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Keywords:

  • deliberation;
  • deliberative democracy;
  • group decision making;
  • reasoning;
  • argumentation

Theoreticians of deliberative democracy have sometimes found it hard to relate to the seemingly contradictory experimental results produced by psychologists and political scientists. We suggest that this problem may be alleviated by inserting a layer of psychological theory between the empirical results and the normative political theory. In particular, we expose the argumentative theory of reasoning that makes the observed pattern of findings more coherent. According to this theory, individual reasoning mechanisms work best when used to produce and evaluate arguments during a public deliberation. It predicts that when diverse opinions are discussed, group reasoning will outperform individual reasoning. It also predicts that individuals have a strong confirmation bias. When people reason either alone or with like-minded peers, this confirmation bias leads them to reinforce their initial attitudes, explaining individual and group polarization. We suggest that the failures of reasoning are most likely to be remedied at the collective than at the individual level.