Monthly Archives: January 2008

“Getting Duped”

Just a quick distraction from the excellent discussion of David’s book. A short pop piece that I wrote with my friend Yvonne Raley titled “Getting Duped” is about to appear in Scientific American Mind. “Getting Duped” identifies a new fallacy, a twist on the Straw Man, called The Weak Man, in which one picks one’s weakest opponent, soundly refutes him or her, and then claims that the weak opponent is representative of the strength of all opposition to one’s view. The claim is made that much of the polarized discourse in popular political commentary employs this fallacy (viz., refute Ward Churchill, then claim to have refuted Noam Chomsky). Anyway, I thought it might of of interest. Here’s a link to the piece: “Getting Duped. read more...

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Estlund Reading Group Chapter 3

Here is the third installment of our reading group on Democratic Authority, which focuses on chapter 3, “An Acceptability Requirement.”


This chapter begins by restating the problem of the book, which is: Why not epistocracy? We know from the previous chapter that Estlund denies the Authority Tenet, which says that those with political wisdom are warranted in ruling over those without it. The problem with the Authority Tenet is that it rests on an illicit inference from expertise to authority, which Estlund calls the expert/boss fallacy. But what exactly makes this inference illicit? Why aren’t experts entitled to be bosses?

To answer this question, this chapter introduces and defends a family of principles, called acceptability requirements, which are meant to block the expert/boss inference and thereby defeat the case for epistocracy. The argument of the chapter proceeds in two main parts: the first defends the idea of an acceptability requirement against the twin objections of over- and under-inclusiveness; the second part argues that an acceptability requirement must appeal to the truth, which provides a basis for responding to the claim (advanced most forcefully by Raz) that “epistemic abstinence” renders incoherent political liberalism and other theories that make political recommendations on the basis of something other than the truth.

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Response to comments on Chapter 2

I have some thoughts about the terrific discussion, so far (through comment 7), of my Chapter 2. I can’t take everything up, but I hope this offers some clarification where people asked for it.

In addition to his excellent summary, Jonathan raises some good questions about my defense against the charge that I beg the question in favor of democracy. Let me review my argument briefly, and then respond to the challenges that have come up. Before reviewing the argument, it might help avoid confusion to remind us all of the distinction between authority (the power to require action), and legitimacy (permissibility of enforcement). The reason is that it’s not entirely clear which concept is mainly at stake here. This points to something that will probably come up later, that it’s not very clear what role, if any, the general acceptability requirement plays in my account of authority, as distinct from legitimacy. In the passages at issue here, I use the term “authority” often, without clearly acknowledging the difference between that and legitimacy. All I can say here is that, despite appearances, I think the general acceptability requirement also plays a role in questions of authority, though I will not try to say exactly how that works here. For present purposes, don’t worry too much about the legitimacy/authority distinction, and then we can see later whether bringing that distinction in cause further difficulties for what I say.

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Estlund Reading Group Chapter 2

Hi everyone, and welcome to the second week of our Estlund reading group where we’ll be discussing chapter 2, ‘Truth and Despotism’.


The chapter begins with a worry, expressed by Arendt, that appeals to truth in politics can be despotic. Saying something is true seems to foreclose any further debate or disagreement. Truth appears to be a conclusion we reach at the end of discussion or reasoning, and so if we base our politics around claims of truth, it looks as if we are saying no further discussion or reasoning is necessary – the answers have already been determined. But shouldn’t politics fundamentally be about discussion and debate? Arendt claimed that at least philosophical truths (as opposed to factual truths) have no place in politics because they will despotically foreclose dispute. I’m going to call this the despotism objection to truth in politics (my term not Estlund’s). There is, however, a very different sort of worry about truth in politics. On this view, the problem with appeals to truth in politics is not that they preclude disagreement or debate, but rather that they engender too much disagreement, or disagreement that is too fractious and divisive. It’s this kind of worry that might explain some political liberals’ belief that we ought abstain from appeals to truth in politics.

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Response to comments on Chapter 1

[Simon has advised me to submit this as a “post” rather than as a “comment.” As I write, there are 19 comments. I’ll insert a comment to mark the point at which I posted these remarks]

This might be a good time to jump in and respond to a few of the points that have been raised in the discussion of Chapter 1. Let me first say that Jonathan’s summary is excellent, and gets this off to a great start.

Obviously, Chapter 1 is a condensed run-through of many of the themes and arguments of the book. So I think the best plan is for me to respond only rather quickly on issues that will come up again in more detail later in the book. Some of the points raised this week don’t get any further attention in the book, so I’ll say what I can now. There are just too many points to respond to. If I skip something that any of you thinks is especially important, feel free to push me on it and I’ll take it up if I can.

I might also say that I would ask people not to quote what I say here in published work without checking with me, a courtesy I’ll extend to you all as well. (This raises interesting questions, of course, about what, these days, counts as a publication.) Maybe it goes without saying, but I am not putting the time and thought into this that I would if I regarded it as part of my published output. It wouldn’t be possible to do that and keep rolling in a timely way. It’s like a conversation at a conference. I (or you) might well trip up, or contradict myself, maybe fixing it a few days later, maybe not, etc. It’s not that I live in fear of having my mistakes exposed publicly. I just think that if we treat blogs and related things as part of the published literature we are going to wreak a lot of havoc unnecessarily. This issue could trigger a whole thread of its own, but we don’t want to get off on that tangent. Enough said. Back to democracy.

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NEW Publishing Advice for Graduate Students

Over the years, I have offered what is now an annual ‘speech’ on publishing advice aimed at graduate students and junior academics. I recorded much of my early talks in a paper, first posted on the Political Studies Association’s postgraduate website, and later on the Social Science Research Network expecting little to follow beyond, hopefully, helping a few understand publishing better. The response was extraordinary. The essay fast became the most downloaded document on the PSA postgraduate site and the paper has now been downloaded 2,119 times since December 2005. This original essay (‘The Postgraduate’s Guide to Getting Published‘) can be downloaded here. read more...

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