A modest proposal about chance

Journal of Philosophy 108 (8):416-442 (2011)
First para: Before the 17th century, there was not much discussion, and little uniformity in conception, of natural laws. The rise of science in 17th century, Newton’s mathematization of physics, and the provision of strict, deterministic laws that applied equally to the heavens and to the terrestrial realm had a profound impact in transforming the philosophical imagination. A philosophical conception of physical law built on the example of Newtonian Mechanics became quickly entrenched. Between the 17th and 20th centuries, there was a great deal of philosophical interest in probabilities, but probabilities were mostly regarded as having something to do with the management of opinion, not as having a fundamental role in science. Probabilities made their first appearance in an evidently ineliminable way in the laws of a fundamental theory with the advent of quantum mechanics. Quantum probabilities have come to be called ‘chances’ in the philosophical literature, and their interpretation has been one of the central problems in philosophy of science now for almost a century. There continue to be hold-outs that insist that there must be an underlying probability-free replacement for quantum mechanics and Bohmians have had some success in formulating a deterministic alternative to quantum mechanics, but most physicists accept that the probabilistic character of the quantum mechanical laws is likely to be retained in any successor theory. While physics has adjusted itself comfortably to the existence of ineliminably probabilistic laws, philosophy has not managed arrive at a stable interpretation of quantum probability. The difficulty is that there are a number of constraints that an interpretation of chance must satisfy, constraints that appear to be partially definitive of the concept and it proves to be extraordinarily difficult to meet them simultaneously.
Keywords chance
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DOI 10.5840/jphil2011108822
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