What Is Uncertainty?

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.

- Voltaire, Letter to Frederick the Great (Apr. 6, 1767)

Podcast of the Day

This episode introduces "moral uncertainty," the idea that you shouldn't be overly confident in your moral judgments -- like whether it's okay to eat meat, for example, or whether it's okay to abort a baby. The episode's guest is Will MacAskill, a founder of the effective altruism movement and Oxford professor of philosophy. Julia and Will discuss how to take multiple moral systems into account when making a decision, and how to deal with "absolutist" theories that insist some actions have infinite badness, like lying.

Listen to the Rationally Speaking episode on Moral Uncertainty

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Experiments dating back to the 1960s show people have less of a reaction to viewing an unpleasant image or experiencing an electric shock when they know it’s coming than when they’re not expecting it. That’s because uncertainty, a long-known cause of anxiety, makes it difficult to prepare for events or to control them.

People vary in their desire to minimise uncertainty. Those who react by worrying focus on potential threats and risks such as “what if I don’t get the promotion?” or “what if I get sick?”. Worry can be useful when it leads to adaptive behaviours that reduce threat, but chronic worry may cause harmful levels of stress that can affect heart health and the functioning of the immune system, among other things.

Our bodies may display subtle reactions to uncertainty, which we may not notice...

Continue reading Danielle Einstein's article: Life is full of uncertainty, we've just got to learn to live with it

Further Reading

There are various kinds of certainty. A belief is psychologically certain when the subject who has it is supremely convinced of its truth. Certainty in this sense is similar to incorrigibility, which is the property a belief has of being such that the subject is incapable of giving it up. But psychological certainty is not the same thing as incorrigibility. A belief can be certain in this sense without being incorrigible; this may happen, for example, when the subject receives a very compelling bit of counterevidence to the (previously) certain belief and gives it up for that reason. Moreover, a belief can be incorrigible without being psychologically certain. For example, a mother may be incapable of giving up the belief that her son did not commit a gruesome murder, and yet, compatible with that inextinguishable belief, she may be tortured by doubt...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Certainty by Baron Reed

Bonus Webcomic

Certainty - xkcd

Related Topics

 Ignorance | Skepticism | The Value of Knowledge | Wisdom

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