Daniel gives a very nice summary of the chapter and raises a few questions. First, he wonders whether the fact that democratic procedures might generate trust, and so compliance, is an epistemic or non-epistemic reason in its favor. Before taking that up, however, I want to quibble with his description of the options. He says that I’m mainly distinguishing between values intrinsic to a collective decision procedure on one hand, and consequentialist considerations on the other. That might not be the best way to put it, since while my theory brings in non-procedural values, it is not consequentialist. (I should say, I’m using “consequentialist,” to contrast with “deontological,” not in the broader way that some use it so that virtually any normative theory could receive a consequentialist formulation. On the latter use, there’s no interesting question about whether there is a consequentialist theory of democracy, since there would be no contrast class.) On my view, democracy is not recommended on the basis of its maximizing good consequences. It is recommended because (and when) the laws that are passed are legitimate and authoritative. They are legitimate and authoritative owing, in certain ways, to the decision procedure’s having some tendency to produce just or correct outcomes. That part is instrumental in a certain sense, but not necessarily consequentialist. The accounts of authority, legitimacy, and justice could all be deontological for all I’ve said. I’m not suggesting that Daniel misunderstood this, but my view is always at risk of being misunderstood to be consequentialist, and so I’m at pains to use that term advisedly. (I address the issue at pp. 164-167, in Chapter IX.)
So Daniel notes my central distinction between theories that limit themselves to procedural values and theories that include some appeal to the substantive quality of the decisions that are made. Then his example—that democratic procedures might engender trust and compliance—is said to find no easy home in my framework. As Ben notes, this is a similar question to the one he and others have pressed about whether democracy’s value might rest in its educative effects on the citizenry. This also requires no appeal to a tendency to make produce good collective decisions. Bringing these two questions together, the general question is whether democracy’s value might rest in good consequences other than correct decisions.
Let’s look at my favorite analogy, a jury trial, and see how a similar question looks there. I suggested that the value of a jury trial is inseparable from its having a decent tendency to make the correct decision. The correct decision, I assume, would be to convince the guilty or acquit the innocent. (We don’t simply want maximal accuracy, of course, since we want to err on the side of acquittal, but that doesn’t falsify the previous sentence.) Now suppose an alternative theory were proposed. On this theory, what matters about jury trials is not whether it gets the correct answer, but whether having that sort of system educates the jurors or engenders trust in the citizenry. We would, of course, have to admit that education and trust are good things. But without any epistemic component, a trial system would be barbaric. So even though a system might educate or engender trust, those probably wouldn’t be enough to make it legitimate or authoritative.
What we learn from this analogy is that my view, epistemic proceduralism, has nothing to fear from an account which shows that democratic procedures educate people or engender trust or compliance. But an account that proposes that those consequences of democracy are an adequate basis for its authority and legitimacy is a different matter. Why should we think that bracketing the question of the correctness of decisions is barbaric in criminal trial, but not in political decisions? It is this rhetorical question that guides my instincts about a consequentialist approach to democracy, but of course we’d have to see specific proposals in order to decide whether they can survive this challenge. I conjecture that a theory that appealed to good consequences without any appeal to correct decisions would turn out to be inadequate. And I argue, in effect, that epistemic proceduralism can suffice whether or not there are ancillary benefits such as trust and education.
Daniel’s point seems to have been only that consequentialism is an alternative approach about which I say almost nothing, and that is true. I laboriously critique theories that try to do with procedural values alone, and I claim that no adequate theory could do without an epistemic component. But I don’t show that a consequentialist approach would need such a component. I am inclined to think that it would, but this depends a lot on what counts as a good consequence. On the educative approach, I don’t see how democratic participation would be edifying to a person who thought it had no particular tendency to lead to good decisions (a point we discussed in a previous thread). As for Daniel’s trust hypothesis, we’d need to hear what accounts for the trust engendered by democratic procedures. If, as I suspect, the basis would be that they are more likely to produce substantively better decisions, then the epistemic element is required (assuming publicity, as I think we must if a democratic arrangement is being proposed), just as I claim. If there’s some other basis for the trust, we would have to hear more about it in order to evaluate that approach.
Turning to Daniel’s second concern, he writes, “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.” Epistemic proceduralism clearly evaluates policies partly on the basis of the procedures they derive from: their legitimacy is tied to their coming from procedures with a certain epistemic value, roughly. Daniel adds that often a policy is evaluated partly by “the democratic processes that go into its implementation and administration.” That sounds right, in some sense. Whether a policy is a good one has much to do with how it will probably be administered and implemented. But I’m not sure how this challenges their “detachability” from the procedure in which the policy was decided upon (with due allowance for the way legitimacy depends on procedure in my view). In the procedure voters ask themselves, and think about, which policy they should collectively adopt, a question which presents itself as having correct and incorrect answers. Otherwise, what’s to think about? Certainly the right answer will be determined partly by facts about how certain institutions must operate and so on.
Turning to a third point, Daniel writes, “When a jury delivers a verdict… our acceptance of it stems from the fact that it has been constrained in…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.” Isn’t democracy probably similar? I would say yes. I think this is perfectly consistent with my view, even if I don’t say much about what the constraints are. (I discuss the question briefly at 165-66.) If liberal democracy, in the sense of majority institutions constrained in numerous ways, is the form that meets the criteria I propose, then my thesis that only some form of democracy meets them is sustained.
Ben writes, “Democratically-deciding-to-X may be better than doing Y, even though democratically-deciding-to-Y would have been even better.” Notice that I can accept this without strain. Epistocrats might know the right policies. It’s central to my view that the best policy is not legitimate if not arrived at through the right process, which epistocracy is not, and some form of democracy is. Now if you say, “but in that sense they are not the correct policy,” I would just insist on a distinction between the procedure-independent kind of “substantive” correctness or justice, and legitimacy, which is procedural. I don’t mind if we call those two dimensions of correctness, although I think it risks conflating two very different things.
Ben also writes, “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 believe I’m right, but may be wrong’ or ‘I still believe I’m right, but this outcome is now legitimate’?” I argue that the democratic procedure may or may not give me any reason to think I was wrong, but in any case the decision is legitimate even if “substantively” incorrect. The reason not to just ignore laws I think are wrong stems from the moral account of authority and legitimacy I offer. It’s similar in form to the reason the jailer should not ignore the trial (usually). That “usually” points in the direction of justified disobedience, something Ben asks about in passing. I don’t offer a general account of it, but I assume (and say at 111-112) that some laws are so unjust or unjust in such a way that obedience is not required and would sometimes even be wrong. And later, in Chapter X, I present an account of the epistemic value of some sharp and even subversive political practice, including but not limited to various forms of disobedience. I’ll look forward to revisiting those questions in a few weeks.