Public Reason: Vol. 6, No. 1-2, 2014
Judge Posner on Dewey, Democracy and Knowledge: A Critical Assessment
Rick Davis

This paper provides a critique of one of the more pivotal aspects of Judge Richard Posner’s legal pragmatism: his interpretation of John Dewey’s account of the relationship between democracy and knowledge, what I call the democracy-knowledge relationship. For Dewey, knowledge and action, including political action, are part of the same continuous process. Posner argues Dewey fails to make a convincing argument on this point. According to Posner, Dewey offers an incoherent democratic theory that is fragmented into what he calls “epistemic” and “deliberative” democratic theories. I argue Posner is wrong in at least three ways: first, Posner exaggerates the extent to which Dewey believed his suggested reforms could actually be implemented; second, he misinterprets Dewey’s understanding of knowledge, both its origin and its function; and finally, Posner commits a classic straw man fallacy in that he presents a distorted account of Dewey’s democratic theory that is readily subject to his own criticisms.  

Key words: law, democracy, Dewey, Posner, pragmatism.


Davis, Rick. 2014. Judge Posner on Dewey, Democracy and Knowledge: A Critical Assessment. Public Reason 6 (1-2): 67-76.