The interpretation of uncertainty in ecological rationality

Synthese 198 (2):1517-1547 (2019)
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Despite the ubiquity of uncertainty, scientific attention has focused primarily on probabilistic approaches, which predominantly rely on the assumption that uncertainty can be measured and expressed numerically. At the same time, the increasing amount of research from a range of areas including psychology, economics, and sociology testify that in the real world, people’s understanding of risky and uncertain situations cannot be satisfactorily explained in probabilistic and decision-theoretical terms. In this article, we offer a theoretical overview of an alternative approach to uncertainty developed in the framework of the ecological rationality research program. We first trace the origins of the ecological approach to uncertainty in Simon’s bounded rationality and Brunswik’s lens model framework and then proceed by outlining a theoretical view of uncertainty that ensues from the ecological rationality approach. We argue that the ecological concept of uncertainty relies on a systemic view of uncertainty that features it as a property of the organism–environment system. We also show how simple heuristics can deal with unmeasurable uncertainty and in what cases ignoring probabilities emerges as a proper response to uncertainty.



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Thinking, Fast and Slow.Daniel Kahneman - 2011 - New York: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The Predictive Mind.Jakob Hohwy - 2013 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press UK.
The Foundations of Statistics.Leonard J. Savage - 1954 - Wiley Publications in Statistics.

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