Nelkin, Dana, and . The lottery paradox, knowledge and rationality

2000, Philosophical Review: 109 (3): 373-409.

Summary: The knowledge version of the paradox arises because it appears that we know our lottery ticket (which is not relevantly different from any other) will lose, but we know that one of the tickets sold will win. The rationality version of the paradox arises because it appears that it is rational to believe of each single ticket in, say, a million-ticket lottery that it will not win, and that it is simultaneously rational to believe that one such ticket will win. It seems, then, that we are committed to attributing two rational beliefs to a single agent at a single time, beliefs that, together with a few background assumptions, are inconsistent and can be seen by the agent to be so. This has seemed to many to be a paradoxical result: an agent in possession of two rational beliefs that she sees to be inconsistent. In my paper, I offer a novel solution to the paradox in both its rationality and knowledge versions that emphasizes a special feature of the lottery case, namely, the statistical nature of the evidence available to the agent. On my view, it is neither true that one knows nor that it is rational to believe that a particular ticket will lose. While this might seem surprising at first, it has a natural explanation and lacks the serious disadvantages of competing solutions.

Comment: The lottery paradox is one of the most central paradox in epistemology and philosophy of probability. Nelkin's paper is a milestone in the literature on this topic after which discussions on the lottery paradox flourish. It is thus a must-have introductory paper on the lottery paradox for teachings on paradoxes of belief, justification theory, rationality, etc.