Democracy and argument: tracking truth in complex social decisions

Suppose a committee has to take a stand on a complex issue, where the decision presupposes answering a number of sub-questions. There is an agreement within the committee which sub-questions should be posed. All questions are of the ”yes or no?”-type and the main question is to be given the yes-answer if and only if each sub-question is answered with “yes”. Two different voting procedures can be used. On one procedure, the committee members vote on each sub-question and the voting results then determine the committee’s conclusion on the main issue. This premise-based procedure (or pbp, for short) can be contrasted with the conclusion-based procedure (cbp), on which the members directly vote on the conclusion, with the vote of each member being guided by her views on the relevant sub-questions. The problem we want to examine concerns the relative advantages and disadvantages of the two procedures from the epistemic point of view. In some cases one can assume that the question before the committee has a right answer, which the committee is trying to reach. Is one of the two procedures better when it comes to tracking the truth? As it turns out, the answer to this query is not univocal: On the basis of Condorcet’s jury theorem we shall show that the premise-based procedure is clearly superior if we want to reach truth for the right reasons, i.e. without making any mistakes on the road to the conclusion. However, if the goal instead is to reach truth for whatever reasons, right or wrong, there will be special cases in which using the conclusion-based procedure turns out to be more reliable. But for the most part, the premise-based procedure will still retain its superiority. In this respect, our results disconfirm the tentative conjectures that have been put forward in Pettit and Rabinowicz (2001).
Keywords dicursive dilemma  doctrinal paradox  judment aggregation  premise-based procedure  conclusion-based procedure  Pettit, Philip  truth tracking
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