Kevin Dorst: Are we (modestly) rational?
Thinking properly is hard. Sometimes I mess it up. I definitely messed it up yesterday. I’ll likely mess it up tomorrow. Maybe I’m messing it up right now.
I’m guessing you’re like me. If so, then we’re both modest: we’re unsure whether we’re thinking rationally. And, it seems, we should be: given our knowledge of our own limitations, it’s rational for us to be unsure whether we’re thinking rationally. How, then, should we think? How does uncertainty about what it’s rational to think affect what it’s rational to think? And how do our judgments of people’s (ir)rationality change once we realize that it can be rational to be modest?
My research tries to answer these questions. That means it involves two main tasks. First, it involves developing foundational formal models to help us figure out—in the abstract—how people who are modest should think. Second, it involves applying the insights of these models to help sort out the proper interpretation of empirical work on human reasoning. The results are often surprising. For instance: in the abstract, it can be proven that any rational person who is modest will sometimes exhibit confirmation bias—the tendency to prefer evidence that will strengthen their prior beliefs. And empirically, it can be argued that many of the results demonstrating human’s tendencies to exhibit confirmation bias can be explained by this rational (but modest) model. Maybe, then, confirmation bias is more rational than is standardly thought.