26. “On the Possibility of Assigning Probabilities to Singular Cases, or: Probability Is Subjective Too!”


Abstract: Both Ludwig von Mises and Richard von Mises claimed that numerical probability could not be legitimately applied to singular cases. This paper challenges this aspect of the von Mises brothers’ theory of probability. It is argued that their denial that numerical probability could be applied to singular cases was based solely upon Richard von Mises’ exceptionally restrictive definition of probability. This paper challenges Richard von Mises’ definition of probability by arguing that the definition of probability necessarily depends upon whether the world is governed by time-invariant causal laws. It is argued that if the world is governed by time-invariant causal laws, a subjective definition of probability must be adopted. It is further argued that both the nature of human action and the relative frequency method for calculating numerical probabilities both presuppose that the world is indeed governed by time-invariant causal laws. It is finally argued that the subjective definition of probability undercuts the von Mises claim that numerical probability cannot legitimately be applied to singular, non-replicable cases.