Explicating Social Action: Arguing or Bargaining?

This paper addresses the following paradox in Jon Elsters' writings: If it is only public reasons that can justify outcomes, how can private desires be the causes of the same outcomes?

ARENA Working Paper 12/2009 (pdf)

Erik O. Eriksen

Jon Elster has a clear view of the role of norms and impartiality in collective decision making processes, but does not ascribe to them the power to explain action. Hence, the paradox: If it is only public reasons that can justify outcomes, how can private desires be the causes of the same outcomes? Reasons and norms must be given explanatory force, but this requires methodological individualism expanded to methodological interactionism. Here promises appear not merely as bargaining chips, arguing more than an aggregation device and normative questions not as irrational. Because both arguing and strategic communication exist, and it is as hard to identify the former as the latter, one should not let one take precedence over the other on theoretical grounds. The problem is not theoretical, but methodological.

Tags: normative political theory, discourse, deliberative democracy, common interest , collective bargaining
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM