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Deliberative Democracy, the Problem of Motivation, and the Promise of Social Cooperation

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Christopher Collins
Fordham University
United States

To be plausible, normative accounts of deliberative democracy must be capable of gaining motivational support from citizen participants. Otherwise such theories are purely idealist exercises. In this paper, I consider recent efforts to account for the motivational foundations of deliberative democracy, and argue that most of these efforts are misguided insofar as they look for motivational resources solely from within discursive practices themselves. A more promising strategy is to build motivational support for political engagement from more generic, and inclusive, activities of social cooperation, i.e., the sorts of social cooperation in inquiry and collective problem solving that inform John Dewey’s democratic theory.
To develop my argument, I will focus on the discourse theory of democracy developed by Jurgen Habermas, and his response to the problem of motivation. I will then consider criticisms of that response before developing my own Deweyian response to the problem of motivation.


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