Don't give me any more facts! Justify this Decision
'Don't give me any more facts! I need to make a decision right now!' Although one can question knowledge endlessly, one cannot forever suspend judgement while researching and reflecting. What would it mean to act responsibly in a situation where one cannot possess certainty? How would one justify the decision?
The question of decisions which must be made without the support of a full array of facts is an interesting one. Such a decision requires an adherence to a moral code, but also an understanding of probability. Also, the consequences of any action taken must be fully understood before one can make the judgement whether or not it is better to go through with the action or not to pursue it at all. Most people are of the inclination that "lack of certainty is due to lack of knowledge and that if we knew the whole situation . . . we should be able to predict the future with certainty." (Emmet 208), but absolute knowledge is impossible, so decisions can rely only on existing facts. The facts which exist can not be disputed, but they must be in a sufficient number if a decision is to be made. In essence, one must respond to the question of what this sufficient number might be, and this number must be determined in a manner such that the likelihood that the facts are a good approximation of the whole picture is high compared to the potential consequences of one being wrong.
In some cases where certainty does not exist, one can employ a simple mathematical probability. For instance, if one were asked the question 'Is it going to rain today?' and the conditions were such that they indicated there would be no rain (ie: not a cloud in the sky), and the weather services had predicted only a 5% chance of rain, it would be a fair and justifiable statement to make to say that it would not rain that day. Of course, this is a statement and not an action, but the action of leading someone to believe that it would not rain of the same conditions existed would also be justifiable. One must take note, though, that in such a case the potential consequences of a wrong decision made (ie: if it did, in fact, rain that very day), are minimal. The consequences must decrease in severity as the mathematical probability decreases from 100%. In such cases of very high probability "we are justified in believing that nothing can count as evidence against the belief" (Olen 289). Often this very high probability which does not equate with certainty is derived from deductive reasoning which is the result of such logic where 'There are many accounts of A being B, and it has never been observed for A not to be B so A must be B". If the repetition of observation is frequent enough, the result of the inductive reasoning is said to be highly probable but not certain. In most cases of such high probability, one is justified in using this very high probability as a fact and pursuing as if it were a certainty.
The moral justification of these actions is dependent on the take on morality does one hold. If one is to take the utilitarian view, which holds that "The right act [is the one] that probably will produce the most good" (Hospers 263), one must return to the definition of what is or is not probable. Others have a different take on utilitarianism, however, whereby the ends justify the means, or the morality of one's actions are justified by the consequences of these actions. When this moral code is that which is being used to judge an action, it is obvious that one is only justified in carrying through with an action if that action produces 'good'. In any other case, one would be morally wrong. If people hold this view, and wish to be morally right, they should not pursue any action without careful consideration. Morality does produce problems in judgement, however, because those who hold that intent is more important can not rightly believe that if one truly intends to help a lady across a busy street, and chooses a time when there is heavy traffic on said street to lead the lady across, that person is right in doing so. In essence, the problem with morality in judging action is that it can easily oversimplify one's decision making process to the point where one does not consider the facts at all, or is overly considerate of facts out of fear of being wrong.
Instead of considering only morality, or only probability, one could also choose to weigh the potential consequences of facts misleading the person taking the action against the degree of certainty one has that their action will have the desired consequences. For instance, in the previous example of a sunny day, there is little harm in saying that it will not rain, and one would be justifiable in leading someone to believe thus even if the probability were lower. However, under different circumstances, the consideration is not so easy. Take for example a doctor who recognized some symptoms of a disease in a patient. If this number was low relative to the total number of symptoms, and the symptoms were of a more generic nature, the doctor would likely not inform the patient of them having such a disease, and would be right in not telling, because the trauma which would be unduly caused does certainly outweighs the certainty of that action being the right one. However, if a series of test results showed a patient to have a disease, and these test results are known to be highly accurate, they should be informed of their disease. The consequences of misleading the patient, and giving them a clean bill of health could be disastrous as the disease would not be known to the patient and therefore would not be treated. In this second example, the potential consequences of the facts misleading the patient are far outweighed by the certainty of the test results being correct. It should be clear that this approach is clearly more reasonable than that which considers only morality or only probability, while not discounting the value of these elements.
Therefore, actions which are justifiable are those which take all these into account. When the potential of being wrong is greater and has more grave consequences than the certainty of the facts being used being a good representation of the whole picture, then an action should probably not be carried out. Those who have a deep reliance on morality must be certain that their moral view does not blind them to the real consequences of their actions or oversimplify their thinking. In cases of little consequence, one is justified in considering merely probability, but this is not the wisest approach when the consequences of one being wrong are great. However, fear of consequences can not be too strong, for decisions must be made, otherwise the world will be brought to a standstill, which is not a good thing, given that our present circumstances are not the most desirable.
Article name: Don't give me any more facts! Justify this Decision essay, research paper, dissertation