Perspective and Epistemic State Ascriptions
Published online: 12 October 2017
Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017
Abstract This article explores whether perspective taking has an impact on the
ascription of epistemic states. To do so, a new method is introduced which incites
participants to imagine themselves in the position of the protagonist of a short vignette
and to judge from her perspective. In a series of experiments (total N=1980),
perspective proves to have a significant impact on belief ascriptions, but not on
knowledge ascriptions. For belief, perspective is further found to moderate the episte-
mic side-effect effect significantly. It is hypothesized that the surprising findings are
driven by the special epistemic authority we enjoy in assessing our own belief states,
which does not extend to the assessment of our own knowledge states.
1.1 Perspective and Perspective Taking
The impact of perspective is ubiquitous in psychology. We tend to overestimate our
own abilities and positive contributions in comparison to those of others, as document-
ed by the self-serving bias (for reviews cf. Blaine and Crocker 1993, Mezulis et al.
2004). In explaining other people’s actions, we primarily invoke the agent’scharacter
traits, whereas in explaining our own actions, we focus strongly on situational features,
a phenomenon which is called the actor-observer asymmetry (Jones and Nisbett 1971,
cf. Knobe and Malle (2002) for a review and Malle (2006) for a meta-analysis).
Perspective also influences judgments about the riskiness of decisions (Fernandez-
Duque and Wifall 2007; Pollai and Kirchler 2012) and the moral permissibility of
actions (Nadelhoffer and Feltz 2008). Even as regards happiness maximization, per-
spective has a pronounced effect: While people are strongly inclined to plug others into
a Nozickian experience machine, they are loathe to plug in themselves (Weijers 2014).
Rev.Phil.Psych. (2018) 9:313–341
* Markus Kneer
Department of History & Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh,
1017 Cathedral of Learning, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA