Coun­ter­fac­tual reasoning

TagLast edit: 16 Jun 2021 10:29 UTC by EA Wiki assistant

Counterfactual reasoning involves scenarios that will occur if an agent chooses a certain action, or that would have occurred if an agent had chosen an action they did not. For instance, we can consider a counterfactual scenario in which the effective altruism community was called ‘effective giving’ rather than effective altruism.

When we rank actions, we generally want to consider not just how good an action is, but how good it is relative to the alternatives. This is implicitly assumed by the framework of idealized decision making, but it is useful to state it explicitly.

One related heuristic is replaceability: it may be the case, for instance, that if you do not take a certain action, then someone else will take it instead.

Unfortunately, counterfactuals are often difficult to evaluate. Even after an action is taken, there will in many cases remain substantial uncertainty about what would have happened if one had acted otherwise. This means that we will often be unsure about whether we have acted in the best possible way.

Related entries

impact assessment | markets for altruism

Shap­ley val­ues: Bet­ter than counterfactuals

NunoSempere10 Oct 2019 10:26 UTC
94 points
32 comments15 min readEA link

Shap­ley Values Reloaded: Philantropic Co­or­di­na­tion The­ory & other mis­cel­lanea.

NunoSempere10 Mar 2020 17:36 UTC
36 points
1 comment29 min readEA link

Triple count­ing im­pact in EA

Joey26 May 2018 23:00 UTC
26 points
20 commentsEA link

Match­ing-dona­tion fundraisers can be harm­fully dishonest

BenHoffman12 Nov 2016 3:30 UTC
18 points
4 commentsEA link