Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Should we agree? III: the rationality of groups

In the previous two posts in this series (here and here), I described two arguments for the conclusion that the members of a group should agree. One was an epistemic argument and one a pragmatic argument. Suppose you have a group of individuals. Given an individual, we call the set of propositions to which they assign a credence their agenda. The group's agenda is the union of its member's agendas; that is, it includes any proposition to which some member of the group assigns a credence. The precise conclusion of the two arguments we describe is this: the group is irrational if there no single probability function defined on the group's agenda that gives the credences of each member of the group when restricted to their agenda. Following Matt Kopec, I called this norm Consensus. 

Cats showing a frankly concerning degree of consensus

Friday, 6 May 2022

Should we agree? II: a new pragmatic argument for consensus

There is a PDF version of this blogpost available here.

In the previous post, I introduced the norm of Consensus. This is a claim about the rationality of groups. Suppose you've got a group of individuals. For each individual, call the set of propositions to which they assign a credence their agenda. They might all have quite different agendas, some of them might overlap, others might not. We might say that the credal states of these individual members cohere with one another if there is a some probability function that is defined for any proposition that appears in any member's agenda, and the credences each member assigns to the propositions in their agenda match those assigned by this probability function to those propositions. Then Consensus says that a group is irrational if it does not cohere.

A group coming to consensus

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Should we agree? I: the arguments for consensus

You can find a PDF of this blogpost here.

Should everyone agree with everyone else? Whenever two members of a group have an opinion about the same claim, should they both be equally confident in it? If this is sometimes required of groups, of which ones is it required and when? Whole societies at any time in their existence? Smaller collectives when they're engaged in some joint project?

Of course, you might think these are purely academic questions, since there's no way we could achieve such consensus even if we were to conclude that it is desirable, but that seems too strong. Education systems and the media can be deployed to push a population towards consensus, and indeed this is exactly how authoritarian states often proceed. Similarly, social sanctions can create incentives for conformity. So it seems that a reasonable degree of consensus might be possible.

But is it desirable? In this series of blogposts, I want to explore two formal arguments. They purport to establish that groups should be in perfect agreement; and they explain why getting closer to consensus is better, even if perfect agreement isn't achieved---in this case, a miss is not as good as a mile. It's still a long way from their conclusions to practical conclusions about how to structure a society, but they point sufficiently strongly in a surprising direction that it is worth exploring them. In this first post, I set out the arguments as they have been given in the literature and polish them up a bit so that they are as strong as possible.

Since they're formal arguments, they require a bit of mathematics, both in their official statement and in the results on which they rely. But I want to make the discussion as accessible as possible, so, in the main body of the blogpost, I state the arguments almost entirely without formalism. Then, in the technical appendix, I sketch some of the formal detail for those who are interested.