The Place of Probability in Science

Volume 284 of the series Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science pp 247-275


How Bayesian Confirmation Theory Handles the Paradox of the Ravens

  • Branden FitelsonAffiliated withDept. of Philosophy, University of California Email author 
  • , James HawthorneAffiliated withDept. of Philosophy, University of Oklahoma

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The Paradox of the Ravens (aka, The Paradox of Confirmation) is indeed an old chestnut. A great many things have been written and said about this paradox and its implications for the logic of evidential support. The first part of this paper will provide a brief survey of the early history of the paradox. This will include the original formulation of the paradox and the early responses of Hempel, Goodman, and Quine. The second part of the paper will describe attempts to resolve the paradox within a Bayesian framework, and show how to improve upon them. This part begins with a discussion of how probabilistic methods can help to clarify the statement of the paradox itself. And it describes some of the early responses to probabilistic explications. We then inspect the assumptions employed by traditional (canonical) Bayesian approaches to the paradox. These assumptions may appear to be overly strong. So, drawing on weaker assumptions, we formulate a new-and-improved Bayesian confirmation-theoretic resolution of the Paradox of the Ravens.