, Volume 191, Issue 11, pp 2445–2470 | Cite as

On the rationality of pluralistic ignorance

  • Jens Christian Bjerring
  • Jens Ulrik Hansen
  • Nikolaj Jang Lee Linding Pedersen


Pluralistic ignorance is a socio-psychological phenomenon that involves a systematic discrepancy between people’s private beliefs and public behavior in certain social contexts. Recently, pluralistic ignorance has gained increased attention in formal and social epistemology. But to get clear on what precisely a formal and social epistemological account of pluralistic ignorance should look like, we need answers to at least the following two questions: What exactly is the phenomenon of pluralistic ignorance? And can the phenomenon arise among perfectly rational agents? In this paper, we propose answers to both these questions. First, we characterize different versions of pluralistic ignorance and define the version that we claim most adequately captures the examples cited as paradigmatic cases of pluralistic ignorance in the literature. In doing so, we will stress certain key epistemic and social interactive aspects of the phenomenon. Second, given our characterization of pluralistic ignorance, we argue that the phenomenon can indeed arise in groups of perfectly rational agents. This, in turn, ensures that the tools of formal epistemology can be fully utilized to reason about pluralistic ignorance.


Pluralistic ignorance Epistemic rationality Social behavior Rational interaction Private beliefs Public beliefs 



First of all, we would like to thank Carlo Proietti and Frank Zenker for organizing the CPH-LU workshops on social epistemology. We would also like to thank the participants of the CPH-LU workshops in Lund and Copenhagen and the participants of the LIRa/LogiCIC seminar at ILLC for useful comments and suggestions. We benefited especially from discussions on the topic with Carlo Proietti, Rasmus Rendsvig, and Vincent Hendricks. Finally, we would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for useful comments and suggestions.Jens Ulrik Hansen is sponsored by the Carlsberg Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jens Christian Bjerring
    • 1
  • Jens Ulrik Hansen
    • 2
  • Nikolaj Jang Lee Linding Pedersen
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Culture and Society, Research Program for PhilosophyAarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyLund UniversityLundSweden
  3. 3.Underwood International CollegeYonsei UniversitySeoulSouth Korea

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