Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rationality and individual belief

Lately I’ve been thinking about rationality and individual belief.  Here is my question: how does one rationally choose what to believe in fields that require technical expertise when (1) the individual does not possess such expertise, (2) there is disagreement among experts, and (3) the disagreement is deep and fundamental, usually the result of different comprehensive worldviews?  I have in mind important questions regarding economics, science, social theory, etc.  Most of us do not possess advanced degrees and lack the formal training required to make a truly informed decision on many important matters.  Yet most of us nevertheless believe some theory rather than another, and believe strongly in it, often evincing frustration (and even anger) towards those with opposite beliefs.  So how is it that we come to have these beliefs?  Can these beliefs be the result of a rational process?  How is that process rational?  We usually do not take it to be rational to believe something simply because a majority believes it (leaving aside the Condorcet Jury Theorom), so counting heads seems to be out.  What should we do?

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