## What is uncertainty?

• 7.5k
I guess we'd have to look at our instruments. A measuring scale with an error margin of +/-1% would mean we're 99% sure. Right?

If we're dealing with statistics and have a confidence interval of 95% and a margin of error of +/-3% with a projected figure of 50% then we are 95% sure that the actual figure will be between 47% and 53%.
• 4.1k
I think there is a distinction to be made between certitude, which is an attitude, and certainty, which is an undoubted fact.
(My italics)

But to not doubt some given fact is to adopt a specific attitude towards it - that is, to be certain of it.

• 5k
An attitude is a property of an individual person. I have an attitude toward a given proposition, and you may have a different attitude toward that proposition, being born and raised under different conditions. "Undoubted" implies that everyone has the same attitude toward that "fact".

So the distinction I refer to is the difference between something which I, you, someone else, or even a group of people, have an attitude of certitude toward, and something which everyone has an attitude of certitude toward.
• 4.1k
Both are attitudes. So now we are in agreement.
• 4.1k
Jill was certain. turns out she was wrong. It turned out that what she thought was the case, wasn't.

SO we can be certain of things other than facts.
• 5k
Both are attitudes. So now we are in agreement.

No, one is an attitude while the other is a generalization concerning many attitudes, stating that everyone has the same attitude. Do you not recognize the difference between an attitude and a statement saying that two people have the same attitude?

I have an attitude, and you have an attitude. The statement that we both have the same attitude is not itself an expression of an attitude.
• 2k
I have an attitude, and you have an attitude. The statement that we both have the same attitude is not itself an expression of an attitude

(1) The Earth is flat.
(2) I'm certain the Earth is flat.
(3) He's certain the Earth is flat.
(4) You, he, and I are certain the Earth is flat.
(5) Everyone is certain the Earth is flat.

Only (2) is an expression of an attitude, yes? Unless you want to argue that (1) is (2) in disguise...

(1) is a statement about the Earth; (2) - (5) are statements about people, attributing attitudes to them. (2) might be a special case - if candid it counts as a report.

Now what's the point you're making?
• 4.1k
Yeah. I'm lost, too.

"I am certain" is a statement of an attitude; but "We are certain" isn't. Nor is "He is certain".
• 5k
Now what's the point you're making?

Banno said:

The first thing to note is that certainty is an attitude.

I said:

I think there is a distinction to be made between certitude, which is an attitude, and certainty, which is an undoubted fact.

As you pointed out, only 2), "I am certain the earth is flat", is an expression of an attitude. Therefore "everyone is certain the earth is flat" is not an expression of an attitude. And it follows that "it is an undoubted fact the earth is flat" is not an expression of an attitude because "undoubted fact" means doubted by no one. Furthermore, it follows that "certainty", which means "an undoubted fact", is not an expression of an attitude either.

That is the argument I use to support my claim that there is a distinction between certitude (an attitude) and certainty (an undoubted fact).
• 2.4k

You suggest that certainty is an undoubted fact, but what does that entail, what is an example of undoubted fact. I doubt any undoubted facts, I think all facts are contingent, that all facts could have been otherwise. If so, does this reduce all certainty to certitude and does this mean that un-certitude is also an attitude.

Suppose that the absolute contingency of everything is the only certainty possible, then what could be meant by saying that this is a fact except that absolute certainty can't be known.
• 5k
You suggest that certainty is an undoubted fact, but what does that entail, what is an example of undoubted fact. I doubt any undoubted facts, I think all facts are contingent, that all facts could have been otherwise. If so, does this reduce all certainty to certitude and does this mean that un-certitude is also an attitude.

I agree with you that if certainty means "undoubted fact", and "undoubted" means doubted by no one, then there may very well be no such thing as a certainty. The point I was making to Banno is that we most commonly use "certainty" in this way, so it is incorrect to say that certainty is an attitude because we often use "certainty" in this way, which refers to something other than an attitude.

If one desires to argue that there is no such thing as certainty, in the sense of an undoubted fact, and so we ought to use "certainty" to refer only to an attitude, then that argument needs to be made. Until then, and probably even if that argument is produced, I think people will continue to use "certainty" to refer to an undoubted fact, and Banno's claim that certainty is an attitude is just a ruse.

I think all facts are contingent, that all facts could have been otherwise. If so, does this reduce all certainty to certitude and does this mean that un-certitude is also an attitude.

Perhaps I am not interpreting correctly what you mean by "contingent", but if a contingent thing is something which could have been otherwise, this does not mean that it is not as it is. So if a contingent fact comes into being, through some human choice, or the necessary efficient cause required to bring it into being, this fact still cannot be otherwise, despite the fact that things could have been otherwise.

In any case, I don't see how this is relevant to the distinction between the attitude of certitude about how things are, and certainty, as the undoubted fact of how things are.

By "contingent" are you trying to say that there is no such things as how things are? I don't think that word serves this purpose.
• 2.4k
The universe will chug along? What does that mean?

That the universe is a choo choo train. Thought everyone was undoubtedly certain of this?
• 2k

As a matter of English usage, you might be right, but even if you are, it's only for the nouns: the adjective that goes with both "certainty" and "certitude" is "certain".

I still don't see a philosophical point.
• 2.4k

By "contingent" are you trying to say that there is no such things as how things are? I don't think that word serves this purpose.

No, but then again I don't think "how things are" can be known, only how things are for us can be known, which is where propositional attitude comes into play. What can or can't be subsumed as attitudinal in a proposition.

So then:
a) is that (the referenced) which can't be doubted attitudinal or
b) is that which can't be doubted outside of anyone's attitude towards it?

I tend to think it is b) and, if the only thing that can't be doubted is that every thing is absolutely contingent, then contingency itself is non-attitudinal...I guess my thought is that if anything is absolute, it is absolute de re.
• 5k
As a matter of English usage, you might be right, but even if you are, it's only for the nouns: the adjective that goes with both "certainty" and "certitude" is "certain".

I still don't see a philosophical point.

Sure the adjective "certain" is the same. But it means a completely different thing to say "it is certain" than to say "I am certain". Call it "objective" and "subjective" if you want, it's just the reality of the usage, these phrases mean completely different things. So it is a mistake to reduce "it is certain" to a variation of "I am certain", because when someone says "it is certain", they clearly mean something completely distinct from "I am certain".

No, but then again I don't think "how things are" can be known, only how things are for us can be known, which is where propositional attitude comes into play. What can or can't be subsumed as attitudinal in a proposition.

I don't see what you mean by "propositional attitude". An attitude is the property of an individual. My attitude is different from your attitude. On this premise, I assume that my attitude toward any given proposition is different from your attitude toward that proposition. If "how things are" is a matter of propositional attitude, how do you jump to the conclusion that there is such a thing as "how things are for us"?

I tend to think it is b) and, if the only thing that can't be doubted is that every thing is absolutely contingent, then contingency itself is non-attitudinal...I guess my thought is that if anything is absolute, it is absolute de re.

I agree with you here, because this is the point I am arguing. What we refer to as a certainty, something which cannot be doubted, is something non-attitudinal. Whether there is anything which fulfills this condition is another question. However, if there is nothing, then what justifies the attitude of certitude? And if this attitude cannot be justified, then the attitude of uncertainty is the justified attitude.
• 2k
But it means a completely different thing to say "it is certain" than to say "I am certain". Call it "objective" and "subjective" if you want, it's just the reality of the usage, these phrases mean completely different things.

You've shown there's a grammatical difference, in the same way there's a grammatical difference between

• Socrates is wise
• Wisdom is instantiated by Socrates

Nowhere did you show there's a difference in meaning.
• 4.1k
A meta muddle.

Certainties are not undoubted facts.

First off, Not all certainties are facts. One can be certain of things that are not true.
• 4.1k
So are certainties undoubted propositions?

But what is involved in doubting some proposition, if not for adopting a specific attitude towards it?
• 5k
You've shown there's a grammatical difference, in the same way there's a grammatical difference between

Socrates is wise
Wisdom is instantiated by Socrates

Nowhere did you show there's a difference in meaning.

What? You think that when I say "I", there is no difference in meaning from when I say "it"? These two indicate the same subject to you, such that there is no difference of meaning between "I am certain" and "it is certain"?

If that's your argument then I see no point in discussing this with you.
• 5k
Certainties are not undoubted facts.

I just took the definition from the OED. You can take that up with them, if you don't think they're making an adequate representation of usage. In my part of the world, that's exactly how "certainty" is most commonly used. Perhaps the usage is different over in your neck of the woods?
• 2k

The difference in meaning between "I" and "it" was not at issue; the question was whether "certain" means something different in "I am certain" than it does in "We're every last one of us certain".

I noted the pragmatics issue, that "I am certain" might count as a report. I don't think we'd want to say that by being used in such a report "certain" gets a different meaning. What should we say about the difference between a report and, I guess, "an observation"?
• 4.1k
I just took the definition from the OED.

An appeal to authority. Hm.

I have only a Shorter OED, but it lists five definitions. The one you appear to leap to is the third: "Not to be doubted; established as a truth or fact".

To others your re-wording might appear self-serving. Of course, I would never suggest such a thing.
• 5k
The difference in meaning between "I" and "it" was not at issue; the question was whether "certain" means something different in "I am certain" than it does in "We're every last one of us certain".

We're not talking about the meaning of "certain". We are talking about the meaning of "certainty". "Certainty" means "it is certain" rather than "I am certain". The distinction between these two is a distinction of meaning, as "I" means something other than "it".

I noted the pragmatics issue, that "I am certain" might count as a report. I don't think we'd want to say that by being used in such a report "certain" gets a different meaning. What should we say about the difference between a report and, I guess, "an observation"?

I don't see how that's relevant. The issue is whether certainty is an attitude. The meaning of "certain" in "I am certain" is irrelevant, if the meaning of "certainty" is other than some form of "I am certain". Which it is.

As I said, it's the most common use around here. My OED has it as 1 a) "an undoubted fact", where b) is "a certain prospect (his return is a certainty)".

"Certain", on the other hand is defined as 1 a) "confident, convinced (certain that I put it here)", and b) "undisputable, known for sure (it is certain that he is guilty).

Why do you insist on denying this difference in usage, the split in usage expressed by the difference between 1 a) and 1 b) of "certain". Surely you are familiar with this distinction between "I am certain that..." and "it is certain that ...". Why not just go with where the evidence naturally leads us, rather than trying to pigeonhole things to fit some preconceived idea, which appears to be incorrect?
• 5k

What's the point in doing philosophy in that way; where instead of changing your theory to fit the evidence, you deny the evidence which is inconsistent with your theory? It is only yourself that you are deceiving.
• 2.4k
I don't see what you mean by "propositional attitude". An attitude is the property of an individual. My attitude is different from your attitude. On this premise, I assume that my attitude toward any given proposition is different from your attitude toward that proposition. If "how things are" is a matter of propositional attitude, how do you jump to the conclusion that there is such a thing as "how things are for us"?

Propositional attitudes are reports using attitudinal verbs like believe, hope, is certain, in 'that' sentences. I tell you that I am certain or uncertain can you deny my report? Sure you can deny the "that" part of it but not the attitudinal part, no? How things are as they are, can't be known, Kant showed this, so then reports of this type have to be how they are for the reporter.

I agree with you here, because this is the point I am arguing. What we refer to as a certainty, something which cannot be doubted, is something non-attitudinal. Whether there is anything which fulfills this condition is another question. However, if there is nothing, then what justifies the attitude of certitude? And if this attitude cannot be justified, then the attitude of uncertainty is the justified attitude.

Yes, that's my point, the only certainty we can have is that we cannot be absolutely certain.
• 4.1k
Trump has much to answer for.
• 2k
One thing we haven't talked about is how we intend what we say to influence the attitudes of others.

Suppose I am, as always on this forum, looking for my keys. You tell me they're in the kitchen. I look around a little and, not seeing them, ask you if you're sure. You might say, "I'm absolutely certain I saw them in the kitchen." By saying that, you express your certainty, as we've put it, but you also encourage me to have the same attitude toward the proposition that you saw my keys in the kitchen.

There may be some subtle differences here. It's most natural to answer "Are you sure?" with a report of your own degree of confidence (or certainty or certitude). If the question is "They're in the kitchen?" maybe you answer "They certainly are." (I'm having trouble coming up with natural occasions where I'd reach for "It is certain that ..." or "It is a certainty that ...") It's not clear yet that the intended force of such statements is different rather than just grammatically more natural or convenient.

But I can think of one difference, and I'm not sure how much of a difference it is. There are at least two different sorts of claims of confidence available: (1) the simple and exclusive report of your own level of confidence, in some cases explicitly recognizing that others do not share it, even if they have the same access to evidence that you do; (2) a claim that anyone (by which is meant any member of your epistemic community) who had the same access to evidence that you do would have the same degree of confidence.

It's my suspicion that (2) is actually the standard case, and that even when people say things that sound like (1), there's an implication that they have special knowledge, access to evidence others don't. If we're arguing about whether someone will be on time, I might express, somehow, confidence that he will, with the implication that I know him, I know his habits, his record of punctuality, that I know him better than you do, and, again by implication, if you knew everything I know, you'd be similarly confident he'll be on time.

So one the one hand, an expression of confidence might mean, you can take it from me, I'm in a position to know so trust me, you can rely on my being right about this. But it might also mean that if you were in my position, you'd feel the same. But there's one other complication: I ask that you recognize my process as reliable, and suggest that what I'm confident about, I should be confident about. The suggestion regarding you is similarly that, if you were in my position, if anyone were, the right attitude to hold would be the one I hold.
• 2k
For "balance", an example of what looks like a genuine (1)-style report: those people on "Deal or No Deal" who just know the million dollars is in the case they chose, maybe fans (or gamblers) who just know their team is going to win. I think these folks belong to a different epistemic community than I do, one where the idea of special knowledge only available to the faithful makes sense. Like the story of Linus and the Great Pumpkin.
• 5k
Propositional attitudes are reports using attitudinal verbs like believe, hope, is certain, in 'that' sentences. I tell you that I am certain or uncertain can you deny my report? Sure you can deny the "that" part of it but not the attitudinal part, no? How things are as they are, can't be known, Kant showed this, so then reports of this type have to be how they are for the reporter.

My point is that in the phrase "it is certain", "is certain" is not attitudinal. Is this not obvious to you?

You appear to have proceeded with faulty logic. You say, Kant has convinced me that how things are cannot be known. Therefore when people talk in a way in which they claim that how things are is known, they cannot actually mean that how things are is known. So, you conclude that what they really mean when they sat that how things are is known, is that how things are to them is known. In reality though, they really mean that how things are is known.

Do you see the problem? People are claiming that how things are is known. You say that it is impossible that how things are is known. So you conclude that they are not really claiming that how things are is known. But just because it is impossible that how things are can be known, this does not mean that it is impossible for people to claim that how things are is known. And despite your false conclusion, people go on claiming that how things are is known, though this itself might be a falsity.
• 2.4k

My point is that in the phrase "it is certain", "is certain" is not attitudinal. Is this not obvious to you?

No.

In the expression "It is certain", what does 'certain' add to the statement if not some attitudinal report, otherwise what's the utility of word 'certain', you could just say 'It is'.

You appear to have proceeded with faulty logic. You say, Kant has convinced me that how things are cannot be known. Therefore when people talk in a way in which they claim that how things are is known, they cannot actually mean that how things are is known. So, you conclude that what they really mean when they sat that how things are is known, is that how things are to them is known. In reality though, they really mean that how things are is known.

Do you see the problem? People are claiming that how things are is known. You say that it is impossible that how things are is known. So you conclude that they are not really claiming that how things are is known. But just because it is impossible that how things are can be known, this does not mean that it is impossible for people to claim that how things are is known. And despite your false conclusion, people go on claiming that how things are is known, though this itself might be a falsity.

I think your position is untenable. We are talking about certainty and uncertainty. How things are in themself can't be known, no objective viewpoint is possible. People generally talk about reality as they experience it, how it is for them, " sunrise is at 7 am tomorrow', they may be aware that the earth rotates so really the sun does not rise, but they typically don't talk that way because it is not the way they experience it. All experience is reported from someones point of view, we do not experience of anything as it is in itself, because such a view point does not exist.
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