Research Article

Epistemic Democracy and the Social Character of Knowledge

Michael Fuerstein


How can democratic governments be relied upon to achieve adequate political knowledge when they turn over their authority to those of no epistemic distinction whatsoever? This deep and longstanding concern is one that any proponent of epistemic conceptions of democracy must take seriously. While Condorcetian responses have recently attracted substantial interest, they are largely undermined by a fundamental neglect of agenda-setting. I argue that the apparent intractability of the problem of epistemic adequacy in democracy stems in large part from a failure to appreciate the social character of political knowledge. A social point of view brings into focus a number of vital factors that bear on our understanding of democratic epistemology and our assessment of its prospects: the essential role of inclusive deliberation, the public's agenda-setting function, institutional provisions for policy feedback, the independence of expert communities, and the knowledge-pooling powers of markets.

Michael Fuerstein is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at Columbia University. He is presently writing a dissertation on the role of scientific norms of inquiry in democratic society.