Voting in the Medieval Papacy and Religious Orders

Voting in the Medieval Papacy and Religious Orders

By Iain McLean and Haidee Lorrey

Nuffield College Working Papers in Politics (2006)

Abstract: We take institutions seriously as both a rational response to dilemmmas in which agents found themselves and a frame to which later rational agents adapted their behaviour in turn. Medieval corporate bodies knew that they need choice procedures. Although the social choice advances of ancient Greece and Rome were not rediscovered until the high middle ages, the rational design of choice institutions predated their rediscovery and took some new paths. Both Ramon Llull (ca 1232-1316) and Nicolaus of Cusa (aka Cusanus; 1401-64) made contrubtuins which had been believed to be centuries more recent. Llull promotes the method of pairwise comparison, and proposes the Copeland rule to select a winner. Cusanus proposes the Borda rule, which should properly be renamed the Cusanus rule.

Voting might be needed in any institution ruled by more than one person, where decisions could not simply be handed down from above. Medieval theologians no doubt believed that God’s word was handed down from above; but they well knew that they often had to decide among rival human interpretations of it. The Church faced its own decision problem every time a new Pope needed to be elected. Bodies not directly in the hierarchy of the Church had to evolve their own decision procedures. The chief such bodies were commercial and urban corporations; religious orders; and universities.

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