Democracy & Disagreement Amy Gutmann & Dennis Thompson (Harvard, 1996)

Issue is how can a democratic system cope with conflicts about fundamental values? Under what terms is moral deliberation possible? (p. l )

Ch. l The Persistence of Moral Disagreement

·   What counts as moral disagreement?

o       Generality (What are the morally relevant respects in which people are similarly situated?) p. 13

o   Three characteristics especially important to democracy:

•   Reciprocity (kind of reasons that should be given, p.52}-appeal to reasons that are shared or could come to be shared by participants (p.14)

•   Publicity (forum in which reasons should be given, p. 52)­ empirical claims consistent with reliable methods of inquiry (p.15)

•   Accountability (agents)-agents by whom and to whom moral reasons are publicly offered) (p. 15)

o   Self-interest

o   The Human Condition

•  Scarcity

•  Limited generosity

•  Incompatible values

•  Incomplete understanding

o   Procedural Democracy-"If political equals disagree on moral matters, then the greater rather than the lesser number should rule." p.27

•   Majority vote alone cannot legitimate an outcome when the basic liberties or opportunities of an individual are at stake (p.30)

•   Proceduralists need to incorporate deliberation as a precondition for adequately resolving political disputes about procedures (p.32

•   Most proceduralists recognize two kinds of rights that limit majoritarianism:

•   Equal Respect-rights that are integral to democratic procedures (p.33)

•   Basic Freedoms-rights that are necessary for fair functioning of democratic process (p.33)

o   Constitutional Democracy-Some rights have priority over majority rule (p.33)

•   To procedural and fairness rights, constitutionalists add rights that protect the vital interests of individuals or produce justified outcomes (p.33ff.)

•   However, the more abstract the constitutional standard, the more contestable its interpretation (p.35)

·   Need for Moral Deliberation

o   Proceduralists and Constitutionalists recognize fundamental moral ideals that lie at the foundation of democratic institutions (Basic Rights and Equal Respect) (p.39ff.)

•   If moral arguments are essential to justify the foundations (equal respect) and results (basic rights) of democracy, then why should they not also be essential within the ongoing process of democracy ("middle democracy")? (p. 40)

•   Deliberative democracy offers a moral response to moral conflict-it addresses the problem of moral disagreement directly in its own terms (p.41)

o   Four general reasons in favor of deliberative democracy:

•   Scarcity: Contributes legitimacy to decisions made under scarcity (p.41). Citizens strive for a consensus that represents a genuinely moral perspective, one they can accept on reciprocal terms. (p.42)

•   Limited Generosity: Creates forums in which citizens are encouraged to take a broader perspective (p.42)

•   Incompatible Values: Promotes an economy of moral disagreement in which citizens manifest mutual respect as they continue to disagree about morally important issues in politics (p. 43)


•   Clarifies the nature of a moral conflict,

•   helps sort self-interested claims from public-spirited ones,

•   identifies among the public-spirited ones those that have greater weight (p.43)

o   Moral arguments can arouse moral fanatics, but it can also combat their claims on their own terms. Extending the domain of deliberation may be the only democratic way to deal with moral conflict without suppressing it. (p.44)


Ch.2 The Sense of Reciprocity

Reciprocity is the capacity to seek fair terms of social cooperation for their own sake p.52ff. Even in the face of deliberative disagreement, reciprocity calls on citizens to continue to seek fair terms of cooperation among equals p.53

Reciprocity stands between prudence (self-interest, bargaining, seeking a modus vivendi) and impartiality (altruism, demonstration of rightness, comprehensive view) p. 53

o   What reciprocity requires-"appeal to reasons that are recognizably moral in form and mutually acceptable in content." p.57

•  Seek agreement on substantive moral principles that can be justified on the basis of mutually acceptable reasons (p.55)

•  Seek reasons consistent with relatively reliable methods of inquiry (p.56)

o      What prudence prescribes-using enlightened self-interest, bargain for a solution (p.57)

•  Provides no principled limitation on taking advantage of others, nor for giving others an advantage over oneself (p.58)

•  Provides no justification of outcomes for those who are disadvantaged from the start (p.58)

o     What impartiality implies-sees moral disagreement as a sign that moral reasoning has failed (p.59)

•  Argument for tolerance (staying neutral where there is no agreement and letting private discretion decide) fails because it favors one side of the other (p.62)

o     Bargaining in its place

o     Dealing with deliberative disagreement

• Deliberative disagreement may be irresolvable because

• Epistemic conflict (not clear which position should be rejected)

• Metaphysical conflict (controversy inherently incompatible)

•  Faced with deliberative disagreement, government still must take a stand-based on principle of "accommodation" p.79

·        The Meaning of Moral Accommodation

Based on core values of reciprocity and democratic deliberation, resolve deliberative disagreement based on principle of "mutual respect"-which demands more than simple toleration. p.79

o   Civic integrity-affirm moral status of own political position (p.81)

•  Consistency in speech: espouse one's moral position independently of the circumstances in which one speaks

•  Consistency between speech & action (p.81)

•  Integrity of principle: acceptance of broader implications of principles presupposed by one's moral positions (p.81)

o     Civic magnanimity-acknowledge the moral status of the positions one opposes (p.82)

•  Acknowledgement in speech-recognize that an opponent's position is based on moral principles about which people may reasonably disagree (p.82) Do not impugn the moral status of an opponent's position (p.83)

•  Open-mindedness-maintain the possibility that one can be convinced by the moral merits of an adversary's position (p.83)

•  Economy of moral disagreement-seek the rationale that minimizes rejection of the position one opposes (p.84ff.)

o     The economy of moral disagreement in action

o     Accept the need to promote substantive moral principles in politics, unlike proceduralists (p.92)

o     Accept that there is no single, unitary common good (as the communitarians would have it)-maintain the significance and legitimate persistence of moral disagreement (p.92)


o     Aim is not to induce citizens to change first-order moral beliefs; rather, encourage them to discover what aspects of those beliefs could be accepted as principles and policies by other citizens with whom they fundamentally disagree. p.93


Ch. 3 The Value of Publicity

Publicity may conflict with other values, such as liberty or opportunity or even deliberation. Publicity has moral limits, but those limits themselves must be publicly affirmed. p.96

·   Principle of Publicity

•  Bentham---public officials, in virtue of their position, can be expected to be tempted to neglect the public interest for their own ends (p.97)

•  Kant-a policy is unjust if making it public would defeat its purpose (p.99) Public policies should be justifiable to those who are bound by them.

•  From a deliberative perspective, policy not only could, but should be public

•    Only public justification can secure consent of citizens (p.100)

•    Making reasons public contributes to the broadening of moral & political perspectives (p.100)

•    Reasons must be public to fulfill the potential for mutual respect (p.101)

•    Self-correcting character of deliberation would be undermined if reasons for policies could not be openly discussed (p.101)

o    Necessity of Secrecy-Publicity is necessary to justify any policy, but secrecy may also be necessary to effect some policies (p.101)

o    Objections to Necessity

•  Assumes that a group of officials, without benefit of public review, will consistently choose the most beneficial policy (p.102)

•  Some policies may need secrecy to be effective, but only because the policy is itself fundamentally morally flawed (eg, Iran-Contra) (p.102-3)

•  Neglects the contribution of publicity to the desirability of the policy itself (p.103)

o   Necessary Exceptions

•  Public accountability for the secrecy itself is necessary (p.104)

•  Works best for ongoing policy; less suited to one-time exceptions

•  "If first-order secrecy is sometimes necessary, second-order publicity should not be far behind." p. 105

·         Secrecy in Service of Liberty and Opportunity

o    General Secrets-Policies that refer to indeterminate groups and categories of individuals (p. 106). Rarely sustainable, either morally or politically.

o    Particular Secrets-Secrets about private individuals have a stronger claim, that of "not unnecessarily injur(ing) innocent persons." (p. 109). For public officials, while in principle their private lives should be treated as private, "(t)he boundaries between public and private activities are not as sharp for officials as they should be for ordinary citizens." (p. 111)

o       Conflicting Claims of Secrecy

·        Secrecy in Service of Deliberation-"exceptions to the publicity principle should require prospective as well as retrospective accountability." (p. 115)

o    Deceptive secrets-"concealing information with the intention of causing citizens to believe something the official knows is false" (p. 117)

•   Usually directed against criminals or enemies during wartime

•   Can be justified "only if they can be shown to be necessary to safeguard the democratic values... and only if this showing can meet the test of accountability." p. 121

o        Deep Secrets-a secret "the very existence of which is hidden." (p. 121)

·     Beyond Publicity

Ch.4 The Scope of Accountability

'`Representation poses two challenges to universal accountability, one concerning who gives the reasons [specialization] and the other concerning to whom the reasons should be given [constituency]." p.128

"From a deliberative perspective representation is not only necessary but also desirable. The number of people who at the same time can have even a simple conversation, let alone an extended moral argument, is limited." p. 131

·        Problem of Specialization

o   Is Deliberation Elitist?

• Argue that some groups may have diminished capacity for deliberation (p.132)

• Higher status has advantage due to power (p. 133)

• Argue that different groups use different argument style (passionate vs. rational) p.134

o   Is Deliberation too Populist?

•   What should elected representatives do in face of persistent yet reasonable public opposition? p. 141

•   Voting is no substitute for deliberation (p. 142)

•   Except in case of basic liberties or opportunities, deliberative accountability offers no instructions (p.142)

•   "Reiterated deliberation, punctuated by periodic elections, is the best hope for the principle of accountability." (p.144)

·        Problem of Constituency

o   Beyond the District (space)

•   Often assumed that "invisible hand" is best served by each jurisdiction looking after its own (p. 146) BUT

•   Principle of reciprocity is general, embracing nonresidents as well as resident (p. 147)

•   Appeal to "political necessity" is justified ONLY if one has first persuaded electorate to take seriously the claims of their moral constituents! (p. 147)

·        Discounting Future claims

·        Opportunity costs-but practical result is to drive future claims to 0 p. 157    

·        Uncertainty-becomes "an excuse for myopia" p. 158

·        "Do unto future generations as you would have them do unto you"-but what needs to be represented are not the claims of future individuals but the moral value of human flourishing (p. 161)

§    Deliberative accountability cannot offer determinate answers to competing claims of moral constituents, but at least it avoids mistaken efforts to provide a means for closure. p. 163


Ch. 5 The Promise of Utilitarianism

"The utilitarian way of thinking ...pervades the public forum in middle democracy." p. 165

"Unlike majoritarianism and constitutionalism, utilitarianism puts morality directly into the political processes of middle democracy... by positing a single sovereign principle that would enable decision-makers to compare competing values and arrive at a uniquely correct answer" to resolving moral conflicts (p. 166)

·         Elements of Utilitarianism

o    Utility-"A single inclusive end ...that is intended to accommodate all other ends...." p. 169 vs. Hobbes' security, Lockes' life, liberty and property, or Rousseau's community. Utility is some form of well-being, usually satisfaction of preferences, whether revealed or "informed" (hypothetical). p. 169

o    Consequentialism-refers primarily to a state of affairs, not actions, motives, or character (p. 171)

o    Maximization-translate all claims into utility, and then maximize it. P. 172

·         Obstacles to Accountability-Difficult to hold policy makers accountable for their methods, since any account they give presupposes the method (p. 173)

o    Citizen preferences can be changed (p. 173), often by the process of deliberation: "Deliberation in a public forum is ... quite different from informed political decision making carried out in private." P. 174

o    "Even the most justifiable processes are likely to leave public opinion seriously divided on many issues.... So long as citizens can only argue with, not overpower, one another ... complete consensus on public policy will be rare in democratic politics. " p. 175

o    Citizens have views about the political process itself. "We care about not only what is decided but also how it is decided." P. 176

o    By giving up its comprehensive claims, utilitarianism could makes its peace with democratic accountability. P. 177

·         Retreats from Publicity

o    Utilitarianism assumes no values are incommensurable (p. 179)

o    To argue that popular attitudes are not completely justifiable, utilitarians must enter the public debate, and on the same grounds as everyone else. P. 184

·         Ambivalence Towards Reciprocity


•   May not have access to information they need (p. 185)

·      Risks may not be fully appreciated (p. 185)

"In general, preferences reveal little about the conditions of choice." P. 186

o     Comparing claims:

•   "...controversy about what measures should be used... is often no less... morally loaded than the political disagreements utilitarianism seeks to resolve." P. 186

•   Pareto criterion, even if achievable, privileges the status quo. P. 187

•   Utilitarianism, as a principle, says nothing about how welfare should be distributed. P. 193

·        Beyond Utilitiarianism—in qualified form, deserves a place in deliberative democracy (p. 196)


Ch. 6 The Constitution of Deliberative Democracy

"Appropriately ordered and interpreted, liberty and opportunity join reciprocity, publicity, and accountability as the constitutional principles of a deliberative democracy." p. 199

·        Liberty-"citizens should be free to act as they wish, so long as their actions do not harm other citizens by means of force or fraud." p. 200

o   Limits on Liberty

•   Inclusive definitions of liberty lead to violations of others' liberties p. 203

•   Robert Nozick

•   " government may require me to act without my consent to satisfy the claims of my fellow citizens, no matter how worthy." p. 203

•   "Basic liberty should not be expanded to include positive claims on society for all those resources that one may need to pursue one's own way of life." P. 205

o   Libertarian Expansion of Liberty

•   Negative liberty--"Although libertarians resist the expansion of liberty when a citizen is making demands on the government, they encourage its expansion when citizens are resisting the demands of democratic government." p. 205

•   "The further that liberty is broadened beyond personal integrity, the weaker becomes the claim that liberty is the supreme human good." p. 206

•   "To reject any public policy that would redistribute income or wealth, libertarians must assume that the given distribution is just." P. 206

·        Opportunity-Should deliberative democracy restrain itself by more than a basic liberty principle? P. 209

o   Roots of Opportunity

•   Egalitarianism-"'s life chances should not be determined by factors that are arbitrary from a moral point of view." P. 209

•   "Citizens do not deserve their place in the natural lottery. There is no reason to assume that the current distribution of resources is justified, and some reason to claim that the government is justified in acting to change that distribution." P. 209

•   John Rawls

•   Egalitarianism does not demand equal results.

•   Difference principle-"... certain `primary goods'... should be distributed so as to maximize the life prospects of the least advantaged members of society." P.210

•   "The two powers of moral personality are a capacity for a conception of the good life and a sense of justice." P. 211 John Rawls. [Basis for Urban Studies?]

o   Egalitarian Opportunity

•   Rawls 2nd principle-"fair equality of opportunity"

•   Norman Daniels: four types of "goods":

•   Basic liberty

•   Primary goods (distributed by difference principle)

•   Basic opportunity goods           "condition for enjoying almost all other opportunities in life," should be equalized "within the normal range of human functioning" p. 213

• BUT­

o "bottomless pit" problem, p. 214

o does not include response to problem of scarcity (p. 214 & 215)

o leaves no room for 4th type of goods-"quality of life goods." "Not everything in a good life or in a good society is a need." P. 215

o     Basic Opportunities-libertarianism is indiscriminate in its defense of liberty, egalitarianism is extravagant in its devotion to opportunity (p. 216)

•   Need a principle of opportunity that reflects the constraints of scarcity and imperfect knowledge.

•   "Fair Opportunity principle"-deferred to Chapter 9

•   "Basic Opportunity principle"    "ensure that citizens may secure the resources they need to live a decent life and enjoy other (non-basic) opportunities." p. 217

•   Which goods/services are basic?

•   What level should be provided?

•   "Social minimum" (Ronald Dworkin)-What would be prudent for most Americans to secure for themselves? P. 218

•   Cannot assume that any (or the current) level of scarcity should be taken for granted (legislators must engage in discussion of raising taxes). P.222

·  Deliberation in the Service of Liberty and Opportunity

o     Deliberation is self-limiting and self-transforming (p. 224)

o     Deliberation has a role in developing standards of liberty and opportunity that lie beyond the basic principles (p. 224)-while not determinative, can still result in morally better decisions (p. 224)

·        “The principles of deliberative democracy do not guarantee morally right results, but they offer a more defensible way of reaching mutually justifiable policies….” (p.229)


Ch. 7 The Latitude of Liberty

·        The Scope of Basic Liberty-can moralist or paternalist arguments be used to limit liberty? Mills' principles:

o     "...the self-regarding actions of citizens must be left absolutely free from interference; their other-regarding actions may be subject to legal sanction." P. 233

•   action must cause definite harm or pose a definite risk of harm (p. 234)

•   definite harm must be caused to other people, not to oneself only (p. 234)

·        Moralism-immorality of a practice is adequate to limit it, provided can demonstrate three criteria: (pp. 251-252)

o   Violates a fundamental social value

o   May be prohibited/regulated by law

o   Would not cause greater harm or wrong than it is seeking to prevent

·        Paternalism-restricts an individual's liberty for his own good (p. 261). Again, 3 criteria: (pp. 263-264)

o   Some action that individuals take is not in their own interest

o   Conduct in question may be legitimately regulated or prohibited

o   Does not cause more harm than it prevents

o   Must not restrict basic liberty (pp. 264-266)

•   Person's decision must be impaired in some way (e.g., lack of information)

•   Intervention is limited

•   Goal of intervention must either be one that the person accepts, or (if person is impaired) excludes as few future choices as possible.

·     Goal of intervention must either be one that the person accepts, or (if person is impaired) excludes as few future choices as possible



Ch. 8 The Obligations of Welfare-Basic Opportunity Principle

·        Basic opportunities are health care, education, security, income, and work (p. 273)

·        Deliberative democracy requires adequate level of basic opportunity goods (p. 273)

·        Citizens should not be denied basic opportunities on the basis of factors for which they are not responsible (p. 274)

·        More controversial issue is on what grounds can citizens be denied such goods (p. 274):

o     Using welfare/workfare as a model, demonstrates the value of mutual dependence, and therefore mutuality of obligation-citizens needing income support should be obligated to work, but only if fellow citizens fulfill obligation to enact public policies that provide adequate employment and child support (p. 276)

o   Further, deliberative democracy requires that citizens who will be supported have a voice in forming the policy, rather than having it imposed hierarchically


Ch. 9 The Ambiguity of Fair Opportunity

Problem is more difficult to resolve. No clear preference between liberal and egalitarian perspectives