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Benjamin Michael Miller

20182018
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Personal profile

Research Interests

Contemporary Democratic Theory
Ancient Political Thought, especially Aristotle
Citizenship Education
Justice and the Family
Political Behavior
Political Psychology

Professional Information

All of my research focuses on a single big question: How should democracies be designed, given the facts about human psychology and decision-making.

Democratic theory and practice are both based on two major assumptions: (1) human beings ought to be treated as free equals, and (2) we are all good enough at rational decision-making that we can expect the product of our collective, democratic decisions to produce politically acceptable outcomes.

My research, both on Aristotle and on contemporary democracy, starts from the worrying observation (using evidence from the social sciences) that (2) is false, and that all of us are actually pretty bad at making decisions. But if we aren't good at making political decisions, how can we expect that the collective results of our decision-making will lead to results we are aiming for? The quick answer is that we should not have this expectation.

What does this have to do specifically with democracy? Well, since (1) still holds, and because we have good reason to think that all of us, not just some of us, are bad decision-makers, we should still endorse democracy as the best form of government despite our bad decision-making tendencies. The problem is that since all currently existing democracies have been designed with the thought that we humans are good decision-makers, we should not be surprised if much of the design elements of democracies today are suboptimal; and not only suboptimal, but downright terrible.

As a result, many thinkers, including policy-makers, philosophers, and educators, endorse the idea that we should try to make citizens into better decision-makers in order to save/improve democracy. In other words, they want people to change so that our institutions will work better. People like this are big fans of civic education. My research on Aristotle leads me to the conclusion that this alternative is pretty much hopeless because of the persistent and permanent nature of our decision-making flaws and biases, and how demanding and difficult it would be to educate us all to be good enough decision-makers. Instead of trying to make human beings fit better with our current democratic institutions, I think we are better off trying to change the design of some of our democratic institutions so that they fit better with human beings as we currently are.

Because of this worry, what I do in all of my research is to try to think about alternative ways of understandingdemocracy so that our institutions, rules, and practices can be made to fit with the actual facts about our decision-making abilities, blind-spots, and biases. To do this, we have to take a lot of care to understand what parts of our current democracies are essential to democracy in general. And we have to spend some of that time considering what ideal principles of democracy look like. This is what democratic theory is all about.

Education

Ph.D. Stanford University, Department of Philosophy
M.A. Stanford University, Graduate School of Education
M.A. University of Auckland, Department of Philosophy
B.S. Northeastern University, Department of Philosophy & Religion
B.S. Northeastern University, Department of Psychology

Honors & Awards

2019 Clarence A. Berdahl Excellent Undergraduate Teaching Award in Political Science

Teaching

Intro to Political Theory
Justice in the Law
Classical Political Thought
Citizenship & Diversity
Ancient Philosophy
Children, the Family, and Social Justice

Office Address

319 David Kinley Hall

Office Phone

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political psychology Social Sciences
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Aristotle Social Sciences
citizenship Social Sciences
justice Social Sciences
education Social Sciences
Democracy Arts & Humanities

Research Output 2018 2018

  • 1 Paper
  • 1 Book/Film/Article review

A New Interpretation of Aristotle's Politics: D.J. Riesbeck's Aristotle on Political Community

Miller, B., Apr 1 2018, In : Classical Review. 68, 01, p. 39-40

Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article review

Political Incompetence and Defenses of Democracy

Miller, B. M., 2018.

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Democracy
Competency
Intrinsic Value
Decision Making
Psychology