Predicting the Future

An Introduction to the Theory of Forecasting

By Nicholas Rescher

Subjects: Business Communication
Paperback : 9780791435540, 224 pages, November 1997
Hardcover : 9780791435533, 224 pages, November 1997

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Table of contents




The Shape of Things to Come



1. The Philosophical Anthropology of Forecasting


The Indispensability of Forecasters
Attitudes toward Foreknowledge: Predictability Believers and Skeptics


2. Historical Stagesetting


From Antiquity to the Middle Ages
The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
The Nineteenth Century
The Rise (and Fall?) of Futurology in the Post-World War II Era



3. Conceptual Preliminaries


Predictive Questions and Answers
Predictions versus Forecasts
Prediction and Probability
Pseudoprediction and Spurious Futurity
Prediction and Mathematics
Metapredictions, Reflexivity, and Feedback Phenomena


4. Basic Epistemic Issues


Rational Anticipation: The Need for Predictive Cogency
The Information Sensitivity of Prediction
The Essentiality of Detail and the Security Definiteness Tradeoff
The Prospect of Rational Prediction and the Justification of Induction
The Risk of Error


5. Some Ontological Issues


Futuristic Ontology: The Truth Status of Claims about the Future
Predictability versus Predetermination: The LaPlacean Vision
Statistical Predictability
Predictive Reach: Forecasting Horizons and Short-Range versus Long-Range Forecasting
Volatility and the Prospects of Prediction: The Circumstantiality or Prediction



6. Predictive Methods


Predictive Methodologies
Unformalized (Judgmental) Predictions
Amalgamating Expert Predictions: Aggregation Process (Averaging)
Amalgamating Expert Predictions: Delphi Methodology and Concensus
Systematized Expertise ("Expert Systems" or "Bootstrapping")
Some Formal Methods of Prediction: Trend Extrapolation, Pattern Fitting
Indicators (Rationalized and Unexplained)
Black-Box Prediction and Its Role
Scientific Prediction: Predictive Validation via Laws and Modeling
Second-Order Processes: Forecast Amalgamation


7. The Evaluation of Prediction and Predictors


Evaluating Predictive Questions
The Resolvability of Predictive Questions
The Relevancy of Predictive Answers
Predictive Detail: Specifics versus Generalities
Credibility / Evidentiation / Probability
The Dialectic of Credibility and Correctness
On Evaluating Predictors: Standards of Predictive Competence


8. Obstacles to Predictive Foreknowledge


The Epistemological and Ontological Limits of Predictability
Uncertainty: Ignorance as a Prime Obstacle to Prediction
Anarchy and Instability
Ontological Impredictability: Chance
More on Chance and Uncertainty: The Case of the Surprise Examination
Chaos (Or Extreme Volatility)
Spontaneity, Choice, and Free Will
Fuzziness: Problems of Quantum Indeterminism
Inferential Incapacity
Factor Exfoliation and Impredictability Diffusion
Misprediction: Prediction Spoilers



9. Prediction in the Sciences


Prediction and the Aims of Science
The Supposed Symmetry of Prediction and Explanation
The Harmony Thesis: The Symbiosis of Explanation and Prediction
Predicitve Slack: The Looseness of Fit between Predictive Performance and the Truth of Theories
Limits to Predictive Capacity


10. Predictions about Natural Science: The Problem of Future Knowledge


The Impermanence of Theory in Natural Science: Why Theories Fail
Difficulites in Predicting Future Science
In Natural Science, the Present Cannot Speak for the Future
Could Natural Science Achieve Predictive Completeness?
The Infeasibility of Identifying Insolubilia
Predictive Implications of the Information / Knowledge Relationship


11. Prediction in Human Affairs


The Fate of Individuals and Groups
Prediction in Economics
Other Social Sciences (Demographics, Sociology, Politics, etc.)
Can History Predict?



12. Fundamental Limits on Predictors


The Impracticability of an All-Purpose Predictive Engine
Problems of Reflexivity and Metaprediction
Predictive Exaggeration and Other Biases


13. Predictive Incapacity and Rational Decision Problems


Rationality and Predictability
Predictive Overdetermination: The Case of the Predictive Poisoner
Another Case of Analysis Underdetermination: The Prisoner's Dilemma


14. The Shape of Things to Come: Facing the Future


Key Aspects of the Future
The Problem of the Future's Tractability
Coping with Impotence
The Portent of the Future: Optimism versus Pessimism
Would We Really Want to Know?




Index of Names

Develops a general theory of prediction that encompasses its fundamental principles, methodology, and practice and gives an overview of its promises and problems.


The future obviously matters to us. It is, after all, where we'll be spending the rest of our lives. We need some degree of foresight if we are to make effective plans for managing our affairs. Much that we would like to know in advance cannot be predicted. But a vast amount of successful prediction is nonetheless possible, especially in the context of applied sciences such as medicine, meteorology, and engineering. This book examines our prospects for finding out about the future in advance. It addresses questions such as why prediction is possible in some areas and not others; what sorts of methods and resources make successful prediction possible; and what obstacles limit the predictive venture.

Nicholas Rescher develops a general theory of prediction that encompasses its fundamental principles, methodology, and practice and gives an overview of its promises and problems. Predicting the Future considers the anthropological and historical background of the predictive enterprise. It also examines the conceptual, epistemic, and ontological principles that set the stage for predictive efforts. In short, Rescher explores the basic features of the predictive situation and considers their broader implications in science, in philosophy, and in the management of our daily affairs.

Nicholas Rescher is University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of more than sixty books, including Dialectics: A Controversy-Oriented Approach to the Theory of Knowledge and Process Metaphysics: An Introduction to Process Philosophy, both published by SUNY Press. For more than three decades he has been editor of American Philosophical Quarterly.


"A bold overview of the nature of forecasting. The topic is significant for a number of fields, from philosophy of science (prediction as confirmation) to game theory, indeed to any area where theoretical or practical prediction is required. "--Robert E. Butts, University of Western Ontario

"Comprehensive, carefully crafted, scholarly when necessary, and very readable. This is an important book [that] bears strikingly on a wide range of topics. "--Robert Almeder, Georgia State University

"By sorting through a number of common-sense assumptions and exploring their limitations and strengths, Rescher gives real merit to an intellectual case for a theory of prediction. " --Joseph C. Pitt, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University