Literature/1977/Cohen

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Cohen, Jonathan (1977). The Probable and the Provable. Oxford University Press.

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Guardian obituary [1]
[...] Commonwealth Fund fellowships at Princeton and Harvard universities to study logic and the philosophy of language brought him in close contact with Harvard's distinguished philosopher, WVO Quine. Unlike Quine, who disparaged the appeal to modality -- possibility and necessity -- in philosophy, Cohen thought modality had a rich structure which could fruitfully advance a wide variety of philosophical problems. In diverging from Quine, Cohen engaged a theme that he pursued over roughly the next 40 years.
[...] The scale of inductive support is a scale of empirical necessity. The standard approach to inductive logic is that it is not a modal logic, but one of mathematical probability. In a number of works, starting in the 1960s and culminating in his most influential work, The Probable and the Provable (1977), Cohen developed a "Baconian" in contrast to what he referred to as a "Pascalian" analysis of probability. The analysis provided elegant resolutions of open problems and paradoxes, including a proof of when the testimony of two witnesses corroborate one another. He applied his inductive logic to questions of metaphor, explanation and skepticism. Most strikingly, Cohen showed that an analysis by mathematical or Pascalian probability had the wrong implications for a number of familiar inductive problems, as well as in its handling of legal proof and evidence, sparking a lively debate among legal theorists.
In The Probable and the Provable, Cohen also examined well known studies in psychology on probabilistic reasoning. These studies were held to show that ordinary subjects reason poorly on questions of probability and statistics. The conclusion disturbed Cohen for its legal implications. If ordinary citizens lacked a rudimentary competence with inductive reasoning, jurors could not be expected to make reliable judgments. Cohen thought that the experimenters were wrongly taking for granted that "probability" has a single meaning or representation, rather than, as he believed, a plurality. If, as he argued, subjects were construing probability as fitting his Baconian inductive probability, their responses are not in error. Subsequently, he incorporated these criticisms into a major article that examined a range of studies on reasoning, not only inductive, with again the purpose of confirming the basic competence of ordinary citizens in reasoning. This controversy, begun by his article in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 1981, is still thriving today.
w: Laurence Jonathan Cohen
  • His best-known book, The Probable and the Provable (1977), argued in favour of inductive reasoning when making up your mind, for instance, when on a jury. The human ability to bring in all the relevant factors when arguing from known specifics to a general conclusion -- the essence of inductive reasoning -- was in his view far too complex to express in a logical equation. But their methods of reasoning could still be held up to inspection and, to some extent, classified.

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Gradient-optical-illusion.svg
The shade of the bar looks invariant in isolation but variant in context, in (favor of) sharp contrast with the color gradient background, hence an innate illusion we have to reasonably interpret and overcome as well as the mirage. Such variance appearing seasonably from context to context may not only be the case with our vision but worldview in general in practice indeed, whether a priori or a posteriori. Perhaps no worldview from nowhere, without any point of view or prejudice at all!

Ogden & Richards (1923) said, "All experience ... is either enjoyed or interpreted ... or both, and very little of it escapes some degree of interpretation."

H. G. Wells (1938) said, "The human individual is born now to live in a society for which his fundamental instincts are altogether inadequate."