Thomas Bayes

Born: 1702 in London, England
Died: 17 April 1761 in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England

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Thomas Bayes' father was one of the first six Nonconformist ministers to be ordained in England. Thomas was educated privately, something that appears necessary for the son of a Nonconformist minister at that time. Nothing is known of his tutors but Barnard in [4] points out the intriguing possibility that he could have been tutored by de Moivre who was certainly giving private tuition in London at this time.

Thomas Bayes was ordained, a Nonconformist minister like his father, and at first assisted his father in Holborn. In the late 1720s he became minister of the Presbyterian Chapel in Tunbridge Wells, 35 miles southeast of London. On 24 August 1746 William Wiston describes having breakfast with Bayes who he says is:-

... a dissenting Minister at Tunbridge Wells, and a Successor, though not immediate, to Mr Humphrey Ditton, and like him a very good mathematician.
Bayes apparently tried to retire from the ministry in 1749 but remained minister at Tunbridge Wells until 1752 when he retired, but continued to live in Tunbridge Wells.

Bayes set out his theory of probability in Essay towards solving a problem in the doctrine of chances published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London in 1764. The paper was sent to the Royal Society by Richard Price, a friend of Bayes', who wrote:-

I now send you an essay which I have found among the papers of our deceased friend Mr Bayes, and which, in my opinion, has great merit... In an introduction which he has writ to this Essay, he says, that his design at first in thinking on the subject of it was, to find out a method by which we might judge concerning the probability that an event has to happen, in given circumstances, upon supposition that we know nothing concerning it but that, under the same circumstances, it has happened a certain number of times, and failed a certain other number of times.
Bayes's conclusions were accepted by Laplace in a 1781 memoir, rediscovered by Condorcet (as Laplace mentions), and remained unchallenged until Boole questioned them in the Laws of Thought . Since then Bayes' techniques have been subject to controversy.

Bayes also wrote an article An Introduction to the Doctrine of Fluxions, and a Defence of the Mathematicians Against the Objections of the Author of The Analyst (1736) attacking Berkeley for his attack on the logical foundations of the calculus. Bayes writes that Berkeley:-

...represents the disputes and controverversies among mathematicians as disparaging the evidence of their methods: and ... he represents Logics and Metaphysics as proper to open their eyes, and extricate them from their difficulties. ... If the disputes of the professors of any science disparage the science itself, Logics and Metaphysics are much more disparaged than Mathematics, why, therefore, if I am half blind, must I take for my guide one that can't see at all?
Bayes was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1742 despite the fact that at that time he had no published works on mathematics, indeed none were published in his lifetime under his own name, the article on fluxions referred to above was published anonymously. Another mathematical publication on asymptotic series appeared after his death.

References (21 books/articles)

References elsewhere in this archive:

Thomas Bayes was elected to the Royal Society of London in 1742. You can see a history of the Royal Society and a list of the members among the mathematicians in our archive.

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JOC/EFR February 1997