Quantifying Evidence

12 August 2011
The only novel thing [in the Dark Ages] concerning probability is the following remarkable text, which appears in the False Decretals, an influential mixture of old papal letters, quotations taken out of context, and outright forgeries put together somewhere in Western Europe about 850. The passage itself may be much older. A bishop should not be condemned except with seventy-two witnesses … a cardinal priest should not be condemned except with forty-four witnesses, a cardinal deacon of the city of Rome without thirty-six witnesses, a subdeacon, acolyte, exorcist, lector, or doorkeeper except with seven witnesses.⁹ It is the world's first quantitative theory of probability. Which shows why being quantitative about probability is not necessarily a good thing.
James Franklin
The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability before Pascal
Chapter 2

(Actually, there is some evidence that a quantitative theory of probability developed and then disappeared in ancient India.[10] But Franklin's essential point here is none-the-less well-taken.)

⁹ Foot-note in the original, citing Decretales Pseudo-Isidorianae, et Capitula Angilramni edited by Paul Hinschius, and recommending comparison with The Collection in Seventy-Four Titles: A Canon Law Manual of the Gregorian Reform edited by John Gilchrist.

[10] In The Story of Nala and Damayanti within the Mahābhārata, there is a character Rtuparna (aka Rituparna, and mistakenly as Rtupama and as Ritupama) who seems to have a marvelous understanding of sampling and is a master of dice-play. I learned about Rtuparna by way of Ian Hacking's outstanding The Emergence of Probability; Hacking seems to have learned of it by way of V.P. Godambe, who noted the apparent implication in A historical perspective of the recent developments in the theory of sampling from actual populations, Journal of the Indian Society of Agricultural Statistics v. 38 #1 (Apr 1976) pp 1-12.

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