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  1. Thomas Christiano

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee628

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Christiano, T. 2013. Democracy. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


“Democracy” in this essay is a process of collective decision-making in which all or nearly all the members of the permanent adult population of the society have effective rights to participate as equals in a crucial stage of the decision-making. In the case of representative democracy this implies that all or nearly all the adult population participates in free and fair elections, in which each person has an equal opportunity to run for office, to organize for political influence and to vote, and in which those elections do genuinely choose and reject those who have political power in the society. This is an undemanding and minimal definition and does not answer any normative questions. Democracy is not always morally desirable. Nor is this all we should hope and press for in democratic societies. The normative principles that underpin democracy, which we shall review in the rest of this essay, must do the work of determining when democracy is desirable and what shape democracy ought to take. Still, this definition excludes the societies of Western Europe and America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which excluded women and/or ethnic minorities and/or people without property. They may be “proto-democratic” because they extended the suffrage to very large proportions of their populations and because they seemed to hold the seeds of universal suffrage within them. Second, it suggests that groups of children that make decisions as equals are also not democracies.


  • normative ethics;
  • politics;
  • democracy