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Rationally self-ascribed anti-expertise

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In their paper, “I Can’t Believe I’m Stupid,” Adam Elga and Andy Egan introduce a notion of anti-expertise and argue that it is never rational to believe oneself to be an anti-expert. I wish to deny the claim that it is never rational for agents like us to ascribe anti-expertise to ourselves by describing cases where self-ascribed anti-expertise makes real life agents more rational.

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  1. Egan and Elga p. 84. Compare with the use in Sorensen (1987) where it applies only to a specific proposition (see p. 315).

  2. For example, Dreyfus and Dreyfus (2005) claim that expertise is based in unreflective situational responses and intuitive judgments. Also recall the central role Aristotle gives to experience and habituation in the Nicomachean Ethics, which he explicitly extends to medicine and navigation.

  3. Egan and Elga claim that their argument works even if this condition is loosened to “decent access to one’s own beliefs.” (p. 83). Since I do not attack the transparency condition, I leave it in its stronger form.

  4. This is a somewhat informal take on Egan and Elga’s conclusion, which involves probabilistic coherence rather than strict logical contradiction.

  5. This is disputed; Christensen (2007) suggests that this asymmetry follows from more general evidential concerns. In particular, he points to the contingent facts that we typically happen to be in a better position to know about our own beliefs and though our beliefs may line up with those of others, they always line up exactly with themselves. See Christensen pp. 334–335.

  6. Egan and Elga p. 86.

  7. Augustine, Confessions VIII.8 (Rex Warner trans.).

  8. An anonymous reviewer at Philosophical Studies suggested that ideal Bayesian agents might escape this problem updating all their beliefs at once by conditionalization, allowing them to be probabilistically coherent at all times.

  9. Egan and Elga p. 87.

  10. In her Abducted, Clancy (2005) gives a detailed account of how otherwise rational people come to believe they have been abducted by aliens. Most are aware of other more pedestrian explanations and reject them precisely because they feel such explanations do not fit the data as well. For example, an appeal to ‘sleep paralysis’ fails to capture the intensity of the distressing emotions and mysterious quality of the experiences. Paranormal explanations are also able to give meaning and significance to experiences in ways that more clinical and scientific explanations cannot; recall that Carl Jung referred to extraterrestrials as ‘technological angels.’

  11. My conclusions in these cases need not be a single belief, but may result in a set of beliefs about which I can have Egan and Elga style anti-expertise; I may believe Derek is sick, he is at home, he would like chicken soup, etc. or black is due, I should bet on black, I should bet a lot, etc.

  12. Thank you to David Christensen and Eoin Ryan for reviewing drafts and discussing these issues with me (often at length!) and also to an anonymous reviewer from Philosophical Studies for helpful comments.


  • Christensen, D. (2007). Epistemic self-respect. In Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society vol. CVII part 3.

  • Clancy, S. (2005). Abducted. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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  • Dreyfus, H. L., & Dreyfus, S. E. (2005). Peripheral vision: Expertise in real world contexts. Organization Studies, 26, 779.

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  • Egan, A., & Elga, A. (2005). I can’t believe I’m stupid. Philosophical Perspectives, 19, 77–93.

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  • Sorensen, R. A. (1987). Anti-expertise, instability, and rational choice. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 65(3), 302–315.

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Correspondence to Nicolas Bommarito.

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Bommarito, N. Rationally self-ascribed anti-expertise. Philos Stud 151, 413–419 (2010).

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