The Epistemology of Democracy

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Course Description: 

This course is a seminar in applied philosophy. Democracy gives ordinary citizens power over the institutions that govern them.To exercise power well, voters must have sufficient knowledge to make good political choices. The question of whether ordinary people have sufficient knowledge to govern, and how it is possible that they do, is part of the so-called problem of democratic citizenship. We will explore this aspect of the problem of democratic citizenship in contemporary democracies, as well as related questions, such as: What kind of epistemic advantages and, conversely, epistemic weaknesses and drawbacks do democratic systems have? What epistemic virtues do leaders, voters, or other participants in democratic systems need to possess, and what epistemic vices are to be avoided? What kind of formal and informal institutions and technologies help citizens acquire knowledge about things they need to know as voters, and conversely, what forces threaten to undermine knowledge?

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • demonstrate a clear understanding of the problem of democratic citizenship
  • formulate and evaluate arguments for and against democracy, based on its epistemic advantages and drawbacks
  • formulate and evaluate arguments about how much knowledge and what kind of knowledge voters need in a functioning modern democracy
  • identify epistemic institutions that enable a democracy to function, or threaten democracy, and formulate and evaluate arguments about the significance of these institutions

Class grade will be based on the grade for the final paper. Participation in the seminar and other assignments (in-class presentation, final paper outline) will be taken into consideration in case of a borderline grade, and may result in a higher or lower grade for the class.