I am curious whether there are well-established works of philosophical/scientific knowledge relating to ways to deal with an uncertain situation to produce desired outcome(s).

I am asking this because I think we, humans are often indulging in a simplified "fantasized" world where we can control all the variables there are. None of us can dispute that one of the goal of humanity is trying to manage the Earth to make it a desirable place to live in (both present and future), as such we have to deal with gigantic uncertainty in reality.

However, I envision that through increasing availability of data and years of collective experience in modelling complex systems, we would have at least learnt something fundamental, "strategically and probabilistically-speaking", some rules of thumbs/principles when we try to control a complex system to behave in a certain way (that could branch into different school of thoughts because we will never know for sure). Do we have something like this? Example of philosophical question to address: 1. Under how much uncertainty should we opt for a precautionary principle?

  • 2
    What you are looking for sounds like the scientific method. Mar 1, 2020 at 22:32
  • Thanks but I dont think so, you can't do replicated experiment as the scale of the issue we are dealing with goes up and up.
    – y chung
    Mar 1, 2020 at 22:37
  • @John Forkosh Thanks. That definitely looks like something relevant and a good starting point for me.
    – y chung
    Mar 2, 2020 at 3:48
  • 5
    It is called decision theory (a.k.a. theory of choice), and it is a vast subject. But, although it is interdisciplinary, it split off from philosophy into a separate field at this point.
    – Conifold
    Mar 2, 2020 at 9:12
  • 1
    Engineering. Making decisions with imperfect knowledge is basically item 3 of the job description.
    – puppetsock
    Mar 3, 2020 at 15:22

2 Answers 2


There is a field that adresses your concern, and it's called Management. Scientific management to be more precise. It involves collecting data to make statistics and then make rational decisions. It also involves modelling and testing prototypes in order to get the closest approximation we can get to the real world/full scale situation.

Under how much uncertainty should we opt for a precautionary principle?

This is risk management. We opt for a precautionary measure when the cost of that measure is lower than the probability of the risk times its cost.


I would point at two aspects of physics.

The Shannon entropy or signal-to-noise ratio of a communication channel, turned out to be directly equivalent to thermodynamic entropy. It represents our lack of knowledge about a system. We can do precise calculations about changes in this, without any deep grasp of total information in a system. Estimating errors, and propagation of compound errors through calculations, is an unsung foundation of physics, and key to every experimental advance, perhaps illustrated most clearly by being able to take gravity wave measurements (thought likely impossible by Einstein).

Non-linear dynamics includes 'chaos theory'. It typically focuses on where systems transition between linear predictable behaviour, and turbulent unpredictable behaviour. Stochastic systems within it, are those which respond not just to the total operations but the order they are done in, eg stock markets, living systems.

For quite a short question, you managed to be pretty vague.

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