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A Dilemma for Deliberative Democracy: The Problem with Procedure. Travis N. Rieder Department of Philosophy University of South Carolina. Considering an Ethical Regulation of Nanotechnology:.

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a dilemma for deliberative democracy the problem with procedure

A Dilemma for Deliberative Democracy:The Problem with Procedure

Travis N. Rieder

Department of Philosophy

University of South Carolina

considering an ethical regulation of nanotechnology
Considering an Ethical Regulation of Nanotechnology:
  • My interest in this debate is concerning a very specific question: is the criterion of rightness a substantive one, or a procedural one?
  • This is to ask: Is there some substantive answer to the question – perhaps the right regulation is that which in fact results in the least amount of harm – or is the right regulation merely that which ‘falls out of’ some process?
  • Advocates of any pure form of ‘deliberative democracy’ typically argue for the latter, and it is this point on which the current talk will focus.
farrelly on nanotech and deliberative democracy
Farrelly on Nanotech and Deliberative Democracy
  • My interlocutor in this debate is Colin Farrelly in his essay “Deliberative Democracy and Nanotechnology” (Wiley 2007).
  • Farrelly seems to be committed to two claims:
    • (1) An ethical regulation of nanotechnology is characterized by being the result of a deliberative democratic process.
    • (2) An ethical regulation of nanotechnology is characterized by particular, substantive criteria, such as non-extremism.
  • I believe there is a serious tension in these two commitments – a tension which is likely to be present in the similar commitments of most of us who are sympathetic to Farrelly’s project.
the basic concern
The Basic Concern
  • If there is some substantively right answer to the question of how ethically to regulate nanotechnology, then why care about process, so long as we can get to the right answer?
  • Alternatively: If we plan to ‘channel’ deliberative democracy, so that we get to what we think is the right answer, then why go through the process in the first place?
  • The basic intuition: as soon as we start placing restrictions on the democratic process, it seems that we are affecting the possible outcomes. This makes the process begin to look like a ‘spare wheel,’ in that what we get out is a product of what we put in.
the dilemma
The Dilemma
  • The basic argument against deliberative democracy can then be formulated as a dilemma:
    • An ethical regulation of nanotechnology is either (a) procedural, or (b) substantive.
    • If (a), then whatever falls out of the process of democratic deliberation is ethically right.
    • For the sake of contradiction, let us assume (a).
    • It is possible that deliberative democracy would recommend a complete moratorium on technological research and development.
    • However, most of us would agree that a complete moratorium is not ethically right (technology is also helpful; ought implies can).
    • Thus, there is at least one answer which could be produced by a deliberative democracy which is morally incorrect.
    • But (6) and (2) entail a contradiction – i.e. whatever falls out of a deliberative democracy is both right and not right.
    • Therefore, not-(a).
    • Therefore, by disjunct elimination, (b).
so what
So what?
  • This means: we must realize what role we actually think the public should have.
  • This does not mean: the public should not have any role.
  • The attractive element of deliberative democracy: taking the public’s perspective into account. We can and should still do this.
  • We simply realize that we are taking the public’s knowledge and perspective into account – but the public is not itself the moral mechanism.
good reasons for including the public in regulations debate
Good Reasons for Including the Public in Regulations-Debate:
  • Epistemic Reasons:
  • (1) Epistemic Fallibilism
  • (2) Epistemic Modesty
  • Moral Reasons:
  • (3) Anti-Paternalistic Commitment
a role for anti paternalism
A Role for Anti-Paternalism
  • Reason (3), then, does not require a procedural account.
  • Rather, we can say that this is one case among many in which we have competing moral reasons:
    • Regulation X may be our best estimate for the substantively right regulation.
    • Regulation Y may be the public’s choice.
    • It is unclear that we ought to enact X over Y in this case. But this does not mean that X isn’t the right answer!