I will limit this question to matters in which there does seem to be a correct answer, and will leave matters that are subjective in its nature such as morality aside. In matters that involve getting to the truth of something, like say figuring out whether Adam murdered Joe last Tuesday, how does one know if his rational analysis is correct?

Many of us seem to knowingly or unknowingly rely on intuition when it comes to figuring something out. If it "clicks" or if it "makes sense", the analysis is taken to be likely correct. However, something "clicking" is by itself a feeling. How could the correctness of analysis depend upon a feeling?

Others likely solve things until there is no doubt on a matter. Or as the courts say, "Beyond any reasonable doubt." But this seems to have two issues. A) Everyone's definition of reasonable doubt seems to be different. B) Given the nature of our mind, and the differences between minds, there is nothing preventing certain human beings to perpetually doubt anything, even if their rational analysis on a subject was "correct". It is arguably possible to doubt anything as Descartes showed except the very notion of experience.

The question then is: how does one know if his rational analysis on a subject is correct?

  • 2
    What would you do if there was no satisfactory answer to your question?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 2:14
  • I believe in faith. I think without faith human beings cannot do great things. Reasoning is always being done under the hood anyways. @ScottRowe
    – user62907
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 2:18
  • 4
    Yes, that is a good statement. So people proceed on faith, but they might head towards failure, or to success. Faith is fuel, it is not a map and compass though.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 2:26
  • 1
    This was known as Hume's fork, any knowledge or information gained from the empirical fork, no matter how seemingly impressive, wonderful, deep and unique, forks out and has no causal determining power upon the other rational fork where ultimately the truth or falsity, correct or wrong, to do or not to do, to be or not to be, being there or here, reside. And your real question seems about how to do constructive self-verification in the rational fork... Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 2:45
  • Everything after "dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum" is suspect. Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 9:12

5 Answers 5


Leaving aside problems in mathematics and logic, in which there are formal systems of proof, you can only be certain about whether you have established something as a matter of fact if you have applied faultless reasoning and taken into account all the necessary circumstances, and if the circumstances are not themselves doubtful or open to interpretation. There are few non-trivial problems in life in which all those conditions are satisfied, so generally you cannot know whether your analysis is correct. Moreover, humans are prone to holding unsubstantiated convictions about matters of fact. A moment's thought should furnish you with examples of cases in which people hold entirely unjustified beliefs, eg flat-earthers. On Physics SE there are regular posts by people who are convinced that Special Relativity is wrong- some of them even publishing papers on the subject- when it is quite clear that they have utterly failed to grasp what SR means. The tendency to hold unjustified beliefs is not restricted to cranks and the uneducated- even those humans who should know better are subject to the same failing. Consider, for example, the degree of conviction with which certain experts rule out rival interpretations of quantum theory or of the nature of consciousness, when there is really no objective justification for holding such resolute views. Indeed, in my humble opinion, the more important skill is not being able to know when your conclusions are correct, but to realise when they should remain doubtful.

The key to making better decisions is to be open minded, to look for possible alternative explanations, to become practised at spotting red-herrings, and so on. But ultimately, many decisions do come down to personal judgement.


The analysis of evidence via logic is the most reliable means we possess by which to arrive at accurate conclusions about reality.

This is why evidence and logic are employed by scientists, engineers, doctors and the courts (by all of us, really, as we go about our lives, even subconsciously, such as when we rely upon a bridge to remain standing as we drive across it. We are using logic to conclude that the bridge will likely not fall, given its history of not falling in the past, and given the history of public bridges typically being reliable and safe).

There may be other means to arrive at correct conclusions, but if such methods are conducted in the absence of evidence and/or logic, any knowledge they lead to will likely be coincidental. Fortuitous.

"A) Everyone's definition of reasonable doubt seems to be different".

This may be true, which is why we typically employ experts, or in the case of most court trials, juries, which rely upon consensus or majority. In any event, a person's definition of reasonable doubt has no bearing upon whether a claim is correct.

B) Given the nature of our mind, and the differences between minds, there is nothing preventing certain human beings to perpetually doubt anything, even if their rational analysis on a subject was "correct". It is arguably possible to doubt anything as Descartes showed except the very notion of experience.

True, but the degree to which a person doubts a claim has no bearing necessarily upon whether a claim is accurate. It is entirely possible - if not common - for a person to doubt a claim whilst simultaneously acknowledging that it is, as far as evidence and logic demonstrate, the most likely of many competing claims to be true.


In fields where the data one is analyzing is numerical, there are well-known mathematical tools based on the rules of statistics and probability which allow you to compare your results with those which would have been produced by random chance alone.

If your own analysis fits the observations better than chance, then you know you are on the right track. If your analysis is no better than coin-tossing, then you aren't.


Two cents.

When a claim or theory can be adequately defended against challenges and alternative explanations then that should be enough. If a theory can do that then it has proved itself against critique, and this is as good as one can get.

There is no theory or criterion in a vacuum. But one can make use of that and turn it into an advantage. In that sense, if a claim can be defended succesfully against all potential challenges, then this means there is no better explanation available than that.

From an epistemological point of view, this is used by some approaches to epistemology and truth.

Another escape from the diallelus is critical philosophy, which denies that beliefs should ever be justified at all. Rather, the job of philosophers is to subject all beliefs (including beliefs about truth criteria) to criticism, attempting to discredit them rather than justifying them. Then, these philosophers say, it is rational to act on those beliefs that have best withstood criticism, whether or not they meet any specific criterion of truth.

In this sense, exposing a claim to more challenges makes us able to see its robustness or shortcomings easier. An important way a claim or theory is exposed to challenge is through being put to practical use, since then a claim is exposed to the plethora of diverse conditions that make up a given reality and its robustness against these becomes evident.

The Marxist criterion of practice

The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.

and the Pragmatic theory of truth

Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.

[..]What, then, is the practical difference of describing a belief as “true” as opposed to any number of other positive attributes such as “creative”, “clever”, or “well-justified”? Peirce’s answer to this question is that true beliefs eventually gain general acceptance by withstanding future inquiry.

are the same, in this respect.

Furthermore, jury systems, collective decision making and the like can be re-cast in that light as well, since these are also ways that a claim is exposed to more diverse challenges.

PS: Reasonable doubt, in this sense, is any (valid and justified) criticism of a claim or theory. If the claim can successfully defend itself against this criticism, it has proved itself beyond reasonable doubt.


The question then is: how does one know if his rational analysis on a subject is correct?

What is your standard for "correct"? Are you talking about absolute certainties or a numerical probability? In truth nothing is certain no matter how rigorous the analysis. The paradigm shift between Newtons view of gravity and Einsteins view of space-time is an excellent example. Neither is "right" one is simply more accurate. The basis for correctness is predictability. How often does your rational analysis predict future outcomes?

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