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The Search for Certainty - On the Clash of Science and Philosophy of Probability April 2009

The Search for Certainty - On the Clash of Science and Philosophy of Probability April 2009

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Published by Pucea Luciana

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Published by: Pucea Luciana on Oct 19, 2011
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Scientists who deal with large data sets or who perform computer simula-
tions consisting of large numbers of repetitions might have hard time under-
standing what is wrong with the frequency theory of probability. Isn’t the

March 24, 2009 12:3

World Scientific Book - 9in x 6in


The Frequency Philosophy of Probability


theory confirmed by empirical evidence? The problem with the frequency
theory is that it is a philosophical theory and so its primary intellectual goal
is to find the true essence of probability. For philosophical reasons, the the-
ory denies the possibility of assigning probabilities to individual events.
Can we alter the frequency theory and make it more realistic by admit-
ting that individual events have probabilities? Suppose that a philosopher
takes a position that individual events do have probabilities. It is natural
to assume that in his theory, one could assign probabilities to all possible
outcomes in a sequence of two trials. Similarly, the theory would cover
sequences of trials of length three, four, ..., one million. Hence, there would
be no need to provide a separate philosophical meaning to long sequences
and relative frequencies of events in such sequences. The Law of Large
Numbers, a mathematical theorem, says that if an event has probability p,
then the frequency of such events in a sequence of i.i.d. trials will be close
to p with high probability. This is the statement that frequentists seem to
care most about. The statement of the Law of Large Numbers does not
contain any elements that need the philosophical theory of collectives, if
we give a meaning to probabilities of individual events. Once a philosopher
admits that individual events have probabilities, the theory of collectives
becomes totally redundant.
I have to mention that Hans Reichenbach, a frequentist respected by
some philosophers even more than von Mises (see [Weatherford (1982)],
Chap. IV, page 144), believed that the frequency theory can be applied
to individual events. I have to admit that I do not quite understand this
position. Moreover, Reichenbach’s philosophy seems to be closer to the
logical theory than frequency theory.

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