On Epistocracy's Epistemic Problem: Reply to Méndez

Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (8):1-7 (2022)
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In a recent paper, María Pía Méndez (2022) offers an epistemic critique of epistocracy according to which the sort of politically well-informed but homogenous groups of citizens that would be empowered under epistocracy would lack reliable access to information about the preferences of less informed citizens. Specifically, they would lack access to such citizens’ preferences regarding the form that policies ought to take—that is, how these policies ought to be implemented. Arguing that this so-called Information Gap Problem militates against epistocracy, Méndez instead recommends that we respond to problems created by widespread voter ignorance by improving the flow of information between political actors by adopting some participatory democratic institutions. In this paper I argue that the severity of the Information Gap Problem for epistocracy is overstated. After first sketching some background (Section 1), I argue that it is hard to see why information about citizens’ preferences for the form that policies ought to take is important enough that the expected costs of epistocracy outweigh its expected benefits if it selectively empowers people who lack access to such information (Section 2). Moreover, different forms of epistocracy are less threatened by the Information Gap Problem, assuming it is indeed a problem. For some forms of epistocracy, it may be no problem whatsoever. However, I conclude by suggesting that Méndez touches upon some more serious problems for epistocracy (Section 3). First, even setting aside the Information Gap Problem, there are open questions about the possible epistemic inferiority of epistocracy relative to democracy. Second, more comprehensive accounts of political competence that move beyond the possession of sufficient levels of political information are much harder to reliably test for, thus complicating the task of devising effective epistocratic selection mechanisms. Lastly, epistocracy arguably creates a serious risk of abuse that may outweigh any other benefits it brings. More research is needed to determine how (and whether) epistocrats can respond to such challenges.

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Adam F. Gibbons
Lingnan University


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