Say there are two, mutually exclusive hypotheses A and B. Both are unfalsifiable with current knowledge and technology, but lead to starkly different ontologies. Now say I find the logical consequences A subjectively better than those of B and, fully acknowledging the unfalsifiability of either, I choose to believe that A is true, for all practical purposes.

Is there a name for this attitude, or for someone who does this?

An example: There is no reason to definitely exclude that the whole world as I experience it, including my body, is the inside of a simulation. Conversely, it is impossible to prove that there is a "real" world of some sort, where other bodies and minds live. However, the latter ontology is, in my opinion, far more hopeful and pleasant and full of meaning, so I reject brain in a vat. I am happier. I am open to be disproven, but for the present time, and for all practical purposes, I firmly believe in a "real world" with other minds.

  • Part of the answer may include your opinion as to whether scientific experiments, done with the statistical approaches we use today, qualify as falsifiable. I've found there's two meanings of the word, one absolute and based in logic (the "All swans are white" argument), and one based on statistics where you never achieve that sort of certainty.
    – Cort Ammon
    May 16 '17 at 16:00
  • Wishful thinking is "the formation of beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence". What you describe may be "falsifiable" in a diffused sense. If your being happier, etc., on balance leads to more productive activities then their success will be pragmatic "evidence" for your choice. But conversely, one may in fact be better motivated by despair, in which case the choice can be "falsified". Just stopping at subjective preference is wishful thinking.
    – Conifold
    May 16 '17 at 20:25
  • Is this english SE or philosophy?
    – Kenshin
    May 17 '17 at 11:08

One possible but unsatisfactory answer would be faith.

As I understand it, if I have faith, it means I believe something without needing full evidence.

I am not satisfied by this because it does not include this idea of choosing to believe in the face of missing evidence. Also, not everyone has faith because they prefer the implied ontology: often faith is dependent on cultural and social factors.

  • Every worldview is based on fundamental premises that are unverifiable, so everyone has faith in certain rudimentary principles whether they want to use that particular word or not. I also think it's doubtful that people can simply choose to believe something. The most they can do is try to use reason to based it on beliefs that they already have.
    – user3017
    May 16 '17 at 10:16
  • Thank you @PédeLeão, that is insightful. I agree that often one first believes and then reasons, and I do it too. However, wouldn't you agree that one can choose to believe, when faced with uncertainty? Or perhaps should we say: allow oneself to believe? When first facing a brain in a vat kind of hypothesis, I was distraught since I thought I would never be able to prove the existence of the real world. This lasted years. I finally realised that I could believe in the real world even though I could never prove it existed. It felt deliberate, and I still reevaluate that belief regularly.
    – Andrea
    May 16 '17 at 10:35
  • I remain with the same opinion. Through reason, we can reposition ourselves with respect to our belief, sometimes despising it, sometimes demanding more, and sometimes simply resting in it. The reason I believe this is so is that to deny it implies a personal dichotomy in which one believing ego is trying to influence an unbelieving ego. Such a position leads to logical problems, such as: Where does the belief come from that the believing ego has and why isn't it shared by the unbelieving ego? Is there another ego that influenced the believing ego to believe more than the unbelieving ego?
    – user3017
    May 16 '17 at 12:00
  • @PédeLeão So you believe that because you don't like the consequences (i.e. the dichotomy) :) I appreciate what you are saying. But to clarify, where do beliefs come from, if not from a balancing of evidence and preference?
    – Andrea
    May 16 '17 at 14:51
  • 1
    Something else you might be interested in is the opposite of what you are asking about: skepticism. In particular, I find the Aggripan Trilemma to be very interesting. It suggests that much of your certainty may not be as solid as you thought, and yet every one of us continues to function and thrive, so perhaps certainty isn't all it cracks up to be.
    – Cort Ammon
    May 16 '17 at 19:47

Your attitude is pragmatism. See William James's Pragmatism, lects. 2 and 6; and The Will to Believe.


Pushing to the Brain In a Vat case about the external world is at the level of philosophy.

Statisticians will try to measure the degree of uncertainty or faith: e.g., goodness of fit, Glymour's bootstrapping.

  • I've never herd of these things before, I'll look them up!
    – Andrea
    May 16 '17 at 14:52
  • Professor Clark Glymour is a philosopher, but a wannabe-statistician. May 16 '17 at 15:02

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