On de Finetti’s instrumentalist philosophy of probability
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De Finetti is one of the founding fathers of the subjective school of probability. He held that probabilities are subjective, coherent degrees of expectation, and he argued that none of the objective interpretations of probability make sense. While his theory has been influential in science and philosophy, it has encountered various objections. I argue that these objections overlook central aspects of de Finetti’s philosophy of probability and are largely unfounded. I propose a new interpretation of de Finetti’s theory that highlights these aspects and explains how they are an integral part of de Finetti’s instrumentalist philosophy of probability. I conclude by drawing an analogy between misconceptions about de Finetti’s philosophy of probability and common misconceptions about instrumentalism.
KeywordsDe Finetti Subjective probability Instrumentalism Pragamtism Degrees of expectation Coherence Verifiability Consistency Operational definition Epistemic justification Pragmatic justification Accuracy of degrees of belief Degrees of belief Imprecise probabilities
For helpful comments on previous drafts of this paper and discussions of de Finetti’s philosophy, I am very grateful to the journal’s editors-in-chief, Phyllis Illari and Federica Russo, and Holger Andreas, Colin Elliott, Franz Huber, Joel Katzav, Noah Stemeroff, and in particular Donald Gillies, Aaron Kenna and Alberto Mura. Parts of this paper were presented at the CSHPS 2010, Montreal; GRECC Colloquium, Philosophy, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona; IHPST Workshop, University of Toronto; Israel Foundations of Physics Discussion Group, Edelstein Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Serious Metaphysics Group, Philosophy, University of Cambridge; Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich; 42nd Dubrovnik Philosophy of Science conference; IHPST Colloquium, Paris; LSE Choice Group, CPNSS, London School of Economics; Theory Workshop, Sociology, University of Toronto; Probability and Models: Instrumentalism and Pragmatism in De Finetti’s Subjectivism workshop, HPS, University of Sassari; Philosophy, University of Rome III; CSHPS 2017, Toronto; Philosophy of Science Group, CONICET, University of Buenos Aires; Colloquialism, IHPST, University of Toronto; and the Philosophy Colloquium, Department of Economics, Philosophy and Political Science, University of British Columbia, Okanagan. I would like to thank the audiences in these forums for their helpful comments and suggestions. The research for this paper was supported by SSHRC Insight and SSHRC SIG grants.
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