On the rationality of pluralistic ignorance

Synthese 191 (11):2445-2470 (2014)
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Abstract

Pluralistic ignorance is a socio-psychological phenomenon that involves a systematic discrepancy between people’s private beliefs and public behavior in certain social contexts. Recently, pluralistic ignorance has gained increased attention in formal and social epistemology. But to get clear on what precisely a formal and social epistemological account of pluralistic ignorance should look like, we need answers to at least the following two questions: What exactly is the phenomenon of pluralistic ignorance? And can the phenomenon arise among perfectly rational agents? In this paper, we propose answers to both these questions. First, we characterize different versions of pluralistic ignorance and define the version that we claim most adequately captures the examples cited as paradigmatic cases of pluralistic ignorance in the literature. In doing so, we will stress certain key epistemic and social interactive aspects of the phenomenon. Second, given our characterization of pluralistic ignorance, we argue that the phenomenon can indeed arise in groups of perfectly rational agents. This, in turn, ensures that the tools of formal epistemology can be fully utilized to reason about pluralistic ignorance

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