Disagreement and the justification of democracy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


The justification of democracy in political society is often thought to rest in significant part on the fact of disagreement in that society concerning the common good and justice. Democracy is thought of as a way of treating persons as equals in the context of that disagreement. Indeed, democracy is purported to be an intrinsically justified way of dealing with disagreement on matters of public concern in the context of collective decision making. In fact I think this is a widely held intuition in modern democratic societies. At the same time, many think that in order for this justification to work, it must be the case that the views of persons have “equal claims to rational acceptance” and that persons are equally willing and able at the job of coming up with good ideas about the common good and justice. But the idea that the intrinsic justification of democracy rests on such equal claims to rational acceptance and equal abilities seems manifestly to undermine the idea that there is an intrinsic justification. It seems plainly true that citizens’ views have no such equal claim to acceptance and that citizens’ abilities and willingness to discern the common good and justice vary a great deal. And to complete the puzzle, it is clear that citizens disagree about the claims to rational acceptance of the different views advanced in society and about the abilities of their fellow citizens. The normal position of any particular citizen is that some persons’ views are clearly better supported than others and that some citizens are more able than others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Liberalism
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781139942478
ISBN (Print)9781107080072
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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