Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Quote of the Day

Peter Millican on John Earman's Hume's Abject Failure:

"It is, admittedly, very hard to assess the originality of the Bayesian themes in Hume’s
essay, because this will depend on the interpretation of many previous discussions of testimony and miracles (e.g. how far the Port-Royal Logic’s application of the distinction between ‘external’ and ‘internal’ circumstances should be seen as implying the same kind of weighing up of probabilities for and against the reported event). What certainly does distinguish Hume’s essay, however, is its proximity to Bayes’s (and Price’s) seminal contribution to probability theory, and the intriguing albeit circumstantial evidence that the latter may have been developed in direct response to Hume’s Enquiry, including in particular his discussions of induction and of miracles in impact on the credibility of the testimony which reports it (and in doing so, he effectively defends the assumption of independence, as alluded to earlier). If there is anything at all in this, then it surely puts Earman’s extreme invective in a very ungenerous light. For even if Hume’s only original contribution in his discussion of miracles had been to present the arguments in a sufficiently clear, striking, and epistemologically principled manner to provoke Bayes to ‘open a new epoch in the history of statistics’, this would still rank as a major achievement, against which Earman’s immoderate insults seem inappropriate and churlish."

-"Hume, Miracles, and Probabilities", pp. 22-23.
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