Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Author: Martin Smith

Believing the unlikely

We often want to know how likely something is. There seems to be close link between likelihood and belief – if something is likely, you would be justified in believing it, and if something is unlikely, you would not be justified in believing it. That might seem obvious, and the second part might seem especially obvious – surely you can’t be justified in believing something that’s unlikely to be true? I will suggest here that, sometimes, you can.

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When probability is not enough

While out driving one afternoon, I notice a bus speeding down the road towards me. As it approaches, the bus drifts into my lane, forcing me to swerve and strike a parked car. The bus doesn’t stop and, while I glimpse some corporate logo on the side, I’m shaken and I don’t manage to make it out.

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