Merely statistical evidence: when and why it justifies belief

Philosophical Studies 180 (9):2639-2664 (2023)
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It is one thing to hold that merely statistical evidence is _sometimes_ insufficient for rational belief, as in typical lottery and profiling cases. It is another thing to hold that merely statistical evidence is _always_ insufficient for rational belief. Indeed, there are cases where statistical evidence plainly does justify belief. This project develops a dispositional account of the normativity of statistical evidence, where the dispositions that ground justifying statistical evidence are connected to the goals (= proper function) of objects. There are strong intuitive motivations for doing this. For we can turn almost any case of _non-justifying_ merely statistical evidence into a case of _justifying_ merely statistical evidence by adding information about the dispositions and goals of the objects involved. The resulting view not only helps us understand when and why merely statistical evidence is normatively significant, but it also helps us understand how statistical evidence relates to more standard forms of evidence (perceptual, testimonial). The emerging view also has surprising applications, as it imposes limitations on the epistemic value of fine-tuning arguments for theism as well as undermines a standard class of case-based arguments for moral encroachment.

Author's Profile

Paul Silva Jr.
University of Cologne


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