Counterfactuals in Drama, Fiction, & History.


A Conference at UCL________________1 & 2 July 2009___________________organized by Steffen Huck



  This conference will explore counterfactual reasoning as a tool for understanding and interpreting stories, plots, and real action. The consequences of a person's or a character's choices can only be understood by analysing what would have happened without them. The same is true for (seemingly) random events that shape the course of action—in plays and operas as much as in real life, past and present. Events and actions do not have meaning without a counterfactual (and many common-sense interpretations rest on implicit counterfactuals). Coupled with assumptions about the way choices are made (for example, "rationality"), counterfactual reasoning can also reveal characters' motivations. The statement "Paris hands the apple to Aphrodite because he prefers love over power and wisdom" relies on both analytical steps—a recreation of what he would have received had he chosen differently and an inference about what Paris likes. While this example may appear obvious and, therefore, trivial, the workshop will explore the heights that counterfactual analysis can reach, as well as its limitations.
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