Fundamental Uncertainty and Values


This paper explores the intertwining of uncertainty and values. We consider an important but underexplored field of fundamental uncertainty and values in decision-making. Some proposed methodologies to deal with fundamental uncertainty have included potential surprise theory, scenario planning and hypothetical retrospection. We focus on the principle of uncertainty transduction in hypothetical retrospection as an illustrative case of how values interact with fundamental uncertainty. We show that while uncertainty transduction appears intuitive in decision contexts it nevertheless fails in important ranges of strategic game-theoretic cases. The methodological reasons behind the failure are then examined.

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  1. 1.

    For various forms of abduction involved in scientific reasoning as a form of reasoning about future events under fundamental uncertainty, see e.g. Magnani (2004), Pietarinen (2015), Pietarinen and Bellucci (2015).

  2. 2.

    “By ‘uncertain’ knowledge, let me explain, I do not mean merely to distinguish what is known for certain from what is only probable. The game of roulette is not subject, in this sense, to uncertainty […]. The sense in which I am using the term is that in which the prospect of a European war is uncertain, or the price of copper and the rate of interest twenty years hence […]. About these matters there is no scientific basis on which to form any calculable probability whatever. We simply do not know” (Keynes 1973: 113–114).

  3. 3.

    Another framework that provides a formal treatment of epistemic possibilities from the quantitative perspective is possibility theory (Dubois and Prade 2011). As to the logical development of plausibility measures, see (Halpern 2001).

  4. 4.

    Shackle (1983: 33) explicitly states that “probability is distributed over hypotheses. By contrast, possibility is non-exclusive, is not distributive, is not limited in the number of rival, mutually exclusive ideas, answers, imagined sequels to which, in highest degree, or any stated degree, it can be accorded”. Ben-Haim (2006) is a continuation of some of these themes under the “info-gap” decision theory.

  5. 5.

    There are related fields of research inspired by Keynes’ ideas, such as comparative and interval approaches to probability, which for various reasons may be preferred to standard theories of probability measures (Keynes 1948). In these approaches, even if assigning a probabilistic value to an event would fail we might be able to tell that the event is more probable than another. Despite many advantages of these approaches they behave badly when measured according to Bayesian update protocols (Fano 2011). This discrepancy can also be read as a challenge to those protocols rather than a defect of probability theories that aim at imprecision and less axiomatic and less measure-theoretic approaches than the Bayesian ones do. Game-theoretic probability theory (Shafer and Vovk 2001) is another, radical departure from Bayesianism, which takes probabilities immanent to the system of games, and thus succeeds taking into account the strategic nature of probabilities where the inquirer bets on Nature’s outcomes.

  6. 6.

    Integration of the methodology of scenario planning and Shackle’s potential surprise theory is proposed in (Derbyshire 2016).

  7. 7.

    An analysis of a similar situation is provided in Artemov (2009).

  8. 8.

    One of the problems associated with the principle of indifference is Bertrand’s Paradox. For illustrations of this paradox, see (van Fraassen 1989).


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Research supported by the Estonian Research Council (PUT1305, “Abduction in the Age of Fundamental Uncertainty”, PI A.-V. Pietarinen). We thank the reviewers for their insightful remarks.

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Correspondence to Daniele Chiffi.

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Estonian Research Council, Research Grant, Abduction in the age of fundamental uncertainty (PUT 1305).

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Chiffi, D., Pietarinen, AV. Fundamental Uncertainty and Values. Philosophia 45, 1027–1037 (2017).

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  • Fundamental uncertainty
  • Values
  • Hypothetical retrospection
  • Uncertainty transduction
  • Game theory