Skip to main content


  • Aaron Ancell

In her recent book, Democratic Reason, Hélène Landemore argues that, when evaluated epistemically, “a democratic decision procedure is likely to be a better decision procedure than any non-democratic decision procedures, such as a council of experts or a benevolent dictator” (p. 3). Landemore's argument rests heavily on studies of collective intelligence done by Lu Hong and Scott Page. These studies purport to show that cognitive diversity – differences in how people solve problems – is actually more important to overall group performance than average individual ability – how smart the individual members are. Landemore's argument aims to extrapolate from these results to the conclusion that democracy is epistemically better than any non-democratic rival. I argue here that Hong and Page's results actually undermine, rather than support, this conclusion. More specifically, I argue that the results do not show that democracy is better than any non-democratic alternative, and that in fact, they suggest the opposite – that at least some non-democratic alternatives are likely to epistemically outperform democracy.

Corresponding author
Hide All
Anderson, E. 2008. ‘An Epistemic Defense of Democracy: David Estlund's Democratic Authority.’ Episteme, 5: 129–39.
Bajaj, S. 2014. ‘Review: Landemore, Hélène. Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many.’ Ethics, 124: 426–31.
Cohen, J. 1986. ‘An Epistemic Conception of Democracy.’ Ethics, 97: 2638.
Estlund, D. 2008a. Democratic Authority: A Philosophical Framework. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Estlund, D. (ed.) 2008b. ‘Epistemic Approaches to Democracy.’ Episteme 5.
Hong, L. and Page, S. E. 2004. ‘Groups of Diverse Problem Solvers can Outperform Groups of High-Ability Problem Solvers.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 101: 16385–9.
Landemore, H. 2013. Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Misak, C. 2008. ‘A Culture of Justification: The Pragmatist's Epistemic Argument for Democracy.’ Episteme, 5: 94105.
Page, S. E. 2007. The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Skitka, L. J. 2010. ‘The Psychology of Moral Conviction.’ Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4: 267–81.
Talisse, R. 2009. Democracy and Moral Conflict. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 1742-3600
  • EISSN: 1750-0117
  • URL: /core/journals/episteme
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed