Adam F. Gibbons


Despite their many virtues, democracies suffer from well-known problems with high levels of voter ignorance. Such ignorance, one might think, leads democracies to occasionally produce bad outcomes. Proponents of epistocracy claim that allocating comparatively greater amounts of political power to citizens who possess more politically relevant knowledge may help us to mitigate the bad effects of voter ignorance. In a recent paper, Julian Reiss challenges a crucial assumption underlying the case for epistocracy. Central to any defence of epistocracy is the conviction that we can identify a body of political knowledge which, when possessed in greater amounts by voters, leads to substantively better outcomes than when voters lack such knowledge. But it is not possible to identify such a body of knowledge. There is simply far too much controversy in the social sciences, and this controversy prevents us from definitively saying of some citizens that they possess more politically relevant knowledge than others. Call this the Argument from Political Disagreement. In this paper I respond to the Argument from Political Disagreement. First, I argue that Reiss conflates social-scientific knowledge with politically relevant knowledge. Even if there were no uncontroversial social-scientific knowledge, there is much uncontroversial politically relevant knowledge. Second, I argue that there is some uncontroversial social-scientific knowledge. While Reiss correctly notes that there is much controversy in the social sciences, not every issue is controversial. The non-social-scientific politically relevant knowledge and the uncontroversial social-scientific knowledge together constitute the minimal body of knowledge which epistocrats need to make their case. 


Discussion Notes