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Durham e-Theses
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The Problem of Political Credibility:
Epistemic Realism and Cautious Liberalism

WILLIAMS, RICHARD,BEADON (2022) The Problem of Political Credibility:
Epistemic Realism and Cautious Liberalism.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



In this dissertation, I transform the problem of political authority into the problem of political credibility. In my terminology, credible political authorities satisfy the “confidence tenet,” which requires that the public can become reasonably confident that political authorities are legitimate. So, I defend a new type of realism “epistemic realism.” A conception of legitimacy should concede to the epistemic limits of reasonable citizens. It should avoid normative political principles that reasonable citizens will probably never become reasonably confident that political authorities do satisfy.
In search of political credibility, I argue against “highly moralised” conceptions of legitimacy that make legitimacy depend on promoting justice in some sense. In particular, I primarily argue against the political theorist David Estlund’s epistemic proceduralism. Estlund says liberal democratic states are legitimate political authorities because democratic mechanisms are fair or otherwise reasonably acceptable procedures and democratic decisions publicly reveal what promotes justice and the common good. However, I argue that epistemic proceduralism makes liberal democratic states lack credible political authority because reasonable citizens should lack confidence in whether democratic decisions do publicly reveal what promotes justice and the common good and if democratic mechanisms are fair procedures.
In search of a solution, I introduce “cautious liberalism.” A cautious conception of legitimacy prioritises avoiding harm over promoting justice for primarily epistemic reasons. Reasonable citizens can become reasonably confident liberal democratic states do avoid harm in some sense. In particular, a “peaceful instrumentalist” conception of legitimacy makes legitimacy depend on the preservation of a mutually beneficial peace. Liberal democratic states can become credible political authorities that reasonable citizens are reasonably confident are legitimate with peaceful instrumentalism. Reasonable citizens can publicly observe that liberal democratic states tend to make the vote remain more politically attractive than the pitchfork.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Philosophy, Department of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:13 Dec 2022 12:09

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