Phil 570


Spring, 2009 Instructors: K. Easwaran

J. Van Cleve

Description of Seminar

In this seminar, we will spend several weeks learning about the probability calculus and its interpretations and then turn to the application of probability theory to epistemological issues. Concern with epistemological issues will be with us from the beginning, but will become explicit starting with the session on Williamson. Issues to be explored include the following: how evidence confirms theories; how evidence we already know to be true can confirm a hypothesis that is discovered to entail it (the problem of old evidence); whether a theory, method, or source may be used to confirm itself (the problem of epistemic bootstrapping); how probability theory can be used to articulate, motivate, or criticize coherence theories of knowledge; the prospects for reducing all questions of epistemology to issues within the theory of probability.


There are no required books; all the readings will be articles or book chapters available on-line or through the instructors.

Required Work

Each student is required to submit a term paper at the end and six two-page discussion notes along the way. Both instructors will read your term paper. You should submit three of your notes during weeks when Easwaran is presiding and three during weeks when Van Cleve is presiding; please get them in the day before we meet.

In addition, each student will be asked to make a brief presentation (which may be based on your discussion note) to initiate discussion during one of our meetings.

Schedule of Topics and Readings

Items marked with an asterisk are supplemental or optional.

Jan. 14: Introduction (KE)

Discussion of the axioms and some of the basic results of probability theory. There are no assigned readings.

Jan. 21: Subjective probability and the Dutch Book Argument (KE)

Alan Hajek, "Interpretations of Probability" from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (especially sections 1, 2, 3.5.1, 3.5.2)

Alan Hajek, (2005). "Scotching Dutch Books" Philosophical Perspectives 19, Epistemology, 139-151.

Jan. 28: Subjective probability, decision theory, and representation theorems (KE)

Alan Hajek, "Interpretations of Probability,” especially section 3.5.3

Frank Ramsey, "Truth and Probability"

James Joyce, "The Foundations of Causal Decision Theory,” Chapter 3

*Richard Jeffrey, "The Logic of Decision,” Chapter 3

Feb. 4: Empirical interpretations of probability (JVC)

Alan Hajek, "Interpretations of Probability" (especially sections 3.1 and 3.3)

Bas van Fraassen, first three pages of "Relative Frequencies"

Readings to be selected on frequentist, propensity, or objective chance theories of probability

Feb. 11: Logical probability (KE)

Alan Hajek, "Interpretations of Probability,” especially section 3.2

Selections from Carnap

Patrick Maher, "The Concept of Inductive Probability"

Feb. 18: Williamson on evidence and evidential probability (JVC)

Timothy Williamson, Knowledge and its Limits, Chapters 9 and 10

Feb. 25: Confirmation theory (KE)

Selections from Howson and Urbach, Scientific Reasoning: The Bayesian Approach

Branden Fitelson, "The Plurality of Bayesian Measures of Confirmation and the Problem of Measure Sensitivity"

*Maher, "Subjective and Objective Confirmation"

March 4: The problem of old evidence (JVC)

Ellery Eells, "Bayesian Problems of Old Evidence"

*David Christensen, "Measuring Confirmation"

*Eells and Fitelson, "Measuring Confirmation and Evidence"

March 11: Open

We will use this session to get caught up or to address a topic yet to be selected.


March 25: Arguments for eliminating traditional epistemology or reducing it to probabilistic notions (KE)

Maher, "Inductive Logic and the Justification of Induction"

Article to be chosen, by Weatherson or Hawthorne and/or selections from Christensen,

Putting Logic in its Place, or Richard Jeffrey, Subjective Probability: The Real Thing

April 1: In defense of traditional epistemology (JVC)

Roderick Chisholm, Theory of Knowledge (2nd ed.), Chapters 1 and 4

Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, Chapters 8 and 9

April 8: Epistemic bootstrapping (JVC)

Stewart Cohen, “The Problem of Easy Knowledge”

James Van Cleve, “Is Knowledge Easy or Impossible? Externalism as the Only

Alternative to Skepticism”

Jonathan Vogel, “Epistemic Bootstrapping” (2008 Pacific APA)

April 15: Probabilistic resolutions of the bootstrapping problem (JVC or KE)

Matthew Kotzen, “Dragging and Confirmation”

Article to be chosen, perhaps by Roger White or Crispin Wright

April 22: Probability and coherence (JVC)

Van Cleve, “Can Coherence Generate Warrant Ex Nihilo? Probability and the Logic of

Concurring Witnesses”

Items from Van Cleve’s bibliography (e.g., Keynes, C.I. Lewis, Olsson, Shogenji,


April 29: More on probability and coherence (JVC or KE)

To be decided.