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Democracy and Disagreement

Democracy and Disagreement

Amy Gutmann, Dennis F. Thompson

ISBN 9780674038066

Publication date: 07/01/2009

The din and deadlock of public life in America—where insults are traded, slogans proclaimed, and self-serving deals made and unmade—reveal the deep disagreement that pervades our democracy. The disagreement is not only political but also moral, as citizens and their representatives increasingly take extreme and intransigent positions. A better kind of public discussion is needed, and Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson provide an eloquent argument for “deliberative democracy” today. They develop a principled framework for opponents to come together on moral and political issues.

Gutmann and Thompson show how a deliberative democracy can address some of our most difficult controversies—from abortion and affirmative action to health care and welfare—and can allow diverse groups separated by class, race, religion, and gender to reason together. Their work goes beyond that of most political theorists and social scientists by exploring both the principles for reasonable argument and their application to actual cases. Not only do the authors suggest how deliberative democracy can work, they also show why improving our collective capacity for moral argument is better than referring all disagreements to procedural politics or judicial institutions. Democracy and Disagreement presents a compelling approach to how we might resolve some of our most trying moral disagreements and live with those that will inevitably persist, on terms that all of us can respect.


  • Democracy and Disagreement, by two well-known philosophers, makes a significant contribution to the debates currently plaguing us… [It is] intellectually satisfying. Gutmann and Thompson confront the culture wars head on, asking how we can deliberate our way through our disagreements. Their answers are thoughtful, original, and powerful… What gives the book so much power is not just that it thoughtfully defines the principles that should guide moral argument. Gutmann and Thompson go on to apply their framework for moral discussion to some of the most difficult and controversial questions facing Americans today, including affirmative action, health-care rationing and abortion… They do not always succeed, but they provide a stunning model of how to conduct serious moral discussion in the face of fundamental disagreement… Everyone who considers himself a responsible citizen should read Democracy and Disagreement… It actually might help us resolve our current moral crises.

    —Suzanna Sherry, Washington Post


  • Amy Gutmann is Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Politics and Director of the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University.
  • Dennis F. Thompson is Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy and Associate Provost at Harvard University. He is the author of The Democratic Citizen: Social Science and Democratic Theory in the Twentieth Century, John Stuart Mill and Representative Government, and coauthor (with Amy Gutmann) of Democracy and Disagreement.

Book Details

  • Belknap Press