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The rationality of political experimentation

Gregory Robson
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Gregory Robson: 1177Iowa State University, USA

Politics, Philosophy & Economics, 2021, vol. 20, issue 1, 67-98

Abstract: Theorists from John Stuart Mill to Robert Nozick have argued that citizens can gain insight into the demands of justice by experimenting with diverse forms of political life. I consider the rationality of such experimentation, arguing for three distinct but related claims. First, rational citizens will not be highly incentivized to conduct experiments in living. Here I develop an account of what I call the ‘prudential rationality constraint’ (PRC). The PRC implies that rational citizens will be undermotivated from the standpoint of social value to conduct experiments in living. Second, despite the success of various radical political experiments (e.g., democracy after 1648), citizens generally ought to engage in moderate rather than radical political experimentation. The latter will nearly always be prudentially irrational to conduct, hard to learn from, and quite possibly harmful to participants and third parties. Finally, there are important but overlooked ways, including through entrepreneurship, in which institutions can incentivize citizens to engage in socially valuable political experimentation.

Keywords: entrepreneurship; experiments in living; justice; liberalism; political tradition; rationality (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1177/1470594X20949937

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