[lit-ideas] Re: Back to Popper (and further back to Hume)

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 24 Nov 2006 13:31:41 -0800

You are given a proposition: "All swans are white".

You are given three boxes to test the proposition.

You open Box 1: in it is a white swan.

Box 2: is empty.

Box 3: you are not allowed to open. Until, that is, you have found a way to
say _as a probability_ what should _probably_ be in the box.

That is Donal's original problem. It seemed on the face of it to be about
probabilities, at least that's what one might have thought upon seeing that one
was challenged to say 'as a probability' what should 'probably' be in the box.

Various people have pointed that the situation was underdescribed and that more about the context of the problem, its setting, needed to be said, if one wanted
to talk about probabilities here at all. For this they were called prats and
twits and showered with the sort of abuse that one usually finds only on the
letters page of the London Review of Books. One person, myself, said that the
answer, according to Hume, would be that one could say nothing. Donal seemed to
agree with that but sounded peeved that someone should have pointed it out.

He made several claims about Hume's philosophy (e.g. that Hume's logical
misgivings about the course of nature were incompatible with Hume's
psychological account of why we believe it will remain the same) that were to
say the least misinformed. There's considerable inductive evidence that as an
interpreter of Hume, Donal is not to be trusted. I don't want to get into that.

Donal has set up a phony problem. He asks for the probability of something and
then denies that there is any probability to be assessed. Most of his
lubricious posts are like that. The funny ones are indeed funny but the
philosophical ones leave much to be desired.

Robert Paul
Reed College

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