In his book, Democratic Authority: A Philosophical Framework, author David Estlund proposes a method of democratic decision making that he calls “epistemic proceduralism.” In preparing to write this critique, I attempted to gain at least a brief but clear understanding of Estlund’s entire framework. Whilst for time and space reasons, I could not delve into all of the available materials, I did happily find that much of this book, including the chapter I will reference primarily in this paper, is very in-depth and well thought-out by Estlund.
The main premise of his argument is thus: democratic decisions must use intellectual, epistemic methods of arriving at any conclusion in order to be held as legitimate. By the very process of using epistemic methods, the decisions made are more likely to be the correct ones for the situation at hand.
In the following pages I will attempt to explain Estlund’s thesis and position for epistemic proceduralism. I will discuss the main ideas of his argument. I will then present a detailed critique of Estlund’s rational, and finally, I will offer a counter-argument that I believe will supersede the flaws in Estlund’s theory.
To begin with, let us break down Estlund’s phrase into its literal meaning. “Epistemic,” as we by now know, is the study of knowledge in and of itself. As for “proceduralism,” we can intuitively discern that it is the process of progressing toward something.
Ergo, at its most basic meaning, epistemic proceduralism concerns the use of knowledge to effectively employ a democratic method of decision making. In order to be a useful and legitimate method of democracy, the results of any procedure must inherently be “better than random.” That is to say, the results must have some epistemic roots at its core. A random outcome has no place in a system of democratic justice. For example, a well-known process of decision making is a simple lottery system, wherein an outcome is chosen completely at random, and it may or may not be correct. One playing card from a deck may be chosen at random, but if the purpose is to choose the “correct” answer – let’s say in this case, the Ace of Spades, there is of course the possibility of choosing correctly by chance, but it is very unlikely. You see then, why this method with regards to democracy and the justice system simply does not work.
Estlund’s theory addresses this problem directly: “Thus, rather than supposing that the legitimacy of an outcome depends on its correctness, I suggest that it derives, partly, from the epistemic value, even though it is imperfect, of the procedure that produced it. Democratic legitimacy requires that the procedure can be held, in terms acceptable to all qualified points of view, to be epistemically the best (or close to it) among those that are better than random.” (98)
According to Estlund, his theory combines two necessary elements that cannot work alone, yet complement each other...