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Epistemology and probability


Probability is sometimes regarded as a universal panacea for epistemology. It has been supposed that the rationality of belief is almost entirely a matter of probabilities. Unfortunately, those philosophers who have thought about this most extensively have tended to be probability theorists first, and epistemologists only secondarily. In my estimation, this has tended to make them insensitive to the complexities exhibited by epistemic justification. In this paper I propose to turn the tables. I begin by laying out some rather simple and uncontroversial features of the structure of epistemic justification, and then go on to ask what we can conclude about the connection between epistemology and probability in the light of those features. My conclusion is that probability plays no central role in epistemology. This is not to say that probability plays no role at all. In the course of the investigation, I defend a pair of probabilistic acceptance rules which enable us, under some circumstances, to arrive at justified belief on the basis of high probability. But these rules are of quite limited scope. The effect of there being such rules is merely that probability provides one source for justified belief, on a par with perception, memory, etc. There is no way probability can provide a universal cure for all our epistemological ills.

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Pollock, J.L. Epistemology and probability. Synthese 55, 231–252 (1983).

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  • High Probability
  • Probability Theorist
  • Justify Belief
  • Limited Scope
  • Probabilistic Acceptance