Abstract: Critical race theorists and standpoint epistemologists argue that agents who are members of dominant social groups are often ignorant as to the extent of their social dominance, and that they are so ignorant precisely because they are a member of a socially dominant group. Perhaps the most famous recent academic work defending this thesis is Charles Mills' modern classic "White Ignorance" (2007). To illustrate this claim bluntly, it is argued: 1) that many white men do not know the extent of their social dominance, 2) that they remain ignorant as to the extent of their dominant social position even where this information is freely attainable, and 3) that this ignorance is due in part to the fact that they are white men. Mills describes ignorance by elite agents of their privileged status as "motivated irrationality." Indeed, on classic economic accounts of rationality, any willful ignorance of costless information can only be regarded as irrational. However, we argue that on more nuanced accounts of rationality, such as the risk-weighted rationality framework proposed by Laura Buchak, ignorance of one's privileges can be rational. This argument yields a new account of elite-group ignorance, why it may occur, and how it can be overcome. (This work in progress is co-authored with Liam Kofi Bright, Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics.)
David Kinney is a Complexity Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute.