Philosophy 5311: Bayesian Epistemology
Fall, 2014

Professor Joel Velasco

Class meets Wednesdays, 6:00-8:50 in English and Philosophy 264

Traditional epistemology considers all-or-nothing beliefs: you either believe that it's going to rain today or you don't. Bayesian epistemology supposes that individuals assign degrees of belief to propositions: you might be less confident that it will rain, or more confident without being entirely certain. These degrees of belief can be represented by numbers (I'm 70% confident it will rain today), and then subjected to mathematical constraints (if I'm 70% confident that it will rain today, I should be 30% confident that it won't). We will consider what degrees of belief are, how they relate to actions, what rational constraints on degrees of belief Bayesians propose, and why we should believe those constraints are rationally required. We will then apply Bayesian epistemology to better understand inductive reasoning, confirmation of hypotheses by evidence, and various puzzles and paradoxes. (Assignments will include regular problem sets with both mathematical and philosophical questions, and a final paper.)
Course Webpage:
All information about the course (such as this syllabus) as well as the reading assignments and links to papers can be found on the course website at
Office hours:
My office hours are Mon and Tue, 11:00-12:00, or by appointment, in 265G Philosophy.
Required Books:
The bulk of the work in the course will be reading a draft of Mike Titelbaum's book Foundations of Bayesian Epistemology. Chapters will be distrubted to all enrolled students by email. All class assignments and any other readings will be found on this website. You should check this website reguarly for updates and bring copies of the assigned readings to class.

Evaluation: Grades will be determined on the basis of participation in class and on weekly comments regarding the reading, regular problem sets, and a final paper.

Class Participation:Philosophy is a communal enterprise: the ability to make valuable oral contributions to philosophical discussions can be as important as the ability to write well. Moreover, since the written assignments will force the students to think carefully about very specific topics, participation in class discussion is an important way for students to demonstrate a broader competence with the material than is possible in the papers alone. Evaluation will be based upon the quality, not the quantity, of comments made during class. Students are encouraged to continue class discussions after the class is over, by meeting with me in person, or continuing the discussion over e-mail with me. Of course discussion with each other outside of class is strongly encouraged as well. Students who for any reason have difficulty speaking up in class are especially encouraged to (and must!) pursue these options. It should go without saying that attendance is an absolutely essential component of class participation. Any student who has more than two absences from class will be required to do make-up work for the classes missed.

Electronic Devices: Students may have laptop computers, or other portable electronic devices, for the purpose of taking notes, and occasionally looking up material relevant to class discussion. However, there will be no internet-surfing, texting, tweeting, instant messaging, e-mailing, gaming, or other use of electronic devices not directly related to class. Also, please silence all phones before class starts.

Special Accommodations: If you have a disability or personal circumstance that will require special accommodation, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Academic Integrity:  Cheating and plagiarism are, of course, prohibited in this class just as they are in all university classes. They will be taken particularly seriously in this class, and any cases that may arise will be treated in a manner consistent with University policy. These two violations of academic integrity are each defined in the section of the Texas Tech online official publications titled “Academic Integrity.” Plagiarism is there described as follows:
“'Plagiarism' includes, but is not limited to, the appropriation of, buying, receiving as a gift, or obtaining by any means material that is attributable in whole or in part to another source, including words, ideas, illustrations, structure, computer code, other expression and media, and presenting that material as one’s own academic work being offered for credit.”  
            You can find excellent explanations of what specifically constitutes plagiarism as opposed to proper citation, and also tutorials on how to avoid plagiarism at the following websites:
Note:  If, at any time, you are at all unclear about what counts as plagiarism, or about whether you are properly citing sources in any of your written work, please just come by and ask me about it.  You do not want to be confused or careless about this serious matter.

This is a tentative schedule/reading list:

Week 1 - Belief and degrees of belief

Week 2 - The basics of probabilities

*Handout* proving equivalence and entailment
**Homework 1** - due Wed, Sep 17 (corrected on 9/5)

Week 3 - Conditional probabilities

Week 4 - Updating by conditionalization

Week 5 - Interpretations of Probability

**Homework 2** - due Wed, Oct 8

Week 6 -

Week 7 -

**Homework 3** - due Wed, Oct 22

Week 8 - Statistical Testing

Week 9 - Confirmation Theory

**Homework 4** - due Wed, Oct 22

Week 10 - Decision Theory

Week 11 - Representation Theorems

Week 12 - Dutch Book Arguments

**Final Paper Assignment** - due Thur, Dec 11

Week 13 -

Week 14 - Thanksgiving Holiday - No Class

Week 15 -