The following opinion piece is one of a series of five being released this week and next to celebrate World Philosophy Day and to publicise the upcoming workshop entitled Editor’s Cut – A view of philosophical research from journal editors. the workshop will take place at the University of London on Friday 13th of January 2012.
Vincent F. Hendricks
University of Copenhagen and Columbia University
Editor of Synthese
Useful philosophy is seldom pure philosophy. It is rather philosophy mixed with something else, in order to solve some pertinent, conceptual or practical problems. Philosophical research for the future is an essentially interdisciplinary enterprise, involving scholars from a good spread of disciplines ranging from humanities over social science to natural science and technology.
An example: “democracy”. Among political philosophers the concept of democracy has been studied for ages. Recent years have witnessed a growing public interest in the concept given installations of democracies in former dictatorships, the Arab spring, cultural and religious clashes, freedom of speech issues, the secular society, etc.
Only one species have configured a democracy and decided to live according to deliberative democratic guidelines. The configuration and decision is particular to man. No democracy among ants, dolphins or hippos. According to Winston Churchill “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” Democracy may thus be as good as it gets for humans and from this perspective the quintessential example of rational agent interaction is a robust deliberative democracy.
A deliberative democracy is characterized by group deliberation, decision and action. Central to deliberation, decision and action is information. Information acquisition and processing are essential fabrics in rational deliberation, decision and action, which in turn amount to the rational interaction among members of a group or a democracy. Information technology and computer science all of a sudden become acutely relevant to democracy, and the study of democratic processes is no longer a pure philosophical province of scientific inquiry.
The cement of any deliberating group or deciding body is the rational interaction among its members. Rational interaction between agents is determined by the knowledge they have, their preferences, the arguments they can muster for their opinions, decisions and actions. Recent studies in social psychology, social science, economics, computer science and jurisprudence show that concepts dear to democratic thought since the Enlightenment, like rational decision, informed action, truthful justification, etc., are acutely sensitive to the way in which agents or members of a group process their information in order to rationally interact. Communication and intelligent information processing are needed to make informed decisions, carry out important actions, hold true beliefs, all of which are cornerstones in a deliberative democracy. It is better to deliberate and thus acquire additional information before voting, deciding and acting.
New empirical findings, especially from social psychology and economics, demonstrate that one may derail or manipulate otherwise rational agents in a democratic process or setting with exactly information. Derailing deciding agents with too little information is referred to as pluralistic ignorance; derailing with too much information is known as informational cascades; using information selection may lead to belief polarization and finally information presentation may be responsible for framing effects. Thus, phenomena up until now primarily studied by social psychology may actually be classified as information phenomena characterized by the nature of information involved in manipulating agents (Hansen & Hendricks 2011).
|Information phenomena||Nature of information|
|… manipulation via …||too little information|
|… manipulation via …||too much information|
|… manipulation via …||Information presentation|
|… manipulation via …||Information selection|
Such phenomena, and many others like them, are potentially dangerous for a deliberative democracy, since they may tap into the way in which “informed” agents make “rational” decisions, perform “rational” actions and hold “rational” beliefs.
Philosophy has something to offer here, conceptually as well as practically. A host of formal methods drawn from various branches of formal epistemology, logic, informatics and computer science may be tuned to study the interplay between information processes and democracy. Key developments include social software, social choice theory, cooperative game theory, theory of rational agency and interaction, multi-agent systems, formal learning and information acquisition, logical as well as probabilistic models of belief dynamics.
The first IPAD results are beginning to appear – resolution of pluralistic ignorance using formal learning theory, formalization and the structural architecture of informational cascades, modal logical models of pluralistic ignorance, Bayesian models and computer simulations of belief polarization, the nature of group agency, etc. We are just getting warmed up, come join …
- Floridi, L. (2011). Information – A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
- Hendricks, V.F. (2011). “Knowledge Transmissibility and Pluralistic Ignorance”, Metaphilosophy 41(3): 279-291.
- Hansen, P.G. & Hendricks, V.F. (2011). Oplysningens blinde vinkler. Copenhagen: Samfundslitteratur. English version in preparation / Blind Spots of Enlightenment, forthcoming 2012.
- “Singular Doubt and Pluralisitic Ignorance”, with Carlo Proietti and Frank Zenker, forthcoming
- “Characteristic Cascades: Structure, Formalization, Resolution”, with Rasmus K. Rendsvig, forthcoming
17. september 2011, 19:00:51
Vincent Hendricks (Copenhagen/Columbia) gives a talk at the Workshop on Mathematical Philosophy, LMU Munich entitled “IPAD – Information Processing and the Analysis of Democracy”. Abstract: Only one species have configured a democracy and decided to live according to deliberative democratic guidelines. The configuration and decision is particular to man. A deliberative democracy is characterized by both group deliberation, decision and action. Central to this epistemic composite is information as information processing is an essential fabric of rational deliberation, decision and action which in turn amount to the rational interaction among members of a group or a democracy. Thus, a robust deliberative democracy is the quintessential example of rational agent interaction. This intimate connection fuels a new research paradigm in interdisciplinary philosophy: IPAD — Information Processing and the Analysis of Democracy.
Vincent F. Hendricks and Erik Olsson are the principal investigators of the CPH-Lund Workshops in Social Epistemology. The CPH-Lund Workshops on Social Epistemology is a series of four workshops in social epistemology, focusing on topics like belief polarization, pluralistic ignorance, echo chambers and informational cascades.