Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics

Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics : Logical, Methodological, and Psychological Perspectives

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Political scientists often ask themselves what might have been if history had unfolded differently: if Stalin had been ousted as General Party Secretary or if the United States had not dropped the bomb on Japan. Although scholars sometimes scoff at applying hypothetical reasoning to world politics, the contributors to this volume--including James Fearon, Richard Lebow, Margaret Levi, Bruce Russett, and Barry Weingast--find such counterfactual conjectures not only useful, but necessary for drawing causal inferences from historical data. Given the importance of counterfactuals, it is perhaps surprising that we lack standards for evaluating them. To fill this gap, Philip Tetlock and Aaron Belkin propose a set of criteria for distinguishing plausible from implausible counterfactual conjectures across a wide range of applications. The contributors to this volume make use of these and other criteria to evaluate counterfactuals that emerge in diverse methodological contexts including comparative case studies, game theory, and statistical analysis.
Taken together, these essays go a long way toward establishing a more nuanced and rigorous framework for assessing counterfactual arguments about world politics in particular and about the social sciences more broadly.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 344 pages
  • 162.56 x 226.06 x 25.4mm | 557.92g
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • 8 tables 16 line illus.
  • 0691027919
  • 9780691027913
  • 1,019,378

Back cover copy

"Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics is an important book for all social scientists, not only those who study international relations. The introductory paper, outlining different ways of using counterfactual arguments, is likely to become a standard reading in courses on methodology and research design. Many of the other chapters are outstanding; some are brilliant. When I next teach my graduate seminar on research design, this book will be on the required reading list."--Robert Keohane, Duke University

"[This] is an important book for all social scientists, not only those who study international relations. . . . When I teach my next graduate seminar on research design, this book will be on the required reading list."--Robert Keohane, Duke University
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Table of contents

List of ContributorsAcknowledgments1Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics: Logical, Methodological, and Psychological Perspectives12Causes and Counterfactuals in Social Science: Exploring an Analogy between Cellular Automata and Historical Processes393Counterfactual Reasoning in Western Studies of Soviet Politics and Foreign Relations694Confronting Hitler and Its Consequences955Back to the Past: Counterfactuals and the Cuban Missile Crisis1196Counterfactual Reasoning in Motivational Analysis: U.S. Policy toward Iran1497Counterfactuals about War and Its Absence1718Using Counterfactuals in Historical Analysis: Theories of Revolution1879Counterfactuals and International Affairs: Some Insights from Game Theory21110Off-the-Path Behavior: A Game-Theoretic Approach to Counterfactuals and Its Implications for Political and Historical Analysis23011Rerunning History: Counterfactual Simulation in World Politics24712Counterfactuals, Past and Future268Commentary 1: Conceptual Blending and Counterfactual Argument in the Social and Behavioral Sciences291Commentary 2: Psychological Biases in Counterfactual Thought Experiments296Commentary 3: Counterfactual Inferences as Instances of Statistical Inferences301Commentary 4: Counterfactuals, Causation, and Complexity309References317Index337
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Review quote

"The book sets out to examine the many roles that counterfactuals and counterfactual reasoning play in the study of world politics. It has many merits. The quality of the papers is high. It is well edited by Philip E. Tetlock and Aaron Belkin. It succeeds very well in building on earlier discussions of counterfactuals in social science, from Weber to Elster, and linking them with a wide range of concrete problems and issues in international relations."--Andrew Hurrell, The Times Literary Supplement
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About Aaron Belkin

Philip E. Tetlock is Harold E. Burtt Professor of Psychology and Political Science at the Ohio State University. He is coeditor of Psychology and Social Policy and coauthor of Reasoning and Choice: Explorations in Political Psychology. Aaron Belkin is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of California, Berkeley.
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