Against epistocracy: Reconsidering the demographic objection

Date & time
3–4pm Tuesday 26 September 2017

Phillipa Weeks Staff Library

ANU College of Law, 5 Fellows Road, The Australian National University

Udit Bhatia, University of Oxford


For interstate visitors, we offer suggestions for accommodation near ANU.

Nicole Harman

Presented by The Deliberative Governance and Law Program and the Centre for Public & International Law

Udit Bhatia

Why should we prefer democracy to an epistocracy of competent persons? In his response to this question, David Estlund appeals to the ‘demographic objection’. He argues that ‘The educated portion of the populace may disproportionately have epistemically damaging features that countervail the admitted epistemic benefits of education’. The force of the argument lies in its attempt to undermine the epistocratic argument on its own terms. Epistocracy privileges the epistemic quality of decisions in the design of political institutions. Estlund argues that it is precisely this quality that is likely to suffer as a result of the unequal distribution of education and its resultant exclusion of some groups in an epistocracy.

This paper attempts to build upon and strengthen Estlund’s argument in three ways. Firstly, it emphasises specific epistemic harms that stem from the exclusion of already disadvantaged demographic groups. Secondly, it attempts to sever the objection from the assumption of the ‘best judge’ principle. Thirdly, it turns the focus away from purely consequentialist harms of epistocracy’s epistemic weaknesses. Instead, it shows how such epistemic weaknesses result, simultaneously, in the violation of a side constraint for epistocracy, the equitable distribution requirement.

Chaired by Dr Ron Levy, ANU College of Law


  • Udit Bhatia »

    I am a Stipendiary Lecturer in Politics at Lady Margaret Hall. I am currently pursuing my DPhil in Political Theory at the Department of Politics and International Relations here at Oxford. I have previously completed an MPhil in Politics and Education (Distinction) at the University of Cambridge, and an MA in Legal and Political Theory (Distinction) at University College London. My first degree was in Philosophy (First Class Honours) from St. Stephen's College, University of Delhi. My doctoral research is funded by a DPIR studentship (tuition fees and living expenses). I am currently the Junior Dean at Linacre College.

    My research interests lie at the intersections of democratic theory, political representation and social epistemology. I am currently examining the exclusion of persons from democratic citizenship on the basis of epistemic inferiority. Among other things, this project engages in a comparative study of Constitutions to understand ways in which the 'incompetence' of citizens has been used to justify their exclusion from a greater share of political power. I am also interested in methodological debates on ideal theory, comparative political theory, and the relationship between normative political theory, history and the social sciences. 




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