Philosophy of Probability


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2009-10-21
Notwithstanding the arguments of Matthen&Ariew, there is still a simple and banal sense in which "natural selection is a cause of evolution". I presume Matthen & Ariew would not dispute that complex adaptations arise as the cumulative effect of the selection of genes. So the selection of genes causes the evolution of complex adaptations. 

As far as I can see, this claim is compatible with seeing the "selection" here as a statistical trend (or "outcome") rather than a causal process (or "force"). Of course, if by "evolution", one merely means "change in gene frequencies", it would be questionable to call selection a cause of evolution for all the reasons Matthen & Ariew give. But if one means "evolution of complex adaptations", selection most certainly is a cause, however one conceives of selection.
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2009-09-02
Received views are an important part of our symbolic order. Once it becomes apparent that they cannot possibly be true, it is sometimes a valuable philosophical task to preserve them, since no rational and educated person could actually believe them. As an example of a critically endangered received view, consider Jerry Coyne's excellent book, Why Evolution Is True:
[T]he process of evolution -- natural selection, the mechanism that drove the first naked, replicating molecule into the diversity of millions of fossil and living forms -- is a mechanism of staggering simplicity and beauty.
The received view is that natural selection is a mechanism or process that shapes all living things, and that the study of natural selection explains a lot about the history of life on Earth. Natural selection makes it possible to treat the billion years of organic evolution as a coherent narrative, making biology an endless reserve of wonder, understanding, and enjoyment.

Matthen and Ariew (2002, e ... (read more)
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2009-05-15
Cross-posted from http://mleseminar.wordpress.com/
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The presentation is here. Some thoughts which came out of the discussion:

- If Stanley’s argument in section 3 that gradability doesn’t imply context-sensitivity is sound, then it renders section 2 rather superfluous, as that is devoted to arguing that ‘knows’ is not gradable.

- But even if Stanley’s argument in section 3 is sound, his argument against contextualism still looks pretty weak. At most he’s shown that ‘knows’ isn’t contextual in virtue of  ‘justified’ being gradable. But it’s a perfectly consistent position to say that the context-sensitivity of knowledge is of a distinctive kind, different from the context-sensitivity of gradable adjectives. Plausibly, Lewisian contextualism is of this sort.

- Stanley’s argument in section 3 doesn’t look sound to me. It rests strongly on the supposed counterexample of a gradable and non-context sensitive predicate ‘ taller than six feet’. This is meant to be gradable because you can be slig ... (read more)


2009-05-15

Cross-posted from http://mleseminar.wordpress.com/

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The handout for this week is here, the original paper is here.

I found this a particularly interesting paper. I’m in firm agreement with the main gist of Williams’ view- that the notion of typicality is in principle better adapted to deal with chancy similarity than the notion of ‘non-remarkableness’. That said, we found plenty of potential pressure points.

- Firstly, I’m not sure that quantum mechanics really has as wide-reaching consequences as is assumed in the paper. Depending on your response to the measurement problem, it could be that outcomes such as plates flying off sideways are not genuine quantum possibilities after all, because the low-amplitude branches are in some way ‘lost in the noise’. Although I think this issue is worth further investigation, I don’t think it’s critical to the debate between Williams, Hawthorne, and Lewis. Their worries can be raised about considerably less unlikely events – in fact, we can restrict ... (read more)


2009-05-15
Cross-posted from http://mleseminar.wordpress.com/

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You can find the handout for this week here. I thought this was a really good paper, and we didn’t find all that much to criticise in it. It was a bit frustrating not to hear more about Fitelson’s positive story, in particular about the bridge principle that he would endorse instead of the various versions of RTE that he criticises. He’s clearly saving the juicy stuff for his book.

In particular, I find it hard to see how he plans to steer a middle ground between the Carnap/Williamson-style ‘a priori priors’ version of objective bayesianism, and the subjective bayesian approach. My naive take on the matter is that you either think that there’s a unique correct set of priors or you don’t. Maybe these priors aren’t a priori knowable (contra the Carnap/Williamson approach), although it seems that a position like this would be committed to complete epistemic rationality being in principle unattainable.

I wasn’t sure how strongly Fitelson m ... (read more)


2009-05-15
Cross-posted from http://mleseminar.wordpress.com/

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George Bealer - A theory of the a priori


For the first meeting of Trinity, we discussed George Bealer’s 'A theory of the a priori'. The paper is available here, and the handout is here.

Alex lists some objections to Bealer’s view at the end of the handout, all of which we agreed with. Taken together, they seem to significantly undermine the interest of the theory presented in the paper. But here are a few more problems we raised in discussion:

The anti-Quinean argument seemed unconvincing. It doesn’t have any force against Quineans who either a) reject the normative force of a demand for justification of their epistemological theory or b) think that ‘justification’ and allied concepts will appear in well-developed theories of psychology and sociology. Since I guess that all contemporary Quineans will take one or other of these options, I don’t think Bealer’s argument will worry anyone.

I worried that there was an uncomfortable methodolog ... (read more)

2009-02-05
I have spent some time recently reading various discussions of the Dutch book theorem. Nowhere have I found a really good explanation that sets out clearly and formally the conditions on rational betting preference that must obtain for the argument to work. (That's not entirely true, I found a good discussion of betting preference in [Halpern, 2003, Reasoning about uncertainty], but "the proof is left as an exercise"...

Have I missed some classic paper or book chapter in my (admittedly superficial) survey of the area?
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