Collective rationality: A dilemma for democrats with a solution through deliberation? comment on philip pettit

Natalie Gold

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In his paper, Pettit presents a paradox that may arise when a group must vote on an interconnected set of propositions. Even though every individual within the group may be perfectly consistent in her own views, or individually rational, the propositions that the group would accept as the result of a majority vote on each individual proposition are inconsistent, so the group is collectively irrational. Pettit distinguishes between two ways a group may deal with this dilemma: The rationality-first approach, where the institution is committed to some mechanism for prioritising one of the propositions despite the votes of the individuals within it, and the responsiveness-first approach, where, although re-votes may be taken, the institution has no formal means for prioritising propositions when individually rational preferences aggregate to be collectively irrational. Given the argument presented in the paper, you will have to forgive me if I say that, whilst I agree with the conclusion, that we should take a rationality-first approach, I debate the propositions on which that conclusion is based. In my response I will explain why I think that, for all practical purposes, the rationality-first approach is inevitable for democratic institutions, regardless of supporting arguments that deliberative democrats might supply. This implies that the real argument is not whether we should achieve collective rationality but how, so I shall go on to examine whether arguments from deliberation can shed any light on this issue. Finally, I will say something about putting deliberation more directly into this type of decision-making model.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDeliberation and Decision
Subtitle of host publicationEconomics, Constitutional Theory and Deliberative Democracy
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)9781351945509
ISBN (Print)9780754623588
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Anne van Aaken, Christian List and Christoph Luetge 2004.


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