Determinism and Chance

Barry Loewer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


It is generally thought that objective chances for particular events different from 1 and 0 and determinism are incompatible. However, there are important scientific theories whose laws are deterministic but which also assign non-trivial probabilities to events. The most important of these is statistical mechanics whose probabilities are essential to the explanations of thermodynamic phenomena. These probabilities are often construed as 'ignorance' probabilities representing our lack of knowledge concerning the microstate. I argue that this construal is incompatible with the role of probability in explanation and laws. This is the 'paradox of deterministic probabilities'. After surveying the usual list of accounts of objective chance and finding them inadequate I argue that an account of chance sketched by David Lewis can be modified to solve the paradox of deterministic probabilities and provide an adequate account of the probabilities in deterministic theories like statistical mechanics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-620
Number of pages12
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B - Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

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