality the world has been transformed in a dystopian fashion. Kracht’s book is a playful postmodernist text but the play is not only set in motion for its own sake. On a broader scale the apocalyptic vision54 in which the novel culminates can be read as the literary expression of a deeply pessimistic philosophy of history.55 Thus, Kracht uses the counter-

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“Ich sah an der Wand sich entlangziehende Reliefarbeiten, welche im Stil des sozialistischen Realismus die Geschichte der Schweiz erzählten, von den Anfängen der Kriege gegen die Habsburger und Burgunder, vom Bauernaufstand auf der mythischen Rütliwiese – gut zu erkennen war der alte, von der SSR übernommene Schweizergruß, der hochgestreckte Arm, die erhobenen zwei Finger und der Daumen, und der heilige Eid, sich fortan im Kriege zu bewähren, dann die kurze Zeit des feig erzwungenen Friedens von Basel und die glücklich darauf folgende, erste Expansion des Schweizer Kernlandes durch sein Söldnerheer bis ins italienische Mailand” (Kracht, Sonnenschein, p. 101). Cf. Peter von Matt, “Bilderkult und Bildersturm: Eine Zeitreise durch die literarische und politische Schweiz”, in: Peter von Matt, Die tintenblauen Eidgenossen: Über die literarische und politische Schweiz, Munich 2001, pp. 9–78, p. 57. For a detailed discussion of Kracht’s treatment of the apocalypse motif and its tradition, see Baßler, “Utopie”. Conter recognizes the same “existentiell-fatalistische Geschichtsdeutung […], laut der sich Geschichte lediglich wiederholt” in Kracht’s 1979 (Conter, “Ästhetik”, p. 31).

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factual in order to show how mankind is doomed to expire no matter which turn history would have taken in the past or is going to take in the future.

V. Plot-Type and Story-Type Now that the basic patterns of their individual content and their intellectual purpose have been outlined, the poetics of the counterfactual can be described in a more general and abstract way by once more returning to E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. Forster’s distinction between story and plot can serve as an analytical model to classify the narrative strategies used in both texts. If history is conceived as a narrative, the two novelists are operating on different levels of that narrative in order to create their counterfactual versions of it. If the historical events mentioned in Brussig’s novel were reduced to a series of abstract elements along a line, we would get a series like A, B, C, D, and so on. Every letter along that line would correspond to an event outside the text. This series would be the story of the German reunification. If we ask the question “And then?”, as Forster suggests, Brussig’s version does not differ from the one that can be found in history textbooks. However, if we ask “Why?”, the difference becomes obvious. In Helden wie wir the emphasis of the counterfactual narrative obviously is on causality. The deviation from the facts is brought about by a counterfactual plot.56 56

A concept frequently used to characterize novels of that kind is “secret history”. It comprises fictional narratives about “alternate pasts that are never discovered because they do not end up changing the historical record” (Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, The World Hitler Never Made: Alternate History and the Memory of Nazism, Cambridge 2005, p. 399), as their formal approach is not to change the facts within historical developments but to add a factual or fully invented episode that has been formerly unknown and which had no effect on the overall historical process, as Rodiek puts it (cf. Vergangenheit, p. 138). Brian McHale, whose understanding of the term is slightly different but less concise, refers to Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo (1972) and Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) as examples of history “as paranoiac conspiracy-theory” (Postmodernist Fiction, New York/London 1987, p. 91). I do not propose to abandon or reject the concept altogether, but the problem, in my opinion, is that no significant effect is ascribed to the secret revealed in the novels. It is therefore useful to analyze novels such as Stefan Heym’s Schwarzenberg (1984), which tells the story of a small area in Germany which the Allied Forces forgot to occupy in 1945 and in which for a limited period of time an independent republic was formed. It could also be applied to Harry Mulisch’s Siegfried (2001), in which the narrator discovers that Adolf Hitler had a son whom he had killed at young age – a historical footnote of great interest but no consequence. However, with regard to Brussig I consider it less useful as the novel’s emphasis is on the cause of the

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If we picture the historical events that are referred to in Kracht’s novel in a similar way as a series of elements we find that from a certain point onwards the version told in the novel and the history textbook version do no longer correspond. The story has taken a different turn. If we ask “And then?” after that point we get different answers for the novel and the history textbook. In Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten the emphasis of the counterfactual narrative is on the events in their time sequence. In this case the deviation takes the form of a counterfactual story. Brussig and Kracht employ two different methods, then, but neither stands alone. Other novels can be found in which counterfactual versions of history are told accordingly, by either changing the plot or the story of history. Therefore, it seems justified to speak of two types of counterfactual historical novels. With regard to the analytical model the distinction is based on, they can be labeled “plot-type” and “story-type”. They need not be mutually exclusive but would be appropriately pictured as two opposite poles on a scale. A poetics of counterfactual novels represented in that typology may be illustrated in terms of building elements. The two constituents used to redecorate the house of history, metaphorically speaking, are events and their causes. So far, only novels that fit into the category of the story-type have been recognized and analyzed as counterfactual. Among the various examples are Kingsley Amis’s The Alteration (1976), or, more recently, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004) and Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (2007). In Amis’s case the fictional alteration to the story of history is achieved by preventing the Reformation and by having Martin Luther become Pope instead. Philip Roth uses the childhood memory genre to relate a counterfactual interlude in the 1940s during which Charles Lindbergh’s reign as American president led to a non-aggression treaty with Nazi Germany.57 Michael Chabon has Jewish refugees and their descendants facing eviction when their settler’s right on the Alaskan Territory, granted by the United States, runs out after sixty years. In every representative of this

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downfall of the Berlin Wall. Brussig’s narrator explicitly establishes a direct link between the counterfactual cause and the real event, thereby claiming the major political event to be the direct outcome of the hero’s behavior. Considering that in Roth’s novel World War II still ends with Germany’s defeat, one might argue that in this case the difference between his and Brussig’s formal pattern giving shape to the counterfactual is one of degree rather than of sorts. Still, Roth rewrites the biographies of major historical and political figures, attributing widespread effects to these alterations, whereas Brussig only inserts a seemingly minor moment to the recorded historical events which leaves the chronology of the established events unaffected.

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type there is an event which can be identified as a point of departure after which the history being told becomes counterfactual. Operating with the typology sketched above, a variety of novels come into focus that are usually not regarded as counterfactual novels. Gravity’s Rainbow, Der Butt, and Midnight’s Children have been mentioned, as these would have to be classified as other examples of the plot-type. Their inherent narrative pattern is similar to the one in Helden wie wir. In each of these novels, established historical events are referred to in a way that is mostly in keeping with the chronological order but a new, counterfactual plot is presented, e.g. when Pynchon’s characters come close to discovering a hidden plot, a giant conspiracy as the true force behind World War II , or when Saleem Sinai in Rushdie’s novel suggests “that the whole of modern Indian history happened as it did because of him; that history, the life of his nation-twin, was somehow all his fault”.58 Both types can be considered to comprise works of realism if realism is understood to signify “not only a mimetic representation of experience but also the organization of narrative according to a logic of causality and temporal sequence”.59 It is one of their aesthetic means to project an image of history against another image that already exists, against an established background of facts. This is an integral part of their overall aesthetic strategy: Counterfactual historical novels do not really – even if they occasionally pretend to do so – deny real dates and events. Instead, by employing specific narrative devices, they introduce new interpretations by making up alternative facts.

VI. Conclusion In conclusion, these observations on the way in which counterfactual historical novels work can be linked to the examples discussed in detail above. Like other historical novels, counterfactual historical novels include numerous references to historical figures, place names, events, and social or political circumstances. Whereas traditional historical novels tend to situate their action in the gray areas of the greater historical setting, counterfactual novels interfere with at least one of the cornerstones of textbook history by altering 58

59

Salman Rushdie, “Introduction”, in: Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, London 2006, pp. ix–xvii, p. x. Italics in the original. David Lodge, “The Novelist Today: Still at the Crossroads?”, in: David Lodge, The Practice of Writing: Essays, Lectures, Reviews, and a Diary, London 1996, pp. 3–19, p. 6.

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it. The basic facts the reader is supposed to be familiar with are usually integrated into the literary texts that present a counterfactual image related to these facts. Brussig mentions the peaceful revolution of 1989 and playfully rejects its impact. It is not the factual process of the German reunification to which he objects but the particular attitude which glorifies the achievement and conceals people’s failures that enabled the GDR system to run smoothly for so long. In Kracht’s novel, the real path of history is presented as a road not taken. In order to paint a different picture of Switzerland’s political heritage, Kracht pursues that road for a while. The author’s decision to either approach the links between the events or the events themselves then requires different strategies of creating the counterfactual image. Neither Brussig nor Kracht want to falsify history in the sense that they would want their counterfactual versions to go unrecognized. By asking what each work says about national self-images substantial affinities between Helden wie wir and Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten are revealed. Notably, Brussig and Kracht are both objecting to interpretations of historical events that are put to use in modern societies. They create counterfactual versions of history to put the established versions into perspective. Whereas every powerful official image of history ascribes inevitability to a historical development, these counterfactual representations draw attention to chance and contingency. In doing so, they abolish every attempt to make sense of what has happened within a framework of predestination. Once notions of a weltgeist, whatever philosophical or ideological shape it might take, are done away with, there is room to negotiate individual concerns by telling counterfactual versions of history. Thus, after all, and keeping in mind what happens in Kracht’s novel, it is possible to draw on the initial quotation from David Lodge for a suitable closing remark about counterfactuals: The sense of history becoming a fiction when someone misses a train and starts a war is a philosophical one.

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Birte Christ (Gießen)

“If I Were a Man”: Functions of the Counterfactual in Feminist Fiction

I. Introduction In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1914 short story “If I Were a Man”, housewife and “true woman” Molly Matthewson so longs to be a man that, one morning, she finds herself leaving the house in the shape of her own husband, “with only enough subconscious memory of herself remaining to make her recognize the differences”.1 Not only does Molly feel self-possessed, free, and powerful for the first time, but through the gender role change she can also recognize the world as “made, lived in, and seen, by men”.2 In other words, she can recognize men’s assumptions about gender differences, witness the rituals of masculinity that reify these differences, and thus analyze the mechanisms which uphold men’s dominance over women. As Gilman’s title signals rather overtly, the story is based on a simple “counterfact” in the manner of “if x, then y”. The “counterfact” in “If I Were a Man” is what may be called “the counterfact of gender”: If Molly were a man, she would engage in entirely different daily practices, would act in the world outside of the home, and would experience herself and her position vis-à-vis men and women differently. By contrasting this sense of self with her sense of self as woman, she would then gain access to the recognition of the specific social structures that determine her life as a woman. The story illustrates, in a nutshell, two central aspects of the use of counterfactuality in feminist fiction – in fictional texts, that is, which expose traditional gender roles as arbitrary, man-made, and disadvantageous to women, which offer alternative visions of gender relations, and which call the reader, in more or less didactical fashion, to political action. First, the binary of “fact” versus “counterfact” is cast along the lines of the binary of “male” versus “female”. Feminist thought recognizes the male gender as the norm and the female gender as that which diverts from the norm – as the 1

2

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “If I Were a Man”, in: Barbara Solomon (ed.), Herland and Selected Short Stories of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, New York 1992, pp. 302–308, pp. 302–303. Gilman, “If I Were a Man”, p. 306.

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marked Other. Society is organized to the advantages of men; a society reorganized to the advantages of women is the utopia that feminism is striving for. Whether feminism aims at reversing or changing the hierarchical relationship between women and men, or wants to do away with a binary conception of gender, sex, and sexuality altogether, it has to grapple with the gender binary as a fundamental structure that regulates the social distribution of power. Almost always, the gender binary is considered a totalizing ideology which structures all realms of public and private life. Within a context of feminist thought, the binary of “male” versus “female” can thus be understood as the binary of undesirable “fact” versus desirable “counterfact”. Second, Gilman’s story shows that feminist fiction employs counterfactuality to exploit its cognitive functions and uses them in the service of social analysis and social critique. In the following, I will look in detail at “If I Were a Man” and other speculative feminist texts in order to trace two specific cognitive functions of counterfactuals that are predicated upon the gender binary: an analytic function and a synthetic function. I maintain, on the one hand, that fiction which subscribes to a feminist agenda of social and political change frequently projects counterfactual scenarios because the binary of fact and counterfact lends itself perfectly to an analysis of the binary of man and woman. In addition to texts that employ speculative elements in an otherwise realist framework, such as Gilman’s story, the broad canons of the feminist literary utopia and feminist science fiction testify to this feminist affinity to the counterfactual as a tool of analysis. The binary of the actual and the factual which are pitted against each other within these genres often takes the shape of an actual world, in which hierarchical gender relations structure society to the advantage of men, and a counterfactual world in which the hierarchy between women and men is abandoned. The counterfactual in feminist fiction thus cognitively “estranges” the actual order of gender relations for the reader,3 and hence employs counterfactuality in an analytic effort to show society’s gendered foundations to be social constructions rather than “naturally” given. On the other hand, I want to suggest that feminist fiction’s use of the counterfactual – by virtue of its fictionality and its commitment to social 3

The term “estrangement” is borrowed from Darko Suvin’s notion of a “literature of cognitive estrangement”, which he uses as an umbrella category to include various speculative genres and which applies to the texts I discuss in this essay (cf. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre, New Haven 1979, p. 4).

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change – can go well beyond this analytic function which fiction shares with the social sciences.4 Because counterfactual feminist fiction’s political aim is to unsettle and transcend the binary of male versus female and the hierarchy that comes with it, it also frequently works towards speculatively undoing the very binary of fact versus counterfact which its narrative structure is predicated upon. Feminist counterfactual fiction, then, strives towards sociopolitical analysis in the sense of a denaturalization of the gender hierarchy, yet, at the same time, strives towards socio-political synthesis: the denaturalization of the gender hierarchy, effected through counterfactual devices such as role reversal and gendered separatism, does not remain its “real-world” goal. Ultimately, counterfactual feminist fiction aims to synthetize male and female in order to abandon the binary and recast both male and female as non-gendered human. I will illustrate these two central forms of the use of counterfactuality in feminist fiction – analysis and synthesis – by looking at four texts which are almost canonical in discussions of speculative fiction by women. Two are from the early twentieth century: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s utopian novel Herland (1915) and her story “If I Were a Man” (1914), which I have already introduced and from which I have borrowed the title for this paper. Gilman’s writing, which includes other utopias such as Moving the Mountain (1911), must be seen in two interrelated contexts: first, the primary emergence of feminist engagé fiction on a broad and popular scale – more than thirty women writers, for example, published utopian novels between 1890 and 1920;5 and second, the growing power of the women’s movement which won its first significant national battle, women’s suffrage, in 1921. The other two texts were published about sixty years later in the context of secondwave feminism, which, like the women’s movement in the beginning of the century, saw a parallel burgeoning of speculative genres in the hands of women writers: Sally Miller Gearhart’s The Wanderground (1979) and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (1975).6 However, I do not want to make a historical argument here. Rather, I will use Herland and The Wanderground to illustrate the analytic function of the 4

5

6

Cf. Neal J. Roese/Mike Morrison, “The Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking”, in: Roland Wenzlhuemer (ed.), Historical Social Research, Special Issue: Counterfactual Thinking as a Scientific Method, 34/2009, pp. 16–26. Cf., for example, Carol Kolmerten, “Texts and Contexts: American Women Envision Utopia, 1890–1920”, in: Kolmerten/Jane L. Donawerth (eds.), Utopian and Science Fiction by Women, Syracuse 1994, pp. 107–125. Cf., for example, Mario Klarer, Frau und Utopie: Feministische Literaturtheorie und utopischer Diskurs im anglo-amerikanischen Roman, Darmstadt 1993, pp. 1–2.

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counterfactual in feminist fiction, and “If I Were a Man” and The Female Man to make my case that feminist fiction may go even further and employ the counterfactual as a tool of synthesis. These two different uses of the counterfactual, which call forth the reader’s participation in the text and her participation in political activism in different ways, thus cut across historical and literary periods. That both uses of the counterfactual in feminist fiction are relevant strategies in the 1910s as well as in the 1970s, and that both uses share similar advantages and problems with regard to their feminist argument, must be due to the fact, I believe, that they are written against structures of gender inequality that, sixty years apart, differ in degree, but not in kind. Counterfactuality, in the 1910s and in the 1970s, presumably also shares in the affective functions of feminist fiction and contributes to moving readers towards taking political action based on their cognitive insights.7 In the following, however, I will not look at these counterfactual narratives’ possible real-world activation of readers, but will be concerned with what I consider the two most salient cognitive functions of the counterfactual employed by them.

7

“If I Were a Man” employs upward counterfactuality: It imagines the gendered protagonist in a “counterfactually” privileged position that is, for the time being, “factually” unattainable. The three other texts I will be looking at in this essay similarly create narratives in which women fare better than they do in the real world. It is through employing such upward counterfactuals rather than downward counterfactuals, I would like to hypothesize, that these feminist texts become effective in the real world. As Patrizia Catellani points out in her contribution to this volume, an upward counterfactual is likely to “trigger a negative emotion such as discomfort and regret”(p. 84). Quite obviously, the successful feminist narrative does not leave its readers passively in their chairs, pained by negative feelings, cynical and disillusioned about their own world and their position in it, but is able to translate negative feelings such as regret, frustration, anger, and outrage into the acquisition of new attitudes and (political) action. In Catellani’s research on “real-world” political discourse and citizens’ attitudes, the link between negative emotions and political actions, as in voting behavior, is a transparent and direct one. The link between reading upward counterfactuals in fiction, accompanied by negative feelings, and positive action in the actual world is less direct. But alongside the feelings of regret about the state of her own lived experiences as a woman, which these fictional upward counterfactuals create in the reader, they also offer her, as Carol Farley Kessler remarks about utopian texts in particular, “alternative vicarious experience” (“Introduction”, in: Kessler [ed.], Daring to Dream: Utopian Stories by United States Women 1836–1919, Boston 1995, pp. xiii– xxviii, p. xvii) in the fictional world and thus engender a sense of narrative liberation, imaginary self-expansion, and self-empowerment.

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II. The Counterfactual as Feminist Analytic Herland and The Wanderground do not feature protagonists who assume a “counterfactual gender”, as Molly does in Gilman’s short story. Both texts, instead, develop complete “counterfactually gendered” worlds – they confront the reader with fully-fledged ideal, separatist women’s societies. In contrast to both “If I Were a Man” and The Female Man, they also follow the pattern of classical literary utopias rather closely. Herland is told from the perspective of Vandyck Jennings, a sociologist who discovers Herland’s allwomen society, located somewhere in South America, together with two friends. “[A]bout two thousand years ago” Herland was entirely cut off from the rest of the world after a volcanic eruption, which blocked off the valley where it is located and killed the male members of its society.8 What the American adventurers find in Herland is a population that is healthy, prosperous, clean, and well-educated, and a social structure which is built entirely around the physical and intellectual well-being of the nation’s children, all with a view to sustainability. There is no poverty, no exploitation of resources, and no violence. Herlanders are vegetarians, wear simple clothing, raise their children communally, and each woman performs the jobs that are most suited to her talents. Due to centuries without contact with men, during which the women procreated through parthenogenesis, the Herlanders lack the gendered behavior towards men which Jennings and his friends expect. In what the three men come to see as a painful reversal of their actual world’s dynamics, the Herlanders are immune to their bragging and advances and are primarily interested in the men as a means to procreate and diversify their own genetic stock. Almost any topic that the men discuss with the Herlanders shows that the whole set-up of society follows an “inverse logic” in comparison with the actual world – which is represented, text-internally, through the male visitors’ perspective. The “rational” organization of the real world is shown, in fact, to serve only economically privileged men’s interests, and in particular their sexual possession of women. The Wanderground imagines a world in the near future in which women have established a society of their own, the “hill women’s” society. They live in harmony with plants and animals in the “wanderground”, while men and machines, mysteriously robbed of their potency, wither away in the “city”. The Wanderground positively re-evaluates and strategically embraces essentialist stereotypes about women as close to nature, spiritual, fertile, relational, or 8

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland, in: Solomon, Herland and Selected Short Stories, pp. 1–146, p. 57.

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“soft”, and rejects rationality and technology, which are coded as “male” or “hard”. The women of the wanderground, moreover, reject “male” historiography and written cultures of memory; they use books as material to insulate their homes, they communicate through forms of telepathy, and create social bonds through oral storytelling and through communal recollection in so-called “remember rooms”. The narrative form of The Wanderground departs from Herland’s classical utopian narrative and reflects the non-hierarchical and anti-scriptural nature of its women’s society: It consists of a loose series of episodes, told by a hetereodiegetic narrator in associative sequences, involving changing protagonists, thereby sketching the community’s egalitarian life in the wanderground. Both Herland and The Wanderground assume – and problematically so from a non-essentialist perspective – that if women were left alone for some time to establish their own ways of organizing their public and private lives, this would result in societies entirely different from, and, above all, “better” in comparison to the actual U.S. society of the 1910s and 1970s. Both texts invert and contradict the male-defined logic that structures actual society down to the smallest detail and can thus be said to develop entire counterfactual worlds. The reader’s analysis of the social status quo of the “actual” in these texts is enabled by two “effects” which are also at work in everyday retrospective counterfactual thinking. Roese and Morrison have described these effects as the “contrast effect” and the “causal inference effect”.9 First, I want to focus on how the contrast effect is actualized in different ways in Herland and The Wanderground. One aspect that the texts share is that they imagine the worlds in which gender difference is abolished and women shape society in terms of a pastoral ideal, and they share this desire for the pastoral with almost all utopian texts published since the age of industrialization. By contrasting a utopian world in which the relationship between humans and nature is symbiotic and caring rather than exploitative, they expose and critique real-world social practices. Herland makes the contrast between the counterfactual, utopian order and the contemporary, actual order explicit through its reliance on the classical utopian traveler figure, the narrator Jennings, who represents actual-world assumptions in the counterfactual world and serves as the reader’s figure of identification with whom she discovers the utopian world. Moreover, the novel uses multiple visitor figures – three American men, who discuss their observations of Herland with three native cicerones and compare these observations with their knowledge of the United States in extended dia9

Roese/Morrison, “Psychology”, p. 16.

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logues.10 In the following excerpt, Jennings describes the Herlanders’ method of recycling and composting all waste and fertilizing their soil with the resulting humus: Here was this little shut-in piece of land [i.e. Herland] where one would have thought an ordinary people would have been starved out long ago. […] These careful culturists had worked out a perfect scheme of refeeding the soil […]. All the scraps and leavings of their food, plant waste from lumber work or textile industry, all the solid matter from the sewage, properly treated and combined – everything which came from the earth went back to it.11

While the reader, without further hints, may recognize this as different from contemporary practices in the United States, the text does not leave the “contrast effect” to be performed text-externally and thus potentially ignored, but enacts it for the reader text-internally. First of all, Jennings makes clear that composting is not an “actual” practice in the contemporary United States when he claims that an “ordinary people” would not be able to sustain itself on such limited resources. The contrast between actual and counterfactual methods of agriculture and waste management is made even more explicit when Jennings goes on to report that the Herlanders “asked what our methods were”.12 The text, however, does not allow Jennings to narrate an account of “actual” methods in his narrative – which is unnecessary for the reader familiar with contemporary U.S. society – by having him confess that “we had some difficulty in – well, in diverting them, by referring to the extent of our own land, and the – admitted – carelessness with which we had skimmed the cream of it”.13 Here, Jennings establishes the inverted nature of the counterfactual utopian and the real actual world by hinting at the differences, but, in addition, his statement leaves no doubt as to how the reader is to evaluate both her own and Herland’s system. Herland, as this example shows, not only makes the contrast of actual and counterfactual worlds explicit, but its representation of the travelers’ experience of the “contrast effect” between the Herlanders’ system and their own prescribes the reader’s view of Herland as an upward counterfactual. Jennings’s shame about his 10

11 12 13

Of course, as Johnston has argued, the multiplied visitor figure also allows the text to represent three male characters which stand for three proto- or stereotypes of masculinity and to expose their different, but equally problematic attitudes towards women (cf. Georgia Johnston, “Three Men in Herland: Why They Enter the Text”, in: Lise Leibacher-Ouvrard/Nicholas D. Smith [eds.], Utopian Studies IV, Lanham 1990, pp. 55–59). Gilman, Herland, pp. 80–81. Gilman, Herland, p. 81; my emphasis. Gilman, Herland, p. 81.

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own and hence about the actual world’s system also prescribes her emotional attitudes toward the actual world, which may, as I have suggested above, function as a trigger towards political action. The Wanderground, by contrast, is very much a text of its time in that it does away with the classical utopian traveler-and-cicerone constellation and its colonial and heteronormative implications which, though ironically inversed, centrally structure Herland. In consequence, the actual world against which The Wanderground places its upward counterfactual remains outside of the text. Here, it is the reader who must cognitively substantiate the contrast between the counterfactual world and her own actual world. She is not invited to identify with characters who experience the contrast effect themselves. The following scene, for example, relates how the character Alaka has just swum through a cave filled with water and shaken the water out of her hair: “I will warm you,” she heard. Laughing, she turned to the tree. Gently she laid herself against the heavy bark, spreading her legs and arms about the big trunk. “I take when you give,” said the tree. “I know,” she said. “And I take when you give.” She inhaled slowly, pressing her viscera against the tree. As she released her breath, the trunk pushed against her. Slowly, with no visible motion, the two set a rhythm of pneuma exchange. Alaka’s trousers became dry and warm. So did even her soft shirt, a chamois given her by Olu, her long-loved antelope when Olu changed form. Her hair swung free now and dry.14

The scene represents a moment of social interaction in a counterfactual society of which plants and animals are an integral part and in which women, plants, and animals support each other mutually. Alaka’s rhythmic exchange of “pneuma” with the tree quite obviously re-conceptualizes sexuality as a life-giving form of interaction between equals, and nurturing as an essentially physical or embodied capacity is stressed by Alaka’s virtually inhabiting the inside of her friend’s (antelope) skin. The actual world’s exploitative or, at best, non-existent relationship with nature and trees in particular exists only as a foil in the reader’s mind; the way in which Alaka’s relationship with the tree and her antelope-friend should be evaluated is left uncommented upon, except for the fact that the reader might identify with the character and experience her well-being within these relationships vicariously, and hence as something positive. One might argue that when the reader – over long stretches of the narrative – is left to experience the contrast between counterfactual and actual practices herself, without explicit commentary on the part of the text, the contrast might be more effective didactically. At least 14

Sally Miller Gearheart, The Wanderground, London 1985, pp. 14–15.

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this might be the case in historical contexts in which overt didacticism in literature is not well-received either by readers or critics. The recognition of contrast becomes the reader’s own cognitive achievement rather than the text’s, and, if the text is successful, her evaluation of the hill women’s practices as cases of upward counterfactuality triggers her independent – rather than textually prescribed – critical perspective of her own society. The contrast effect which these feminist counterfactual fictions achieve, then, primarily contributes to criticizing concrete social practices. Both the text-internal prescription of the practice of composting as better than actualworld practices in Herland and the reader’s potential positive, text-external evaluation of Alaka’s mutually nurturing relationship with nature in The Wanderground, I would argue, prepare a desire for the “causal inference effect”: a desire to understand the causal relationship between the fact that Herland and the hill women’s society are governed by women and the fact that they have developed environmentally more sustainable systems of life and more nurturing relationships than the actual world, governed by men, has. The “causal inferences” which the counterfactual allows the reader to make in feminist texts are insights into the naturalized social “logic” that is the cause and basis of hierarchical gender relations. The following excerpt from Herland is rather straightforward in its exposure of a supposedly “natural” hierarchy of the sexes and the social structures that arise from such a hierarchy. It is a dialogue between the male visitors and their three cicerones that is sparked by the visitors’ observation that among Herlanders, there is no economic competition. In spite of the fact that the men experience Herland as a society in which every woman is well off, the men’s implied assumption is, nevertheless, that without economic competition there cannot be any material prosperity. Clinging to their own notions of how the world must work, they try to defend their perspective on economics by arguing that without competition, there is no stimulus to industry: “Stimulus? To Industry? But don’t you like to work?” “No man would work unless he had to,” Terry declared. “Oh, no man! You mean that is one of your sex distinctions?” “No, indeed!” he said hastily. “No one, I mean, man or woman, would work without incentive. […]” “[…] Do you mean, for instance, that with you no mother would work for her children without the stimulus of competition?” No, he admitted that he did not mean that […] but the world’s work was different – that had to be done by men, and required the competitive element.15

15

Gilman, Herland, p. 62; italics in the original.

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The opposition of the men’s “actual” and the Herlanders’ “counterfactual” assumptions about the organization of society allows for the reader’s inferences into the mechanisms of naturalization on various levels. First of all, Terry, one of the travelers, uses the term “man” as a universal and is misunderstood by the Herlander, who takes it to be a marker of sex. In an allfemale society such as Herland it certainly is a marker of sex, but it is not in the actual world. The usage of “man” as a universal becomes estranged from the reader through the counterfactual assertion that reality may be conceptualized inversely. In consequence, it allows the reader to infer that employing the male gender as the unmarked gender does not represent a given natural order, but rather that it is the product of a process of naturalization which is potentially open to revision. Terry’s and the Herlanders’ different uses of the term “work” have a similar effect. Activities in the household and childcare are not considered work by Terry while they are the essence of work in Herland. Again, the opposition signals to the reader that the conventions governing her actual world are not a given, but must be socially constructed. The intimate connection of the gendered division of labor to the notion of “competition” in Terry’s account of the actual world’s order, moreover, points towards the ways in which socially constructed gender relations constitute the very foundation of the economic system. As the conversation continues, Terry stresses that in the actual world women are not allowed to work outside of the home. Eventually, however, he then has to admit that about one third of the women of “the poorer sort” do have to do what he calls the “world’s work”. The debate between “actual” Terry and the “counterfactual” Herlander, which, text-internally, does not lead anywhere because they speak at cross purposes, textexternally opens up spaces for “causal inference”. It allows the reader to see that Terry’s and the actual world’s economic system is not only based on a gendered separation of spheres of work, but that it also leaves about a third of the population poor. The latter, as the counterfactual world of Herland shows, must by no means be seen as “natural” but could well be organized otherwise so that, it is implied, the former injustice – capitalism – would automatically be abolished. The Wanderground’s hill-women’s society certainly also creates a desire in the reader to understand how and why the female society is more peaceful, more nurturing, and more in dialogue with nature than contemporary society governed by men – and hence a desire to understand the logic and mechanisms of naturalization underlying that male-governed society. However, as actual society is not represented within the text, this analytical task is relegated entirely to the reader, who may for herself construct a feminist

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understanding of the actual world against the female/feminist counterfactual world projected in the text. However, The Wanderground allows for causal inference in a different way: It offers the reader avenues to understanding the causes not of how women came to create a better world, but why they did it and why they did it in separatist fashion – out of their own choice, and not because they were forced to, as in Herland for instance, after a natural catastrophe. In other words, counterfactuality’s cognitive function to enable causal inference is here employed to suggest to the reader why she should join in the feminist re-organization of society, and not necessarily how she should do it or which naturalized assumptions about women and men need to be undone. Instead of representing the actual world of 1979 through visitor figures, the text projects two refractions of what may be considered the actual world of 1979: It creates both a dystopian past to the present of the hill women’s society and a dystopian locus, the “city”, left over from this dystopian past and now occupied by defunct machines and impotent, yet violent men. The hill women’s society is knit together by a culture of memory and oral history practiced in so-called “remember rooms”, in which objects of that past world are also collected. Through communal memories which are “re-channeled”, “called up”, and “replayed”, the older members of the community familiarize the younger ones with “the hill women’s violent backgrounds”.16 At one point, the reader follows the teenage character Clana through a series of “rememberings”, a ritual of initiation into the adult hill-women’s world: As she went to the last of the rememberings, Clana’s head was already full of the strangest imaginings she had ever known. She was still mentally digesting all the hard pictures she had examined this morning – covers from magazines with women clad only in high-heeled boots and a thin crotch band or being whipped into apparent ecstatic submission by a masked man ready to enter her, photographs of women on their knees servicing men, women and men in a variety of sexual postures. […] There was hardly a word spoken as Nova and Bessie began drawing them into the rememberings of the Revolt of the Mother. “Once upon a time,” began Bessie, “there was one rape too many. Once upon a time.” […] “The earth finally said ‘no.’ There was no storm, no earthquake, no tidal wave or volcanic eruption, no specific moment to mark its happening. It only became apparent that it had happened, and that it had happened everywhere.”17 16 17

Gearhart, The Wanderground, p. 24. Gearhart, The Wanderground, pp. 171–172. Through Bessie’s words, the text here creates an intertextual link to other feminist separatist utopias such as Herland in which the creation of a separatist women’s society is the result of a natural catastrophe rather than a conscious effort of women to reject a male-dominated society.

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Read alongside the scene in which Alaka engages in a loving and nurturing version of sexual intercourse with the tree, this passage reinforces, textinternally, the contrast effect which the reader was left to experience textexternally in the earlier passage, and hence makes unmistakably clear that actual-world social practices are a part of men’s overall domination and violent subjugation of women. However, the passage also allows for causal inference of why and how the women’s separatist society was established – and serves as a call to real-world political action at the same time. Sexual violence against women, which is equated with pornography and sexual practices between men and women that, from a feminist perspective, may be seen to underwrite women’s subservience not only in the sexual act, is represented as the central outrage around which the “Revolt of the Mother” gained momentum and led to the foundation of the hill women’s separatist society. Here, the counterfactual scenario of The Wanderground allows for the reader’s inference of what constitutes the foundations of male dominance – violence that is represented as part and parcel of heteronormative sexuality – and hence, for an understanding of where feminist resistance must begin. The inference that can be made through the text’s projection of a counterfactual world and a counterfactual history of this world’s origins is that programmatic lesbianism is the only measure that can get to the roots of women’s oppression. The causal inference effect in The Wanderground, then, not only contributes to a cognitive denaturalization of actualworld structures but suggests specific strategies – such as a programmatic lesbianism – to replace these structures. As the examples of Herland and The Wanderground have shown, the “contrast effect” of utopian and real, of counterfactual and actual, is used in order to critique specific social practices, while the “causal inference effect” is used to expose mechanisms of naturalization structuring the actual world, and, as is the case in The Wanderground, can also contribute to pinpointing the exact strategies by which these mechanisms may potentially be undone.

III. The Counterfactual as Feminist Synthetic The titles of Gilman’s and Gearhart’s novels, Herland and The Wanderground, signal from the start that they set out to develop complete utopian, or counterfactual, worlds. The titles “If I Were a Man” and The Female Man, by contrast, signal that they engage in a different kind of counterfactuality, which Hilary Dannenberg calls “characteriological counterfactual-

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ity”.18 They engage in imagining counterfactual identities along the gender binary. In other words, they are texts in which women become men. In the following, I will demonstrate that because characteriological counterfactuality allows for a simultaneous presence of the actual and the counterfactual within one character’s experientiality, this type of counterfactuality serves not only the analytic function of feminist counterfactuals discussed above, but also a synthetic function. The synthesis of actual and counterfactual, of male and female, which these character counterfactuals achieve, I want to argue, is not only designed to produce the anger and frustration in the reader that may arise from an analysis of the social status quo. Instead, feminist fiction can synthetize the actual and the counterfactual, thereby getting rid of the very system which structures reality, and thus offer desirable vicarious experiences of life in a non-gendered world and of non-gendered subjectivities. In other words, the synthesis of the actual and the counterfactual allows feminist fiction to offer true experiential systemic alternatives, whereas the counterfactual in the service of social analysis serves as a lens through which to understand the existing system, the actual. However, texts that employ characteriological counterfactuals, first of all, also perform an analytic function which I would like to illustrate briefly by looking at Gilman’s short story. Molly Matthewson, as I have pointed out at the beginning of this essay, suddenly turns physically into “A Man! Really a man –”.19 She inhabits her husband Gerald’s body and social position for a day, but is still able to analyze the differences of perspective to her former female self. When she experiences life as Gerald, “the world opened before her. Not the world she had been reared in […] but the world as it was”.20 The text here implicitly distinguishes between a deluded “female” and a truthful “male” view of the world, and hence suggests that women are usually barred from cognitive access to reality. Not only do women, relegated to domesticity as Molly is, not equally participate in “the world”, they are not even aware of the world which is out there, and are certainly not aware of the ways in which “the world’s” rules structure the reality of the female “home”. Molly, by assuming her husband’s character and simultaneously retaining her own experiences as a woman, gains access to a privileged view of the world, which for the first time – although she has been haunted by an inexplicable desire to leave her gendered role and become a man for a long time – allows her to 18

19 20

Hilary Dannenberg, Coincidence and Counterfactuality: Plotting Time and Space in Narrative Fiction, Lincoln 2008, pp. 120–122. Gilman, “If I Were a Man”, p. 303. Gilman, “If I Were a Man”, p. 306.

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understand in which ways specifically she is at a disadvantage in her daily life as a woman. Leaving his/her house and fingering the objects in the many pockets of his/her jacket, such as a fountain pen, a cigar case, and a check book, s/he feels, “with a deep rushing sense of power and pride […] what she had never felt before – the possession of money”.21 Taking the commuter train to work, and looking out of the car windows, s/he sees “houses […] in terms of builders’ bills, or some technical insight into materials and methods” and “shops, not as mere exhibition of desirable objects, but as business ventures”.22 Through experiencing a day in the life of a member of the other sex, Molly/Gerald not only vaguely feels but actually substantiates and understands her own lack of access to “the world”. Her observations revolve – in keeping with the central issues addressed by the women’s movement of the time and by Charlotte Perkins Gilman herself – around women’s lack of legal rights, gender-specific education, and the gendered nature of the leisure-class dynamics of economic production and consumption. Within her counterfactual consciousness – which is at the same time held against her actual consciousness – the world and its gender roles become estranged from her. Her female view is complemented by the male view, and she can understand how men’s different behavior and attitudes as well as her own behavior and attitudes are shaped by a separation of spheres and a hierarchy of power which she was unable to intellectually analyze before – a process of understanding which the reader is invited to perform with her.23 The female character in her male garb, then, needs to reflect continuously about the contrast between her actual and her counterfactual self, about the ways in which these differently gendered selves become what they are, and about the consequences their gendering has for the organization of society as a whole. Texts that employ a characteriological counterfactuality of gender hence use counterfactuals as tools of feminist analysis – much like the texts that develop complete counterfactual worlds. They make both the contrast and the avenues towards causal inference, which the counterfactual enables, explicit within the consciousness of their protagonist. The protagonist’s 21 22 23

Gilman, “If I Were a Man”, p. 303. Gilman, “If I Were a Man”, p. 306. The title is interesting with regard to the reader. “If I Were a Man”, suggesting that a homodiegetic narrative is to follow, disappoints this expectation immediately: The story is told throughout by a heterodiegetic narrator and focalized through Molly. The title hence points to the way in which the story can become useful to the reader: Through the paratextual “I”, the narrator of the story explicitly puts herself into the place of her character and invites the reader to do the same.

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thoughts can become central to the narrative either because she is a central reflector figure, as in “If I Were a Man”, or because she is an autodiegetic narrator, as in The Female Man. What is more, “If I Were a Man” synthetizes gendered perspectives in a way which opens up spaces for change. As the story progresses, Molly’s and the reader’s newly acquired, counterfactual “male” view of the world become integrated into both the character’s and the reader’s consciousness as women – but as women who have become aware of their own disadvantaged position in the world and have begun to understand the mechanisms through which the dominance of men over women is upheld. The counterfactual “male” perspective ceases to be counterfactual because it becomes part of the actual perspective of the emancipated female character and reader. Molly, and with her the female reader, take on the counterfactual male gender but retain “enough subconscious memory of [themselves] to […] recognize the differences”, and thus embody and render conspicuous the female conundrum of seeing the world from a female “emancipated” perspective. At the same time, however, they remain aware of not being able to inhabit the male one.24 The counterfactual and the actual that become reified simultaneously within one character can be read as an expression of what feminist critics have described as “double place of woman”,25 or as women’s “doublevoiced”26 or “palimpsestic”27 subjectivity, drawing on W. E. B. Du Bois’s concept of the “double consciousness” of racially oppressed social groups.28 In feminist and critical race theory, this double or split identity of the oppressed is conceived of as being highly problematic for the individual. In Gilman’s story, by contrast, the convergence of the actual and the counterfactual gendered perspective in one character not only models double consciousness as the predicament of the emancipated woman, but at the same time represents the reader with a counterfactual, productive notion of double consciousness. Towards the end of the story, Molly’s feminist perspective on 24 25

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Gilman, “If I Were a Man”, p. 303. My translation of Weigel’s expression “der doppelte Ort der Frau”, in: Sigrid Weigel, “Der schielende Blick: Thesen zur Geschichte weiblicher Schreibpraxis”, in: Weigel/Inge Stephan (eds.), Die verborgene Frau: Sechs Beiträge zu einer feministischen Literaturwissenschaft, Berlin 1983, pp. 83–137. Elaine Showalter, “Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness”, in: Showalter (ed.), The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature and Theory, New York 1985, pp. 243–270. Sandra M. Gilbert/Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, New Haven 1979. Cf. William E. B. Du Bois, “The Souls of Black Folk”, in: John Hope Franklin (ed.), Three Negro Classics, New York 1965, pp. 208–389.

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the world – which she has gained by looking at the world through male eyes – begins to “infect” her husband Gerald’s consciousness and, more importantly, his/her actions with her/his new “emancipated” double consciousness. When Molly-as-Gerald looks around the streetcar at his/her fellow passengers, s/he admires the becoming hats and suits of the gentlemen, and mentally remarks about women’s hats and fashions: “Never in all her life had she imagined that this idolized millinery could look, for those who paid for it, like the decorations of an insane monkey”.29 Obviously, this judgment of the women’s looks undercuts the dynamics of the desiring gaze of the male, which one might expect Molly to experience in her husband’s counterfactual skin: It represents a view on women’s fashion held by female activists for dress reform. It is what women activists wish men – estranged from their acquired habit of finding exactly this kind of fashion attractive – would eventually come to think about women’s fashion and thus support their reform agenda. Gerald’s male view of women, complemented by Molly’s new feminist sense of the world, becomes the basis for potential social change within the story. In a casual conversation with other men on the train, Gerald/Molly exclaims, in his/her two-way counterfactual character: “Women are pretty much people, it seems to me. I know they dress like fools – but who’s to blame for that? We invent all those idiotic hats of theirs […] and what’s more, if a woman is courageous enough to wear common-sense clothes – and shoes – which of us wants to dance with her?”30

Gerald/Molly lets the men on the train participate in his/her “double vision” of gender roles and thus lays open one of the many structures of women’s oppression and men’s role in it. The story suggests that if both sexes mentally occupied and synthetized both gendered perspectives, there would indeed be potential for moving beyond the gender binary – individually as well as systemically.31

29 30 31

Gilman, “If I Were a Man”, p. 304. Gilman, “If I Were a Man”, p. 308; emphasis in the original. The fact that in this story, it is “Gerald” who makes the first step towards social change and tries to convince his fellow male passengers may be seen as problematic from a twenty-first century feminist perspective that might seek in “feminist” fiction female characters who are endowed with and can model female agency. Such aspects of Gilman’s writing, which seems to miss chances to fictionally empower women, may be explained by Gilman’s self-identification as a “humanist” – interested primarily in the welfare of the human race as a whole – rather than a feminist; on Gilman as “humanist” cf., for example, Ann J. Lane, To Herland and Beyond: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Charlottesville 1990, p. 230.

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In The Female Man, by contrast, women’s double consciousness is – in line with 1970s feminist theorizing – the central and highly problematic symptom of women’s subordinated position in a male-dominated society. Joanna, the narrator within the fictional “real” world in The Female Man, calls women’s split subjectivity “the knowledge you suffer when you’re an outsider – I mean suffer […] the perception of all experience through two sets of eyes, two systems of value, two habits of expectation, almost two minds”.32 The Female Man, a postmodern text par excellence, engages in characteriological counterfactuality with regard to one of its protagonists, Joanna, who eventually “turn[s] into a man” in order to escape exactly this kind of suffering.33 In addition, three other female versions of the same author-as-character Joanna (Russ) appear and all of them could also be read as cases of characteriological counterfactuality, however not along the lines of the gender binary.34 Joanna’s counterfactual characters are of the same gender, but socialized within differently gendered or non-gendered realities.35 However, I will focus here exclusively on Joanna’s assumption of a counterfactual gender in the actual fictional world of the novel. Joanna’s climax of suffering from having “almost two minds”, which triggers her decision to become a (female) man, sets in when she is confronted with Janet, who drops into 1969 New York from a utopian future world called Whileaway, an all-female, technologically advanced society. The utopian Janet is decidedly of one mind only, and of a mind in which gender as a concept does not exist. Roaming the city with Joanna, she frustrates all of the contemporary men’s expectations of adequate, gendered, female behavior. She behaves in ways unmarked by categories of gender, or: very much like a man. It is Janet’s (counterfactual) non-split, non-double consciousness 32 33 34

35

Joanna Russ, The Female Man, Boston 1986, p. 138, emphasis in the original. Russ, Female Man, p. 133. DuPlessis has argued that all four protagonists – Joanna, Janet, Jael, and Jeannine – might be understood as “female men” and elucidate the contradictions of gender in different ways (cf. Rachel Blau DuPlessis, “The Feminist Apologues of Lessing, Piercy, and Russ”, in: Frontiers IV, 1979, pp. 1–8, pp. 6–7). Besides Joanna in the fictional “actual” world of The Female Man, there are Janet in a future utopian separatist world, Jael in a future dystopian world of a “cold war” between the sexes, and Jeannine within an alternate history of gender relations, in which the women’s movement has not taken place. Cf. Cortiel for a reading of the text as “a postmodern science fiction novel that strategically interlaces four distinct genres – Utopia, science fiction, alternative history, and ‘mainstream’ postmodern autobiographical writing” (Jeanne Cortiel, “Joanna Russ: The Female Man”, in: David Seed [ed.], A Companion to Science Fiction, London 2005, pp. 500–511, p. 501).

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as a non-gendered woman, or as a human, that Joanna is craving for. However, in a world founded on gender difference and a coding of the human as male, this is virtually impossible. Joanna describes how women cannot claim the universal while being women: “You can’t unite woman and human any more than you can unite matter and anti-matter; they are designed not to be stable together and they make just as big an explosion inside the head of the unfortunate girl who believes in both”.36 In other words: If women insist on their being women, they will never succeed in being recognized as human – as “human” is equated to “male”. Moreover, nothing is won for women if woman’s subjectivity is determined simultaneously by both her actual gender (“female”) and her desire for the counterfactual gender (“male-human”). The actual and the counterfactual cannot both be inhabited productively at the same time; they are related to each other in a fundamental tension – even exclude each other. The Female Man takes a stance here which is different from the idea, suggested by “If I Were a Man”, that woman’s split subjectivity can potentially become a position from which change is possible. Instead, it insists that claiming the human as a woman is “an infallible recipe for driving you gaga”,37 and that “this is what you have to do: To resolve contrarities, unite them in your own person. […] Well, I turned into a man”.38 Turning into a man, as Rachel Blau DuPlessis argues, means to “turn into a generic man – or, as one might translate the term, a human, a person”.39 Joanna’s turning into her own gendered counterfact, into the unmarked gender, or into a nongendered person, is an act of will power and must be read as a process interior to the subject, a mental and psychological process, but also one of physical self-possession.40 The text stresses that strength and recklessness allow individuals to accept and shed gendered identities, and thus prioritizes women’s agency. 36 37 38 39 40

Russ, Female Man, p. 151. Russ, Female Man, p. 138. Russ, Female Man, p. 140. DuPlessis, “The Feminist Apologues”, p. 6. The text explicitly frames the transformation of “woman” into “generic man” as an auto-erotic act, supplying woman with a phallus: “turn yourself inside out, give yourself the kiss of reconciliation, marry yourself, love yourself – Well, I turned into a man. We love, says Plato, that in which we are defective […] we pursue it with desperate cries – Stop! I must possess you! – but if it obligingly stops and turns, how on earth can one then possess it? Fucking, if you forgive the pun, is an anticlimax. And you are as poor as before. […] there is one and only one way to possess that in which we are defective, therefore that which we need, therefore that which we want. Become it” (Russ, Female Man, p. 139; italics in the original).

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While Joanna claims to have turned into a man, and thereby takes possession of her own humanness, the resultant subject position can yet be considered one that synthetizes “male” and “female”, or fact and counterfact – as the novel’s title suggests. What is described here as “turning into a man” must be considered as a radical reversal of the gendered cognitive frames that govern the protagonist’s recognition of herself and of the world. That the acceptance or shedding of gender is a dynamic of consciousness, rather than of embodiment, is stressed in a passage in which Joanna addresses men and affirms her manhood: If we are all Mankind, it follows to my interested and righteous and right now very bright and beady little eyes, that I too am a Man and not at all a Woman. […] I think I am a Man; I think you had better call me a Man; I think you will write about me as a Man from now on and speak of me as a Man and employ me as a Man and recognize child-rearing as Man’s business; you will think of me as a Man and treat me as a Man until it enters your muddled, terrified, preposterous, nine-tenthsfake, loveless, papier-mâché-bull-moose head that I am a Man.41

At first sight, this passage may be most striking because of its parody of men’s patronizing and belittling images of intellectually ambitious women and its self-confident and aggressive assertion of the narrator’s new male identity. However, it also insists on the central importance of what men and women “think” and what is in their “heads” – in other words, on whether they cognitively structure the world along a gender binary or not. The female Joanna demands to be re-cognized as and re-cognizes herself as a man. In The Female Man, “man’s” consciousness becomes embodied in a “female” one. By thus synthetizing cognitively and physically reified gender, Joanna’s assumption of the male, counterfactual gender ultimately does away with “male” and “female”: It is the consequence of recognizing the male as the unmarked, as the universal – and of claiming the universal, instead of the particular, for one’s female self. The employment of the counterfactual is here, in its final consequence, used to deconstruct the border between the actual and the counterfactual, the border between men and women. A woman claims that which is counterfactual to her existence: the universal. In a symbolic feminist appropriation of male power such as in The Female Man, then,42 the counterfactual does not remain pitted against the actual 41 42

Russ, Female Man, p. 140. Italics in the original. On the symbolic nature of Joanna’s transformation and on the resolution of the “contrarities” of gendered being through language and discourse, cf. Susan Ayres, “The ‘Straight Mind’ in Russ’s The Female Man”, in: Science Fiction Studies, 22/1995, pp. 22–34, p. 26; Tatiana Teslenko, Feminist Utopian Novels of the 1970s: Joanna Russ and Dorothy Bryant, New York 2003, pp. 150–151.

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world or actual character as an analytic instrument, but it turns into and replaces the actual completely. Counterfactual fictional gender becomes one with the actual fictional gender of the protagonist. By transforming the actual into the counterfactual, the text fulfils the utopia of doing away with the gender binary and thus models ways for doing the same in our actual, nonfictional world. Feminist fiction, then, can be said to employ counterfactuality both as an analytic and as a synthetic. It exploits basic benefits of counterfactual speculation identified in studies of psychology, namely the contrast and causal inference effects of counterfactual thinking, in a rather straightforward way, as my analyses of Herland and The Wanderground have shown. The political impetus behind the narrative is not the desire to replace the actual with the counterfactual scenario in the real world, but to critique its structures and institutions and to move the reader to change them. In characteriological counterfactual gender narratives, the counterfactual and the actual, as we have seen, can and do collapse as they denaturalize and eventually do away with the gender binary.

IV. Afterthought: Utopian Fiction and the Binary of the Real and Ideal In its closing passage, The Female Man is very explicit about the effect it wants to achieve in the actual world. The author-as-character Joanna, in this closing passage, says “goodbye” to her book: Go, little book, trot through Texas and Vermont and Alaska and Maryland and Washington and Florida and Canada and England and France; bob a curtsey at the shrines of Friedan, Millet, Greer, Firestone, and all the rest; […] do not mutter angrily to yourself when young persons read you to hrooch and hrch and guffaw, wondering what the dickens you were all about. Do not get glum, when you are no longer understood, little book. […] Rejoice, little book! For on that day, we will be free.43

The author-as-character projects a future world in which the text itself will be left without a purpose, as the forms of female oppression which it addresses no longer exist. One might argue that the feminist necessity of merging the counterfactual with the actual, of merging male and female in such ways that they cannot be differentiated any longer, is staged on a metadiscursive level 43

Russ, The Female Man, pp. 213–214.

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here. The passage stresses the synthetizing power of the counterfactual and – metafictionally spoken – of the fictional. The fictional imagination of alternatives and ideal states of being, it is implied, is – by virtue of its power in the real world – capable of changing the real, of transforming it into a better world. The text here re-casts the gender binary, and more concretely the binary between being a woman and being a man/human, as a binary between the real and the fictional. The fictional – the counterfactual fantasy that women may claim the male/human – is, of course, also the ideal world that the text is promoting. In other words, the binary between counterfactual and actual can be conceived of as the binary of the ideal and the real. The genre that is most overtly based on the opposition between an ideal and the real world is the literary utopia. While I have focused here on the way in which the gender binary structures uses of the actual and counterfactual in feminist fiction, which included feminist appropriations and post-modern negotiations of the literary utopia, I would like to point out in closing that the utopian genre should prove similarly fruitful for interrogations into literary uses of the counterfactual. Surprisingly, however, the classic literary utopia in the tradition of Thomas More and, more widely framed, speculative fictions with a utopian impetus have so far not been explored from the perspective of counterfactuality.44 Hilary Dannenberg’s Coincidence and Counterfactuality, currently the most comprehensive study on counterfactuality in fiction, discusses alternate histories, historiographic metafiction, and postmodern fiction in general as genres or modes that employ counterfactuality.45 Utopian fiction, by contrast, is not even mentioned in this study although it can be categorized as a counterfactual genre par excellence and, in terms of form and function, is closely linked to the genre of alternate history.46 I can only speculate that this lack of interest in the literary utopia may 44

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Studies on the literary utopia which employ the terminology of the “alternative” may foreground the utopian opposition of mundus idem and alter mundus and thus implicitly deal with issues similar to those a perspective on counterfactuality may be concerned with, but this is neither done explicitly nor with a focus on the structural problematics of the binary. Cf., for example, Manfred Pfister (ed.), Alternative Welten, Munich 1982; Derek Littlewood/Peter Stockwell (eds.), Impossibility Fiction: Alternativity – Extrapolation – Speculation, Rodopi 1996. Philosophical studies on utopian thinking rather than writing also tend to address structural binaries similar to that of “fact” and “counterfact” implicitly (cf., for example, Michele Ciliberto’s recent study on Machiavelli and Bruno: Pensare per contrari: Disincanto e utopia del Rinascimento, Fiesole 2006). Cf. Dannenberg, Coincidence and Counterfactuality, pp. 116–118. In addition to Dannenberg, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young has recently discussed alternate histories as counterfactual narratives in: “Fallacies and Thresholds: Notes

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be due to the fact that utopian writing takes the form of the apologue. As DuPlessis has shown, “character and plot [in the apologue] function mainly as bearers of philosophical propositions or moral arguments”,47 and Bammer has called utopian apologues “fictions without a protagonist and barely a plot”.48 Inquiries into the counterfactual in fiction such as Dannenberg’s, however, tend to center their analyses on the category of plot, which may explain why utopian fiction has so far not fallen into their ken. Here is an entire literary genre which may be read afresh from the perspective of studies in counterfactuality; and here is an immense corpus of literary texts that may elucidate functions of the counterfactual in philosophy, psychology, political discourse, and a host of other fields.

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on the Early Evolution of Alternate History”, in: Wenzlhuemer, Historical Social Research, pp. 99–117. With regard to utopias’ and alternate histories’ functional properties it should be noted that alternate histories – unlike utopias, but like some dystopias – can also function affirmatively, as Butter has pointed out (cf. Michael Butter, The Epitome of Evil: Hitler in American Fiction, 1939–2002, New York 2009, p. 53). The functional parallel between the literary utopia and alternate histories is therefore only a partial one. DuPlessis, “The Feminist Apologues”, p. 1. Angelika Bammer, Partial Visions: Feminism and Utopia in the 1970s, New York 1991, p. 80.

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Rüdiger Heinze (Brunswick)

Temporal Tourism: Time Travel and Counterfactuality in Literature and Film

I. Introduction Broadly speaking, all literary worlds are ontologically counterfactual if we understand counterfactual in its basic sense as “contrary to fact”. However, this does not carry us very far if we want to better understand the function and correlation of counterfactuals and time travel in literary worlds. For one, time travel itself is counterfactual in that it is physically impossible, as far as we know. Time travel narratives, therefore, are doubly counterfactual: as fictional narratives, and as fictional narratives about a physically impossible – and thus counterfactual – scenario. Second, just as there are different counterfactuals with quite different epistemological consequences and functions, there are also literary worlds that include time travel in vastly different ways and with significantly different conceptions of time, history, and individual agency. It follows that time travel narratives can be used to stage specific counterfactuals: within the counterfactual world of fiction a “factual” scenario exists prior to time travel and is then turned into a “counterfactual” due to the repercussions of that time travel. And third, as a consequence, time travel narratives in effect function similarly to the way in which counterfactuals are used in some contexts: to scrutinize, reinforce, or question temporal coherence and causality. More precisely, then, counterfactual thinking works with a “focal factual outcome” for which we mutate or alter “some factual antecedent” and then “assess the consequences of that alteration”.1 Various factors such as plausibility and probability of the alteration, co-tenability of other contextual factors, assessment of the consequences, and the significance of the focal outcome play interdependent roles. Put more bluntly, counterfactuals are complex “what if ” scenarios. For historiographic discourses and so-called “alternative history” fiction, the “what if ” usually takes the form of “what would have happened if ”, but psychology and political science also employ counterfactuals in the form of “what would happen if ”. Plausibility, prob1

Neal Roese, “Counterfactual Thinking”, in: Psychological Bulletin, 121/1997, pp. 133–148, p. 133.

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ability, and co-tenability of the counterfactual may vary greatly, but, as Richard Lebow argues, it is not always the realism which determines the usefulness of a counterfactual, it can also be the analytical utility.2 Miracle counterfactuals, for example, may “help us work through moral and scholarly problems”.3 In general, the usefulness of counterfactuals is not necessarily dependent on their likelihood if we follow Lebow’s argument that they can “reveal contradictions in our belief systems”, “highlight double standards in our moral judgments”, and, most importantly for this essay, that they “can combat the deeply rooted human propensity to see the future as being more contingent than the past”.4 In effect, one could here replace the word “counterfactual” with “time travel narratives”. The question of “what would have happened if ” that is at the heart of counterfactuals is also at the heart of time travel narratives in literary worlds. As noted above, in a very basic sense literary worlds are always counterfactual: they create their worlds through their utterances. They also generally invoke the conditional “what if ” by their specific complex referential relation to the natural world and by their appeal to the reader: not being factual, they ask of the reader to follow their thought experiment of a possible world.5 In other words, literary worlds are premised on counterfactuals and conditionals both on an extradiegetic (via reference to the natural world) and intradiegetic (via reference within the fictional world) level. If much of the appeal of literature derives from this unique relational complexity, then the popularity of time travel narratives in literature should not surprise. Time travel as a theme in literary worlds offers a perfect fictional stage for exploring counterfactuals. It complicates the conditionals and counterfactuals inherent in literary worlds by allowing for the malleability of time and history through the miracle counterfactual of time travel,6 exploring alternative histories and futures, and the attendant paradoxes. Via fictional time travel nar2

3 4 5

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Cf. Richard Ned Lebow, “Counterfactual Thought Experiments: A Necessary Teaching Tool”, in: The History Teacher, 40/2007, pp. 153–176, p. 162. Lebow, “Thought Experiments”, p. 161. Lebow, “Thought Experiments”, p. 157. Possible worlds theory has become influential for theorizing the ontological and epistemological relation between fictional narratives and the actual world (cf. Ruth Ronen, Possible Worlds in Literary Theory, Cambridge 2004; Lubomír Dolezel, Heterocosmica: Fiction and Possible Worlds, Baltimore 1998). “Miracle” here refers to the violation of natural laws. In this regard, all time travel narratives employ miracle counterfactuals, irrespective of whether the violation is given a scientific explanation or not. With regard to genre, however, it does make a difference whether time travel is effected by technology (science fiction) or magic (fantasy).

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ratives, we can travel to far-away places and times, we can change things in the past, and know more about the future. Time travel toys with contingency and determinacy, raising the question of the malleability and inescapability of temporality. And, by implication, time travel fiction is also about causality: when we go to the past, at least some part of our future life is known to us. We can then correct decisions we consider wrong in hindsight. In what follows I will analyze time travel narratives with regard to the counterfactuals they employ and the attendant conceptions of time, history, and individual agency. The apparent practical impossibility of time travel notwithstanding, I will assume that time travel narratives and the paradoxes they invoke have an “expressive power of [their] own” and shed “light on [crucial] aspects of human experience” that seemingly more “natural” or “rational” narratives might not adequately grasp.7 Time travel narratives break with four intuitive and common sense axioms that, as Marie-Laure Ryan argues, we have about time: (1) time flows in a fixed direction with a relatively stable speed; (2) you cannot go back in time against this flow; (3) causes precede their effects; (4) the past is unchangeable.8 Consequently, narratives that subvert one or more of these axioms are almost inevitably situated in the realm of the physically and logically impossible by readers. The latter may then employ a variety of reading strategies to come to terms with these impossible scenarios, e.g. by reading them as an indication of genre (science fiction), or as the hallucination of the narrator. It follows that the specific evaluation of time travel narratives is significantly shaped by our knowledge about narrative techniques, generic conventions, and physics, and, closely related, by our assumptions about time. This in turn shapes our assessment of the counterfactual thought experiments we encounter in these narratives with respect to plausibility and probability. If our knowledge about the physical properties of time changes to the degree that we realize our intuitions and experiences about time to be misleading, some previously unlikely time travel scenarios might move closer to the realm of the possible, altering the degree of departure of the possible world from the actual one.9 This possibility is not to be underestimated if 7

8 9

Marie-Laure Ryan, “Temporal Paradoxes in Narrative”, in: Style, 43/2009, pp. 142–164, pp. 142–143. Ryan, “Temporal”, pp. 142–143. On a trivial level, we are all time travelers, if only in one direction, and with a fairly steady speed that is mostly beyond our control. However, not only is everyone’s perception of time passing subjective and subject to change, it is also nonsensical to talk about us “traveling” or moving through time because that motion and its speed would be measured by distance over time. This amounts to measuring time

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one recalls one of Arthur C. Clarke’s famous “three laws” which states that any technology advanced enough will look like magic to us. Especially regarding the four axioms listed above, modern physics and the rather bizarre consequences of the – experimentally verified – propositions of quantum mechanics and relativity have already given the lie to many of our intuitive assumptions about time. First of all, it does not flow, nor does it have a speed, as that would be measured by distance over time; also, the division between past, present, and future is arbitrary, the future not being any more malleable than the past.10 Second, under certain conditions, and with the right experimental setup, it is possible to demonstrate that events in the present can determine the past.11

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with time. Joe Haldeman’s novel The Forever War is one of the few narratives to make use of the only kind of real time travel possible already today: time dilation (cf. The Forever War, New York 2009). One of the consequences of Einstein’s special and general theory of relativity is that we should actually conceive of all of time as a kind of “bread loaf ”. All of time is continuously extant: past, present, and future. In fact, the distinction between past, present, and future is physically untenable and seems to be something that only exists in our minds. In this conception of time, the past and the future are always already present and unchanging. What we consider the future is already past from another perspective. The “bread loaf ” metaphor has become standard in most popularized discussions of the physics of time, possibly because it serves to illustrate how one may cut different “slices” of time depending on the angle of the cut. It is this angle that determines which events belong to the slice then called “present”. Cf. Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos, New York 2005, pp. 127–142. This has been shown by John Wheeler in his so-called delayed-choice experiment. A mind-boggling interpretation of this is Richard Feynman’s sum over histories approach to quantum mechanics. It claims that the present is an average of all possible pasts; and thus the past is quite literally contingent on the present. Not less astounding is the interpretation put forward in 1957 by Hugh Everett, a student of Wheeler, that has since become known as the many worlds interpretation. For every possible alternative path of any particle, another universe “splits off ”. This idea was subsequently used by David Deutsch (cf. The Fabric of Reality, New York 1997; David Deutsch/Michael Lockwood, “The Quantum Physics of Time Travel”, in: Scientific American, 3/1994, pp. 50–56) for theorizing time travel as travel in parallel universes. One will find this in numerous contemporary time travel fictions, a famous one being Michael Crichton’s Timeline. For a comprehensive introduction to the physics and technology of time travel, cf. Paul Nahin, Time Machines, New York 1999.

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II. Counterfactuality in Time Travel Narratives The idea of traveling through time one way or another of course precedes modern physics, and time travel narratives have been extant for centuries.12 An early example is the legend of the Monk of Heisterbach, who follows a bird in a forest and listens to it. When he returns after what seems to him only hours, many years have passed. However, it is only since the late 19th century, especially with the publication of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine in 1895,13 that time travel narratives have become widely popular, predominantly in the genre of science fiction. In order to facilitate a systematic analysis of time travel literature and its featured counterfactuals, we need to consider three key aspects of all time travel narratives: most importantly (1) the time and place of travel, because this determines the entire counterfactual, i.e. the specification of and (intradiegetic) relation between what is present and what is past, and the (extradiegetic) relation of the fictional to the actual world; (2) the manner of travel, because it influences the reader’s assessment of genre and the attending assessment of plausibility, as well as the relevance of the process of the time travel itself; and (3) the conception of time underlying both, because this shapes the specific projection of temporal coherence and causality and thus issues of agency and determinacy. The destination of travel has to be examined not only in terms of time and place but also in terms of logic, as in “counterfactual compared to what”? In some time travel narratives, the history that is – albeit fictionally – changed is the history of the actual world, whereas some places and times travelled to have no referenced factual counterpart in the actual world, and thus are, in Saint-Gelais’s term, counterfictional, for example mythical pasts, or alternative universes which work with differing degrees of departure from the actual world. This is important for narratives like Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court,14 Time Bandits,15 or the Back to the Future series. So, while it would seem at first glance that one could travel only into the future or the past respective to one’s own time, in effect one also has to con12

13 14 15

For a relatively comprehensive list and summary of time travel narratives, albeit with little analytic insight, cf. Ekkehard Böhm, “Der Großvater im Wurmloch”, in: die horen, 50/2005, pp. 85–98. Andrew Gordon provides an excellent discussion of a number of time travel films (cf. “Back to the Future: Oedipus as Time Traveller”, in: Sean Redmond [ed.], Liquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader, London/New York 2004, pp. 116–125). Cf. Herbert George Wells, The Time Machine, New York 2003. Cf. Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, New York 1998. Cf. Terry Gilliam (dir.), Time Bandits, HandMade Films 1981.

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sider exactly what time and kind of world one leaves and exactly what time and kind of world one travels to. The manner of travel can be described in terms of the control the traveler has over it, and by its precise mechanism. It can be technological (e. g. car-like machines, space ships, telephone booths), esoteric (e. g. by hypnosis or long sleep), biological (e. g. by a genetic defect), or circumstantial (e. g. by falling through a hole, or a knock on the head). Lastly, and most complicated, we have to ask which conception of time is evoked. With few exceptions, most time travel fictions work with the “bread loaf ” conception of time in the direction of the past, but are often inconsistent in the direction of the future. They occasionally even change their conception of time during the course of the narrative. Some mix conceptions of time, some do not seem to care at all or purposefully flout even a pretense at logic and consistency. One can roughly distinguish four types – fictional worlds which are: (1) mostly coherent or homogeneous. They present one intradiegetic world with a relatively stable degree of departure from the actual world. This would be true of The Time Machine or The Time Traveler’s Wife.16 In the latter, the traveler stays roughly in the same region, travels within a limited time interval of about forty years, and the respective past, present, and future are all located on one timeline with a stable degree of departure from the actual world. (2) mostly incoherent or heterogeneous. They intradiegetically mix different worlds with different degrees of departure from the actual world. This would be true of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure17 or Time Bandits. Here, the protagonists travel not only to a historical past relatively close to the actual world, but also to the mythical past of the Minotaur and the past of legends and giants. Towards the end, they even travel to a place of evil beyond any specific location and time. (3) mostly consistent or complete. They follow one conception of temporality. This applies to Twelve Monkeys18 or The Time Traveler’s Wife. In the former, past, present, and future are located on one timeline with a stable de16

17 18

Cf. Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife, London 2005. And for the film see: Robert Schwentke (dir.), The Time Traveler’s Wife, New Line Cinema 2009. Cf. Stephen Herek (dir.), Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, De Laurentiis 1989. Cf. Terry Gilliam (dir.), Twelve Monkeys, Universal 1995. The film is based on another interesting time travel scenario in the French film La Jetée by Chris Marker (La Jetée, Argos Films 1962). Here, time travel is possible via the mind. The physical body remains in the respective present, and yet the traveler also has a body in the past, a kind of avatar.

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gree of departure from the actual world, and the conception of time evoked is consistent (“bread loaf ”) and thus entirely deterministic. The protagonist temporarily fosters the illusion that he might be able to change the past in order to prevent the near extinction of humanity; however, in the end, everything happens “according to plan” – time cannot be changed. Even cinematographically, the film goes to great lengths to emphasize this “bread loaf ” conception of time: repeatedly, images from the past and future overlap. (4) mostly inconsistent or incomplete. They mix different conceptions of temporality. This applies to Slaughterhouse-Five (where consistency and logic in general are hard to come by, to a wonderful satiric effect), or most noticeably to the Back to the Future series. The second part introduces the concept of different timelines to explain why the protagonist cannot travel back from a trip to the future to a certain past once events have been changed prior to that past. Most of the action consists of the attempt to set straight this divergence of time lines. However, only the timelines considered to be bad by the hero are eliminated; the changes effected in the first and third part that are to the advantage of the hero are never reversed, nor is there any mention of timelines then. The films seem to mix bread loaf and divergence conceptions of timelines, depending on which is dramaturgically needed at a given instance. On the whole, the manner of travel, the time and place of travel, and the conception of time in time travel narratives have serious consequences for their ideological investment and the precise nature of their counterfactual ruminations. To exemplify this, I will now discuss three of the best-known and most influential time travel narratives in order to present a brief diachronic survey of how differently conceptions of temporality can be negotiated. The texts have also been selected because they employ three very different counterfactual scenarios and different combinations of “what would have happened if ”, “what would happen if ”, and “what will happen if ”.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court Mark Twain’s novel, which was published in 1889, transports the eponymous Yankee Hank Morgan from the end of the 19th century to 6th-century Arthurian England by way of a knock on the head. Morgan works as a weapons manufacturer in a factory and is technologically highly skilled and knowledgeable. Upon his arrival and after some initial hazards, he quickly realizes that his superior knowledge puts him at an advantage over his new contemporaries, whom he regards as uncivilized, superstitious, and generally dumb. He soon obtains for himself a position of influence with – and after some

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time over – the king, and commences to introduce what he thinks of as the epitomes of US -American civilizational feats and improvements, such as telegraphs, newspapers, but also weapons. His “civilizing” mission soon turns into an atrocious dictatorship and, ultimately, genocide, as he kills all the knights in a battle that eerily seems to foreshadow the trench warfare of the First World War. Morgan himself is cursed to sleep for, as the reader may easily guess, fourteen hundred years, and wakes up in his time and place of origin. The narrative plays with the counterfactual of what would have happened/what would happen if a person with a 19th-century knowledge of technology and, perhaps more importantly, with a 19th-century middle-class moral code (had) stumbled into 6th-century England, or more precisely, into the age of the legendary King Arthur.19 Quite obviously, this is a miracle counterfactual; it is impossible and highly implausible. The generic conventions quickly mark the narrative as satirical, and the mode of travel is appropriately esoteric and does not play a significant role, it could also have been hypnosis or a steep fall. In fact, the hit on the head reminds one of the tall tale conventions that Twain frequently employed in other stories. The fantastic nature of the counterfactual time travel – the adjectives “impossible” and “implausible” do not seem to sufficiently describe it – is highlighted by the fact that the particular past Morgan travels to never existed in the first place. It is a mythological past, compounded of various legends of the Middle Ages and of the historical romances of Sir Walter Scott. It mixes myth, legend, historical accounts, and later reconstructions, not to speak of temporal incongruities such as references to 13th-century armor. The historical distance is enormous, so even if it were a historical past, the historiographic usefulness of the counterfactual would be severely limited by the improbability of attending factors, increasing contingency and interdependence, and multiple causation. Morgan’s Arthurian 6th century is an incoherent world, with an inconsistent temporality, because while Hank Morgan is able to change things in the past – drastically –, none of the changes make it through time and affect the present Hank Morgan then returns to. Obviously, utility and function of this particular “what if ” scenario, made possible by time travel to the past, do not lie in its credibility and realism but in its satire and parody. It parodies a genre highly popular in Twain’s times and before, namely the romantic and melodramatic narratives about chival19

Please recall that this inelegant double construction is due to the fact that the grammatical mood of the counterfactual depends on whether the deixis reference level is intra- or extradiegetic.

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rous knights, and satirizes the then virulent popular belief in the advancement of humanity through technology, in historical progress, and the – often eugenic – justification of colonialism, and in moral improvement through free enterprise. All of these are lead ad absurdum and revealed as incongruent and inconsistent by Hank Morgan when he, as the paragon of these ideas and values, attempts to implement them in Arthurian England. The failure, however, is not primarily due to the incorrigibility of Morgan’s 6th-century contemporaries but to Morgan himself, as he shows the bloody, immoral, but unavoidable underside of the values he cherishes. As with most time travel narratives, this one too is more about the present from which it arises than about the past it purports to present. The power of the counterfactual in this case derives from the pervasive incongruity of the narrative, which shows itself to be ideal for disclosing the incongruity of many of the ideas prevalent at the time Twain wrote the novel.

The Time Machine It seems unnecessary to summarize in more than the sparest detail the famous narrative by H. G. Wells. The unnamed narrator recounts the narrative told to him and some select others by the time traveler about his trips to the future. The time traveler encounters what he surmises – and in apparent scientific detail rationalizes – to be the evolutionary future of humanity: the Eloi above ground, who live a seemingly Edenic and blissful life in pre-lapsarian ignorance as the descendants of the leisured classes of Wells’s time; and the Morlock beneath the surface, who, as the brutish descendants of the working classes, atavistically and anthropophagically live off the Eloi. The time traveler relatively futilely tries to help the Eloi, but then also travels further into the future to witness the evolutionary development of all life into a strange species of giant crabs and the inevitable end of the world in the dimming sun. A deleted passage of the narrative also included the intermediate development of humanity into furry little herbivores that serve as food for giant arthropods. After having delivered his narrative, the time traveler embarks on a second trip, never to return. Again, this time travel narrative about the future of humanity is in fact about the late 19th-century present of humanity as Wells saw it. The time travel into the distant future allows a speculative extrapolation of human development based on evolutionary theory as understood at that point. This specific counterfactual of what has not yet happened extrapolates from the fin de siècle position of the novel what might happen if humanity does not mend its ways, namely that the leisured classes will turn into hapless cattle

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due to inactivity and lacking evolutionary fitness, while the working classes will live in subterranean caves that seem to be very similar to 19th-century factories and feed off the “cattle”. In some ways, the intradiegetic counterfactual actually functions predictively as to what will happen if humanity continues on its path. As improbable and implausible as the counterfactual might seem, the prediction of the narrative is lent credibility through a number of strategies. First, this is the original instance of a time traveling machine, which is given plausibility through a careful explanation of its mechanism and a consistent-sounding theory of time. In his careful and detailed observations, reasoned deductions and hypotheses, the time traveler appears as a scientist. As Firchow points out, his descriptions scrupulously follow the rules about “How a Scientist Thinks” set down by T. H. Huxley – a teacher of Wells – in 1866.20 This style gives the narrative an air of scientism and objectivity and thereby “appeals to a recently created audience which […] expected its fictions to be at least as technologically sophisticated as the articles on technology and science in its newspapers”.21 In addition, because the text employs evolutionary theory as an explanatory and predictive framework, the time distance of the future actually increases the plausibility of the counterfactual rather than reducing it, as in Twain’s Yankee. Thus, the narrative displays a fairly coherent possible world with a relatively stable degree of departure. The future of The Time Machine is in fact a blend of the (19th-century) present and the evolutionary future, which even contains elements of the past: not only does the narrative reflect an interest in archeology and an apocalyptic mood popular in Wells’s time that saw humanity on the wane; much of the description and imagery is reminiscent of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians and refers to a mythic, Edenic human past and innocent childhood, but also to humans as formerly primitive killers and cavemen.22 The future of humanity with crabs and arthropods reads much like the pre-historic past, the ultimate future being the end of life. Fitting the evolutionary paradigm of the narrative, the conception of time is of the “bread loaf ” kind, i. e. deterministic, although somewhat inconsistently. For one, the narrative suggests that the time traveler may change the course of events, or, at least, that he interferes. Even if that individual interference does not matter on the larger scale of evolution, the narrative clearly implies that cultural evolution has supplanted biological evolution, and that 20

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Cf. Peter Firchow, “H. G. Wells’s Time Machine: In Search of Time Future – and Time Past”, in: Midwest Quarterly, 45/2004, pp. 123–136, p. 127. Firchow, “In Search”, p. 131. Cf. Firchow, “In Search”, p. 134.

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this cultural evolution may very well be subject to interference in the present – for what purpose should the warning call the narrative quite loudly sounds serve, if not to call for a reform of affairs? The counterfactual underlying the narrative, “this is what might very likely happen if we extrapolate current trends into the far future” can be extended to include the appeal “so do something about it before it is too late”. However, in the long run, the sun dies and all life ends, so does it then make sense to try to change the present from a cosmological perspective? Ultimately, I think the narrative remains undecided about the possibility and sensibility of individual agency. The time traveler does appeal to a moral sense and responsibility, assuming that one’s actions do matter; on a larger evolutionary and cosmological scale, however, all individual human action seems futile. In a way, the narrative well expresses the dissonant mood of the fin de siècle.23

Back to the Future I–III As the title of the trilogy already announces, the three films produced between 1985 and 1990 play with the usual temporal paradoxes, in this case in a humorous manner.24 Indeed, at first glance the series seems to cover important stages in U.S. history; it is a time travel trip to the West of the late 19th century, to the 1950s, the then-present of the 1980s, and the future of 2015, though not in this order. In the first part, the hero Marty McFly inadvertently travels to 1955 with the help of a time-travel car invented by his friend Doc Brown. As the genre demands, he causes all sorts of problems due to his temporal displacement and experiences a number of adventures. His mother falls in love with him instead of his father, and he has to remedy the situation by helping his father transform from a “loser” into a “winner” through knocking out the notorious town bully. As the first part concludes, Marty manages to get “back to the future”, i. e. 1985, from where he then takes off 23

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For an excellent essay on The Time Machine’s relation to visuality and early cinema, cf. Jonathan Bignell, “Another Time, Another Space: Modernity, Subjectivity and The Time Machine”, in: Sean Redmond (ed.), Liquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader, London/New York 2004, pp. 136–144. As he points out, the narrative is very “cinematic”, the time traveler watches the time fly by on his cushy chair through a window, a spectator just like in the movie theaters and the still popular diorama and panorama (cf. Bignell, “Another Time”, pp. 136–137). He takes “a tourist trip to alien spaces” (Bignell, “Another Time”, p. 136), so that temporal movement equals spatial movement. Cf. Robert Zemeckis (dir.), Back to the Future, Universal 1985; Zemeckis, Back to the Future II , Universal 1989; Zemeckis, Back to the Future III , Universal 1990.

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into the future of 2015. The temporal details of the series are too numerous to recount in detail here. Let it suffice to say that (1) not all time travel in the series is on purpose because external circumstances and coincidences such as lightning interfere with the technology; (2) and following this, time does not cooperate: the characters never seem to be in control of their carefully timed plans, escape is always narrow. Already at the very beginning of the first part, a room is shown full of clocks. As it turns out, and much to the dismay of the protagonist, all of them are 20 minutes late. Despite the fancy-looking high-tech time machine car and the doctor’s scientific-sounding disquisitions on time and temporality, time is definitely out of joint. (3) In the course of the series there is a temporal doubling or even tripling of characters caused by their traveling to the same time more than once. As a result, temporal paradox, and consequent disaster, is always impending. (4) Themes, images, and characters recur in all the different times. For example, the 1890s also have a bully that happens to be the forefather of the bully of the 1950s and 2015. Family patterns repeat themselves, as do improbable coincidences. Characters constantly experience temporally paradoxical déjà vus, not to mention the grammatical back bending and word play in order to accommodate the temporal contradiction that results from the disjunction between story chronology and temporal chronology.25 Despite the series’ seeming preoccupation with history, the counterfactual is actually not historical but personal. Not only is the main character always late and has substantial problems “keeping time”. Underlying the whole series is the assumption that one single incident and decision in one’s life determines one’s whole future life, and possibly the future of following generations. Consequently, the series toys with the counterfactual of what would have happened if Marty’s father, Marty, and his son, had not made that single crucial mistake and had stood up for themselves. Through time travel, the films dramatize what would happen if one had the chance to undo the past and then what happens if one does change the past. As the first part shows, once Marty’s father has knocked out the bully, his entire life changes. When Marty returns to his present, his family is better off, sleek and successful, his father has fulfilled his dream of becoming a writer, and the bully complaisantly polishes their car. This pattern is repeated in the next two parts. The trips to apparently historical stages of the U.S. thus primarily serve as the stage for this paradoxical mix of determinism and free will. On the one hand, 25

At one point, after arriving in the 1950s, Marty notes about his high school that “they really cleaned this place up” when of course it is cleaner because it precedes the state of affairs in 1985.

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except for the very end of the trilogy, neither Marty nor any other male member of his family seems to be able to change a personality pattern that keeps getting them into trouble, as if it was genetic and as if history repeated itself. On the other hand, Doc Brown’s emphasis that the past must not be changed, and that in general one must not interfere with time, seems to suggest that one can change time. Indeed, the whole second part is about “repairing” unwanted changes to historical time and eliminating an alternative time line. Moreover, the protagonists again and again change time and events to suit their purposes; the main counterfactual actually propagates learning from the past (and the future) and then seizing the opportunity to change one’s “fate”. Of course, this actually constitutes an alternative time line – although this is never explicitly stated – that should not be changed. In general, even though it seems to present a straightforward manner of travel, time traveled to, and conception of time, the series is full of intended and inadvertent temporal inconsistencies. Although the manner of travel is technological, it turns out to be quite unreliable – control is illusory. The time traveled to is at a closer look actually not historical, but rather historiographic, specifically: filmic, and in that regard similar to Twain’s mythic past. The films show us not the 1890s and 1950s of U.S. history but of U.S. film history. Fittingly, the travel to the “wild west” in the third part takes place in an abandoned drive-in film theater; the “Indians” on a poster at one of the walls then turn into “real” ones upon Marty’s arrival. The temporal conception is thus mostly coherent, although the mostly stable degree of departure is not from the actual but from the film world, making the series nostalgic throughout. In terms of consistency, however, the series is contradictory, resulting from the specific counterfactual discussed above. Only in part two do the changes Biff the bully makes create an alternative time line that has to be destroyed; all other changes to the advantage of the heroes do not create such timelines. The films hence work with an inconsistent combination of “bread loaf ” and multiverse cosmology. As is the case with most narratives featuring temporal paradoxes, non-contradiction is at some point surrendered for the sake of maintaining narrative interest.26

26

I follow Ryan here, who also points out that few narratives consistently employ all different kinds of temporal paradoxes and argues that this is because it would virtually obviate any kind of narrative interest (cf. “Temporal”, pp. 147–149).

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III. Conclusion It seems that very few time travel narratives are wholly coherent and consistent regarding temporality and logic. At some point, most of them sacrifice stringency for narrative interest and/or critical investment. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is apparently deterministic in that one allegedly cannot ever change anything, yet one can also never be sure about anything since the messed-up psyche of the protagonist – not to mention the inconsistent narrative perspective of the narrator – undercuts all reliability of the narrative.27 For a portrayal of atrocious events and a traumatized protagonist, this is quite fitting. Time Bandits displays only a feeble pretense at temporal logic. In fact, considering the content (a loot of precious historical artifacts by dwarves and a boy) and the genre (fantasy), this seems to be the desired effect. Logic is obviously not the primary purpose; rather, history, legend, and myth are shown to be close together, and notions of temporal stability and progression as well as a naturalistic world view are undermined. Even Michael Crichton’s carefully constructed Timeline is actually illogical.28 The title is misleading since the narrative works with the alternative timelines of the multiverse cosmology, but then the alternative lines are always only in the past, and the present of the book suggests one timeline only. However, since the narrative is primarily a thriller with the temporal construction as dramaturgic conceit, this inconsistency does not seriously damage the narrative interest of suspense. Obviously, focusing solely on inconsistencies and illogicalities in time travel narratives is beside the point. If we concede once more that the analytic utility of the counterfactual need not necessarily lie in realism, physical laws, or rationality, then time travel counterfactuals may have important lessons to teach as thought experiments and as imaginative possible worlds that allow us to vicariously put ourselves “in the skin of the characters whose life is being invaded by the irrational”.29 Even those time travel narratives that cloak their contradictions in the thin veneer of apparent consistency and coherence at closer scrutiny show us a deeply unsettling, “unreliable” universe, where time is “out of joint”, and where notions of free will, control, and autonomous agency are highly questionable or at least problematic. One explanation for the recent “explosion of time travel films” and novels, then, might be a “pervasive uneasiness about our present and uncertainty about our fu27 28 29

Cf. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five, New York 1991. Cf. Michael Crichton, Timeline, New York 1999. Ryan, “Temporal”, p. 162.

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ture, along with a concurrent nostalgia about our past”.30 Most of the visions of the future are bleak and apocalyptic and constitute a negative extrapolation of the present. Interestingly, these negative visions of the future are not necessarily based on a deterministic temporality, but rather base their extrapolation on a human nature that is shown as morally flawed and imperfect. It is humanity’s unique capacity to recognize good and choose evil that most often leads to disaster and has to be combated by the time traveler. No wonder, really, that many visions are either explicitly or implicitly of the past, which is often – though not always! – nostalgically shown as more “authentic” and unspoiled by technology.31 Among the greatest strengths and appeals of fiction is that it can construct, contain and project a virtually endless variation of worlds and scenarios, a unique testing ground for thought experiments, with tremendous aesthetic and experiential “fringe benefits”. Another appeal is that the readers participate in the construction of these worlds. Fictions with time travel scenarios offer one way of compounding these pleasures by playing through a variation of conditionals and counterfactuals that are not as strictly bound by the constraints of laws of rationality, plausibility and probability as other kinds of narrative. Indeed, it seems that time travel narratives tend to exploit the more playful potential of fiction and of creating possible worlds; their potential for counterfictional self-reflexivity offers an additional vantage point from which to explore the functions of fiction. And yet, playfulness aside, time travel fictions are also fundamentally about repetition, contingency, causality, and about the decisions we have to make on a daily basis. They cater to our understandable occasional dissatisfaction – as unreasonable as it may seem, but who ever said we have to be reasonable all the time? – that we cannot change the past and do not have the hindsight of the future. At least in fiction, we may get to have our cake, and eat it, too.

30 31

Gordon, “Oedipus” p. 116. Gordon, “Oedipus”, p. 116. Recently, time travel as metaphor and/or conceit has become very popular in historical theme parks and museums; reenactments, by definition, imply a kind of time travel.

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Robyn Warhol (Columbus, Ohio)

“What Might Have Been Is Not What Is”: Dickens’s Narrative Refusals

To speak, as Hilary Dannenberg and other critics now do, of the “counterfactual” in the context of prose fiction is in some ways counterintuitive.1 To be sure, the counterfactual is itself a fictitious state of affairs. The subject of study by social and cognitive psychologists, philosophers, political scientists, legal scholars, and historiographers, among others, a counterfactual is a statement of something that did not or does not happen, an alternative scenario that contrasts with a real occurrence or a genuine possibility. Counterfactuals may take the form of “if only …” thinking, as in “If only Jane Austen had lived into her sixties, we might have fifteen or twenty of her novels instead of six” or “If only I lived in London, I could go to the theater every week”. With counterfactuals, one answers questions like, “What would have happened, if …?” or “What happens if …?” or “What happens if we don’t …?”. In the possible answers to all such questions, counterfactuals are phrased subjunctively in sentences having dependent clauses that posit an antecedent contrary to fact. If Jane Austen had lived longer, if I lived in London: these antecedents posit lives that are only imaginary. They suggest alternate realities that would be improvements upon the actual facts; hence, social and cognitive psychologists would call them “upward counterfactuals”.2 Examples of “downward counterfactuals” would be “If Jane Austen had died as a teenager, we would not have Pride and Prejudice in its current form” or “If I lived in rural Idaho, I would have fewer opportunities to attend plays than I do now”. In downward counterfactuals, the result of an antecedent – the consequent – is worse than the factual state of things. The assertions following upon the false antecedents are always phrased subjunctively, but the auxiliary verbs employed carry different degrees of force. “Might” is less certain than “could”, and “would” (or in British Eng1

2

Cf. Hilary Dannenberg, Coincidence and Counterfactuality: Plotting Time and Space in Fiction, Lincoln 2008. Cf. Keith D. Markman/Matthew N. McMullen/Donald A. Elizaga/Nobuko Mizoguchi, “Counterfactual Thinking and Regulatory Fit”, in: Judgment and Decision Making, 2/2006, pp. 98–107; and especially David R. Mandel/Denis J. Hilton/ Patrizia Catellani (eds.), The Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking, New York 2005.

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lish “should”, as in “I should very much like that”) implies more probability than either of the other two modalities. “If I lived in London, I might go to the theater every week” sounds like a lukewarm response to someone else’s suggestion; “If I lived in London, I would go to the theater every week” carries confidence in my ability, for example, to find the time and to afford the tickets, unlikely as those eventualities may be. When in Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice exclaims in her outrage over Claudio’s behavior, “If I were a man, I would eat his heart in the marketplace!”, she is recommending to Benedick a more drastic course of action than if she were to say she might or could eat Claudio’s heart. As she is not a man, her point is moot, as is the point of all counterfactuals. Contrary to fact as they are, they are not true. But then, neither is fiction. That is, fiction makes no claims to truth, though a historical novel, for instance, might overlap in some respects with a reality external to the storyworld. Realist novels, too, make use of recognizable details – street names, celebrities, routes from one city to the next, descriptions of the weather – as part of the apparatus of what Ian Watt called “formal realism”, the aggregation of techniques that add up to the realist effect.3 An entire novel, however, whether a work of historical, realist, or fantasy fiction, amounts to one big counterfactual, pretending to assert, “If all the conditions set out in this text were true, this plot is what might or could or would happen”. For this reason, I propose to be more specific than Dannenberg is by calling passages in novels that spell out what might or could or would have happened if the story were different “counterfictionals”.4 This is another way of thinking about the speech-act theory of literature, which holds that literary writing is made up not of constative statements that could be evaluated as true or false, but of performative statements that bring into being the thing they say. A performative is neither true nor false; it only happens (in felicitous conditions, as the linguists would have it) or does not happen.5 Indeed, performative utterances make something happen; they bring into being a promise, a threat, a christening, a blessing – or, in the case of literary writing, the creation of a storyworld. As a performative speech act, literary writing is under no obligation to link the diegesis to any referent in 3 4

5

Cf. Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel, 2nd ed., Berkeley 2001. For the way I am using the concept of counterfictionality I am indebted to conversations with Daniel Dohrn and Richard Saint-Gelais at the “Counterfactual Thinking/Counterfactual Writing” conference at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies, September 28–30, 2009. See also Elaine Scarry’s use of the term “counterfactual” to point back to the real in the context of courts of law (The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, New York/London 1987, p. 299). Cf. John L. Austin, How To Do Things With Words, Oxford 1962.

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the world outside the text. In this respect, the “counterfactual” in literary writing is distinct from the object of study for historians or philosophers who can distinguish it from “fact” or “truth”. Thus, the “actual world” of a fiction is every bit as much the consequence of performative language as is the “counterfactual world” the narrative might invoke as an alternative. Although some theorists of the counterfactual in fiction speak of the “actual fictional world” to distinguish what happens in a novel from that which does not happen, the “storyworld” or “the diegesis” are better terms in that they avoid the oxymoron of “actual fiction”. I begin with an example from Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, in which Pip, the narrator, describes a dinner in his childhood home, the forge. Through an elaborate series of negations quite characteristic of Dickens’s later style, Pip explains he was uncomfortable [n]ot because I was squeezed in at an acute angle of the table-cloth, with the table in my chest, and the Pumblechookian elbow in my eye, nor because I was not allowed to speak (I didn’t want to speak), nor because I was regaled with the scaly tips of the drumsticks of the fowls, and with those obscure corners of pork of which the pig, when living, had had the least reason to be vain.6

Pip brings up the angle, the elbow, and the scaly tips in the course of telling what was not making him miserable (“not because I was squeezed […] nor because I was not allowed […] nor because I was regaled” was Pip unhappy). Embedded in this series is yet another set of negations: for instance “I was not allowed to speak (I didn’t want to speak)” and “those obscure corners of pork of which the pig, when living, had had the least reason to be vain”. While it is hilarious, this passage is a classically Dickensian example of an upward counterfictional. Behind all these negatives shimmers a potential diegetic world where children want to speak and are allowed to speak, where pigs have reason to be vain of the less obscure corners of their bodies, where being squeezed at the table or forbidden to talk or parsimoniously regaled with bad food are circumstances unusual enough to be the source of a child’s discomfort. That is not, of course, the diegetic world Pip inhabits, nor is it a diegetic world present in any of Dickens’s novels. “Ah, me!”, R. Wilfer says to himself upon his first appearance in Our Mutual Friend, “what might have been is not what is!”.7 The rendition of what might have been and yet is not does form, however, much of the substance of Dickens’s later narrative 6

7

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, Harmondsworth 2002, p. 25. Unless noted otherwise all emphasis in quotations is mine. Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, Harmondsworth 1998, p. 42.

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prose. Direct narratorial references to some of the specifics of what might have been and yet is not are what I call “narrative refusals”. This essay comes out of my new project in narrative theory; a contribution, I hope, to the descriptive poetics of the nineteenth-century British novel, which examines specific narrative gestures in the context of the cultural formation of subjectivity. Looking at what I call “narrative refusals” gives us a glimpse at a previously unrecognized facet of the complexities that form the distinctive Dickensian prose style, allowing us to see differently what is “there” in the storyworld by turning our attention to what is marked as explicitly “not-there”. With specific reference to Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend, and Dombey and Son,8 I will begin by laying out two modes of narrative refusal in Dickens’s middle and later novels, disnarration through negation and disnarration through the use of subjunctive constructions. I will then turn to an earlier work, Nicholas Nickleby,9 where narrative refusals are already incipient, though less common than later in Dickens’s career. Dickens’s later, “greater” texts reflect a growing awareness of his audiences’ expectation of the cheery, Christmas-story side of “the Dickensian”, a wish for happier storyworlds than the novelist was willing or able to produce. For the later Dickens, the details of the happy storyworld are better left unsaid. To be sure, an unimaginably large quantity of information is literally left out of any text, considering everything that any novelist might have imagined or observed, but not included in a particular text’s story or discourse. Narrative elisions, suppressions, repressions, silences, gaps, omissions, or lacunae: all of these invoke that which is “unnarratable” for any given text. Building on Gerald Prince’s classic definition of the “narratable”, I have elsewhere identified four types of unnarratability in prose fiction and film: the subnarratable (what need not be told because it is too obvious or boring); the supranarratable (what cannot be told because it is ineffable or inexpressible); the antinarratable (what should not be told because of trauma or taboo); and the paranarratable (what would not be told because of literary convention).10 Thresholds of narratability vary from one genre to the next and, within the same genre, from one period to the next. Even within the genre of the Victorian realist novel, what is unnarratable for one author may fill up paragraphs for another. For instance, Trollope does not hesitate to mention the 8 9 10

Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son, Harmondsworth 2002. Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, Harmondsworth 1999. Cf. Robyn Warhol-Down, “Neonarrative: Or How to Render the Unnarratable in Realist Fiction and Contemporary Films”, in: James Phelan/Peter Rabinowitz (eds.), A Companion to Narrative Theory, Malden, MA , 2005, pp. 220–231.

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smallest gestures of body, face, and eye contact in scenes whose substance would be subnarratable (too boring or obvious) even for novelists as prolix as Thackeray or Dickens. Always the text is finite, but that which is not narrated is infinite.11 So texts have limits. But there are no limits to the unnarratable. If the unnarratable usually figures in fiction as a gap, silence, or elision, it can also motivate explicit narrative refusals of the kind that Pip makes in his description of the dinner table scene. Pip’s childhood experience of abuse is antinarratable, too traumatic to recount in the genre of Victorian domestic fiction. When narrators enact this kind of narrative refusal, they point in the text to a particular subset of that which is being left out, thus explicitly marking something that is unnarratable. I have identified two distinct but related gestures of narrative refusal: unnarration (when the narrator indicates she can’t or won’t tell what happened), and disnarration (when the narrator tells something that did not happen, in place of saying what did). Both of these narratorial modes can come into play when narrators attempt to render material in all four categories of the unnarratable, and any given novelist is likely to favor one of these gestures over the other. As we shall see, Dickens’s narrators prefer to disnarrate instances of unnarratability. In contrast with that which is simply left out, the unnarrated and disnarrated aspects of a text become a vividly present absence, existing at a narrative level somewhere between the text and everything that is left out of it.12 Unnarration – the kind of passage where a narrator will say “I won’t go into de11

12

Even an elaborate deconstructive reading intended to open out rather than close off meanings eventually reaches a boundary beyond which a particular text’s utterances won’t reach. Whatever else it may be, for example, Little Dorrit is not a novel about colonizing new planets in outer space. Instances of narrative refusal share features in common with three distinct rhetorical figures (as defined by Richard Lanham): occupatio (“emphasizing a point by pointedly seeming to pass it over”), litotes (“denial of the contrary, understatement in order to intensify”), and aporia (“true or feigned doubt or deliberation about an issue”, Analyzing Prose, 2nd ed., London/New York 2003, pp. 240–241). In some cases unnarration or disnarration will combine effects of two or more of these figures. They are also related, though not identical to David Herman’s “hypothetical focalization” (in which a narrator or character produces “hypotheses […] about what might have been seen or perceived – if only there were someone who could have adopted the requisite perspective on the situations and events at issue”, “Hypothetical Focalization”, in: Narrative, 2/1994, pp. 230–253, p. 231) and Brian Richardson’s “denarration” (“in which a narrator denies significant aspects of her narrative that had earlier been presented as given”, “De-Narration in Fiction: Erasing the Story in Beckett and Others”, in: Narrative, 9/2001, pp. 168–175, p. 168).

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tails” or “words cannot express” – can be sentimental, as in this passage from Nicholas Nickleby: There are no words which can express, nothing with which can be compared, the perfect pallor, the clear transparent cold ghastly whiteness, of the beautiful face which turned towards him when he entered.13

Or it can be comical, as in this passage from the same novel: What in the world Tim was doing with his arm it is impossible to conjecture, but he knocked his elbow against that part of the window which was quite on the other side of Miss La Creevy; and it is clear that it could have no business there.14

In either mode, however, it assumes knowledge on the part of the implied reader. Experience of life or of literary reading will help the reader fill in the blanks. Disnarration, by contrast, is more pedagogical. In the disnarrated passage – where the narrator evokes nostalgia (“something was there, but is no longer”), hopefulness (“something might be there, but is not yet”), or a sense of bare absence (“something never was and never will be there”) – the implied reader receives a set of options to consider and ultimately to reject. The diegesis – or the virtual world created by the text – splits into multiple levels whenever disnarration occurs. Shadowing the storyworld of the novel, another diegesis lurks in the negated or subjunctive details mentioned in the disnarration. In his series of negations, for example, Pip’s disnarration both invokes and masks the cognitive and emotional experience of trauma, leaving it for the moment unspoken somewhere in the space between the secondary, idyllic storyworld implied by his negated examples (where children want to talk and are allowed to talk) and the imagined world represented in the comic text he speaks. In middle and late Dickens, disnarration becomes a dominant mode of narrative discourse, maybe even the dominant mode. Pip disnarrates the dinner-table scene when he brings into being that which is not (the alternative world where children might be happy) in place of telling details about that which is (his feelings about life at the forge). In revising and then re-revising the ending of Great Expectations, Dickens put Pip through a paroxysm of disnarration, unbinding the novel’s closure by negating and then doublenegating the final action, rather than simply telling it. The extant draft ending leaves no doubt that Pip and Estella have parted forever, once they have greeted each other for the last time on a London street. The first revision 13 14

Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, p. 654. Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, p. 760.

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moves their encounter to the ruined garden at Satis House, where Estella says they will “remain friends apart”. In this version Pip – having taken Estella’s hand and walked out of the garden with her – says he “saw the shadow of no parting from her”.15 As if this ending too unambiguously contradicted the first version by implying that Pip and Estella would become a permanent couple at the novel’s end, Dickens re-revised it to complicate the disnarration with a further negation: “I saw no shadow of another parting from her”.16 Commentators may argue endlessly about whether “no shadow of another parting” means Pip anticipated that he and Estella would stay together and never part again, or whether it means this is their last parting and that Pip sees no reason to think they would meet again to part another time. What makes the ambiguity irresolvable is Pip’s narratorial negation of action: first he saw “the shadow of no parting”, then “no shadow of another parting”. By rendering the prediction negatively, Pip disnarrates the ending rather than telling us what did ultimately happen. I read the ending (as I do the similarly ambiguous end of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette) to say that the narrator-protagonist remains forever single. Such an ending is, in 1860, unnarratable – specifically, it is paranarratable, because it would eventually become not only acceptable, but conventional for realist novels to end in this way. For a novelist as profoundly attached to his audience’s pleasure and approval as Dickens was, the narrative refusal of closure is a startling choice. The novel following Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend, sustains from beginning to end the same way of disnarrating events by negating them rather than simply leaving them unmentioned. Like those in Great Expectations, disnarrations in Our Mutual Friend work to heighten a sense of absence. Like the last page of the previous novel, the first page of Our Mutual Friend leans heavily on negation, this time in the extradiegetic narrator’s first description of Hexam: He had no net, hook or line, and he could not be a fisherman; his boat had no cushion for a sitter, no paint, no inscription, no appliance beyond a rusty boathook and a coil of rope, and he could not be a waterman; his boat was too crazy and too small to take in cargo for delivery, and he could not be a lighterman or river-carrier; there was no clue to what he looked for, but he looked for something, with a most intent and searching gaze.17

This refusal to name Hexam’s object is part of the opening scene’s strategy for building the sense of “dread or horror” the narrator attributes to 15 16 17

Dickens, Great Expectations, p. 484. Dickens, Great Expectations, p. 507. Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, p. 13.

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Hexam’s daughter, Lizzie. It is therefore part of the machinery of suspense, and it operates throughout this novel built on a secret to emphasize the need for detection. But the disnarration also creates an alternate diegetic world, populated by industrious fishermen, cheerful passengers in brightly painted cushioned pleasure boats, busy cargo haulers, and helpful lightermen. Like the comfortable childhood Pip disnarrates, this world is entirely separate from Lizzie Hexam’s experience – it is a present absence in the book. Throughout Our Mutual Friend, the same explicit way of mentioning what is not there occurs repeatedly, even in scenes where suspense is not deployed. Here are just a few of the many instances: Not, however, towards the ‘shops’ where cunning artificers work on pearls and diamonds and gold and silver, making their hands so rich, that the enriched water in which they wash them is bought for the refiners; – not towards these does Mr. Wegg stump, but towards the poorer shops of small retail traders. […] [Mr. Venus] has no cravat on, and has opened his tumbled shirt-collar to work with the more ease. For the same reason he has no coat on: only a loose waistcoat over his yellow linen. His eyes are like the over-tried eyes of an engraver, but he is not that; his expression and stoop are like those of a shoemaker, but he is not that. It was not summer yet, but spring; and it was not gentle spring ethereally mild, as in Thomson’s Seasons, but nipping spring with an easterly wind, as in Johnson’s, Jackson’s, Dickson’s, Smith’s, and Jones’s Seasons. [Eugene] looked at [Lizzie] with a real sentiment of remorseful tenderness and pity. It was not strong enough to impel him to sacrifice himself and spare her, but it was a strong emotion. There was something in the attitude of [Lizzie’s] whole figure as [Eugene] supported it, and she hung her head, which besought him to be merciful and not force her to disclose her heart. He was not merciful with her, and he made her do it.18

In each of these examples the disnarrated element is something more pleasant, more proper, more ideally desirable and comfortable than what is implicitly present in the text. The prosperous shops of the jewelers are absent, Mr. Venus’s seedier establishment present; the respectable cravat and coat that Mr. Venus might have worn are absent, his ill-fitting waistcoat and stained linen present; the possibility that he might be an engraver or shoemaker is absent, the reality of his grim profession present. Instead of warm summer or spring “ethereally mild”, it is “nipping” cold spring; instead of being the season described by the poet Thomson, it is the weather experienced by the prosaically generic Johnsons, Jacksons, Dicksons, Smiths, and Joneses. Eugene’s sympathy for Lizzie might have moved him to spare her, but it 18

Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, pp. 83, 147, 675, 678.

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is not adequately powerful. In each of these cases but one, the negation straightforwardly contradicts a positive possibility in order to assert a less ideal fictional reality. In that one exceptional case, Dickens employs a double disnarration the more strongly to invoke the course Eugene ought to be taking with Lizzie, while emphasizing how far Eugene’s actions stray from their more desirable opposite. The “whole attitude” of Lizzie’s body begs him not to “force her to disclose her heart”. “Disclose” is a negative locution for “reveal”; to “force her to disclose” is to do violence to her wish to be silent. Behind the disnarration of “not to force her to disclose” lies an image of Lizzie serenely unmolested, relieved by Eugene’s imagined willingness to simply let her be quiet. He is, however, “not merciful”, and so he makes her do it. Every disnarrated action in Our Mutual Friend has its corresponding positive action. It is as if the narrator is imagining a parallel diegetic world where the complications driving his novel’s plot become moot, because the desires those complications continually thwart are all already realized. It is a counterfictional storyworld, an alternate narrative that is not quite not-there. The disnarrations function here, as in Great Expectations, as a parody of the naïve view that would imagine this counterfictional storyworld could be a possibility. If that “shadow world” is born of a naivety the parodic narrator scorns – for instance, the deluded hope that the world might operate according to standard moral norms –, it is also a world that is nonnarratable, where no conflict or complication would arise to motivate a story. In this respect, the disnarrations are spaces in which the narrator points to the narrative engines driving the text. Dombey and Son, like Our Mutual Friend, also carries a shadow-narrative that flickers behind its main action. Like R. Wilfer, Dombey – finally repenting of his stony indifference to his daughter – “chiefly thought of what might have been, and what was not”.19 Of course, Wilfer – that loving father the narrator likes to call the “Cherub” – is aware of this discrepancy between the real and the potentially better from his very first appearance in the novel, while Dombey can see nothing beyond his own version of “what is” until he has lost everything. Whereas the narrator of Our Mutual Friend consistently invokes that other, more positive possible world through negations, the narrator of Dombey and Son couches disnarration in the subjunctive mode. Though both novels continually evoke what might have been and yet is not, Dombey and Son’s passages of subjunctive disnarration gesture toward a better possible world only at the novel’s beginning, then shift to reinforce the novel’s prevailing mood of despair. Early in the novel, the narrator raises the subjunc19

Dickens, Dombey and Son, p. 796.

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tive possibility that Dombey might not have shut out his daughter Florence, had he been paying sufficient attention to her after her mother had died: And, perhaps, unlearned as she was, [Polly] could have brought a dawning knowledge home to Mr. Dombey at that early day, which would not then have struck him in the end like lightning. Had [Dombey] looked with greater interest and with a father’s eye, he might have read in [Florence’s] keen glance the impulses and fears that made her waver; the passionate desire to run clinging to him, crying, as she hid her face in his embrace, ‘Oh father, try to love me! There’s no one else!’; the dread of a repulse; the fear of being too bold, and of offending him; the pitiable need in which she stood of some assurance and encouragement; and how her overcharged young heart was wandering to find some natural resting-place, for its sorrow and affection.20

These subjunctive disnarrations, like the negations in Our Mutual Friend and in Great Expectations, bring to the surface of the text the specifics of a more positive version of “what might have been, and what was not”. If he had been able to learn from Polly’s example, or if he had been capable of reading Florence’s fear of annoying him, Dombey would have realized the value of his daughter’s attachment from the beginning, not just at the end. The disnarration invokes for the reader an alternate story where father and daughter recognize and console each other for the loss of wife and mother. Still, in this novel the counterfactual scene – the action that does not happen, but exists behind the action that does – is not a particularly cheerful alternative. The narrator brings in through the disnarration the spectacle of the child’s wavering, crying, and clinging; her dread, her fear, her pitiable need, and her overcharged heart find their way into the text without Florence’s having actually to enact them. The shadow-narratives brought forth by this and subsequent passages of disnarration come to rival the Dombey family’s actual story for perversity and misery. Neither do the hypothetical situations the narrator proposes as “better” than Dombey’s actual relations with his daughter present anything like positive alternatives to the diegetic action: “Oh, how much better than this that [Dombey] had loved her as he had his boy, and lost her as he had his boy, and laid them in their early grave together!”.21 In the parallel potential story proposed here, Florence dies young and beloved, like her brother Paul. The heroine’s early death would be better – the narrator exclaims – than that Florence should waste her affection on her insensible father. Dombey’s relations with Edith, his second wife, are identically hopeless, in both their narrated and disnarrated versions: 20 21

Dickens, Dombey and Son, pp. 40, 42–43. Dickens, Dombey and Son, p. 906.

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[Edith] had better have been dead than laugh as she did, in reply, with her intent look fixed upon [Mr. Dombey]. He had better have been dead, than sitting there, in his magnificence, to hear her.22

Better for them both to die than to laugh and be laughed at with such disdain and indifference: in the “better” alternate story behind the disnarration, both Dombey and Edith succumb to the murderous enmity between them. For that matter, Florence’s father is so indifferent to her forgiveness and sympathy that he is not just incapable of responding to them in the diegetic world as presented. He is equally closed off in the possible world suggested by the hypothetical passages of disnarration: If [Dombey] could have heard her voice in an adjoining room, he would not have gone to her. If he could have seen her in the street, and she had done no more than look at him as she had been used to look, he would have passed on with his old cold unforgiving face […].23

This is equally true of Dombey’s relationship with Edith, who from the beginning of their marriage defies his assumed power over her. [Dombey] might have read in that one glance that nothing that his wealth could do, though it were increased ten thousand fold, could win him for its own sake, one look of softened recognition from the defiant woman, linked to him, but arrayed with her whole soul against him. He might have read in that one glance that even for its sordid and mercenary influence upon herself, [Edith] spurned it […].24

Even if he had seen the loving girl on the hypothetical street, or recognized the disdainful woman actually sitting before him, his situation would be equally bleak. Up to the moment just before his epiphany, Dombey remains even hypothetically incapable of connecting with anyone other than his dead son: Here, thrown upon the bare boards, in the dead of night, he wept, alone – a proud man, even then; who, if a kind hand could have been stretched out, or a kind face could have looked in, would have risen up, and turned away, and gone down to his cell.25

In the alternate world invoked by the subjunctive disnarration, Dombey’s pride would keep him as isolated as he is in the presented story. “What might have been” for Dombey proposes no positive alternative. If the suddenness of his final reconciliation with Florence seems to come without preparation, 22 23 24 25

Dickens, Dombey and Son, p. 713. Dickens, Dombey and Son, p. 907. Dickens, Dombey and Son, pp. 544–545. Dickens, Dombey and Son, p. 908.

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this is at least partly attributable to the hopelessness of the parallel story the disnarration so consistently tells. The implied reader has little reason to expect that a blissful father-daughter reunion could be on the horizon of a storyworld so unremittingly bleak in both its diegetic and counterfictional versions. Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend, and Dombey and Son are all celebrated not just for the complexity of their plots, but also the complexity of their psychology. Critics of the Victorian novel take it for granted that the earlier Nicholas Nickleby is not complex in the same admirable way as the later work. It would be easy to say that Nicholas Nickleby (either the character or the novel) has no psychology – but then, no novel has a psychology, strictly speaking: characters’ psychology is an effect created through the narrative construction of interiority. Looking for narrative refusals in this earlier novel shows that Dickens is already working on the technology of structuring a subjectivity for the text. I will offer only one example from this earlier novel: in an extremely rare moment of sentimental reflection, Ralph Nickleby falls into a subjunctive reverie that briefly adds a depth-effect to his characterization: He thought of what his home might be if Kate were there; he placed her in the empty chair, looked upon her, heard her speak; he felt again upon his arm the gentle pressure of the trembling hand; he strewed his costly rooms with the hundred silent tokens of feminine presence and occupation; he came back again to the cold fireside and the silent dreary splendour; and in that one glimpse of a better nature, born as it was in selfish thoughts, the rich man felt himself friendless, childless, and alone.26

Here the disnarrated images – the sound and sight of the young woman in the chair, the sensation of her hand on Ralph’s arm, the “female touch” in the room’s decoration and clutter – represent Ralph’s momentary sense of what might have been, what the narrator calls “a better nature”. Here Ralph is more than an early version of the “character type” Dickens will later develop into Dombey. His behavior and attitudes resemble Dombey’s, to be sure, but more striking is the parallel between the ways the narrators of the two novels use subjunctive disnarration to structure the two characters’ psychology. As the narrator remarks immediately after Ralph’s musings, “A very slight circumstance was sufficient to banish such reflections from the mind of such a man”.27 Such reflections are also evidently banished from this text, as the narrator of Nicholas Nickleby refrains from disnarrating the potential 26 27

Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, p. 384. Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, p. 384.

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reconciliations and recognitions that so strongly characterize the narrative refusals in Dombey and Son. Negative and subjunctive disnarrations being part of the machinery for creating a counterfactual storyworld repressed, as it were, from the main narrative, or for enhancing the effect of character depth, the narrator of Nicholas Nickleby has comparatively little use for them. Narrative refusals can be understood as explicitly marking something like the unconscious of a text, another way of conceiving what I have been calling the “shadow world” behind the diegesis. It is not a collective unconscious, but rather a collection of specific possibilities and details the text mentions, only to turn around and erase them, while not altogether forgetting those specified elements of the counterfictional. When that counterfictional storyworld emerges through narrative refusals, the “repressed” of the text returns, not quite not-there.28

28

I am grateful to the participants in the 2006 conference “Dickens Universe” at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for helpful suggestions on this paper. Helena Michie, John Bowen, John Glavin, Matthew Kaiser, and Gerhard Joseph made especially useful comments. Another version of this essay has appeared in Dickens Studies Annual, 41/2010, pp. 45–59.

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Richard Saint-Gelais (Québec)

How To Do Things With Worlds: From Counterfactuality to Counterfictionality1

Jane Austen’s fans are well aware of the phenomenal number of adaptations, sequels and parodies of her novels, especially of Pride and Prejudice.2 Some of these are more surprising than the expected “what happened afterwards” or “amorous life of a minor character” formulae. Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies tells anew the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy,3 inserting into the narrative – otherwise largely identical with Austen’s – several undead creatures and ninja combat scenes, for no other reason than the fun of creating a very unlikely cultural hybrid, in which the two main characters fight both with their inner feelings and with the “unmentionable beings” that infest Netherfield Park’s environs. Two years earlier, Emma Campbell Webster’s Lost in Austen, subtitled “Create your own Jane Austen Adventure”, offered another type of variation – or rather variations, since this is an interactive novel inviting the reader to identify with Elizabeth Bennet and, through a sequence of choices, to try to make a profitable marriage, with Darcy if possible (but not necessarily).4 This is not an easy task – most of the paths lead to utter failure – and the text becomes progressively labyrinthine, as the reader discovers that his or her choices unravel the original narrative and bring it to unexpected directions, including some excursions into the plots of other Austen novels. While it may be premature to speak of a tendency, these two books (to which we may add a handful of others, based on various classics such as Flaubert’s Madame Bovary or Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) present a common denominator: Each of them intrudes into a previous fiction, not in an additive mode (as do sequels), but in a substitutive way. They retell the 1

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I would like to thank Dorothee Birke for her useful comments on a previous version of this article. A bibliography compiled by Rolf Breuer lists 186 “completions, sequels, adaptations, pastiches, and fictionalisations” published between 1850 and 1998, 71 of which are based on Pride and Prejudice alone. Cf. http://webdoc.sub.gwdg.de/ edoc/ia/eese/breuer/biblio.html (March 28, 2010). Cf. Jane Austen/Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Philadelphia 2009. Cf. Emma Campbell Webster, Lost in Austen, New York 2007.

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original story in part or in whole, and in doing so modify secondary or (more often) important events, stating or implying that things did not happen the way they had formerly been described. This appears to flout our common understanding of the way fiction works. We do not expect fictitious events to vary according to which author is recounting them; the “nature” of fiction (the cultural rules governing its production and reception) entails that its original author, through the act of imagining the characters and their adventures, decides once and for all the content of the story. But works such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Lost in Austen show that another writer may always put the original narrative into question. How can we explain this? In order to shed some light on this problem, it is useful, I think, to turn to counterfactuality, a similar phenomenon which offers the advantage of having been studied from many points of view. In a recent article,5 Lubomír Doleˇzel has stressed the usefulness of possible-worlds theory for the understanding of counterfactuality and, more specifically, of what he calls “counterfactual narratives of the past”: novels such as Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee, in which the Confederates win the American Civil War, or speculations of historians such as Hugh Trevor-Roper about alternative outcomes of historical events.6 It is clear that counterfactuals, whether produced in everyday contexts (“If I had brought an umbrella, I wouldn’t be soaked”), in historical reflection, or in novelistic writing, posit possible worlds; moreover, David Lewis has shown how the conceptual apparatus of possible-worlds theory may be used to evaluate the truth value of counterfactuals.7 Useful as this treatment is, it encounters problems when applied to fictional texts, which are logically undecidable, neither true nor false. A novel like Bring the Jubilee does not make the statement that, had the outcome of the Civil War been different, the evolution of North America would have followed the course it depicts: its only aim is to imagine, i.e., to construct fictitious states of affairs, without making any claim to the plausibility of their realisation, had the antecedent been true.8 Things become even more complex when a fictional text sets out to offer a counterfactual version, not of a real state of affairs, but of a pre-existing fiction. Negations of known facts may also be, after all, negations of known 5

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Lubomír Doleˇzel, “Récits contrefactuels du passé”, in: Françoise Lavocat (ed.), La théorie littéraire des mondes possibles, Paris 2010, pp. 83–99. Cf. Ward Moore, Bring the Jubilee, New York 1953; Hugh Trevor-Roper, History and Imagination, Oxford 1980. Cf. David Lewis, Counterfactuals, Oxford 1973. It may be objected that fiction often makes claims about its verisimilitude. But such claims are not a defining feature of fiction, which may – and regularly does – abstain from making them.

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novelistic facts. Lizzie Bennet may fail (or refuse) to marry Mr Darcy, as happens in several narrative paths of Webster’s Lost in Austen. Emma Bovary may avoid suicide, as she does in Jacques Cellard’s Emma, oh! Emma!9 Hamlet may decide to forget about his mother’s second marriage and elope with a young comedian named Kate, as in Jules Laforgue’s Hamlet.10 I will not pretend that this formula is frequent enough to form a recognizable literary genre. But the questions it raises justify, I think, considering the formula more closely, especially since, as we will see, the various ways in which it is done might offer some insight into the nature and status of fiction. First, some conceptual indications may be useful. The phenomenon I want to examine is, in some respects, the intertextual counterpart of the narrative device that Gerald Prince has analysed some years ago under the label of the “disnarrated”, i. e., “all the events that do not happen but, nonetheless, are referred to (in a negative or hypothetical mode) by the narrative text”.11 Disnarration happens in virtually every narrative. For instance, in Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Marlowe, the narrator, says: “I was still staring at the hot black eyes when a door opened far back under the stairs. It wasn’t the butler coming back. It was a girl”.12 Recently Prince’s idea has been rediscovered, unknowingly it seems, by Maxime Abolgassemi under the label of “contrefiction”.13 With either disnarration or contrefiction, the narrative erases from itself an event or circumstance. But the erasure is not complete, as it would be if a narrator simply omitted a segment of time without mentioning it. On the contrary, the disnarrated makes the erasure visible. As a consequence, the disnarrated suggests what it denies, for saying that something did not happen in a story is a sure way to instil the idea that it could have. Disnarrated sentences, thus, create possible worlds in a fictional world. This becomes clear when, to quote Prince, they “pertain to a character’s unrealised imaginings (incorrect beliefs, crushed hopes, false calculations, erroneous suppositions)”.14 9 10

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Cf. Jacques Cellard, Emma, oh! Emma!, Paris 1992 Cf. Jules Laforgue, “Hamlet, ou les suites de la piété filiale”, in: Moralités légendaires, Paris 1992, pp. 7–44. Gerald Prince, “The Disnarrated”, in: Style, 22/1988, pp. 1–8, p. 2; emphasis in the original. For more details, cf. Robyn Warhol’s contribution to this volume. Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep, Harmondsworth 1948, p. 10; emphasis is my own. Maxime Abolgassemi, “La contrefiction dans Jacques le fataliste”, in: Poétique, 134/2003, pp. 223–237. Gerald Prince, “Disnarrated, The”, in: David Herman/Manfred Jahn/MarieLaure Ryan (eds.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, London 2005, p. 118.

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Prince insists on the metafictional use of the disnarrated in modernist fictions that “foreground the production of a world by language, the fact that the novel […] is a statement about novels and the writing of novels”.15 This is the case when the narrative subverts its own authority by discarding, sometimes again and again, segments that until then were given as “what happened in the story”. Alain Robbe-Grillet’s La maison de rendez-vous and Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie are good illustrations of this extreme strategy.16 In Robbe-Grillet’s novel a character, Édouard Manneret, dies many times, each time in a different way. He is stabbed by a young prostitute, shot by a policeman, killed by an overdose, and so on. In Bunuel’s movie, sequences of events are repeatedly revealed to be a character’s dream, so that the new “reality” ends up being reframed as yet another dream. As Prince puts it, “all the narrated is hypothetical, all of it becomes disnarrated”.17 We then reach the field of impossible story worlds.18 Not all disnarrations are this extreme in their effects; most of them are fleeting glimpses into possibilities revolving around the main action or into what the characters would have liked to happen (or feared), thus conferring an imaginary depth to the story or the personality of its protagonists. We thus see that disnarration may have diverse, even contradictory effects, some of them realistic (we, too, think about what our lives may have been), some of them antimimetic (we do not get through contradictory sets of events, as RobbeGrillet’s characters do). All these uses of disnarration, though, have something in common: they operate at an internal level, contributing in their discreet or spectacular way to the elaboration of a given narrative. But what happens when the rewriting takes place in another narrative? We then have external, or intertextual, disnarration – or, to borrow Matt Hills’s useful term, counterfictionality.19 Hills’s definition of the term, though, is more general than what I am considering. He counts as counterfiction any narrative that “deliberately sets out to re-construct, modify, and merge prior, existent fictional worlds”.20 He includes the retelling of a story from a different viewpoint, as in Valerie Martin’s novel 15 16

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Prince, “The Disnarrated”, p. 6. Cf. Alain Robbe-Grillet, La maison de rendez-vous, Paris 1965. Luis Bunuel, Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie, Carlotta Films, 1972. Prince, “The Disnarrated”, p. 7. Cf. Umberto Eco, “Small Worlds”, in: The Limits of Interpretation, Bloomington 1990, pp. 64–82. Cf. Matt Hills, “Counterfiction in the Work of Kim Newman: Rewriting Gothic SF as ‘Alternate-Story Stories’”, in: Science Fiction Studies, 30/2003, pp. 436–455. Hills, “Counterfiction”, p. 440.

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Mary Reilly,21 a feminist version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, or works such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a comic book series that brings together characters from several Victorian fictions.22 As interesting as these devices are, I would like to distinguish them from counterfiction proper, which I would define specifically as the alteration of a previous fiction, i.e. the replacement of at least one of its episodes, facts, etc., by other states of affairs.23 Granted, the introduction of a different point of view (or “refocalization”) may sometimes entail such alterations, in which case it is legitimate to consider the resulting narrative as counterfictional as well. But since refocalization does not, in itself, lead to changes on the diegetic level (its aim is usually to give another perspective on the same events), I deem it preferable to distinguish, conceptually at least, the two categories, even if it is perfectly possible for a text to belong to both at once. A counterfiction, as I define it, is a text that sets out to modify the diegesis of a former fictional narrative. Sometimes this is done explicitly, for instance in sequels that reveal that the villain did not die, contrary to what the previous installment stated, and is thus available for new misdemeanors. Other counterfictions operate tacitly. Jacques Cellard’s Emma, oh! Emma! never emphasizes its point of departure from Madame Bovary. This strange novel tells again the story of Flaubert’s heroine, from her childhood to her unhappy marriage to Charles and subsequent affairs with Rodolphe and Léon. The reader has to read carefully to notice the point where Emma’s destiny is changed so that her suicide never happens – namely, when her last-recourse visit to Rodolphe proves successful: Her former lover agrees to help her to avoid bankruptcy, which he refuses to do in Madame Bovary.24 In such cases, the counterfictional writer banks on the reader’s knowledge of the original narrative, enabling him or her to notice the alteration.25 But this is not only a matter of visibility. The silence, the implicitness of such counterfictions has other consequences, to which I will come back later. 21 22

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Cf. Valerie Martin, Mary Reilly, New York 1991. Cf. Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Boston 2002. Conversely, one may think that Hills’s classification restricts itself by not taking into account the whole spectrum of the operations a fiction may perform on another fiction, as I have tried to do in my forthcoming De la transfictionnalité. “Et lui, tout cynique qu’il fût, s’apitoyait devant ce naufrage. […] il désirait sincèrement lui venir en aide, ne serait-ce qu’en souvenir des heures de plaisir qu’il lui devait” (Cellard, Emma, oh! Emma!, p. 317). This explains why many counterfictions are based on classics or are produced in contexts such as fan communities, where even tiny modifications of a series’ events will be spotted.

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Before that, a word on explicit counterfictions, which curiously enough seem far less frequent than implicit ones. By “explicit” I mean texts that give away the counterfictional game by openly addressing the modification they implement on the original. This is as rare as alternate-history narratives that tell the reader where (or rather when) they depart from known history,26 and for a similar reason. In both cases, fiction would disclose its fictional nature, either by stating that it feels free to reinvent history, or by admitting that it is built on a previous fiction. Of course, metafiction has become a legitimate strategy in our postmodernist times. So why this silence? The plausible answer is that writers want to grant readers the pleasure of discovering by themselves the alteration; the content matter of the narrative should be enough to notice it, provided that the modification relates to a sufficiently known historical or novelistic episode. We must remember, though, that this notoriety depends on several factors and may vary accordingly. As a Frenchspeaking reader, I may be more familiar with Madame Bovary’s intricacies than with, say, Wilhelm Meister’s. Counterfictionality, or rather, the question of whether readers will notice it, is always to some extent a bet. Explicitness about the antecedent is one way of avoiding the risk of non-recognition. Authors have various options of framing explicit counterfictionality in a way that avoids the problem of foregrounding the fictionality of their own texts. The first of these is to tone down metafictionality. This may be done by suggesting that the new version deviates not from the fiction as such (the novel, short story, and so on), but from a previous version of what happened related in that fiction. Take, for instance, Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Empty House”.27 In this famous Sherlock Holmes story, Conan Doyle’s task was twofold: to “resurrect” his hero (which he had killed off ten years before in “The Final Problem”) and to provide an explanation for this rewriting of his character’s fate.28 He did this, not by saying that he had changed his mind about his fictional creation – which was indeed the case –, but by having Holmes explain to a bemused Watson that he had misled him into believing that he, Holmes, had died in his fight with Professor Moriarty. Here, the re26

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One of the very few examples I know of is Charles Renouvier’s Uchronie, first published in 1857 (cf. Renouvier, Uchronie, Paris 1988, p. 110: “Avec cette lettre, probablement apocryphe, nous entrons dans le roman de l’Uchronie, pour ne plus le quitter. L’auteur appelle à de grandes destinées cet Avidius Cassius, que l’histoire nous apprend avoir été assassiné dans son armée.”). Cf. Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Empty House”, in: Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Vol. 1, New York 1986, pp. 663–682. Cf. Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Final Problem”, in: Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Vol. 1, New York 1986, pp. 642–659.

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writing of fiction is described as resulting from the diegesis itself, and not some extradiegetic, authorial, intervention. Watson, the narrator of the Holmes stories, had it wrong in “The Final Problem”; the “truth” is “revealed” from within fiction, from the character himself. The previous version is dispelled as an illusion, a misunderstanding, etc. We see a similar device in Cosette, François Cérésa’s sequel to Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, in which he manages to bring Javert back from the dead.29 As in “The Empty House”, the sequel “erases” the previous state of affairs by stating that the character only seemed dead and after his rescue had good reasons not to reveal his survival.30 The previous text is reframed, but in a way that avoids stressing its fictionality. Another strategy insists, on the contrary, on the metafictional aspect of counterfictionality, on its ability to flaunt the mutability of fictional narratives. Fictions are made of words (or visual signs, etc.); other words can always remake them. Narratives such as “The Empty House” exploit this semiotic dependency of fiction without recognizing it: the fictionality of the former version is glossed over by a tale of misperceptions finally corrected. The type of counterfictions that I now want to consider emphasizes fictionality by an insistence on the rewriting process. A spectacular example of this appears in Jasper Fforde’s first novel, The Eyre Affair.31 A slightly mad scientist has invented a device called the Prose Portal that enables him to physically enter the world of any novel, drama, or poem. But a gang of criminals steal the device and use it to kidnap Jane Eyre, whom they threaten to kill if a ransom is not paid. Thursday Next, the heroine of Fforde’s novel, succeeds in freeing Jane and bringing her back to Charlotte Brontë’s novel, but at a price: Jane Eyre’s ending is changed. We thus have a counterfiction, and a very explicit one at that: the modified plot is clearly the result of a meddling with another book’s content.32 29 30

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François Cérésa, Cosette ou le temps des illusions, Paris 2001. This process may be described through the notion of “ontological hierarchy”: The former version (Holmes died at Reichenbach, Javert drowned himself in the Seine) is shown not to correspond to the actual narrative world, which the new version purports to reveal. On this notion, cf. Hilary Dannenberg, Coincidence and Counterfactuality: Plotting Time and Space in Narrative Fiction, Lincoln 2008, p. 109–132. Cf. Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair, London 2001. Just to make things a bit more complicated, the new ending of Jane Eyre is the one we are familiar with – Jane and Rochester get married – so we understand that this was an alternate-history world where the literary classics are not exactly the same. Thursday Next’s blunder, then, is at the same time a counterfictional move and the putting right of a counterfactual situation.

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At this point, we may pause and ask if these alterations of previous narratives really function as counterfactuals do. An obvious difference is that counterfictional texts do not follow the “if … then …” form. Novels that alter previous novels do not begin with phrases like “Let us suppose that …”; such a modal frame is implicit at best. Emma, oh! Emma!, for instance, works like the development of a hypothesis contrary to what is established in Madame Bovary: if Rodolphe had helped Emma out of her financial quagmire, she would not have committed suicide (and her fate would have been bleak anyway). But this situation is not described as the result of a hypothesis. There is no “if … then …” frame; the states of affairs narrated in Cellard’s novel are given as facts, not suppositions. It is the reader who brackets them, by seeing them as a conjectural reasoning based on Flaubert’s original novel. The same may be said of counterfactual novels, which do not use the “if … then …” frame either: here, too, it is supplied by the reader who understands that, for instance, Bring the Jubilee posits as its actual narrative world one where American geopolitics, among other things, differ widely from what we know as real. This suggests that the implicitness of such frames is a general tendency of fiction, whether counterfictional or counterfactual. The reason for this silence is simple: Fiction is based on make-believe. It does not, after the word “novel” on the cover of the book, describe itself as fiction, or as the development of a speculation. Neither does counterfiction, it seems. Even a metafictional text such as The Eyre Affair pretends that the world of Thursday Next is reality, as opposed to the avowed fictiveness of Jane Eyre’s world. Theoretically, nothing prevents an author from playing an overt metafictional game in a counterfiction; in fact, very few of them seem ready to do it, maybe because they judge that one game at a time is enough. If we want to find counterfictional utterances that share the explicitness of the frames used in counterfactuals, we have to turn to the critical discourse, to texts that interpret other texts, an operation which naturally leads to the recognition of the commented text’s existence. Being situated outside fiction, a critical text treats fictional states of affairs as the fictions they are. This normally rules out any intervention in the commented text’s diegesis: Critical discourse is expected to offer interpretations, not rewritings. Some commentaries, though, explore the virtual paths the plot of a novel could have taken. A remarkable example is Valincour’s Lettres sur la Princesse de Clèves, first published in 1678.33 This essay has recently been hailed as an early example of the formalist study of fiction, as well as of creative criticism. 33

Cf. Jean-Baptiste Henry du Trousset de Valincour, Lettres à Madame la Marquise *** sur le sujet de la Princesse de Clèves, Paris 2001.

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Examining the articulations of the plot of Madame de la Fayette’s La Princesse de Clèves, Valincour attempts to show that the story would have been more plausible, had some (minor) circumstances been different. This is, clearly, counterfictional criticism, offering alternative scenarios to Madame de Clèves. Valincour’s critique is interventionist; he intends to mend some narrative flaws in the novel he comments. For instance, a scene in the novel shows Monsieur de Clèves overhearing a conversation between his wife and her would-be lover Monsieur de Nemours; granted, says Valincour, but why did the author devise a complicated series of events in order for this to happen in such a distant location as a country cottage? This would have been more plausible had the scene taken place at the Clèves’ hotel, where Nemours was a regular visitor. This is a typical move by Valincour, who does not endeavor to change the original outcomes of the episodes, but to imagine less debatable ways of reaching them. Interventionist though it is, his essay retains the external stance of critical discourse: All of Valincour’s proposals are prefixed with clauses such as “Plausibility would have been less stretched if the author had imagined instead that …”. These are bona fide counterfactuals, open to discussion about their truth value. A much more spectacular kind of counterfictional criticism is offered by Pierre Bayard in Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?, a book-length essay about one of Agatha Christie’s most famous detective novels, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.34 What is spectacular here is that this essay aims to refute the novel it comments. Bayard’s thesis is that the solution of this mystery, as expounded by the detective Poirot, is wrong: It does not take into account important clues, and jumps to conclusions more than once. So Bayard reopens the case. First, he shows the flaws in Poirot’s reasoning – this is the analytical part of his book. Second, he does something much more provoking: He puts forward his own solution, implicating another culprit. What distinguishes this from Valincour’s essay is that in Bayard’s case the new state of affairs is given as what really happened in the story. Valincour only suggested a possible rewriting of the plot; his essays make it clear that these suggestions would lead to a fictional world differing (however slightly) from the one constructed in La Princesse de Clèves. Bayard goes as far as to state that Christie’s novel does not accurately represent the fictional truth, and that it gives enough evidence to support its own contestation. Instead of delineating an alternative fictional world, as Valincour did, Bayard’s book purports to give an alternative account of the world where Poirot tried to solve the Ackroyd case, and of what exactly happened in it. Such a stance challenges the way we envision inter34

Cf. Pierre Bayard, Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?, London 2000.

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pretation, which here is not limited to the investigation of meaning, as we expect it to be, but is turned into an active participation in the construction of fiction.35 As we see, counterfictionality may take many forms and establish different relationships with the original plot. On the level of content, the description of an alternative course of events is a constant. It is on the level of framing devices that striking differences appear. Some counterfictional texts present themselves as revelations (e.g., “The Empty House” or Cosette), others as intrusions (as in The Eyre Affair) or as speculations about what has really taken place (as in Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?). Some counterfictions frame their interventions in order to circumscribe them carefully. Valincour, for instance, does not embark on a full-fledged rewriting of the plot but limits his alterations to narrative segments lacking in verisimilitude. Other counterfictional texts offer no clear frame, and thus remain silent about their precise relationship with the original. They run parallel to it, as Emma, oh! Emma! does with respect to Madame Bovary, leaving it to the reader to reconstruct them as speculations about possible fates of the characters. Whether all these things are done seriously or not, in the pragmatic sense of the word, is another question, and not an easy one to answer.36 Ordinary counterfactual sentences do make statements: Somebody who claims that the election of Al Gore as American President in 2000 would have prevented the second Gulf War is not indulging in make-believe but states a proposition that can be debated. What about counterfictionals, then? The fact that they are based on fictions does not beg the question, for it is possible to produce serious utterances about fictions. For instance, I may say seriously, but falsely, that Sherlock Holmes never accepts money from his clients. Truth values may also be attributed to framed counterfictionals: I can launch a debate among Sherlockians by affirming that, had Sherlock Holmes never ac35

36

Another instance of interventionist criticism is the series of essays published in the late 1990s by John Sutherland (cf. Sutherland, Is Heathcliff a Murderer? Great Puzzles in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Oxford 1996; Sutherland, Can Jane Eyre Be Happy? More Puzzles in Classic Fiction, Oxford 1997) in which he investigates several “puzzles” in nineteenth-century English novels and offers some speculative solutions. But these are not counterfictional: They add hypothetical explanations instead of modifying the plots for the sake of verisimilitude or coherence, as Valincour and Bayard do. For Searle, a serious utterance is governed by rules ensuring that its speaker commits himself or herself to the truth of the proposition it expresses. Searle explicitly states that fiction, being a simulation of such utterances, frees its writer from this commitment (cf. John Searle, “The Logical Status of Fictional Discourse”, New Literary History, 6/1973, pp. 319–332).

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cepted money from his clients, he would still have been able to pay his part of the rent for the flat on 221B Baker Street. Things are not so clear when we consider unframed counterfictions produced in a fictional context. It is counterintuitive to disqualify as “wrong” or “false” a novel in which Emma Bovary does not commit suicide. A critic may deem it a bad aesthetical choice, but this is a completely different matter. Novelistic counterfictions, after all, are fictions and, as such, supposed to escape truth judgments. It would be nice if we could stick to this simple axiom. I am afraid, though, that the problem is a bit more complicated. There are counterfictions such as Emma, oh! Emma! which read as fictions upon previous fictions, as playful variations on the fate of the characters. Other counterfictions stand at the same level as the fictions they revise. Conan Doyle’s “The Empty House” or François Cérésa’s Cosette are not to be read as musings about “The Final Problem” or Les Misérables, but as rectifications of those narratives’ so-called inaccuracies. Does this expose them to truth judgments? I do not think so. Readers will form opinions about such operations. But these opinions will probably depend more on the author’s identity than on the content of the texts. A counterfiction written by the original author revisiting his or her previous fiction will be received more favorably than the same operation performed by another author. Conan Doyle’s resurrection of his hero is seen as a legitimate prerogative of a creator, whereas François Cérésa’s resurrection of Victor Hugo’s character has been described by some as a betrayal of the latter’s intentions. In our culture, the original author is granted a privileged relationship with “his” or “her” fiction that enables him or her to claim knowledge about parts of the fictional world outside the scope of the narrative.37 Hence the difficulties we face when we try to evaluate counterfictionals, since this entails institutional factors (e.g., the status and identity of the author) as much as internal, textual, ones. Critical discourse, exemplified by the essays of Valincour and Bayard, presents yet another set of problems. Critical discourse, by definition, is outside of fiction: It makes serious statements about fictions. This is clearly the case when Valincour suggests possible amendments of Madame de la Fayette’s novel. But what about Bayard’s new solution to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd? His tongue-in-cheek tone makes it difficult to decide whether this is to be read as an effort to solve the mystery, to be taken seriously, or as a sophisticated literary joke. Maybe this uncertainty is precisely the point of 37

But even this may be contended, as has been shown by the controversy surrounding J. K. Rowling’s post facto “revelation” about Dumbledore’s homosexuality.

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the essay: to show the indeterminacy of fiction, but also its pervasiveness, its propensity to invade unexpected fields, including criticism. Bayard describes his book as “a detective novel about a detective novel”. His rewriting of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is at the same time an essay and a fiction, the result of a thorough investigation and an exercise in critical ingenuity – an ingenuity bordering on imagination. One last word: why? Why alter previous (and often prestigious) fictions? This clearly looks like an instance of our postmodernist age’s tendency to build works of art upon works of art, texts upon texts, fictions upon fictions. But the phenomenon of counterfictionality is anything but new. Valincour published his essay in 1748. In 1749 Nahum Tate published a version of King Lear which, among other revisions, provided the characters with a happy ending: Cordelia does not die but marries Edgar, and Lear regains his throne.38 Specialists agree, though, that this bold move was complying with the eighteenth-century readers’ desire to “correct” the original’s bleak dénouement. Recent counterfictions exhibit a more playful attitude to the narratives they modify. The alterations they perform are less governed by ideological or moral imperatives such as the desire to reconcile a narrative with a current set of values. Rather, they aim to stress the indefinite malleability of fiction, what we may call its “rewriteability”. The recent additions to the Jane Austen canon I have mentioned earlier tend to confirm this. Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies stretches the capacity of a narrative to incorporate elements alien to its storyworld’s tacit rules; modifying the story, here, entails a radical transformation of the world – the set of constraints governing what is possible or not in the fiction – in which events take place.39 Campbell Webster’s Lost in Austen maintains the original world-rules, but moves towards the exhaustion of the narrative possibilities they open. Her book does not offer a story but an arborescence of stories, the one told in Pride and Prejudice being just one among several – one, moreover, that the curious reader will probably neglect in favor of more disastrous (but much more amusing) paths. This suggests two lines of divergence between past and recent counterfictions. The first line divides normative and anti-normative contexts and practices, but it may also provide a tentative explanation of the uneven distribution of counterfictionality in history: Paradoxically, both strongly normative 38 39

Cf. Thomas Pavel, Fictional Worlds, Cambridge 1988, p. 34. For a theoretical formulation of these rules, cf. Lubomír Doleˇzel, Heterocosmica, Fiction and Possible Worlds, Baltimore 1998, especially ch. 5, which deals with alethic macro-constraints.

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(as the 17th century in France) and strongly anti-normative periods seem favorable to counterfictional rewriting, although in sharply different forms, whereas more indifferent contexts seem to be less propitious. The second distinction concerns the relationship between counterfactuality and the idea of fictituous worlds. It is probably more blurred, if only because it is much less conspicuous than normative considerations. But I would submit that recent counterfictions show a playful attitude not only towards stories, i.e. characters and their fates, as previous counterfictions already did, but also towards the world the original author had outlined around them. Worlds, in this context, are treated less as given than as objects of ludic writing practices. But these remain hypotheses, to be verified, revised, or qualified through a more extensive study. What remains certain, though, is that counterfictionality takes advantage of what we already knew, but forgot in our fascination with the apparent reality of fictional lives and settings – that fiction, being made of words, can always be made again and again by other words.

List of Contributors

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List of Contributors

Andrea Albrecht, Emmy Noether Fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS ) and at the German Department, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. Research interests: literature & science studies, cultural theory, classical modernism, political discourses in literary contexts of the 18th century, contemporary literature. Recent publications: Kosmopolitismus. Weltbürgerdiskurse in Literatur, Philosophie und Publizistik um 1800, Berlin 2005; “Mathematisches Wissen und historisches Erzählen: Michael Köhlmeiers Roman Abendland”, in: Gegenwartsliteratur. Ein germanistisches Jahrbuch (2009); “‘Konstellationen’. Zur kulturwissenschaftlichen Karriere eines astrologisch-astronomischen Konzepts bei Heinrich Rickert, Max Weber, Alfred Weber und Karl Mannheim”, in: Scientia Poetica (2010). Georg Christoph Berger Waldenegg, apl. Professor at the Department of History, University of Heidelberg. Research interests: history of Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy from 1850 to 1945, anti-Semitism, theory of history. Recent publications: Führer der extremen Rechten. Das schwierige Verhältnis der Nachkriegsgeschichtsschreibung zu ‘grossen Männern’ der eigenen Vergangenheit (2006; ed. with Francisca Loetz); Antisemitismus: Eine gefährliche Vokabel? Diagnose eines Wortes (2003); “Vaterländisches Gemeingefühl und nationale Charaktere. Die kaiserliche Regierung im Neoabsolutismus und die Erfindung einer Nationalgeschichte”, in: Nationalgeschichte als Artefakt. Zum Paradigma “Nationalstaat” in den Historiographien Deutschlands, Italiens und Österreichs, ed. by Hans-Peter Hye, Brigitte Mazohl and Jan P. Niederkorn (2009). Dorothee Birke, Junior Research Fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS ). Research interests: narratology, history of the novel, reception studies, contemporary British literature and film. Recent publications: Memory’s Fragile Power: Crises of Memory, Identity and Narrative in Contemporary British Novels (2008); “Zur Rezeption und Funktion von ‘Typen’: Figurenkonzeption bei Charles Dickens”, in: Figurenwissen, ed. by Lilith Jappe, Olav Krämer, and Fabian Lampart (2011); “Challenging the Divide: Stephen King and the Problem of ‘Popular Culture’”, in: Journal of Popular Culture (accepted for publication).

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List of Contributors

Michael Butter, Junior Research Fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS ). Research interests: American literature and culture, popular culture, conspiracy theories. Recent publications: The Epitome of Evil: Hitler in American Fiction (2009); Arnold Schwarzenegger: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Body and Image (2011; ed. with Patrick Keller and Simon Wendt); 9/11: Kein Tag, der die Welt veränderte (2011; ed. with Birte Christ and Patrick Keller). Patrizia Catellani, Professor of Social Psychology of Politics and Psychology of Communication at the Catholic University of Milan. Research interests: counterfactual thinking, political communication. Recent publications: The Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking (2005; ed. with David Mandel and Denis Hilton); “Fatti e controfatti nel ragionamento giudiziario”, in: Sistemi Intelligenti (2010); Psicologia della politica (2011; ed. with Gilda Sensales). Birte Christ, Assistant Professor at the English Department, JustusLiebig-Universität Gießen. Research interests: American literature and culture, narratology, feminist and gender theory, middlebrow literature, law and literature. Recent publications: American Studies/Shifting Gears (2010; ed. with Christian Kloeckner, Elisabeth Schäfer-Wünsche and Michael Butter); “More Trouble with Diversity: Re-Dressing Poverty, Masking Class in Middlebrow Success Fiction”, in: Amerikastudien/American Studies (2010); 9/11: Kein Tag, der die Welt veränderte (2011; ed. with Michael Butter and Patrick Keller). Lutz Danneberg, Professor for Methodology and History of Hermeneutics at Humboldt University, Berlin. Research interests: hermeneutics, history of hermeneutics and of science. Recent publications: Die Anatomie des Text-Körpers und Natur-Körpers: das Lesen im liber naturalis und supernaturalis (2003); Begriffe, Metaphern und Imaginationen in Philosophie und Wissenschaftsgeschichte (2009; ed. with Carlos Spoerhase and Dirk Werle). Daniel Dohrn, Research Fellow in Philosophy at Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen. Research interests: conditionals, counterfactuals, modal thinking. Recent Publications: “Are there a posteriori conceptual necessities?”, in: Philosophical Studies (forthcoming); “Hume on Knowledge of Metaphysical Modalities”, in: Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy (2010); “Counterfactual Narrative Explanation”, in: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (2009).

List of Contributors

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Miko Elwenspoek, Professor at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Twente, Simon Stevin Master of the Dutch Technology Foundation, and fellow of the Institute of Physics of IEEE and of the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies. Research interests: liquids, nuclear physics, light scattering, biophysics, crystal growth, microelectromechanical systems. Recent publications: “Long-time data storage: relevant time scales”, in: Challenges (2011); “Capillary Negative Pressure Measured by Nanochannel Collapse”, in: Langmuir (2010; with Niels R. Tas, Maryana Escalante, Joost W. van Honschoten and Henri V. Jansen); “Self-assembly of (sub-)micron particles into supermaterials”, in: Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering (2010; with Leon Abelmann, Erwin Berenschot, Joost W. van Honschoten, Henri V. Jansen and Niels Tas). Rüdiger Heinze, Professor at the English Department of the Technical University Brunswick. Research interests: migration literatures, narratology, ethical criticism. Recent publications: Unnatural Narratives, Unnatural Narratology (2011; ed. with Jan Alber); Herausforderung Biologie (2010; ed. with Kerstin Müller and Johannes Fehrle); “Pioneering Outsiders: Latter-day Saints and the American West”, in: Religion in the United States (2011). Martin Hilpert, Junior Research Fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS ). Research interests: cognitive linguistics, grammar, language variation and change, linguistic methodology. Recent publication: Germanic Future Constructions – A usage-based approach to language change (2008). Tobias Klauk, Assistant Professor at the Courant Research Centre “Text Structures”, University of Göttingen. Research interests: aesthetics, epistemology, philosophy of science. Recent publications: Literatur und Möglichkeiten“, in: Scientia Poetica (2010; with Tilmann Köppe); ”Wahrheit und Erklärung – Eine trügerische Intuition“, in: Wahrheit – Bedeutung – Existenz, ed. by Martin Grajner and Adolf Rami (2010); ”Can Unreliable Narration Be Analyzed in Terms of Testimony?“, in: Journal of Literary Theory (2011). Bernhard Kleeberg, Professor for the History of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Konstanz University. Research interests: history of sociology, economics, biology and anthropology, 18th to 20th centuries. Recent publications: “Gewinn maximieren, Gleichgewicht modellieren. Erzählen im ökonomischen Diskurs”, in: Wirklichkeitserzählungen, ed. by Christian Klein, Matías Martínez (2009); Knowing God, Believing Nature. Special Issue of

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Science in Context (2007; ed. with Fernando Vidal); Theophysis. Ernst Haeckels Philosophie des Naturganzen (2005). Tilmann Köppe, Professor at the Courant Research Centre “Text Structures”, University of Göttingen. Research interests: literary theory, narratology, aesthetics. Recent publications: Literatur und Wissen (2011; ed.); Unreliable Narration (2011; ed. with Tom Kindt). Richard Ned Lebow, James O. Freedman Presidential Professor of Government Emeritus at Dartmouth College. Research interests: international relations, political psychology, counterfactual thinking. Recent publications: A Cultural Theory of International Relations (2008); Forbidden Fruit: Counterfactuals and International Relations (2010); In Search of Ourselves: The Politics and Ethics of Identity (forthcoming). Richard Saint-Gelais, Full Professor at the Département des Littératures, Université Laval (Québec). Research interests: theory of fiction, detective novel, French New Novel. Recent publications: “Le monde des théories possibles”, in: La théorie littéraire des mondes possibles, ed. by Françoise Lavocat (2010); Fictions transfuges: la transfictionnalité et ses enjeux (2011). Robyn Warhol, Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor of English and Director of Project Narrative at Ohio State University. Research interests: narratology, feminist criticism. Recent publications: Gendered Interventions: Narrative Discourse in the Victorian Novel (1989); Having a Good Cry: Effeminate Feelings and Pop-Culture Forms (2003); Feminisms Redux (2009; ed. with Diane Price Herndl). Andreas Martin Widmann, Copywriter, critic and novelist. Research interests: contemporary literature, contemporary literary criticism. Recent publications: Kontrafaktische Geschichtsdarstellung (2009); Odysseus/Passagiere. Über Selbstbestimmung und Determination in Literatur, Medien und Alltag (2011; ed. with Ulrike Weymann and Simone Schröder); Die Glücksparade (2012).