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

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2006 20:25:01 -0800

Donal wrote:

> It follows from the "three box" argument I offered that unless we can explain
> how we can tell/deduce (rather than merely conjecture) what is _probably_ in
> the third box on the basis of what is in the first two, then we lack
> inductive probability.

Well, for the life of me, I see now argument. We are given a sentence, 'All
swans are white,' and asked to 'test' it in light of the following:

> You are given three boxes to test the proposition.

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

> Box 2: is empty.

Then we're told that we cannot open the third box unless and until we 'have
found a way to say _as a probability_ what should _probably_ be in the box.'

I really don't know what's meant by saying something 'as a probability,' but let
that pass. So far, we have a situation, some events (the opening of the first
two boxes) and a question. There may be an argument on the next page but
there's none in what we were given.

> There is nothing weird about asking people to take a stand on an issue on
> which you do not know where they stand. I think the "three boxes" do make
> clear what I mean by inductive probability.

The presentation of the boxes and their manipulation are, so to speak,
speechless. You may mean, 'Given (all this) what would you say was "probably"
in the third box?' or, more in keeping with your enterprise, perhaps, 'Given
this, what would you say, based on induction (or 'inductive probability') was
in the third box?' The answer 'nothing' came to several people's minds.
I added that it was what would have been in Hume's mind too.

> Also your previous post was akin to arguing that it is phony to debate
> whether "God exists" if you don't believe God exists. It isn't. And you are
> now shifting ground as if I have a burden to make clearer than I have what
> "inductive probability" is.

This is not analogous. What would be analogous would be asking someone
to defend the existence of God, when that person does not believe that God
exists. It is unseemly of you, as the Hedgehog said, to the Fox, to claim that
to ask you to say what you think inductive probability is (after we've been
taxed by you to defend it) is 'shifting ground.' So, maybe for a later time,
the question: What is this inductive probability whose possibility you deny?

There's a very nice obituary-cum-biography of Popper, by John Watkins, at


Robert Paul
Reed College

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