The Democratic Duty to Educate Oneself

  • Steinar Bøyum University of Bergen


I argue that democratic citizens have a duty to educate themselves politically. My argument proceeds in two stages. First, I establish a case for the moral importance of individual competence for voting, but also maintain that the substantial content of the required competence must remain open. I do this by way of an assessment of Jason Brennan's provocative defense of epistocracy. I try to show that there is no notion of political competence that can meet with reasonable agreement among citizens and that voter qualification exams are therefore illegitimate. Second, I maintain that the basic premise of Brennan's argument, the right to a competent electorate, is valid and that it corresponds to an individual duty to educate oneself politically. This duty is, in Kant's terminology, a wide and imperfect duty that we owe to our fellow democratic citizens. Yet since the content of competence must be left open, this moral duty cannot be transformed into a legal obligation.

Author Biography

Steinar Bøyum, University of Bergen

Professor, Department of Education, Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen

Professor II, Centre for the Study of Professions (SPS), OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University


How to Cite
Bøyum, S. (2018). The Democratic Duty to Educate Oneself. Etikk I Praksis - Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics, 12(2), 129-141.
Åpen del - Open section