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University of Edinburgh Philosopher wins Public Philosophy prize

Martin Smith, Philosophy lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, has won the inaugural Sanders Public Philosophy Prize

Dr Smith's winning entry is entitled “Why Throwing 92 Heads in a Row is Not Surprising”.

The paper references the opening scene of the play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” by British playwright Sir Tom Stoppard, in which the title characters are betting on coin throws and observe a seemingly astonishing run of 92 heads in a row.

Dr Smith argues that one of the characters, Guildenstern, is correct to conclude that there is nothing surprising about this chain of events. If we do feel surprised when confronting 92 coins in a row landing “heads”, then we are simply being irrational. Why? Read Dr Smith's paper and find out!

By drawing on this critically acclaimed play – which, incidentally, also has an Edinburgh connection: it premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1966 – Dr Smith explores key themes in contemporary philosophy such as the relationship between surprise, probability and belief.

The Sanders Public Philosophy Prize is offered by the Marc Sanders Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation in the US which aims to stimulate renewed appreciation for traditional philosophy.

Dr Smith joined the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences at Edinburgh in 2016, having previously worked in the Universities of Glasgow and St Andrews. His research interests include the Philosophy of Knowledge, Logic, and the Philosophy of Law. His most recent book is entitled Between probability and certainty: what justifies belief.