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Democratic Answers to Complex Questions: An Epistemic Perspective

Luc Bovens and Wlodek Rabinowicz
Synthese
Vol. 150, No. 1 (May, 2006), pp. 131-153
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20118761
Page Count: 23
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Democratic Answers to Complex Questions: An Epistemic Perspective
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Abstract

This paper addresses a problem for theories of epistemic democracy. In a decision on a complex issue which can be decomposed into several parts, a collective can use different voting procedures: Either its members vote on each sub-question and the answers that gain majority support are used as premises for the conclusion on the main issue (premise based-procedure, pbp), or the vote is conducted on the main issue itself (conclusion-based procedure, cbp). The two procedures can lead to different results. We investigate which of these procedures is better as a truth-tracker, assuming that there exists a true answer to be reached. On the basis of the Condorcet jury theorem, we show that the pbp is universally superior if the objective is to reach truth for the right reasons. If one instead is after truth for whatever reasons, right or wrong, there will be cases in which the cbp is more reliable, even though, for the most part, the pbp still is to be preferred.

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