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.

Before taking up the inclusiveness objections, Estlund makes some preliminary points. He explains that the burden of this chapter is to present a partial conception of legitimacy (permission to enforce commands), taking up the issue of authority in later chapters. The claim here will be that a necessary (but not sufficient) condition of legitimacy is that the exercise of political power must be “justifiable in terms acceptable to all qualified points of view” (p. 41). Estlund calls this a qualified acceptability requirement (QAR) (p. 45).

Estlund emphasizes that the idea of acceptability plays a special role in the argument for epistemic proceduralism. Recall that the argument is not that democracy is epistemically best, but rather that it is epistemically best among options that are generally acceptable. Estlund’s strategy is to defend this claim by arguing for a QAR. He will do that not by specifying and defending a particular version of the requirement, but by arguing for the very idea of it. Another way of putting this might be to say that Estlund wants to defend the concept of acceptability, without getting hung up on the details of any particular conception of it (e.g., Rawls’ idea of reasonableness).

With these preliminaries in place, Estlund turns to the over-and-under- inclusiveness objections:

1. Overexclusion

The overexclusion objection says that QAR arbitrarily excludes some views from the category of qualified points of view. This objection entails what Estlund calls the actual acceptance view (AAV), which says that political justification must be acceptable to everyone subject to political authority. But if AAV required acceptance by all possible views, it would be absurd, since every political justification would conflict with some possible view. Thus, Estlund interprets AAV as requiring actual acceptance (or no actual objections) for legitimacy. Since someone will almost always actually object to political justifications, this is a radical and skeptical view that would probably render most, if not all, laws illegitimate.

Estlund does not immediately reject AAV because of its anarchical tendencies. He notes that, at least in some circumstances (e.g., those involving sexual contact), actual objections may defeat the permissibility of conduct even when those objections would otherwise be disqualified as irrational or immoral. For this reason, AAV is not easily defeated, let alone absurd.

Instead of refuting AAV, Estlund argues that there is a way to circumvent it. If AAV and QAR are both construed as necessary but not sufficient conditions for legitimacy, then the two views may be compatible. Interpreted as only a necessary condition, QAR says that legitimacy obtains only if there are no possible qualified objections. It does not rule out the possibility that legitimacy could be defeated by actual (or disqualified) objections. The same logic applies to AAV. It says that legitimacy obtains only if there are no actual objections. But it does not exclude the possibility that hypothetical qualified objections might also block claims of legitimacy.

Estlund claims that QAR need not be interpreted as both a necessary and sufficient condition for legitimacy. If QAR were construed in this way, legitimacy would obtain provided there are no possible qualified objections. But Estlund resists this move for two reasons. First, it needlessly conflicts with AAV, since actual objections would not serve as defeaters when there are no possible qualified objections. Second, and more important, QAR is not meant to establish the legitimacy of all laws resulting from democratic processes. It only needs to show that such laws may satisfy a condition of legitimacy that cannot be met by epistocracy, since that view is open to possible qualified objections.

2. Overinclusion

The overinclusion objection says that QAR improperly allows doctrines that ought to be admissible in political justification to be defeated by false or incorrect views. Estlund offers an example involving a proposal for compulsory Bible study in public schools. The argument for the proposal is the following (p. 50):

  1. Christianity is a truth of the utmost importance.
  2. Truths of the utmost importance ought to be taught in public schools, a policy backed up with state force.
  3. Therefore, Christianity ought to be taught in public schools, a policy backed up with state force.

Now suppose that (1) is true. Suppose further that some QAR counts the rejection of Christianity as a qualified view. If this QAR is a necessary condition of legitimacy, there is a possible objection to (1) based on a qualified view, and the legitimacy of the proposal is defeated. Against this conclusion, the overinclusion objection says that if premises (1) and (2) are true, and if (3) follows validly from them, then the legitimacy of the proposal should be sustained against objections based on false doctrines.

Estlund claims that the overinclusion objection relies on a disputable view concerning the truth about legitimacy. In the example, this view is captured by premise (2), which says, in effect, that the truth of a doctrine is sufficient to make its enforcement legitimate. But of course that is precisely what QAR rejects. So here we have a dispute over what is true about legitimacy. Proponents of what Estlund calls the true objection view claim that their view – that the only qualified objections should be true ones – is true; whereas defenders of QAR believe it is true that at least some qualified objections may be false.

Estlund wants to dispel the idea that truth-lovers must accept the true objection view. Instead, they should accept whichever theory of legitimacy is, in fact, true. Estlund doesn’t claim to have shown the QAR is true. His more modest point is that the contrary view isn’t obviously true and that it should have no special appeal for those who think that truth matters.


Estlund begins the second part of the chapter by noting that QAR applies to itself. QAR says that political justifications must be acceptable to all qualified points of view. Since QAR is used in political justification, it must also be acceptable to all qualified points of view. This raises the question of whether those with qualified views can determine which views are qualified. Estlund argues that, if they can, QAR may turn out to be self-defeating, which would obviously pose difficulties for his argument against epistocracy.

To explain this problem, Estlund starts with a schematic form of QAR, which he calls AN (for “acceptance necessary”) (p. 53):

No doctrine is admissible as a premise in any stage of political justification unless it is acceptable to a certain range of (real or hypothetical) citizens C, and no one else’s acceptance is required.

As with QAR, because AN is a doctrine used in political justification, it applies to itself. Furthermore, on at least some specifications of C, AN will be self-excluding. As Estlund explains, AN is self-excluding when it “is not acceptable to the set of people it specifies as C” (p. 54). AN will not be self-excluding when it is accepted by the members of C. Only under this condition will it be possible to introduce AN into political justification.

Estlund points out that a logical consequence of AN’s application to itself is that, to avoid self-exclusion, the members of C must believe that acceptance by the members of C (and only those members) is necessary for the admissibility of a doctrine into political justification (p. 55). Estlund calls this the insularity requirement.

If many groups satisfy the insularity requirement preventing AN from self-exclusion, how can we select among them? Estlund notes that acceptability is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the admissibility of a doctrine under AN. This leaves open the possibility that other conditions might provide a basis for selecting a unique insular group. Estlund argues it is here that political liberalism must appeal to the truth in specifying which set of citizens is authoritative for determining the admissibility of political justifications. Without such an appeal, there is no way to select among various competing insular groups, all of which would render AN logically coherent.

Estlund summarizes the argument so far by describing three forms of political liberalism, which differ in how they approach the problem of specifying the criteria of admissibility. His preferred view is an undogmatic substantive political liberalism, according to which “no doctrine is available in justification unless it is acceptable to reasonable citizens, not even this doctrine itself (this makes it undogmatic), because such an acceptability criterion is true or correct independently of such acceptability (this makes it substantive)” (p. 57).

Estlund considers two final objections to this view of political liberalism. The first objection says that it is unnecessarily controversial to claim that QAR is true. The reason is that, regardless of its truth, QAR might be authorized by some higher-order comprehensive doctrine. Without going into the details here (maybe something for discussion), Estlund responds to this objection by arguing that when a higher-order doctrine endorses a doctrine of authorization (such as an acceptability requirement), the latter must be true.

The second objection is that there might be qualified disagreement about who is qualified under a QAR. Given the wide diversity of views presumably contained within the set of qualified points of view, it seems likely that the insularity of the set will break down, resulting in QAR’s self-exclusion. To avoid this outcome, Estlund suggests that one feature of qualification under QAR is acceptance of the true or correct account of who counts as qualified. This would eliminate the possibility of qualified or reasonable disagreement about qualification. This might seem suspicious, but, as Estlund notes, people are not disqualified just because they hold false views. They are disqualified when they hold false views about the criteria of qualification.

Estlund concludes by responding to Raz’s objection that “epistemic abstinence” renders political liberalism incoherent. Raz argues that a theory of justice must be recommended as true, or reasonable, or valid, or correct, etc. Estlund agrees that there must be some term that describes the theory’s actual justification or grounding of our moral powers and obligations. Estlund calls this “normative success” (62). He then argues that the success of a theory is distinct from its truth. For example, if QAR is true, and if a theory of justice satisfies QAR, the theory is successful because it is acceptable to all reasonable citizens. Indeed, the truth of the theory of justice may be irrelevant to its success. If I understand Estlund correctly, however, the criteria of success for any theory of justice will be determined by the truth about legitimacy.


I have a lot of questions about the arguments in this chapter, but here are a few just to get the ball rolling:

1. What justifies the truth of QAR, rather than the exclusive justification view (or the true objection view)? Isn’t the argument for epistemic proceduralism incomplete without a direct argument for the truth of this view of legitimacy?

2. Toward the end of the chapter, Estlund asks whether qualified people could reject the truth about qualifications. Since QAR applies to itself, the qualified can’t reject the requirements of qualification without making QAR self-excluding. Estlund’s solution is to say that a necessary condition of being qualified is to accept the correct account of qualification. If you reject the correct account, then you’re disqualified.

I’m wondering why this doesn’t this replicate the expert/boss fallacy (a point Estlund might be anticipating on p. 61). If you accept the correct account of QAR (including the proper specification of what it means to be qualified), then you’re a boss; that is, you have a say in whether coercive action is legitimate. If you don’t hold the correct views, then you’re excluded from the authoritative group. Consequently, you are not owed reasons you can accept from your point of view for how the state treats you. I can see that this view might allow people with certain false views to be bosses, and so it may be less exclusive than, say, a view that defined bosses in terms of those who believe some set of true beliefs. But Estlund’s view also picks out bosses by reference to those who hold a set of true beliefs, where the set is defined (in part?) by the belief in QAR. The people who should rule are those who know/believe/accept (the truth) about what counts as a qualified point of view. Although QAR’s truth may be part of an argument for rule-by-the-qualified, I’m not sure I see why it defeats the expert/boss fallacy. It seems rather to trade on it.

A response to this objection might be that knowing the truth about QAR is not the same as being an expert about substantive political matters. But to the extent that QAR is a doctrine used in political justification, it constrains substantive outcomes. Knowing about those constraints also means knowing about the right results to at least some set of substantive political decisions. Of course, there is still a difference between epistocracy and epistemic proceduralism, but I’m not sure I see why the difference turns on rejecting the expert/boss inference. It just looks like a difference about who counts as an expert.

Perhaps the argument will be that qualified people are experts about delimiting the domain in which no further claims from expertise are permissible. That makes some sense to me, except that the expert/boss fallacy remains in place with respect to limiting the political domain. I suppose I’m wondering whether there is still some illicit inference here from expertise to authority (or legitimacy?), even where a substantial domain remains in which further expertise is discounted.

3. The strategy of this chapter is to defend the abstract idea of an acceptability requirement. The over- and under-inclusiveness objections might be inspired by arguments against more specific conceptions of acceptability. I’m thinking mainly of Rawls’ political liberalism. For example, many critics have argued that the idea of reasonableness unfairly excludes certain conceptions of the good (and especially religious doctrines); while others have argued that reasonableness is overly inclusive because it would permit appeals to demonstrably irrational views (see, e.g., Gaus’ criticism of Rawls in Justificatory Liberalism). But there are other standard lines of argument, and I wonder whether these might be similarly abstracted and pitted against a generic acceptability criterion. I have two objections in mind. The first is that the value of legitimacy might be sacrificed for other moral values. Of course this objection isn’t unique to epistemic proceduralism, but it might help to know more about how the theory responds to this sort of argument without engaging in epistemic indulgence (by appeal to a fully comprehensive moral doctrine). The second objection involves the completeness of political justifications that satisfy an acceptability requirement. Without any specification of QAR, it would seem to be difficult to say anything about whether epistemic proceduralism can guide decisions about the exercise of coercive power. Here, epistocracy would seem to have a distinct advantage, since presumably experts would have right (or at least true) answers to difficult political questions. This objection has been pressed with some force against political liberalism. Are there reasons to think that concerns about completeness can be avoided by epistemic proceduralism?

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13 Responses to Estlund Reading Group Chapter 3

  1. Micah’s summary helped me understand what’s going on in chapter 3, which I think is crucial given the overall structure of the argument. The QAR has got to winnow out any epistemically superior competitors to epistemic proceduralism. My thoughts:
    1. Estlund says, “If both the overinclusion and overexclusion objections can be defeated, this would be strong support for the qualified acceptability approach.” (p. 45) I agree that it would be some support, but strong? I agree with Micah that a direct argument for QAR is needed.
    2. Estlund writes, “The overexclusion objection…holds that any QAR wrongly excludes some points of view. This evidently means that every point of view should be counted as qualified….The overexclusion objection is committed to a highly inclusive view of which objections have the power to defeat a proposed justification: all of them” (p. 45). Well, that’s not what it evidently means. All the objection needs to do to succeed is to point to at least one POV that would wrongly be excluded by any QAR useful to epistemic proceduralism. The objection does not to have to take the “highly inclusive” form that Estlund goes on to deflect. Let me suggest one POV that an epistemic-proceduralism-friendly QAR would –wrongly– have to exclude. Let this be POVx, which holds that “Any true POV, whatever it may be, meets the QAR.” POVx is of course a view about the QAR. POVx isn’t the “true objection view,” which says that only true POVs are qualified: POVx says rather that that at least the true POV is qualified–which sounds right, doesn’t it? POVx isn’t identical with AAV, because stating the truth about political justice is not merely to object (curmudgeonly or not) to an arrangement. Let me call POVs that aim at truth and employ generally accepted modes of reasoning “expertise-claiming.” Of course, it will be controversial which is the true POV. Therefore, to accept POVx will mean either a) to allow as qualified all expertise-claiming objections, or b) to disqualify all expertise-claiming objections that do not command unanimity within the circle of qualified POVs. Rawls seems to take route b) in Political Liberalism; but I take Estlund to tend rather to option a). The problem with responding to POVx by taking route a) of course is that not all POVs now qualified will rank democracy above truth. Moreover, it is far from certain that democracy rates higher epistemically that all other expertise-claiming POVs (this in fact is the central problem, as Estlund has explained). The QAR will not do the winnowing it needs to do unless it responds to POVx along line b), which in turn draws the objections to Rawls that Micah refers to.
    3. I also agree with Micah that the boss/expert fallacy threatens. Moreover, the distinction between epistocracy and democracy begins to blur. Estlund writes: “We do count people as unreasonable [unqualified] for failing to hold certain views, such as, perhaps, that all people are morally free and equal, that even reasonable people can disagree, and so on. Here is one more thing they must accept: a certain view of who counts as reasonable or qualified. We assert its moral significance simply by saying that if you don’t accept this view of who is qualified, then you are not qualified.” (p.61) Hasn’t this “certain view” also got an epistemic significance—namely, that only those who accept this view are equipped to figure out what’s politically best? (Or is it simply a shibboleth, a password?) Maybe comfort can be taken in the fact that epistocracy is the rule of “the few” and “the many” will satisfy the QAR. But that is only contingently so at best.
    4. Lastly, to avoid taking on the AAV is to refuse to engage philosophical anarchism, head-on at least. That disappoints me because philosophical anarchism has a number of formidable adherents.

  2. Great summary, and I’m eager to follow the comments again. I will try not to say too much until later in the week, as usual. (Then I WILL say too much.) But quick clarifications might be helpful here and there. Here are two I hope help:

    1. Bill, the reason I say that the overexclusion view is committed to the admissibility of all doctrines, is that I am considering the objection as aimed at the schema of QAR. Since the schema doesn’t specify what’s qualified and what’s not, the claim that it’s already exclusionary, no matter how the content of “qualified” is filled in, logically entails a commitment to the admissibility of all views (I believe).

    2. Micah and Bill: The QAR does not empower anyone politically, and so there is no danger of its making experts into bosses. It says that some possible objections are morally weightless, others (even some based on false views) are weighty. You don’t have to count as qualified to have all the political and civil liberties, including the rights to vote and hold office, just as on Rawls’s view.

    3. As for the “actual acceptability view,” I distinguish sharply between legitimacy and authority. I say in this chapter that I’m leaving open the possibility (but do not commit myself to it, since I actually doubt it) that AAV is correct in the domain of legitimacy, and so blocks almost all claims to the permissibility of coercive enforcement of political commands. Philosophical anarchism (as the term is normally used) is a view about what I call authority, or the obligation to obey the law. In later chapters (as sketched in the overview in Ch. 1) I will argue for a non-voluntarist view of authority, and so, a fortiori, against philosophical anarchism. (It is by no means a thorough treatment of philosophical anarchism, however, something Bill and others have devoted excellent whole books to.)

  3. Bill, I may have misunderstood your second objection, but isn’t it question-begging to assume that QAR would have to exclude your POVx? I agree that it does sound right that “at least the true POV is qualified.” But I think this is consistent with QAR, since presumably any disqualified view is being disqualified precisely because it claims something false about, e.g., the legitimate exercise of political power — cf. premise (2) in the Christianity example.

  4. Richard, I meant the second objection to be taken as a challenge, but just before I posted I changed “might –wrongly– have to exclude” to “would –wrongly– have to exclude.” Let me change that back. POVx is still presents a dilemma, I think. Is it to be excluded because false? But falsity per se shouldn’t be disqualifying; moreover POVx doesn’t seem fishy in the way premise (2) of the Christianity example seems fishy. Premise (2) of the Christianity example states that utmost truths should be inculcated by force-backed policies. POVx states that the true POV, whatever it might be, should have the same “rejection rights” as other qualified points of view. And Premise (2) wouldn’t gain admission via POVx, if POVx were accepted.

  5. David, I’m not sure I follow your response to the worry that QAR makes experts into bosses. If my point of view is disqualified, it can’t serve as a defeater for the legitimacy of state action. It isn’t (or ought not to be) counted in a legitimate decision-making process. But if my view is qualified, which depends in part on my accepting the relevant criteria of qualification (whatever those happen to be), then my views do count. Political claims based on justifications inconsistent with my views are illegitimate. I’m empowered, as it were, to veto proposals that conflict with my view. Since the qualified have moral powers (rights of rejection) that the disqualified do not, they (the qualified) seem to saying: “Because we’re qualified, we have the right to decide what is a legitimate exercise of state power, and you, the disqualified, do not.” That looks like the expert/boss fallacy.

    Have I missed something here having to do with the distinction between legitimacy and authority? If so, I may have misunderstood the fallacy, which is stated as the illicit inference from “S would rule better” to “S is a legitimate or authoritative ruler” (p. 41). If the fallacy applies to claims about legitimacy (and not only claims about authority), then I don’t see how QAR avoids it.

    Also, without knowing the content of QAR, I’m not sure why those with disqualified views are entitled to political and civil liberties. On some specifications of QAR, couldn’t there be a possible qualified objection to empowering the disqualified?

  6. Bill, I was thinking that POVx is both true and accepted (qualified) by the epistemic proceduralist. Could you say a little more about why you expect it to be excluded instead? (It seems to me that you’ve convincingly argued that it shouldn’t be excluded! But it’s not a dilemma unless there’s some reason not to embrace the other horn…)

    Micah – I wonder if this helps: even if your POV is disqualified (by virtue of your disbelieving QAR), we can imagine a counterpart of you who endorses QAR along with your substantive views, and so may be qualified in your place. So if you have an objection based on your substantive views, then your counterpart may qualify your objection. That is, the proposal is not justifiable to all (possible) qualified POVs, thanks to your counterpart, and so QAR renders the objectionable proposal illegitimate after all.

    The key point here is that QAR (if I’ve interpreted it correctly) does not determine which people may or may not have a say in the political process. Rather, it determines which proposals are objectively legitimate (independently of who is actually proposing or objecting to them).

  7. Richard, I don’t think your suggestion will work, at least not with respect to those views disqualified for rejecting the correct account of qualification. Because of the insularity requirement, such views could not be advanced by qualified counterparts under QAR.

    For example, suppose I offer as a public justification the argument above for a compulsory Bible study program. Premise (2) of that argument is incompatible with QAR. It rests on a competing view of the truth about legitimacy. All views qualified under QAR must reject that competing view. Thus, no qualified view could accept my claim that (2) is part of an acceptable justification for a compulsory Bible study program.

    With respect to your more general point, I agree that QAR determines the admissibility of doctrines rather than people. But it determines admissibility by asking whether doctrines are acceptable to a certain set of views. And presumably, those views are held by citizens (real or hypothetical), as the formulation of AN (on p. 53) suggests. If some views are disqualified, then the people who hold them have no right to reject claims that conflict with their disqualified views. And, to that extent, they are excluded from the process of determining what counts as legitimate law.

  8. Richard, I think that if POVx satisfies a specific QAR then that QAR is ipso facto not a useful one for epistemic proceduralism. In other words, such a QAR would not do the winnowing work of ensuring that democracy doesn’t have to be shown to be the epistemically best arrangement of all possible arrangements, but only that it is the best that is generally acceptable.
    Leave aside the QAR for a moment. Each POV is either committed to the view that democracy is the epistemically at least as good as any as a way to arrive at collective political wisdom, or it is not. A QAR useful to epistemic proceduralism can’t exclude the latter POVs as such –that would be too quick, even question-begging. So, a useful QAR must be open to qualifying some POVs that are not committed to democracy on epistemic grounds (they may or may not be committed to democracy on other grounds, e.g., fairness). If they are admitted, and it is controversial whether democracy is epistemically the best arrangement, then the announced argumentative strategy for epistemic proceduralism fails. That strategy was to first clear the room of unqualified POVs and then see whose arrangement among the remainder is epistemically best. Those left in the room who hadn’t already been committed to the epistemic superiority of democracy have rejection rights, which they will presumably then exercise. What’s to stop them?
    To be of use, the QAR therefore has to exclude those POVs, despite the fact that one of them might be the true one. (Excluded on grounds other than falsity, of course.) POVx says, “I exercise my rejection right to object to their exclusion, unless I’m shown that it is in fact true that democracy is epistemically superior to any other viable arrangement.” Now, there may indeed be such an argument; but if there is it doesn’t follow the announced argument strategy –because if the argument goes this way the QAR isn’t specified until after the epistemic superiority of democracy over all comers (qualified or not) has already been established.

  9. I’m confused about the recursive application of the QAR (53, and p.57). We start off with the claim that the exercise of political power is legitimate only if justifiable in terms acceptable to all qualified points of view. But since the QAR will be an element of the justification of any exercise of power, the QAR itself has to acceptable to all qualifed points of view. That, in itself, is “no defect in the doctrine” (p.54), although certain criteria of qualification will make the principle exclude itself. The theory would be “fatally flawed,” however, if the qualified points of view got to say what count as the qualified points of view (p.53). The solution to this problem is on p.63: one of the criteria of qualification is acceptance of the full theory of qualification. I’m not clear on what the fatal problem is, if it is not self-exclusion, nor how this solution avoids it.

    If the QAR applies to itself, at some point we will have to provide a criterion of qualification, and then face the question of whether all points of view so qualified endorse the restriction of the exercise of political power by the QAR (as suggested on p.60). Stipulating that we will consider unqualified all those otherwise qualified points of view that reject the QAR seems question-begging. I see David’s point in the following paragraph, that a view disqualified in this way is not disqualified because the view is judged to be on the whole false. Rather, the view is disqualified because it rejects a particular claim that is crucial to qualification. The examples of such claims on p.61 are that all people are morally free and equal and that even reasonable people can disagree. I don’t have any problem with making acceptance of such claims criterial for qualification. But I thought that the problem was that some points of view that accept that these claims might nonetheless reject the QAR. These otherwise reasonable points of view accept moral freedom and equality and the burdens of judgment, but still assert that the exercise of political power need not pass the QAR. If the QAR applies to itself, how can we justify excluding as unqualified those views that pass all the substantive tests of qualification, except for the test of accepting the QAR itself? (I suppose that Raz’s liberal perfectionism would accept the substantive views necessary for qualification, but reject QAR. Will it then be disqualified?) We have substantive reasons for denying rejection rights over political coercion to views that deny moral freedom and equality, but do we have the same kind of reasons for denying rejection rights to those who accept moral freedom and equality, but not the QAR? (Maybe I’m off track – it is getting late)

  10. One further issue: if the QAR must pass QAR, but the QAR involves a default position that consists of the absence of coercive exercise of state power, disagreement among qualified points of view about what is the non-coercive or less-coercive baseline would be a problem. Ordinarily, qualified objections lead us to default to not exercising coercive power, by the QAR. But if there is reasonable disagreement about what it means “not to exercise power”, then there will be objections based on claims about the misapplication of the QAR that leave us without a default. I’m tempted by the “dogmatic” route (p.57).

  11. Ben Saunders says:

    A lot of good questions already, but I’m still slightly puzzled about what’s going on. If I present what I think is an over-simple outline, can anyone tell me what’s wrong with it?

    Suppose we can rank possible decision mechanisms according to epistemic value:
    1 Strong epistocracy (rule of the wise)
    2 Weak epistocracy (extra votes for the wise)
    3 Democracy
    4 Coin tossing
    5 Failed epistocracy (rule of the not wise)

    I have in mind those being objectively defined, so we could all agree that rule of the wise is best, but we don’t agree who is wise, so any specific proposal (e.g. extra votes for Catholic priests) could, from qualified points of view, be seen as 5 even if it’s actually 1 or 2.

    Is the argument simply that democracy is the best that all (qualified) points of view could accept? That makes some sense of the argument, to me, but I think it may require more argument to show democracy is best out of the acceptable procedures. Also I’m not clear on where other non-democratic options such as anarchy or market-based solutions might fit.

    Finally, is the acceptance of democracy, or any other proposal, simply a matter of them crossing an acceptability threshold or shouldn’t it depend on the available alternatives? I’d have thought if coin tossing was the best possibility (compared to democracy, anarchy or any supposed epistocracy) then it ought therefore to be acceptable.

  12. One more quick question to add on here. If we’re applying the QAR to some domain X, with possible decisions X1 through Xn, and each of these options is subject to qualified objections, do we throw up our hands and say that no decision is justified, and that we are damned no matter what we do (or don’t do)? Or, must one of the Xn be identified as the default that obtains when no option passes the QAR? I was assuming that the answer had to be the latter; even if both exercising and not exercising coercive political power over someone are subject to qualified objections, not coercing wins, because it’s the default. But perhaps the first approach is conceivable, and David’s comment on 60-61 about a situation in which political justification was impossible brought it to mind.

  13. As you’ll see on the main page, I’ve posted some thoughts on this week’s comments up to this point.

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