Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Epistemic Democracy, Self-Interest and The Common Good

par Girard (1er/03/2012)

A just society has to identify and promote the common good. One of the most powerful justifications of democracy that has been provided in the recent decades claims that democracy is legitimate and fair because it more likely than other institutional systems pursues the common good. According to this epistemic justification of democracy however, to achieve this aim citizens do not have to aggregate their preferences by voting or negotiate over their interested proposals, but they have to deliberate. Deliberation should, ideally, be open to all those affected by the decision. The participants should have equal opportunity to influence the process, they should listen to one another and give reasons to one another that they think the others can comprehend and accept. These requirements rule out the exercise of power, propaganda, expression of mere self-interest, and threats (of the sort that characterise bargaining). In this paper I will challenge the traditional contraposition between common good and self-interest and I will argue that an epistemic account of deliberative democracy cannot exclude self-interest and some forms of negotiation from the deliberative sphere. To sustain this claim I will analyse what the common good of a polity means. Firstly, I will distinguish the debate on constitutional essentials from the public policies’ debate and I will argue that though the exclusion of self-interest from the former is acceptable, it does not hold in the latter case. Within the public policy debate, in fact, people cannot identify the common good if they do not take into account their self-interest and demand that the whole polity acknowledges the legitimacy of their interested proposals. To pursue the common good, a democracy has to legitimise some forms of negotiation (democratic bargaining) that could deal with interested claims without undermining fairness. Since an account of democratic bargaining will more likely identify and promote the common good than the traditional account of deliberative democracy, I will conclude that it is not only a legitimate and fair alternative to deliberation but, at least from an epistemic point of view, a better democratic procedure.

Charles Girard : « The Common Good as Equal Promotion of all Individual Interests »
The classical understanding of modern democracy as self-government among equals implies two constitutive democratic principles : the pursuit of political autonomy and the pursuit of the common good. The latter has long been denounced by “minimalist” critics, but also, more recently, by some deliberative democrats. According to the false common good criticism, the common good does not exist : because there are only divergent self-interests that cannot be reconciled, to invoke the common good is to invoke an illusion. According to the moral conversion, while something like the common good might exist, it cannot be reached, because individuals are primarily motivated by their self-interest and cannot agree to put them aside in order to promote the common good. An epistemic conception of deliberative democracy needs to respond to both challenges. This paper argues that i) the common good is best understood as the equal promotion of all individual self-interests ; and that ii) given this definition, both criticisms can be refuted. To do so, it elaborates a conceptual distinction between one’s individual self-interest and one’s specific interests, drawing on Barry’s analysis of interest. It criticizes Barry’s (and Pettit’s) definition of the common good as the set of interests that are shared by all citizens qua citizens. Such a definition implies excluding from the common good particular interests of which the satisfaction is deemed legitimate (for instance certain interests shared only by women, the elderly, etc.). Even if the interests that are shared by all are defined ex ante or ex ignorantia, the Barry/Pettit strategy cannot secure all legitimate particular interests. However, such interests can be included in the perimeter of the common good if it is defined as the equal promotion of all individual (vs. specific) interests. This concept helps to take up the false common good and the moral conversion challenges. On the one hand, to assert that a common good does not exist is to misunderstand the concept, which does not refer to a transcending good, nor to the overlapping of fixed context-independent sets of actions and policies. On the other hand, to assume that public deliberation should realize a moral conversion is to overestimate the separation between the common good and self-interests, and to misinterpret the epistemic task that should be imposed on public deliberation.

José Luis Martí : « Who (and how) knows what’s the right thing to do politically : on the epistemic dimension of deliberative democratic decision-making »
It is common to justify democracy as the system of government most respectful with substantive moral values, such as human dignity, political equality and autonomy. This is not all what we care about, though. The idea of democracy is connected with certain procedures of collective decision-making. If these procedures are intrinsically good because they respect those substantive values, that’s good. But we all have a legitimate interest in having the best decisions possible from the substantive point of view. We want our collective decisions to be democratic, but we also want them to be correct, whatever it means. Deliberative democracy comes to bridge these two central concerns : the intrinsic value of democracy as expression of equal autonomy and basic dignity and its instrumental value as being capable of driving us to make correct political decisions. This paper examines the roots for the epistemic value of deliberative democracy. It clarifies the relevant epistemic questions connected to it : what it is to be known to make correct political decisions ; who is the appropriate knower ; how this knower may come to know what is to be known. The paper intends to show why deliberative democracy may reasonably satisfy our demand for correction in democratic decisions, while resisting the elitist trend. And it ends by clarifying one crucial point that has generated some misguided criticism in the most recent literature : the ideal nature of the epistemic deliberative democracy, which relates to the kind of practical reasons that democratic decisions may generate according to the epistemic argument.

Christian Rostbøll : « Against Incorporating Self-Interest in the Deliberative Ideal »
In the development and refinement of the theory of deliberative democracy over the last two decades, it has become evident that self-interests cannot and should not be excluded from the political process. It is an important aspect of the political process, also as understood by deliberative democrats, that citizens have the opportunity to clarify and express their interests in order that political decisions do not favor the interests of some groups over the interest of other groups. Indeed, one aim of deliberation is to learn what is “in the equal interest of all” (Habermas). But does this mean that self-interest should be included in the deliberative ideal ? In order to answer this question we need to understand that deliberative democracy is a complex theory of democracy that involves four dimensions : A social theoretical dimension, a justificatory dimension, an epistemic dimension, and a procedural dimension. This papers argues that these dimensions of deliberative democracy cannot be as easily maintained as part of deliberative democracy, as is assumed by those theorists – such as Jane Mansbridge – who suggest awarding self-interest intrinsic value and making it part of the regulative ideal of deliberative democracy. The argument for including self-interest in deliberative democracy needs to more fully consider the consequences for the dimensions that make up the complex theory of deliberative democracy. If it cannot be shown that self-interest is compatible with a proper understanding of these dimensions of deliberative democracy, then there are good reasons against incorporating self-interest in the deliberative ideal. The conclusion of the paper is that what we need is not integration of self-interest and deliberative democracy into one unified ideal. Rather, we should maintain an ideal of deliberative democracy that stands apart from the politics of self-interest.

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