PPE Research Fellow Focus: Daniel Hoek

Daniel Hoek, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and PPE affiliate faculty at Virginia Tech, was a PPE research fellow at the Kellogg Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from 2021 to 2023, studying the role of questions in the way we think and the way we act.

“From infancy, human beings are intensely curious creatures –– we are inquirers,” explains Dr. Hoek, “So understanding the role that questions play in the organization of the mind is key to understanding our reasoning and our behavior. Questions direct our attention, shaping the way we take in the world around us. They also impact how we evaluate our options, both as individuals and collectively.

“As an example, imagine you are crossing the street and hear a loud noise. You turn to see a truck barreling towards you. You leap back to the sidewalk just in time to avoid being run over. Now what is the thought that flashed through your mind to make you turn your head? It’s not a piece of information. It’s a question: What was that noise? If your mind hadn’t jumped straight to that vital question, things could have ended badly for you. Supposedly curiosity killed the cat, but often enough asking the right question can save your life!”

From infancy, human beings are intensely curious creatures – we are inquirers

Traditional economic models of behavior assume that people’s choices are guided by their goals and by the information they have. There is no separate place for questions in this picture. At the same time, experiments in behavioral economics have shown the importance of questions in framing our options and determining our choices. In his work, Dr. Hoek developed a variant of the traditional account called inquisitive decision theory, which gives the questions we face a central role in the explanation and prediction of belief-guided behavior.

“Economists may not always have appreciated the power of questions, but salesmen and politicians have!” Dr. Hoek says. “They have known since ancient times that if you want to induce your audience to think or act a certain way, you need to raise the right question in their minds. A great deal of campaigning and advertising is not really about conveying information, but about drawing attention to certain questions. In joint work with Richard Bradley at LSE, we discuss how collective focus on particular questions can shape opinion formation and collective decision making.”

Thanks to generous funding through the PPE fellowship, Dr. Hoek was able to hire a pair of excellent research assistants to aid him in his work on this topic. The assistants on the project, philosophy MA students Dane Stocks and Zeb Dempsey, have both successfully embarked on their own philosophical careers since, starting PhDs at Princeton University and the University of. Southern California respectively. In January 2022, Dr. Hoek’s work on questions was awarded the prestigious Isaac Levi Prize by The Journal of Philosophy.

“I am very grateful to the Kellogg Center for their support of my work through the PPE Research Fellowship,” says Dr. Hoek, “Dane and Zeb’s invaluable contributions made big difference to productivity, and the travel funding has helped enhance the work’s impact.”

To learn more about the Kellogg Center’s research fellowships, please visit this link.

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