Much is asked of the concept of chance. It has been thought to play various roles, some in tension with or even incompatible with others. Chance has been characterized negatively, as the absence of causation; yet also positively—the ancient Greek τυχη´ reifies it—as a cause of events that are not governed by laws of nature, or as a feature of the laws themselves. Chance events have been understood epistemically as those whose causes are unknown; yet also objectively as a distinct ontological kind, sometimes called ‘pure’ chance events. Chance gives rise to individual unpredictability and disorder; yet it yields collective predictability and order—stable long-run statistics, and in the limit, aggregate behavior susceptible to precise mathematical theorems. Some authors believe that to posit chances is to abjure explanation; yet others think that chances are themselves explanatory. During the Enlightenment, talk of ‘chance’ was regarded as unscientific, unphilosophical, the stuff of superstition or ignorance; yet today it is often taken to be a fundamental notion of our most successful scientific theory, quantum mechanics, and a central concept of contemporary metaphysics.
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