Estlund Reading Group Chapter 4

Here is the fourth installment of our reading group on Democratic Authority, which focuses on chapter 4, “The Limits of Fair Procedure.”

Summary

Estlund starts this chapter by applying the Euthyphro problem to democratic decision-making: are outcomes good because they are democratically chosen or democratically chosen because they are good? Estlund accepts that democracy is a matter of the collective authorization of laws, which is a procedural arrangement. While an infallible benevolent dictator might be able to bring about substantively just outcomes, there would be nothing democratic about that. Estlund’s argument, however – which occupies this chapter and the next – is that recent democratic theory has focused too exclusively on fair procedures to the exclusion of the independent rightness of decisions. This chapter criticizes the idea that procedural fairness can alone justify democratic procedures and begins criticizing normative social choice theory (e.g. Arrow), while chapter five continues the argument with focus on ‘deep deliberative democracy’.

Fair proceduralism regards the fact that voting is a fair procedure as sufficient justification without appeal to substantively good decisions, but procedural fairness alone cannot explain why we should let people have a say rather than decide randomly (p.66). Estlund’s favoured alternative, epistemic proceduralism “gives little or no role to procedural fairness”. That’s something I’ll comment on later, as I think it’s interesting to see how Estlund’s thought here has changed from an article published ten years previously, ‘Beyond Fairness and Deliberation’ (in J. Bohman and W. Rehg, eds., Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics) but it’s something I’ll be coming back to later. Here, Estlund’s reason for downgrading the importance of fairness is that it is only what he calls an ‘occasional value.’ Not everything that is not fair is positively unfair – something Estlund refers to as the non/un issue – and he gives the example of charity: giving unequally to beggars is not fair but nor is it problematically unfair. Some things are not required to be fair, so the question whether or not they are fair is unimportant.

Having already diminished the importance (or, perhaps more accurately, scope) of fairness, Estlund goes on to distinguish different kinds of fairness. Substantive fairness is a matter of each having what they should have. A law banning cyclists from public roads may be substantively unfair, but procedural fairness is a matter of how the law comes about. The law banning cyclists would be procedurally fair if, for example, passed by majority rule but not if imposed by a dictator. A dictator could be prospectively fair, where this means tending to produce substantively fair outcomes, so we still need a notion of intrinsic procedural fairness. This could mean simply not cheating, whatever the rules are, but that seems inadequate since the rules may be unfair – e.g. the rule that only men can vote could be impartially applied. Estlund therefore defines intrinsic procedural fairness as “the intrinsic nonretrospective nonprospective fairness of the procedure whether or not it is properly run” (p.70), which, I have to admit, isn’t the most transparent definition.

Estlund’s next claim strikes me as contentious. He claims there is a priority of substance to procedure, so if it was common knowledge that everyone agreed on the correct decision there would be no objection to simply doing it, so concerns about procedural fairness enter only where there is disagreement or no procedure independent standard. I do not find this obvious. Suppose all agree on policy X over policy Y, I may still object to the fact that a dictator imposes X on us in a way that gives my preferences no efficacy. While substance may be more important than procedure, it’s not clear that it’s lexically more important in the way Estlund seems to assume. In any case, Estlund assumes procedural solutions are simply a result of retreat from disagreement. If we can’t agree on the substance, we may be able to agree on a procedure to resolve the disagreement. One possibility would be to leave the decision to experts (as I suppose we do in certain cases, such as healthcare decisions), but where there is disagreement even about who is expert we must retreat further, until we reach fair procedures.

Many writers seem to assume that this retreat to procedures can justify democracy, but Estlund’s strategy is to argue that fairness alone gives us no reason to favour democracy. (This is in keeping with his remark from ‘Beyond Fairness and Deliberation’, p.176: “while democratic procedures may indeed be fair, the epitome of fairness among people who have different preferences over two alternatives is to flip a coin”). To show this, Estlund distinguishes between two properties commonly attributed to a fair collective decision procedure should i) promote parties’ ends (aggregativity) and ii) treat all equally (anonymity). His argument that a full retreat from substantive matters must abandon the first, leaving only the second.

A procedure is aggregative iff some change in individual inputs (choices) could have produced a different outcome. This is a responsiveness or aim-sensitivity requirement and majority rule is aggregative, while a completely random device is not. Note that any form of responsiveness, even negative responsiveness, suffices for aggregativity (p.74). Here Estlund introduces his critique of social choice theory. Social choice theory evaluates rules of aggregation, not actual procedures, and these standards are really substantive standards applied to outcomes of possible temporal procedures. The mere fact that an outcome happens to conform to a rule aggregating votes does not capture retrospective fairness if the votes were not causally retrospective. This seems right to me, a dictator could impose a decision that happens to conform to the wishes of the people, but it wouldn’t be democratic. Estlund points out that if I bet my watch on the outcome of a coin flip which, as it happens I lose, but you would take my watch anyway without bothering to know this, the fact that your action conforms to an abstract rule doesn’t justify it. He goes on to argue that rule by the people is not the same as rule in accordance with their views and that heeding votes is a matter of doing as the people say, not merely as they want. This gives us reason to respect what people actually say or vote for, rather than simply inserting electrodes into their brains to track their preferences directly.

The second property of decision procedures that Estlund discusses is anonymity. A rule is anonymous iff no difference is made to the collective ordering if the identity of the owner of the preference is changed. Full anonymity consists in outcomes being oblivious to any features of individuals, which includes their preferences and is satisfied by a completely random choice. Majority rule may not be wrong, all things considered, to attend to people’s choices, but it is no more fair than attending to their race. Estlund claims that only full anonymity refuses to import potentially controversial non-procedural values. Majority rule is no more fair than selecting a random vote or going all the way to flipping a coin, so it cannot be defended on wholly procedural grounds (p.82). Sensitivity to voter preferences incorporates the procedure-independent value that outcomes should reflect what is preferred by more people. Procedural fairness alone, therefore, cannot give us reason to prefer democracy to random decisions. What’s more, if we’re inclined to prefer democracy to random decisions, as I assume most are, we cannot remain – as Estlund puts it – ‘fully virginal’. Once we begin to incorporate procedure independent epistemic values, to favour voting over coin-tossing, then we leave behind the supposedly minimal justification of fair proceduralism and have no reason not to be more promiscuous and move all the way to epistemic proceduralism. This, as Estlund points out, shifts the debate to which procedure independent (substantive) values should be incorporated or how far we ought to retreat. Epistemic proceduralism makes only a partial retreat, blocking invidious comparisons, whereas fair proceduralism ought to be satisfied with tossing a coin, which is supposed to be a reductio ad absudum.

Comments

Personally, I found this chapter the most interesting so far, because it’s closest to engaging with the questions that I’m occupied with. I’m not sure my summary above can do full justice to the discussion, which contained many interesting points; nonetheless I have a number of questions and comments to start discussion.

1. Coin-tossing

My main puzzle with this chapter could be broadly summed up by saying ‘what’s going on with this coin-tossing comparison?’ but I’ll try to offer some more developed thoughts. Estlund claims that procedural fairness itself should be indifferent between tossing a coin between alternative policies and the (assumed) fairness of majority rule. Now I think that tossing a coin does satisfy a certain conception of fairness, it gives everyone equal chances of satisfaction. The problem with it, of course, is that it isn’t democratic (as I’m sure all will agree) because it ignores people’s preferences. This shows democracy can’t be reduced to political equality, but I thought that would be reasonably obvious. Democracy isn’t achieved by a group of equal oligarchs, so must surely include something about the franchise. Dahl defines democracy as political equality plus citizen sovereignty and this is what is wrong with tossing a coin – it may indeed give all citizens equal power, but that’s no power.

It seems to me that those who defend democracy on grounds of procedural fairness could accept that tossing a coin also satisfies some form of procedural fairness. They may, however, deny that it is fair about the appropriate thing. They may say that democracy is not about equal satisfaction but the exercise of agency and an equal claim to influence decisions. This, of course, would be to stress what Estlund calls aggregativity, which he claims is a non-procedural value. I’m not sure who exactly Estlund is addressing with these arguments, but perhaps those focused on fairness are simply concerned with defining, rather than justifying democracy (which may leave open Estlund’s epistemic approach as the only justified cases of democracy). As such, they could plausibly argue that a majority vote is a democratic fair procedure while coin tossing is a non-democratic fair procedure. Procedural fairness may give no reason to prefer either, but an independent justification of democracy need not obviously appeal to substance, at least in the sense of the rightness of outcomes. It seems one might prefer democratic procedures because, even if they don’t result in better decisions, they have some educative effect on citizens or stimulate participation or deliberation. (Such arguments seem to be offered by J. S. Mill, Carole Pateman and Richard Vernon).

2. Majority Rule

I remarked earlier that it seems slightly strange that Estlund is out to defend democracy without saying much more about what it is, and I think it’s that concern that partly motivates my previous point about coin-tossing. Here, however, it seems Estlund has some implicit assumptions about democracy as being – or, at least, involving – majority rule. He does, however, mention in passing the possibility of selecting a random vote (p.82). The earlier ‘Beyond Fairness and Deliberation’ article gave a much more prominent place to such a proposal, which Estlund there called ‘Queen for a Day’. Now, if democracy is defined in terms of each vote having an equal chance of being decisive, then such a proposal would seemingly qualify as democratic. As Estlund concludes after his earlier discussion, “One begins to see how much like voting Queen for a Day is, or could be. I know of no strong moral argument against it as compared with ordinary voting. Insofar as it is distasteful, bear in mind that none of the approaches to democratic legitimacy canvassed in this essay has any reason to reject it. It is fair, and it can take place after individual views are shaped by public deliberation” (p.193).

Now, I’ve been working on such an idea, so I’m curious why it’s so much less prominent in Estlund’s book. I’d certainly be inclined to say it’s democratic (though not necessarily the only or even best form of democracy), in that it is a form of citizen sovereignty that treats each equally. Estlund might deny that it fits the description of ‘deciding together’ in some stronger sense, but it doesn’t seem this is what he wants to say given his passing remarks on page 82 – certainly it treats everyone equally and makes outcomes responsive to citizen preferences (unlike the simple lottery). Maybe the solution then is to admit it as democratic but to prefer majority rule on epistemic grounds. Are there reasons to suppose majority rule is epistemically better, putting aside arguments such as Condorcet’s Jury Theorem (which Estlund later rejects)?

It seems to me that the main reason for preferring a randomly selected vote to majority rule is a fairness-based one in cases where you have permanently fixed majorities and minorities. (This is why I raised Lani Guinier’s concerns before). Is the reason it gets less play here simply because Estlund has diminished the significance of fairness in his theory? Before, he held “Democratic legitimacy requires that the procedure is procedurally fair and can be held, in terms acceptable to all reasonable citizens, to be epistemically the best among those that are better than random” (‘Beyond Fairness…’, p.174). Now he says, as quoted above, epistemic proceduralism “gives little or no role to procedural fairness” (p.66). Does this mean that majority rule can be accepted as epistemically better than a ‘queen for the day’ even if majority rule is seen to be less fair?

Maybe it’s unfair to ask David to answer all of these questions on the evolution of his thought, especially as it strays from the brief of discussing his new book and current views – so it’s certainly up to him what he wants to take up in replies. I’d be really interested to know what explains certain prominent shifts, however, because it may help understand the present argument.

I think I’ll leave it there, as those are both potentially quite big issues (partly in that both go beyond the present chapter in asking questions about the nature of democracy). There are a number of more specific questions I could ask about the particular arguments here, but I think I’ll let others have a go first.

Be Sociable, Share!

About Ben Saunders

Ben Saunders is a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Stirling.
This entry was posted in Posts, Reading Group. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Estlund Reading Group Chapter 4

  1. There are these three claims: 1) majority rule is obviously preferable to a lottery, at least from a democratic standpoint; 2) the reason majority rule is preferable to a lottery is not fairness; and 3) the reason majority rule is preferable to a lottery is its epistemic superiority.
    I’m not convinced of 1), especially in light of some of the historical examples Jon Elster gives in his chapter on lotteries in Solomonic Judgements. The Athenians, for example, drew lots to see whose turn it was to be in charge. I’m not persuaded by Ben’s claim that lotteries aren’t democratic because they ignore people’s preferences. There’s more than one way to respect a preference.

    I’ll let 1) go at that, adding only that if indeed there is ultimately nothing in fairness to choose between a lottery and majority rule, that might tend to undermine 1) if there are circumstances in which fairness favors a lottery over majority rule. And there do seem to be such circumstances–e.g., deciding whom to sacrifice in dire emergencies. Imagine a Trolley variation in which one has to choose a second-level method of deciding whether to throw the switch to save the 5 at the cost of one life. One’s options are: a) place a quick call to an ethical expert (a la “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”) and follow that advice; b) flip a coin (a la John Taurek) giving each an equal chance of survival; or c) put it to a quick vote of the seven in the situation. I think most of us would choose b), among these options.

    Why then would we think it wrong and undemocratic to choose a representative by lottery? Suppose there are 20 eligible to choose one representative, and this can be done either by majority vote or by a lottery using numbered ballots and numbered balls in a basket or a wheel of fortune. Why the strong intuition that in this case the only right and democratic thing to do is reject the lottery and to let the majority rule? Maybe David is right that it has to be some non-fairness reason, because on reflection all of the objections to a lottery on fairness grounds fail, I suspect.

    But is the reason to prefer majority rule really epistemic, as 3) states? Elster claims that honesty favors the use of lotteries in cases where reason, owing to “uncertainty, indifference, indeterminacy, and incommensurability,” is too feeble to decide. That might turn out to be most of the time, especially in politics. But rather than dither and debate endlessly, we call the question. Elster quotes Otto Neurath as saying “Somebody may indeed approve the majority principle only because it enhances the ability to act; it is a beloved substitute for the unloved drawing of lots.” Could it be that what makes it lovable isn’t any epistemic superiority–nor its (non-existent) superiority in the scales of fairness–but that it brings closure in what we now conventionally regard (emergencies aside) as the more decorous way?

  2. To be clear as regards Bill’s (1) in the previous comment, I take no stand one way or the other on whether random selection of representatives (or the Queen for a Day idea) is democratic, or whether it is a good idea. I just point out that if procedural fairness were all that mattered we should be just as happy to pick the policies randomly. I agree with Elster that random choice of outcomes is appropriate in some cases, but in the quoted passage he seems to agree with me that it is a retreat from substance. Unless there is “uncertainty, indifference, indeterminacy, …incommensurability,” etc., random choice woud not be appropriate. (It would still be fair. on my analysis, but not appropriate.) On my view, (Bill might be disagreeing with this) many political choices are not plagued by those retreat-triggering conditions. Perhaps some are, and we talked about that briefly before. There I think how to handle them should itself be decided in an epistemic proceduralist way, a sort of meta-decision. If the meta-decision is to make the decision randomly, that would be legitimate.

  3. Hi Ben,

    Thanks for the great summary and questions. I have a question of my own, for either you or David. I confess to being puzzled by David’s claim that pure proceduralism requires anonymity. David claims that ‘a procedure is fully anonymous if and only if it is blind to personal features: its results would not be different if any features of the relevant people were changed’ (p.80). This entails that an anonymous procedure must be blind even to people’s preferences, since preferences are also personal features. This means, then, that majority-rule cannot be justified by pure proceduralism since majority-rule fails to be anonymous.

    I think there are two distinct questions we can ask about a decision procedure. One is whether there is an independently correct answer to the question being decided by the procedure. If we use a decision procedure to answer the question – should abortion be legal? – one issue is whether there is an independently correct answer about the legality of abortion. Let’s call this the substantive question. The second question is, by what standards do we evaluate the decision procedure? For example, do we evaluate the decision procedure on its capacity to promote artistic beauty in the world? Let’s call this the procedural question.

    David’s argument seems to be about the procedural question. He claims (I think) that if a decision procedure is evaluated using anything other than the principle of anonymity, then that evaluation fails to be purely procedural – it has invoked procedure-independent standards. But it seems to me that this doesn’t quite capture the debate. Suppose a proceduralist democrat, when asked the procedural question, responds as follows: ‘I think democratic procedures should aim to distribute political power according to the following principle: give each adult a maximal share of political power (measured in votes and opportunity to run for office), consistent with a similar share for each other person. This is the standard by which democratic procedures should be judged’. This principle clearly fails to be anonymous in David’s sense, but I don’t see why that should be troubling for the proceduralist. The reason I don’t think it’s troubling is because the proceduralist’s answer to the substantive question can still be no, that is, the proceduralist can say ‘there is no standard, independent of the procedure I’m advocating, by which political decisions can be judged right or wrong’. So long as the answer to the procedural question does not entail or assume a ‘yes’ answer to the substantive question, then I think we can have an argument which is distinct in the right sort of way from epistemic arguments for democracy. I think this point is somewhat similar to a point Ben makes in his first comment.

    David’s argument, very crudely, is that coin toss and majority-rule are both fair in some sense, and thus to justify majority-rule, you need to go beyond pure procedural fairness and invoke some procedure-independent standard. I think David is right about this, but I don’t think that’s sufficient to show that the proceduralists are then no longer being purely proceduralist in the sense we care about. It doesn’t show that they are invoking procedure-independent standards in the same way that epistemic theories do. An argument which mixes egalitarianism with pareto to offer a principle for distributing political power remains procedural on the substantive question, and I think that’s all that matters. So long as the argument doesn’t imply that there are procedure-independent standards to that question, I think it remains distinctively procedural. What do you think?

  4. Paul Gowder says:

    I just want to reiterate and highlight the point with respect to the priority of substance over procedure. That seems to me to be obviously false in many cases we care about – not just extreme cases like preferences for non-dictator decisions.

    One easy case is a jury trial. Suppose everyone in the relevant qualified population (the judge, all lawyers, the community at large, etc.) knows that the defendant is guilty (say he robbed a bank on FBI payday). Further suppose that everyone — even the defendant (though of course he nonetheless prefers to avoid punishment)– agrees that he morally deserves punishment. Summarily clapping him in gaol has probability 1 of being correct. On the other hand, giving him a trial has probability 1-epsilon of being correct, where epsilon represents, say, the chance that one juror will come to trial drunk, will get bribed, etc., or otherwise vote to acquit for some bizarre reason.

    This seems to be pretty close to many real-life cases — a lot of obviously guilty people get arrested every day.

    In that case, summary punishment strictly dominates a jury trial for all reasons *except* procedural ones. Would anyone say that we ought to deny that defendant a jury trial? I submit the answer is no, and it’s no because we place independent value on the procedure, for reasons like community participation in criminal punishment, bringing about a Millian “school for public spirit,” etc. (Call that “substantive proceduralism,” perhaps. Maybe this is addressed in the next chapter?)

    If that’s right, substance can’t have priority over procedure.

    But maybe (e.g. the previous comment) that’s really an appeal to a substantive standard? But then Jonathan’s comment seems really compelling. That’s a “substantive” value, sure, but it’s a substantive value that is only addressed to the method of making a decision, not the outcome of the decision. We care about procedural/substantive distinctions because we care about making decisions when there’s disagreement over the outcome of a decision, and so “substantive proceduralism” is procedural in the way we need?

  5. Paul Gowder says:

    On a little more thinking, I think I’ve isolated the error at which all comments thus far have been aiming. It’s in the distinction the chapter assumes between substance and procedure.

    (In the below, read “substantive” and “procedure-independent” as the same thing, and read “purely procedural” and “intrinsically procedural” as the same. Also, I assume that if a standard is not purely procedural, it is substantive, at least in part, i.e. that there’s no logical space for standards that are neither purely procedural nor substantive. I believe this usage is consistent with the usage in the chapter.)

    One pass at the distinction the chapter seems to be assuming is something like the following:

    SP1: a standard is purely “procedural” [or “intrinsically procedural”] iff we can evaluate compliance with the standard without knowing any facts about the outcome it generates.

    Accordingly, aggregative standards are substantive because, so goes the argument, they require facts about the relationship between the procedure and the outcome — a certain voting mechanism not only has to be correlated with the outcome, but it also has to cause the outcome in a certain way.

    But that can’t be right. For one thing, it’s in tension with the claims at the end of the chapter, that full anonymity is a procedural standard. Full anonymity is defined on the results, and specifically their failure to change if we change features of the people.

    This tension is particularly apparent in the coin flip example. On pg. 82, it’s claimed that a coin flip is purely procedural. But on pg. 75-6, it’s claimed that a coin-flip procedure that actually insists that the outcome be a result of the coin flip (rather than merely correlated) is not purely procedural, because it too demands that the coin flip cause the outcome.

    I fear I’m misunderstanding the point of the coin-flip. But it seems fairly clear: pg. 75: coin-flip rule with an idea of retrospective fairness demands that outcome be responsive to coin-flip. Pg. 76: “The … responsiveness… is part of a procedure-independent standard.” Ergo, responsive coin flip is not purely procedural. But, pg. 79: “full anonymity … is the logical limit of procedural fairness.” Pg. 82: a coin-flip is “blind to all features of people.” By the definition of full anonymity, a coin-flip is thus fully anonymous, and ergo, the coin-flip is at the logical limit of procedural fairness.

    But how could a procedure (coin-flip) be both at the logical limit of procedural fairness and procedure-independent? There are three possibilities:
    1. The chapter contains a contradiction. Rule that out by the principle of charity.
    2. Even at the logical limit of procedural fairness, there’s no such thing. Possible, but if an eliminativist argument was being offered, presumably the chapter would say so.
    3. There is something going on that allows us to distinguish the coin-flip of pg. 75 from the coin-flip of pg. 82.

    Let’s consider #3. What kind of a distinction can distinguish between the coin flip generally (purely procedural) and the coin flip which only counts as acceptable if it causes the outcome, not (pg. 75) where the uncle would steal the watch anyway (partially substantive)?

    Well… surely if using a coin-flip as the standard is to have any content at all, it must be necessarily related to the outcome — the correlation between the coin flip and the outcome can’t be indeterminate or purely contingent. If it were, it would be no standard at all, because we’d have no facts by which we could judge whether the procedure was satisfied (except, I suppose, facts about whether the coin-flip was held at all, regardless of its relationship to the outcome — but that bears no resemblance to any kind of evaluative standard for a process that anyone sane would ever propose, so we can safely discard it). We’d be back to the eliminativist claim that there is no such thing as a procedural standard.

    This suggests SP2: a standard is purely “procedural” iff we can evaluate compliance with the standard by examining the extent to which the procedure is necessarily correlated with the outcome, without examining the extent to which or manner in which the procedure causes the outcome.

    That might do the work the two coin-flips demand, but it seems to entail all sorts of contestable metaphysical commitments about causation and so forth. And it’s not intuitively compelling.

    On the other hand, suppose I assert SP3: a standard is purely “procedural” iff we can evaluate compliance with the standard by examining only facts about the procedure and its relationship with the outcome, including causal facts, and need not examine any other facts about the outcome.

    SP3 is intuitively more compelling than SP2, and it doesn’t require me to claim that causation is something over and above necessary connection. SP3 evaluates aggregation, anonymity, and a whole host of other intuitively procedural standards (like full participation) as “procedural.” And yet it excludes the sorts of things that we usually consider substantive — whether the ultimate decision maximizes utility, whether it is consistent with revealed truth, whether it is just in a non-procedural sense, etc.

    Isn’t SP3 a better way to distinguish between substantive and procedure? And if so, can’t procedural standards do a lot more work?

  6. I too had some doubts about the identification of procedural fairness with full anonymity. Faced with disagreement about what procedure is likely to lead to the best decisions, we retreat to equal treatment in the design of the procedure. Initially, it seems that “affirming the equal importance of each individual” (73) means being equally sensitive to the expressed preferences of individuals. One way to be equally sensitive, however, is to be equally insensitive. So if we prefer voting to drawing lots, it must be because we’re not just concerned that our influence be equal, but that it be positive. Hence Arrow’s Pareto condition; if everyone prefers X to Y, the collective ordering prefers X to Y. On p.73, then, it looks like equal sensitivity and equal insensitivity are equally procedurally fair, and that fairness alone will not allow us to pick between voting and lottery. Yet the argument that begins on p.78 aims to establish that procedural fairness consists in full anonymity, which requires that the procedure’s outcome be insensitive to anything about individuals, including the fact that (e.g.) we all prefer X to Y. On this conception of procedural fairness, equal insensitivity and equal sensitivity are not equally procedurally fair; only insensitivity is fair. If fairness is full anonymity, a procedure that notices people’s choices or preferences is no more or less fair than a procedure that notices people’s race or gender (paraphrasing p.80). I’m not sure what the argument is for restricting the idea of procedural fairness to insensitivity, since the retreat argument only left us with the conclusion that the procedure had to be equally sensitive or insensitive.

    I recognize that David says at the top of 81 that “we should not say that procedures… are not fair simply because they are not fully anonymous. Rather, procedures can mix fairness and other principles, remaining fair, among other things. But the fairness of a procedure is, on my view, to be understood by reference to anonymity, the blindness to personal features.” I guess I don’t understand this passage. If fairness is full anonymity, then aren’t deviations from full anonymity deviations from fairness? Isn’t there a loss of fairness, on this understanding of fairness, whenever we move away from full anonymity? Why should equal treatment in the design of a decision-procedure require complete insensitivity to preferences, as opposed to equal sensitivity?

    Despite all of that I find myself persuaded by the conclusion of the argument, on p.83, where David confronts the modified version of fair proceduralism. At its simplest, the argument is that we can’t avoid all substantive disagreement by retreating to equal treatment in the design of the decision-making process, because (a) we’ll need to argue for a particular dimension in which people need to be treated equally (e.g. preferences or votes?), and (b) we’ll want to argue for positive influence, not just equal lack of influence. The bare idea of “equality in the procedure” isn’t enough, unless one is willing to accept randomization, which achieves equality in every dimension. So the real question is about what substantive values one thinks it appropriate to admit into the design of the decision procedure. Is that right David? And do you disagree with this p.83 argument, Jonathan, or do you think it blurs an important difference between kinds of values, by whatever name we want to call them?

  7. A minor point concerning the preferences vs. votes, question (76-78), “Heeding votes is different, then, from tracking the voters’ preferences. It is doing as they say, not merely as they want…” 78. I don’t think it’s always better to heed what people say rather than what they want. Heeding votes makes sense if voting consists in saying “yes” to one option and “no” to the rest, and the vote counting procedure is “most votes wins,” because people may quite reasonably not want to vote for their first preference, if doing so will ensure the election of someone they absolutely can’t stand. In this case, people are voting strategically to overcome the limited preference they are able to express on the ballot. Suppose we’re using a Borda count, however, in which the ballot allows the voter to rank options, and points are awarded: 0 for last place, 1 for second last place, 2 for third last place, and so on. Using this procedure, strategic voting is useful because if you know that your second place preference is popular, you can rank it last. If that’s our procedure, we might want to aggregate preferences, if we could. (‘My election method is only for honest men’, Borda said). Imagine that a benevolent omniscient alien species arrived on earth, and offered us the possibility of decision-making by error-less preference-inspection, at predetermined times and dates so that people could have a chance to get their preferences in order…

  8. I’m posting some responses to the discussion, to this point, of Chapter 4.

Leave a Reply