Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Democratic Reason

Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many

Hélène Landemore
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Democratic Reason
    Book Description:

    Individual decision making can often be wrong due to misinformation, impulses, or biases. Collective decision making, on the other hand, can be surprisingly accurate. InDemocratic Reason, Hélène Landemore demonstrates that the very factors behind the superiority of collective decision making add up to a strong case for democracy. She shows that the processes and procedures of democratic decision making form a cognitive system that ensures that decisions taken by the many are more likely to be right than decisions taken by the few. Democracy as a form of government is therefore valuable not only because it is legitimate and just, but also because it is smart.

    Landemore considers how the argument plays out with respect to two main mechanisms of democratic politics: inclusive deliberation and majority rule. In deliberative settings, the truth-tracking properties of deliberation are enhanced more by inclusiveness than by individual competence. Landemore explores this idea in the contexts of representative democracy and the selection of representatives. She also discusses several models for the "wisdom of crowds" channeled by majority rule, examining the trade-offs between inclusiveness and individual competence in voting. When inclusive deliberation and majority rule are combined, they beat less inclusive methods, in which one person or a small group decide.Democratic Reasonthus establishes the superiority of democracy as a way of making decisions for the common good.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4553-8
    Subjects: Political Science, Psychology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. xv-xxiv)

    On May 29, 2005, France held a referendum on ratifying the European Union Constitution. Contrary to the hopes and expectations of the political and intellectual elites, the French people decided to reject this constitutional treaty. Commentators were all but unanimous in their condemnation of the result. Doubtless, they said, the people had gotten it all wrong; they had taken an ill-chosen opportunity to sanction the government (and Jacques Chirac, then the president of France, in particular), thereby irresponsibly sinking the European project.

    As a French citizen, I initially reacted to the referendum result in similar fashion. How could my fellow...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Maze and the Masses
    (pp. 1-26)

    Democracy is generally hailed, in the West at least,¹ as the only legitimate form of government. We (Westerners) only consider legitimate those regimes that are democratic or in the process of becoming so. Conversely, anything undemocratic raises our suspicion. In fact, democracy has such positive valence that some have argued that it is more than a descriptive term objectively referring to a certain type of regime or system of government; in this account, it is an evaluative term, by which its users commend certain institutions and societies (e.g., Skinner 1973). Even if we take democracy to simply denote a certain...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Democracy as the Rule of the Dumb Many?
    (pp. 27-52)

    The idea of democracy as the only legitimate regime is recent. While the idea slowly took root in the last hundred years, it has become fully accepted only since World War II.¹ There exists, by contrast, a long standing prejudice against democracy, not only among political theorists and philosophers but, more surprisingly, among the people themselves, based on a general suspicion of people’s capacity for self-rule. As Robert Dahl puts it, “the assumption that people in general—ordinary people—are adequately qualified to govern themselves is, on the face of it, . . . an extravagant claim,” which explains why...

  7. CHAPTER THREE A Selective Genealogy of the Epistemic Argument for Democracy
    (pp. 53-88)

    While the salience of the idea of collective intelligence as an argument for democracy is recent, it has an old and prestigious pedigree, which can be traced all the way back to the Sophists. This chapter aims to provide the historical background of the epistemic case for democracy by identifying its origins in the arguments of a few prominent thinkers in the Western tradition. As a necessarily cursory survey of proto-epistemic arguments for democracy, its goals are threefold. First, this chapter aims to bolster the intuitive appeal of the idea of collective intelligence applied to democracy by showing that this...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR First Mechanism of Democratic Reason: Inclusive Deliberation
    (pp. 89-117)

    The previous chapter identified in the history of the epistemic argument for democracy two distinct mechanisms responsible for the production of collective intelligence: deliberation and majority rule. All in all, however, none of these previous authors, whether the “talkers” or the “counters,” ever fully spelled out a systematic epistemic case for democracy. The following chapters now turn to this task, on the basis of some insights that can be gained from the previous historical survey and from recent social scientific advances in the understanding of the phenomenon of collective intelligence.

    The main lesson that can be derived from a look...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Epistemic Failures of Deliberation
    (pp. 118-144)

    In this chapter, I turn to a series of objections that can be generally addressed to the ideal of deliberative democracy and count more specifically as objections to the claim that deliberation, and particularly inclusive, democratic deliberation, has epistemic properties.

    The ideal of democratic deliberation at the heart of the previous chapter has been criticized from many fronts since its first formulation in the late 1980s. As a normative ideal, it is often attacked for being too demanding and too utopian to be worth pursuing. At one extreme, critics argue that democratic deliberation, in practice, does not do much to...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Second Mechanism of Democratic Reason: Majority Rule
    (pp. 145-184)

    Since deliberation is not a perfect or a complete decision mechanism, let us now turn to a very efficient decision mechanism which, though undeniably democratic, is often looked at with great suspicion: majority rule. I will here focus strictly on simple majority rule, defined as the rule by which one of two alternatives is selected, based on which has more than half the votes. Simple majority rule is the binary decision rule used most often in influential decision-making bodies, including the legislatures of democratic nations. This chapter argues that simple majority rule is an essential component of democratic decision making...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Epistemic Failures of Majority Rule: Real and Imagined
    (pp. 185-207)

    In this chapter, I address a series of objections to the claimed epistemic properties of majority rule and, more generally, aggregation of judgments. The first section thus considers a general objection to the epistemic approach to voting, which supposedly does not take seriously enough the possibility that politics is about aggregation of interests, rather than aggregation of judgments. In this section, I also consider the objection from Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem and the doctrinal paradox (or discursive dilemma). The second section addresses the problem of informational free riding supposedly afflicting citizens in mass democracies, as well as the problem of the...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Political Cognitivism: A Defense
    (pp. 208-231)

    An epistemic argument for democracy depends on the view that at least for some political questions there are right or correct answers (in some sense of right or correct that remains to be defined) and that these answers can be, if not known with certainty, at least approximated to some degree. I label “political cognitivism” the combination of the assumption that there exists such a standard and the belief that it can be approximated in some way by a political decision mechanism.

    Political cognitivism must make sense for at least some domain of politics in order for the cognitive argument...

  13. Conclusion: Democracy as a Gamble Worth Taking
    (pp. 232-242)

    This book has proposed a sustained epistemic case for democracy. I have argued that there are good theoretical reasons to believe that when it comes to epistemic reliability, under some reasonable assumptions, the rule of the many is likely to outperform any version of the rule of the few, at least if we assume that politics is akin to a complex and long enough maze, the knowledge of which cannot reside with any individual in particular or even just a few of them. When the maze is complicated and long enough, the likelihood that the group makes the right series...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-264)
  15. Index
    (pp. 265-279)