The Paradox of Predictability

Erkenntnis 88 (2):579-596 (2021)
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Scriven’s paradox of predictability arises from the combination of two ideas: first, that everything in a deterministic universe is, in principle, predictable; second, that it is possible to create a system that falsifies any prediction that is made of it. Recently, the paradox has been used by Rummens and Cuypers to argue that there is a fundamental difference between embedded and external predictors; and by Ismael to argue against a governing conception of laws. The present paper defends a new diagnosis of the roots of the paradox. First, it is argued that the unpredictability has to be understood in the light of Turing’s famous results about computability, in particular his proof that there is no solution to the ‘halting problem.’ This allows us to see that previous analyses of the paradox were either mistaken or not fully adequate. Second, the sense of paradox that nevertheless remains is traced to the idea that rational behaviour is not dependent on contingent environmental circumstances: that it is always up to us to engage in activities such as rational prediction or rational belief. The paradox of predictability teaches us that this idea, natural though it may be, is mistaken.



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Victor Gijsbers
Leiden University

References found in this work

Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language.John Rogers Searle - 1969 - Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.Alan Turing - 1936 - Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society 42 (1):230-265.
Two concepts of rules.John Rawls - 1955 - Philosophical Review 64 (1):3-32.
Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language.John Searle - 1969 - Philosophy and Rhetoric 4 (1):59-61.

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