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Unformatted text preview: live in and support a society that does not
accord with my conception of how it ought to be organized. It is not clear why this is
any less of a loss of control over society than for those who must live in a society that
is partly regulated by principles they do not accept.
2.2.3 Equal i ty
Many democratic theorists have argued that democracy is a way of treating persons as
equals when there is good reason to impose some kind of organization on their shared
lives but they disagree about how best to do it. On one version, defended by P eter
Singer (1973, pp. 30-41), when people insist on different ways of arranging matters
properly, each person in a sense claims a right to be dictator over their shared lives. But
these claims to dictatorship cannot all hold up, the argument goes. Democracy
embodies a kind of peaceful and fair compromise among these conflicting claims to
rule. Each compromises equally on what he claims as long as the others do, resulting in
each having an equal say over decision making. In effect, democratic decision making
respects each person's point of view on matters of common concern by giving each an
equal say about what to do in cases of disagreement (Singer 1973, Waldron 1999, chap.
One difficulty is that this view relies on agreement much as the liberty views described
above. What if people disagree on the democratic method or on the particular form
democracy is to take? Are we to decide these latter questions by means of a higher
order procedure? And if there is disagreement on the higher order procedure, must we
also democratically decide that question? The view seems to lead to an infinite regress.
Another egalitarian defense of democracy asserts that it publicly embodies the equal
advancement of the interests of the citizens of a society when there is disagreement
plato.stanfor d.edu/entr ies/democr acy/ 9/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) about how best to organize their shared life. The idea is that a society ought to be
structured to advance equally the interests of the members of the society. And the
equality of members ought to be advanced in a way that each can see that they are being
treated as equals. So it requires equal advancement of interests in accordance with a
public measure of those interests. Hence, justice requires the publicly equal
advancement of the interests of the members of society or public equality.
The idea of public equality requires some explanation. If we start with the principle of
equal advancement of interests, we will want to know what it implies. Does it imply
equality of well being or equality of opportunity for well being or equality of
resources? There are other possibilities but the problem with these accounts is that
they cannot be realized in a way that every conscientious and informed person can know
them to be in place. So even if one of these principles is implemented many will think
that they are not being treated equally. There are likely to be too many disagreements
about what each person's well being consists in and how to compare it to the well being
of others. The question for a political society is, is there a kind of equality that
genuinely advances equally the interests of the members of the society but that does so
in a way that all conscientious and informed people can agree treats them as equals?
And the answer to this question must be informed by background facts of diversity,
cognitive bias, fallibility and disagreement. P ublic equality is the realization of equality
of advancement of interests that all can see to be such a realization. And the basic
argument for democracy is that it realizes equality of advancement of interests when we
take the background facts above into account.
Now the idea is that public equality is a great value. The importance of publicity itself is
grounded in equality. Given the facts of diversity, cognitive bias, fallibility and
disagreement, each will have reason to think that if they are ruled in accordance with
some specific notion of equality advanced by some particular group that their interests
are likely to be set back in some way. Only a conception of equality that can be shared
by the members of society can give good reason to think that this will not happen.
Within the context set by public equality, people can argue for more specific
implementations of equality among citizens in law and policy all the while knowing that
there will be substantial and conscientious disagreement on them. As long as the
framework within which they make and vote for opposing views is set by public
equality, they can know that at base, the society treats them as equals in a way that they
The publicly equal advancement of interests requires that individuals’ judgments be
taken into account equally when there is disagreement. Here is the argument for the
transition from equal concern for interests to equal concern for judgment. Respect for
each citizen's judgment is grounded in the principle of public equality combined with a
number of basic facts and fundamental interests that attend social life in typical
societies. The basic fa...
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