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Kevin Zollman (Carnegie Mellon University): Individual rationality and social pathology: the case of pluralistic ignorance
26 October 2022, 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm
Abstract: Social epistemic pathologies plague our society. We perpetually find polarization, pluralistic ignorance, the spread of fake news, online mobbing, and others. Some scholars attribute these social pathologies to individual irrationality. Fake news spreads because people are not careful consumers of news. Polarization occurs because of irrational attachments to political positions. And so on. In this talk, I will argue that there may be purely social pathologies; epistemic problems that reside entirely at the “group level.” I will do this through a case study of pluralistic ignorance, a phenomenon studied in social psychology, business, philosophy, and political science. When in a state of pluralistic ignorance, every person in a community will disavow a private belief they hold because they think others feel differently. Pluralistic ignorance is consistent with individual rationality, I argue, and it can arise in completely rational communities. I conclude by discussing what the possibility of group level epistemic pathologies means for how we address collective problems around knowledge and belief.
Kevin Zollman is a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University.
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