Journal Article

The quantitative problem of old evidence

EC Barnes

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 50, issue 2, pages 249-264
Published in print June 1999 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online June 1999 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/50.2.249
The quantitative problem of old evidence

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The quantitative problem of old evidence is the problem of how to measure the degree to which e confirms h for agent A at time t when A regards e as justified at t. Existing attempts to solve this problem have applied the e-difference approach, which compares A's probability for h at t with what probability A would assign h if A did not regard e as justified at t. The quantitative problem has been widely regarded as unsolvable primarily on the grounds that the e-difference approach suffers from intractable problems. Various philosophers have proposed that 'Bayesianism' should be rejected as a research strategy in confirmation theory in part because of the unsolvability of this problem. I develop a version of the e-difference approach which overcomes these problems and possesses various advantages (but also certain limitations). I develop an alternative 'theistic' approach which handles many cases that my development of the e-difference approach does not handle. I conclude with an assessment of the significance of the quantitative problem for Bayesianism and argue that this problem is misunderstood in so far as it is regarded as unsolvable, and in so far as it is regarded as a problem only for Bayesians.

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Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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