This preview shows page 1. Sign up to view the full content.
Unformatted text preview: all. To evaluate their arguments we must decide on the merits of the
different principles and conceptions of humanity and society from which they proceed. plato.stanfor d.edu/entr ies/democr acy/ 2/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) 2. The Justification of Democracy
We can evaluate democracy along at least two different dimensions: consequentially, by
reference to the outcomes of using it compared with other methods of political
decision making; or intrinsically, by reference to qualities that are inherent in the
method, for example, whether there is something inherently fair about making
democratic decisions on matters on which people disagree. 2.1 Instrume ntalism
2.1.1 Instrumental Arguments i n F avor of Democracy
Two kinds of in instrumental benefits are commonly attributed to democracy: relatively
good laws and policies and improvements in the characters of the participants. John
Stuart Mill argued that a democratic method of making legislation is better than nondemocratic methods in three ways: strategically, epistemically and via the improvement
of the characters of democratic citizens (Mill, 1861, Chapter 3). Strategically,
democracy has an advantage because it forces decision-makers to take into account the
interests, rights and opinions of most people in society. Since democracy gives some
political power to each, more people are taken into account than under aristocracy or
monarchy. The most forceful contemporary statement of this instrumental argument is
provided by Amartya Sen, who argues, for example, that “no substantial famine has ever
occurred in any independent country with a democratic form of government and a
relatively free press” (Sen 1999, 152). The basis of this argument is that politicians in a
multiparty democracy with free elections and a free press have incentives to respond to
the expressions of needs of the poor.
Epistemologically, democracy is thought to be the best decision-making method on the
grounds that it is generally more reliable in helping participants discover the right
decisions. Since democracy brings a lot of people into the process of decision making,
it can take advantage of many sources of information and critical assessment of laws
and policies. Democratic decision-making tends to be more informed than other forms
about the interests of citizens and the causal mechanisms necessary to advance those
interests. Furthermore, the broad based discussion typical of democracy enhances the
critical assessment of the different moral ideas that guide decision-makers.
Many have endorsed democracy on the basis of the proposition that democracy has
beneficial effects on character. Many have noted with Mill and Rousseau that
democracy tends to make people stand up for themselves more than other forms of rule
do because it makes collective decisions depend on them more than monarchy or
aristocracy do. Hence, in democratic societies individuals are encouraged to be more
autonomous. In addition, democracy tends to get people to think carefully and rationally
more than other forms of rule because it makes a difference whether they do or not.
plato.stanfor d.edu/entr ies/democr acy/ 3/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Finally, some have argued that democracy tends to enhance the moral qualities of
citizens. When they participate in making decisions, they have to listen to others, they
are called upon to justify themselves to others and they are forced to think in part in
terms of the interests of others. Some have argued that when people find themselves in
this kind of circumstance, they come genuinely to think in terms of the common good
and justice. Hence, some have argued that democratic processes tend to enhance the
autonomy, rationality and morality of participants. Since these beneficial effects are
thought to be worthwhile in themselves, they count in favor of democracy and against
other forms of rule (Mill 1861, p. 74, Elster 2002, p. 152).
Some argue in addition that the above effects on character tend to enhance the quality of
legislation as well. A society of autonomous, rational, and moral decision-makers is
more likely to produce good legislation than a society ruled by a self-centered person
or small group of persons who rule over slavish and unreflective subjects.
More detailed knowledge of the effects of political institutions can be used to
discriminate in favor of particular kinds of democratic institutions or modifications of
them. For instance in the United States, James Madison argued in favor of a fairly
strong federal government on the grounds that local governments are more likely to be
oppressive to minorities (Madison, Hamilton and Jay 1788, n. 10). Of course the
soundness of any of the above arguments depends on the truth or validity of the
associated substantive views about justice and the common good as well as the causal
theories of the consequences of different institutions.
2.1.2 Instrumental Arguments agai nst Democracy
Not all instrumental arguments favor democracy....
View Full Document