this ebony bird beguiling

14 April 2009

As noted earlier, I've been reading Subjective Probability: The Real Thing by Richard C. Jeffrey. It's a short book, but I've been distracted by other things, and I've also been slowed by the condition of the book; it's full of errors. For example,

It seems evident that black ravens confirm (H) All ravens are black and that nonblack nonravens do not. Yet H is equivalent to All nonravens are nonblack.
Uhm, no:
(X ⇒ Y) ≡ (¬X ∨ Y) = (Y ∨ ¬X) = (¬¬Y ∨ ¬X) = [¬(¬Y) ∨ ¬X] ≡ (¬Y ⇒ ¬X)
In words, that all ravens are black is equivalent to that all non-black things are non-ravens.[1]

The bobbled expressions and at least one expositional omission sometimes had me wondering if he and his felllows were barking mad. Some of the notational errors have really thrown me, as my first reäction was to wonder if I'd missed something.

Authors make mistakes. That's principally why there are editors. But it appears that Cambridge University Press did little or no real editting of this book. (A link to a PDF file of the manuscript may be found at Jeffrey's website, and used for comparison.) Granted that the book is posthumous, and that Jeffrey was dead more than a year before publication, so they couldn't ask him about various things. But someone should have read this thing carefully enough to spot all these errors. In most of the cases that I've seen, I can identify the appropriate correction. Perhaps in some cases the best that could be done would be to alert the reader that there was a problem. In any case, it seems that Cambridge University Press wouldn't be bothered.

[1]The question, then, is of why, say, a red flower (a non-black non-raven) isn't taken as confirmation that all ravens are black. The answer, of course, lies principally in the difference between reasoning from plausibility versus reasoning from certainty.

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