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  • Cited by 39
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The Epistemology of Democracy


This paper investigates the epistemic powers of democratic institutions through an assessment of three epistemic models of democracy: the Condorcet Jury Theorem, the Diversity Trumps Ability Theorem, and Dewey's experimentalist model. Dewey's model is superior to the others in its ability to model the epistemic functions of three constitutive features of democracy: the epistemic diversity of participants, the interaction of voting with discussion, and feedback mechanisms such as periodic elections and protests. It views democracy as an institution for pooling widely distributed information about problems and policies of public interest by engaging the participation of epistemically diverse knowers. Democratic norms of free discourse, dissent, feedback, and accountability function to ensure collective, experimentally-based learning from the diverse experiences of different knowers. I illustrate these points with a case study of community forestry groups in South Asia, whose epistemic powers have been hobbled by their suppression of women's participation.

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B. Agarwal (2000). Conceptualizing Environmental Collective Action: Why Gender Matters. Cambridge Journal of Economics 24: 283310.

B. Agarwal (2001). Participatory Exclusions, Community Forestry, and Gender: An Analysis for South Asia and a Conceptual Framework. World Development 29(10): 1623–48.

J. Cohen (1986). An Epistemic Conception of Democracy. Ethics 97(1): 2638.

D. Estlund (1994). Opinion Leaders, Independence, and Condorcet's Jury Theorem. Theory and Decision 36(2): 131–62.

M. Fey (2003). A Note on the Condorcet Jury Theorem with Supermajority Voting Rules. Social Choice and Welfare 20(1): 2732.

G. Gaus (1997). Does Democracy Reveal the Voice of the People? Four Takes on Rousseau. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 75(2): 141–62.

D. Herzog (2000). Externalities and Other Parasites. University of Chicago Law Review 67: 895923.

L. Hong , and S. Page . (2004). Groups of Diverse Problem Solvers Can Outperform Groups of High-Ability Problem Solvers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101: 16385–89.

C. List (2001). Epistemic Democracy: Generalizing the Condorcet Jury Theorem. Journal of Political Philosophy 9(3): 277306.

B. Manin (1987). On Legitimacy and Political Deliberation. Political Theory 15: 338–68.

A. Westlund (2003). Selflessness and Responsibility for Self: Is Deference Compatible With Autonomy? Philosophical Review 112(4): 483523.

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