Fact-dependent policy disagreements and political legitimacy
Klemens Kappel, November, 2016
Forthcoming in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice
We can try to define legitimizers in terms of truth or ideal rationality, but we will disagree about whose views are true or rational. We might suggest that factual views admissible into the process should at least be epistemically reasonable, but this permits too diverse factual views. Hoping for a convergence in policy choices will often be indeterminate. Deciding upon policy options on the basis of the intersection of our factual beliefs may prove unable to yield sensible decisions. We can appeal to procedures such voting, but we will likely disagree about when voting is a non-arbitrary procedure. We can defer to experts, but may then be unable to settle who the proper experts are. Finally, we might delegate the task of selecting the proper factual basis for contested policies to elected decision-makers. This option, I suggest, really denies the idea of partially procedurally independent correctness in fact-dependent policy disagreements.
Can a policy disagreement be purely fact-dependent? What about the error-theories that Affirmers and Deniers hold? Will they not necessarily come into play in deciding how to proceed? And will they not also in themselves hide some value-dependent or normative component?
Are the two groups agreed on when one ought to suspend judgment? To be considered "fully rational", do they not need to converge on the same epistemic principles? (This seems related to the Uniqueness Principle discussed on p. 20.)
"...very diverse background beliefs, making it rational for them to adopt incompatible epistemic principles, trust different authorities, or interpret the shared evidence in disparate ways"
Are these not normative issues? Is there such a thing as observation without theory?
The characterization of being epistemically reasonable, on p. 22, does not mention competence or completeness. What is to be considered "apparent mistakes", and who is to judge? In relaxing the demands on individuals from being perfectly rational to being merely reasonable, do we not implicitly allow also for value-dependence?
The Distinctness Requirement (for legitimacy in value-dependent disagreements) separates the property of being legitimate from the properties of being morally right or just (by relying solely on agreed-upon institutions and procedures). This makes truth and perfect rationality implausible candidates for legitimizers from the start. And what else, other than values, can result in "reasonable views [which] are not mutually exclusive"? The only answer I can think of lack of time or resources to uncover a crucial (uncontested) fact X, and/or to resolve (mutually recognized) ambiguities.
In situations with more than two parties, the Convergence criterion, as well as the Common ground criterion would also fail to meet the Determinateness Requirement due to Condorcet's paradox.
"...abandoning that idea of correctness, and instead adopting a procedural view of correctness, according to which outcomes regarding P-dependent policies as whatever outcomes we end up deciding upon in a fair process" (p. 33) does seem "close to the political culture that we actually can observe in many democracies". But even if we accept (procedurally) collapsing the difference between facts and values, there is still the problem of agreeing on a "fair [democratic] process", if there is one, and of maintaining it.
"...the methods and conclusions of science when these are not controversial.'" (p. 36). Nowadays it seems as if science, in itself, is considered controversial, and that this attitude towards science is accepted as reasonable or at least not disqualifying. This makes appeals to scientific consensus (or majority) normative, thus creating the same kind of imbalance as action/non-action and coercion/non-coercion. Even if this was not the case, e.g., if we could all agree to defer to a (designated and agreed-upon) scientific body for legitimacy, what would then constitute "controversial" cases? Perhaps cases where the scientific community is split roughly in the middle? I guess that would create a microcosm in which the same problems would reappear.
"...if no legitimizers are applicable, say because of the problems identified above, then policy choices will have to be made on other grounds, say on grounds of expected utility, or direct concerns for rights or fairness" (p. 39). Yes. But this will almost certainly involve conflict, at least initially.