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Ignorance and Uncertainty: Emerging Paradigms Written by Michael Smithson

Autor:   •  September 13, 2018  •  Research Paper  •  2,832 Words (12 Pages)  •  175 Views

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Ignorance and Uncertainty: Emerging paradigms written by Michael Smithson layouts an overview of the variety of approaches to the problem of indeterminacies in human thought and behavior. This book examines trends in the psychology of judgment and decision-making under ignorance and uncertainty. This review essay will however focus only on uncertainty. Uncertainty is a topic, which does not fall within one discipline, but sprawls across many different disciplines, professions and problem domains that lead to problems of indeterminacies within social sciences. This review essay will focus on providing and describing what is uncertainty, why we care about uncertainty and what are the relevance, usefulness and implication of uncertainty within the everyday world and for the practice of social science according to Dr. Smithson. I will focus on Charles Taylor and Aaron Cicourel and link their contributions to this book. I will highlight how Charles Taylor and Aaron Cicourel further our understanding of uncertainty and what is the significance of uncertainty within our daily lives and within social sciences according to them?

Every discipline and profession has implicit assumptions and beliefs about the ‘unknown’. Some think there is only one kind of uncertainty; others think there are many kinds (Smithson, 42). These views encompass questions such as whether there are “irreducible uncertainties, when information or knowledge is worth acquiring, and how uncertainty is produced” (Smithson, 43). Smithson uses the term ‘negative knowledge’, which he defines as  “the knowledge of the limits of knowing, mistakes in attempts to know, things that interfere with knowing and what people do not want to know” (Smithson, 48). Fuzziness, ambiguity, and vagueness are created by negative knowledge, which are used to show uncertainty about what is unknown. Smithson uses fuzzy set theory, which handles uncertainty by illustrating how “natural categories and sets are not crisp in the sense that an element either belongs to the set or is excluded from it” (Smithson, 108).  Fuzzy set theory is used to show the possibility for things partially belonging to different sets. For example when an item such as an umbrella is reddish and yellowish it partially belongs to both categories of reddish and yellowish. Smithson uses the term “ambiguous” to illustrate an “unclear double meaning” that a sentence can have (Smithson, 110). For example, look at the cat with one eye is an ambiguous sentence because it can mean two things such as looking at the cat using only one of your eyes or looking at the cat that only has one eye.

Vagueness is used to show how unclear and uncertain a sentence is. For example, the sentence stating the police are monitoring this situation very carefully, and the minster promises that they shall take all appropriate measures to ensure the situation is resolved in a way that is fair to everyone involved. Despite the appearance of having promised to do something specific, the minster has not really promised to do anything at all. What are appropriate measures? They could be anything or nothing. What does fair to all the parties mean? We have no clear idea. Such phrases are inherently vague and can almost mean anything. Smithson explains how people who use them should be challenged to be more precisely in what they mean (Smithson, 112).


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