“Democracy and Epistemic Peerhood” by Anantharaman Muralidharan

Graduate Seminar Series: 20 Mar 2012, 2-4pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Anantharaman Muralidharan, MA Student


In democracies, policy is enacted either directly or in-directly according to voters’ preferences. However, voters have different preferences. Two things, therefore, seem legitimate in a democracy: First, that policy be the aggregation of the preferences of all the voters, and secondly, that voters, in the face of disagreement, stick to their guns and not moderate their views. The legitimacy of democracy is therefore in part determined by the notion that each voter is equally likely to get policy questions correct. i.e. voters are taken to be epistemic peers. This implies that a lack of peer-hood among voters can potentially undermine the legitimacy of democracies. This would especially be the case if voter ignorance tended to result in systematically unjust policies. A second, related threat to the legitimacy of majority rule is whether voters should in fact stick to their guns. It is often supposed that epistemic peers who disagree and find out that their disagreement is not isolated should moderate their views or even reserve judgement. If voters were to reserve judgement on a large number of contested issues, then everything else being equal, they should be indifferent between candidates and therefore not vote. Democratic theorists are therefore faced with a dilemma: Either, voters are epistemic peers in which case they should reserve judgement and not vote, or, they are not peers, in which case some voters are in a better epistemic position to determine what the best policy is. This essentially results in an impossibility theorem. Democracy is incompatible with epistemic rationality. Epistemic rationality on the part of voters would tend to undermine epistemic defences of democracy.

murali anna 2About the Speaker: Murali is a Masters student concerned with trying to find a more general justification for the Rawlsian framework. He is interested in broadly trying to derive and defend a free-standing theory of justice; democracy and the justifications for it; as well as social epistemology and its implications for democracy.

More information on the Graduate Seminar Series can be found here.

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