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What is So Good About Democracy?

Political Theory
Knowledge
Normative Theory
TS03

Room: General

Tuesday 09:30 - 10:45 (28/07/2020)


Abstract

Instructor: Gordon Finlayson, University of Sussex Abstract: What is so good about democracy? In this session we will look at the implications of social choice theory for democratic theory and practice: May’s theorem and Arrow’s theorem. Let's begin by assuming that the idea of political equality is fundamental to democracy and in particular (a) that no person should have more power over the political process than any other & (b) that the process itself shouldn’t be biased in favour of any particular outcome. From those commitments alone May’s theorem follows, namely for any choice between two options, simple majority rule is the only fair, logical aggregation method for deciding between them. That looks like good news for democracy. The trouble is that it does not work for 3 option cases. On the contrary Arrow's theorem shows is that any method of aggregating group preferences can sometimes violate some apparently natural and appealing requirements of fairness or logicality, and thus shows that there is no method of group choice over 3 or more options that is not (sometimes) irrational and unfair. But what are the implications of Arrow's theorem for democracy? Does it mean that democracy is impossible or irrational? Core Readings: 1. Hindmoor and Taylor, Rational Choice ch.5. 2. Christian List, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Voting methods 1-2.1 (Read this to familiarize yourself with the Condorcet Method and the Borda Count, and some very basic notation) Further Reading: 3. William H. Riker, Liberalism against Populism, Introduction, and ch 1. 10 and 5 4. Gerry Mackie, Democracy Defended sections tbc 5. Keith Dowding, Can Populism be Defended? Government and Opposition 41 (3) 321-46, 2006. 6. Albert Weale, 'William Riker and the Theory of Democracy,' Democratization, 2 (1995), pp. 337-95. 7. Sen, A. (1995). "Rationality and Social Choice." The American Economic Review 85(1): 1-24. 8. Niko Kolodny: “Rule over None I”, Philosophy and Public Affairs 42, no. 3, 195-229.