Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

MIND Vol. 82, No. 4, October 1999

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

MIND Vol. 82, No. 4, October 1999

Article excerpt

How To Set Up a Surprise Exam, NED HALL

The professor announces a surprise exam for the upcoming week; her clever student argues by reductio that she cannot possibly give such an exam. Diagnosing his puzzling argument reveals a deeper puzzle: Is the student justified in believing the announcement? It would seem so, save that a plausible principle states that if the student justifiably believes some proposition, then he also justifiably believes that he will continue to justifiably believe that proposition. This "confidence" principle entails--counterintuitively --that the student cannot justifiably believe the announcement. The key to resolving this dilemma is to distinguish the confidence principle from a slightly weaker principle governing the student's justified degrees of belief. The resulting probabilistic analysis yields a new diagnosis of the logical flaw in the student's reasoning, and shows that even those early stages of it which are logically impeccable exhibit another kind of flaw: circularity.--Correspondence to: ejhall@mit. …

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