Types of Uncertainty

Nowadays, we are talking a lot about uncertainty. It could be interesting to draw your attention to this article, that I mentioned in an older post:

Bradley, R., Drechsler, M. Types of Uncertainty. Erkenn 79, 1225–1248 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10670-013-9518-4

Published in Erkenntnis, a journal of Scientific Philosophy, and written by Richard Bradley and Mareile Drechsler this research provides a useful classification of types of uncertainty. In the following, I will mainly quote the article.

“Luce and Raiffa’s (1957) classic distinction between situations of certainty (when the consequences of actions are known), risk (when the probability of each possible consequence of an action is known, but not which will be the actual one) and uncertainty (when these probabilities are unknown).”

Nature of uncertainty

  1. Modal uncertainty is uncertainty about what is possible or about what could be the case.
  2. Empirical uncertainty is uncertainty about what is the case (or has been or would be the case).
  3. Normative uncertainty is uncertainty about what is desirable or what should be the case.”

Object of uncertainty

  1. Factual uncertainty is uncertainty about the actual world; about the way things are—the facts.
  2. Counterfactual uncertainty is uncertainty about non-actual worlds; about the way things could or would be if things were other than the way they are—the counterfacts.

“The distinction between factual and counterfactual uncertainty is orthogonal to that between the various natures of uncertainty, for there can be modal, empirical and normative uncertainty concerning the counterfacts as well as concerning the facts. For instance I can be uncertain whether, if someone were to break into my house, the alarm would sound, whether it could fail to do so and whether it is desirable that it would do so. If in fact no-one will break into the house then my uncertainty about these questions is counterfactual. On the other hand if its true that someone will break in then my uncertainty is factual.”

“An agent can also face state space uncertainty, when she doesn’t know what the possible states of the world are; ethical uncertainty, when she does not know how to value the consequences of her actions; and option uncertainty, when she does not know what the consequences of her action are.”

State space uncertainty is more severe because we cannot establish a probability function for future unknown events. So we cannot capture it with uncertainty indexes by definition, however, other types of uncertainty could be captured by these indexes.

The special issue of Erkenntnis on Radical Uncertainty is available here: https://link.springer.com/journal/10670/volumes-and-issues/79-6

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