Shared Commitments and Common Knowledge: The Epistemic Dimensions of Deliberative Democracy
02 / 2008 - 06 / 2011
The theory of deliberative democracy emphasises that democracy is concerned not only with aggregating the views of the electorate into a collective point of view but also with the way citizens form - and revise - their values and opinions in processes of deliberation. Deliberation is taken to have a truth-tracking function. It ensures that citizens make a collective decision on the basis of good information, thus making the collective decision epistemically optimal. As a result of this dynamic process, so it is argued, citizens gradually become more committed to the eventual outcome, even if that outcome is not their preferred one. But can we be sure that deliberation always fulfils its truth-tracking function? What if, for instance, citizens have systematically distorted views on certain social issues? The overall aim of the research project is to investigate how deliberation can be organised so as to enhance its truth-tracking ideal. The question will be addressed both empirically and analytically. In the first subproject the question is examined empirically by applying the new technique of deliberative polling to the issue of neighbourhood safety. This is not only an important social issue but it also forms a challenge to the truth-tracking function of deliberation since individual perceptions of safety differ systematically from actual neighbourhood safety. The second subproject studies the epistemic dimensions of deliberative democracy analytically. Here the focus is on ascertaining the general conditions that enhance the truth-tracking ideal of deliberation. A multidisciplinary endeavour at the intersection of communication theory, political science, philosophy and public administration, the project is expected to contribute both to a better understanding of democratic deliberation on such issues as neighbourhood safety in the Netherlands and to the further development of the theory of deliberative democracy.