7th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Wong

James K.L. Wong

Cognitive Dissonance and Democratic Justification by Condorcet’s Jury Theorem

Cognitive dissonance refers to an unpleasant state of emotion experienced by individuals when their different cognitions are inconsistent with each other. Since its introduction by the late 1950s, cognitive dissonance has been an important and influential theory in the field of social psychology, offering explanations of many real-life consumer, health and economic behaviours. This paper demonstrates how the theory of cognitive dissonance may contribute to the discussion of a political concept – democracy. In particular, I discuss how cognitive dissonance relates to the justification of democracy through the Condorcet jury theorem. I show that cognitive dissonance gives rise to a possibility that individuals do not reveal their judgments of what the ‘truth’ is even if they are, as assumed by the theorem, sufficiently competent to identify it. This happens in what I term the ‘behavioural adjustment scenarios’ (BAS), i.e., when (1) individuals submit, at time t, rational judgments on agendas consisting of propositions which represent a set of relevant and connected cognitions of attitude(s) and behaviour(s); and (2) new attitudinal proposition(s) which reverse(s) the one(s) previously accepted is/are then proposed, at time t + 1, for the purpose of behavioural adjustment. Given the effect of cognitive dissonance, individuals are more likely to stick to their judgments on behavioural proposition(s) made at t, and rationalize it by revising their judgments on (other) attitudinal proposition(s) at t + 1. I suggest that the explicit competence of individuals as exhibited in those scenarios is distinguishable from their implicit competence as assumed by the theorem, and that a version of the Condorcet jury theorem considering cognitive dissonance should take the value of the explicit, instead of the implicit, competence into account. The value of an individual’s explicit competence depends on a list of factors, which constitutes an additional constraint to the conditions under which Condorcet jury theorem provides a sound epistemic justification for democratic decision-making, regardless of whether the value of the implicit competence of the individual is greater than 0.5.