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Feelings of (Un)Certainty and Margins for Error

Jérôme Dokic


So-called epistemic or noetic feelings are often recruited in one’s reasoning, and we may wonder how this recruitment is realized at the psychological level, and whether it is epistemologically warranted. I tackle these issues by focusing on feelings of subjective certainty and uncertainty in the context of ordinary perceptual categorizations. I first locate epistemic feelings within our cognitive architecture, by reference to the influential two-system framework of reasoning and decision-making as well as recent empirical models of our metacognitive abilities. I then put forward the thesis that in a normal context, feelings of perceptual certainty track the safety of our perceptual beliefs, whereas feelings of perceptual uncertainty track the fact that these beliefs are not safe. In other words, our felt certainty or uncertainty about the category of what we perceive is an indication of the fact that a margin for error has or has not been provided. I conclude by discussing two distinctions relevant to the account presented here, namely the distinction between perceptual and conceptual certainty (or uncertainty), and the distinction between objective and subjective certainty (or uncertainty).

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