Doubt and Uncertainty

Doubt and Uncertainty

I might say in a bit of philosophizing that I can, for example, doubt whether other people are conscious like I am, but I can't really manage to be in a state of doubt about this. I can be uncertain in that I would, if pressed, say things like "well, of course I don't really know", but as for wondering about it--I wouldn't know where to begin.

So then we can make a distinction between uncertainty and doubt. In the one, I lack sufficient grounding to consider my knowledge demonstrative. In the other, I have been given some ground to suspect my knowledge--I see another option, or a flaw in my reason for believing. Descartes tries to bring everything into this sort of doubt by thinking that it might be a dream, but he fails. It is as though there were some things I am simply not capable of being in doubt about.

At any rate, this distinction is worth keeping in mind for at least one good reason: doubt is the environment in which a question can be really alive--a question asked about a mere uncertainty is never quite sure of its meaning. Most philosophical questions have been passed on academically for so long that the doubt in which they came to be is no longer found in those who ask them. If philosophy is ever to find its meaning again, philosophical people will have to let these questions grow up within themselves in an environment of real doubt.


Doubt and Uncertainty

Summary: In a moment of philosophical exuberance, we draw a possibly useful distinction between uncertainty and doubt.

Keywords: doubt, uncertainty, philosophy, Descartes, Wittgenstein

Created: 29 July 1999

Modified: 29 June 2000