Deliberative Democracy, Preference Change, and Social Choice

Dissertation, Duke University (2003)
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Abstract

My dissertation considers the limits and possibilities of deliberative democracy. It provides a critique of the two leading theories of political deliberation, Habermas's discourse ethics and Rawls's political liberalism, and concludes with the elaboration of a revised model of deliberative decision-making procedures. These two tasks are guided, in large part, by the findings of social choice theory, which identify conceptual and practical problems associated with the aggregation of individual preference orderings. Because most political theorists do not incorporate social choice theory into their works, it offers a novel perspective from which to analyze deliberative democracy. This analysis also leads to a better understanding of the significance of social choice findings for democratic thought and practice. Two basic questions are addressed by my dissertation. First, how do the normative and empirical assumptions of deliberative theories of democracy affect preference formation and transformation? The likelihood that deliberation will change individual preference orderings is a function of institutional, socio-cultural, and psychological factors. The institutional components refer to the rules that structure the deliberative process. The socio-cultural components include the stock of ideas and principles that can be brought to bear in public discussions. Psychological considerations involve the participant's cognitive and emotional responses to deliberation. To understand the nature of individual preference change in the deliberative theories of Habermas and Rawls, I closely examine and critique the assumptions they make about deliberative institutions , democratic society and the psychological dispositions of citizens . The second question is: How should issues of fairness and practical concerns be balanced in deliberative decision-making procedures? Having identified what is valuable and problematic in the deliberative theories of Habermas and Rawls, I offer a hybrid model of deliberative democracy in chapter 5. My model provides a synthesis of the deliberative institutions proposed by Habermas and Rawls, taking into account the desire for fair deliberative procedures and the practical constraints that often necessitate normative compromise. In so doing, my model of deliberative democracy promotes robust political deliberation and decision-making by balancing the concerns of social stability, rationality, and fairness.

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