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Deliberative Democracy as Reflexive Social Inquiry


Two overarching questions motivate this dissertation: How might the participants to a nominally democratic process themselves craft decision-making processes that are “inclusive,” or, that best approximate the ideal of treating them and those, if any, they represent as “free and equal”? And what role, if any, might a normative theory of the democratic process play in their diverse efforts to do so?

To address these questions, the dissertation juxtaposes selected aspects of the literature on “deliberative democracy” with ideas drawn from pragmatist approaches to ethics and social inquiry. Broadly speaking, pragmatists theorize by explicitly drawing on the resources provided to us by our actual practices, and by making reference to the consequences they have for actual lives. The dissertation deploys pragmatist ideas to develop a normative theory of the democratic process, intended as a contribution to a public philosophy for contemporary democratic governance. In developing the theory, the dissertation illustrates how engaged, situated agents might invoke that theory in their diverse efforts to craft processes for collective decision-making that actually treat the citizens of the respective demos, or the members of the respective association, as “free and equal.”

In brief, the theory developed in this dissertation is a “deliberative” conception because, like other such conceptions, it stresses that democracy’s participants ought to try to justify their expressed policy preferences to one another. Yet, for a number of reasons, it is also distinct from other deliberative conceptions. For instance, it is distinctive in the stress it places on inquiry of various kinds. Indeed, the theory developed here suggests that, ideally speaking, democracy itself ought to be conducted as a form of collective social inquiry, one in which participants inquire into the procedures, virtues, and cultural practices that, in some particular context, are most apt to treat citizens or members in a way that is consistent with the values that arguably justify the adoption of a democratic process in the first place.

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