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The Australian National University

Udit Bhatia (Oxford): Against Epistocracy: Reconsidering the Demographic Objection

Date and time

Tue, 26/09/2017 - 15:00 - 17:00


ANU College of Law (Room TBC)

Why should we prefer democracy to an epistocracy of competent persons? In his response to this question, David Estlund appeals to the ‘demographic objection’. He argues that ‘The educated portion of the populace may disproportionately have epistemically damaging features that countervail the admitted epistemic benefits of education’. The force of the argument lies in its attempt to undermine the epistocratic argument on its own terms. Epistocracy privileges the epistemic quality of decisions in the design of political institutions. Estlund argues that it is precisely this quality that is likely to suffer as a result of the unequal distribution of education and its resultant exclusion of some groups in an epistocracy. This paper attempts to build upon and strengthen Estlund’s argument in three ways. Firstly, it emphasises specific epistemic harms that stem from the exclusion of already disadvantaged demographic groups. Secondly, it attempts to sever the objection from the assumption of the ‘best judge’ principle. Thirdly, it turns the focus away from purely consequentialist harms of epistocracy’s epistemic weaknesses. Instead, it shows how such epistemic weaknesses result, simultaneously, in the violation of a side constraint for epistocracy, the equitable distribution requirement.

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