The discursive dilemma and public reason

Ethics 116 (2):362-402 (2006)
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Political theorists have offered many accounts of collective decision-making under pluralism. I discuss a key dimension on which such accounts differ: the importance assigned not only to the choices made but also to the reasons underlying those choices. On that dimension, different accounts lie in between two extremes. The ‘minimal liberal account’ holds that collective decisions should be made only on practical actions or policies and that underlying reasons should be kept private. The ‘comprehensive deliberative account’ stresses the importance of giving reasons for collective decisions, where such reasons should also be collectively decided. I compare these two accounts on the basis of a formal model developed in the growing literature on the ‘discursive dilemma’ and ‘judgment aggregation’ and address several questions: What is the trade-off between the (minimal liberal) demand for reaching agreement on outcomes and the (comprehensive deliberative) demand for reason-giving? How large should the ‘sphere of public reason’ be? When do the decision procedures suggested by the two accounts agree and when not? How good are these procedures at truthtracking on factual matters? What strategic incentives do they generate for decision-makers? My discussion identifies what is at stake in the choice between minimal liberal and comprehensive deliberative accounts of collective decisionmaking, and sheds light not only on these two ideal-typical accounts themselves, but also on many characteristics that intermediate accounts share with them.

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Christian List
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München


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