The consensus paradox: Does agreement impede rational public discourse?

This project proposes a paradox in deliberative democratic theory.

About the project/ Objectives

The paradox consists in that rational deliberative opinion-formation aims for consensual agreement, while consensus likely impedes the conditions for further rational public discourse.

Hence, over time, deliberative democracy might undermine itself. In order to explore this paradox, the project pursues two objectives:

  1. To test empirically whether the consensus paradox occurs in real-world policy debates in parliamentary arenas, i.e., whether consensual agreement impedes the rationality of subsequent public discourse.
  2. To assess the paradox's theoretical implications and practical consequences.

The project makes a contribution to empirical research on deliberation by studying an unexplored phenomenon, a theoretical contribution by evaluating strategies for coping with the detrimental effects of consensus, and a practical contribution by addressing how to promote rational political debate and public policy.

The Consensus Paradox project has focused on developing strategies for testing the project's empirical hypotheses. As the project aims to examine how consensus affects the quality of democratic deliberation and decision-making, a central task is to develop methods for measuring the epistemic quality of democratic decisions.

Drawing on research in informal logic and argumentation theory, we have proposed a method for testing whether decisions are tracking the truth by assessing whether they are supported by reasons. This method forms the basis for the project's empirical studies of political decision-making in various contexts.

We have presented the project and its various working papers at a number of conferences and seminars in Germany, Norway, Sweden and USA. An article that outlines the project's key research questions has been published in Political Studies. We have arranged an international conference in Paris. Among the participants were
internationally leading scholars. 

Published Apr. 14, 2016 2:10 PM - Last modified Apr. 14, 2016 2:11 PM