October, 2007

Are Disagreements Honest?

  • Robin D. Hanson

    Associate Professor of Economics, George Mason University
  • Tyler Cowen

    Holbert L. Harris Chair of Economics at George Mason University
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We review literatures on agreeing to disagree and on the rationality of differing priors in order to evaluate the honesty of typical disagreements. A robust result is that honest truth-seeking agents with common priors should not knowingly disagree. Typical disagreement seems explainable by a combination of random belief influences and by priors that tell each person that he reasons better than others. When criticizing others, however, people seem to uphold rationality standards that disapprove of such self-favoring priors. This suggests that typical disagreements are dishonest. We conclude by briefly considering how one might try to become more honest when disagreeing.