Looking But Not Seeing: The (Ir)relevance of Incentives to Political Ignorance

Gunn, Paul. 2015. Looking But Not Seeing: The (Ir)relevance of Incentives to Political Ignorance. Critical Review, 27(3-4), pp. 270-298. ISSN 0891-3811 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Ilya Somin's Democracy and Political Ignorance represents a missed opportunity to fully examine the implications of public ignorance in modern democracies. Somin persuasively argues that existing levels of public ignorance undermine the main normative accounts of democratic legitimacy, and he demonstrates that neither cognitive shortcuts nor heuristics can provide a quick fix for democracy. However, Somin seeks to find a simple explanation for public ignorance in the conscious, rational choices of voters. He thus commits to the position that voters choose to be ignorant and irrational—and to the simplistic implication that given the right incentives they would choose otherwise. This position is empirically problematic, methodologically flawed, and theoretically redundant. On the more plausible view that ignorance is the inadvertent result of social complexity, it is clear that simply focusing on incentives tells us little about what voters would or would not know under different institutional circumstances.

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Ilya Somin, political ignorance, public ignorance, radical ignorance, rational ignorance, rational irrationality

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24 December 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

13 Apr 2016 12:18

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2017 10:38

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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