Isn't thinking that Trump supporters are dumb and have been duped into supporting him *more charitable* than thinking they are intelligent and knowingly support his behavior and policies?

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I think it depends on the version of each hypothesis we think about.

If they were duped because of careless or blameworthy or irrational errors, then I think we should feel very negative toward them. (Compare: a person fails to buy a child seat for their kid because they credulously believed a single study that suggested they were problematic, without doing any further research.)

Meanwhile, if they are intelligent and knowingly support him *and are well-meaning and rationally (but incorrectly) believe they're doing what's best* then I think we should feel more positively toward them. (Compare: a person who is surrounded by safety experts who is credibly counseled by them all to not trust common wisdom about car seats and as a result doesn't use one.)

I suspect where you're coming from is that you're thinking that **if they intelligently and knowingly support his behavior, then they must be evil or mean-spirited or parochial or racist or whatnot**. And of course I completely agree that if that big conditional is true, then we should feel more positively toward them if they are duped. But I would want to push back on that conditional, and more generally say that *other things equal* (holding fixed our beliefs about their values and whatnot), we should feel more negatively toward people who are irrationally/blameworthily-ignorant than those who are rational but mislead.

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'...surely you’ll agree that our loss of epistemic empathy is a problem'


Only within the confines of a specific, and quite narrow, frame can this contention be formulated.

According to this frame, there was once an idealized (mythic, truth be told) arena of, dare I say, gentlemenly debate, where the concerns of the day were subjected to the crucible of informed discourse between interlocutors accorded mutual respect, in the spirit of open inquiry and shared purpose to improve the state of the polity. In the most important instances, individuals (those of merit, at least) could be relied upon to set aside their biases and petty interests, and engage in sound reasoning, all conscious and logical-like. Rational, even.

There's a catch, unfortunately. That proverbial fly in the ointment.

This frame, and with it the claim of status quo rationalism, have no basis in reality.

Never once in this society (nor any I'm acquainted with) has such an elysian realm existed, although this mythos of an intellectual paradise lost to the corrupt and base rantings of the hoi poloi (perhaps of the highly suspect postmodernist cohort) is popular among an oddly aggrieved band of otherwise highly privileged speakers.

Hidden motives abound in the efforts to pronounce rationalism victorious, hidden (ironically) even to many who most loudly proclaim its triumph. No ground is more fertile for motivated reasoning and self-deception than the mouldering soil of the rationalist project (except perhaps in the sandbox of Large Language Models):

"Self-serving beliefs can also be generated ad hoc through contrived cover stories, as shown by Kunda in a series of elegant demonstrations (Kunda 1990). In one case, subjects were asked to evaluate the credibility of a (fake) scientific study linking coffee consumption and breast cancer. Female subjects who also happened to be heavy coffee drinkers were especially critical of the study, and the least persuaded by the presented evidence. This is only a sample of the literature documenting how evidence consistent with the favoured hypothesis receives preferential treatment (Ditto & Lopez 1992; Dawson et al. 2002; Norton et al. 2004; Balcetis & Dunning 2006). Moreover, this phenomenon occurs largely outside of awareness (Kunda 1987; Pyszczynski & Greenberg 1987; Pronin et al. 2004). No one questions the reality of motivated reasoning or perception. The critical issue is whether motivational biases are sufficient to explain self-deception." (Mijovic-Prelec and Prelec, 2010) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2827460/)

For a comprehensive dismantling of the rationalist paradigm, and scrupulous history of the horrifying sociopolitcal products of the rationalist project, see Peter Sloterdijk's 'Critique of Cynical Reason'.

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Thanks for the thoughtful response! Lots in there, but there seem to be two thoughts here that I want to disagree with:

1) First, there's the equation of my story ("People of opposing parties used to demonize each other less; it's a problem that they demonize each other more") with a view on which civil discourse used to be much more civil AND RATIONAL than it is currently.

Two points here. First, it's demonstrably true that on many measures of (what's called) "affective polarization"—partisan dislike of other partisans—rates of disliking and demonizing those we disagree with have skyrocketed. The PEW polls I graphed show that from 1994–2017, but there are a ton of other empirical ways to show the same thing. Finkel et al 2020 give a nice summary piece (https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abe1715), but see also this 2019 piece by Iyengar et al (https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-polisci-051117-073034) and the book "Uncivil Agreement" by Lilliana Mason (https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/U/bo27527354.html).

Second, it is certainly NOT part of my narrative that people or discourse used to be MORE RATIONAL than it is currently. After all, the view I'm defending says that people *are* (currently!) more rational than you think.

2) Second, there's the claim that motivating reasoning exists (I agree! It's one of the most widely-replicated findings in the replication-failure-ridden literature on social psychology), AND that it is widely accepted to be irrational. It's the latter claim that I disagree with. If your interested in why, stay tuned!

In summary: research on motivated reasoning and confirmation bias is one of the clearest cases of an empirical literature that drew extensive normative conclusions without serious use of normative models to see whether their empirical findings deviated from rational models. I'm far from alone in thinking this—even classic empirical studies on motivated reasoning are explicit that they're not sure of its normative status, eg the classic Lord et al 1979 study (https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1981-05421-001) and the Taber and Lodge 2006 replication (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1540-5907.2006.00214.x).

For recent cases of psychologists pressing this point, see for example:

- Jern et al 2014 (https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2014-13258-003)

- Benoit and Dubra 2019 (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/iere.12400)

- Fryer et al 2019 (https://academic.oup.com/jeea/article/17/5/1470/5068037)

- Jess Whittlestone's PhD thesis on confirmation bias (https://jesswhittlestone.com/blog/2018/1/10/reflections-on-confirmation-bias)

For philosophy papers on the normative status of some of this research, a classic is Tom Kelly's (2008), "Disagreement, Dogmatism, and Belief Polarization" (https://www.jstor.org/stable/20620131). And to see what my take on much of this literature is, see sections 6 and 7 of this forthcoming paper on how when evidence is conflicting or ambiguous, we should expect rational people to engage in confirmation bias, polarize, and even "go off the rails": https://philpapers.org/rec/DORRP-2

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