Estlund Reading Group Chapter 6

This chapter, as I read it, has four main articulations. First, Estlund sums up the basis case for epistemic proceduralism, on the basis of the arguments of the foregoing chapters. Second, he considers and rejects a final form of procedural theory, termed rational deliberative proceduralism, which views the value of procedures as residing in their being reason-generating. Third, Estlund spells out the kind of normative authority that epistemic proceduralism does, and does not possess. Fourth, he elaborates on what it might mean for a procedure to be accurate with respect to the justice of a policy proposal.I will focus on the first three articulations. I will raise some questions, but also highlight what I take to be some philosophical IOUs that Estlund takes out in this chapter.

I take this to be a pivotal chapter in the book in the following sense: it is here that he moves from the critical case against correctness theories and pure procedural ones, and towards the statement of his positive cas for epistemic proceduralism. This chapter provides us with the main structural features of the view, and provides us with a sense of the burden of argument that it must take up to be vindicated. Some of my questions will attempt to show just how demanding that burden is.

1. The case for epistemic proceduralism is laid out in the first few chapters, and it flows quite naturally from the preceding chapters. Briefly stated, views that are entirely epistemic are implausible because they fail the qualified acceptability test. But views that are entirely procedural fail to rule out coin-flips. A plausible theory of democracy must therefore combine epistemic and procedural dimensions so as to avoid both the coin-flip and the anti-epistocracy objections.

2. One might resist this conclusion, from the procedural side, by claiming that there might be values embodied in a procedure that justify the adoption of the procedure, but that cannot be reduced to their epistemic merits. For example, one could favour a procedure because itr promoted the articulation of reasons, as opposed, presumably, to the mere confrontation of interests or opinions. Estlund argues against this possible line of argument that it is hard to imagine what might provide the reason-articulating function of a procedure with its justificatory force, were it not for the fact that reason-giving somehow conduced to the approximation of truth.

3. Epistemic proceduralism (EP)’s distance from correctness theories raises the following worry. A policy is on this view democratically legitimate because it results from a procedure that tends to give rise to accurate results, rather than because it is correct according to some procedure-independent standard. This means that it makes claims upon citizens that they obey the outcomes of these procedures, even when these citizens have good reason to think that the policies are mistaken. Estlund’s way out of this apparent problem is to make a distinction between the result of a procedure making an epistemic claim upon dissenters, and its making a moral claim upon them. On Estlund’s view, a procedure can give rise to a result that we have reason to think is wrong, but still bind us morally, even when it gives us no reason to change our mind. It is the epistemic quality of the procedure, rather than the procedure-independent correctness of the result, that claims our obedience. Estlund analogizes democratic procedure to juries, but defers the full articulation of the analogy to chapter VIII.

A first question raised for me by this chapter has to do with the adequacy of the options that Estlund provides democratic theorists with. On his view, accounts of democracy occur along a continuum the poles of which are constituted by theories that see the good of democracy as residing in something intrinsic to the procedure, and consequentialist theories that view the good of demcoracy as residing in that to which it gives rise, namely correct policies. The proof of EP lies in the demonstration of the lacunae of both these views in their pure forms.

But a justification of democracy might be consequentialist without truth or correctness being the consequence of democratic procedure that contributes to its justification. For example, one might claim that the consequence of democratic procedure that best speaks to its justification has to do with the trust that it generates among citizens. On this view, (which I offer not necessarily because I want to defend it, but merely to show that Estlund has not provided us with an account of the options that exhausts logical space), democratic procedures yield policies that citizens will be more likely to comply with because they have in some sense through their participation in democratic procedure developed a stake in them. The success of policies moreover is often highly dependent upon citizens taking up the roles ascribed to them by the policies in question and doing what the policies require that they do.

David might answer in one of two ways. He could either say that “uptake contributes to truth”. If democratic procedure generates policies that people feel inclined to comply with, then this speaks to the procedure’s tendency to produce accurate policies. This answer would run the risk of packing too much into the notion of truth or correctness, and would risk making it vacuous.Or he might run the same argument against this view that he does against rational deliberative proceduralism. Just as it is hard to see why we would care about a procedure’s tendencey to induce reason-giving unless reason-giving somehow conduced to correctness, so, Estlund might hold, we would have a hard time accounting for the value of trust and compliance unless trust and compliance somehow tracked true or correct theories.

This leads to my second question, which has troubled me ever since chapter II, and which I find puzzling about the whole epistemic approach to democracy. (I am joining the discussion late, so I apologize if I am rehearsing questions that have already been posed in the discussion of chapter 2). This concern has to do not so much with the appropriateness of ascribing epistemic values (truth, correctness) to the outcomes of democratic procedures, but rather with the idea that procedures and outcomes are detachable from one another in the way that EP requires. According to this view, there is political truth out there, and democracy is a good way of getting at it. Call this the “detachability thesis).

I don’t think that this is how democracy works. In the actual life of real-world democracy, process and policy are intertwined in ways that put paid to the detachability thesis. Part of our evaluation of policies has to do not with its approximation of some independent standard of justice, but with the way it has been reached, and with the democratic processes that go into its implementation and administration. We tend to evaluate not policies, but procedures-plus-policies, taken as wholes.

Now Estlund could of course respond that he is offering a philosophical framework for democracy, rather than an account of its institutional embodiment. But I think that this line of response can only be taken so far: a philosophical account, no matter how abstract, must bear some relation to that real-world thing that it is an abstraction of, lest it become an idealization rather than an abstraction (to introduce a distinction due originally, if memory serves, to Onora O’Neill). Now if procedure and policy are imbricated in the way I suggest, and if our evaluation of policies is dependent to some significant degree on the extent to which they are derived from and buffeted by procedures of democratic responsiveness and accountability, then Estlund’s view risks failing that test.

A third concern arises from the theory’s abstraction, and it has to do with the argument, admittedly only alluded to here, and to be developed in chapter VIII, accounting for the normative authority of democratic procedure by analogy with the kind of authority that a jury has.Where does a jury decision’s normative authority come from? A naive view would claim that it is the jury’s work, narroly understood, that contributes to its outcomes’ moral authority. When twelve good men and women put their intelligences to the task of determining a verdict, that verdict is imbued with moral authority.

Now clearly, that is not why we tend to abide by the verdict of a jury. Jury deliberations occur within a complex institutional framework that includes, to mention only these, rules of evidence, which make it the case that juries might not get to base their verdict on all relevant facts; judge’s instructions, which heavily constrain the content of deliberations; and the ability of the judge to set the verdict aside if he or she judges it to be incompatible with the evidence. When a jury delivers a verdict, theefore, our acceptance of it stems from the fact that it has been constrained in these various ways. In other words, moral allegiance attaches to a process of which a jury’s deliberation is a part, rather than just to the jury’s work, narrowly understood.

If the analogy with jury deliberation were to be made on the basis of this institutionally complex view, rather than on the basis of the narrow one, it isn’t clear that we would end up with a justification of the authority of democracy, as opposed to, say, that of liberal democracy with all of the institutional contraints that tend to constrain the functioning and the scope of purely democratic institutions of deliberation among citizens and voting. If it were to be made on the basis of the narrow view, however, it runs the risk of being open to an analogous charge of institutional naiveté.I raise these issues simply in order to flag the problems that Estlund has to face in chapter VIII if the jury/democracy analogy is to go through.

Be Sociable, Share!
This entry was posted in Posts, Reading Group. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Estlund Reading Group Chapter 6

  1. Ben Saunders says:

    Some good questions there. I’ve been trying to push a general worry that the good consequences involved need not be decision outcomes but could be something else, like citizen education. (And David has answered, though I think we may have to disagree). I also think it’s fair to say we can’t simply identify ideal outcomes independently of how they come about. Democratically-deciding-to-X may be better than doing Y, even though democratically-deciding-to-Y would have been even better.

    My worries at this point are more general, and may be answered in later sections. (The problem with this chapter effectively being central to the whole book is that, like chapter one, it brings up larger issues). Firstly, I’m not entirely sure what gives democracy its epistemic value – since David rejects the Condorcet Jury Theorem, I’m guessing it has something to do with deliberation and exchange of viewpoints.

    Secondly, I’m not sure why we should refrain from over-ruling the procedure when we think it is clearly and/or very wrong. What is supposed to be the mindset of the out-voted? Is it ‘I still belive I’m right, but may be wrong’ or ‘I still beleive I’m right, but this outcome is now legitimate’? And would David have anything to say about civil disobedience, etc? (Which Rawls seems to see as offering epistemic advantages by highlighting serious injustices)

Leave a Reply