It’s deliberative democracy, stupid!

There is a common foundation of most, maybe even all problems I deal with in this blog. The foundation is a somewhat metaphysical one and regards the ethical categories “right” and “wrong”. Indeed, what we do about climate change, whether we engage in genetic engineering, whether and how we should achieve sustainability – all these questions boil down to “What is right?” and the way this basic question can and should be answered.

There is a basic difference between the questions I mentioned above, which operate in the realm of “right” and “wrong”, and what we call science in its modern, Popperian sense. Even though science is often closely related to these questions, it does operate between other categories, namely “true” and “false”. To believe that the observed climate change is not anthropogenic is above all “false”, even though it may also be viewed as “wrong”. But to call for a particular strategy of coping with climate change (including the strategy of not coping with it at all, i.e., business as usual) is neither “true” nor “false”. It may at best be “right” or “wrong”. It is the difference between facts and the interpretation of their implications.

An important point here, one that should not be missed, is that these two categorisations are distinct in terms of “objectivity”. Science is objective, so are its “truths” and “falses”. Either there is anthropogenic climate change or not, given what we know about it (there are, of course, no absolute “truths” in science, and they never will be). But “right” and “wrong” are not objective. They are inherently subjective constructs of societal discourse. This can be easily understood if we consider all the many schools of ethics that exist, and which are often entirely contradictory in their standpoints. Therefore, whereas one well-informed person can decide what is “true” and what is “false”, no individual can decide, no matter how well-informed she may be, what is “right” or “wrong”.
The logical consequence of this distinction is that the only possibility to decide what is “right” and what is “wrong”, e.g., whether we should genetically engineer plants, is through societal discourse. This is deliberative democracy in its purest form. Since the problems I discuss in this blog regard the whole society, including the not-yet-born generations, society as a whole should decide what to do about them. Not politicians, not scientists, but we, “the people”, are inclined to make such decisions in the process of deliberation. So, this blog is just one of many voices that try to foster public discourse on certain subjects. But it does not offer ready-made prescriptions or a guide about what is “right” or “wrong”, even though I do have an oppinion about what is.

In the end, most societal problems boil down to this one problem: that we only can deal with them by deliberation. We have to make decisions together, however painful, resource-consuming and often hopeless it may appear.


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