Bayesians sometimes cannot ignore even very implausible theories (even ones that have not yet been thought of)


  • Branden Fitelson University of California–Berkeley
  • Neil Thomason Department of Philosophy, University of Melbourne



In applying Bayes’s theorem to the history of science, Bayesians sometimes assume – often without argument – that they can safely ignore very implausible theories. This assumption is false, both in that it can seriously distort the history of science as well as the mathematics and the applicability of Bayes’s theorem. There are intuitively very plausible counter-examples. In fact, one can ignore very implausible or unknown theories only if at least one of two conditions is satisfied: (i) one is certain that there are no unknown theories which explain the phenomenon in question, or (ii) the likelihood of at least one of the known theories used in the calculation of the posterior is reasonably large. Often in the history of science, a very surprising phenomenon is observed, and neither of these criteria is satisfied.


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Author Biographies

Branden Fitelson, University of California–Berkeley

Neil Thomason, Department of Philosophy, University of Melbourne