Res Publica

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 249–268 | Cite as

The Rhetoric of Deliberation: Some Problems in Kantian Theories of Deliberative Democracy

  • John O'Neill


Deliberative or discursive models of democracy have recently enjoyed a revival in both political theory and policy practice. Against the picture of democracy as a procedure for aggregating and effectively meeting the given preference of individuals, deliberative theory offers a model of democracy as a forum through which judgements and preferences are formed and altered through reasoned dialogue between free and equal citizens. Much in the recent revival of deliberative democracy, especially that which comes through Habermas and Rawls, has Kantian roots. Deliberative institutions are embodiments of the free public use of reason that Kant takes to define the enlightenment project. Within the Kantian model the public use of reason is incompatible with the use of rhetoric. While this paper rejects strong rhetorical criticisms of deliberative democracy which render all communication strategic, it argues that rhetorical studies of deliberation have highlighted features of deliberation which point to significant weaknesses in Kantian approaches to it. Two features are of particular importance: the role of testimony and judgements of credibility in deliberation; and the role of appeal to emotions in public discourse. Both from the Kantian perspective are potential sources of heteronomy. However, the appeal to testimony and emotion are features of public deliberation that cannot and should not be eliminated. For those committed to the enlightenment values that underlie the deliberative model of democracy the question is whether these rhetorical features of deliberation are incompatible with those values. The paper argues that they are compatible. It does so by defending an Aristotelian account of rhetoric in public deliberation which denies the Platonic contrast between reasoned discourse and rhetoric which the Kantian model inherits.

Aristotle deliberative democracy emotion Kant rhetoric testimony 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Law International 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • John O'Neill
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Philosophy, Institute for Environment, Philosophy and Public PolicyLancaster UniversityLancasterUK

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