New York University
School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (Paris)
Paper delivered at the Program in Ethics and Public Affairs Seminar
October 13th 2005
In this paper my focus is implementing deliberation, not justifying it. I shall assume that it is desirable for the members of a decision-making body to argue and give reasons before making a collective decision.
I shall not discuss the grounds on which deliberating about a collective decision prior to making it is superior to just aggregating individual wills unsupported by arguments. Let me note, however, that such grounds broadly fall into two categories. Deliberation may be defended on epistemic grounds. We may hold that a collective decision is more likely to be correct, whether in terms of facts or of values, if decision makers have argued over it. Deliberation may also be defended on moral grounds. In this case we would say that the autonomous agents composing the community on which the decision is obligatory are entitled to have such decisions binding on them justified by reasons that are, at least in principle, acceptable to them.1 Obviously these two kinds of argument are not mutually exclusive.
Once we accept the desirability of collective deliberation prior to decision, however, one question is left: how should we implement collective deliberation? Deliberation may take place in a variety of concrete settings. We should then ask ourselves: which of such settings are suitable for securing the benefits of deliberation?
Over the last years a number of studies have focused on the actual workings of collective deliberation. Some people have performed and analyzed laboratory experiments in deliberation. Others have scrutinized real life deliberation, such as occurs in trial juries, in panels of judges, or in “citizens’ juries”, –a practice that has
spread over the last decade. Yet others have studied quasi-experiments, such as the deliberative polling pioneered by James Fishkin. We now have a wealth of empirical information on how deliberation actually works. There is even a literature reviewing the empirical studies of deliberation and presenting their main results (Mendelberg, 2002; Delli Carpini et al. 2004; Ryfe, 2005). Such information should be of interest to theorists of democratic deliberation concerned with more than ideal theory.
Carlos Alberto Da Silva