In my post earlier today, I said that I would say something about the relevance of Paul’s work to political philosophy. So, here goes! The connection to political philosophy lies in the notion of transformative experiences. Just as transformative experiences can occur in the private lives of individuals, they can occur in the public lives of individuals, that is, in their lives as citizens of a state. For example, when citizens transition from living in a state of autocracy to one of democracy, they presumably undergo a transformative experience. Living in a democratic state is much like Paul purports having a child of one’s own to be. One could argue, it is genuinely unlike any experience the individuals would have had before. So, they cannot project from past experiences to know what it will be like to live in a democracy. In turn, they cannot know whether they will value living in a democracy or not. So, if we take Paul’s arguments seriously, then the individuals’ decisions to transition to a democracy cannot be considered rational decisions.
One way around this conclusion is along the lines that I suggested here. Even if they lack knowledge or an approximate idea of what this specific token of democracy will be like for them, individuals could project on the basis of similar types of phenomenal experiences of democracy to determine the value that transitioning to a democracy in their state will have for them. For example, they may have experienced what democratic decision-making is like within their families or with their neighbors or in other community based groups. On this basis, they can know or, as I have suggested, at least have an approximate idea as to whether they value experiences of this (democratic) type. If they determine that they value these types of experiences positively, they can make a rational decision (on the standard model) to transition to a democracy.
As I argued in my post from earlier today, another way around the Paulian conclusion is simply to deny that phenomenal knowledge is necessary for rationality. There are other (non-phenomenal) basis for making such decisions: for example, we might think that we owe democracy to the other individuals in the group say, because, as Thomas Christiano has recently argued here, democracy promotes human rights and we have a moral obligation to satisfy other people’s human rights. In this case, we can know that we will place positive value, for non-phenomenal reasons, on transitioning to a democracy. We might also know that such values swamp (or trump) any phenomenal reasons that we have for not transitioning to a democracy. If so, we can make rational decisions to transition to a democracy.
I also wonder what role genealogical processes could play in rational political decisions. We can, for example, look at historical and global accounts of experiences of what transitioning to a democracy has been like for various individuals in various countries. One might wonder, couldn’t this serve as a basis for knowing or at least approximating what it will be like to transition to a democracy?
I think Paul would deny this possibility (see her discussion of relying on other people’s testimonies). Imagine after considering other individual’s experiences of what it is like to transition to a democracy, we notice that there are two groups of individuals: those that valued the transition and those that did not. Since we cannot project on the basis of our past experiences to know what the transformative experience of transitioning to a democracy will be like for us, one could argue (again for Paulian reasons), we cannot know which of the two groups we will end up being in. It could go either way: we might value the transition or we might not. So, one could argue, we cannot come to know what it will be like for us to transition to a democracy on the basis of other people’s testimonies because we don’t know which of their testimonies will apply to us.
However, while, on the face of it, we may not be able to know which group we will end up being in, it does seem that we can know something about which groups we share similar starting points with. So long as we can identify our country as starting at a certain point, for example, of initially being composed of individuals with certain cultural, social, economic and other sorts of features (i.e., the points from which we will transition from), we can at least have an idea of which countries start off in positions similar to ours. We can then consider whether those sorts of societies had positive experiences or not and we have at least some grounds for concluding that for countries like ours, which are composed of individuals like us, transitioning to democracy has had positive or negative phenomenal value. This might not be a basis for knowing what democracy will be like for us, but it could be a basis for forming an approximate idea of what it is will be like for us. We could form an approximate idea of the types of experiences that we might have and what they might be like for us on the basis of other’s experiences of what it has been like to transition to a democracy. And, as I suggested, an approximate idea may be all that is needed to make a rational decision to transition to a democracy.