Advocates of epistemic deliberative democracy point to deliberations’ propensity to track the truth. Could someone please explain to me what truth there is to track on political matters, which by their very nature are political because no one can agree on a truth that would adjudicate the matter? This seems folly from top to bottom.
epistemic deliberative theory
By Noelle McAfee
I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.View all of Noelle McAfee's posts.
As I understand it, the idea seem to be that democratic deliberation produces knowledge about (a) citizens’ aggregate beliefs and preferences (the “general will”) and (b) which arguments regarding some policy proposal are better than others. Take same-sex marriage as an example. In terms of (a), deliberation might tell us that most people believe that recognizing same-sex marriages will not have any harmful consequences and would prefer that these marriages be recognized. In terms of (b), deliberation might tell us that conservative appeals to the natural teleology of marriage are relatively weak arguments, because they don’t have good responses to cases like infertile heterosexual couples.
Dan, Thanks for your comment. A public opinion poll can uncover (a). The question of (b) begs the question of what makes one argument better than another. The folly I am referring to is that political issues call for choosing in the midst of uncertainty and disagreement. There is no truth to ascertain. Or as Aristotle said of deliberation:
“Do we deliberate about everything, and is everything a possible subject of deliberation, or is deliberation impossible about some things? We ought presumably to call not what a fool or a madman would deliberate about, but what a sensible man would deliberate about, a subject of deliberation. Now about eternal things no one deliberates, e.g. about the material universe or the incommensurability of the diagonal and the side of a square. But no more do we deliberate about the things that involve movement but always happen in the same way, whether of necessity or by nature or from any other cause, e.g. the solstices and the risings of the stars; nor about things that happen now in one way, now in another, e.g. droughts and rains; nor about chance events, like the finding of treasure. But we do not deliberate even about all human affairs; for instance, no Spartan deliberates about the best constitution for the Scythians. For none of these things can be brought about by our own efforts.
“We deliberate about things that are in our power and can be done; and these are in fact what is left. For nature, necessity, and chance are thought to be causes, and also reason and everything that depends on man. Now every class of men deliberates about the things that can be done by their own efforts. And in the case of exact and self-contained sciences there is no deliberation, e.g. about the letters of the alphabet (for we have no doubt how they should be written); but the things that are brought about by our own efforts, but not always in the same way, are the things about which we deliberate, e.g. questions of medical treatment or of money-making. And we do so more in the case of the art of navigation than in that of gymnastics, inasmuch as it has been less exactly worked out, and again about other things in the same ratio, and more also in the case of the arts than in that of the sciences; for we have more doubt about the former. Deliberation is concerned with things that happen in a certain way for the most part, but in which the event is obscure, and with things in which it is indeterminate. We call in others to aid us in deliberation on important questions, distrusting ourselves as not being equal to deciding.” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book III, ch. 3)
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