All of us is as dumb as none of us

The Philosophy Blog 3 Quarks Daily has an annual philosophy prize for blogging.  I'm going to outsource this post to one of this year's winners, the Philosopher's Beard.  Here's a taste of the winning post, "Democracy is Not a Truth Machine":

In a democracy people are free to express their opinions and question those of others. This is an important personal freedom, and also essential to the very idea of government by discussion. But it has also been held to be instrumentally important because in open public debate true ideas will conquer false ones by their merit, and the people will see the truth for themselves. In other words, democracy has an epistemic function as a kind of truth machine. From this it follows that in a democracy there should be no dogma: no knowledge protected from public challenge and debate. Yet this whole argument is founded on embarrassing misconceptions of the nature of truth and of the working of democracy.

Read the whole thing.  Worth thinking about is how this argument bears on the collaborative norms of argumentation; all of us is as dumb as none of us.

2 thoughts on “All of us is as dumb as none of us”

  1. John,
    Thank you for the link. The article is indeed though-provoking. And it's summary is spot-on: "This essay raises a different and much less controversial approach focused on the demand-side of the market for truth claims. It is set in train simply by reminding people of the central argument of this essay: that democracy is not a truth machine because the truth is not a matter of opinion and the popularity of truth claims is no guide to whether we should believe them. In general, the truth is something one looks up, not something one has to decide on for oneself. If this argument works, it may create a savvier public that distinguishes between opinions and matters of truth, and is less flattered by the appeals to our reason that people flogging heterodox truth claims are so keen to make. If making such arguments no longer pays so well, we will hear them less often. Public deliberation will then focus less on debating what is true or false and more on what we should make of inconvenient truths, and will be much the better."
    The only issue on which I disagree with the author is on his definition of  "objective truths" . I'm not a philosopher and I don't have a bread; however, I wonder if his definition
    "They are therefore quite different from objective truths, whether rational truths (as produced by rational enquiry, such as science) or facts (such as historical events)."  self-defeating. Is this definition on opinion? Or is it an objective truth?

  2. Thanks for the pointer to this wonderful article. It's the sort of thinking critiqued here that backs the breathless web-utopianist rhetoric still so prevalent in the popular media. One day we'll learn that the web can't structurally provide sufficient epistemic hygiene regardless of how hard we push the (false) analogy to a perfectly competitive "idea market" or tout its democratic promise. There are too many informational externalities involved and too many constraints on our personal epistemic economies getting in the way.
    Anyway, awesome link. Similar ideas are beaten on here: 

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