Philosophy and Probability Paperback – 24 Jul 2013
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About the Author
Timothy Childers was born in Louisiana. After an undergraduate education at Louisiana State University, he obtained his doctorate from the London School of Economics. He then moved to Prague where he has ever since been a member of the Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.
Top Customer Reviews
This is a book written by an academic, published by an academic publisher, trying to be as unacademic as possible, and failing. Yes, a lot of the book is designed to be "pop" and the academic rigour is played down, but parts of this book are clearly going to be more useful to an undergraduate or postgraduate trying to deal with probability from a non-mathematical perspective. However, if you're a complete beginner, you're going to struggle - nothing that a quick browse of Wikipedia won't help clarify for you - and so I think the "blurb" is a little misleading. I think you need a grasp of the basic mathematics, and some of it will be unfamiliar to many: I was surprised to have to start remembering symbolic logic, and there are whole sections of the appendix that I've left for "another day".
On the other hand, the discussions are useful and interesting, and too much time has been spent understanding probability mathematically and too little understanding the real-world impact of those mathematics. I enjoyed the book and will return to most it in future, but the phrase "He keeps technicalities to a minimum, and assumes no prior knowledge of the subject" is just wrong...
This book treats probability as though it were some special case of human endeavour, so we get various philosophical interpretations of probability: relative frequency (frequentist), propensity, subjective and objective, Bayesian. The author introduces an imaginary friend Prokop who is supposed to be introducing us to these ideas through his amusing little digressions - I did find the beer brewing example fairly interesting. This is intended to lighten things up and it does but it didn't really illuminate anything.
Now, it's probably me, I approached this book from the mathematical viewpoint and know nothing about philosophy - I still don't - but I found this philosophical treatment of probability very overstated, the examples are unconvincing - apparently the propensityist must assume that conditional probabilities work in the reverse causality direction (so drinking beer can result in the weather being hot??) - well they ought to take causality into account then. And that's the problem, I just don't get it; this book has not convinced me there is anything deeper about probability than what it is; it is however leading me to the view that philosophers are really enigmatic navel-gazers and that's a pity because I'm sure that's not the case.
There is a reasonable appendix dealing with probability axioms and functions, although this is not the best presentation I've ever seen, and the final chapter "Maximum Entropy Principle" is good.
Hard-going and unconvincing.
So why such a good result, and how did it cure me of my dislike of probability theory? The answer is simple: commitment! No not mine, although I did pretty well to read it in said time, but no not mine, I mean the authors commitment! Timothy Childers showed near evangelical zeal in visiting his subject within a philosophical context. He guides the reader around the theory of probability, even allowing for a revisitation of necessary mathematical theory that informs the whole process and he does it in a field that seems at first to not actually require the theory to be used: philosophy. This of course alloed me to think about probbaility and the requirement for its presence within one of my own disciplines, psychology.Read more ›
For the most part we don't tend to distinguish relatively frequency interpretation - i.e. that there is a relationship between smoking and cancer, from propensity interpretations - i.e. your own objective chances of getting cancer. Then of course there are the Bayesian's that turn your chances of getting cancer into a gaming matter. There is also the logical school which looks at probability as a matter of symmetry - pretty useless when it comes to assess your cancer risk, but great for things like heads and tails.
This is a book about philosophy, but in reading it will help greatly if you have mastered algerbra and symbolic logic. It is well ordered covering probability and relative frequency, propensity, subjective probability, classical and logical interpretations leading right up to the maximum entropy principle (somewhat beyond my mathematical level of ability).
Childers is a sure footed guide and I enjoyed his humour. This is pitched at students (under grad or possibly bright A level) rather than a general readership. As such this is a worthy and worthwhile book.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
As someone with training & experience in Engineering who frequently gets drawn into the verges of the shady world of risk assessment & the practical difficulties of finding &... Read morePublished on 12 Aug. 2013 by Arkgirl
This is a very academic book. Maybe too academic for me. I just didn't really enjoy reading this.
I have used stats quite a lot and I do quite enjoy some `pop philosophy'... Read more
This is a very well written book that explains how probability works in terms of numbers and their interpretation. It does so with great humour and patientce. Read morePublished on 26 July 2013 by Dr. Peter Davies
This is a fascinating and well written book, though perhaps not one for the absolute beginner. If you are not already acquainted with the basic concepts of probability,... Read morePublished on 18 July 2013 by Sockymon