Symbolic-Cognitive Proceduralism as a Robust Justification for Democratic Deliberation


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A recent critique by Ingham (2013) argues that epistemic justifications of deliberative democracy, including Estlund’s (2008) “epistemic proceduralism,” violate two commonly held beliefs about public disagreement in democratic societies: policy disagreements will persist even after democratic procedures have yielded decisions; and rationales for deliberative procedures should not be based on the substantive agreements those procedures yield. To address this problem, we offer five alternative justifications for democratic deliberative procedures. We then combine our expressive and cognitive justifications, decoupled from substantive decision quality, with elements of existing theory to yield a new model of democratic deliberation we call “symbolic-cognitive proceduralism.” This model can withstand Ingham’s critique and thereby justify the use of democratic deliberative procedures in a pluralist democratic society.

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Symbolic-Cognitive Proceduralism as a Robust Justification for Democratic Deliberation

  1. 1. SYMBOLIC-COGNITIVE PROCEDURALISM AS A ROBUST JUSTIFICATION FOR DEMOCRATIC DELIBERATION Robert C. Richards, Jr. and John Gastil The Pennsylvania State University Department of Communication Arts & Sciences Presentation at National Communication Association, November 2013
  2. 2. Overview Ingham’s Critique of the Epistemic Rationale Alternative Justifications Symbolic-Cognitive Proceduralism
  3. 3. Estlund’s Epistemic Proceduralism Estlund (2008) uses the criminal jury as a model to justify deliberative democratic procedures
  4. 4. Estlund: Jury Deliberation as Model of Legitimacy Public deems jury verdicts legitimate, provided jury followed deliberative procedures Source of jury’s legitimacy: “epistemic virtues” of deliberative procedures; give jury > 0.5 probability of reaching correct verdict Estlund argues jury is analogous to legislature and executive
  5. 5. Ingham’s Critique Estlund’s model is inconsistent with “two widely shared beliefs about democracy”: 1. Nonconvergence Constraint: Consensus is impossible in a diverse society 2. Constraint on Evidence: Procedure-independent standards aren’t plausible, because agreement on those standards is impossible
  6. 6. Results of Ingham’s Critique Estlund’s jury model violates both of Ingham’s constraints
  7. 7. Alternative Justifications for Deliberative Democracy Deliberative democratic procedures may be justified on the basis of their: • Intrinsic Value • Expressive Value • Cognitive Value (Unrelated to Voting Decisions) • Ethical Value • Communal Value
  8. 8. Expressive and Cognitive Rationales can be combined with Estlund’s “jury analogy” to form a justification that withstands Ingham’s critique
  9. 9. Symbolic-Cognitive Proceduralism (SCP) Elements of Estlund’s epistemic proceduralist theory of legitimacy can be included in a new model that can withstand Ingham’s critique This new model we call symbolic-cognitive proceduralism
  10. 10. SCP: Account of Legitimacy Jury deliberation furnishes the model for the legitimacy of democratic deliberative procedures Source of legitimacy: Expressive/Symbolic and Cognitive functions of the procedures
  11. 11. SCP: Symbolic Functions Jury’s deliberative procedures express fundamental values of democracy: • Popular Sovereignty • Equality • Rational Discourse
  12. 12. SCP: Cognitive Functions Jury’s deliberative procedures increase jurors’: • Knowledge of issues and solution options • Understanding of their own and others’ interests, values, and cognitive repertoires • Understanding of collective interests • Political efficacy (internal and external) • Willingness to be civically engaged
  13. 13. Empirical Content of SCP Individual Level Cognition/Behavior Reflective self-regulation Macro-Level Social Beliefs/Demands Procedural Integrity of Democratic Deliberation Cognitive function Knowledge, Competence, and Civic Attitudes of Participants Public demand for deliberation Symbolic function Ambassadorial function Public Legitimacy of Deliberative Democratic Processes
  14. 14. SCP: Effect on Legitimacy Symbolic and cognitive functions lead public to deem jury’s verdicts legitimate Jury remains analogous to the legislature and executive
  15. 15. SCP: Not Susceptible to Ingham’s Critique since SCP’s account of legitimacy does not depend on an epistemic justification
  16. 16. Conclusion Ingham’s (2013) critique calls into question Estlund’s – and all other – epistemic justifications for deliberative democracy Symbolic-cognitive proceduralism justifies democratic deliberation on the basis of its expressive and cognitive functions Symbolic-cognitive proceduralism is not vulnerable to Ingham’s critique
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  23. 23. Acknowledgements • Grateful thanks to: • Professor Dr. Sean Ingham, University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs, Department of Political Science • Professor Dr. John Christman of The Pennsylvania State University Department of Philosophy
  24. 24. Contact • Robert C. Richards, Jr., JD, MSLIS, MA, BA • PhD Candidate • The Pennsylvania State University Department of Communication Arts and Sciences • Email: • Web: