🦋 A democratic philosophy for democracy’s data mountain?

The end

Jean-Paul Gagnon makes a compelling case that democratic theorists should answer the question, ‘what is democracy?’. Without it, they offer, at best, a ‘limited truth’ (‘partial texture’) and, at worst, an arbitrary theory of democracy. This is unfortunate because the world is experiencing democratic backslidings that threaten the existence and future of democracy. It is also ironic because what was once declared ‘the only game in town’ is now limited and arbitrary.

The means: collecting words

Collecting words of democracy does not necessarily mean that we can get to the nature of democracy. Linguistic artifacts are evidence of what people believed or thought about democracy. As valuable as they are, how does collecting thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of words of democracy equal the nature of democracy? Should it? It is akin to saying that the nature of morality can be known through collecting words about morality.

Gagnon’s mountain metaphor

The mountain metaphor raises conceptual, ontological, and epistemological issues. It is widely accepted that ‘democracy’ is an ‘essentially contested concept,’ like power, liberty, or culture. If so, the mountaintop may not exist.

Reaching the mountaintop

To this ontological problem, Gagnon might respond that theorists assume rather than argue political theory/philosophy is about construction rather than discovery. While I am sympathetic to this position, Gagnon must still tell us how we reach the mountaintop. Is it rational reconstruction, inductive generalisation, crowdsourcing among democratic theorists, or conversation with non-democratic scholars? Ultimately, in my view, knowing the nature of democracy requires rational argumentation. Quality of reasons will be the determining factor.

Inherent tension?

The above suggests that there is an inherent tension in Gagnon’s project. One cannot non-arbitrarily study democracy until we know what the nature of democracy is. Yet, one cannot completely know what the nature of democracy is until we study democracy in its incomplete form.



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The Science of Democracy

The Science of Democracy

Republished essays, in chronological order, from The Loop’s short essay series on the “science of democracy”