Ethical principles for the use of evidence in democratic decision-making: The special moral responsibilities of democratically elected politicians

Name of applicant

Tine Hindkjær Madsen


University of Oxford


DKK 700,000



Type of grant

Visiting Fellowships at University of Oxford


My project aims to unfold the moral responsibilities of democratically elected politicians with respect to their use of evidence. Part I of the project derives a theory about the special moral responsibilities of democratically elected politicians under ideal circumstances from the values that legitimate the moral role of politician in a liberal democracy. Part II maps the challenges politicians as lay people face in handling evidence and discusses how these facts ought to inform a formulation of ethical principles fit for actual, non-ideal circumstances. Part III formulates realistic ethical principles for responsible use of evidence in democratic decision-making under non-ideal circumstances.


The project fills a gap in the field of democratic theory which has thus far not been concerned with politicians' moral role and use of evidence. Some democratic theorists have proposed a division of labor according to which politicians define the political aims of the community, while experts and bureaucrats are needed to help devise the means with which to achieve political aims. However, in real-life democracies, politicians sometimes dominate the choice of means in a non-ideal way, for example, by ordering the manipulation of numbers or simply by misunderstanding esoteric evidence. Democratic theorists have not addressed this challenge to the democratic ideal and that is what my project sets out to do.


In conducting my research, I will be working back and forth between (a) my theory of the moral responsibilities of politicians which I infer from a role-based moral theory in conjunction with theories of the value of liberal democracy in Part I (b) background evidence from social psychology and epistemology on how laypeople may respond to esoteric evidence, expert disagreement and scientific uncertainty which I map in Part II and (c) considered moral judgments about particular cases. I then continuously revise the three levels until I reach a coherent set of ethical principles in Part III.

Back to listing page