Counterfactuals and Case Studies

Jack S. Levy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

41 Scopus citations


This article shows that counterfactuals can be used along with case studies to make inferences, although strong theories are needed for this. The article also argues that game theory is one approach that provides this kind of theory because a game explicitly models all of the actors' options including those possibilities that are not chosen. The article then indicates that any counterfactual argument requires a detailed and explicit description of the alternative antecedent which is plausible and involves a minimal rewrite of history, and suggests that one of the strengths of game theory is its explicitness about alternatives. The validity of counterfactual arguments is assessed in explaining cases or testing theoretical propositions. Counterfactuals should change as few aspects of the real world as possible in order to isolate their causal effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Political Methodology
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191577307
ISBN (Print)9780199286546
StatePublished - Aug 21 2008


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


  • Case studies
  • Counterfactual arguments
  • Counterfactuals
  • Game theory

Cite this

Levy, J. S. (2008). Counterfactuals and Case Studies. In The Oxford Handbook of Political Methodology Oxford University Press.