Knowledge, assertion and lotteries

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74 (4):568–580 (1996)
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In some lottery situations, the probability that your ticket's a loser can get very close to 1. Suppose, for instance, that yours is one of 20 million tickets, only one of which is a winner. Still, it seems that (1) You don't know yours is a loser and (2) You're in no position to flat-out assert that your ticket is a loser. "It's probably a loser," "It's all but certain that it's a loser," or even, "It's quite certain that it's a loser" seem quite alright to say, but, it seems, you're in no position to declare simply, "It's a loser." (1) and (2) are closely related phenomena. In fact, I'll take it as a working hypothesis that the reason "It's a loser" is unassertable is that (a) You don't seem to know that your ticket's a loser, and (b) In flat-out asserting some proposition, you represent yourself as knowing it.1 This working hypothesis will enable me to address these two phenomena together, moving back and forth freely between them. I leave it to those who reject the hypothesis to sort out those considerations which properly apply to the issue of knowledge from those germane to that of assertability. Things are quite different when you report the results of last night's basketball game. Suppose your only source is your morning newspaper, which did not carry a story about the 1 game, but simply listed the score, "Knicks 83, at Bulls 95," under "Yesterday's Results." Now, it doesn't happen very frequently, but, as we all should suspect, newspapers do misreport scores from time to time. On several occasions, my paper has transposed a result, attributing to each team the score of its opponent. In fact, that your paper's got the present result wrong seems quite a bit more probable than that you've won the lottery of the above paragraph. Still, when asked, "Did the Bulls win yesterday?", "Probably" and "In all likelihood" seem quite unnecessary. "Yes, they did," seems just fine..

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Keith DeRose
Yale University


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