Measuring the overall incoherence of credence functions

Synthese 192 (5):1467-1493 (2015)
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Many philosophers hold that the probability axioms constitute norms of rationality governing degrees of belief. This view, known as subjective Bayesianism, has been widely criticized for being too idealized. It is claimed that the norms on degrees of belief postulated by subjective Bayesianism cannot be followed by human agents, and hence have no normative force for beings like us. This problem is especially pressing since the standard framework of subjective Bayesianism only allows us to distinguish between two kinds of credence functions—coherent ones that obey the probability axioms perfectly, and incoherent ones that don’t. An attractive response to this problem is to extend the framework of subjective Bayesianism in such a way that we can measure differences between incoherent credence functions. This lets us explain how the Bayesian ideals can be approximated by humans. I argue that we should look for a measure that captures what I call the ‘overall degree of incoherence’ of a credence function. I then examine various incoherence measures that have been proposed in the literature, and evaluate whether they are suitable for measuring overall incoherence. The competitors are a qualitative measure that relies on finding coherent subsets of incoherent credence functions, a class of quantitative measures that measure incoherence in terms of normalized Dutch book loss, and a class of distance measures that determine the distance to the closest coherent credence function. I argue that one particular Dutch book measure and a corresponding distance measure are particularly well suited for capturing the overall degree of incoherence of a credence function



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Julia Staffel
University of Colorado, Boulder

Citations of this work

The Game of Belief.Barry Maguire & Jack Woods - 2020 - Philosophical Review 129 (2):211-249.
Belief, Credence, and the Preface Paradox.Alex Worsnip - 2016 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 94 (3):549-562.
The accuracy-coherence tradeoff in cognition.David Thorstad - forthcoming - British Journal for Philosophy of Science.

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