Social Choice or Collective Decision-making: What Is Politics All About?

In Volker Kaul & Ingrid Salvatore (eds.), What Is Pluralism? Abingdon, UK: pp. 48-61 (2020)
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Sometimes citizens disagree about political matters, but a decision must be made. We have two theoretical frameworks for resolving political disagreement. The first is the framework of social choice. In it, our goal is to treat parties to the dispute fairly, and there is no sense in which some are right and the others wrong. The second framework is that of collective decision-making. Here, we do believe that preferences are truth apt, and our moral consideration is owed not to those who disagree but to the community that stands to benefit or suffer from the decision. In this chapter, I describe and explore these two frameworks. I conclude two things. First, analysis of real-world disagreement suggests that collective decision-making is the right way to model politics. In most, possibly even all, political disagreement, all parties believe (if implicitly) that there is an objective standard of correctness. Second, this matter is connected to the concept of pluralism. If pluralism is true, then collective decision-making cannot be applied to some political disagreements. More surprisingly, pluralism may rule out the applicability of social choice theory as well.

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Thomas Mulligan
Georgetown University


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