Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club Message Board › Voting as a habit - follow-up

Voting as a habit - follow-up

Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 258
I just wanted to follow-up on the discussion raised by about voitng being a habit. Abby asked if it was proven. There is substantial literature about voting being a habit. As I mentioned I don't have the inclination to read this literature myself but at cursory evaluation the evidence seems fairly strong, whether one would consider this proven depends on the level of evidence one would accept for that term.. Just google "voting habit". Interestingly, Rock the Vote strongly emphasizes that voting is a habit. Hope this is helpful if anyone is interested.

Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 125
Gene,

I was wondering about why it might not seem obvious why voting is steeped in moral issues as it seems to me it is.

You mention the empirical point that most people vote from habit. I'm not at all surprised that studies would show that. It seems obvious to me that most of the things people do regularly would be habit-driven.

But the problem is with the moral status of habits, themselves. I think we may have different intuitions about that status. The two classic moral philosophers that had something specific to say about habit were Aristotle and Kant. Famously, in Aristotle habit played a positive role in becoming virtuous. The virtuous person is one who has internalized virtuous behavior so that it almost becomes second nature to them. Aristotle said young people cannot be virtuous though they may well do virtuous acts. This is because they are still in training, still having to struggle against counter impulses, still having to think too hard about what they are doing, and if they succeed at a virtuous act, it is still an isolated act, not yet emerging from a settled virtuous character. The latter takes a long time, even a life time to acquire. But once doing the right thing becomes habit we are in virtue territory. Too much thinking or deliberation at this point is neither necessary nor useful. In fact, it is a sign of incomplete virtue.

By contrast, people with Kantian intuitions take a dimmer view of habit. Kant expressly excludes habit as a proper moral motive (along with impulse, no matter how benevolent). His problem with it was precisely its unthinking character. Because his ethics is so focused on motive or the reasons one might give oneself for why one is doing something, he requires a presence of mind for a true moral act to occur. The motive has to be conscious enough to be tested by his imperatives. There is built into his ethics a demanding moral psychology of self scrutiny. The scrutiny has the end of being able to produce justifications for why one is doing something. It's not that a habitual act is immoral. Its habitual character in itself is amoral, except when the nature of the act has moral consequences, then we shouldn't be operating on automatic pilot. Full attention is demanded. Kant wasn't a consequentialist, of course, but consequences do trigger demanding self-scrutiny which can turn an morally neutral act into one vulnerable to moral judgment. Because of the enormity of political decisions and their consequences (assuming they have any), habitual voting is right off the bat morally suspect. We might escape this conclusion if the individual vote is actually inconsequential, but then if the voter believes it is in fact consequential, one is implicated in culpable self-deception, which is immoral, regardless of consequences in Kant's book.

I think this is what at bottom motivates Brennan's suspicion of voting. The possible coercive consequences of it are not, in themselves, the source of its wrongness so much as a sign that the vote ought to be taken, if it is taken at all, as a morally serious act. And because the act of voting is not typically taken as seriously moral when it should be, it too often goes wrong.

It may be because of the difficulties of doing it right that one is doing a more morally correct thing not to vote.

Because of Kant's focus on the internal state of the moral agent, the vote may very well be inconsequential and the agent know it and still be, obligated to vote carefully, if they believe in the underlying democratic process. In fact, even if they didn't believe in that process, but voted for other reasons (e.g., out of compassion for those who do believe) that they know might be interpreted as belief in that process, they would still be morally obligated to take it seriously. One might be excused for not believing but deception of self or others is not a moral option.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 261
I don't think that there are in general any moral problems with habits. But that isn't the primary question I have. I have to admit that this whole issue really puzzles me. I see voting as a primarily an institutional question, not an individual one. I think that you might agree that the actual discussion during the meetup did not focus on moral issues. Rather most of the discussion was probably related to political science. It's my tendency to take face value explanations as having some initial value. If as you mention, many people don't take voting as a serious moral issue, then the face value explanation is that it is not a serious moral issue, and the strong burden of proof is on those who say otherwise.

There is no doubt that voting as an INSTITUTION is morally serious. We could ask many questions at the insitutional level, such as - should voting be manadatory, and what should the requirements be, if any, for voting? But you have framed the discussion at the individual level. As I mentioned, all the material about the irrelevance of individual votes you posted seems to directly contradict the idea that it could be morally serious. And this is not based upon consequentialism, but just the face value explanations of everyday behavior. For example, global warming may be a very serious issue, but if you forget to recycle one thing, what sort of moral trangression have you committed - and how much would you worry about it?

I'm not sure that people in general, don't vote carefully, it would have to be clearly defined what that means. I do not think that in general, some people vote "better" than others. Certainly some voters are more knowledgeable than others, but our system does not say that voters are to be excluded on the basis of knowledge. Also, you say that voting often goes "wrong". I'm not sure what that means. Democratic majorities may make decisions that turn out, in retrospect, to be poor, but that is true of any decision making by dictators or oligarchies as well. However, as long as the decision does reflect the majority opinion, I'm not why this is a flaw in voting - unless you think democracies regularly make worse decisions than autocracies? I'm not sure if there is empirical evidence that democracies make worse decisions, on average, than autocracies - I'm guessing the opposite might be true, given the material success of most liberal democracies.

As Scott mentioned, looking at voting in an abstract sense doesn't make much sense. If one views voting as part of democratic citizenship, to be explained in that context, the individual issues you mention seem straightforward. If voting at the individual level is simply part of democratic citizenship, then it can evaluated at the level of the institution, not any individual rationality or morality.

So let's say we have someone who will vote. What specifically would you say to him? Would you say that he is irrational, or deceiving himself that he is making a difference? He might very well say - I realize that but so what? It is part of being a citizen. Would you say that he needs to take voting as morally serious? Well, he might say that you just said it is irrational and doesn't make a difference. And what does it mean to take it as morally serious? If I'm already voting, don't I take it seriously? So I'm wondering what you would tell an actual voter, in concrete terms, as to why voting both doesn't make a difference, and is morally serious, and if one wants to vote in a morally serious way, how to do this.

Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 126
Gene writes,
I don't think that there are in general any moral problems with habits. But that isn't the primary question I have. I have to admit that this whole issue really puzzles me. I see voting as a primarily an institutional question, not an individual one. I think that you might agree that the actual discussion during the meetup did not focus on moral issues. Rather most of the discussion was probably related to political science. It's my tendency to take face value explanations as having some initial value. If as you mention, many people don't take voting as a serious moral issue, then the face value explanation is that it is not a serious moral issue, and the strong burden of proof is on those who say otherwise.

There is no doubt that voting as an INSTITUTION is morally serious. We could ask many questions at the institutional level, such as - should voting be mandatory, and what should the requirements be, if any, for voting? But you have framed the discussion at the individual level. As I mentioned, all the material about the irrelevance of individual votes you posted seems to directly contradict the idea that it could be morally serious. And this is not based upon consequentialism, but just the face value explanations of everyday behavior. For example, global warming may be a very serious issue, but if you forget to recycle one thing, what sort of moral transgression have you committed - and how much would you worry about it?


I think we have different intuitions about the relation between morality and political institutions. As you say, you tend to take the latter at their face value as being independent of ethical justification. I don't see political institutions as having any value at all except instrumental. And to avoid those institutions using individuals instrumentally (which goes against various Kantian intuitions I have) the way the institutions function must be filtered through individual moral consciousness. Otherwise, why bother asking for individual votes?

Though I don't take libertarianism as seriously as Brennan, he also says explicitly in his book, which I am reading now, that the value he sees in democracy is how good it is at governance. It doesn't have for him the quasi-sacred quality, making it an end in itself, that it seems to have for some, perhaps most, political philosophers. Therefore if it has value it derives from elsewhere. And I see it as instrumental to essentially moral projects like the well-being and flourishing of people, both collectively and individually, and the former because of the latter.

I think that morality is in the position to judge political and legal institutions, never the reverse. Anything enjoined by the latter is fair game for moral scrutiny. So voting as an institution is being questioned in the same spirit as Socrates questioned the practice of piety in Plato's Euthyphro: Is voting a good thing because citizens vote or do citizens vote because voting is a good thing? If voting's goodness depends on the fact that it is what a good citizen does, that merely invites the question why being a good citizen is a good thing? At the very least it questions what it means to be a good citizen and how essential voting is to this meaning. Might, for example, we, as citizens, do better by not voting and doing something else (or nothing) instead? Might other things in fact be better for promoting whatever the ends of being a citizen are?


I'm not sure that people in general, don't vote carefully, it would have to be clearly defined what that means. I do not think that in general, some people vote "better" than others. Certainly some voters are more knowledgeable than others, but our system does not say that voters are to be excluded on the basis of knowledge. Also, you say that voting often goes "wrong". I'm not sure what that means. Democratic majorities may make decisions that turn out, in retrospect, to be poor, but that is true of any decision making by dictators or oligarchies as well. However, as long as the decision does reflect the majority opinion, I'm not why this is a flaw in voting - unless you think democracies regularly make worse decisions than autocracies? I'm not sure if there is empirical evidence that democracies make worse decisions, on average, than autocracies - I'm guessing the opposite might be true, given the material success of most liberal democracies.

I don't think the material success of democracies says much in their favor---unless that material success results in its moral success. People could, and in fact did say, living in other historical times and places, that whatever governance they had experience with was a material success even when those experiences were autocratic or plutocratic. The evidence can only be historical (retrospectively empirical). We will know whether our system governance is the best we can do by consulting the opinions of generations of historians not yet born.

The one moral thing democracy has going for it, independent of evidence, over other forms is that each morally relevant individual's having some say in his or her governance is the next best thing to having a complete say, to being personally autocratic. Anarchy is really the best form of government---except for its being unworkable, human nature being what it is. Democracy gives people a taste, almost purely symbolic, of this purest form of government. It gives them a little say, or the suggestion of it. Autocracy and plutocracy make no pretense in that direction. In concentrating power (i.e., opportunities for corruption) in one or a few, autocracy and plutocracy do nothing for the morality of autocrats and plutocrats and deprive the others of even the chance to botch things up. This judgment I am making is moral one. It is tied to a normative conception of what is important about human beings and what they should be doing with their limited resources.

At the meetup before last, when Terry, in defending libertarianism, suggested that any system is open to corruption, I hardily agreed. The moral thing to do, human nature being what it is, is not to imagine the elimination of corruption but to spread opportunities for it thin. Only by having those opportunities as widely disseminated as possible is there a chance for "making things better" or "progress." That, in a nutshell, for me, is the value of democracy: the deconcentration of power. Deconcentration of power makes morality conceivable.

(Having said that, I do think there is room for extra-moral value in the world---value that is not beholden to justify itself from an ethical point of view, but it doesn't come from politics. I don't think there is such a thing as political normativity: with raw material power on their side, what would political/legal institutions want with normativity?)
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 127
As Scott mentioned, looking at voting in an abstract sense doesn't make much sense. If one views voting as part of democratic citizenship, to be explained in that context, the individual issues you mention seem straightforward. If voting at the individual level is simply part of democratic citizenship, then it can evaluated at the level of the institution, not any individual rationality or morality.

I agree that voting is part of a larger concept of citizenship in a democracy. It just happens to be one of the more conspicuous parts. But like Socrates' questioning of Euthyphro's behavior in suing his father because it was essentially what one did, the pious thing to do in certain circumstances and was validated by the then powers that be, earthly and otherwise, etc.---in questioning voting some of us, Brennan, Rieber, myself (not each of us for the same exact reasons) are really questioning the larger institution as a whole. We are calling for its reevaluation. The odd cultural practice Euthyphro was engaging in seems too local to be interesting in itself except that his pattern of unthinking behavior is still very recognizable.

Suppose voting were shown conclusively to be irrational (in several senses) and, as practiced, immoral to boot---at the very least because it was a waste of time, and, unlike other practices which do not make any pretense to being so constructive (e.g., watching TV), it made claims to being an important way to fulfill duties to society; and suppose this demonstration were widely acknowledged as correct: might democratic citizenship and democracy itself survive? Can we have democracy without voting?

I think because it is the "tangible" part of democracy that voting is a good place to start to explore deeper, philosophical, questions about forms of government and democracy, specifically.

So let's say we have someone who will vote. What specifically would you say to him? Would you say that he is irrational, or deceiving himself that he is making a difference? He might very well say - I realize that but so what? It is part of being a citizen. Would you say that he needs to take voting as morally serious? Well, he might say that you just said it is irrational and doesn't make a difference. And what does it mean to take it as morally serious? If I'm already voting, don't I take it seriously? So I'm wondering what you would tell an actual voter, in concrete terms, as to why voting both doesn't make a difference, and is morally serious, and if one wants to vote in a morally serious way, how to do this.

If the actual voter was voting for fun, I don't think I would have anything to say.

If the actual voter said voting was justified because it was part of being a citizen, that would invite a question about the value of citizenship. If she said voting is part of good citizenship and valuing citizenship was an inherently good thing, I would ask for an argument.

At some point he or she would probably end up appealing to some kind of moral value (or accuse me of failing to have internalized something self-evident and crucial). I don't think the actual voter could found the practice merely on the fact that it is what people do.

As for how to vote as though you mean it morally, I think the very first thing to do is to begin to ask the questions I am asking.

Advice more specific than that would verge on suggesting to the voter how to vote (in the sense of who as opposed to the manner of) which would indeed be a political, not moral, act. As I conceive it, morality doesn't give straight answers, it attempts to put critical intelligence between an agent and their acts.

Here are ways, among possibly others, in which a voter's behavior might meet my criteria:

A voter may realize the problems with all the typical motives and rationales given for voting and vote anyway as an act charity. This would be a clear-headed participation in an act with no expected personal return, nor expected material return for anyone else for that matter. It would be an open sacrifice of one's considered opinion in the service of the heartfelt feelings of others. The people around you take this "rite" seriously. You vote out of respect for them. (This would be a bit like not spoiling a young child's belief in Santa Claus.)

Another possibility is to write in the candidate or solution (made up, if necessary) one genuinely thinks would be best---as though one's single vote all by itself could bring about the desired outcome. This would make the act more like prayer.

Another possibility is to bring oneself to identify so completely with one or the other political entities posing as options on the ballot and vote accordingly. This would be the ultimate sacrifice of individual critical intelligence as applied to politics. It would be to see oneself as individually insignificant in the realm of politics. One's political meaning would derive solely from this act of identification with a group or cause or the system of which they are a critical part. This might be hard for a few to pull off. For those, the advice Blaise Pascal gave to the insincerity objection to his wager argument for belief in God comes to mind (as paraphrased by William James): Go to church, go through the motions of belief, and, in time, real belief will come to "stupefy your scruples."
Abby
AbbyinSammamish
Sammamish, WA
Post #: 31
At some point he or she would probably end up appealing to some kind of moral value (or accuse me of failing to have internalized something self-evident and crucial).

Well put. Occasionally, I am asked if I intend to vote. Answering in the negative always brings about a change in the questioner’s facial expression to one of dismay, disappointment, or disapproval and a request for an explanation. Such strong reactions—to the matter of one single, insignificant vote—are expressions of moral indignation, I assume.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 266


I agree that voting is part of a larger concept of citizenship in a democracy. It just happens to be one of the more conspicuous parts. But like Socrates' questioning of Euthyphro's behavior in suing his father because it was essentially what one did, the pious thing to do in certain circumstances and was validated by the then powers that be, earthly and otherwise, etc.---in questioning voting some of us, Brennan, Rieber, myself (not each of us for the same exact reasons) are really questioning the larger institution as a whole. We are calling for its reevaluation. The odd cultural practice Euthyphro was engaging in seems too local to be interesting in itself except that his pattern of unthinking behavior is still very recognizable.

Suppose voting were shown conclusively to be irrational (in several senses) and, as practiced, immoral to boot---at the very least because it was a waste of time, and, unlike other practices which do not make any pretense to being so constructive (e.g., watching TV), it made claims to being an important way to fulfill duties to society; and suppose this demonstration were widely acknowledged as correct: might democratic citizenship and democracy itself survive? Can we have democracy without voting?

I think because it is the "tangible" part of democracy that voting is a good place to start to explore deeper, philosophical, questions about forms of government and democracy, specifically.


But why not simply address the issues of democracy and governance directly, which is what many philosophers and political theorists have done?

IMO, looking at voting is not the way to address these isssues. because it relies on making inferences which some people, like myself, and I suspect many philosophers, do not make. Voting can simply be evaluated in - and is dependent upon - the institutional context. It presupposes that you have accepted the instutitional context. Of course, one could question the institutional context, but then that should have been the question, and not voting which is merely derivative. The problem is that the horse and the cart are backwards - any problems you see with voting (which I honestly don't see at all) do not reflect upon the larger insitutiional context. Rather it would be the opposite way around - but since you haven't clarified the larger issues with democracy and governance, voting could not be cast into doubt, and in any case, would be of derivative interest to the larger issues.

As I have mentioned before I don't see why it matters if voting is irrational. Many acts we do throughout the day could be construed as irrational upon close scrutiny, but so what? And I still don't understand what moral elements voting could have, despite the lengthy and eloquent exposition you have given. So I think there is large difference in intution here, which might underlie many philosophical disagreements.

However, I would submit that many if not most political and moral philosophers do not see voting on the individual level as problematic. This of course does not mean it is not, but I pose this to suggest that the intuition I have may be widely shared. If we look at Rebler's paper for example, it has not been cited much (maybe never)l and I haven't seen any commentary on it (contrast Anderson's paper which as 900 + citations). Brenner is one of a handful of philosophers interested in voting - among a large number of philosophers interested in value theory.

As Scott mentioned,one could have democracy without voting - for example drawing lots to elect representatives. This is the Athenian model of democracy.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 267


I don't think the material success of democracies says much in their favor---unless that material success results in its moral success. People could, and in fact did say, living in other historical times and places, that whatever governance they had experience with was a material success even when those experiences were autocratic or plutocratic. The evidence can only be historical (retrospectively empirical). We will know whether our system governance is the best we can do by consulting the opinions of generations of historians not yet born.


But the empirical evidence is quite strong that - at least in presidential elections - the state of the economy is by far the most important factor. In fact, some political scientists believe (and this is controversial) that campaigning doesn't really matter much - the incumbent will win or lose based upon the state of the economy. This suggests that what people actually care about the most is material success.

Also, modern liberal democracies do not, in general, aim for "moral success". This has been the basis of crititique from communitarians like Michael Sandel. Rather, modern liberal democracies are like neutral procedural arbiters, realizing that their citizens may have quite different conceptions of the good.

I would disagree that we can only judge our societies in hindsight. Just the opposite IMO.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 268


I think that morality is in the position to judge political and legal institutions, never the reverse. Anything enjoined by the latter is fair game for moral scrutiny. So voting as an institution is being questioned in the same spirit as Socrates questioned the practice of piety in Plato's Euthyphro: Is voting a good thing because citizens vote or do citizens vote because voting is a good thing? If voting's goodness depends on the fact that it is what a good citizen does, that merely invites the question why being a good citizen is a good thing? At the very least it questions what it means to be a good citizen and how essential voting is to this meaning. Might, for example, we, as citizens, do better by not voting and doing something else (or nothing) instead? Might other things in fact be better for promoting whatever the ends of being a citizen are?


This seems to be a false dictotomy: that there are other things that might be better for promoting the ends of a citizen does not of course, imply anything about voting. That is sort of like saying, you gave some money to charity, but it would be better to spend your life volunteering, so giving money to charity is now cast into question.

Also, I think the horse and the cart are backwards here again. I would clearly accept that one could question the notion of democracy, whether voting is necessary for democracy, and so on. But this has nothing to do with questioning voting on an individual basis because voting already presupposes the framework. It would be like asking, why do you move your knight this way in chess? The answer is because you are playing chess. Now you could ask why you are playing chess in the first place, but that isn't the question you asked.

So perhaps the fundamental difference is that I think the larger questions you seem to be raising should be asked directly, and that looking at voting at the individual level does not, at least to me, raise any philosophical issues because it is simply a derivative part of a specific framework.

For example, note how faux-Socrates below (who isn't acting like Socrates) doesn't talk about voting from an individual perspective. I can't say I agree with faux-Socrates, but he does address the larger issues directly.

http://opinionator.bl...­

Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 269
At some point he or she would probably end up appealing to some kind of moral value (or accuse me of failing to have internalized something self-evident and crucial).

Well put. Occasionally, I am asked if I intend to vote. Answering in the negative always brings about a change in the questioner’s facial expression to one of dismay, disappointment, or disapproval and a request for an explanation. Such strong reactions—to the matter of one single, insignificant vote—are expressions of moral indignation, I assume.

The voting system we have depends upon people voluntarily voting - so in economics terms, it is tragedy of the commons/ free rider situation. Some countries - like Australia - solve this problem by simply requiring everyone to show up at the polls. Most other countries prefer to let people have more freedom in the arena. So by not voting, you would be in economic terms acting as a free rider, similar to showing up at a pot luck and not bringing any food. Now most people would recognize that at best this is only a minor obligation, and certainly many reasons for not voting, such as not preferring any of the choices, would be accepted by most.
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