Working Papers by Author

Josiah Ober - Classics Department, Stanford University


091201 Relevant Expertise Aggregation: An Aristotelian middle way for epistemic democracy
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Decision-making in a democracy must respect democratic values, while advancing citizens’ interests. Decisions made in an epistemic democracy must also take into account relevant knowledge about the world. Neither aggregation of independent guesses nor deliberation, the standard approaches to epistemic democracy, offers a satisfactory theory of decision-making that is at once time-sensitive and capable of setting agendas endogenously. Analysis of passages by Aristotle and legislative process in ancient Athens points to a “middle way” that transcends those limitations. Relevant Expertise Aggregation (REA) offers an epistemic approach to decision-making in democratic organizations with minimally competent voters who share certain interests and knowledge. REA allows better choices among options to be made by basing choices on expertise in multiple relevant domains, through a time-sensitive process conjoining deliberation with voting. REA differs from a standard Condorcet jury in aggregating votes by relevant domains, based on reputations and arguments of domain-experts.
This paper replaces version 121101 posted in December 2011, version 071102 posted in July 2011, and version 090901 posted in September 2009.

081201 Thucydides as prospect theorist
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Opposing the tendency to read Thucydides as a strong realist, committed to a theory of behavior that assumes rationality as expected utility maximization, Ned Lebow and Clifford Orwin (among others) emphasize Thucydides’ attentiveness to deviations from rationality by individuals and states. This paper argues that Thucydides grasped the principles underlying contemporary prospect theory, which explains why people over-weight potential losses. Thucydides offers salient examples of excessive risk-aversion and excessive risk-seeking by decision-makers variously faced with high or low probabilities of losses or gains. Thucydides shows that leaders' rhetoric can limit or exacerbate the political effects of bias in risk assessment.

121101 Weighted Expertise Aggregation: An Aristotelian middle way for epistemic democracy
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Abstract - Decision-making in a democracy must respect democratic values, while advancing citizens’ interests. Decisions made in an epistemic democracy must also take into account relevant knowledge about the world. Neither aggregation of independent guesses nor deliberation, the standard approaches to epistemic democracy, offers a satisfactory theory of decision-making that is at once time-sensitive and capable of setting agendas endogenously. Analysis of passages by Aristotle and legislative process in ancient Athens points to a “middle way” that transcends those limitations. Relevant Expertise Aggregation (REA) offers an epistemic approach to decision-making in democratic organizations with minimally competent voters who share certain interests and knowledge. REA allows better choices among options to be made by basing choices on expertise in multiple relevant domains, through a time-sensitive process conjoining deliberation with voting. REA differs from a standard Condorcet jury in aggregating votes by relevant domains, based on reputations and arguments of domain-experts.
This paper replaces version 071102 originally posted in July 2011 and 121101 revised in December 2011.

071201 Democracy's Dignity
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Dignity, as equal high standing characterized by non-humiliation and non- infantilization, is democracy’s third core value. Along with liberty and equality, it is a necessary condition for collective self-governance. Dignity enables robust exercise of liberty and equality while resisting both neglectful libertarianism and paternalistic egalitarianism. The civic dignity required for democracy is specified through a taxonomy of incompletely and fully moralized forms of dignity. Distinctive features of different regimes of dignity are modeled by simple games and illustrated by historical case studies. Unlike traditional meritocracy and universal human dignity, a civic dignity regime is theoretically stable in a population of self-interested social agents. It is real-world stable because citizens are predictably well motivated to defend those threatened with indignity and because they have resources for effective collective action against dignitary threats. Meritocracy and civic dignity are not inherently liberal, but may persist within a liberal democracy committed to universal human dignity.
This paper replaces version 011201 originaly posted in January 2012, and 071101 originally posted in July 2011.

011201 Democracy's Dignity
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
This paper has been revised. See 071201 entry.

121101 Weighted Expertise Aggregation: An Aristotelian middle way for epistemic democracy
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
> Abstract - Decision-making in an epistemic democracy takes into account not only citizens’ interests but also their knowledge about the world. The dominant epistemic approaches to democratic decision-making focus on aggregation of independent guesses and on deliberation, but neither offers a satisfactory means of decision-making that is at once time-sensitive and capable of setting agendas endogenously. Analysis of two passages by Aristotle points to a hybrid “middle way” that transcends these limitations. Weighted Expertise Aggregation (WEA) conjoins diverse forms of expertise in multiple domains through a time-sensitive process of deliberation and voting. WEA differs from a Condorcet jury in aggregating the marginal probability of correct judgments on domain- experts, rather than on the substance of complex issues. Although it requires procedurally competent voters who share common knowledge, WEA offers a realistic approach to decision-making in democratic organizations.
This paper replaced version 071102 originally posted in July 2011. It was revised in September 2012; please see 091201 entry.

071102 Weighted Expertise Aggregation: An Aristotelian middle way for epistemic democracy
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Epistemic political regimes are concerned with choosing policy options that are right in that in that they track reality better, and thus have better outcomes, than do other options. Analysis of Aristotle’s (Politics 3.11) claim that a large group, using democratic decision-rules, may choose more rightly than an excellent individual or small group yields the approach of Weighted Expertise Aggregation (WEA), a hybrid of deliberation and independent guess aggregation. WEA conjoins diverse kinds of expertise through a time-sensitive process of deliberation and voting. Modeling WEA under conditions of fallible experts and incomplete rules produces a robustly democratic epistemic regime. Although it requires that decision-makers share common knowledge on substantial matters, WEA offers a realistic approach to epistemic-democratic decision-making by long-lived purposeful organizations.
Replaces 090901 entitled An Aristotelian middle way between deliberation and independent guess aggregation

071101 Four Kinds of Dignity and Democracy
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
This paper has been revised. See 011201 entry.

051001 Wealthy Hellas
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - When it is compared to other premodern societies, ihe Greek world, in 800-300 BC, was prosperous. The Greek economy grew (both in the aggregate and per capita) at a hight rate by premodern standards (although growth was feeble by modern standards). By the fourth century BC Hellas was comparatively densely populated and highly urbanized. Incomes of working people were high (at least in Athens) and wealth and income were distributed relatively equitably. Comparatively strong Greek economic performance is the context for the development archaic/classical Greek culture. Exceptional Greek economic performance may be explained in part by “rule egalitariansim” (leading to greater investment in human capital and lower transaction costs) and by continuous institutional innovation (the result of inter-state competition and learning).

021001 The instrumental value of others and institutional change: An Athenian case study
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - A primary motive for certain Athenian rule changes in the direction of increased legal access and impartiality in the fourth century B.C. was Athenian awareness of the increased instrumental value of foreigners. New Athenian rules were aimed at persuading foreigners to do business in Athens. Foreigners gained greater access to some Athenian institutions, and fairness, in the sense of impartiality, was more evident in some forms of legal decision-making. These new rules appear to have worked; Athens became more prosperous by the later fourth century, at least in part because foreigners liked the new rules and so did more business there. Because increased access and impartiality were not prompted by a changed Athenian approach to the ends/means distinction, a Kantian deontologist would deny that the new rules made Athens a better place. A consequentialist might disagree. Written for a Leiden/Penn collection of essays on “Valuing Others,” in progress, edited by R. Rosen and I. Sluiter.

090901 An Aristotelian middle way between deliberation and independent guess aggregation
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
This paper has been revised. See 071102 entry.

080902 Thucydides on Athens’ Democratic Advantage in the Archidamian War
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - In book 1 Thucydides’ Corinthians attribute Athenian military success in the Archidamian war to an inherent national character. They empahsize the characteristics of agility, speed, and common-good seeking. Thucydides’ readers come to realize that the Athenian “democratic advantage” stemmed from a superior capacity to organize useful knowledge. Knowledge management in military affairs can be learned; the Athenians fared poorly in the later stages of the war in part because they failed to countenance the possibility that their own techniques could be adapted by their rivals.
Replaces 090702 entitled Athenian Military Performance in Archidamian War. To appear in a volume on "Democracy and Greek Warfare," edited by David Pritchard

080901 Epistemic democracy in classical Athens: Sophistication, diversity, and innovation.
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Analysis of democracy in Athens as an “epistemic” (knowledge-based) form of political and social organization. Adapted from Ober, Democracy and Knowledge, chapters 1-4. Jon Elster (ed.), volume on “Collective Wisdom” (to be published in English and French).

070902 Comparing democracies. A spatial method with application to ancient Athens
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - A graphic method for specifying historians’ judgments about political change, with special reference to the distance and the direction that Athenian democracy had moved from the era of Cleisthenes to that of Lycurgus. For Vincent Azoulay and Paulin Ismard (eds.). Cleisthène et Lycurgue d’Athènes: Autour du politique dans la cité classique. Editions du Sorbonne, Paris.

070901 Access, Fairness, and Transaction Costs: Nikophon's law on silver coinage (Athens: 375/4 BC)
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Several distinctive, and initially puzzling features of Nikophon's law on silver coinage (Rhodes/Osborne 25) become clear in light of the Athenian state's attempt to drive down transaction costs in order to maintainAthenian public revenues and private profits in the post-imperial era. I suggest that the law was explicitly intended to even the playing field of trade by ensuring non-citizens access to an impartial system of coin verification (the dokimastai), and to dispute resolution mechanisms (the People's courts). Nikophon's law is a relatively early example of the Athenian state's concern for adjusting established institutions with an eye toward lowering the transaction costs associated with trading in the Athenian market through reducing information and legal asymmetries. A similar concern recurs in the mid-fourth century "maritime cases" (dikai emporikai) and in Xenophon's mid-century text, the Poroi. Adapted from Ober, Democracy and Kowlege, chapter 6.

090704 The original meaning of “democracy”: Capacity to do things, not majority rule.
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - That the original meaning of democracy is “capacity to do things” not “majority rule” emerges from a study of the fifth and fourth century B.C. Greek vocabulary for regime-types. Special attention is given to –kratos root and –arche root terms. Paper delivered at the American Political Science Association meetings, Philadelphia, 2006.

090703 What the Ancient Greeks Can Tell Us About Democracy
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - The question of what the ancient Greeks can tell us about democracy can be answered by reference to three fields that have traditionally been pursued with little reference to one another: ancient history, classical political theory, and political science. These fields have been coming into more fruitful contact over the last 20 years, as evidenced by a spate of interdisciplinary work. Historians, political theorists, and political scientists interested in classical Greek democracy are increasingly capable of leveraging results across disciplinary lines. As a result, the classical Greek experience has more to tell us about the origins and definition of democracy, and about the relationship between participatory democracy and formal institutions, rhetoric, civic identity, political values, political criticism, war, economy, culture, and religion.
Forthcoming in Annual Reviews in Political Science 2007

090702 Athenian Military Performance in the Archidamian War: Thucydides on Democracy and Knowledge
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
> Abstract - Athenian military success in the Archidamian war is attributed by the Corinthians in book 1 of Thucydides to an inherent national character. Although the Athenians do manifest the characteristics of agility, speed, and common-good seeking that the Corinthians attribute to the Athenians, the source of Athenian exceptionalism is better sought in the development of democratic institutions and associated patterns of behavior. Athens did well in military operations because of its superior management of useful knowledge. Likewise, breakdown in knowledge management is a key reason for Athenian military failures in the latter part of the war.
This has been replaced by paper 080901. To appear in a volume on "Democracy and Greek Warfare," edited by David Pritchard

020702 Towards Open Access in Ancient Studies: The Princeton-Stanford Working Papers in Classics
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Brent D. Shaw, Princeton University
Donna Sanclemente, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract - An investigation of the present impact and future prospects of open access electronic publication of scholarly research on working papers sites, based on the authors’ collective experience with developing and maintaining a WP site for Classics and Classical Archaeology.
This paper has now been published in Hesperia vol. 76 (2007), pp. 229-242.

070604 Natural Capacities and Democracy as a Good-in-Itself
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - A paper on moral and political philosophy, arguing on Aristotelian grounds, that democracy is not only an instrumental good, but a good-in-itself for humans, because the exercise of constitutive natural capacities is and end, necessary for true happiness (understood as eudaimonia), and democracy (understood as association in decision) is a constitutive natural human capacity of humans. Forthcoming, winter 2006 in Philosophical Studies.

070603 From epistemic diversity to common knowledge: Rational rituals and publicity in democratic Athens.
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Effective organization of knowledge allows democracies to meet Darwinian challenges, and thus avoid elimination by more hierarchical rivals. Institutional processes capable of aggregating diverse knowledge and coordinating action promote the flourishing of democratic communities in competitive environments. Institutions that increase the credibility of commitments and build common knowledge are key aspects of democratic coordination. “Rational rituals,” through which credible commitments and common knowledge are effectively publicized, were prevalent in democratic Athens. Analysis of parts of Lycurgus’ speech Against Leocrates reveals some key features of the how rational rituals worked to build common knowledge in Athens. This paper, adapted from a book-in-progess, is fortthcoming in the journal Episteme.

070602 Socrates and democratic Athens: The story of the trial in its historical and legal contexts.
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Socrates was both a loyal citizen (by his own lights) and a critic of the democratic community’s way of doing things. This led to a crisis in 339 B.C. In order to understand Socrates’ and the Athenian community’s actions (as reported by Plato and Xenophon) it is necessary to understand the historical and legal contexts, the democratic state’s commitment to the notion that citizens are resonsible for the effects of their actions, and Socrates’ reasons for preferring to live in Athens rather than in states that might (by his lights) have had substantively better legal systems. Written for the Cambridge Companion to Socrates.

110515 Thucydides and the invention of political science
Josiah Ober, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract - Thucydides self-consciously invented a new form of inquiry, which can reasonably be called “social and political science.” His intellectual goal was a new understanding of power and its relationship to human agency and the deep structures of human society. His understanding of agency and structure is in some ways reminiscent of the reflexivity theory developed by Anthony Giddens.

110514 Solon and the 'Horoi': Facts on the Ground in Archaic Athens
Josiah Ober, Princeton University
No longer available as a working paper. This is now published as: Josiah Ober, "Solon and the Horoi." In J. Blok and A. Lardinois (eds.), Solon: New Historical and Philological Perspectives (E.J. Bill: Leiden), 441-456.

110513 “I Besieged that Man”: Democracy’s Revolutionary Start.
Josiah Ober, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract - The origins of democracy at Athens should be sought in a revolutionary moment in 508/7 B.C. and the subsequent institutional reforms associated with Cleistehenes. An revised version of the argument first offered by the author in "The Athenian Revolution of 508/7 B.C.E: Violence, Authority, and the Origins of Democracy," in C. Dougherty and L. Kurke (ed.), Cultural Poetics in Archaic Greece: Cult, Performance, Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press 1993), 215-232.

110512 Democratic Athens as an Experimental System: History and the Project of Political Theory.
Josiah Ober, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract - Athens as a case study can be useful as an “exemplary narrative” for political science and normative political, on the analogy of the biologicial use of as certain animals (e.g. mice or zebrafish) as “model systems” subject to intensive study by many researchers.