Teaching philosophy, argumentation & public debate

David Lanius

Teaching philosophy, argumentation & public debate

David Lanius

Mediating Machines

The research project “Mediating Machines” on the role of Artificial Intelligence in mediation has now officially started.

It is conducted by researchers at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP), Graduate Institute of International Development Studies, Geneva (IHEID), the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation (IOSB), Universität Düsseldorf and SwissPeace and funded by the Artificial Intelligence and the Society of the Future Initiative of the Volkswagen Foundation.

Neuer Vorstand für die Gesellschaft für Utilitarismus-Studien

Die Gesellschaft für Utilitarismusstudien e.V. (GUS) ist eine Vereinigung von am Utilitarismus interessierten Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftlern. Die Mitgliederversammlung hat Dr. Christoph Schmidt-Petri (Karlsruhe) zu ihrem neuen Präsidenten gewählt.

Desweiteren sind im Vorstand nun Prof. Dr. Bernward Gesang (Mannheim), Jonas Harney (Saarbrücken), Prof. Dr. Peter Niesen (Hamburg), Prof. Dr. Ulla Wessels (Saarbrücken) sowie ich selbst.

Towards Foolproof Democracy: Advancing Public Debate and Political Decision-Making

The events of the year 2016 have led many critical observers to doubt the stability and longevity of democracy. Ideally, democracy effectuates the rule of reason. Debates in elected assemblies and in society as a whole should serve the process of finding best reasons for political decisions. However, the mechanisms that currently produce such decisions are vulnerable to misuse. Arguably, they need to be redesigned in an attempt to make them “foolproof” – i.e., to design them in a way to make misuse inherently impossible or to minimize its negative consequences.

Empirical evidence suggests that political agents may generally lack the required competence for deliberation and debate. Even very intelligent people systematically tend to focus on information that confirms what they already believe and dismiss information that contradicts it. Instead of seeking rational debate, people often cling to forms of modern tribalism. In addition, modern communication networks are swiftly replacing traditional print and broadcast news media. This shift presents deliberative democracy with opportunities but also risks, as these communication networks neither encourage a balanced exchange of information nor systematically check its quality.

A special issue on Foolproof Democracy

In view of these developments, the question of the desired relation between democracy, deliberation, and truth looms large. Moral Philosophy and Politics invites contributions that seek to articulate this relation from the viewpoint of philosophy and political science. Suitable contributions may address such questions as:

  • How, if at all, can we improve public opinion formation?
  • Is deliberation the best way to generate political decisions in modern democracy?
  • How can we make democracy more resistant to populism and other forms of mass manipulation? Should politics be allowed (and perhaps even obligated) to exert influence on opinion formation in society?
  • Is there a way to methodically and impartially check the quality of debate in the public sphere?
  • Are political polarization and “echo chambers” a problem for democracy? And, if so, how can we guard against their formation and maintenance?
  • What ought to be the role of science and the humanities in the democratic process?

Guest editors

The issue has been published with De Gruyter.

Wir als Gesellschaft müssen lernen zu streiten!

Die Verrohung von Debatten im Internet und die Behauptung der Rechtspopulisten, Politiker hätten den „Bezug zum Volk“ verloren, haben die Frage aufkommen lassen, ob wir als Gesellschaft eine neue Streitkultur brauchen. In der aktuellen Ausgabe (3/2019, Nr. 89), von tv diskurs spreche ich darüber, wie man richtig streitet.

Strategic Indeterminay in the Law

My book on “Strategic Indeterminacy in the Law” has been published in 2019. It is available on amazon.de, bücher.de and global.oup.com. A short overview in German can be found on the blog of the Forum für Streitkultur. Rewiews have been or are to be published with Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung as well as the Journal of Applied Philosophy.

Description of the Book

Though indeterminacy in legal texts is pervasive, there is a widespread misunderstanding about what indeterminacy is, particularly as it pertains to law. Legal texts present unique challenges insofar as they address a heterogeneous audience, are applied in a variety of unforeseeable circumstances and must, at the same time, lay down clear and unambiguous standards. Sometimes they fail to do so, however, either by accident or by intention. While many have claimed that indeterminacy facilitates flexibility and can be strategically used, few have recognized that there are more forms of indeterminacy than vagueness and ambiguity. A comprehensive account of legal indeterminacy is thus called for.

David Lanius here answers that call and in so doing, addresses three central questions about the role of indeterminacy in the law. First, what are the sources of indeterminacy in law? Second, what effects do the different forms of indeterminacy have? Third, how can and should these forms be intentionally used? Based on a thorough examination of the advantages and disadvantages of the different forms of indeterminacy in the wording of laws, contracts, and verdicts, Lanius argues for the claim that semantic vagueness is less relevant than commonly supposed in the debate, while other forms of indeterminacy (in particular, polysemy and standard-relativity) are mistakenly underrated or even ignored. This misconception is due to a systematic confusion between semantic vagueness and these other forms of indeterminacy. Once it is resolved, the value and functions of linguistic indeterminacy in the law can be clearly shown.

Scroll to top