Getting Democratic Priorities Straight: Pragmatism, Diversity, and the Role of Beliefs

Gunn, Paul. 2015. Getting Democratic Priorities Straight: Pragmatism, Diversity, and the Role of Beliefs. Critical Review, 27(2), pp. 146-173. ISSN 0891-3811 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Jack Knight and James Johnson argue in The Priority of Democracy that democracy should be theorized and justified pragmatically. Democratic deliberations should be given a central coordinating role in society not because they realize any particular abstract ideal, but because a fully inclusive political argument would evince the information needed to solve real-world problems. However, Knight and Johnson rely on a naïve economic understanding of knowledge that assumes implausibly that individuals know what they need to know and need only aggregate it rationally. It is precisely because we may not know what we need to know, however, that we need to continually test our ideas. Contra Knight and Johnson, moreover, we ought to accept that our ability to properly interpret social experiments is itself questionable. A pragmatic approach to social inquiry, therefore, ought to investigate what beliefs political actors actually bring to collective decisions rather than how theoretically perfect beliefs ought to be elicited.

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deliberative democracy, interpretivism, James Johnson, Jack Knight, political epistemology, pragmatism

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25 July 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

13 Apr 2016 12:15

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2017 10:37

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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