Democracy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

The basic facts are that individuals are very diverse

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Unformatted text preview: cts are that individuals are very diverse in terms of their interests. P eople's interests are diverse because of their different natural talents, because they are plato.stanfor d.edu/entr ies/democr acy/ 10/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) raised in different sectors of society and because they are raised in societies where there is a diversity of cultural backgrounds. P artly as a consequence of the fact that people are raised in different sectors of society and in distinct cultural milieus they are likely to have deep cognitive biases when they attempt to understand other people's interests and how they are compared to their own interests. Those biases will tend to assimilate other people's interests to their own in some circumstances or downplay them when there is a wide divergence of interests. Hence people have deep cognitive biases towards their own interests. The facts of diversity and of cognitive bias ensure that individuals are highly fallible in their understanding of their own and others’ interests and that there will be considerable disagreement among them. And they are likely to be highly fallible in their efforts to compare the importance of other people's interests to their own. So they are highly fallible in their efforts to realize equal advancement of interests in society. And of course there will be a lot of substantial disagreement about how best to advance each person's interests equally. Against the background of these facts each person has interests that stand out as especially important in a pluralistic society. They have interests in correcting for the cognitive biases of others when it comes to the creation or revision of common economic, legal and political institutions. And each person has interests in living in a world that makes some sense to them, that accords, within limits, to their sense of how that social world out to be structured. The facts described above, and the principle of equality, suggest that each person ought to have an equal say in determining the common legal, economic and political institutions they live under. In the light of these interests each citizen would have good reason to think that his or her interests were not being given the same weight as others if he or she had less decision making power than the others. And so each person who is deprived of a right to an equal say would have reason to believe that she is being treated publicly as an inferior. Furthermore, since each person has an interest in being recognized as an equal member of the community, and having less than an equal say suggests that they are being treated as inferiors, only equality in decision making power is compatible with the public equal advancement of interests. The principle of equal advancement of interests also implies limits to what can be up for democratic control and so the infinite regress noted above is avoided. So against the background facts of diversity, cognitive bias, fallibility and disagreement each person has fundamental interests in having an equal say in the processes of collective decision making. And so in order for people to be treated publicly as equals they must have an equal say in collective decision making (Christiano, 2004). A number of worries attend this kind of view. First, it is generally thought that majority rule is required for treating persons as equals in collective decision making. This is because only majority rule is neutral towards alternatives in decision making. Unanimity tends to favor the status quo as do various forms of supermajority rule. But if this is so, the above view raises the twin dangers of majority tyranny and of persistent minorities i.e. groups of persons who find themselves always losing in majority plato.stanfor d.edu/entr ies/democr acy/ 11/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) decisions. Surely these latter phenomena must be incompatible with equality and even with public equality. Second, the kind of view defended above is susceptible to the criticisms leveled against the ideal of equality in decision making processes. Is it a coherent ideal, in particular in the modern state? This last worry will be discussed in more detail in the next sections on democratic citizenship and legislative representation. The first worry will be discussed more in the discussion on the limits to democratic authority. 3. The Problem of Democratic Citizenship A vexing problem of democratic theory has been to determine whether ordinary citizens are up to the task of governing a large society. There are three distinct problems here. First, P lato (Republic, Book VI) argued that some people are more intelligent and more moral than others and that those persons ought to rule. Second, others have argued that a society must have a division of labor. If everyone were engaged in the complex and difficult task of politics, little time or energy would be left for the other essential tasks of a society. Conversely, if we...
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This document was uploaded on 01/16/2014.

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