The very idea of rational irrationality

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 23 (1):3-21 (2024)
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I am interested in the “rational irrationality hypothesis” about voter behavior. According to this hypothesis, voters regularly vote for policies that are contrary to their interests because the act of voting for them isn’t. Gathering political information is time-consuming and inconvenient. Doing so is unlikely to lead to positive results since one's vote is unlikely to be decisive. However, we have preferences over our political beliefs. We like to see ourselves as members of certain groups (e.g. “rugged individualists”) and being part of those groups depends on having certain beliefs (e.g. about welfare spending). Even if a decrease in welfare spending would be bad for me, I might still benefit by believing in and, consequently, voting for a decrease since my vote is unlikely to make a difference but getting to see myself as a rugged individualist will make a noticeable difference to my wellbeing. It is sometimes argued that this hypothesis fails for empirical reasons. I will argue that things are worse: it is conceptually incoherent. I will do so by first showing that it is a rationalizing explanation and then argue that rationalizing explanations must be reflectively stable from the agent's perspective. The rational irrationality hypothesis is not.

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Spencer Paulson
Northwestern University

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References found in this work

Doxastic deliberation.Nishi Shah & J. David Velleman - 2005 - Philosophical Review 114 (4):497-534.
The Wrong Kind of Reason.Pamela Hieronymi - 2005 - Journal of Philosophy 102 (9):437 - 457.
A nonpragmatic vindication of probabilism.James M. Joyce - 1998 - Philosophy of Science 65 (4):575-603.
The aim of belief.Ralph Wedgwood - 2002 - Philosophical Perspectives 16:267-97.
Epistemic Teleology and the Separateness of Propositions.Selim Berker - 2013 - Philosophical Review 122 (3):337-393.

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