In Donald Borchert (ed.), Macmillan's Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan (2006)

Carl Hoefer
Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona
Alan Hajek
Australian National University
Much is asked of the concept of chance. It has been thought to play various roles, some in tension with or even incompatible with others. Chance has been characterized negatively, as the absence of causation; yet also positively—the ancient Greek τυχη´ reifies it—as a cause of events that are not governed by laws of nature, or as a feature of the laws themselves. Chance events have been understood epistemically as those whose causes are unknown; yet also objectively as a distinct ontological kind, sometimes called ‘pure’ chance events. Chance gives rise to individual unpredictability and disorder; yet it yields collective predictability and order—stable long-run statistics, and in the limit, aggregate behavior susceptible to precise mathematical theorems. Some authors believe that to posit chances is to abjure explanation; yet others think that chances are themselves explanatory. During the Enlightenment, talk of ‘chance’ was regarded as unscientific, unphilosophical, the stuff of superstition or ignorance; yet today it is often taken to be a fundamental notion of our most successful scientific theory, quantum mechanics, and a central concept of contemporary metaphysics. Chance has both negative and positive associations in daily life. The old word in English for it, hazard, which derives from French and originally from Arabic, still has unwelcome connotations of risk; ‘chance’ evokes uncertainty, uncontrollability, and chaos. Yet chance is also allied with luck, fortune, freedom from constraint, and diversity. And it apparently has various practical uses and benefits. It forms the basis of randomized trials in statistics, and of mixed strategies in decision theory and game theory; it is appealed to in order to resolve problems of fair division and other ethical..
Keywords Chance
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