Persuasion and Intellectual Autonomy

In Kirk Lougheed & Jonathan Matheson (eds.), Epistemic Autonomy. Routledge (forthcoming)
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In her paper “Democracy, Public Policy, and Lay Assessments of Scientific Testimony” Elizabeth Anderson (2011) identifies a tension between the requirements of responsible public policy making and democratic legitimacy. The tension, put briefly, is that responsible public policy making should be based on the best available scientific research, but for it to be democratically legitimate there must also be broad public acceptance of whatever policies are put in place. In this chapter I discuss this tension, with a strong focus on the issue of climate change. My aims are twofold. First, I argue that the tension is harder to resolve than Anderson supposes because some ways of securing acceptance for science-based policies will themselves be democratically illegitimate. Second, I take a closer look at the role intellectual autonomy plays in the tension. Many think that what I call “science marketing” methods for securing broad(er) acceptance of scientific claims are illegitimate because they infringe on our intellectual autonomy. I argue that it is less clear that this is true than many suppose. This is because, put roughly, judicious use of targeted science marketing methods need not stop us from developing the ability to think about scientific issues for ourselves. In fact, they may even aide us in developing this ability. While this doesn’t quite resolve the tension identified by Anderson, it does some of the necessary groundwork for resolving it.
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