Asymmetrical Rationality: Are Only Other People Stupid?

In Michael Hannon & Jeroen de Ridder (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Political Epistemology. New York: Routledge. pp. 285-295 (2021)
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It is commonly observed that we live in an increasingly polarised world. Strikingly, we are polarised not only about political issues, but also about scientific issues that have political implications, such as climate change. This raises two questions. First, why are we so polarised over these issues? Second, does this mean our views about these issues are all equally ir/rational? In this chapter I explore both questions. Specifically, I draw on the literature on ideologically motivated reasoning to develop an answer to the first question. Put briefly, we exhibit “directional biases” in our information processing: we try to assimilate new information into our existing webs of beliefs. This means that those who are predisposed to accept the case for climate change end up accepting it, whereas those who are predisposed to reject it end up rejecting it. Based on this answer, I then address the second question. I look at some reasons for thinking that, because we all exhibit such biases in our thinking, we are all equally rational (or, as the case may be, irrational). I also suggest some ways you might try reject these reasons.

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Robin McKenna
University of Liverpool


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