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

  • From: John Wager <john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 09 Dec 2006 07:46:12 -0600

Donal McEvoy wrote:

. . . .I am suggesting these and other phenomena do not vindicate the existence 
induction, can be accounted for without recourse to inductive reasoning, and
that the concept of ‘probability’, in all contexts where it is used validly,
is irredeemably non-inductive.
Another way of saying that "probability" is a mathematical relationship between already-observed events. In 100% of the times a box was opened, neither a white swan nor a black swan was encountered. In one of three boxes, a white swan was found in a box. The "probability" based on past experience does not establish any future relationship between boxes and swans, but DOES accurately describe one's experiences to date. I don't think that this is a stretch
of the meaning of the terms "probability" and "experience."

We need to clearly distinguish ‘logical probability’ from probability in some
other sense (including the sense of ‘inductive probability’). Say, we have
two unbiased dice where there is a 1/6 chance of throwing any number, A, in
any particular throw: the odds of throwing A in two consecutive throws is the
‘probability of A’ x ‘probability of A’ i.e. 1/6 x 1/6.
Unfortunately, we don't live in a world where we can "throw" purely mathematical dice. We don't live in a world where we can "talk" to other people either, or "write" to them over the Internet. We don't live in a world where the empirical meanings of words is a given constant, either. If "probability" is essentially inductive, so is every other kind of "event" including throwing (as in dice), speaking, writing, and even thinking with words. We have as little (or as much) evidence for predicting swan boxes as we do for predicting the effects of "throwing" or "speaking" or "writing." As human actions extending into the future, they are just as subject to your critique of induction as the original swan example. If I cannot know anything about the third box, I cannot know anything about the effects of "throwing" a die to the table; it might just blossom into a swan. If I cannot know anything about the third box, I also cannot know anything about whether the other people to whom I address these words will continue to be able to read, or that the words will continue to mean the same things to them as they now do to me. Any attempt to "prove" to another person that probability is flawed, results in a reduction ad absurdam of the proof. Any argument addressed to another person is itself as much based on
inductive reasoning as any prediction of box contents.

Any reply to this message is at least tacit agreement that we must forge ahead despite qualms about the logical status of induction, because we have no alternative to induction as we continue to write and speak to each other.

The logical consequence of taking the argument against induction seriously would be to cease from all attempts to engage others in argument, remaining silent. Any words addressed to others are just as flawed as any attempts to
predict the contents of the third box.


"Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence and ignorance." -------------------------------------------------
John Wager                john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx
                                  Lisle, IL, USA

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