Democracy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

In very large populations the chance that the

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Unformatted text preview: pulations, the chance that the majority is right approaches certainty. The theorem is an instance of the law of large numbers. If each voter has an independently better than 0.5 chance of getting the right answer then the probability that more than 0.5 of the voters get the right answer approaches 1 as the number of voters becomes very large. Such a result makes sense of Rousseau's famous passage: “Each citizen, in giving his suffrage, states his mind on that question [concerning what the general will is]; and the general will is found by counting the votes. When, therefore, the motion which I opposed carries, it only proves to me that I was mistaken and that what I believed to be the general will was not so” (Rousseau 1762, 95-96). On this account, we have a conception of the authority of democracy. The members of the minority have a powerful reason for shifting their allegiance to the majority position, since each has very good reason to think that the majority is right. There are a number of difficulties with the application of the Condorcet Jury Theorem to the case of voting in elections and referenda. First, many have remarked that voters’ opinions are not independent of each other. Indeed, the democratic process seems to emphasize persuasion and coalition building. And the theorem only works on independent trials. Second, the theorem does not seem to apply to cases in which the information that voters have access to, and on the basis of which they make their judgments, is segmented in various ways so that some sectors of the society do not have the relevant information while others do have it. And modern societies and politics seem to instantiate this kind of segmentation in terms of class, race, ethnic groupings, religion, occupational position, geographical place and so on. One can always have good reason to think that the majority is not properly placed to make a reasonable decision on a certain issue when one is in the minority. Finally, all voters approach issues they have to make decisions on with strong ideological biases thus undermining the sense that each voter is bringing a kind of independent observation on the nature of the common good to the vote. One further worry about the Condorcet Theorem's application seems to be that it would prove too much anyway for it undermines the common practice of the loyal opposition in democracies. Indeed, even in scientific communities the fact that a majority of scientists favor a particular view does not make the minority scientists think that they are wrong, though it does perhaps give them pause (Goodin 2003, chap. 7). 5.2 De mocratic Conse nt The orie s of Authority plato.stanfor d.edu/entr ies/democr acy/ 20/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Some consent theorists have thought that there is a special relation between democracy and legitimate authority at least under certain conditions. John Locke argues (1690, sec. 96) that when a person consents to the creation of a political society, he necessarily consents to the use of majority rule in deciding how the political society is to be organized. Locke thinks that majority rule is the natural decision rule when there are no other ones. He argues that once a society is formed it must move in the direction of the greater force. One way to understand this argument is as follows. If we think of each member of society as an equal and if we think that there is likely to be disagreement beyond the question of whether to join society or not, then we must accept majority rule as the appropriate decision rule. This interpretation of the greater force argument assumes that the expression “greater force” is to be understood in terms of the equal worth of each person's interests and rights, so the society must go in the direction in which the greater number of persons wants it to go. To be sure, Locke thinks that a people, which is formed by individuals in consenting to be members, could choose a monarchy by means of majority rule and so this argument by itself does not give us an argument for democracy. But Locke refers back to this argument when he defends the requirement of representative institutions for deciding when property may be regulated and when taxes may be levied. He argues that a person must consent to the regulation or taxation of his property by the state. But he says that this requirement of consent is satisfied when a majority of the representatives of property holders consent to the regulation and taxation of property (Locke, 1690, sec. 140). This does seem to be moving towards a genuinely democratic conception of legitimate authority. How democratic this conception is depends on how we understand property in Locke's discussion. If it includes the rights of citizens generally, then we have an argument for democratic decision making. But if the idea of property only includes holders of private property then we have an argument for, at best, a highly attenuated form of democratic decision making. Anothe...
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