Political ignorance is both rational and radical

Synthese 202 (3):1-22 (2023)
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Abstract

It is commonly held that political ignorance is rational, a response to the high costs and low benefits of acquiring political information. But many recent critics of the claim that political ignorance is rational instead urge that it is a simple consequence of agents not concerning themselves with the acquisition of political information whatsoever. According to such critics, political ignorance is inadvertent radical ignorance rather than a rational response to the incentives faced by agents in democracies. And since political ignorance is not a response to incentives, these critics urge, it cannot be ameliorated by incentivizing the acquisition of political information. This paper has two goals. First, I show that these seemingly competing accounts of political ignorance are in fact complementary, together explaining much political ignorance. Indeed, there is a sense in which political ignorance can be both rational and radical at the same time. Second, I more closely examine the relationship between incentives, kinds of political ignorance, and the acquisition of political information. On the one hand, from the fact that political ignorance is rational it does not follow that it can be overcome by incentivizing the acquisition of information. On the other hand, from the fact that political ignorance is radical it does not follow that it cannot be overcome by incentivizing the acquisition of information. Lastly, the complexity of the information in question is more relevant to determining whether ignorance can be overcome than whether such ignorance is rational or radical.

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Adam F. Gibbons
Lingnan University

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