What is the Value of Democracy? Niko Kolodny Dons his Philosopher’s Cap

March 12, 2012


Berkeley philosophy professor will give a free public talk Friday, March 30


TACOMA, Wash. – “What is the value of democracy,” asks Niko Kolodny, professor of philosophy at University of California, Berkeley. The answer, the thoughtful academic says, is not, as you may think, that it lets people decide their own fate or best satisfy their desires. Instead, he suggests, democracy’s value stems from a concern regarding how you compare with others, a concern that nobody be above (or, for that matter, below) you.

Kolodny will delve into this deceptively simple question and reveal his own analysis at a public talk that will take place as part of the Puget Sound Philosophy Undergraduate Conference.

His lecture, “Rule Over None: Social Equality and the Value of Democracy,” will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 30, in Trimble Forum, Trimble Hall, on the University of Puget Sound campus. The talk is free and open to the public. Directions and a map of campus are below.

A specialist in moral and political philosophy, Kolodny has published widely in journals, books, and encyclopedias. In addition to his teaching, research, and writing roles, he is a member of the New York Institute of Philosophy's Project on New Directions in Political Philosophy. He earned a Master of Arts degree from Oxford University and a doctorate from University of California, Berkeley. He previously taught at Harvard University and has worked in social sciences research at Australian National University in Canberra.

In describing his upcoming talk, Kolodny discards many of the conventional answers to the question, “What is the value of democracy?” Its value, he says, is not in achieving self-government, nor in encouraging valuable civic engagement, nor in simply giving people what they want. Democracy’s true value, he says, is that it is “a constituent of a society in which people relate to one another as social equals, as opposed to social inferiors or superiors.” 

Those attending the talk will have the opportunity to hear Kolodny’s analysis and to ask him questions. The Puget Sound Philosophy Undergraduate Conference, which also is open to the public, runs March 30–31.

Funding for the talk is provided by the Catharine Gould Chism Fund for the Humanities and the Arts.

The schedule for the Puget Sound Philosophy Undergraduate Conference, March 30–31, will be posted at: https://www.pugetsound.edu/academics/departments-and-programs/undergraduate/philosophy/philosophyconference

For directions and a map of the campus: www.pugetsound.edu/directions

Photos on page: Above right: Animal Farm, by Herb Block (1961; Library of Congress); Above left: Niko Kolodny

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