Cognitive prerequisites: The special case of counterfactual reasoning

Luís Moniz Pereira, António Barata Lopes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


When speaking of moral conscience, we are referring to a function of recognizing appropriate or condemnable action, and the possibility of choice between them. In fact, it would make no sense to talk about morals or ethics, if for each situation we had only one possible answer. Morality is justified because the agent can choose among possible actions. His ability to construct possible causal sequences enables him to devise alternatives in which choosing one implies setting aside the other. This typology of internal deliberation requires certain cognitive capacities, namely that of constructing counterfactual arguments. These serve not only to analyse possible futures, being prospective, but also to analyse past situations, by imagining the gains or losses resulting from imagining alternatives to the action actually carried out. Compared to social learning, where the subject can only mimic certain behaviours, the construction of counterfactuals is much richer and more fruitful. Thus, for machines to be equipped with effective moral capacity, it is necessary to equip them with the ability to construct and analyse counterfactual situations.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMachine Ethics
Place of PublicationCham
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-39630-5
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-39629-9
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameStudies in Applied Philosophy, Epistemology and Rational Ethics
ISSN (Print)2192-6255
ISSN (Electronic)2192-6263


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