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Motivated ignorance, rationality, and democratic politics

Published version
Peer-reviewed

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Abstract

Abstract: When the costs of acquiring knowledge outweigh the benefits of possessing it, ignorance is rational. In this paper I clarify and explore a related but more neglected phenomenon: cases in which ignorance is motivated by the anticipated costs of possessing knowledge, not acquiring it. The paper has four aims. First, I describe the psychological and social factors underlying this phenomenon of motivated ignorance. Second, I describe those conditions in which it is instrumentally rational. Third, I draw on evidence from the social sciences to argue that this phenomenon of rational motivated ignorance plays an important but often unappreciated role in one of the most socially harmful forms of ignorance today: voter ignorance of societal risks such as climate change. Finally, I consider how to address the high social costs associated with rational motivated ignorance.

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Keywords

Knowing the Unknown, Knowing the Unknown: Philosophical Perspectives on Ignorance, Ignorance, Motivated ignorance, Rational ignorance, Democracy, Motivated cognition, Voter ignorance

Journal Title

Synthese

Conference Name

Journal ISSN

0039-7857
1573-0964

Volume Title

198

Publisher

Springer Netherlands
Sponsorship
Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Odysseus grant G.0020.12N, G0C7416N)