Two Kinds of High-Level Probability

Meir Hemmo, Orly Shenker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


According to influential views the probabilities in classical statistical mechanics and other special sciences are objective chances, although the underlying mechanical theory is deterministic, since the deterministic low level is inadmissible or unavailable from the high level. Here two intuitions pull in opposite directions: One intuition is that if the world is deterministic, probability can only express subjective ignorance. The other intuition is that probability of high-level phenomena, especially thermodynamic ones, is dictated by the state of affairs in the world. We argue in support of this second intuition and we show that in fact there are two different ways in which high-level probability describes matters of fact, even if the underlying microscopic reality is deterministic. Our analysis is novel, but supports approaches by, e.g., Loewer, Albert, Frigg and Hoefer, List and Pivato. In particular, the reductive view we propose here can be seen as a naturalization of the above approaches. We consider consequences of our result for nonreductive physicalist approaches, such as functionalism, that admit multiple realization of the kinds that appear in the special sciences by physical kinds. We show that nonreductive physicalism implies the existence of nonphysical matters of fact.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)458-477
Number of pages20
JournalThe Monist
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
19. We thank Christian List, Roman Frigg, Carl Hoefer, David Papinaeu, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on the ideas in this paper. This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation, grant number 1148/18.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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