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Presented By: The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

Professors Gordon Belot, James M. Joyce, and Laura Ruetsche's Collegiate Professorship in Philosophy, Inaugural Lecture

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This event will take place both in person and virtually. Additional details regarding each lecture can be found below.

Professor Gordon Belot, the Lawrence Sklar Collegiate Professor of Philosophy

Lecture Title: On the Road to Truth

Abstract: This talk will explore some questions raised by Larry Sklar in Theory and Truth. What does it mean to be a realist about our scientific theories in our present predicament, in which we are virtually certain that the best theories of physics cannot be true, strictly speaking, because they break down or make false predictions in certain regimes? Sklar suggests that to be a realist in this setting is to be confident that our best current theories are in some sense stations on the road to truth—but what precisely does that mean?

Professor James M. Joyce, the Cooper Harold Langford Collegiate Professor of Philosophy

Lecture Title: Decision Making and the Accuracy of Beliefs

Lecture Abstract: Epistemologists have long focused on belief as the basic epistemic attitude, with the understanding that a belief is fully successful only if true. In the 20th Century, however, some philosophers began to see degrees of confidence, or credences, as more fundamental, largely because of their ties to rational action. The philosopher Frank Ramsey and statistician Bruno de Finetti famously argued that (i) a rational person's credences will be revealed in her betting behavior, and (ii) that a person whose credences do not obey the laws of probability will accept "books" of bets that, in the aggregate, lose money no matter what the world is like. These "pragmatic" (action centered) arguments were used to justify probabilism, the idea that rational credences must be subjective probabilities. But, many epistemologists were dissatisfied with this pragmatic approach since it did not ultimately relate the quality of credences to their accuracy or "closeness to the truth". As a response to these complaints, I sought to define a meaningful sense of accuracy for credences, and to show that probabilism could be seen as a means to pursuing credal accuracy. I knew de Finetti had offered an argument that could be adapted for this purpose, but it had limited applicability and was still pragmatic in spirit. While searching for something more general, and more clearly epistemic, I was attending the UM Decision Consortium, run by Frank Yates of the Psychology Department. One day Frank pointed me to his wonderful book Judgment and Decision Making, which introduced me to the use of strictly proper scoring rules to measure the accuracy of probabilistic forecasts. This turned out to be exactly what I needed! In two related papers, I argued that any reasonable score of credal accuracy should be a strictly proper scoring rule, and that for a wide range of such rules probabilism follows in this sense: for any system of credences that violates the laws of probability there is a system of credences that satisfies those laws and is more accurate in every possible state of the world.

Professor Laura Ruetsche, the Louis E. Loeb Collegiate Professor of Philosophy

Lecture Title: "The Physics of Ignorance: Believe It or Not?"

Lecture Abstract: Should we believe our very best theories of physics? Scientific realists urge that we should: the best way to make sense of a theory's remarkable success, they argue, is to suppose that the world is (more or less) the way that theory says it is. Most physicists regard our very best theories of physics, including those making up the Standard Model of contemporary particle physics, to be effective theories. Not itself fundamentally or universally valid, an effective theory is rather, within an avowedly limited domain, an able mimic of more fundamental theories. But what do we believe, when we believe an able mimic? And is that something we should believe? I'll critically consider a resourceful realist answer to these questions. I'll also defend an alternative that becomes available once we liberate ourselves from a constrictive presupposition: that to understand a theory, we must articulate the way that theory says the world is.

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