Where would we be without counterfactuals?

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Price, Huw
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Bertrand Russell’s celebrated essay “On the Notion of Cause” was first delivered to the Aristotelian Society on 4 November 1912, as Russell’s Presidential Address. The piece is best known for a passage in which its author deftly positions himself between the traditional metaphysics of causation and the British crown, firing broadsides in both directions: “The law of causality”, Russell declares, “Like much that passes muster in philosophy, is a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm.” To mark the lecture’s centenary, I offer a contemporary view of the issues Russell here puts on the table, and of the health or otherwise, at the end of the essay’s first century, of his notorious conclusion.