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A Clueless Electorate? Assessing the New Assault on the Reasonable Citizen
Unformatted Document Text:  Steven V. Mazie—MPSA 2008 A Clueless Electorate? The New Assault on the Reasonable Citizen Page 22 of 23 simply out of bounds to limit the franchise to those with particular competencies, or particular principles, or to stack the deck in favor of certain views. Caplan’s critique thus has little traction in Rawls’s conception of the person. We might be temped to scoff at the level of sophistication of the model liberal citizen animating Rawls’s theory, but Caplan gives us little critical ammunition against it. It is no crime to be reasonable in Rawls’s sense: to consider others’ views with an open mind, to aim for fair and honest deliberations on matters of principle, to recognize burdens on our judgment and to tolerate resulting disagreements. And voting in line with one’s principles — even if those principles do not maximize social wealth — does not violate any defensible norm of rationality. If anyone is being unreasonable here, it is Caplan, who seems blind to several of the burdens of judgment even as he acknowledges others. While he examines the worry that people from different social classes may favor self-serving positions (concluding that economists are basically innocent of this charge 46 ), he is guilty of ignoring a more fundamental feature of disagreement. To recall one of Rawls’s burdens of judgment: To some extent all our concepts, and not only moral and political concepts, are vague and subject to hard cases; and this indeterminacy means that we must rely on judgment and interpretation (and on judgments about interpretations) within some range (not sharply specifiable) where reasonable persons may differ. 47 For Caplan reasonable and rational persons seldom, if ever, differ. Policy positions are right, or they are wrong. Votes are correct, or they are incorrect. People are rational or they are not. Caplan’s black-and-white lens on the world misses all the grey that lurks in the world, and in the bar graphs peppering his third chapter. There Caplan observes the differences between expert and lay beliefs on economic questions in order to establish four biases of average voters. What he never notices is that “experts” are never in full 46 Caplan, Myth of the Rational Voter, 56. 47 Rawls, Political Liberalism, 56.

Authors: Mazie, Steven.
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Steven V. Mazie—MPSA 2008
A Clueless Electorate? The New Assault on the Reasonable Citizen
Page 22 of 23
simply out of bounds to limit the franchise to those with particular competencies, or
particular principles, or to stack the deck in favor of certain views.
Caplan’s critique thus has little traction in Rawls’s conception of the person. We
might be temped to scoff at the level of sophistication of the model liberal citizen
animating Rawls’s theory, but Caplan gives us little critical ammunition against it. It is no
crime to be reasonable in Rawls’s sense: to consider others’ views with an open mind, to
aim for fair and honest deliberations on matters of principle, to recognize burdens on our
judgment and to tolerate resulting disagreements. And voting in line with one’s principles
— even if those principles do not maximize social wealth — does not violate any defensible
norm of rationality. If anyone is being unreasonable here, it is Caplan, who seems blind to
several of the burdens of judgment even as he acknowledges others.
While he examines the worry that people from different social classes may favor
self-serving positions (concluding that economists are basically innocent of this charge
46
),
he is guilty of ignoring a more fundamental feature of disagreement. To recall one of
Rawls’s burdens of judgment:
To some extent all our concepts, and not only moral and political concepts, are vague
and subject to hard cases; and this indeterminacy means that we must rely on
judgment and interpretation (and on judgments about interpretations) within some
range (not sharply specifiable) where reasonable persons may differ.
47
For Caplan reasonable and rational persons seldom, if ever, differ. Policy positions are
right, or they are wrong. Votes are correct, or they are incorrect. People are rational or
they are not. Caplan’s black-and-white lens on the world misses all the grey that lurks in
the world, and in the bar graphs peppering his third chapter. There Caplan observes the
differences between expert and lay beliefs on economic questions in order to establish four
biases of average voters. What he never notices is that “experts” are never in full
46
Caplan, Myth of the Rational Voter, 56.
47
Rawls, Political Liberalism, 56.


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