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Res Philosophica

Volume 94, Issue 2, April 2017

Special Conference Issue: Bridging Formal and Traditional Epistemology

Terry Horgan
Pages 233-255
DOI: 10.11612/resphil.1535

Troubles for Bayesian Formal Epistemology

I raise skeptical doubts about the prospects of Bayesian formal epistemology for providing an adequate general normative model of epistemic rationality. The notion of credence, I argue, embodies a very dubious psychological myth, viz., that for virtually any proposition p that one can entertain and understand, one has some quantitatively precise, 0-to-1 ratio-scale, doxastic attitude toward p. The concept of credence faces further serious problems as well—different ones depending on whether credence 1 is construed as full belief (the limit case of so-called partial belief) or instead is construed as absolute certainty. I argue that the notion of an “ideal Bayesian reasoner” cannot serve as a normative ideal that actual human agents should seek to emulate as closely as they can, because different such reasoners who all have the same evidence as oneself—no single one them being uniquely psychologically most similar to oneself—will differ from one another in their credences (e.g., because they commence from different prior credences). I argue that epistemic probability, properly understood, is quantitative degree of evidential support relative to one’s evidence, and that principled epistemic probabilities arise only under quite special evidential circumstances—which means that epistemic probability is ill suited to figure centrally within general norms of human epistemic rationality.

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