The Role of Experts in a Democratic Society
Keywords:division of epistemic labor, Expertism, Epistemic democracy, Authority
Democratic procedures are characterized by the equal status of all citizens participating in the decision-making process. This procedural fairness represents one of the central aspects of democracy's legitimacy-generating potential and should not be rejected or weakened. However, citizens specialize in different areas and inevitably some citizens become more competent (i.e. become experts) regarding some political issues. Democratic procedure would loose much of its appeal if it would be unable to take advantage of the experts' knowledge. In this paper I follow Kitcher and Christiano in embracing a form of division of epistemic (and political) labour - citizens and their political representatives should deliberate and set aims the political community is to pursue, while experts and policy-makers should devise means (laws, public policies and political decisions) needed to achieve the aims set by citizens. However, citizens should not blindly trust the experts - their epistemic authority is derivative and social and academic networks and structures should be employed in order to enable citizens to assess and evaluate experts' competence, but experts' impartiality regarding the issue at hand as well. Consequently, the process should not be unidirectional: experts should be able to help citizens select feasible and coherent aims, while citizens should be able to help experts in creating policies and decisions. Deliberative democracy is an appropriate political setting for this kind of bidirectional communication.
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