Applied Ethics Forum: Justin Klocksiem

Applied Ethics Forum

Justin Klocksiem (University of Alabama Tuscaloosa), ‘Epistocracy: a wolf in wolf’s clothing’
Thursday April 6th 2017, 3:30pm–5:00pm in PH1–108

Abstract: ‘Epistocracy’ is the name of a type of political power structure in which the power is held by the knowledgable—for example, by restricting the right to vote to those who can demonstrate sufficient knowledge. Though Plato and Mill defended epistocratic views, it has found few contemporary advocates. In a recent book, however, Jason Brennan argues that epistocratic power structures are capable of outperforming democratic ones. His argument is two-pronged: first, he argues that voting does not possess any instrumental value, and so restricting suffrage to well-educated persons does not deny less well-educated persons anything of any instrumental value. Second, he argues that voting does not possess any symbolic value, and so restricting suffrage to the educated does not result in a loss of status or standing for the less well-educated in any meaningful way. I argue that both prongs of this argument fundamentally misconceive what voting is and why it is important. Casting a vote is a way of contributing to a group decision. Its value is therefore not tied to the likelihood that the vote will be decisive, and being permitted to cast a vote is constitutive, rather than symbolic, of membership in the group. Denial of suffrage is therefore a profound loss. Finally, I argue that epistocratic techniques are impossible to implement fairly. On these bases, I recommend rejecting it.