Knowledgeable Democracy: A Social-Epistemological Inquiry

NWO Vidi, 2016 – 2020

A prominent strand of theorizing about liberal democracy holds that it is very effective at producing knowledge. Liberal democracy’s commitment to freedom of speech, free inquiry, pluralism, and inclusiveness is said to facilitate rational deliberation among citizens, which in turn leads to knowledge. Real political debates in liberal democracies, however, are often mired in controversy and their eventual outcomes frequently bear the marks of compromise or downright irrationality.


This discrepancy between the theory and reality of liberal democracy provides the starting point for this project. Its aim is to evaluate and improve the knowledge-producing potential of liberal democracy. (1) The investigators will use contemporary social epistemology to articulate the ideal of how liberal democracy is supposed to be effective at producing knowledge. Next, they will investigate two major challenges to this ideal. First, how to respond rationally to the intractable and deep disagreements among citizens that are characteristic of liberal democracies. Second, to what extent the ideal is undermined by the impairments to individual and collective rationality that cognitive and social psychology have documented. Finally, they will reassess the ideal in light of the challenges and propose ways in which they can be overcome so that liberal democracy can become better at producing knowledge. 

Contact: Jeroen de Ridder
More information: personal website