Million Dollar Questions: Why Deliberation is More Than Information Pooling

Social Choice and Welfare (forthcoming)
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Models of collective deliberation often assume that the chief aim of a deliberative exchange is the sharing of information. In this paper, we argue that an equally important role of deliberation is to draw participants’ attention to pertinent questions, which can aid the assembly and processing of distributed information by drawing deliberators’ attention to new issues. The assumption of logical omniscience renders classical models of agents’ informational states unsuitable for modelling this role of deliberation. Building on recent insights from psychology, linguistics and philosophy about the role of questions in speech and thought, we propose a different model in which beliefs are treated as answers directed at specific questions. Here, questions are formally represented as partitions of the space of possibilities and individuals’ information states as sets of questions and corresponding partial answers to them. The state of conversation is then characterised by individuals’ information together with the questions under discussion, which can be steered by various deliberative inputs. Using this model, deliberation is then shown to shape collective decisions in ways that classical models cannot capture, allowing for novel explanations of how group consensus is achieved.

Author Profiles

Daniel Hoek
Virginia Tech
Richard Bradley
London School of Economics


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