Epistemic democracy and the role of experts

Cathrine Holst and Anders Molander have published a new article in Contemporary Political Theory where they critically scrutinize ten often-cited epistemic objections against the political role of experts, and discuss how expertise can be used to increase the quality of democratic decision-making.


Epistemic democrats are rightly concerned with the quality of outcomes and judge democratic procedures in terms of their ability to ‘track the truth’. However, their impetus to assess ‘rule by experts’ and ‘rule by the people’ as mutually exclusive has led to a meagre treatment of the role of expert knowledge in democracy. Expertise is often presented as a threat to democracy but is also crucial for enlightened political processes. Contemporary political philosophy has so far paid little attention to our reliance on experts and has not sufficiently addressed the question of how expertise can be used to improve the epistemic quality of democratic decision making. We believe this lack of interest is spurred by a too hasty acceptance of arguments dismissive of the political role of experts. The article examines a series of often-cited epistemic objections and concludes that several of them are overstated or misconceived, yet they all reflect real difficulties that need to be addressed. On this background, we tentatively outline a set of mechanisms that can contribute to alleviating the irreducible problem of epistemic asymmetries and ensuring that experts really are experts and use their expertise in the right way.

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Epistemic democracy and the role of experts
Cathrine Holst and Anders Molander

Contemporary Political Theory (online)

Published Jan. 2, 2019 10:30 AM - Last modified Jan. 2, 2019 10:59 AM