Causation, randomness, and pseudo-randomness in John Venn's logic of chance
In 1866, the young John Venn published The Logic of Chance , motivated largely by the desire to correct what he saw as deep fallacies in the reasoning of historical determinists such as Henry Buckle and in the optimistic heralding of a true social science by Adolphe Quetelet. Venn accepted the inevitable determinism implied by the physical sciences, but denied that the stable social statistics cited by Buckle and Quetelet implied a similar determinism in human actions. Venn maintained that probability statements were intelligible solely as projections of the ultimate frequency of an outcome in an unlimited series of trials and therefore led to no inferences about free will. An issue here was Venn's claim that although the aggregate probability may be stable, the individual events were completely irregular and, in fact, displayed randomness. Venn's concept of randomness was really apparent , or pseudo- , randomness, which could be totally determined. Ironically, Venn's frequentist position was very useful to the growing field of statistics, which could develop correlations and predictive models empirically without having to address implications for personal freedom or fatalism.
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Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: Master, Norman Bethune College, York University, 4700 Keele St, Toronto, Ontario, M3J 1P3, Canada
Publication date: November 1, 2005