The Special Status of Mathematical Probability: A Historical Sketch
Xavier De Scheemaekere
The history of the mathematical probability includes two phases: 1) From Pascal and Fermat to Laplace, the theory gained in application fields; 2) In the first half of the 20th Century, two competing axiomatic systems were respectively proposed by von Mises in 1919 and Kolmogorov in 1933. This paper places this historical sketch in the context of the philosophical complexity of the probability concept and explains the resounding success of Kolmogorov’s theory through its ability to avoid direct interpretation. Indeed, unlike experimental sciences, and despite its numerous applications, probability theory cannot be tested per se. Rather it relates to practical matters by means of transition hypotheses or bridging principles that match the structure of practical problems with abstract theory. In this respect probability theory has a very special status among scientific disciplines.
probability, Kolmogorov, von Mises, axioms, epistemology
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