Bioethics Blogs

Since the Brexit vote decided nothing, it is merely interesting

37% of the UK electorate voted to leave the European Community – slightly more than voted to remain. There is evidence that some of them regret their votes. The former editor of the Sun, Kelvin Mackenzie, who voted ‘Leave’, has spoken publicly about his ‘buyer’s remorse’.  Others have indicated that they would not vote ‘leave’ again.

There are calls for a second referendum, generally based on assertions that the ‘Leave’ campaign made misrepresentations (for instance about how money saved by leaving the EU would be spent), or on the contention that an issue as constitutionally tectonic should not be decided on such a slender majority, or the observation that an overwhelming number of young voters (who will be affected by the decision for the longest) voted to remain.

But there is another, broadly epistemological, reason for a second referendum. It reflects the post-referendum remorse of Mackenzie and the other voters disillusioned with the success of ‘their’ side. It is simply that when a decision is made, different, deeper, and better kinds of knowledge and reasoning are engaged than when an argument is simply ventilated. The pro-leavers in the referendum weren’t deciding anything. Most of them, it seems, didn’t think that Leave could win, and saw their votes as protests against – well – something for which the EU was proxy. They weren’t deciding that the UK was better out of Europe. If they had, or thought they had, the power of decision, the vote would have been very different.

The crucial distinction between knowledge and reasoning used in (and acquired in) decision-making, and knowledge/reasoning not so used, is well known to lawyers in common law jurisdictions.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.