Persuasion and Epistemic Paternalism

In Guy Axtell & Amiel Bernal (eds.), Epistemic Paternalism: Conceptions, Justifications and Implications. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield International. pp. 91-106 (2020)
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Abstract

Many of us hold false beliefs about matters that are relevant to public policy such as climate change and the safety of vaccines. What can be done to rectify this situation? This question can be read in two ways. According to the descriptive reading, it concerns which methods will be effective in persuading people that their beliefs are false. According to the normative reading, it concerns which methods we are permitted to use in the service of persuading people. Some effective methods—a programme of brainwashing, say—would not be permissible. In this paper I compare “methods of rational persuasion” with what you might call “marketing methods” such as how one frames the problem of climate change. My aim is to show that “marketing methods” are preferable to “methods of rational persuasion”. My argument has two parts. First, I argue that the evidence suggests that “marketing methods” are more effective in persuading people to change their minds. Second, I argue that “marketing methods” are an acceptable response to the normative question.

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Robin McKenna
University of Liverpool

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