PHILOSOPHY OF CHANCE
Learning outcomes of the course unit
The course sets out to achieve the following educational aims:
a) Acquiring an intuitive comprehension of the notion of probability, of its basic mathematical laws and of the fundamental role that it has played for centuries in all models of practical and theoretical rationality. [Descriptor 1]
b) Acquiring a basic knowledge of the main philosophical interpretations of probability [Descriptor 1].
c) Being able of placing the discussion on the interpretation of probability in the wider context of contemporary philosophical debate, especially in connection with the realism/antirealism controversy. [Descriptor 2]
d) Acquiring basic skills in the analysis of problems and in the construction of sound arguments in conditions of uncertainty. [Descriptor 2].
Through a critical discussion and comparison of rival interpretations of probability, students are also expected to enhance their capability of making judgments as well as their ability to grasp the content of complex concepts and communicate it with the required precision. [Descriptors 3-5].
Course contents summary
n the first part of the course (Lectures 1-10) students will be introduced to probability theory and to its main philosophical interpretations. Special attention will be paid to the contrast between objectivist interpretations (Von Mises, Reichenbach, Popper, Keynes, Carnap) — according to which probability is explained with reference to factual reality or in terms of the logical relations between propositions — and the subjectivist approach (Borel, Ramsey, De Finetti, Savage) — according to which probabilities “do not exist” and represent only subjective degrees of belief. The second part of the course (Lectures 11-15) will be held as a seminar based on a critical reading of the essay “Probabilismo” by Bruno De Finetti.
1. A. Aczel. Chance. Raffaello Cortina, Milano 2005.
2. M.C. Galavotti. Interpretazioni della probabilità. In Linee di Ricerca, SWIF, 2006 (free download from Sito Web Italiano per la Filosofia).
3. B. De Finetti. Probabilismo. Saggio critico sulla teoria della probabilità e sul valore della scienza. Perrella, Napoli 1931 (free download from www.brunodefinetti.it).
This bibliography will be supplemented by handouts and short articles provided by the lecturer.
In the first part of the course (Lectures 1-10), every lecture will consist in the presentation of theoretical notions followed by an in-depth discussion of examples and simple problems in which these notions are applied.
The second part will be held as a seminar and will consist in a critical reading of the essay “Probabilismo” by Bruno De Finetti, in which students will be encouraged to express their opinions and support them with suitable arguments, especially in connection with the more controversial aspects of the theory and their philosophical implications.
Assessment methods and criteria
Learning will be verified by means of a final exam consisting of a written (open answer) test followed by oral discussion. The exam is supposed to verify the degree at which the educational aims specified above have been fulfilled. The final score will take into account both the outcome of the written test and the student’s performance in the oral discussion. Exams showing that aims (a) and (b) have not been fulfilled at a reasonable degree will be regarded as failures. Maximum score can be obtained by an excellent degree of fulfilment of all four educational aims (a)-(d).