Deliberation after consensus: Democracy, epistemic quality and public discourse

Країна: Франція

Місто: Paris

Тези до: 01.08.2014

Дати: 20.11.14 — 21.11.14

Область наук: Філософські; Політологія;

Е-мейл Оргкомітету:

Організатори: Centre franco-norvégien en sciences sociales et humaines, Fondation Maison des Sciences de l'homme


Deliberation after consensus

The concept of consensus still seems indispensable to theories of deliberative democracy. Successive generations of scholarship have debated whether the ideal of rational, unanimous agreement is practically feasible and normatively desirable or whether it is impossible, given the circumstances of value pluralism and deep disagreement, and politically perilous, as it may serve to oppress certain ideas, interests or identities. Recent scholarship on deliberative democracy has sought to find more workable notions of legitimate outcomes – for instance, meta-consensus, working agreements and moral compromise. Yet many still hold the notion of rational consensus to be a regulative ideal constitutive of deliberative democracy, for if we do not assume that we can and should be able to rationally persuade each other, why should we then engage in public discourse?

If the ideal of a rational consensus is central to deliberative democracy, its potential effects should be studied more carefully. Existing empirical and normative research tends to focus on how consensus as a prospective ideal affects the quality of public discourse. However, the ex post effects of consensus seem equally important, yet have rarely been addressed in the literature. If deliberation aims to reach a rationally grounded agreement, what happens to deliberation once that aim has been attained? Many theorists emphasize that a diversity of perspectives and opinions forces those who deliberate to form better reasoned opinions, but such epistemic effects may seem endangered to the extent that deliberating parties reach a unanimous agreement. This theoretical tension merits further exploration.

In the end, the impact of consensus on deliberation is also an empirical question. How should we conceptualize and measure the epistemic quality of public deliberation? Some have claimed that it virtually impossible to assess the potential of political decision-making to trace the truth, as such tests would need to rely on intrinsically controversial external standards of fairness or rightness. Others, however, maintain that internal standards, such as validity and coherence, may provide feasible alternatives. Much seems to depend on these epistemological and methodological issues, for if it were impossible to measure the truth-tracking quality of decision-making, the recent epistemic turn in democratic theory would be a dead-end.


For this workshop, the conveners welcome contributions from scholars in political science, philosophy, law, media and communication, and related disciplines on the following topics:

  1. What is the role of consensus in deliberative democratic theory? Following the critique against the ideal of consensus in deliberative democratic theory, recent years has seen increased interest in finding alternative non-ideal but acceptable outcomes short of rational consensus, e.g. workable agreements, meta-consensus, apparent consensus, plural agreement, moral compromise and deliberative disagreement. Yet others maintain that the concept of consensus is constitutive of deliberative democracy, or that critics fundamentally misconstrue its role as a regulative ideal for discourse. For this section, we invite papers that seek to critically address the role of consensus and its alternatives in the theory of deliberative democracy.
  2. How does agreement affect the quality of subsequent deliberation? Many studies on deliberative decision-making study how the requirement to reach consensus affect the quality of prior deliberation. However, the ex post effects of consensus on deliberation have rarely been addressed in the literature. For this section, we welcome papers that critically engage, either theoretically or empirically, the so-called consensus paradox, i.e., the tension between diversity and agreement in improving the epistemic quality of deliberative output.
  3. How to measure deliberative rationality and epistemic quality? The epistemic turn in democratic theory calls for adequate tools for analyzing the epistemic quality of the output of democratic decision-making. Invoking external standards – like truth or moral goodness – seems to be controversial given the fact of pluralism, but to what extent can epistemic quality be evaluated without such standards? For this section, we welcome papers that address the theoretical, conceptual and methodological problems of measuring the epistemic quality of democratic decision-making.
  4. What is the relationship between expert discourse, democratic deliberation and epistemic quality in political processes? As citizens we are interested in the quality of collectively binding decisions and we think of democracy as a way of reaching better decisions. But what if expert deliberations among the few outperform more inclusive, democratic discourse? The fear of critics is that the idea of epistemic democracy can be perverted into a defence of illegitimate expert privileges, and foster what has been called epistocracy (rule of the knowers). This section invites normatively oriented papers relating discussions on the legitimate role of expertise to theories of epistemic democracy, and empirically oriented papers on the effects of expert advice and delegation on epistemic quality. In particular, we encourage analyses that connect these discussions to the concept of consensus.

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