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Explanation of Elizabeth Anderson's Views on Democracy

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Elizabeth Anderson argues that democracy has non-instrumental value, as its worth is largely derived from the act of participation by the members of democratic culture, organization and government. She illustrates this with the example of a non-democratic form of government, Singapore, where the regime claims to give its citizens what they want. She argues that while the same “goals” of society could be achieved, such as equality, this is not equal to reaching those same goals via democracy.

This is because democracy has no end point: it is useful in that it puts forth hypotheses about what may make up the best society, and then tests them. However, if there comes another idea that could be better, it is given a chance and put into practice, then evaluated. A similar example is the act of studying. A student may believe cue cards are the best studying method for them, yet will only achieve the best results possible if they stay open to new methods (a memory game, for example) and give them a chance via trial and error, evaluating the results in conclusion. Democracy is designed to follow this pattern of continual improvement through holding officials accountable with communal deliberation, referenda, and the possibility for petitions and protests. Another key point Anderson makes is that the practice of participating in democracy develops society’s goals communally. It is because of this that a dictator, even well-intentioned on providing the best for their citizens, could never deliver parallel results. That one person removed from society would not engage in public and continual debate and deliberation with others, and even the most informed counsel cannot mitigate this.

Finally, Anderson claims there is non-instrumental value in democracy for it engages the important powers of sympathy, autonomy and intelligence. Through cooperating towards solutions, collectively determining the public’s goals and learning the best way to live life in unison, these essential capacities are developed and ultimately society as a whole is improved.

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Explanation of Elizabeth Anderson’s Views on Democracy. (2019, November 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from
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