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A Dilemma for Deliberative
The Problem with Procedure
Travis N. Rieder
Department of Philosophy
University of South Carolina
Considering an Ethical Regulation of
 My interest in this debate is concerning a very specific
question: is the criterion of rightness a substantive one,
or a procedural one?
 This is to ask: Is there some substantive answer to the
question – perhaps the right regulation is that which in
fact results in the least amount of harm – or is the right
regulation merely that which ‘falls out of’ some process?
 Advocates of any pure form of ‘deliberative democracy’
typically argue for the latter, and it is this point on which
the current talk will focus.
Farrelly on Nanotech and
Deliberative Democracy
 My interlocutor in this debate is Colin Farrelly in his
essay “Deliberative Democracy and Nanotechnology”
(Wiley 2007).
 Farrelly seems to be committed to two claims:
 (1) An ethical regulation of nanotechnology is characterized by
being the result of a deliberative democratic process.
 (2) An ethical regulation of nanotechnology is characterized by
particular, substantive criteria, such as non-extremism.
 I believe there is a serious tension in these two
commitments – a tension which is likely to be present in
the similar commitments of most of us who are
sympathetic to Farrelly’s project.
The Basic Concern
 If there is some substantively right answer to the
question of how ethically to regulate nanotechnology,
then why care about process, so long as we can get to
the right answer?
 Alternatively: If we plan to ‘channel’ deliberative
democracy, so that we get to what we think is the right
answer, then why go through the process in the first
 The basic intuition: as soon as we start placing
restrictions on the democratic process, it seems that we
are affecting the possible outcomes. This makes the
process begin to look like a ‘spare wheel,’ in that what
we get out is a product of what we put in.
The Dilemma
The basic argument against deliberative democracy can then be
formulated as a dilemma:
An ethical regulation of nanotechnology is either (a) procedural, or (b)
If (a), then whatever falls out of the process of democratic
deliberation is ethically right.
For the sake of contradiction, let us assume (a).
It is possible that deliberative democracy would recommend a
complete moratorium on technological research and development.
However, most of us would agree that a complete moratorium is not
ethically right (technology is also helpful; ought implies can).
Thus, there is at least one answer which could be produced by a
deliberative democracy which is morally incorrect.
But (6) and (2) entail a contradiction – i.e. whatever falls out of a
deliberative democracy is both right and not right.
Therefore, not-(a).
Therefore, by disjunct elimination, (b).
So what?
 This means: we must realize what role we actually think
the public should have.
 This does not mean: the public should not have any role.
 The attractive element of deliberative democracy: taking
the public’s perspective into account. We can and
should still do this.
 We simply realize that we are taking the public’s
knowledge and perspective into account – but the public
is not itself the moral mechanism.
Good Reasons for Including the
Public in Regulations-Debate:
 Epistemic Reasons:
 (1) Epistemic Fallibilism
 (2) Epistemic Modesty
 Moral Reasons:
 (3) Anti-Paternalistic Commitment
A Role for Anti-Paternalism
 Reason (3), then, does not require a procedural
 Rather, we can say that this is one case among
many in which we have competing moral
 Regulation X may be our best estimate for the
substantively right regulation.
 Regulation Y may be the public’s choice.
 It is unclear that we ought to enact X over Y in this
case. But this does not mean that X isn’t the right