Randomness Is Unpredictability

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 56 (4):749-790 (2005)
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The concept of randomness has been unjustly neglected in recent philosophical literature, and when philosophers have thought about it, they have usually acquiesced in views about the concept that are fundamentally flawed. After indicating the ways in which these accounts are flawed, I propose that randomness is to be understood as a special case of the epistemic concept of the unpredictability of a process. This proposal arguably captures the intuitive desiderata for the concept of randomness; at least it should suggest that the commonly accepted accounts cannot be the whole story and more philosophical attention needs to be paid. Randomness in science1.1 Random systems1.2 Random behaviour1.3 Random sampling1.4 Caprice, arbitrariness and noiseConcepts of randomness2.1 Von Mises/Church/Martin-Löf randomness2.2 KCS-randomnessRandomness is unpredictability: preliminaries3.1 Process and product randomness3.2 Randomness is indeterminism?Predictability4.1 Epistemic constraints on prediction4.2 Computational constraints on prediction4.3 Pragmatic constraints on prediction4.4 Prediction definedUnpredictabilityRandomness is unpredictability6.1 Clarification of the definition of randomness6.2 Randomness and probability6.3 Subjectivity and context sensitivity of randomnessEvaluating the analysis[R]andomness … is going to be a concept which is relative to our body of knowledge, which will somehow reflect what we know and what we don't know. Henry E. Kyburg, Jr ([1974], p. 217)Phenomena that we cannot predict must be judged random. Patrick Suppes ([1984], p. 32)


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Antony Eagle
University of Adelaide

Citations of this work

Why Be Random?Thomas Icard - 2021 - Mind 130 (517):fzz065.
What Are the New Implications of Chaos for Unpredictability?Charlotte Werndl - 2009 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60 (1):195-220.
Stable Regularities Without Governing Laws?Aldo Filomeno - 2019 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 66:186-197.
Chances, Counterfactuals, and Similarity.J. Robert G. Williams - 2008 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 77 (2):385-420.
Chances, Counterfactuals, and Similarity.Robert Williams - 2008 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 77 (2):385-420.

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The Scientific Image.C. Van Fraassen Bas - 1980 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
The Scientific Image.William Demopoulos & Bas C. van Fraassen - 1982 - Philosophical Review 91 (4):603.
Inquiry.Robert C. Stalnaker - 1984 - Cambridge University Press.

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