Epistemic democracy

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Epistemic democracy is the "doctrine of the wisdom of the multitude."[1]

Definition and etymology[edit]

Epistemic democracy is:

a recent paradigm in democratic theory. Put generally, in the epistemic interpretation, democratic decision-making processes are valued at least in part for their knowledge-producing potential and defended in relation to this. Epistemic democracy further combines deliberative and aggregative approaches to democracy but shifts their focus towards an outcome-oriented consideration for how well democratic procedures such as deliberation and voting help democratic decisions approximate a procedure-independent standard of correctness (Cohen 1986).[2]

Contemporary conceptual discussions[edit]


Independent standard v. proceduralism[edit]

Christian List and Robert Goodin, for example, maintain that “for epistemic democrats, the aim of democracy is to ‘track the truth.’” For them, democracy is more desirable than alternative forms of decision-making because, and insofar as, it does that. One democratic decision rule is more desirable than another according to that same standard.” In contrast, “procedural democrats” hold that the “aim of democracy is to embody certain procedural virtues…. Democracy is not about tracking any ‘independent truth of the matter’; instead, the goodness or rightness of an outcome is wholly constituted by the fact of its having emerged in some procedurally correct manner” such as through voting or deliberation. Fabienne Peter, for example, offers a conception of epistemic proceduralism that does not depend on a procedure-independent standard for a good outcome. Instead, a decision is legitimate “if it is the outcome of a process that satisfies certain conditions of political and epistemic fairness.”[3]

In contrast, David Estlund argues that we do not even need a strong justification of “epistemic proceduralism.” Rather, all that is needed is to show why it is better than the alternatives. Estlund argues that pure epistocracies are problematic because there is most likely a “biasing features of the educated group… which do more harm than education does good.” In the US this can be seen in the income and racial inequality that leads to imperfect meritocratic systems that produces those with greater money with the highest education. Estlund uses the case of jury systems to show that original authority can be drawn from an epistemic proceduralist account grounded in normative consent. For him, democracy has no normative authority unless it has a minimal epistemic threshold, which he sets at “better than random” (as in majority rule, better than just 51% of the vote).[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Waldron, Jeremy (1995). "The Wisdom of the Multitude: Some Reflections on Book 3, Chapter 11 of Aristotle's Politics". Political Theory. 23 (4): 563–584. doi:10.1177/0090591795023004001.
  2. ^ Workshop on Epistemic Democracy in Practice. Retrieved April-27-2016
  3. ^ List, Christian; Goodin, Robert (2001). "Epistemic Democracy: Generalizing the Condorcet Jury Theorem" (PDF). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Estlund, David. Democratic Authority.