Entropy and Insufficient Reason: A Note on the Judy Benjamin Problem

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 71 (3):1113-1141 (2020)
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Abstract

One well-known objection to the principle of maximum entropy is the so-called Judy Benjamin problem, first introduced by van Fraassen. The problem turns on the apparently puzzling fact that, on the basis of information relating an event’s conditional probability, the maximum entropy distribution will almost always assign to the event conditionalized on a probability strictly less than that assigned to it by the uniform distribution. In this article, I present an analysis of the Judy Benjamin problem that can help to make sense of this seemingly odd feature of maximum entropy inference. My analysis is based on the claim that, in applying the principle of maximum entropy, Judy Benjamin is not acting out of a concern to maximize uncertainty in the face of new evidence, but is rather exercising a certain brand of epistemic charity towards her informant. This epistemic charity takes the form of an assumption on the part of Judy Benjamin that her informant’s evidential report leaves out no relevant information. Such a reconceptualization of the motives underlying Judy Benjamin’s appeal to the principle of maximum entropy can help to further our understanding of the true epistemological grounds of this principle and correct a common misapprehension regarding its relationship to the principle of insufficient reason. 1Introduction2The Principle of Maximum Entropy3An Apologia for Judy Benjamin4Conclusion: Entropy and Insufficient Reason

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Anubav Vasudevan
University of Chicago

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