The Amherst Lecture In Philosophy.

Lecture 4, 2009

“Probability and Danger”
Timothy Williamson
Oxford University

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What is the epistemological structure of situations where many small risks amount to a large one? Lottery and preface paradoxes and puzzles about quantum-mechanical blips threaten the idea that competent deduction is a way of extending our knowledge (MPC). Seemingly, everyday knowledge involves small risks, and competently deducing the conjunction of many such truths from them yields a conclusion too risky to constitute knowledge. But the dilemma between scepticism and abandoning MPC is false. In extreme cases, objectively improbable truths are known. Safety is modal, not probabilistic, in structure, with closure and factiveness conditions. It is modelled using closeness of worlds. Safety is analogous to knowledge. It suggests an interpretation of possible worlds semantics for epistemic logic. To avoid logical omniscience, a relation of epistemic counterparthood between formulas is introduced. This supports a safety conception of knowledge and formalizes how extending knowledge by deduction depends on logical competence.

Preferred citation
Williamson, Timothy. “Probability and Danger.” The Amherst Lecture in Philosophy 4 (2009): 1–35. <>.