Democracy as a Condorcet Truth‐Tracker

Robert E. Goodin

in Reflective Democracy

Published in print February 2003 | ISBN: 9780199256174
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599354 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Political Theory

Democracy as a Condorcet Truth‐Tracker

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It is a long‐standing debate within political philosophy generally whether we want our political outcomes to be right or whether we want them to be fair; while democratic theory has traditionally taken the latter focus, democracy can be defended in the former way as well; how that can be done is the subject of this chapter and the next. For epistemic democrats, the aim of democracy is to ‘track the truth’, while for procedural democrats, the aim is to embody certain procedural virtues. When voters are choosing between only two options, both epistemic and procedural standards point in the same direction, and in that case, Condorcet's jury theorem reassures both epistemic and procedural democrats that the correct outcome is most likely to win a majority of votes; however, where there are three or more options on the table, recommendations of the different strands of democratic theory diverge. In these cases, plurality voting is arguably the simplest and possibly the most frequently used voting rule, and this chapter demonstrates that the Condorcet jury theorem can indeed be generalized from majority voting over two options to plurality voting over many options; other decision rules, Condorcet pairwise criteria, Borda count procedures, and the Hare and Coombs systems have also been shown to have considerable truth‐seeking powers. This chapter addresses the question of which of these alternative possible democratic decision rules are the most reliable truth‐tracker in the more general ‘many‐option’ case.

Keywords: belief democracy; Borda count; Condorcet pairwise criteria; Condorcet's jury theorem; Coombs system; democratic decision rules; epistemic democracy; Hare system; multiple options; plurality voting; procedural democracy; tracking the truth

Chapter.  8393 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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