Arguing for majority rule

Journal of Political Philosophy 12 (1):41–64 (2004)
ALTHOUGH majority rule finds ready acceptance whenever groups make decisions, there are surprisingly few philosophically interesting arguments in support of it.1 Jeremy Waldron’s The Dignity of Legislation contains the most interesting recent defense of majority rule. Waldron combines his own argument from respect with May’s influential characterization of majority rule, tying both to a reinterpretation of a well-known passage from Locke’s Second Treatise (“the body moves into the direction determined by the majority of forces”). Despite its impressive resourcefulness, Waldron’s defense is deficient, and one goal of this essay is to show how. Yet our main concern is not to criticize Waldron, but to demonstrate general deficiencies of arguments for majority rule and to suggest a strategy for a more adequate and more complete defense. Such arguments tend to have one of two weaknesses: Either they assume that collective decisionmaking is done in terms of ranking options and thus neglect both aggregation methods using more information than the relative standing of options in rankings (such as so-called positional methods) and rules that are not aggregation methods at all (such as fair-division procedures); or they also constitute arguments for other decision rules. In the first case, the argument is too narrow, in the second it is too broad. The narrowness problem is bigger than stated so far because arguments for majority rule tend to assume not only that decisions are made by ranking options, but also that only two options are to be ranked. Both problems arise for Waldron’s defense and leave it incomplete. Yet such incompleteness also characterizes the state of the art in arguing for majority rule. So in addition to..
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9760.2004.00190.x
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