Henri Poincare and Bruno de finetti: Conventions and scientific reasoning

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 28 (4):657-679 (1997)
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In his account of probable reasoning, Poincare used the concept, or at least the language, of conventions. In particular, he claimed that the prior probabilities essential for inverse probable reasoning are determined conventionally. This paper investigates, in the light of Poincare's well known claim about the conventionality of metric geometry, what this could mean, and how it is related to other views about the determination of prior probabilities. Particular attention is paid to the similarities and differences between Poincare's conventionalism as it applies to probabilities and de Finetti's subjectivism. The aim of the paper is to suggest that in accounts of the development of ideas about probable reasoning, particularly those customarily described as Bayesian, Poincare's discussion deserves more attention than it has so far received.



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