Dictionary.com defines insouciant as free from concern, worry or anxiety; carefree; nonchalant. To be epistemic insouciant then is to be carefree or nonchalant regarding knowledge. Epistemic insouciance can be characterized as a lack of concern regarding accurate information, true beliefs, and verifiable knowledge. Whether you know something or not, whether what you think you know is correct or not is of little concern.
In Vices of the Mind, Quassim Cassam writes the following about epistemic insouciance:
“Epistemic insouciance means not really caring about any of this [whether claims are grounded in reality or the evidence] and being excessively casual and nonchalant about the challenge of finding answers to complex questions, partly as a result of a tendency to view such questions as much less complex than they really are.”
Cassam continues to define epistemic insouciance as an attitude vice, different from other epistemic vices in the book that he characterizes as thinking style vices or character trait vices. To demonstrate how it becomes an attitude vice, Cassam uses reporting from the Brexit campaign to demonstrate how a lack of concern over evidence and the impact of complex questions reflected an epistemically insouciant attitude. According to Cassam, reports indicated that Boris Johnson, current British Prime Minister, did not care much about the actual outcomes of the vote on remaining in or leaving the European Union. Johnson eventually wrote an article supporting the decision to leave, but he reportedly had an article written supporting the decision to remain had that option won in general election. His interests were in supporting the winning position, not in the hard work of trying to determine which side he should support and what the actual social, financial, and future impacts of the choices would be. He didn’t care about the evidence and information surrounding the decision, but rather that he looked like he was on the right side.
Epistemic insouciance is not limited to politicians. We can all be guilty of epistemic insouciance, and in some ways we cannot move through the world without it. At the moment, I need to make a decision regarding a transmission repair for a vehicle of mine. I have a lot of important concerns at the moment outside of this vehicle’s transmission. I have a lot of responsibilities and items that require my focus that I think are more important than the transmission issue. I am not interested in really evaluating any evidence to support the decision I eventually make for repairing the transmission or just getting rid of the vehicle. If I were not epistemically insouciant on this issue, I would research the costs more thoroughly, try to understand how much usage I can get out of the vehicle if I repair it, and consider alternatives such as what it could be sold for and what I would spend for a better vehicle. However, this is a lot of work for an item that is not a major concern for me at the moment. I can save the mental energy and attention for more important issues.
Our minds are limited. We cannot be experts in all areas and all decisions that we have to make. Some degree of epistemic insouciance is sometimes necessary, even if it can be financially costly. However, it is important that we recognize when we are being epistemically insouciant and that we try to understand the risks associated with this attitude in our decisions. We should ensure that we are not epistemically insouciant on the most important decisions in our lives, and we should try to clear out the mental clutter and habits that may make us epistemically insouciant on those important issues.