Doubts about democracy are as old as Western civilization. It is expressed clearly in some of the Socratic dialogues, e.g. Crito were Socrates claims that “ordinary people … cannot make a man wise or stupid” since “they simply act at random”. In contemporary discussion the Platonic worry reappears in doubts about participatory and republican approaches to democracy.
Yet democracy also inspires hope as the only form of government that can to a significant extent avoid injustice and illegitimate coercion. Much recent work in democratic theory explores the epistemic dimensions of democratic choice where it is argued that diversity may trump expertise – that democratic (sometimes crowdsourced) solutions may improve policy- and decision-making. The problem with epistemic democracy however is the strong tendency towards a technical conception of political problems, pushing aside or ignoring underlying differences of ideology, valuation and positioning. The paper explores some pragmatist approaches to questions about the political by going back to the Deweyan idea of collective problem-solving and “social control” asking whether a pragmatist idea of the wisdom of the many may both counter the old platonist claim, and preserve a deeper conception of political differences as distinct from practical solutions.