"when do I get my money" a probabilistic theory of knowledge

Dissertation, KCL (2011)

Authors
Jonny Blamey
King's College London
Abstract
The value of knowledge can vary in that knowledge of important facts is more valuable than knowledge of trivialities. This variation in the value of knowledge is mirrored by a variation in evidential standards. Matters of greater importance require greater evidential support. But all knowledge, however trivial, needs to be evidentially certain. So on one hand we have a variable evidential standard that depends on the value of the knowledge, and on the other, we have the invariant standard of evidential certainty. This paradox in the concept of knowledge runs deep in the history of philosophy. We approach this paradox by proposing a bet settlement theory of knowledge. Degrees of belief can be measured by the expected value of a bet divided by stake size, with the highest degree of belief being probability 1, or certainty. Evidence sufficient to settle the bet makes the expectation equal to the stake size and therefore has evidential probability 1. This gives us the invariant evidential certainty standard for knowledge. The value of knowledge relative to a bet is given by the stake size. We propose that evidential probability can vary with stake size, so that evidential certainty at low stakes does not entail evidential certainty at high stakes. This solves the paradox by allowing that certainty is necessary for knowledge at any stakes, but that the evidential standards for knowledge vary according to what is at stake. We give a Stake Size Variation Principle that calculates evidential probability from the value of evidence and the stakes. Stake size variant degrees of belief are probabilistically coherent and explain a greater range of preferences than orthodox expected utility theory, namely the Ellsberg and Allais preferences. The resulting theory of knowledge gives an empirically adequate, rationally grounded, unified account of evidence, value and probability.
Keywords Knowledge  Probability  Evidence  Ellsberg  Allais  Stake Size Variation Principle  Certainty  Kelly gambling  conjunction  conditional
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