Calcul des Probabilités


“EVERYBODY makes errors in Probabilities at times, and big ones,” writes De Morgan to Sir William Hamilton. M. Bertrand appears to form an exception to this dictum, or at least to its severer clause. He avoids those slips in the philosophical part of the subject into which the greatest of his mathematical predecessors have fallen. Thus he points out that, in investigating the “causes” of an observed event, or the ways in which it might have happened, by means of the calculus of probabilities, it is usual to make certain unwarranted assumptions concerning the so-called a priori probability of those causes. Suppose that a number of black and white balls have been drawn at random from an urn, and from this datum let us seek to determine the proportion of black and white balls in the urn. It is usual to assume, without sufficient grounds, that a priori one proportion of balls, one constitution of the urn, is as likely as another. Or suppose a coin has been tossed up a number of times, and from the observed proportion of heads and tails let it be required to determine whether and in what degree the coin is loaded. Some assumption must be made as to the probability which, prior to, or abstracting from, our observations, attaches to different degrees of loading. The assumptions which are usually made have a fallacious character of precision.

Calcul des Probabilités.

Par J. Bertrand. (Paris: Gauthier-Villars, 1889.)

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E., F. Calcul des Probabilités. Nature 41, 6–7 (1889).

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