How Do You Know?

How Do You Know?: The Economics of Ordinary Knowledge

Russell Hardin
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    How Do You Know?
    Book Description:

    How do ordinary people come to know or believe what they do? We need an account of this process to help explain why people act as they do. You might think I am acting irrationally--against my interest or my purpose--until you realize that what you know and what I know differ significantly. My actions, given my knowledge, might make eminently good sense. Of course, this pushes our problem back one stage to assess why someone knows or believes what they do. That is the focus of this book. Russell Hardin supposes that people are not usually going to act knowingly against their interests or other purposes. To try to understand how they have come to their knowledge or beliefs is therefore to be charitable in assessing their rationality. Hardin insists on such a charitable stance in the effort to understand others and their sometimes objectively perverse actions.

    Hardin presents an essentially economic account of what an individual can come to know and then applies this account to many areas of ordinary life: political participation, religious beliefs, popular knowledge of science, liberalism, culture, extremism, moral beliefs, and institutional knowledge. All of these can be enlightened by the supposition that people are attempting reasonable actions under the severe constraints of acquiring better knowledge when they face demands that far outstretch their possibilities.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3066-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
    R. H.
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Ordinary Knowledge
    (pp. 1-27)

    While Samuel Johnson [1709–1784] was working on his book on the lives of the English poets, James Boswell [1740–1795] volunteered his assistance in lining up a conversation with Lord Marchmont about Alexander Pope, one of the poets discussed in the volume. Johnson dismissed the offer, saying, “If it rained knowledge I’d hold out my hand; but I would not give myself the trouble to go in quest of it” (Boswell [1791] 1976, 989).¹ (Pope was, of course, the same Alexander Pope who noted that a little learning is a dangerous thing.) Johnson’s perhaps dyspeptic attitude captures a large...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Popular Knowledge of Science
    (pp. 28-59)

    Scientific knowledge, in each instance of it, is usually something that someone has gone in quest of. If I am, say, a geneticist, I will not have gone in quest of all knowledge in my field; I will merely have held out my hand to receive much of it from others who supposedly did go in quest of it, or who report what someone else who went in quest of it has told us. But part of it will genuinely be mine, in the sense that I will have sought it out. Indeed, I may even have discovered some of...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Democratic Participation
    (pp. 60-82)

    The list of political matters that typical citizens do not know is daunting. Explaining their ignorance and using it to explain various aspects of politics both pose serious tests of any theory of pragmatic or specifically political knowledge. Here are a few of the astonishing facts for the U.S. electorate. About 79 percent of Americans cannot name either of their state’s senators, and 56 percent over the years cannot name any congressional candidate in their district, even at election time. Most Americans grossly overestimate how much foreign aid the United States gives. They know almost nothing about economic performance, and...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Liberalism
    (pp. 83-100)

    A compelling fact about liberalism is that it fits the economic theory of knowledge.¹ Indeed, that account of knowledge, if descriptively correct, virtually demands liberal organization of society to match the organization of knowledge. The core of liberalism is the decentralization of initiative. This distinction could be a normative principle, and it can clearly be defended normatively. But such decentralization is also compelling if knowledge and creativity are diffused through the population, and are not capable of aggregation in some central authority, as they might be in a relatively traditional, small, communal society. In a modern, complex society—even as...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Moral Knowledge
    (pp. 101-120)

    Why do people have the moral views they have? This question suggests many issues. I wish to address only the general structure of the ordinary person’s learning of morals. I will not address the moral theorist’s program of justifying morality or a particular moral theory. Rather, I will focus on the plausible nature of common reasoning about morality. In rough outline, reasoning about morality must be quite similar to practical reasoning in dealing with other matters on which we must act, and must therefore decide or reason through what to do. Reasoning about morality will turn on the moral knowledge...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Institutional Knowledge
    (pp. 121-134)

    Two important knowledge issues arise in the context of institutions, especially institutions that are organizations. Such institutions have physical locations with mailing addresses, although this characteristic is being transformed in the contemporary world of the internet and pervasive globalization. A generation ago, one might also have said they have telephones, but these have since been replaced by answering machines. The first knowledge issue, of course, is merely the complications of ordinary knowledge in institutional settings. The second is the change in moral perspectives that institutions introduce. Let us address the first of these issues before turning to the second issue,...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Religious Belief and Practice
    (pp. 135-160)

    One might suppose that, whatever form it takes, a theory of knowledge must be generally applicable to all knowledge. Hence, the explanation of religious belief is merely a part of the explanation of beliefs more generally, although it might exhibit special characteristics, in part because of differing incentives on offer from the larger society of the believer. But even for religion, an ordinary person’s knowledge must depend in general on the costs and benefits of discovering bits of it and of putting them to use. Once discovered, however, a bit of knowledge will be counted as true to the extent...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Culture
    (pp. 161-184)

    Culture is a product of knowledge and the constraints and commitments that follow from that knowledge. These constraints and commitments give culture its bite. Hence, if we are to understand culture and its appeals, we must understand the knowledge from which it is built. The characteristics of cultural knowledge and the characteristic manner in which it is obtained tell the story of cultural commitments, and allow us to assess it normatively. Attempting to assess it cold, without understanding the communal knowledge on which it is built, will fail. In particular, if we want to understand cultural commitments, we must understand...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Extremism
    (pp. 185-204)

    Jeremy Bentham remarked that religious motivations are among the most constant of all motivations. And, although such a motivation need not be especially powerful, it can be among the most powerful. Because of the constancy of the motivation, Bentham continutes, “A pernicious act, therefore, when committed through the motive of religion, is more mischievous than when committed through the motive of ill-will” (Bentham [1789] 1970, 156). He explains this conclusion from fanaticism, which of course need not be religiously motivated, and in the twentieth century was as destructively motivated by ideological and nationalist sentiments as by religious sentiments. This is...

  14. References
    (pp. 205-218)
  15. Index
    (pp. 219-224)