Doubt and Certainty in Psychology

It is thought that all people’s achievements depend on the level of their certainty about their capability to succeed from this perspective, when in doubt; one cannot perform well enough to be productive or successful. However, the question of the relationship between doubt and certainty has long been at the center of discussion and is characterized by some controversial ideas. Indeed, different prominent personalities in the history of thought have presented opposing points of view on these two concepts.

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For example, William Phelps emphasized that if a person had complete certainty in any idea or belief, he or she would be able to succeed in any activity. On the contrary, Bertrand Russell stated that it is essential to be doubtful about one’s beliefs to validate the truthfulness of them. Taking into account these two opposing views, this paper argues that doubt is an inevitable constituent of human thought and belief system, but only when it is combined with a particular level of certainty.

At first, it is essential to understand the meaning of doubt and certainty. Thus, certainty is a system of approaches that imply that a person is completely sure about some ideas or beliefs. The opposite of this concept is doubt, which is uncertainty or the absence of confidence in one’s views. However, the psychological feelings of certainty or uncertainty are very subjective and crucially influence people’s behaviors and relationships (Tormala & Rucker, 2018). Overall, for a person to act rationally with proper attention to influential factors and possibilities, it is vital to have a particular level of both certainty and doubt.

Absolute certainty excludes any doubts and thus becomes limited to only one perspective. However, when obtaining other variants of outcomes and doubting the anticipated belief, it is possible to be ready for a certain outcome. To illustrate this idea, one could examine a simple example. If a soldier in a battle is completely confident that he will win the fight, he will neither engage in any preparation nor apply any preventive measures.

In such a case, he would risk his life due to the failure to address any threats that could obstruct his success. On the other hand, if such a soldier were doubtful about the procedure and thought through some outcome variations, he would even increase the level of certainty in his win.

References to certainty and doubt are very characteristic of literature. The role of these concepts in characters’ lives is sometimes decisive and leads their lives in unexpected directions. For example, in Nazario’s (2007) book under the title Enrique’s Journey, the correlation between certainty and doubt is brightly represented in the portrayal of the main character’s life path. Enrique suffers from poverty as a son of an emigrant who had left her children in Honduras and went to work in the USA.

Living through numerous failures and atrocities, the boy is always certain that if he reunites with his mother, his life will become happy (Nazario, 2007). However, his certainty kept him away from building his own life in the circumstances he had because the reunification with his mother did not change his life for the better.

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In summary, despite long-lasting disputes in the field of philosophy, psychology, and education about the controversy between doubt and certainty, there is no definite answer. However, it is impossible to make rational decisions without a doubt but blindly and dogmatically following the beliefs about which one is certain. It is essential to have an appropriate degree of certainty in the most critical decisions but also to apply doubtful considerations to be aware of alternatives.


Nazario, S. (2007). Enrique’s journey: The story of a boy’s dangerous odyssey to reunite with his mother. New York, NY: Random House Publishing.

Tormala, Z. L., & Rucker, D. D. (2018). Attitude certainty: Antecedents, consequences, and new directions. Consumer Psychology Review, 1, 72-89.

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