Probability and Certainty

Praxis 1 (1) (2008)

Jonny Blamey
King's College London
Probability can be used to measure degree of belief in two ways: objectively and subjectively. The objective measure is a measure of the rational degree of belief in a proposition given a set of evidential propositions. The subjective measure is the measure of a particular subject’s dispositions to decide between options. In both measures, certainty is a degree of belief 1. I will show, however, that there can be cases where one belief is stronger than another yet both beliefs are plausibly measurable as objectively and subjectively certain. In ordinary language, we can say that while both beliefs are certain, one belief is more certain than the other. I will then propose second, non probabilistic dimension of measurement, which tracks this variation in certainty in such cases where the probability is 1. A general principle of rationality is that one’s subjective degree of belief should match the rational degree of belief given the evidence available. In this paper I hope to show that it is also a rational principle that the maximum stake size at which one should remain certain should match the rational weight of certainty given the evidence available. Neither objective nor subjective measures of certainty conform to the axioms of probability, but instead are measured in utility. This has the consequence that, although it is often rational to be certain to some degree, there is no such thing as absolute certainty.
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