Does Dewey have an “epistemic argument” for democracy?

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Publication details

JournalContemporary Pragmatism
DateAccepted/In press - 3 Mar 2018
DatePublished (current) - 2019
Issue number2-3
Pages (from-to)217-241
Original languageEnglish


The analysis and defence of democracy on the grounds of its epistemic powers is now a well-established, if contentious, area of theoretical and empirical research. This article reconstructs a distinctive and systematic epistemic account of democracy from Dewey's writings. Running like a thread through this account is a critical analysis of the distortion of hierarchy and class division on social knowledge, which Dewey believes democracy can counteract. The article goes on to argue that Dewey’s account has the resources to defuse at least some important forms of the broader charges of instrumentalism and depoliticization that are directed at the epistemic project. The gloomy conviction of the stratified character of capitalist societies and the conflictual character of their politics shapes Dewey’s view of political agency, and this article outlines how this epistemic conception of democracy is deployed as a critical standard for judging and transforming existing political forms but also serves as a line of defence for democratic political forms against violent and authoritarian alternatives.

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    Research areas

  • n Dewey, pragmatism, epistemic democracy, democratic theory

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