Irrelevant Cultural Influences on Belief

Journal of Applied Philosophy 36 (5):755-768 (2018)
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Abstract

Recent work in psychology on ‘cultural cognition’ suggests that our cultural background drives our attitudes towards a range of politically contentious issues in science such as global warming. This work is part of a more general attempt to investigate the ways in which our wants, wishes and desires impact on our assessments of information, events and theories. Put crudely, the idea is that we conform our assessments of the evidence for and against scientific theories with clear political relevance to our pre-existing political beliefs and convictions. In this paper I explore the epistemological consequences of cultural cognition. What does it mean for the rationality of our beliefs about issues such as global warming? I argue for an unsettling conclusion. Not only are those on the ‘political right’ who reject the scientific consensus on issues like global warming unjustified in doing so, some of those on the ‘political left’ who accept the consensus are also unjustified in doing so. I finish by addressing the practical implications of my conclusions.

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Robin McKenna
University of Liverpool

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