Print This Post Print This Post

Ben Saunders at Oxford University gave a talk yesterday at the Oxford Moral Philosophy Seminar on “Fairness, Democracy, and Lotteries.” Here is an abstract of his talk:

This paper challenges the common assumption that democracy requires majority rule. I assume that we can adopt a contractualist approach to uncover the demands of political equality and argue that contractors would not necessarily accept majority rule to make decisions in their society. I first reject broadly consequentialist arguments, arguing that firstly no procedure guarantees ideally best outcomes, secondly that in cases of pluralism there is no need to suppose there is a uniquely best outcome, and thirdly that we need to be fair between different individuals. I develop this need for fairness into a case for weighted lotteries, drawing on the Taurek-Scanlon ‘saving the greater number’ debate. This leads to my conclusion that democratic ideals can be realized by selecting a random vote to determine the outcomes of decisions.

A version of Ben’s talk can be found here, and he would welcome any comments/suggestions.


  1. 1. Posted by Dominic Roser | June 4, 2008 6:03 pm

    Here’s one thought I had concerning the whole issue of lottery voting:
    Assume that for most people a less uncertain world yields more good than a more uncertain world (this might be because a less uncertain world allows for better planing, or induces less anticipatory anxiety, or because of diminishing marginal utility, or whatever). If we introduce lottery voting, we “add” uncertainty to the world. There is a randomisation stage added, which brings in additional uncertainty. So, there is a loss of aggregate goodness involved.
    Of course, considerations of fairness may easily be more important than considerations of aggregate goodness. All I wanted to point to is the fact that there is such loss of aggregate goodness (and note that it is a distinct kind of loss of aggregate goodness from the loss involved in sometimes following the preferences of the minority, or in saving the smaller number in the Number Problem).

  2. 2. Posted by Anibal Mastobiza | October 5, 2008 11:07 am

    It´s a real issue that sometimes democracies become tyrannies: “tyrannies of the mayority”.

    But recognizing the fact that democracies are pruralistic, compose of many views, and as a solution trying to give “voice” and representation to those multiple voices assigning a ramdomnize procedure is something like: The remedy is Worse than the disease.

    The mayority rule is applied because of dialogue, group building, persuasion, argumentation, contrast of ideas, consensus… (i can´t imagine someone voting in a contagious form)

    Is not better to allow more participation, more public debate and dialogue to strengh democracy and as a result fairness?

Post a comment

Name: (required)

Email Address: (required) (will not be published)



(Spamcheck Enabled)

This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0.