Hume Versus Price on Miracles and Prior Probabilities: Testimony and the Bayesian Calculation
Owen (David)
Source: Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 147, Apr., 1987, pp. 187-202
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Hume's essay on miracles is one of his most celebrated arguments. It is also, perhaps, the second most discussed and argued-over of his sceptical positions.
  2. Reading it in the light of a recent controversy over Bayesianism and the appropriateness of taking prior probabilities into account when judging the likelihood of an event's occurrence on the basis of reliable testimony, I have been struck by the thought that Hume can best be seen as applying a proto-Bayesian argument to a celebrated eighteenth-century controversy.
  3. There is some evidence that it struck Hume's critics that way as well, yet none of the recent major commentators (e.g, Broad, Flew, Gaskin) mention Bayes or Hume's contemporary critic Richard Price, who most clearly discussed Hume's argument in this light.
  4. This is doubly unfortunate; not only does it make difficult a clear appreciation of what Hume was up to in the argument about miracles, but it also insulates the modern debate about prior probabilities from its history.
  5. In this paper I should like to do a little to rectify this and, in passing, to make some independent observations about Hume's argument as well.

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