Reasoning is for Arguing: Understanding the Successes and Failures of Deliberation

Political Psychology, Forthcoming

36 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2010 Last revised: 6 Sep 2011

Date Written: November 10, 2010


Theoreticians of deliberative democracy have sometimes found it hard to relate to the seemingly contradictory experimental results produced by psychologists and political scientists. We suggest that this problem may be alleviated by inserting a layer of psychological theory between the empirical results and the normative political theory. In particular, we expose the argumentative theory of reasoning that makes the observed pattern of findings more coherent. According to this theory, individual reasoning mechanisms work best when used to produce and evaluate arguments during a public deliberation. It predicts that when diverse opinions are discussed group reasoning will outperform individual reasoning. It also predicts that individuals have a strong confirmation bias. When people reason either alone or with like-minded peers, this confirmation bias leads them to reinforce their initial attitudes, explaining individual and group polarization. We suggest that the failures of reasoning are most likely to be remedied at the collective than at the individual level.

Keywords: deliberation, deliberative democracy, group decision making, reasoning, argumentation

Suggested Citation

Mercier, Hugo and Landemore, Helene E., Reasoning is for Arguing: Understanding the Successes and Failures of Deliberation (November 10, 2010). Political Psychology, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Hugo Mercier (Contact Author)

University of Neuchatel ( email )

Espace Louis Agassiz 1
Neuchâtel, 2000

Helene E. Landemore

Yale University ( email )

493 College St
New Haven, CT CT 06520
United States

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