Democracy is not naturally plausible. Why turn such important matters over to masses of people who have no expertise? Many theories of democracy answer by appealing to the intrinsic value of democratic procedure, leaving aside whether it makes good decisions. In Democratic Authority, David Estlund offers a groundbreaking alternative based on the idea that democratic authority and legitimacy must depend partly on democracy's tendency to make good decisions.Just as with verdicts in jury trials, Estlund argues, the authority and legitimacy of (...) a political decision does not depend on the particular decision being good or correct. But the "epistemic value" of the procedure--the degree to which it can generally be accepted as tending toward a good decision--is nevertheless crucial. Yet if good decisions were all that mattered, one might wonder why those who know best shouldn't simply rule.Estlund's theory--which he calls "epistemic proceduralism"--avoids epistocracy, or the rule of those who know. He argues that while some few people probably do know best, this can be used in political justification only if their expertise is acceptable from all reasonable points of view. If we seek the best epistemic arrangement in this respect, it will be recognizably democratic--with laws and policies actually authorized by the people subject to them. (shrink)
A leading political theorist’s groundbreaking defense of ideal conceptions of justice in political philosophy Throughout the history of political philosophy and politics, there has been continual debate about the roles of idealism versus realism. For contemporary political philosophy, this debate manifests in notions of ideal theory versus nonideal theory. Nonideal thinkers shift their focus from theorizing about full social justice, asking instead which feasible institutional and political changes would make a society more just. Ideal thinkers, on the other hand, question (...) whether full justice is a standard that any society is likely ever to satisfy. And, if social justice is unrealistic, are attempts to understand it without value or importance, and merely utopian? Utopophobia argues against thinking that justice must be realistic, or that understanding justice is only valuable if it can be realized. David Estlund does not offer a particular theory of justice, nor does he assert that justice is indeed unrealizable—only that it could be, and this possibility upsets common ways of proceeding in political thought. Estlund engages critically with important strands in traditional and contemporary political philosophy that assume a sound theory of justice has the overriding, defining task of contributing practical guidance toward greater social justice. Along the way, he counters several tempting perspectives, including the view that inquiry in political philosophy could have significant value only as a guide to practical political action, and that understanding true justice would necessarily have practical value, at least as an ideal arrangement to be approximated. Demonstrating that unrealistic standards of justice can be both sound and valuable to understand, Utopophobia stands as a trenchant defense of ideal theory in political philosophy. (shrink)
Political equality is in tension with political quality, and quality has recently been neglected. My thesis is that proper attention to the quality of democratic procedures and their outcomes requires that we accept substantive inequalities of political input in the interest of increasing input overall. Mainly, I hope to refute political egalitarianism, the view that justice or legitimacy requires substantive political equality, specifically equal availability of power or influence over collective choices that have legal force. I hope to show that (...) political egalitarianism exaggerates individual rights in the conduct of political procedures, and neglects the substantive justice of the decisions made through those procedures. Some unequal distributions of influence may better promote just decisions, and without reliance on any invidious comparisons such as the relative wisdom of the wealthy or the educated. (shrink)
In Human Nature and the Limits of Political Philosophy, I argued that justice might require things of people that they cannot bring themselves to do. A central step was to argue that this does not entail an inability to ‘do’ the putatively required thing. David Wiens challenges that argument of mine, and this piece is my reply.
Democracy brings together some of the most sophisticated thinking on democratic theory in one concise volume. Written by experts in the field, these contemporary readings are distinctively philosophical, but will appeal to students in historical, empirical, legal, or policy- oriented disciplines which deal with democratic theory.
Suppose justice depends on some very unlikely good behavior. In that case the true theory of justice might have no practical value. But then, what good would it be? I consider analogies with science and mathematics in order to test various ways of tying their the value of intellectual work to practice, though I argue that these fail. If their value, or that of some political theory, is not practical then what is good about them? As for political theory, I (...) consider the question of what would even count as an answer to this question, and I conclude with the tentative proposal that it is valuable to come to understand something that is, itself, important. (shrink)
Waldron argues that recent treatments of justice have neglected reasonable disagreement about justice itself. So Waldron offers a procedural account of democratic legitimacy, in which contending views of justice can be brought together to arrive at a decision without deciding which one is correct. However, if there is reasonable disagreement about everything, then this includes his preferred account of legitimacy. On the other hand, it is not clear that Waldron is right to count so much disagreement as reasonable. But then (...) Waldron has not undermined the view he opposes in which some prevailing disagreement about justice is held to be unreasonable. (shrink)
The papers published in this special issue can fairly be unified under the heading “Epistemic Democracy,” but there is more variety among them than this might indicate. They exhibit the broad range of ways in which epistemological considerations are figuring in contemporary philosophical discussions of democracy. The authors range from young and promising to established and distinguished. I'd like to introduce a few of the issues that run through the papers, sprinkling references to the actual papers along the way. From (...) the beginning, democratic forms of government have included discussion and debate. In real life the value of democracy can hardly be separated from the value of free public discussion, prior to voting, about the issues and candidates. This is not to say that either the discussion or the vote have always been inspiring, but whatever value democracy is thought to have, it seems inseparable from public political discussion. One way of accounting for the value of the discussion is to suppose that voters exchange reasons (not always cooperatively) about what to do. Even a quick look at the content of political debate seems to confirm that it is mostly about which decision would be best for the country or city whose laws or leaders are in question. (shrink)
Under the assumptions of the standard Condorcet Jury Theorem, majority verdicts are virtually certain to be correct if the competence of voters is greater than one-half, and virtually certain to be incorrect if voter competence is less than one-half. But which is the case? Here we turn the Jury Theorem on its head, to provide one way of addressing that question. The same logic implies that, if the outcome saw 60 percent of voters supporting one proposition and 40 percent the (...) other, then average voter competence must either be 0.60 or 0.40. We still have to decide which, but limiting the choice to those two values is a considerable aid in that. Key Words: Condorcet Jury Theorem • epistemic democracy • voter competence. (shrink)
Sunstein argues that democratic theory has recently rested its normative claims on a vast but empirically uninformed optimism about the ability of collective deliberation to lead to morally and rationally better decisions. Once that question is considered empirically, he argues, deliberation turns out to be mixed at best, and a disaster at worst. I want to suggest that Sunstein exaggerates the claims of the deliberative democrats, and interprets the empirical literature against deliberation in a way that appears, even based on (...) his own descriptions of the studies, to be unfairly biased against the value of deliberation. (shrink)
It is often argued that if one holds a liberal political philosophy about individual rights against the state and the community, then one cannot consistently say that a state that violates those principles is owed the right of noninterference. How could the rights of the collective trump the rights of individuals in a liberal view? I believe that this debate calls for more reflection, on the relation between liberalism and individualism. I will sketch a conception of liberalism in which there (...) is nothing awkward about saying that associations, as such, have some moral rights to noninterference. If liberal associationism is compelling in general terms then, if states can be shown to be associations in the relevant respects, then liberalism itself will supply the moral basis for a right of that kind, held by a state or people as such, to nonintervention. (shrink)