Diversity and Democracy: Agent-Based Modeling in Political Philosophy

Historical Social Research 43:259-284 (2018)
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Abstract
Agent-based models have played a prominent role in recent debates about the merits of democracy. In particular, the formal model of Lu Hong and Scott Page and the associated “diversity trumps ability” result has typically been seen to support the epistemic virtues of democracy over epistocracy (i.e., governance by experts). In this paper we first identify the modeling choices embodied in the original formal model and then critique the application of the Hong-Page results to philosophical debates on the relative merits of democracy. In particular we argue that the “best-performing agents” in Hong-Page model should not be interpreted as experts. We next explore a closely related model in which best-performing agents are more plausibly seen as experts and show that the diversity trumps ability result fails to hold. However, with changes in other parameters (such as the deliberation dynamic) the diversity trumps ability result is restored. The sensitivity of this result to parameter choices illustrates the complexity of the link between formal modeling and more general philosophical claims; we use this debate as a platform for a more general discussion of when and how agent-based models can contribute to philosophical discussions.
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