Being Rational and Being Wrong

Philosophers' Imprint 23 (1) (2023)
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Do people tend to be overconfident? Many think so. They’ve run studies on whether people are calibrated: whether their average confidence in their opinions matches the proportion of those opinions that are true. Under certain conditions, people are systematically ‘over-calibrated’—for example, of the opinions they’re 80% confident in, only 60% are true. From this empirical over-calibration, it’s inferred that people are irrationally overconfident. My question: When and why is this inference warranted? Answering it requires articulating a general connection between being rational and being right—something extant studies have not done. I show how to do so using the notion of deference. This provides a theoretical foundation for calibration research, but also reveals a flaw: the connection between being rational and being right is much weaker than is standardly assumed, since rational people can often be expected to be miscalibrated. Thus we can’t test whether people are overconfident by simply testing whether they are over-calibrated; instead, we must try to predict the rational deviations from calibration, and then compare those predictions to people’s performance. I show how this can be done—and that doing so complicates the interpretation of robust empirical effects.

Author's Profile

Kevin Dorst
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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