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Albert Weale on Arrow’s Theorem - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 243
Arrow’s theorem/Weale/D’Agostino: I [Fred D’Agostino] said that Arrow's Theorem might be considered a parable; that it might suggest something, vividly, for liberalism about the implications of diversity (and hence pluralism). ((s) For a presentation of the problems in relation to Arrow’s theorem see >Arrow’s Theorem/D’Agostino).
What, to this effect, does it actually show?
Weale: Albert Weale (1992)(1) provides a helpful analysis whose upshot also applies to specifically liberal modalities of collective deliberation. He notes, in particular, that the conditions which Arrow imposes on formalistic procedures for collective choice should be understood as involving
two distinct requirements - 'of coherence and
Gaus I 244
representativeness', which, as he says, 'come into conflict'. He continues: 'Coherence requires
decision-makers to know their own mind all things considered, but representativeness pushes towards the inclusion of considerations that may make knowing one's own mind impossible' (1992(1): 213).
a) Representativeness, in other words, requires, of any approach to collective decision-making, that it make adequate provision for reasonable antecedent diversity of preferences or judgements. b) Coherence, on the other hand, requires of such an approach that it make adequate provision for the identification of collectively binding social arrangements.
Arrow/Weale: What Arrow's Theorem itself shows is that the specifically formalistic approaches to collective decision-making that are illustrated, for instance, in systems of voting cannot, in fact, satisfy both these desider- ata reliably.
D’Agostino: What, treated as a parable, Arrow's Theorem suggests is a conundrum: how can we
reconcile the demand for coherence in social arrangements with the fact of evaluative diversity?


1. Weale, Albert (1992) 'Social choice'. In Shaun Hargreaves Heap, Martin Hollis, Bruce Lyons, Robert Sugden and Albert Weale, eds, The Theory of Choice: A Critical Guide. Oxford: Blackwell.


D’Agostino, Fred 2004. „Pluralism and Liberalism“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Weale, Albert
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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