Philosophy, Department of



BOOK REVIEW: Christopher Prendergast, Counterfactuals: Paths of the Might Have Been, London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019. ISBN: 978-1350090088, $88 Hbk.


Date of this Version



The Journal of Value Inquiry, 2019

doi 10.1007/s10790-019-09713-51 3 (free to view)


Copyright © Springer Nature B.V. 2019.

Downloadable ms version attached below.


As author Christopher Prendergast acknowledges, Counterfactuals: Paths of the Might have Been does not attempt to offer a theory of counterfactuals, nor does it develop a contribution to an existing theory (p. 10). Instead, it is as the author puts it an “anthropology of the counterfactual” (p. 4). However, it is nothing as systematic as that. It is not a survey, but a series of “listening exercises” (p. 4) which roam over literature, history, art, philosophy, music, and popular culture. He admits that this exercise of collecting counterfactuals is “quirky business” akin “wool gathering” and “purposeless daydreaming” (p. 23). However, Prendergast does have some aims in Counterfactuals. He claims that he wants to show the variety of counterfactuals, how they are used, and how they resonate in human experience (p. 3). If the book aims to support an overarching conclusion, it is probably this: “What we do with counterfactuals and what they do to us are integral to making sense of humanity” (p. 6).