Monthly Archives: March 2008

International Conference : Liberal neutrality, a re-evaluation

Montreal, May 1-3 2008

In collaboration with McGill University, The Centre de recherche en éthique de l’Université de Montréal (CRÉUM) is proud to invite everyone to attend its international conference on “Liberal Neutrality : A Re-evaluation”. The conference is open to the general public and no registration is required.

You will find here a Poster and a Programme.

Invited speakers:

Anthony Appiah; Richard Arneson; Arash Abizadeh; George Crowder; Charles Larmore; Jacob Levy; Stephen Macedo; Peter de Marneffe; Ruwen Ogien; Alan Patten; George Sher; Christine Sypnowich; Steven Wall and Daniel Weinstock.


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Estlund Reading Group Chapter 11

In this chapter Estlund asks the question whether an ‘epistocracy of the educated’ — whether, as J.S. Mill recommends, the educated should receive more votes than the uneducated — could satisfy the ‘qualified acceptability requirement’, that is, be a political principle to which no qualified objection could be levelled. Most epistocratic proposals are defeated because they could not satisfy the qualified acceptability requirement, as there exists qualified disagreement in pluralist societies over who counts as ‘wise’ with respect to political matters. Thus epistemic proceduralism rules out ‘invidious comparisons’ amongst citizens with respect to their normative political wisdom (as explained in chapter II). However, given the widespread view that a ‘good political education’ promotes good political decision-making, and that under Mill’s proposal all citizens would have at least one vote, can the Millian proposal for additional votes for the educated satisfy the qualified acceptability requirement?

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Estlund Reading Group Schedule Change

In order to ensure that there is sufficient time to discuss chapter 11, we’re going to delay the other scheduled posts for the reading group by one week. The revised schedule is as follows:

Chapter 12 ‘The Irrelevance of the Jury Theorem’

Apr. 7, 2008, Loren King

Chapter 13 ‘Rejecting the Democracy/Contractualism Analogy’

Apr. 14, 2008, Jonathan Quong

Chapter 14 ‘Utopophobia: Concession and Aspiration in Democratic Theory’

Apr. 21, 2008, Zofia Stemplowska

‘Author’s Comments’

Apr. 28, 2008, David Estlund

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Reading Group Suggestions

I wanted to put up a post where people could make suggestions for further reading groups, after the conclusion of the marvelous “Democratic Authority” discussion we’ve had. If there are many suggestions, I’ll put up a poll to see which are the most popular and likely to attract broad participation. Also, if there is a lot of interest in two quite different books, then nothing stops people from organising those groups separately.

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Response to Comments on Chapter 10

Thanks to Rebecca for the great summary and questions about this chapter, and to Jonathan and Ben for pitching in. The chapter proposes a way to combine, in broadly deliberative approach to democracy, a central role for an ideal deliberative situation with a similarly central place in democratic practice for activities other than deliberating. I suggest that an ideal deliberation can be used as a template by which to identify actual deviations. Where there are deviations that clearly insert power over reason in favor of a particular point of view, the epistemic core of my approach recommends efforts to restore the epistemic balance. Where this can’t be done by removing the skewing element of power, it can sometimes be done by injecting power on the other side of the question in a way that attempts to neutralize the first, skewing element. The thing to emphasize is that this will often be yet a further departure from the ideal deliberative situation. An abuse of power by a certain company or industry that tilts the political system in their favor might responsibly be answered by a boycott. A boycott is primarily an exercise of brute market power, and not a rational argument in response to the company’s view. I suggest that this is a way to keep deliberation in its place: central to the theory, less central to political practice.

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Estlund Reading Group Chapter 10

[David’s response to Harry on chap. 9 is now below this post, so don’t miss it — SCM]


In this chapter, Estlund seeks to identify the correct role played by an ideal deliberative situation in democratic theory. He argues that while in practice, democratic communication should not aim to resemble ideal deliberation, nonetheless the idea has an important function as a template through which to examine real-life instances of democratic communication and identify deviations from the ideal. Real deliberative practices and institutions should not aim to mirror the model deliberative situation because when epistemic distortions arise as a result of deviations from the ideal, it may be justified to employ further deviations to remedy these. This leads him to defend a model of wide civility for the informal political sphere, which makes room for sharp, disruptive and even suppressive forms of participation under certain circumstances. This wide version of civility is appropriate only for the informal public sphere, however. In formal political institutions such as the courts and legislatures the norms of narrow civility still apply. In summary then, it seems that there are three main arguments at work in this chapter: (1) that the appropriate way to think of the ideal deliberative situation is not as a set of prescriptions for citizens to aim at, but rather as an analytical tool for diagnosing and remedying failures; (2) that there might be good epistemic reasons to reject the narrow civility inherent in model deliberation in favour of a wider version; and (3) that while the use of countervailing deviations from the ideal might be appropriate in the informal political sphere, formal instances of political deliberation ought still to be governed by the requirements of narrow civility.

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