It is considered rational to think that the sun will rise tomorrow even though we can't for sure know this. We assign this to be a high probability, but in reality, even a high probability would be based on assumptions that can't be proven. Assigning a probability to the sun rising tomorrow seems meaningless or at the very least subjective, since it begs the question of which past instances to look at (do we simply look at all days where the sun rose?) and it further makes the inductive assumption that the past will resemble the future.

There are many things we can't know for sure yet feel certain of. Such as the sun rising tomorrow, expecting to wake up before we sleep, a demon not choking you by the throat in the next minute. However, there are also things that we seem less sure of, such as going on stage and having the audience not boo us, having the girl we want to talk to not reject us, etc etc. In these cases, if we do assume certainty and go into the scenario assuming that we will perform well or that the girl won't reject us, it is considered rational by many.

On the other hand, there are cases we are not sure of, where it is considered irrational to assume certainty in. For example, it would obviously be considered irrational to assume no injuries to occur if we jumped off a third floor balcony.

The question I have is: is it better to have faith in things that we are not certain of? It seems unquestionable that our minds are designed to be uncomfortable with uncertainty. Most people would suffer more if they found out their cancer had a 40% chance of them dying than a 99-100% chance. Certainty eases us even if it's certainty in an unfavorable outcome. Does this mean we should actively seek certainty, or assume it, even in scenarios where we can't truly be certain? Or is it better to embrace the unknown?

  • chaos is everything...
    – user64727
    Feb 25 at 7:47
  • doubt can be a pleasing state to be in, but when it produces certainty is good also. do you believe in epistemic obligations (i forget any other phrase for them) enough to choose?
    – user64727
    Feb 25 at 7:57
  • 1
    @identicon it's a difficult question to ask. For me, from my own personal experience, and many others, I would argue that certainty does feel really good. Can you imagine how life would be like if you were even a bit unsure that the sun won't rise tomorrow and even a bit unsure that you won't be killed tomorrow. At the same time, trying to attain certainty seems to be a hopeless task sometimes as well. It is hard to say. Feb 25 at 8:01
  • 2
    There are all things we can't know "for sure", so such idea of "sure" is completely useless. It is rational to believe in things that keep happening as expected and not to believe in those that don't, the more so the more often they meet expectations. "Is it better" asked in terms of hazy as fog "sure" and "certainty" that lumps everything in a single pile instead removes the very basis upon which it could be answered.
    – Conifold
    Feb 25 at 8:40
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    There's some subtle difference between confusedly confident and confidently confused, which one you prefer? Feb 26 at 0:33

5 Answers 5


I think that as a matter of practicality it is impossible to answer your question in an unqualified way, since the answer depends on too many other factors. For example, one form of feeling certain about something that is quite doubtful is paranoia, and you would not advocate that as a desired state to be attained, I assume.

Certainty and uncertainty are in fact a fuzzy multi-dimensional spectrum. Consciously determining where to plant oneself in than n-dimensional space in connection with a given topic is a hopeless challenge. The human mind has evolved to make a reasonable job of that automatically, so in most cases you can rely on your mental autopilot. Clearly there are exceptions- I, for example, have an irrational fear of heights.

One piece of advice I can give with a high degree of confidence, is that you should not worry about trying to justify your decisions and beliefs with a degree of precision that is impossible to attain.

  • Are you sure your fear of heights is irrational? It may be quite rational.
    – Gordon
    Feb 26 at 3:55
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    @Gordon thanks! You could be right- all I can say is that it seems irrational to me! Feb 26 at 7:22
  • I’m scared of heights too!
    – Gordon
    Feb 26 at 13:56

The scenarios you present don't all have the same certainty/uncertainty flavor. The sun rising example has a high degree of practical certainty. Of course, there is no logical guarantee, but we have a very convincing story that supports believing in the fact that it will also rise tomorrow. For the stage or girl example, the outcome is not so predictable.

So like Marco, I would say that you are not going to have a single answer, like "always have faith in things that you are not certain of", or "always embrace the unknown". It think it comes down to practicality and your own risk tolerance level. By "practicality", I mean that if you assumed the sun may not rise tomorrow, or will not rise tomorrow, what would you do with that? For the stage or girl scenarios though, you can always take a different action, based on your own subjective evaluation of the situation.


The question I have is: is it better to have faith in things that we are not certain of?

Well, we have been in the “age of epistemology” for a long enough time now to see the failures of this age.

I have been thinking of the title of this book for a while now. I have seen it on the library shelf for a long time, but I have only browsed through the book. Santayana, Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923). This was intended only as an introduction to Santayana’s philosophy, but I would stay just on this book for a while, and consider perhaps the positive ramifications of such a viewpoint. Animal faith.

Are we teaching young people to be too doubtful?? Even driving some to suicide?

Are we doubting our own “animal responses” such as fear? Santayana speaks of animal faith, I would add animal fear. Perhaps fear of certain medical interventions and mandates (I worry what the future will bring)? I am fearful of narrow technocrats.

Discussion of such matters would not necessarily entail that man is “just” an animal.

One point I am making is that we do not have to be scientists 24/7. Anyway, these are just preliminary thoughts I am sharing in response to this question.

PS: note very importantly, Santayana is speaking of Animal faith as an immediate response. NOT as an historical analysis or an analysis of tradition. I would do the same for animal fear. Santayana is also NOT an instrumentalist. Ie not a Dewey type of pragmatist And a and non-instrumentalist would probably also reject JS Mill. Link: Pierce Society note on Santayana: https://santayana.iupui.edu/about-santayana/santayanas-philosophy/

  • 1
    Possibly related book: "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker
    – Scott Rowe
    Feb 26 at 15:03
  • @ScottRowe Thanks for reminding me. I think I have read that book.
    – Gordon
    Feb 26 at 19:19

Among the unknown we embrace, there will be bad things as well as good things. We can say that the possibility for these two is equal.

The truth may be something bad/sorrowful. But the Ultimate truth is beyond badness/sorrows. This truth has been reiterated in different words by many great men.

So we must be optimistic-but-careful while we embrace the unknown. If we don't have optimism, whatever we have in our life, life will be miserable. This may be irrational. The answer to this doubt is that the Ultimate truth is beyond 'the rational' and 'the irrational'.


Is it better to feel or be certain even in things we can't really know?

If you are able to control your feelings, I opt for you being happy regardless or your ignorance.

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