What do people want to know? This is one of the deepest and most fascinating questions in all of social science. Focusing on deliberate ignorance, Hertwig and Engel offer new and fundamental answers to that question. This book is a major step forward.
Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard University; author of Too Much Information
Is more information desirable? In classical economics, the answer is yes. This book provides compelling theory and examples from medicine, law, and politics to show that, in reality, people often prefer to be uninformed. The result is a fascinating read.
Harvard University; Nobel Laureate in Economics, 2016Available at MIT Press
Sarah Auster, Benjamin E. Berkman, Felix Bierbrauer, Gordon D. A. Brown, Jason Dana, Stefanie Egidy, Dagmar Ellerbrock, Christoph Engel, Jens Frankenreiter, Simon Gächter, Gerd Gigerenzer, Russell Golman, Krishna P. Gummadi, Kristin Hagel, David Hagmann, Ulrike Hahn, Ralph Hertwig, Christian Hilbe, Derek M. Isaacowitz, Anne Kandler, Yaakov Kareev, Lewis A. Kornhauser, Joachim I. Krueger, Christina Leuker, Stephan Lewandowsky, Robert J. MacCoun, Richard McElreath, Thorsten Pachur, Peter J. Richerson, Lael J. Schooler, Laura Schmid, Barry Schwartz, Nora Szech, Eric Talley, Doron Teichman, Pete C. Trimmer, Sonja Utz, Lukasz Walasek, Michael R. Waldmann, Peter Wehling, Roi Yair, Eyal Zamir
This volume reports on the 29th Ernst Strüngmann Forum. It synthesizes the ideas and perspectives that evolved over a two-year period and highlights questions that remain to be addressed. For those seeking insight into the process, this brief overview is offered.
In 2017, perhaps due to their previous experience with the Ernst Strüngmann Forum (Engel and Singer 2008; Gigerenzer and Gray 2011), Ralph Hertwig and Christoph Engel contacted us to explore the possibility of proposing a theme on deliberate ignorance. Having recently published an article on this topic (Hertwig and Engel 2016), they were eager to explore the phenomenon in greater depth and sought out our help to create the requisite discourse. Their proposal provided a clear starting point, but as anyone who has been involved with our approach will tell you, once initiated, the discourse takes on its own dynamics: at each stage, as perspectives from others become available, ideas are revisited, scrutinized, and examined.
After the proposal was accepted, Gordon Brown, Simon Gächter, and Richard McElreath joined us on the Program Advisory Committee to transform the proposal into a framework that would support an extended, multidisciplinary discussion. The committee worked together to delineate discussion topics, identify potential participants, and formulate overarching goals:
To examine the epistemic choice of deliberate ignorance using specific cases
To identify and model the motivational, cognitive, and affective processes that underlie deliberate ignorance
To explore normative implications and institutional responses to deliberate ignorance
Four thematic areas were created to focus the working groups and questions proposed for each to consider. To maximize interactions, invited “background papers” presented information in advance on specific topics, and from March 17–22, 2019, a diverse group of experts—economists, psychologists, legal scholars, anthropologists, behavioral ecologists, sociologists, ethicists, historians, and computer scientists—gathered in Frankfurt for a most lively discussion.
This volume is organized around these thematic areas. Each section contains the background papers in their finalized form (i.e., after peer review and revision) as well as summary reports of the group discussions (Chapter 5, 10, 14, and 15).
Exploring the Phenomenon of Deliberate Ignorance
The contributions in this first section explore different aspects of deliberate ignorance. To provide direct access to the core topics from Hertwig and Engel’s 2016 article, Chapter 1 presents a slightly adapted version. It lays out the rationale for their initial definition. Further, it systematizes different types of deliberate ignorance, describes their functions, discusses normative implications, and considers how to theorizeo the phenomenon. This is then followed by three case studies: In Chapter 2, Dagmar Ellerbrock and Ralph Hertwig examine whether deliberate ignorance is present in societies that undergo transitions, with a focus on twentieth-century Germany. In Chapter 3, Sarah Auster and Jason Dana discuss the strategic use of ignorance in negotiations, analyzing when the deliberate avoidance of information can be advantageous. In Chapter 4, Robert MacCoun looks at how blinding methods can potentially remove bias to improve judgments. Addressing various concerns that can arise (e.g., in blind orchestral auditions), he points to the need for new theory and continued research.
What Constitutes the Deep Structure of Deliberate Ignorance?
In this working group, Barry Schwartz et al. explore the extent to which deliberate ignorance is common across different actors and domains of experience (Chapter 5). They review some of the psychological and cultural mechanisms that may be involved and identify potential variables that could influence deliberate ignorance as well as the consequences that would follow. In Chapter 6, Lael Schooler analyzes how processes critical to encoding, retrieving, and forgetting information in memory help achieve functions ascribed to deliberate ignorance. Thereafter, in Chapter 7, Stephan Lewandowsky looks at the purposefully construction of ignorance using two specific cases: the rationale used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the persistent use of disinformation by Donald Trump. Lewandowsky critically discusses the consequences of such willful construction of ignorance on individuals and society at large.
How Can Deliberate Ignorance be Modeled?
To address the types of conceptual frameworks that may be needed to model deliberate ignorance, Gordon Brown and Lukasz Walasek review, in Chapter 8, existing models used in psychology and economics. They argue that both types are useful to understand different aspects of the phenomenon and identify three broad classes of relevant models, highlighting current gaps that research may wish to pursue. In Chapter 9, Christian Hilbe and Laura Schmid look at specific cases where deliberate ignorance evolves during strategic interactions. They propose two basic models to illustrate how ignorance can evolve among self-interested and payoff-maximizing individuals. Chapter 10 summarizes the extensive discussions of this working group. Pete Trimmer et al. begin with a focus on cases where standard assumptions are violated, consider cases from the individual’s perspective, and discuss different classes of “not wanting to know” something. In addition, they explore strategic cases of deliberate ignorance, where obtaining information would signal to others that information acquisition has occurred, and discuss whether deliberate ignorance could emerge in population-level models.
Is Deliberate Ignorance Good or Bad and, if so, When?
When is it legitimate to ignore available information? When should the discovery of the truth be traded against anticipated consequences? When does concealing information improve welfare or break through cycles of revenge and retribution? In Chapter 11, Felix Bierbrauer argues that welfare economics should deliberately ignore (certain types of) social preferences to avoid repugnant policy choices. Benjamin Berkman then considers, in Chapter 12, the “right not to know” specific to the ethical debates related to genetic testing and genomic sequencing. Challenging the majority view that there is a nearly absolute right not to know, he suggests a more nuanced approach and offers recommendations on how best to balance individual autonomy and professional advantage in the future. In Chapter 13, Lewis Kornhauser reflects on different interpretations of deliberative ignorance and develops a taxonomy of the phenomenon. He suggests criteria that could be used to select among definitions, and identifies normative questions that arise, ranging from debates over individual rationality to questions in political philosophy. In a summary of their discussions (Chapter 14), Krueger et al. outline steps to enable a normative analysis of deliberate ignorance. From the perspectives of morality and rationality, they hold that deliberate ignorance is neither categorically bad nor good, and offer a suite of criteria to afford a more nuanced understanding and enable future work.
What Are the Institutional Implications of Deliberate Ignorance?
In Chapter 15, Doron Teichman et al. outline concrete institutional mechanisms (e.g., contracts) that this working group felt could counter or promote deliberate ignorance. They provide an analysis of how organizational structures and mechanisms are used to compartmentalize information and review technology’s role. Following on, in Chapter 16, Eyal Zamir and Roi Yair survey ways in which the law overcomes some instances of deliberate ignorance while fostering others. They raise the issue of collective ignorance and provide examples where the law actually encourages deliberate ignorance to facilitate better decision making and promote different values. They examine the issue of system design and constitutional protection of human rights using “veils of ignorance” as well as specific legal topics: inadmissibility and other evidence rules, anonymity and omitted details of candidates to overcome the biases and prejudices of decision makers, expungement of criminal records, and the right to be forgotten.
It is important to note that a Forum is not a linear process. The initial framework put into place by the Program Advisory Committee triggered a lively debate between experts with multiple (sometimes divergent) perspectives. Realizing effective discourse, however, required a willingness to reach across the divide between disciplinary traditions, terminology, and concepts—a challenge that may still exist, long past the completion of this book. Yet consensus was never the goal of this exercise. Instead, diverging opinions were needed to uncover true “gaps” in knowledge. Then the challenge became to collectively formulate ways to fill such gaps.
To close out this volume, Engel and Hertwig reflect in Chapter 17 on some of the important conceptual issues that emerged from the Forum. They highlight what they consider to be some of the important insights that were gained as well as some of the open issues that remain to be addressed.
An endeavor of this kind creates unique group dynamics and puts demands on everyone. Throughout, each person who participated played an active role, and for their efforts, I am grateful. A special word of thanks goes to the Program Advisory Committee, to the authors and reviewers of the background papers, as well as to the moderators of the individual working groups (Pete Richerson, Richard McElreath, Ulrike Hahn, and Eric Talley). The rapporteurs of the working groups (Barry Schwartz, Pete Trimmer, Joachim Krueger, and Doron Teichman) deserve special recognition, for to draft a report during the Forum and finalize it in the months thereafter is no simple matter. Importantly, I extend my appreciation to Ralph Hertwig and Christoph Engel: both contributed equally to this 29th Ernst Strüngmann Forum, lending their expertise and motivational powers to each step as needed.
The Ernst Strüngmann Forum is able to conduct its work because of its stable institutional support. The generous backing of the Ernst Strüngmann Foundation, established by Dr. Andreas and Dr. Thomas Strüngmann in honor of their father, enables us to pursue new knowledge in the service of science and society. In addition, the following valuable partnerships are gratefully acknowledged: the work of our Scientific Advisory Board ensures scientific independence of the Forum; the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft offers supplemental financial support; and the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies shares its vibrant intellectual setting with us.
Expanding the boundaries to knowledge is never easy, and long-held views are often difficult to put aside. Yet, when the limits to knowledge begin to appear and gaps can be identified, the act of formulating strategies to move past this point becomes a most invigorating activity. On behalf of everyone involved in this 29th Ernst Strüngmann Forum, I hope this volume will motivate further action to address the many issues that require attention to complete our understanding of the phenomenon of deliberate ignorance.
Western history of thought abounds with claims that knowledge is valued and sought, yet people often choose not to know. We call the conscious choice not to seek or use knowledge (or information) deliberate ignorance. Using examples from a wide range of domains, this chapter demonstrates that deliberate ignorance has important functions. We systematize types of deliberate ignorance, describe their functions, discuss their normative desirability, and consider how the phenomenon can be theorized. To date, psychologists have paid relatively little attention to the study of ignorance, let alone the deliberate kind. The desire not to know, however, is no anomaly. It is a choice to seek, rather than reduce, uncertainty whose reasons require nuanced cognitive and economic theories and whose consequences—for the individual and for society—require analyses of both actor and environment.
Individuals and institutions in societies in transition face difficult questions: whether or not to seek, explore, and produce public knowledge about their harrowing past. Not disclosing painful truths can be a conduit to reconciliation, as in premodern memory politics, but it can also mask the past regime’s perpetrators, benefactors, and its victims, highlighted in modern memory politics. Using the transformations of twentieth-century Germany as a case study, this chapter argues that deliberate ignorance has always been an element of memory politics, even in the twentieth-century approach to Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the past), with its emphasis on knowledge, remembrance, and disclosure. Profoundly dialectic in nature, deliberate ignorance can modulate the pace of change in periods of transition and preserve social cohesion, while simultaneously undermining personal trust and institutional confidence. Turning to individuals’ decisions to read or not read the files compiled on them by the East German’s Ministry for State Security, it is argued that official memory politics and individuals’ knowledge preferences need not concur. In the public records and in initial results of an empirical analysis of individuals’ choice not to read their files, highly diverse and distinct reasons for deliberate ignorance have been observed.
Omnem memoriam discordiarum oblivione sempiterna delendam censui.
[All recollection of civil discord should be buried in everlasting oblivion.]
Historical amnesia is a dangerous phenomenon not only because it undermines moral and intellectual integrity but also because it lays the groundwork for crimes that still lie ahead.
—Noam Chomsky (2016), Who Rules the World?
In Who Rules the World? Chomsky (2016) commented on the capacity of the U.S. public and politicians to forget about the “torture memos”—a set of legal memoranda drafted during the Bush administration that argued for the legal permissibility of enhanced interrogation techniques—and to largely ignore the new paradigm that took root: torture backed by the United States and executed by U.S. allies worldwide, a practice that continued under the Obama presidency. As Allan Nairn pointed out in a blog entry from January 24, 2009: “Obama could stop backing foreign forces that torture, but he has chosen not to do so….and even if, as Obama says, ‘the United States will not torture, it can still pay, train, equip and guide foreign torturers’....Obama could stop backing foreign forces that torture, but he has chosen not to do so.1 Chomsky identified this willful ignorance as the same capacity for historical amnesia at play in other “crimes” (Chomsky 2016:43), such as the U.S. invasions of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Iraq, and U.S. colonial rule in the Philippines. The painful conflict between proclaimed values and actual behavior appears to be resolved by deliberately ignoring evidence that contradicts the United States’ self-image of being “a nation of moral ideals” (Chomsky 2016:32). Chomsky noted that deliberate ignorance has a price; as the oft-invoked principle states, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (Santayana 2011). In a speech commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Nazi Germany’s capitulation, former West German president Richard von Weizäcker (1985:4) repeated the sentiment: “Whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity is prone to new risks of infection.” Yet the intense debate following the speech was evidence that public opinion was actually deeply divided on how to balance remembrance and historical amnesia.
The historian Christian Meier (2010; see also Rieff 2017), however, offered a more differentiated perspective on the role and function of historical amnesia. In his view, forgetting atrocities in the wake of war and repressing memories and knowledge can be a conduit to reconciliation.2 Knowledge of a harrowing past may perpetuate a destructive cycle of hatred and revenge; in contrast, the deliberate choice to not remember can put an end to conflict. Meier listed historical instances of this function of deliberate ignorance, from Cicero’s (1913) plea for “everlasting oblivion” just two days after Caesar’s assassination to the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years’ War and referred to oblivo and amnestia—forgive and forget—in its introductory articles. According to Meier, collective forgetting and the political choice to not seek, explore, or produce public knowledge about a painful past are essential for managing the transition of power and social cohesion. Here we examine whether this argument may not only hold for collectives, institutions, and governments but also for individuals. Specifically, we examine both collective and individual deliberate ignorance (Hertwig and Engel, this volume, 2016) in transitional societies, where the need to navigate between remembrance and deliberate ignorance is most pressing.
1 https://www.allannairn.org/2009/01/torture-ban-that-doesnt-ban-torture.html (accessed Jan. 16, 2020).
2 One may ask whether the term “forgetting” is appropriate. In the title of his book, das Gebot zu vergessen, Meier (2010) speaks about the imperative to forget. Technically speaking, forgetting is the apparent loss or modification of information already encoded and stored in an individual’s long-term memory. Therefore, what Meier seems to have in mind is a consensus by those in power to ignore the crimes of the past, neither examining nor prosecuting them (with the exception of some emblematic figures), and thus neither identifying nor punishing the bulk of the perpetrators, let alone the followers. Functionally, it is as if the people in power have decided deliberately to ignore the past (Hertwig and Engel, this volume, 2016), even if individuals’ memories persist. Our use of “forgetting” in this chapter follows this definition. For further discussion on the relationship between forgetting and deliberate ignorance from a psychological perspective, see Schooler (this volume); for concepts and mechanisms of forgetting in the fields of history, sociology, and memory studies, see Connerton (2008), Dimbath and Wehling (2011), Plate (2015), Ricoeur (2006), and Rieff (2017).One may ask whether the term “forgetting” is appropriate. In the title of his book, das Gebot zu vergessen, Meier (2010) speaks about the imperative to forget. Technically speaking, forgetting is the apparent loss or modification of information already encoded and stored in an individual’s long-term memory. Therefore, what Meier seems to have in mind is a consensus by those in power to ignore the crimes of the past, neither examining nor prosecuting them (with the exception of some emblematic figures), and thus neither identifying nor punishing the bulk of the perpetrators, let alone the followers. Functionally, it is as if the people in power have decided deliberately to ignore the past (Hertwig and Engel, this volume, 2016), even if individuals’ memories persist. Our use of “forgetting” in this chapter follows this definition. For further discussion on the relationship between forgetting and deliberate ignorance from a psychological perspective, see Schooler (this volume); for concepts and mechanisms of forgetting in the fields of history, sociology, and memory studies, see Connerton (2008), Dimbath and Wehling (2011), Plate (2015), Ricoeur (2006), and Rieff (2017).
This chapter analyzes the role of information in strategic decision-making settings. It considers several situations in which it could be individually advantageous to deliberately ignore information, particularly when this ignorance can be signaled to the other parties in the decision, and introduces purely psychological reasons why a negotiating party might want to ignore information. In some situations, information actually constrains the action set available to the individual. Examples involve inadvertently leaking private information to the other side, knowledge triggering one’s own moral constraints, and knowledge biasing the individual in ways that will harm the negotiation. Even if information acquisition is completely private, a behavioral agent will sometimes negotiate better by deliberately avoiding information.
This chapter examines the use of blinding methods to potentially bias information to improve the validity and/or fairness of judgments in scientific data analysis, scientific peer review, and the screening of job applicants. Some of the major findings in empirical tests of these procedures are reviewed, addressing potential concerns with blinding, and identifying directions for new theory and research.
This chapter explores the “deep structure” of deliberate ignorance, defined as an individual’s or collective’s intentional choice to create a short- or long-term barrier to information for the individual or collective who made the choice. This definition is used to identify clear cases while acknowledging that the key terms of the definition (deliberate and ignorance) admit of ambiguity. It is argued that the frequency, forms, and functions of deliberate ignorance may vary across individuals as well as domains of information. Potential causal variables are suggested (e.g., the utility of the information, the nature of the information environment, the level of relevant parties who initiate and are affected by deliberate ignorance, and the legal, ethical, and social context within which deliberate ignorance occurs) and possible consequences are explored for the actors who engage in deliberate ignorance. Finally, the potential time course of deliberate ignorance is discussed within an episode of deliberate ignorance itself, across life-span development as well as cultural and biological evolutionary time.
Can some functions of deliberate ignorance be achieved through processes that govern forgetting? This chapter expands on this question and considers how processes critical to encoding, retrieving, and forgetting information in memory might help to achieve some of the functions attributed to deliberate ignorance. Consideration is given to whether both deliberate ignorance and forgetting are devices that can help with “information management” (e.g., by helping with information overload). The ACT-R model of memory, which holds that human memory can be understood as an information-management system, is used to illustrate how forgetting can function as a “performance-enhancing device” (e.g., by showing how the recognition heuristic, a simple inference strategy, depends on forgetting to perform well). Constructive processes of memory, which include forgetting, are explored for their ability to regulate emotions (by putting aside or reshaping memories of past experiences) and to serve as “strategic devices” (to avoid responsibility and improve an individual’s ability to deceive more generally). Although memory shares functions with deliberate ignorance, this chapter finds that the best strategy to stay ignorant of a piece of information is to never encode it in the first place.
From Iraq’s mythical weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to Donald Trump’s record of more than ten daily false or misleading statements, deception and false claims have been an integral part of political discourse for quite some time. Nonetheless, Trump’s blatant disregard for the truth has given rise to much concern about the dawn of a “post-truth” era. The author argues that there are striking differences between the tacit ontologies of truth underlying the WMD deception and Trump’s false claims, respectively. Whereas the WMD campaign contested a single reality, Trump’s false claims often repudiate the very idea of external truths that exist independently of anyone’s opinion. The author considers this ontological shift from realism to extreme constructivism to be the most critical aspect of the current “post-truth” malaise. He notes that an extreme constructivist “truth” has formed an essential aspect of historical fascism and Nazism, as well as of contemporary populist movements, and that those conceptions are incompatible with liberal-democratic norms of truth-seeking. The author concludes by pointing toward potential solutions of the “post-truth” crisis.
This chapter reviews models of deliberate ignorance and argues that models developed in both psychology and economics may be useful in understanding different aspects of deliberate ignorance. Such models must specify what quantity is increased at the expense of the potential benefits of the ignored information. A model classification is developed based on the quantity that different models assumed to be so increased. Three broad classes of relevant models are identified: (a) models that assume that utility associated with the content of beliefs may be increased by deliberate ignorance, (b) models that assume that the consistency of beliefs with each other or with a sense of identity may be increased by deliberate ignorance, and (c) models that assume that the quality of decision making may be increased by deliberate ignorance. Gaps in the literature are identified. In particular, it is suggested that insufficient attention has been given to the distinction between the effects on an agent’s utility of acquiring information (a one-off change) and possession of information (being in a steady-state of changed beliefs). Ultimately, models of deliberate ignorance will need to address the relationship between people’s (often partial and contradictory) knowledge about the world and their reasoning about that world.
Optimal decision making requires individuals to know their available options and to anticipate correctly what consequences these options have. In many social interactions, however, we refrain from gathering all relevant information, even if this information would help us make better decisions and is costless to obtain. This chapter examines several examples of “deliberate ignorance.” Two simple models are proposed to illustrate how ignorance can evolve among self-interested and payoff-maximizing individuals, and open problems are highlighted that lie ahead for future research to explore.
This chapter looks at deliberate ignorance from a modeling perspective. Standard economic models cannot produce deliberate ignorance in a meaningful way; if there were no cost for acquisition and processing, data could be looked at privately and processed perfectly. Here the focus is on cases where the standard assumptions are violated in some way. Cases are considered from an individual’s perspective, without game-theoretic (strategic) aspects. Different classes of “not wanting to know” something are identified: aside from the boring case of the cost of information acquisition being too high, an individual may prefer to not know some information (e.g., when knowledge would reduce the enjoyment of other experiences) or may want to not use some information (e.g., relating to a lack of self-control). In addition, strategic cases of deliberate ignorance are reviewed, where obtaining information would also signal to others that information acquisition has occurred, and thus it may be better to remain ignorant. Finally, the possibility of deliberate ignorance emerging in population-level models is discussed, where there seems to be a relative dearth of models of the phenomenon at present. Throughout, the authors make use of examples to summarize different classes of models, ideas for how deliberate ignorance can make sense, and gaps in the literature for future modeling.
Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.
― John Steinbeck, East of Eden
This chapter presents a selective review of welfare economics. It argues that welfare analysts need to turn a blind eye to various aspects of individual preferences, otherwise applications of welfare economics yield repugnant conclusions. This situation is illustrated with characters from Hogwarts and then related to the theory of optimal taxation. Individual decisions to ignore relevant information, and the welfare implications that result, are then examined, as is the suppression of information that may affect the behavior of others. Such acts may conflict with liberal values. In the presence of behavioral biases, however, they may still positively affect welfare, in line with Lipsey and Lancaster’s (1956) theory of the second best.
This reflection on the limits of welfare economics is not specific to the theme of deliberate ignorance. However, these limitations need to be at the center of any debate concerned with applications. Looking at the welfare implications of deliberate ignorance is not a straightforward application of the concept of externalities. It necessitates a reflection on the welfare implications of behavior that is potentially self-damaging. Moreover, it may conflict with liberal values and lead to repugnant conclusions unless there is a systematic reflection of what preferences to feed into welfare analysis.
The move from targeted genetic testing to genomic sequencing has produced a number of ethical debates, but the most controversial question is the extent to which individuals have a right not to know genetic information about themselves. This chapter explores the extent to which it is ethically necessary to respect someone’s choice to remain deliberately ignorant about this kind of information. Challenging the majority view that there is a nearly absolute right not to know, arguments are presented which push back against that vigorously held (although not always rigorously defended) position, in support of the idea that we should abandon the notion of a strong right not to know. Drawing on the fields of bioethics, philosophy, and social science, an extended argument is provided in support of a default for returning high-value genetic information without asking about a preference not to know. Recommendations are offered about how best to balance individual autonomy and professional beneficence to guide the field of genomic medicine as it continues to evolve.
Many different definitions of “deliberate ignorance” may be derived from the ordinary usage of these two terms. “Ignorance” may refer to an absence of belief, to an unjustified belief, to disregard of a fact, or to use of a fact known to be false. “Deliberate” may refer to a direct decision not to know some fact F or an indirect decision to know F′rather than F. An individual may be deliberately ignorant but so may a group be. These different interpretations of deliberative ignorance raise different issues in different contexts. This essay develops a taxonomy of accounts of deliberate ignorance, suggests the criteria one might use to select among definitions, and identifies some normative questions that arise from them in a selection of contexts ranging from debates over individual rationality to questions in political philosophy.
In this chapter the phenomenon of deliberate ignorance is submitted to a normative analysis. Going beyond definitions and taxonomies, normative frameworks allow us to analyze the implications of individual and collective choices for ignorance across various contexts. This chapter outlines first steps toward such an analysis. Starting with the claim that deliberate ignorance is categorically bad by the lights of morality and rationality, a suite of criteria is considered that afford a more nuanced understanding and identify challenges for future research.
This chapter examines the institutional implications associated with facilitating or combatting deliberate ignorance, and explores concrete institutional mechanisms that could serve to limit, distort, or otherwise structure peoples’ informational environment. It examines the basic building block that individuals might use to achieve their goals—contracts—and highlights the advantages and problems associated with consensual mechanisms that could be used in this regard. The chapter further analyzes how organizational structures and mechanisms (e.g., corporations) may be utilized to compartmentalize information and construct the informational environment. Finally, it introduces a new institutional frontier—technology—and shows how developments in the areas of artificial intelligence and machine learning can promote the goals discussed throughout the chapter.
This chapter offers a bird’s-eye view of existing legal doctrines and institutions that overcome or foster deliberate ignorance, critically assesses these doctrines and institutions, and considers extensions thereof. It begins by focusing on three legal means of discouraging deliberate ignorance: subjecting people who could have acquired the relevant information to the same treatment as those who acted knowingly, imposing positive duties to acquire information, and rendering information more conspicuous, thereby making it more difficult to ignore. It also touches upon the issue of collective ignorance. Thereafter it discusses instances in which the law encourages deliberate ignorance to facilitate better decision making and promote other values. It starts from the basic issue of designing the system of government and constitutional protection of human rights using veils of ignorance and then moves on to more specific legal topics: inadmissibility and other evidence rules, anonymity and omitted details of candidates to overcome the biases and prejudices of decision makers, expungement of criminal records, and the right to be forgotten.
In 2016, as we penned our conceptual and explorative article on the phenomenon of deliberate ignorance (Hertwig and Engel 2016), we felt a bit like explorers setting sail for an unknown destination. Our spirits were high and we were ready for an intellectual adventure. Fascinated by the richness of the phenomenon, we soon noticed that others in the fields of economics, sociology, law, and medicine had been travelling in a similar direction, guided by terms such as “information avoidance,” “willful blindness,” and even deliberate ignorance (e.g., Robbins 1990). Still, we found the vast territory of deliberate ignorance to be mostly uncharted and hoped that our article would serve as an inspiring travelogue, describing our attempt to survey the lay of the land and inviting others to join us in exploring the phenomenon further.
To our delight, our excitement proved contagious, as demonstrated by the lively discussions that emerged at this Ernst Strüngmann Forum. In this final chapter, we reflect on specific areas that have left their mark on us both. We begin with an observation that ran throughout all discussions, and then present our thoughts, organized around the four thematic areas of the Forum.