The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Subjective Probability

  • I. J. Good
Reference work entry


The usual meaning of ‘probable’ in ordinary conversation is closely related to its derivation from a Latin word meaning provable or capable of being made convincing. The concept is even clearer in the derivation of the German word Wahrscheinlichkeit, ‘having the appearance of truth’. In fact, when we say an event is probable we usually mean that we would not be surprised (or we ought not to be) if it occurred, or that we would be somewhat surprised (or ought to be) if did not occur. Since ‘surprise’ refers to a personal or subjective experience it seems clear that the ordinary concept of probability is subjectivistic (or else in some sense logical). Also a probability, in this subjective or logical sense, can be more or less large so it can be interpreted as a degree of belief or a rational degree of belief or intensity of conviction. A subjective probability is usually regarded as somewhat more than just a degree of belief – it is a degree of belief that belongs to a body of beliefs from which the worst inconsistencies have been removed by means of detached judgements. In short, the degree of belief should be more or less rational.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • I. J. Good
    • 1
  1. 1.