Citation for this page in APA citation style.           Close


Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
Isaiah Berlin
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
Michael Burke
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
Sam Harris
William Hasker
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
C. Lloyd Morgan
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Karl Popper
Huw Price
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf


Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
John Herschel
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek


Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
Abraham de Moivre

Abraham de Moivre's classic book The Doctrine of Chances (in three editions between 1718 and 1756) was basically a handbook for gamblers. It enabled them to know how to bet in various games of chance.

It begins...

The Probability of an Event is greater or less, according to the number of Chances by which it may happen, compared with the whole number of Chances by which it may happen or fail.
This brief statement contains the assumption that all states are equally probable, assuming that we have no information that indicates otherwise.

While this describes our information epistemically, making it a matter of human knowledge, we can say ontologically that the world contains no information that would make any state more probable than the others. Such information simply does not exist. This is sometimes called the principle of insufficient reason or the principle of indifference.

If that information did exist, it could and would be revealed in large numbers of experimental trials, which provide the statistics on the different "states."

Probabilities are a priori theories.
Statistics are a posteriori, the results of experiments.

In the philosophical controversies between a priori or epistemic interpretations of probability and a posteriori or ontological interpretations, the latter are often said to be "frequency" interpretations of probability. We prefer to use the term statistics for these frequencies.

de Moivre's work underlies James Clerk Maxwell's velocity distributions for the molecules in a gas, and Ludwig Boltzmann's explanation for the increase of entropy in statistical mechanics (the second law of thermodynamics).

All other things being equal, any physical system evolves toward the macrostate with the greatest number of microstates consistent with the information contained in the macrostate. This information is intrinsic to the system. It may be observable, but it in no way depends on being observed or "known" to any observer.

Probability Distributions
In his book, de Moivre worked out the mathematics for the binomial expansion of (p - q)n by analyzing the tosses of a coin. If p is the probability of a "heads" and q = 1 - p the probability of "tails," then the probability of k heads is

Pr(k) = (n!/(n - k)! k!)p(n - k)qk

de Moivre also was the first to approximate the factorial for large n as

n! ≈ (constant) √n nn e-n

James Stirling determined the constant in de Moivre's approximation ( = √(2π), which is now commonly called Stirling's formula.

Using this approximation, which is valid for large numbers, de Moivre went on to approximate the discrete binomial expansion with a continuous curve.

The animation shows how de Moivre's binomial coefficients approach the continuous "normal distribution or bell-shaped curve as n approaches infinity.

Pr(x) = (1/√(2π)) e-x2/2

Pierre-Simon Laplace also derived this result, which is sometimes called the de Moivre-Laplace Theorem. Laplace very likely knew of de Moivre's work, but gave him no credit, perhaps because of de Moivre's association with gambling, perhaps because de Moivre was a Huguenot protestant who had emigrated to England, or perhaps because Laplace's great works summarized much of the previous century's mathematics and science without giving credit to his predecessors.

Nearly 100 years later, Legendre and Gauss independently developed this curve as the distribution of measurement errors. It came to be poorly named the "law" of errors, misleading many philosophers to argue that random events were therefore lawful and each event must be determined somehow by this underlying lawfulness.

In order to derive de Moivre's curve as the distributions for errors, Legendre and Gauss made three assumptions - that errors are distributed symmetrically around a maximum value, that the value goes to zero for large positive and negative values of x, and that the mean value of errors is the average value, namely zero.

In Laplace's hands, this tendency for the curve to peak around a maximum at the mean value in the limit of large numbers came to be called the central limit theorem.

Today the principle of indifference (equiprobability assumption), the law of large numbers, and the central limit theorem are three of the fundamental postulates of probability.

Carl Friedrich Gauss showed that the normal probability distribution explains the "method of least squares," which had been used by many scientists to establish the most probable value of an experimental measurement. Gauss showed that the most probable value is the average value (the mean) when errors in observations are distributed randomly.

Returning to de Moivre's original work, which was the chance occurrence of random events, it is very important to note that individual events are really random, despite their asymptotic approach to the normal distribution in the limit of large numbers of events. The material world itself is discrete and random, despite the idealization of the analytical continuous probability curve discovered first by de Moivre.

For Teachers
For Scholars

Chapter 1.5 - The Philosophers Chapter 2.1 - The Problem of Knowledge
Home Part Two - Knowledge
Normal | Teacher | Scholar