Theresa O’Connor

The Fallacy of Asymmetric Idealization

Some of the objections to [info]kirinqueen's open letter to hippies strike me as classic examples of the Fallacy of Asymmetric Idealization. Here's Will Wilkinson's description of it:

The cognitive paternalist (that’s what I call them) is very good about getting into the nitty gritty of actual cognition, its foibles and imperfections, and how the real deal differs from idealizations of rationality. Great! And, then they fail completely to get into the nitty gritty of actual political institutions, their foibles and imperfections, and how they differ from idealizations of collective action. In effect they say this:

In the real world, the mind works like this, and this can lead to all kinds of problems. And in an extremely unrealistic abstract model of government action, its agents can easily and objectively identify problems and act to effectively solve them. So, let’s have the ideal government solve the problems of nonideal cognition.

It sounds stupid when you put it that way, doesn’t it? The trick is figuring out how to work with real minds, using real governments!

He has a perhaps clearer explanation of this in Happiness and Liberal Institutions: Why I’m Doing What I’m Doing.