Acta Analytica

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 199–216 | Cite as

What’s so Good about a Wise and Knowledgeable Public?

  • Kristoffer Ahlstrom-VijEmail author


Philosophers have been concerned for some time with the epistemic caliber of the general public, qua the body that is, ultimately, tasked with political decision-making in democratic societies. Unfortunately, the empirical data paint a pretty dismal picture here, indicating that the public tends to be largely ignorant on the issues relevant to governance. To make matters worse, empirical research on how ignorance tends to breed overconfidence suggests that the public will not only lack knowledge on the relevant issues, but also wisdom, in the Socratic sense of an awareness of your ignorance. While increasing the knowledge and wisdom of the public might be thought an obvious remedy, there is, as far as sound political decision-making and action are concerned, nothing particularly valuable about knowledge or wisdom per se. In fact, it might just be that what the public needs is nothing but the most basic epistemic good: true belief.


Knowledge Wisdom Overconfidence Public ignorance 



I want to thank the participants at the 2011 Bled Epistemology Conference, Lingnan University’s philosophy seminar, and the SERG Research Seminar at the University of Copenhagen for valuable discussion. I’m particularly grateful to Derek Baker, Anne Baril, Mikkel Gerken, David Henderson, Mikael Janvid, Klemens Kappel, Chris Kelp, Paisley Livingston, Nikolaj Jang Lee Linding Pedersen, Jim Rice, Wayne Riggs, Kelly Trogdon, and Sarah Wright. Research underlying the present paper was conducted with generous support from the Velux Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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