Under Review

Naive Probabilism

Probability empiricism common sense behavioral economics nudge

Cite as:

Harry Crane (2020). Naive Probabilism. RESEARCHERS.ONE, https://www.researchers.one/article/2020-03-9.


When gambling, think probability.
When hedging, think plausibility.
When preparing, think possibility.
When this fails, stop thinking. Just survive.

Naive probabilism is the (naive) view, held by many technocrats and academics, that all rational thought boils down to probability calculations. This viewpoint is behind the obsession with `data-driven methods' that has overtaken the hard sciences, soft sciences, pseudosciences and non-sciences. It has infiltrated politics, society and business. It's the workhorse of formal epistemology, decision theory and behavioral economics. Because it is mostly applied in low or no-stakes academic investigations and philosophical meandering, few have noticed its many flaws. Real world applications of naive probabilism, however, pose disproportionate risks which scale exponentially with the stakes, ranging from harmless (and also helpless) in many academic contexts to destructive in the most extreme events (war, pandemic). The 2019--2020 coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) is a living example of the dire consequences of such probabilistic naivet\'e. As I write this on March 13, 2020, we are in the midst of a 6 continent pandemic, the world economy is collapsing and our future is bound to look very different from the recent past. The major damage caused by the spread of COVID-19 is attributable to a failure to act and a refusal to acknowledge what was in plain sight. This shared negligence stems from a blind reliance on naive probabilism and the denial of basic common sense by global and local leaders, and many in the general public.


# Supplementary File View File
1 Turkish translation by Mehmet Urcu