Heuristic novelty and the asymmetry problem in bayesian confirmation theory

Bayesian confirmation theory, as traditionally interpreted, treats the temporal relationship between the formulation of a hypothesis and the confirmation (or recognition) of evidence entailed by that hypothesis merely as a component of the psychology of discovery and acceptance of a hypothesis. The temporal order of these events is irrelevant to the logic of rational theory choice. A few years ago Richmond Campbell and Thomas Vinci offered a reinterpretation of Bayes' Theorem in defense of the view that the temporal relationship between hypothesis and evidence really does matter. More specifically, they advocated the thesis that successful predictions implied by scientific hypothesis H will increase the degree of confirmation of H only if they are novel predictions in the following sense; Evidence E is heuristically novel with respect to hypothesis H if and only if H was not deliberately designed to explain E (if E has already been corroborated) or in anticipation of E (if E is regarded as likely to be corroborated at some future date). Campbell and Vinci argue that the traditional interpretation of Bayes' Theorem misconstrues the significance of predictive novelty by ignoring heuristic novelty. In this paper I review the formal component of their preferred interpretation and demonstrate that it fails to establish that heuristic novelty has any special effect on theory confirmation. That is, even on their revisionist interpretation, regardless of whether H was deliberately designed to explain known evidence E (or in anticipation of suspected E), or whether H was designed without any awareness of the entailment relationship between H and E, Bayes' Theorem will generate the same epistemic probability for hypothesis H. Cases where new evidence was not foreseen at the time a hypothesis first emerged do not carry any more epistemic weight than they would have if such evidence had been foreseen. * Research on this paper was supported by an NEH summer grant. My thanks also to Richmond Campbell and Thomas Vinci for their reply to my initial evaluation of their position (in private correspondence), which compelled me to reconsider their arguments more carefully.
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