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In theology and philosophy, probabilism (from Latin probare, to test, approve) holds that in the absence of certainty, probability is the best criterion. The first (theological) was a religious theses about ethics of XVII century, the second is a modern these physycal-philosophical.
In moral theology, especially Catholic, it refers especially to the view in casuistry that in difficult matters of conscience one may safely follow a doctrine that is probable, for example is approved by a recognized Doctor of the Church, even if the opposite opinion is more probable.
This view was advanced by the Spanish theologian Bartolomé de Medina (1527 - 1581) and defended by many Jesuits such as Luis Molina (1528 - 1581). It was heavily criticised by Blaise Pascal in his Provincial Letters as leading to moral laxity. Opposed to probabilism is probabiliorism (Latin probabilior, "more likely"), which holds that when there is a preponderance of evidence on one side of a controversy one is obliged to follow that side, and tutiorism (Latin tutior, "safer"), which holds that in case of doubt one must take the morally safer side. A more radical view, "minus probabilissimus", holds that an action is permissible if a single opinion allowing that action is available, even if the overwhelming weight of opinion proscribes it.
In philosophy the term is applied to that practical doctrine which gives assistance in ordinary matters to one who is skeptical in respect of the possibility of real knowledge: it supposes that though knowledge is impossible, a man may rely on strong beliefs in practical affairs. This view was held by the skeptics of the New Academy (see skepticism and Carneades.).
In modern usage, a probabilist is someone who believes that central epistemological issues are best approached using probabilities. This thesis is neutral with respect to whether knowledge entails certainty or whether skepticism about knowledge is true.
Sources and references
- This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain. Probabilism (1911)
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
- J. Franklin, The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability Before Pascal (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), ch. 4