The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability before Pascal
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How did we make reliable predictions before Pascal and Fermat's discovery of the mathematics of probability in 1654? What methods in law, science, commerce, philosophy, and logic helped us to get at the truth in cases where certainty was not attainable? In The Science of Conjecture, James Franklin examines how judges, witch inquisitors, and juries evaluated evidence; how scientists weighed reasons for and against scientific theories; and how merchants counted shipwrecks to determine insurance rates.
The Science of Conjecture provides a history of rational methods of dealing with uncertainty and explores the coming to consciousness of the human understanding of risk.
miss the right calculation, most would hit upon it, particularly as they counted over and over again, and were no great way from the wall, but could see it easily enough for their purpose. The length required for the ladders was thus obtained, being calculated from the breadth of the brick.”54 Thucydides seems unaware of the statistical nature of the argument. He remains so even when he himself uses arguments that would later be called statistical, in that they draw conclusions about a population
2015 Edition Some studies of the moral doctrine of probabilism in the early modern period have clarified its nature and shown how widespread it was in education in Catholic countries.20 Juan Caramuel Lobkowitz, the most extreme of the probabilist moral theologians—presented in The Science of Conjecture as something of a figure of fun—has been defended by Julia Fleming on the basis of his later works.21 One of the main findings of The Science of Conjecture was that late medieval canon lawyers,
Latin saying that is important for understanding the nature of legal reasoning, and especially its difference from argument in, for example, science. He writes: “Our booke cases are the best proofes what the law is, Argumentum ab auctoritate est fortissimum in lege [Argument from authority is the strongest in law].”102 All the old problems about balancing the number and weight of witnesses, and of authorities, recurred with argument from precedents. When one criticizes Scholastics and others for
take the contract.” Arguments of this kind are sometimes true, such as “Since there is a scar, there was a wound,” sometimes like true (veri similia), such as “If there was much dust on his shoes, he must have just taken a journey.” Everything probable (to make deﬁnite subdivision) that is used in argument is either a sign, or credible, or judged or a comparison. A sign is something that falls under the senses and signiﬁes something or seems to follow from that; it may have occurred either before
theory, it lacked the physical naturalness of Aristotle’s. One response was to maintain that Ptolemy’s epicycles were merely ﬁctions or hypotheses.29 Another, pursued more by Arabic and Jewish astronomers than by Latin ones, was to try to develop alternative theories better supported by observations.30 One very occasionally ﬁnds, in both Arabic and Latin writings, the idea that the probability of different theories may be compared. John Pecham, archbishop of Canterbury in the late thirteenth