Deliberative Democracy and the Discursive Dilemma

Philosophical Issues 11 (1):268-299 (2001)
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Abstract

Taken as a model for how groups should make collective judgments and decisions, the ideal of deliberative democracy is inherently ambiguous. Consider the idealised case where it is agreed on all sides that a certain conclusion should be endorsed if and only if certain premises are admitted. Does deliberative democracy recommend that members of the group debate the premises and then individually vote, in the light of that debate, on whether or not to support the conclusion? Or does it recommend that members individually vote on the premises, and then let their commitment to the conclusion be settled by whether or not the group endorses the required premises? Deliberative-democratic theory has not addressed this issue, and this is a problem. The discursive dilemma of my title--a generalisation of the doctrinal paradox from analytical jurisprudence--shows that the procedures distinguished can come apart. Thus deliberative democrats must make up their minds on where they stand in relation to the issue; they cannot sit on the fence. This paper is an attempt to address the issue and look at the grounds on which it may be resolved.

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Philip Pettit
Australian National University

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