Counterfactual logic

Hilzoy nails Geraline Ferraro.

Hilzoy applies a little bit of analytic philosophy to Geraldine Ferraro’s claim that Barack Obama would not be a serious candidate for President if he’d been white or female:

If I were Hillary Clinton, I would have asked Geraldine Ferraro to resign, since if I were Hillary Clinton, I would be running a different sort of campaign. And if I were a black man and had wheels, I would be the first black male trolleycar ever, not to mention the first being ever to be both a public transit vehicle and a mammal. Aren’t counterfactuals fun?

Footnote In the comments section, Hilzoy explains that she was riffing off what she identifies as “a philosophy joke (‘if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a trolleycar’) told to illustrate certain properties of if/then statements in logic classes.”

Well, yes and no. I don’t doubt that the joke is used in philosophy classes, but that isn’t where it comes from. It’s actually a cleaned-up version of an old Yiddish expression, Az der bubbe vot gehat baytzim volt zi geven mein zayde: “If my grandmother had testicles, she’d be my grandfather.”

Update A reader reminds me of another version of this: “Balls! said the Queen. If I had a pair, I’d be King.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: