Being Rational and Being Wrong

Philosophers' Imprint 23 (1) (2023)
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Do people tend to be overconfident? Many think so. They’ve run studies on whether people are calibrated: whether their average confidence in their opinions matches the proportion of those opinions that are true. Under certain conditions, people are systematically ‘over-calibrated’—for example, of the opinions they’re 80% confident in, only 60% are true. From this empirical over-calibration, it’s inferred that people are irrationally overconfident. My question: When and why is this inference warranted? Answering it requires articulating a general connection between being rational and being right—something extant studies have not done. I show how to do so using the notion of deference. This provides a theoretical foundation for calibration research, but also reveals a flaw: the connection between being rational and being right is much weaker than is standardly assumed, since rational people can often be expected to be miscalibrated. Thus we can’t test whether people are overconfident by simply testing whether they are over-calibrated; instead, we must try to predict the rational deviations from calibration, and then compare those predictions to people’s performance. I show how this can be done—and that doing so complicates the interpretation of robust empirical effects.

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Kevin Dorst
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Citations of this work

Thinking and being sure.Jeremy Goodman & Ben Holguín - 2022 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 106 (3):634-654.
Risky belief.Martin Smith - 2022 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 106 (3):597-611.
Credences and Trustworthiness: a Calibrationist Account.John Wilcox - forthcoming - Review of Philosophy and Psychology:1-40.

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References found in this work

Thinking, Fast and Slow.Daniel Kahneman - 2011 - New York: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Rational Polarization.Kevin Dorst - 2023 - Philosophical Review 132 (3):355-458.
Justification and the Truth-Connection.Clayton Littlejohn - 2012 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Accuracy and the Laws of Credence.Richard Pettigrew - 2016 - New York, NY.: Oxford University Press UK.

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