Mind & Society

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 1–38 | Cite as

Is the mind Bayesian? The case for agnosticism

  • Jean BaratginEmail author
  • Guy Politzer
Original Article


This paper aims to make explicit the methodological conditions that should be satisfied for the Bayesian model to be used as a normative model of human probability judgment. After noticing the lack of a clear definition of Bayesianism in the psychological literature and the lack of justification for using it, a classic definition of subjective Bayesianism is recalled, based on the following three criteria: an epistemic criterion, a static coherence criterion and a dynamic coherence criterion. Then it is shown that the adoption of this framework has two kinds of implications. The first one regards the methodology of the experimental study of probability judgment. The Bayesian framework creates pragmatic constraints on the methodology that are linked to the interpretation of, and the belief in, the information presented, or referred to, by an experimenter in order for it to be the basis of a probability judgment by individual participants. It is shown that these constraints have not been satisfied in the past, and the question of whether they can be satisfied in principle is raised and answered negatively. The second kind of implications consists of two limitations in the scope of the Bayesian model. They regard (1) the background of revision (the Bayesian model considers only revising situations but not updating situations), and (2) the notorious case of the null priors. In both cases Lewis’ rule is an appropriate alternative to Bayes’ rule, but its use faces the same operational difficulties.


Probability judgment Subjective Bayesianism Bayesian coherence Probability revising Probability updating Linguistic pragmatics 



The authors thank Denis Hilton, David Over and Steven Sloman for their comments on various drafts of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Fondazione Rosselli 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculté des Sciences du SportInstitut Jean Nicod & Université de la MéditerranéeMarseille cedex 09France
  2. 2.Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)Institut Jean NicodParisFrance

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