Elections, Part 6: The Zippy Argument

by SDG

in Government

Continued from Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

UPDATED: Part 6 comments link (page 4) (TypePad, this is getting old)

SDG here (not Jimmy).

In my last couple of installments, I’ve argued for the moral legitimacy of voting for the candidate you regard as the least problematic viable candidate. Given two viable candidates X and Y, to believe that the common good would be better served by a Y administration than an X administration more or less entails hoping that Y wins rather than X, which in turn more or less entails hoping that other voters like oneself who share the preference for Y over X (“Y-friendlies”) actually vote for Y in greater numbers than those on the other side who prefer X vote for X. And what we hope to see others like ourselves do, we ought to do ourselves.

I have also argued that an individual vote for candidate Y can always be seen as contributing something worthwhile, not only if one lives in a toss-up state, but even if one lives in a solidly Y-friendly or even X-friendly state. An election is not entirely a threshold event; the popular vote and the margin of victory does matter insofar as it may contribute to a sense of mandate or realignment around a candidate’s agenda. This is not to deny that there might also be good to be pursued voting for a third-party candidate; my case is that both voting quixotic and voting pragmatic (by, um, different voters of course) may be seen as morally licit ways of attempting to do good.

This point of view has been vigorously resisted by some, including Mark Shea and Zippy Catholic. Mark and Zippy are both — in the sense previously defined — “McCain-friendly,” not meaning that they like McCain at all, but that they prefer him to Obama. Mark has said that he would vote for McCain if he thought there were proportionate reason to do so, and Zippy has said that if one could push a button and make McCain president by fiat, as opposed to casting a negligible vote for him, it would be legitimate to do so.

However, Mark and Zippy argue that the actual negligible impact of any one vote does not constitute a proportionate reason to cast a vote for a candidate who supports direct killing of the innocent, as McCain supports embryonic stem-cell research.

Note, incidentally, that even if McCain were to have a Damascus-road experience on ESCR, Mark and Zippy might still be obliged to oppose him, on the grounds that McCain’s opposition to abortion allows for exceptions for rape and incest, which is still killing the innocent. And even if he changed his mind on that, they might still have to oppose him if he allowed for abortion only to save the life of the mother, but failed to differentiate between direct and indirect abortion, since Catholic moral theology generally considers direct abortion to be killing the innocent.

For those refuse to vote for any candidate who fails to condemn all killing of the innocent, there is no major-party candidate since Roe v. Wade, including Ronald Reagan, they could have supported. I’m not sure they could even vote for Chuck Baldwin (I don’t know whether Baldwin distinguishes direct abortion from indirect).

The issue is further complicated by the fact that Mark and Zippy are not merely voting quixotic, but campaigning quixotic — actively discouraging voters from choosing either major-party ticket, encouraging them to vote quixotic instead. Here their potential contribution to the outcome becomes much harder to calculate. Mark’s blog is widely read; his ideas reach tens of thousands of readers, and ripple out to innumerable others. There is no way to know how many votes next week could be affected by quixotic advocacy from Mark and others like him. In principle, it is not impossible that such advocacy could play a significant role in undercutting support for McCain and clearing the way for an Obama victory.

That said, if Mark and Zippy believe that voting for either of the major-party candidates is morally unjustified by any proportionate reason, it may be reasonable for them to seek to discourage their fellow Catholics from engaging in unjustified behavior, however inconvenient the consequences may be. The fundamental question is: Are their concerns warranted? Is their reasoning sound? Does voting for a candidate who supports any form of killing the innocent involve remote material cooperation in evil in a way or to a degree disproportionate to the good of trying to defeat an even worse candidate?

Lurking behind this question is a principle of moral theology called the law of double effect. Double effect governs the morality of acts that have, or can be reasonably foreseen to have, both good and bad effects or consequences. For example, amputating a cancerous limb leaves the amputee crippled (bad effect), but saves his life (good effect). Less dramatically, taking a job fifty minutes from home may cost you gas money, vehicular wear and tear, and emotional stress (bad effect), but it but allows you to support your household (good effect).

Acts which have mixed effects — which, when you get right down to it, includes pretty much everything we do — are considered morally licit if they meet certain criteria. These criteria can be variously formulated; here is one variation:

  1. The act itself is permissible (at least neutral, or good). Intrinsically evil acts, such as the direct taking of innocent life or adultery, can never be justified.

  2. The acting agent intends or desires the act for the sake of the good effect(s). He may foresee and accept the evil effects, but he does not desire them.

  3. This entails that, for example, if there is a better way to achieve the good effects while minimizing or eliminating the evil effects, the agent must pursue that course rather than the more harmful one.

  4. The evil effect must not be the cause of the good effect. (Thus, for example, you might save some lives at the cost of other lives, but you could not directly kill innocent people in order to pacify a madman and stop him from killing greater numbers of people.)

  5. The evil effects must not outweigh the good effects; the good must be proportionate to the harm done.

An everyday example: You buy a product in a store, or from a store owned by a company, that also sells contraceptives or pornography. In a small way, your purchase contributes to keeping those products on the market from that distributor. This is a form of remote material cooperation in evil, though it is very remote, and the immediate and direct good of having the product that you need outweighs that tiny element of cooperation in evil. (You might have a go at buying from another distributor, but there is virtually no way to entirely avoid all such cooperation. Most products you buy probably advertise in venues owned by companies that support some sort of evil; some tiny part of your purchases will go to those advertising budgets, etc.)

To support, advocate or vote for a candidate whose agenda includes some form of intrinsic evil, including murdering the innocent in any form, is a form of remote material cooperation in evil. With respect to the practical impact of the vote itself on the election, the negligible impact of each individual vote obviously greatly mitigates the voter’s involvement in whatever evil the candidate might do, as well as the voter’s contribution to whatever good the candidate might do. The minimal impact of individual votes tells equally against the good and bad consequences of casting the vote; with respect to the outcome of the election, the evil effects of the individual vote do not seem disproportionate to the good effects, so there seems to be no difficulty here.

However, the consequences Mark and Zippy are concerned about go beyond the actual impact of the vote on the election to the moral and social effects on individuals and groups, not just of voting for, but also of advocating a candidate who supports any form of murdering the innocent. Here is Zippy’s summary of his argument from his blog:

  1. Murdering the innocent is the singular act which is most radically opposed to the common good, so much so that when sanctioned by authority it undercuts the very foundation of legitimate authority (see Evangelium Vitae);

  2. Voting is a civic ritual in which we express our submission to legitimate authority and co-responsibility for the common good (see the Catechism);

  3. Because of the radical opposition between (1) and (2), there is always some harm done to the person and those around him in voting for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent;

  4. This harm far, far outweighs any influence one’s vote has over the outcome in national elections, because in national elections one’s influence is very, very small;

  5. As votes aggregate in influence over the outcome, the outcome-independent harm also aggregates in influence;

  6. Therefore the outcome-independent harm in voting for a national candidate who supports murdering the innocent always far outweighs any concomitant influence over the outcome

Zippy’s argument turns on the crucial third premise: that the “radical opposition” between, on the one hand, the total illegitimacy of laws legitimizing the direct killing of the innocent, and, on the other, the moral nature of voting as an act of submission to legitimate authority and co-responsibility for the common good, is such that “there is always some harm done to the person and those around him in voting for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent.”

As I pointed out earlier, this logic would seem to compel us to conclude that harm is likewise done both to the agent as well as to others in the very different, but still relevant, scenario posed by Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae, of a pro-life official casting a decisive vote for a law that restricts but does not outlaw abortions. (With apologies to those who read it in the previous combox, the next several paragraphs are adapted for the most part verbatim from my combox response.)

Here is the pope’s scenario:

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. … when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

First the dissimilarities: The pope’s scenario involves an elected official (not a voter) whose legislative vote for a particular law would be decisive (not one vote among millions in any given state) for a particular law (not a particular candidate).

Some of these dissimilarities diminish the overall applicability of the underlying principles to our current topic; others increase it. However, in one crucial respect they are the same: Both involve the same sort of “radical opposition” noted in the third point of Zippy’s argument regarding the evil of murdering the innocent and the duty of the individual, whether a private citizen or (much more) a public official, to promote the common good.

Whether the vote is likely to be decisive or not, although quite relevant to the end conclusion, goes to step (4) in Zippy’s argument, and is not relevant at the earlier stage. Following the structure of Zippy’s argument, it seems that the pope’s scenario would be subject to the following analysis:

  1. Murdering the innocent is the singular act which is most radically opposed to the common good, so much so that when sanctioned by authority it undercuts the very foundation of legitimate authority (see Evangelium Vitae);

  2. Public witness to our faith “is especially incumbent upon those who, by virtue of their social or political position, must make decisions regarding fundamental values, such as respect for human life, its defence from conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms … Catholic politicians and legislators, conscious of their grave responsibility before society, must feel particularly bound, on the basis of a properly formed conscience, to introduce and support laws inspired by values grounded in human nature” (see Sacramentum Caritatis)

  3. Because of the radical opposition between (1) and (2), there is always some harm done to the elected offical and those around him in voting for a law that partially legitimizes murdering the innocent.

Indeed, the opposition here is much more radical than in the original case, since (a) the vote is for a specific law on the brink of passage, not one of two candidates with countless positives and negatives to consider, agendas that might never get enacted, etc., and (b) the elected official’s responsibility obliges him much more strictly to “support laws inspired by values grounded in human nature.”

Now, this doesn’t mean that Zippy must conclude that the official’s support of the law is unjustified. Given the decisive influence of the official’s vote, the good to be achieved by this vote could be considered proportionate to the harm suggested by Zippy’s argument. By contrast, the argument would go, the negligible good to be achieved by a vote for McCain (one tiny click on an enormous counter that will barely register in the statewide vote, and even less in the popular vote) is not proportionate to this alleged harm, and thus does not constitute a proportionate reason to incur the harm.

Now, it is admittedly true that the official’s support of the imperfect law could, and almost certainly would, be the occasion of some harm to, say, at least some constituents and others, who would wrongly interpret it as support for, or failure to oppose, abortion itself. That’s why the pope stipulates that the official’s “absolute personal opposition to procured abortion” (and presumably to the legality of the same) be “well known,” to minimize such scandal. However, minimizing is not eliminating; some at least will be scandalized, since the official’s vote is a public act. (You see how complicated moral theology is? Almost everything involves some sort of remote material cooperation in evil.)

Similarly, Zippy’s concerns include the social consequences of pro-life advocacy for McCain, which he contends has the effect of burying the ESCR issue both in our public discourse and in our consciences. Zippy blasts National Right to Life for omitting ESCR on their abortion comparison piece of McCain and Obama (a charge bolstered by Lydia McGrew’s analysis), decries the Catholic media for “paeons [sic] to how pro-life McCain is,” and laments that “Church parking lots are filled with bumper stickers singing the praises of candidates who support murdering the innocent.”

Zippy’s critique of compromise in the pro-life movement does have some validity, and to that extent I am frankly appreciative of his efforts. By itself, though, this goes to particular cases, not to McCain advocacy as such. All candidates are elected by coalitions of coalitions who are often at cross purposes, who may not agree on anything but the preferability of their candidate. Those who support a particular candidate are not ipso facto implicated in the excesses or lapses of other supporters.

Zippy’s argument, however, seems to posit that voting for McCain somehow involves the voter in the kind of social consequences described above. But does it? Here we encounter one of the relevant dissimilarities between the pope’s scenario and our election scenario: For us, voting per se — as distinct from acts of public advocacy — is essentially a private and anonymous act.

Let’s begin with a minimum-impact scenario. Imagine a pro-life Catholic citizen whose absolute personal opposition to legalized abortion, ESCR and all the rest is well known to his friends and acquaintances. He never discusses the particulars of the election with anyone and never expresses a word of public support for or opposition to any candidate, but insists that opposition to the legalized direct killing of innocent human life must be the primary consideration. His pro-McCain friends have no reason to think that he isn’t voting for McCain, and his quixotic friends have no reason to think that he isn’t voting quixotic. On election day, he goes into the voting booth, pulls the lever for McCain, walks out, and never breathes a word to anyone.

Is anyone else harmed by this Catholic’s vote? Perhaps one might argue that some weaker brethren might be scandalized by his failure to vocally denounce (or advocate) voting for McCain (or voting quixotic). However, that would be a consequence, not of his vote, but of his silence; it would be the same no matter who he voted for.

I don’t think we can infer from the possibility of such “harm” a positive duty to engage in vocal public advocacy for the actual way you will vote in order to avoid giving scandal. Among other things, the potential harm occasioned by silence could be pitted against the potential harm occasioned by speech; there is no course of action that someone will not stumble at. To stick to principles and remain silent about your actual vote is at least a licit course of action. Therefore, our silent voter’s vote for McCain has not harmed anyone else.

But has it harmed the voter himself, as Zippy’s argument seems to suggest? If we say that it has, it would seem that we must likewise conclude that the official in the pope’s scenario, who rightly casts a decisive vote for legislation restricting but not ending abortion, also harms himself as well as others, even if there is a proportionate reason for the official to harm himself in this way (because his vote is decisive) whereas (Zippy argues) there is not in our case.

I submit, however, that neither moral theology, nor common sense, nor anything in Evangelium Vitae itself supports the notion that the official does himself justifiable harm by casting this vote, that this particular species of morally good act comes at a morally self-mutilating trade-off (on this more below). On the contrary, the official’s act is salutary and beneficial to his character. He knows perfectly well where he stands on abortion. He has no illusions about the acceptability of the present law or the terrible evil it still permits. He accepts this consequence without willing it, because he can’t prevent it and the good is worth doing.

In the same way, our silent voter knows very well what he is doing and why. He adamantly opposes ESCR, but he makes the practical prudential judgment that the best contribution that he and others like him can make to saving innocent lives in this election is by voting for the best chance at derailing Obama. No moral harm comes to him, or anyone else, as a result of his vote. There is thus no basis for arguing that there is no proportionate reason for his vote.

Now a modified scenario: Our silent voter is out to dinner with some pro-life friends who vocally support McCain, not in the qualified way that he does, but in a whole-hearted “He’s the pro-life guy” sort of way. When the subject of McCain’s pro-life credentials comes up, our voter objects to his friends’ unqualified McCain enthusiasm and reminds them of the evil of ESCR. He makes his case so effectively that some present, chastened, begin to wonder aloud whether they should actually be advocating McCain at all, and ask our voter whether he plans to vote at all, or to vote third party.

At this point, gratified by their change of heart, but not wanting to harm turnout for McCain, our voter breaks his silence and carefully explains why he is, in fact, voting for McCain based on the principle of double effect, remote cooperation in evil, the example of the pope’s scenario in Evangelium Vitae, and so forth.

Humbled and edified, the others begin anew their McCain advocacy in a different spirit, with a sharp awareness of McCain’s evil stance on ESCR but persuaded that votes for McCain are still votes to save babies. This leads to other conversations in which these friends confront other McCain advocates on the ESCR issue; and, when they debate Obama supporters or third-party supporters they do so in a fully pro-life spirit, without in any way minimizing the evil of ESCR.

Has our silent voter’s McCain advocacy done any harm in this scenario? On the contrary, it has done good. I can understand Zippy Catholic’s concerns about the burying of ESCR as an issue, but Catholic McCain advocacy need not be this or have this effect on individual pro-life souls. Neither individual voters nor those around them need be harmed by votes or advocacy for McCain.

This is not a hypothetical example. Zippy has decried the Catholic media and blogosphere. I don’t know what Catholic media he consumes, but my newspaper, the National Catholic Register, which is certainly “McCain-friendly” in the sense I have established, has repeatedly emphasized McCain’s pro-life problems, particularly on ESCR. For example, this election article mentions McCain’s ESCR support in the first sentence, as I did on this blog (other examples aren’t hard to find). Numerous comboxers here at JA.o have done the same.

What about NRLC? My brief today doesn’t entail carrying water for NRLC, but FWIW they haven’t entirely ignored McCain on ESCR. What about the comparison sheet Zippy mentions? It focuses on abortion, not all pro-life issues. Zippy protests that ESCR is merely a species of abortion. There are various possible responses to this, but for the sake of simplicity I’ll merely note that abortion is merely a species of murder, so shouldn’t the fact sheet deal with end-of-life issues too?

What about McCain bumper stickers in Church parking lots? Clearly Zippy, at least, is scandalized (in the colloquial sense, not the technical moral sense). But that’s because he chooses to interpret a campaign bumper sticker as “singing the praises” of the candidate named. They are not. As such, they are simply a form of propaganda encouraging others to vote for the candidate named. Unless Zippy has seen bumper stickers that say “McCain: 100% Pro-Life!”, I submit he has no call to see disproportionate cooperation in evil in McCain bumper stickers.

Unfortunately, it seems that Zippy’s conviction that McCain advocacy causes moral self-harm may dispose him to diagnose moral harm in others on inadequate grounds. In an earlier combox, Zippy accused me of “callousness with respect to McCain’s brand of murdering the innocent.” While generously stating his belief that I am a good man (a vote of confidence I’m happy to return), Zippy goes so far as to say that my writing is “a poster child” for this kind of damage.

When I protested that Zippy had “no call to be making such moral judgments against me,” he countered, “To the contrary, I am required to remonstrate moral error of such gravity – in your writing, which, not your person, is the object of my judgment – when I see it.”

At that point, I can only leave it to others to conclude for themselves what our respective writing may, or may not, be a poster child for, and how our respective views may be occasions of moral harm. (Note: Whatever conclusions you may reach in this connection, regarding either Zippy or me, PLEASE DO NOT share them in the combox. Thank you.)

In the end, Zippy’s argument goes wrong, apparently, because he posits a disproportionately “evil effect” in the moral self-harm caused by voting for a pro-ESCR candidate. From a moral theology perspective, this is backwards reasoning. Acts are not morally wrong because they cause moral self-harm; acts cause moral self-harm because they are morally wrong, either intrinsically or in view of disproportionately evil consequences. The disproportionately evil consequences that make the act evil have to be something other than the moral self-harm that will result if there are disproportionately evil consequences to be found. Zippy’s argument is an empty hall of mirrors; it is all cart, no horse.

Nor will pointing to accidental or unnecessary consequences, like NRLC’s comparative ESCR silence or other cases of insufficiently qualified McCain support, establish the wrongness of McCain voting or advocacy per se. In every war, including wars that meet the criteria for a just war, there are always unjust acts and campaigns. The Allied bombing of civilian targets in Germany was unjust and wrong. This does not mean that the Allies should not have been at war with the Axis, or that individual soldiers should have become conscientious objectors.

To whatever extent that pro-lifers engage, jointly or severally, in unqualified McCain advocacy, other pro-lifers ought to resist and oppose this, as I and many other pro-life voters have done. I see no grounds for concluding that this entails, or can only be legitimately pursued by or in connection with, voting third party. (Whether voting third party is the best way to pursue this I leave open as a judgment call to the individual voter.)

In sum, I don’t see that anything Zippy — or Mark — has said refutes the argument I have made in the last two posts for voting for the candidate you see as the least problematic viable candidate. Anyone who feels that the public good would be better served by voting third party is welcome to do so, but the claim that the public good is not served by McCain advocacy has not been substantiated.

Finally, one last point. At least one reader has commented that he would feel better about McCain advocacy if it were clear that more McCain advocates had thought through the issues and were aware of the problematic implications of voting for McCain. Again, that goes to individual cases, not to advocacy as such, but there is a further point to be made.

Some polemics on the quixotic side seem to be operating on an unstated assumption that, whereas McCain advocacy comes with various moral dangers and pitfalls, third-party advocacy is somehow the morally “safe” choice. As long as you choose a completely pro-life third-party candidate, one who does not advocate killing the innocent in any form, you don’t have to worry about cooperation with evil.

This is nonsense. All moral choices come with moral dangers and pitfalls, and cooperation with evil is always in the cards in nearly everything we do. In this election there are no moral choices that do not involve some form of remote material cooperation with the culture of death, with killing the innocent.

Those who advocate quixotic voting may do so partly to avoid complicity in the burying of ESCR as an issue and partly as an act of hope for change in future elections. However, such advocacy comes at the potential cost of contributing to erosion of McCain support, thereby contributing to the likelihood of an Obama victory — or an Obama realignment.

In addition, by attacking McCain advocacy as a valid pro-life option, the quixotic critics may actually help move others who might have supported McCain, but are not willing to go third party, to conclude that, since pro-life isn’t a reason to vote for McCain anyway, they might as well vote for Obama. By the same token, repudiating McCain advocacy as a valid pro-life option salves the consciences of those who were leaning toward voting for Obama anyway but were bothered by pro-life related concerns. 

I’m not saying that quixotic advocacy has the moral character of voting for Obama. Of course it doesn’t. However, it does have the effect of making an Obama win (or realignment) more likely than if, say, the quixotic advocates were simply silent about their views.

That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t advocate quixotic. It does mean that they should be aware of the potential consequences, and regard the good to be achieved as proportionate to the potential for harm. The potential for harm is substantial. So we could equally say that we could feel better about both McCain advocacy and quixotic advocacy if it were clear that more advocates on both sides had thought through the issues and were aware of the problematic implications of their chosen course of action.

In closing, I hope to post at least once more before the election, addressing various possible objections to the arguments I have proposed throughout this series.

Continued from Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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{ 181 comments }

DBP October 29, 2008 at 9:32 am

I think whether the object of the act is evil and whether the act as a whole with its intention and circumstance, is evil can be answered by simply asking:

Would it be good that I endorse this candidate?

If I had the stature of someone like Colin Powell or James Dobson would it be good for me to endorse this candidate? If one cannot answer with a resounding yes to that question, then the act, whether in object, intention, or circumstance, is morally dubious. If it would be right to endorse him, it would be right to vote for him and vice versa. Voting for someone involves not just pulling a switch for a cog in a machine; it is a statement, a social expression that says:

I stand behind this man. I may not agree with him on everything but I wholeheartedly place my support behind him.

If you can’t wholeheartedly vote for McCain, that probably means your conscience is bothering you. Voting and telling your friends how you will vote is just an endorsement on a smaller scale.
There is an inconsistency here. I understand the position to be:

It is imprudent to vote third party. It is not sinful to vote third party.

But, imprudence is always objectively a sin and like any other objective sin can be formally a sin too.
There also appears a lacuna:

It is not imprudent or sinful to campaign for McCain, but there is no word on if it is imprudent or sinful to campaign for a third party ticket.

The strong implication is that it is imprudent. If so, then as above, it would be, objectively, a sin. Being within the range of permissible Catholic thought and action as an academic matter in not contradicting dogma is distinct from whether as a matter of fact that thought and action is objectively imprudent or sinful. For instance, it is within the range of permissible Catholic thought and action to adopt frozen embryos. However, if it turns out that as a matter of fact adopting frozen embryos is intrinsically evil and the CDF rules to that effect, the adoption of frozen embryos would have been objectively intrinsically evil all along. I think this is where the inconsistency above is creeping in.

Mike Koenecke October 29, 2008 at 9:47 am

A whole lot of this could be condensed to “Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” There are quite a number of Catholic commentators who do this routinely.

SDG October 29, 2008 at 9:51 am

There is an inconsistency here. I understand the position to be: “It is imprudent to vote third party. It is not sinful to vote third party.” But, imprudence is always objectively a sin and like any other objective sin can be formally a sin too.

Thank you for giving me another chance to rebut this (I meant to the last time you brought this up, but I was too busy).
Whether an act can be judged to be contrary to prudence depends in part on on knowledge of, or judgment concerning, the attendant circumstances and likely consequences. These are often, to varying degress, subject to legitimate differences of opinion, even legitimate differences of opinion about the extent to which they can be known or judged.
Therefore, whether an act is contrary to prudence is often a subject to legitimate differences of opinion. So I should have said something more like this:
Based on the circumstances and likely consequences to the extent that they are known to me or, to the best of my ability, predicted by me, it is imprudent to vote third-party. However, I willingly acknowledge more than enough lack of certitude regarding the circumstances and consequences that I do not regard voting third-party as sufficiently problematic (all courses of action in this connection are at least somewhat problematic) to oppose it in principle, or to consider quixotic advocacy to be scandalous, in the way that I do consider Obama advocacy to be.
Hope that helps.

Brian Day October 29, 2008 at 10:35 am

DBP wrote in part:
But, imprudence is always objectively a sin and like any other objective sin can be formally a sin too.
Can someone explain that? The use of “always” is tripping me up. It may imprudent to tell my wife that a certain dress makes her look fat, but I don’t see how that would be a sin using the “always” criteria.

DBP October 29, 2008 at 10:42 am

I think we all know that realistically, Obama will win. The only question remaining, then, is:

Would voting for McCain-Palin or a third party ticket be a better witness for my values, including my pro-life values?

Voting for a pro-life third party ticket would be a better witness. Palin is happy to mention at every speech her advocacy for special needs children, but has moved away from her prior pro-life positions. I don’t share in all the criticims made there.

SDG October 29, 2008 at 10:55 am

I think we all know that realistically, Obama will win.

No, we don’t know that. There is room for legitimate doubt. We don’t know what the impact on Tuesday will be from the news of this week and from what may happen over the weekend. As much as the media wants to portray it as all over, we don’t know for sure how voters in battleground states will actually come down on Tuesday.

Would voting for McCain-Palin or a third party ticket be a better witness for my values, including my pro-life values?

That is one possible question with which to approach voting. I think a better question is: How do I hope that voters like me, who share my basic values and in particular my assessment of the two viable candidates, predominantly vote?

bill912 October 29, 2008 at 11:02 am

“I think we all know that realistically, Obama will win.”
No. Some of us don’t know the future. Some of us who look at the latest tracking poles, most of which show McCain 2-3% behind, and think that this election might actually be a horse race.

bill912 October 29, 2008 at 11:05 am

I forgot to check with the latest pronouncement from the Obama camp. Is it racist to use the word “horse” in the same sentence as “Obama”?

Tim J. October 29, 2008 at 11:16 am

“I think we all know that realistically, Obama will win.”
I would most definitely not bet the farm on that.
As Mark Shea has noted, “The Naked Agitprop Mode of the MSM may actually be a sign of fear, not triumph.”.
I still say it will come down to a very close race.

SDG October 29, 2008 at 11:21 am

I think we all know that realistically, Obama will win.

In addition to the above responses, let me also add: Talking and acting as if this were true certainly inclines in that direction. This is exactly how Obama’s team and the MSM are hoping that we are talking and thinking. They are toasting those of us consider the fight over, just as they toast the quixotic voters, and above all quixotic voters who argue that pro-lifers can’t support McCain.
Is this really what we want to be doing? Is this the best way to serve the cause of life now?

Sleeping Beastly October 29, 2008 at 11:23 am

SDG,
I noticed one glaring omission in your critique of Zippy’s argument. You write:
Zippy’s argument, however, seems to posit that voting for McCain somehow involves the voter in the kind of social consequences described above. [A general erosion of pro-life principles even among anti-abortion activists] But does it? … For us, voting per se — as distinct from acts of public advocacy — is essentially a private and anonymous act.
Giving scandal isn’t just a matter of not setting a bad example as a Catholic. Our votes are counted and publicized, and you don’t have to know exactly who voted for whom to be scandalized by the results; knowing that Americans voted this way is good enough.
I think that one of the dangers of democracy is that people often begin to feel that morality hinges on consensus. The more people get the impression that a certain way of thinking or behaving is mainstream, the more they accept it personally. We’ve seen this happen in the past century with issues like divorce, homosexuality, contraception, and abortion.
This is one of the reasons I don’t especially want my kids to watch TV or go to public school. I don’t want them to get the impression that it is normal to be promiscuous or use drugs, because that impression of normalcy will make them more likely to engage in those behaviors. To the extent that McCain and Obama (both pro-abortion to varying degrees) are seen as acceptable to mainstream America, I think they (and their positions on all the issues) will become more acceptable to a wider range of people. To the extent that we Americans appear to tolerate and approve of pro-abortion candidates, we are contributing to the scandal given to our society as a whole, particularly the younger members of our society.

AnonymousRUs October 29, 2008 at 11:33 am

The “if no one sees my scandalous activity, it’s not a scandal” doesn’t strike me as a particularly convincing argument. Is it a sign of Christian activity in the way we hide it from the world? Or is it a light that we expose for all to see?

SDG October 29, 2008 at 11:36 am

Giving scandal isn’t just a matter of not setting a bad example as a Catholic. Our votes are counted and publicized, and you don’t have to know exactly who voted for whom to be scandalized by the results; knowing that Americans voted this way is good enough.

Thanks, Beastly.
The answer to this should be clear from the fact that both Zippy and Mark have acknowledged that putting McCain rather than Obama in office by a decisive act would be proportionate to any harm done by this act: Mutatis_mutandis, the miniscule contribution of my vote to the effort to get McCain elected is proportionate to the miniscule contribution of my vote to any scandal this may occasion.
This is as true if McCain fails to get elected (in which case the scandal will be less, since it will involve fewer votes) as if he succeeds.
To me, the far greater scandal of an Obama presidency is worth throwing every possible vote in the direction most likely to avoid it.

SDG October 29, 2008 at 11:38 am

“if no one sees my scandalous activity, it’s not a scandal”

“Scandal” is often in the eye of the beholder, in this case the weaker brother. Cf. St. Paul on eating meat, etc.

Zaccheus Treed October 29, 2008 at 11:38 am

All moral choices come with moral dangers and pitfalls, and cooperation with evil is always in the cards in nearly everything we do. In this election there are no moral choices that do not involve some form of remote material cooperation with the culture of death, with killing the innocent.
SDG, no one I’ve seen has fleshed out the ramifications of this unavoidable and immutable fact better than you have in this series of blog posts. Thank you for taking the time to think through the various sides of the “quixotic vote” debate so thoroughly, so carefully and with such unwavering grounding in Catholic social teaching. You know your stuff, you’ve done your homework — and you’ve persuaded at least one fellow citizen who was starting to see things Mark Shea’s way to get in there and pull the lever for McCain-Palin. That’d be me. Merci.

The Masked Chicken October 29, 2008 at 11:40 am

St. John Chrysostom wrote a very famous essay entitled: A Treatise to Prove That No One can Harm the Man Who Does Not Harm Himself.
It is well worth reading. Indeed, the second paragraph sounds as if it could have been ripped out of today’s newspaper:
Now in the place of an orator we have the common assumption of mankind which in the course of ages has taken deep root in the minds of the multitude, and declaims to the following effect throughout the world. All things it says have been turned upside down, the human race is full of much confusion and many are they who every day are being wronged, insulted, subjected to violence and injury, the weak by the strong, the poor by the rich: and as it is impossible to number the waves of the sea, so is it impossible to reckon the multitude of those who are the victims ofintrigue, insult, and suffering; and neither the correction of law, nor the fear of being brought to trial, nor anything else can arrest this pestilence and disorder, but the evil is increasing every day, and the groans, and lamentations, and weeping of the sufferers are universal; and the judges who are appointed to reform such evils, themselves intensify the tempest, and inflame the disorder, and hence many of the more senseless and despicable kind, seized with a new kind of frenzy, accuse the providence of God, when they see the forbearing man often violently seized, racked, and oppressed, and the audacious, impetuous, low and low-born man waxing rich, and invested with authority, and becoming formidable to many, and inflicting countless troubles upon the more moderate, and this perpetrated both in town and country, and desert, on sea and land. This discourse of ours of necessity comes in by way of direct opposition to what has been alleged, maintaining a contention which is new, as I said at the beginning, and contrary to opinion, yet useful and true, and profitable to those who will give heed to it and be persuaded by it; for what I undertake is to prove (only make no commotion) that no one of those who are wronged is wronged by another, but experiences this injury at his own hands.
Zippy believes that the harm one does to oneself by pulling a lever is much greater than that of the effect of the vote. As SDG has pointed out, people do not go into a voting booth and go, “enney, meeny, minney, mo,” before they pull the lever. Part of responsible voting means to be informed. One true hurt to a man in the voting process comes when he is not diligent in understanding the issues. This harm occurs before he votes and would be the true, real, harm that could be incurred in the voting process in the first instance.
I am convinced that very few of the people voting on Tuesday have exercised due diligence before they vote because most of them would have to then vote for the Catholic position, whatever that is, because the Catholic position, if properly defined, is the most moral. If people voted in this way, then Obama would not have a chance.
The problem is that most people either do not exercise due diligence or they refuse to accept the Catholic position (most of the country is not Catholic). They are actively trying to morally harm the country, although most of them in ignorance and one of the primary responsibilities of a vote is an expression of the results of one’s due diligence. A vote for McCain is not necessarily a vote for an evil, per se, but rather an attempt to pull the country back to due diligence, little by little, since most are not able to accept a change in one instance. As such, this certainly meets the criteria for double effect.
If one could foresee that trying to leash or muzzle a dog might cause him to either run away or go into a frenzy (which might happen with voters if a 100% pro-life president were elected in this country at this point), it is a sufficient good to try to corral the dog until the leash can be applied. Yes, he can still snarl and he can still bite if one comes too close to the pen, but the dog is kept in check until better remedies can be applied. Does one try to do open heart surgery in the middle of a battlefield? While that might be the best good, one must first get the person to comparative safety rather than try an operation that is doomed to failure in those circumstances.
If we could anesthetize all of the pro-choice voters (and pretend that weren’t illegal) until after the election and elect a 100% pro-life candidate third party candidate, the result would be mob chaos. People need to be educated, as SDG points out. That is only going to happen by one great example or examples applied, little by little. If people cannot understand the ONE GREAT EXAMPLE of perfect innocent suffering on the Cross to be an indictment of abortion in any form, then they will not understand this even if the aborted babies come back to life. Jesus, as much told us this.
They have the law and the prophets, let them read them, but as St. Phillip was informed by the Ethiopian Eunuch, how can one understand the law and the prophets unless it is explained to him? In this day of elitism, too many people will not humble themselves to listen to the truth. They think they are perfectly capable of finding it all by themselves. That so many people have failed in the pro-life arena puts the lie to this notion.
If people can be brought to understand that the dog must be leashed (as SDG points out), then they can at least form a hedge to keep him in until he can be tranquilized and leashed or muzzled. Do they harm themselves by trying to merely corral the dog instead of catch it? Is voting for an imperfect man the same as voting to create an imperfection in oneself? Not always. If one deliberately tried to vote for McCain because of his incorrect viewpoint on abortion and you knew they were incorrect before you voted, but didn’t care, then you would be harming yourself because you have not conformed your mind according to Catholic principles.
The best Catholic principle is to do no direct or deliberate harm with respect to babies in the womb. Where Zippy goes wrong, I think is that he mis-identifies the target of the vote. If the vote were a plebiscite on abortion and you voted for McCain’s position, you WOULD be liable to harm due to the sin of directly supporting abortion, but the election is not a choice of about abortion, per se, but about the effects of two possible evil outcomes, one of which must occur.
One does not harm oneself by voting for the lesser of two evils if the evil must occur anyway (and it must at this time), since one is conforming oneself to a Catholic position allowable, at the least, under probabilism, since many Catholic theologians support SDG’s interpretation of double effect to be concerned with limiting an evil which must occur in this situation.
According to St. John Chrysostom:
What then is the virtue of man? not riches that you should fear poverty: nor health of body that you should dread sickness, nor the opinion of the public, that you should view an evil reputation with alarm, nor life simply for its own sake, that death should be terrible to you: nor liberty that you should avoid servitude: but carefulness in holding true doctrine, and rectitude in life. Of these things not even the devil himself will be able to rob a man, if he who possesses them guards them with the needful carefulness: and that most malicious and ferocious demon is aware of this. you would not be harming yourself in taking a probably position that voting for McCain, while not the best action, is a permissible course of action.
As best I understand him, St. John Chrysostom is saying that if one holds to Catholic (true) doctrine, then one cannot harm oneself. Voting for McCain is permitted under the doctrine of probabilism and double effect. Talking to others about why one has voted for him, despite his problems, is an act of charity to one’s neighbor as a form of instructing the ignorant. Either way, I do not see that harm is done to the individual, unless he deliberately sides with McCain’s positions, instead of seeking the greatest obtainable good.
The Chicken

Tom October 29, 2008 at 11:41 am

I think this excellent critique of the Zippy Argument could be strengthened by leaving out the extraordinarily implausible paragraph on how the argument might encourage people to vote for Obama.

Anonymous October 29, 2008 at 11:43 am

Even if Obama loses all the toss up states, he still wins comfortably. Regardless, one can apply the principle, at minimum, to just the states sure to tip to Obama. I can understand a campaign to discourage third party votes in toss up states or leaning states and even make my brain to gymnastics in understanding the sanity of discouraging third party votes in solidly McCain states. But, discouraging third party votes in states solidly in the Obama camp I can’t see any reason for.
Karl Rove’s electoral map in gif
trend line in gif
Karl Rove:

National polls have started to show the presidential race tightening, but 66 state polls released so far this week haven’t captured any significant movement toward John McCain. In fact, since Sunday, Nevada (5 EV) has flipped from toss-up to Obama, giving him 311 electoral votes to McCain’s 157, with 70 as a toss-up. McCain still needs to pick up all of the current toss-up states—which all went for Bush in both 2000 and 2004—and peel off several large states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia from Obama.

more
Even if you are a rough and tumble Republican, the strategic choice is to cut your losses, save money, and focus on salvaging anything in Congress. Sometimes an alcoholic needs to hit rock bottom before recovering. The same may be true of our country. An Obama win, a Democratic sweep, and socialism in America may just awaken us in 2010 or 2012. A pivot. Whoever wins, we should not just communally but in our personal prayer, pray for him and all our leaders. God rewards a nation whose heart is in the right place, not voters whose strategy is nicely weaved and optimal.

SDG October 29, 2008 at 11:58 am

Anonymous, please use a handle. Thank you.
Tom:

I think this excellent critique of the Zippy Argument could be strengthened by leaving out the extraordinarily implausible paragraph on how the argument might encourage people to vote for Obama.

I completely understand this response, but I threw that in because I actually know pro-Obama Christians who really defend their actions in exactly the way I describe. Alas, I am not just making this stuff up.
Chicken: Thanks for your comments. One caveat:

I am convinced that very few of the people voting on Tuesday have exercised due diligence before they vote because most of them would have to then vote for the Catholic position, whatever that is, because the Catholic position, if properly defined, is the most moral. If people voted in this way, then Obama would not have a chance.

The problem with this is that “the Catholic position” entails the use of prudential judgment, which varies according to circumstance — and the circumstances we are in already establish that most people will not be voting the way we would ideally all want to vote, because if most people were like that we wouldn’t have these two blankety-blanks as the major-party candidates.
I would love to live in a society where most people accepted true morality and exercised due diligence and proper prudential judgment. If I did, prudential judgment would incline me to vote one way. Since I don’t, I have to make prudential judgments based on my actual circumstances, not the circumstances I wish I were living in.
In any case, however, I submit that my fundamental voting principle always applies: It is always licit to vote for the candidate you regard as the least problematic viable candidate. That principle would work just as well in a much better society as it does in our actual society. The only difference is that we would have much better viable candidates to choose from.

SDG October 29, 2008 at 11:59 am

Oh, and Zaccheus Treed: Thank you so much.

DBP October 29, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Tipping a presidential election is an either or event. It involves a miniscule chance of one vote or those votes over whom you have influence tipping the scales. It is a “miniscule chance.” Giving scandal to a small number of people presupposes that scandal is given or likely, so there is a certainty or probability there. It is not a “miniscule chance” but a “miniscule scale.” But harming just one neighbor contravenes Jesus’ commandment. No mutatis mutandis mumbo jumbo is possible here.
Not all, but certainly many choices involve a possibility of moral harm to one’s self or others. That fact does not give one carte blanche to ignore the particulars of a particular act. It gives one reason to be all the more sensitive to the moral consequences of our actions. Watching a PG-13 rated movie may have a chance of causing moral harm to one’s self. Watching an R rated movie may have a greater chance of causing moral harm to one’s self. The risk of moral harm is not equal.
There seems to be a pattern of:
Someone: This has a feature that is objectionable in this way to this degree.
Opponent: But lots of things have features that are objectionable in this way to some degree.
How does that address the person’s argument? It doesn’t. Building a pro-life victory in our nation by voting for morally reprehensible candidates is like building a house on sand, made of straw. It won’t last and the foremost question should be would it be pleasing to God.

AnonymousRUs October 29, 2008 at 12:02 pm

“Scandal” is often in the eye of the beholder,…
That’s seems to merely be the reaffirmation of the unconvincing argument with a little dose of relativism sprinkled on top.

Rotten Orange October 29, 2008 at 12:20 pm

[e-detritus deleted]
Sorry to bother, but is that supposed to mean anything?

SDG October 29, 2008 at 12:29 pm

Aside to Orange: Um, no, that was a document management error — thx.
DBP:

Tipping a presidential election is an either or event. It involves a miniscule chance of one vote or those votes over whom you have influence tipping the scales. It is a “miniscule chance.” Giving scandal to a small number of people presupposes that scandal is given or likely, so there is a certainty or probability there. It is not a “miniscule chance” but a “miniscule scale.” But harming just one neighbor contravenes Jesus’ commandment. No mutatis mutandis mumbo jumbo is possible here.

Perhaps it will help to look at it this way: If only 10 percent of the electorate were to vote for McCain, few people would find that very scandalous; if 90 percent of the electorate were to vote for McCain, a lot more people will be a lot more scandalized (though, again, whether they ought to be scandalized is another question).
Again, my miniscule contribution to the only viable defeat-Obama (or defeat/limit Obama mandate/realignment) machine out there is proportionate to my miniscule contribution to whatever scandal may be occasioned by the sum total of all our votes.
And, again, this follows logically from Zippy’s and Mark’s view that putting McCain in office by fiat would be justified and proportional to the harm caused, including the scandal occasioned.
Oh, and, again, elections are not just a threshold event. Every vote (that is counted) counts, whatever the outcome.
AnonymousRUs:

That’s seems to merely be the reaffirmation of the unconvincing argument with a little dose of relativism sprinkled on top.

That seems like a jaundiced reading!
It is simply a fact that virtually any course of action you take is bound to give “scandal” to somebody.
When I became Catholic, people were scandalized. Every time I write a movie review — or, by the logic at work here, every time I buy a movie ticket and contribute to a movie’s total box office — some people may be scandalized by it.
Again, look at St. Paul and eating meat. Please clarify how your view relates to St. Paul’s teaching on that subject. Thank you.

The Masked Chicken October 29, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Dear SDG,
Keep writing. Your writer’s cramp will be over on Wednesday (at least regarding elections).
You wrote:
The problem with this is that “the Catholic position” entails the use of prudential judgment, which varies according to circumstance
True, enough, but the Catholic position regarding abortion (one of the contentious issues and the issue to which the others are, properly speaking slaved to) is not. I wasn’t speaking about all of the issues in the election, many of which have to be decided using prudential judgment. If the conscience is properly formed regarding abortion, then one is going to win a good, in any case. Since most people’s consciences are not well-formed, even the good they win will be lost, in a sense.
The chicken

SDG October 29, 2008 at 12:53 pm

Thanks, Chicken.

SDG: The problem with this is that “the Catholic position” entails the use of prudential judgment, which varies according to circumstance

Chicken: True, enough, but the Catholic position regarding abortion (one of the contentious issues and the issue to which the others are, properly speaking slaved to) [does] not.

True. But what approach to voting and advocacy best serves the pro-life cause does.

JACK October 29, 2008 at 1:06 pm

“Finally, one last point. At least one reader has commented that he would feel better about McCain advocacy if it were clear that more McCain advocates had thought through the issues and were aware of the problematic implications of voting for McCain. Again, that goes to individual cases, not to advocacy as such, but there is a further point to be made.
Lurking behind such reservations may be a quite unwarranted assumption that, whereas McCain advocacy comes with various moral dangers and pitfalls, third-party advocacy is somehow the morally “safe” choice. As long as you choose a completely pro-life third-party candidate, one who does not advocate killing the innocent in any form, you don’t have to worry about cooperation with evil.
This is nonsense. All moral choices come with moral dangers and pitfalls, and cooperation with evil is always in the cards in nearly everything we do. In this election there are no moral choices that do not involve some form of remote material cooperation with the culture of death, with killing the innocent.”
SDG, seeing as this is a response to a comment I made, I’d have appreciated you didn’t engage in psycho-babble straw-man analysis of what might have been “lurking” behind such comments. While I don’t disagree with your comment that “this is nonsense”, I think it is only fair to point out the only one who said such nonsense is you.

SDG October 29, 2008 at 1:21 pm

I’d have appreciated you didn’t engage in psycho-babble straw-man analysis of what might have been “lurking” behind such comments. While I don’t disagree with your comment that “this is nonsense”, I think it is only fair to point out the only one who said such nonsense is you.

JACK, I apologize for the inadvertent slight and will revise the line in question.
FWIW, the original version of the introductory line read “A number of readers…” rather than “At least one reader,” and I was thinking of others besides you when I wrote it. On some revisionary pass I must have thought I wasn’t sure there had been more than one and revised it to the more conservative phrase.
I didn’t mean the line as psychoanalysis, let alone “psycho-babble,” certainly not of you specifically. All I really meant was that (a) the kind of assumption I had in mind is out there, and (b)  in some people it could be associated with the sort of reservation in question.
Anyway, at least one reader above did find my engagement of the issues raised by that possibility helpful. Certainly the kind of thinking in question does seem to be out there, so I don’t think I was “straw-manning.”
Again, apologies for associating you with the line of thought in question.

AnonymousRUs October 29, 2008 at 1:47 pm

SDG,
In your refutation of Zippy, it seemed that you were referring to real bona fide scandal as it relates to Catholicism. Either the scandal is legit or not. If you are arguing that Zippy’s scandal is not in fact scandal, you would be much more clear to argue to that point. A discussion about who might be scandalized in what circumstance is just piling on more relativism. When Catholics speak of scandal, they generally speak of legitimate scandal in the eyes of the Church and the faithful. (Independently of whether they are correct about a particular occurrence actually being a scandal.)
So either the argument “hidden scandal isn’t so bad” continues to be your unconvincing argument now appended with relativism and equivocation, or you mean something else. I’m not sure now if you are equivocating or simply being unclear. If your argument doesn’t refer to a reason to avoid legitimate scandal, it doesn’t have the same “hiding in a booth” dubiousness, but it also becomes a non-argument with some sign that there might be some question begging about the scandal hiding underneath the sheets. (Zippy makes no argument about a perceived scandal that isn’t one.)
It makes no sense for me to bring out my exigetical prowess (what little there is) in picking apart 1 Corinthians in order to examine the dubiousness of your argument. The idea in 1 Corinthians as I understand it was to avoid the appearance of scandal where technically none might be there. But you don’t seem to be arguing that point. You seem to be arguing that scandalous behavior isn’t so bad if we hide in our secret booths.
Can you please clarify?

Lioren October 29, 2008 at 3:16 pm

Our Society has integrated psychology and psychological value into its decisions, reasoning. SDG may have difficulty communicating an analysis of underlying theological and philosophical presuppositions when his words will be rejected as psychologizing, or psychobabble.
Does true Hope have anything to do with understanding the value of the individual vote?
The Theological words “hope” and “despair” are so contaminated with psychological connotations that my attempts to say that the supposed “third option” is rooted in ‘not trust in God” – despair is quickly dismissed as judging psychobabble.
I submit that despair (in the non-psychological understanding) is at least tied root of the problem. This is not a moral judgement or accusation, for there are untrue presuppositions and wrong conclusions within us that can lead to actions and choices that are contrary to truth.
The Value of the vote.
The Christian perspective on the world should have every act of the human person as having eternal significance, imbued with divine value.
ZIppy would agree with this, but then discounts to nil the real world value of the vote (May the Lord have mercy on the ones who glued this untruth into him).
I have tried to show elsewhere that Zippy and his followers incorrectly denigrate the inherent value of the vote. I have tried to show that they contradict this perspective by (successfully) advocating that the only moral choice of this essentially symbolic act is to gather together many ‘useless’ acts that are ‘moral intrinsically’. (that this might have a horrific effect is downplayed because of the single vote’s inherent useless smallness) Moral culpability before God of the individual voter for the horrific consequenses is dismissed because of the ‘purity of the symbolic act’ (hey, I voted for the perfect guy) even though they knew it would very slightly increase the likelihood of great evil.
I am not saying this clearly, I hope you get my drift.
They argued for actions that, though moral in content, would cumulatively directly contribute to enabling great moral evil.
I therefore reminded them of the stricter accountability of teachers and leaders. This is dismissed as ‘vote for Bush or go to hell.’
Arghgh
I realize I must be doing it wrong, so let me ask you, SDG and others here for insight:
Is it possible or likely that a lack of hope (in the spe salvi sense) is underlying their approach?
Is there a kind of political Jansenism going on?
Is this perspective related to how they value or understand ‘Just war’
Do their actions of pulling together a movement to act in this way, deny the ‘small’, ‘useless’ ‘symbolic’ labels they have placed upon the individual vote?
Is the Stricter Judgement for those who teach relevant for the blogosphere … or politics?
Does a sacramentalistic perspective of the world and the Human Persons within contribute towards understanding the value of the individual vote?
Does a deep understanding of our union with one another in Christ contribute to our understanding of our responsibilities in this issue?

Lioren October 29, 2008 at 3:24 pm

arggh that should read,
This is dismissed as ‘vote for McCain or go to hell.’

Dave Mueller October 29, 2008 at 3:34 pm

National polls have started to show the presidential race tightening, but 66 state polls released so far this week haven’t captured any significant movement toward John McCain. In fact, since Sunday, Nevada (5 EV) has flipped from toss-up to Obama, giving him 311 electoral votes to McCain’s 157, with 70 as a toss-up. McCain still needs to pick up all of the current toss-up states—which all went for Bush in both 2000 and 2004—and peel off several large states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia from Obama.
I put absolutely NO STOCK in the polls. Some of them, I KNOW to be ridiculously off.
For example, I live in Minnesota. I know Minnesota. The RCP poll shows Obama up in Minnesota by 11%. This is simply ridiculous. There is NO WAY that Obama will win Minnesota by more than 7%, and it will likely be around 5%, if not less.
Now, I’m not SURE that the same pattern holds elsewhere, but I also see things like Obama up 11% in PA. That, too, would seem to be a pipe dream, according to my sources on the ground in that state who say they are confident that McCain will likely actually win PA.
Indiana – Obama up +1.4%….I call BS. I’d bet my house that McCain wins Indiana by at least 5%.
Those are just three examples. Based on everything, my gut feeling is that the national and state polls are off by an average of 5% in favor of Obama. That would make the race essentially a tossup right now. Time may prove me wrong and I may have to eat my words, but I usually have good political instincts, and right now, I have a hopeful feeling.
My prediction right now….the race will be within 1% either way, and the winner will come down to the electoral vagaries.
PRAY, PRAY, PRAY! (and FAST)

Jordanes October 29, 2008 at 5:14 pm

Now, I’m not SURE that the same pattern holds elsewhere, but I also see things like Obama up 11% in PA. That, too, would seem to be a pipe dream, according to my sources on the ground in that state who say they are confident that McCain will likely actually win PA.
If Obama were really that far ahead in Pennsylvania, why is he still campaigning there like he’s not that far ahead or not ahead at all?

Zippy October 29, 2008 at 5:54 pm

I guess I’ll just start commenting on things that seem pertinent in the order I encounter them:
And even if he changed his mind on that, they might still have to oppose him if he allowed for abortion only to save the life of the mother, but failed to differentiate between direct and indirect abortion, since Catholic moral theology generally considers direct abortion to be killing the innocent.
That is far from obvious, since being ignorant about a subtle bit of moral theology is quite a different matter from actively supporting a policy of murdering the innocent.

For those refuse to vote for any candidate who fails to condemn all killing of the innocent, …
I’ll just note that “actively advocates policies of killing the innocent” is different from “fails to [explicitly? by enumeration?] condemn all killing of the innocent”. There is a pattern here of extrapolating and restating the case against proportionate reason in a way which alters the meaning, to (at least for the unwary) polemical effect.
… there is no major-party candidate since Roe v. Wade, including Ronald Reagan, they could have supported.
That isn’t obvious either. A number of people have debated the point once it was brought up, and frankly I haven’t done the diligence that would be required to reach a definite conclusion one way or another. Even if true though it would merely be a polemical point, not a problem with the argument.

In principle, it is not impossible that such advocacy [against voting for either McCain or Obama] could play a significant role in undercutting support for McCain and clearing the way for an Obama victory.
In principle it is also possible that more Obama voters have decided to go qtp than McCain voters as a result of this discussion. I know I’ve gotten feedback both from people who were predisposed to support Obama and who were predisposed to support McCain. Since the “net” is basically unknowable, bringing this into the picture also serves merely a polemical purpose.
I once proposed a “swap” in which Catholics of good will could pair up: a Catholic planning to vote for McCain could instead promise to vote QTP or abstain, and a Catholic planning to vote for Obama could promise to do likewise in return. I still think it might be a healthy exercise.

An aside from the present discussion, but important nonetheless: the parenthetical part of the following is an innacurate statement of the principle involved:
The evil effect must not be the cause of the good effect. (Thus, for example, you might save some lives at the cost of other lives, but you could not directly kill innocent people in order to pacify a madman and stop him from killing greater numbers of people.)
Directly killing the innocent would be intrinsically immoral, full stop, and any double-effect analysis would be completely irrelevant. Under double effect, if the killing of the innocent by someone else, say the enemy in wartime, is the cause of the good effect you seek, the act fails double effect. So for example intentionally goading the enemy into killing the innocent in order to turn public opinion against them would be immoral.

…there is always some harm done to the elected offical and those around him in voting for a law that partially legitimizes murdering the innocent.
I do indeed assert that this is true, though the “always” should really read “so pervasively as a part of human nature and the nature of democratic elections that it is always imprudent for me to assume that this is not occurring in the present case, with me”.
Also you keep labeling these effects “moral” even though I haven’t labeled them moral, which is another one of those accretive restatements of the argument which makes it seem less plausible. I think that (for example) psychological effects like confirmaiton bias proceed from voting for almost everyone who does it. These kinds of things are extraordinarily difficult to counteract even when the person is aware of them, let alone for the average Joe who – falsely – does not consider himself subject to – again just as an example – confirmation bias.

By itself, though, this goes to particular cases, not to McCain advocacy as such.
Elections are a social phenomenon, and only make sense as a social phenomenon. I think the “this goes to particular cases” objections in this post all fail for this reason, as well as the previous reason.

For us, voting per se — as distinct from acts of public advocacy — is essentially a private and anonymous act.
It is nevertheless human nature that everything we do has consequences which extend beyond the strictly private sphere. It is for this reason that, just as one example, the “stay out of our bedrooms, it isn’t hurting you” arguments about sodomy fail.

Let’s begin with a minimum-impact scenario.
Substitute an act of sodomy for an act of voting and it may help illustrate the problem with the hypothetical. Hypotheticals can be very useful, of course, but it is always a mistake to confuse them with reality.

Has our silent voter’s McCain advocacy done any harm in this scenario? On the contrary, it has done good.
The problem with that is that it begs the question: it assumes that the voter had a proportionate reason to do what he did, so when he explains why to his friends he hasn’t led them astray. But if he didn’t have a proportionate reason to do it then explaining to his friends — even if both his exposition and their comprehension are absolutely perfect, contra human nature — does harm, not good.

…While generously stating his belief that I am a good man (a vote of confidence I’m happy to return), Zippy goes so far as to say that my writing is “a poster child” for this kind of damage.
My comment was about a particular thing you said, which was indeed a poster child for minimizing the importance of ESCR; not your writing in general.

…because he posits a disproportionately “evil effect” in the moral self-harm caused by voting for a pro-ESCR candidate.
Not just moral harm. There is intellectual harm, e.g. the perpetuation of an ongoing confusion about the meaning and the relative strengths of the various effects of an act of voting in an election, etc.

In every war, including wars that meet the criteria for a just war, there are always unjust acts and campaigns. The Allied bombing of civilian targets in Germany was unjust and wrong. This does not mean that the Allies should not have been at war with the Axis, or that individual soldiers should have become conscientious objectors.
I’ve used the Just War doctrine as a parallel to my point before. What you are leaving out is that because of these very issues there is a requirement for a reasonable chance of success, a requirement that initiating a war does not cause harms graver than those prevented, etc. An Allied war against the Axis with no reasonable chance of changing the outcome or which causes harms graver than those actually prevented would be unjust for that very reason. A vote with no chance of changing the outcome and yet which harms those who do it and those around them, likewise.

I think a better question is: How do I hope that voters like me, who share my basic values and in particular my assessment of the two viable candidates, predominantly vote?
That is a good question — as long as you think of those others as human beings, subject to all the confirmation biases and loyalty effects and other psychological – not just moral, but also psychological — effects, and other kinds of social effects, that ordinary human beings are subject to.
At bottom, again – once again – the fundamental question is empirical: does voting for a candidate who actively supports policies of murdering the innocent cause non-negligible outcome-independent harm to the voter and/or those around him, enough of the time that assuming otherwise in a particular case is imprudent. If it does, my argument stands. If it doesn’t, my argument falls. But it is ultimately a question of empirical fact about what happens generally in elections as social rituals, voting as human acts in those social rituals, and human nature (including psychology, etc).

Sam October 29, 2008 at 6:23 pm

Zippy and Mark both appear to be a bit arrogant, at the danger of a very pro-abort candidate getting elected. This situation is very scary, and maybe its time for the Zipster and Mark to come off their ivory towers. I knew Mark was a bit imbalanced when he started criticizing people who preferred the Latin Mass to the New Mass, but this merely confirms it. This is not to say that they aren’t both sincere and of good will. They shall both be in my prayers.

The Masked Chicken October 29, 2008 at 6:57 pm

Dear Zippy,
You wrote:
At bottom, again – once again – the fundamental question is empirical: does voting for a candidate who actively supports policies of murdering the innocent cause non-negligible outcome-independent harm to the voter and/or those around him, enough of the time that assuming otherwise in a particular case is imprudent. If it does, my argument stands. If it doesn’t, my argument falls.
Well, I also do (sometimes) empirical research. So, where is the data? Where is the carefully controlled experiment? Where the heck is the baseline, even?
The whole matter comes down to proportional effects and you have not convinced me that the income/outcome is disproportionate, at least by the arguments I’ve seen, so far.
Let me muddy the water even more. Let us take a toy country composed of exactly 99 people with a winner-take-all blind election. Let us say that 49 people vote for person A and 49 persons vote for person B. The last person votes for person A. Whose vote is significant? Only the 99th persons, because all of the other votes canceled out. The other 98 voters affect the outcome not at all. In a sense, then, the other 98 aren’t even significant. The overall effect is simply to translate the axis by 49 units and the last voter become exactly the equivalent case as SDG’s example from Evangelium Vitae of the lone voter. Thus, in reality, it would not be right to say that each voter had 1/99 influence on the vote, but rather that 98 voters had zero influence and one had 100 percent influence.
The problem with using aggregate statistics to imply that each person has the same level of significance is that it does not work in this case because there is a positional effect which is not included in simple aggregate statistics which is present, here. This is why information theory is better at modeling this.
One person has 100 percent significance, the rest, zero, but in a blind election, one cannot know who the ninety-ninth voter is. Now, If you want to make a strict proportionality argument, then you would have to, logically, say that since the other 98 people had zero influence on the elcetion, since their votes canceled, then they have zero responsibility for the outcome and have no proportional moral responsibility, while the ninety-ninth person has all of the responsibility, proportionally. That means everyone is off of the hook, by this reasoning, except for one person and he is off of the hook, too, by the argument in Evangelium Vitae, since he becomes the one lone voter.
If this sounds wrong, it is, but only because of the nature of the blind voting. In reality, one does not know either the value or the position of one’s vote. It is either zero or one, either of zero significance or of one hundred percent significance. Strictly speaking, in either case, one is off of the hook, but the reason is that the correct way of looking at the statistics is to assume that one person has 100 percent significance, but each person has only a 1/99 chance of being that person. That is not the same thing as saying that each person has a 1/99 significance.
Your argument from statistical significance is simply wrong. It sounds right because we are used to lumped, aggregate, statistics without a significant embedded information content for each element. Voters are exactly like photons in a detector that can have one of two states where a certain number triggers the detector. If each photon can have a 100 percent significance, the total significance is 100n, but each photon can be in the trigger state 1/n times, so the probability still works out to a 100 percent outcome. This is how blind statistics works.
I see no empirical evidence that proportionalistic arguments can’t provide safe haven for all voters. if you want to make this a simple income/outcome ration for quantifying proportionality.
The reasons for the allowance of a less than perfect decision in voting lie at a metalevel. More, later.
The Chicken

Zippy October 29, 2008 at 7:23 pm

So, where is the data? Where is the carefully controlled experiment? Where the heck is the baseline, even?
Does reality not exist unless it has been subjected to an experiment?
Note that I’ve said that at bottom, the empirical question is the question. The answer to the empirical question resolves the dispute conclusively. I’m convinced of the answer, myself, from my own perspective and experiences. Many others are obviously not convinced at this point, having probably encountered the whole issue for the first time ever in these recent discussions. I don’t think people are crazy not to immediately concede the point — though nonetheless I think it is true.
Live for another decade or two and keep watching. Or design and carry out some experiments if you want.
But remember, reality doesn’t particularly care if you believe in it.

Sleeping Beastly October 29, 2008 at 9:10 pm

Regarding the anonymous post:
I don’t necessarily put much stock in polls either, but I will say this: I live in Colorado, which is ordinarily a very red state. However, this year, I have seen many more Obama signs than McCain signs, and people seem quite content to walk around with Obama/Biden pins and stickers in one of the most conservative cities in the country. (Colorado Springs is home to Focus on the Family, a number of military bases, and the statewide organization Colorado for Family Values.) If Colorado goes blue this time around, it will be a big change, but perhaps not as big a surprise as it would have been a decade ago.
SDG,
Thanks for your response:
The answer to [objections to the scandal given by contributing to a perceived mandate to any pro-abortion candidate, including John McCain] should be clear from the fact that both Zippy and Mark have acknowledged that putting McCain rather than Obama in office by a decisive act would be proportionate to any harm done by this act: Mutatis_mutandis, the miniscule contribution of my vote to the effort to get McCain elected is proportionate to the miniscule contribution of my vote to any scandal this may occasion.
Perhaps I’m just making you restate your argument at this point, since this seems to me the core of what you’ve been arguing all along. My objection was not that you’re wrong about this. (Where you and I differ is on the actual difference between a McCain presidency and an Obama presidency, not on the value of voting for a lesser evil.) It just seemed to me that you were focusing on the wrong kind of scandal. Now that you mention it, you were probably focused more on the kind of scandal with which Zippy is concerned, which makes sense, given the title of the post. I withdraw my objection.
This is as true if McCain fails to get elected (in which case the scandal will be less, since it will involve fewer votes) as if he succeeds… To me, the far greater scandal of an Obama presidency is worth throwing every possible vote in the direction most likely to avoid it.
It seems, then, that if one were certain that one’s state would go to Obama, one could vote comfortably for a third party candidate without contributing to the scandal of an Obama presidency. Since votes for third party candidates that appear on ballots are actually counted towards the total of the popular vote, this would detract from a perceived Obama mandate as fully as a vote for McCain. One might argue that the value of a third party vote in such a case could even exceed the value of a McCain vote, even by your reasoning.
Lioren,
I am not sure I understand all of your questions, but I will answer those I understand and feel apply to me:
Is it possible or likely that a lack of hope (in the spe salvi sense) is underlying their approach?
It’s not a lack of hope that leads me to vote third party. My hope is certainly imperfect, but my third party votes are based on a conviction that neither major political party adequately represents American interests anymore.
Is this perspective related to how they value or understand ‘Just war’
I can’t speak for Zippy and the others, but in my case, there is a connection. I think both parties have been complicit in passively allowing the evil of abortion, and in actively pursuing the evil of unjust wars of aggression, resulting in the deaths of many innocent people. I feel a very real obligation to put pressure on our leaders to reverse both these trends, and it’s my belief that a third party vote accomplishes this better than a vote for either mainstream candidate.
Is the Stricter Judgement for those who teach relevant for the blogosphere … or politics?
Yes. The kicker is that Ezekiel 3:17-21 also applies. What we say matters, and what we don’t say matters too. How narrow the gate and constricted the road…

SDG October 29, 2008 at 9:19 pm

AnonymousRUs:

In your refutation of Zippy, it seemed that you were referring to real bona fide scandal as it relates to Catholicism. Either the scandal is legit or not. … The idea in 1 Corinthians as I understand it was to avoid the appearance of scandal where technically none might be there. But you don’t seem to be arguing that point. You seem to be arguing that scandalous behavior isn’t so bad if we hide in our secret booths.

By “scandal,” do you mean something like the Thomistic sense of “sinful activity that gives bad example to others”? If so, how could you possibly think I mean that? I have now generated six long posts expending thousands of words centrally arguing that voting for McCain is morally licit. If it is morally licit, ispo facto it is not “scandalous” in that sense. How many times and in how many ways must I make my central point before I am safe from the charge of having said the opposite?
Prescinding from the colloquial sense of “something shocking,” the term “scandal” has two relevant senses in Catholic usage. One is the Thomistic sense you indicate. The other is the New Testament sense of “being the occasion of another’s stumbling,” whether one’s action is sinful or not, justified or not. The cross is a scandal to the Greeks, St. Paul tells us. Eating meat offered to idols is also a scandal to the weaker brother (incidentally, not only 1 Corinthians but also Romans 14 is relevant in this connection).

Sleeping Beastly October 29, 2008 at 9:26 pm

Two quick thoughts:
1) This has been the most civil political debate I have seen in a long time. Thanks to everyone for disagreeing so respectfully. I have never been corrected with as much charity as I have on this blog.
2) This just occurred to me today as I was pondering how a Catholic like Biden could be personally opposed to abortion, but in favor of keeping it legal: Is a policy that permits others to engage in evil practices less morally objectionable than a policy that actively pursues evil ends? In other words, is it less immoral to refuse to forbid evil than it is to actively pursue evil?
My second question has nothing to do with the current election, but it does have to do with our leaders’ stances on wars of aggression and abortion. I’m interested in your thoughts.

SDG October 29, 2008 at 9:45 pm

Zippy,

That is far from obvious, since being ignorant about a subtle bit of moral theology is quite a different matter from actively supporting a policy of murdering the innocent.

Well, I never said it was “obvious,” but killing the innocent is killing the innocent, subtlety be damned. Can I take it you agree with my point about rape and incest exceptions?

I’ll just note that “actively advocates policies of killing the innocent” is different from “fails to [explicitly? by enumeration?] condemn all killing of the innocent”.

How about “allows policies that allow killing the innocent, such as any sort of abortion to save the life of the mother”?

There is a pattern here of extrapolating and restating the case against proportionate reason in a way which alters the meaning, to (at least for the unwary) polemical effect.

Not sure what this refers to here.

That isn’t obvious either.

Ronald Reagan seems to have accepted rape and incest exceptions. I am not aware of any likely exceptions to the rule on this point.

Even if true though it would merely be a polemical point, not a problem with the argument.

Quite right, though for some it might be an eye-opening polemical point.

In principle it is also possible that more Obama voters have decided to go qtp than McCain voters as a result of this discussion.

Anything is possible, but some possibilities are more likely and plausible than others.

I once proposed a “swap” in which Catholics of good will could pair up: a Catholic planning to vote for McCain could instead promise to vote QTP or abstain, and a Catholic planning to vote for Obama could promise to do likewise in return. I still think it might be a healthy exercise.

It is an interesting proposal. I am not opposed in principle.

Directly killing the innocent would be intrinsically immoral, full stop, and any double-effect analysis would be completely irrelevant.

Good point. I was oversimplifying an oft-used scenario for the sake of brevity, but I left out a crucial step. I’ll try to go back and finesse it when I get a chance.

Under double effect, if the killing of the innocent by someone else, say the enemy in wartime, is the cause of the good effect you seek, the act fails double effect. So for example intentionally goading the enemy into killing the innocent in order to turn public opinion against them would be immoral.

A fine example.

Also you keep labeling these effects “moral” even though I haven’t labeled them moral, which is another one of those accretive restatements of the argument which makes it seem less plausible.

The examples that you have given previously seem to be moral examples. I’ll continue to try to take new data on your views into account as it comes to my attention.

I think that (for example) psychological effects like confirmaiton bias proceed from voting for almost everyone who does it.

Sure, and not just for actual voting, but also for voting theories. Like your theory that McCain advocacy harms those who engage in it, and your apparent tendency to interpret the actions of actual McCain advocates in the light of this presumed harm.

Elections are a social phenomenon, and only make sense as a social phenomenon. I think the “this goes to particular cases” objections in this post all fail for this reason, as well as the previous reason.

However, it is also the case that elections, and even electoral blocs all voting the same way, involve multiple groups with varying and even conflicting agendas, and that those who support a particular candidate are not automatically implicated in the excesses or lapses of other supporters. The objections stand.

It is nevertheless human nature that everything we do has consequences which extend beyond the strictly private sphere.

Of course. A vote is an act of co-responsibility for the common good; how could it not have consequences that extend beyond the public sphere? However, the particular form of harm established as a likely consequence of the official’s vote is not a necessary issue in our case. Any other purported harms will have to be established on their own merits.

It is for this reason that, just as one example, the “stay out of our bedrooms, it isn’t hurting you” arguments about sodomy fail.

I’m not sure I follow this. Is the argument in question against anti-sodomy laws, or against moral teaching?

Substitute an act of sodomy for an act of voting and it may help illustrate the problem with the hypothetical.

No, let’s not, because sodomy is intrinsically wrong and voting for McCain is not.

The problem with that is that it begs the question: it assumes that the voter had a proportionate reason to do what he did, so when he explains why to his friends he hasn’t led them astray.

“Proportionate” to what evil effect? You haven’t shown that the silent voter suffers harm.

My comment was about a particular thing you said, which was indeed a poster child for minimizing the importance of ESCR; not your writing in general.

We can call it a vote of confidence in both of us that I took this for granted, but thanks for saying so anyway.

Not just moral harm. There is intellectual harm, e.g. the perpetuation of an ongoing confusion about the meaning and the relative strengths of the various effects of an act of voting in an election, etc.

I don’t think that confusion about the meaning of an act of voting correlates with voting pragmatic — on the contrary. As for confusion about the “relative strengths of the various effects,” while such confusion could conceivably lead voters to vote a certain way, I can’t say I see how voting a certain way leads to such confusion.

I’ve used the Just War doctrine as a parallel to my point before. What you are leaving out is that because of these very issues there is a requirement for a reasonable chance of success, a requirement that initiating a war does not cause harms graver than those prevented, etc. An Allied war against the Axis with no reasonable chance of changing the outcome or which causes harms graver than those actually prevented would be unjust for that very reason. A vote with no chance of changing the outcome and yet which harms those who do it and those around them, likewise.

Among other possible responses to this, a vote is not a war. A vote is a bullet. One bullet cannot win a war, but it can contribute to a war effort.
The “war effort” in this case is, of course, the campaign for the candidate, which meets the criteria in question if the candidate has a reasonable chance of success.
So, hm, does this mean that you think that non-viable candidates, who have no chance of success, should not campaign? And that, if they do, it is an “unjust campaign,” and that voters should thus not vote for them, because that is contributing to an unjust campaign effort?
No, perhaps you would say that a quixotic candidate’s “campaign” is not really a campaign to win an election, it is really about something else, and so is voting for him. However, it would seem to take real bullets, or votes, out of circulation from the just campaign — for which McCain’s cause would seem to qualify — making it more likely that the most unjust campaign of all will win.
Your serve.

At bottom, again – once again – the fundamental question is empirical: does voting for a candidate who actively supports policies of murdering the innocent cause non-negligible outcome-independent harm to the voter and/or those around him, enough of the time that assuming otherwise in a particular case is imprudent. If it does, my argument stands. If it doesn’t, my argument falls. But it is ultimately a question of empirical fact about what happens generally in elections as social rituals, voting as human acts in those social rituals, and human nature (including psychology, etc).

That is a potentially interesting line of inquiry, but it suggests certain needed controls before the data could be very useful and not misleading.
For example, we would also need to ask to what extent advocacy of other voting patterns, including voting quixotic, correlates with “non-negligible outcome-independent harm to the voter and/or those around him.” Perhaps it will turn out that voting as such is too dangerous an activity to engage in. But then we would also have to ask to what extent sitting out an election correlates with non-negligible outcome-independent harm to the non-voter and/or those around him. And, for that matter, to what extent human activities generally correlate with harm to participants.
And then, on top of that, we would have to ask: To what extent can this correlation be reduced to a particular causal model? You, Zippy, are convinced, not only that moral and intellectual harm is occurring in connection with McCain advocacy and voting, but also that it is caused by McCain advocacy and voting. What empirical evidence do you have of that? How do you know that certain types of (what you are convinced is) moral and intellectual problems cannot in some cases be a disposing factor toward choosing McCain advocacy, where other people without such problems might make the same choice for completely different reasons?
At most, we have an interesting proposal for a line of inquiry. But now you argue, in your next post…

SDG October 29, 2008 at 9:49 pm

Does reality not exist unless it has been subjected to an experiment?

No, but meaningful knowledge of reality, in a case of this complexity, including the baseline/control questions at which the Chicken gestured and which I made a stab at partially enumerating above, plausibly requires something more rigorous than “my own perspective and experiences.”
Otherwise we may be hapless victims of confirmation bias.
Zippy, you see (what you think of as) a lot of people harming themselves making a particular choice. I submit that in some cases, possibly due to confirmation bias, you have made faulty judgments — as, I submit, you did with me.
Even when such harm may be real, you don’t know that it correlates more with McCain advocacy than with quixotic voting (how closely have you been attending to problematic patterns in that particular voter group?), or with other human activities generally.
Perhaps most crucially, you don’t know whether any correlation that may exist fits the causal model that you have proposed rather than another.
You can declare yourself as “convinced of the answer” as you wish. That doesn’t mean you have knowledge of reality.

But remember, reality doesn’t particularly care if you believe in it.

Unreality cares even less if you believe in it.

The Masked Chicken October 30, 2008 at 5:20 am

To finish the statistical analysis from above, the same principle holds if the vote is two over in a specific direction: 48 for A vs 50 for B, except that there are now 2 significant votes and the significance of each significant vote is 1/2 or 50% instead of 100%. The rest of the votes cancel. Thus, there is a 1/2 significance of each vote and a 2/99 chance that your vote becomes significant. So, in reality, significance of a vote increases, not decreases, with voting imbalance.
This is the basis for SDG wanting to have as small an imbalance between the two major candidates as possible: it lowers the significance of the winning votes.
The analysis, above, also works for electoral college votes, with a slight modification.
Thus, voters have a much greater significance than a simple aggregate analysis would suggest and the disproportionality argument foes out of the window.
The reasons for or against the morality of voting for a less than perfect candidate must be found at the metalevel – what does the vote mean, rather than looking at the vote, per se. This is where SDG and Zippy should be focusing their arguments and most of the time, they do.
The Chicken

The Masked Chicken October 30, 2008 at 5:20 am

To finish the statistical analysis from above, the same principle holds if the vote is two over in a specific direction: 48 for A vs 50 for B, except that there are now 2 significant votes and the significance of each significant vote is 1/2 or 50% instead of 100%. The rest of the votes cancel. Thus, there is a 1/2 significance of each vote and a 2/99 chance that your vote becomes significant. So, in reality, significance of a vote increases, not decreases, with voting imbalance.
This is the basis for SDG wanting to have as small an imbalance between the two major candidates as possible: it lowers the significance of the winning votes.
The analysis, above, also works for electoral college votes, with a slight modification.
Thus, voters have a much greater significance than a simple aggregate analysis would suggest and the disproportionality argument foes out of the window.
The reasons for or against the morality of voting for a less than perfect candidate must be found at the metalevel – what does the vote mean, rather than looking at the vote, per se. This is where SDG and Zippy should be focusing their arguments and most of the time, they do.
The Chicken

Zippy October 30, 2008 at 5:57 am

I didn’t misjudge the fact that your comment minimizing the importance of ESCR was an evil effect. It was, in fact, an evil effect. Again, I’m rendering a judgment on the specific comment, not on your person or your writing in general.
“Proportionate” to what evil effect? You haven’t shown that the silent voter [for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent] suffers harm [or causes harm to others or the common good].
Well, as I’ve said many times, the dispositive issue is whether or not it does, as an empirical matter, and if we can agree on that I am content.
For example, we would also need to ask to what extent advocacy of other voting patterns, including voting quixotic, correlates with “non-negligible outcome-independent harm to the voter and/or those around him.”
Sure. That is where the radical opposition between governance and policies of murdering the innocent come in, in conjunction with the fact that a vote is an endorsement of the particular candidate to govern.
Frankly, though, if we’ve gotten to agreement that comparing the consequences of election outcome A with election outcome B is irrelevant, and that the outcome-independent issues we are talking about now are morally dispositive, then that is about as much progress as I could hope for. The particular empirical matters about outcome-independent effects are something we could debate until the cows come home. But if we are agreed that one cannot justify voting for A rather than B in a national election based on limiting the evil of B actually being elected, that to the contrary any proportionate reason has to be with respect to outcome-independent effects, then my work is essentially done.
No, but meaningful knowledge of reality, in a case of this complexity, including the baseline/control questions at which the Chicken gestured and which I made a stab at partially enumerating above, plausibly requires something more rigorous than “my own perspective and experiences.”
Baloney. Most of what we know is not based on rigorous scientific experiments, but rather on our own experiences, though rigorous scientific experiments are certainly useful. As I said though this is all really about next stage questions, once we’ve agreed that reference to outcome A being less evil than outcome B is itself irrelevant to whether or not there is a proportionate reason. I’m content to allow people’s own experiences to inform their understanding of the facts of outcome-independent effects, once we’ve agreed that outcome-dependent effects cannot constitute proportionate reason.

Memphis Aggie October 30, 2008 at 5:59 am

Nice post SGD I agree with you and have nothing much to add. There’s a good thread running on the topic at the Dawn Patrol along very similar lines.

Memphis Aggie October 30, 2008 at 6:12 am

“I’m content to allow people’s own experiences to inform their understanding of the facts of outcome-independent effects, once we’ve agreed that outcome-dependent effects cannot constitute proportionate reason.”
This is nonsense, outcomes matter and readily foreseeable outcomes are easy here. Obama will have a fully democratic Congress and has pledged to sign FOCA as his first act which will remove all existing restraints on abortion and ESCR and compound the legal support for murder making reversing the law that much harder. McCain, at worst, may lift the ban on ESCR. It’s not complicated, the differences are stark. Outcomes do matter.

Dave Mueller October 30, 2008 at 6:41 am

I don’t necessarily put much stock in polls either, but I will say this: I live in Colorado, which is ordinarily a very red state. However, this year, I have seen many more Obama signs than McCain signs, and people seem quite content to walk around with Obama/Biden pins and stickers in one of the most conservative cities in the country. (Colorado Springs is home to Focus on the Family, a number of military bases, and the statewide organization Colorado for Family Values.) If Colorado goes blue this time around, it will be a big change, but perhaps not as big a surprise as it would have been a decade ago.
Colorado has been slowly getting “bluer” for several election cycles now. I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama takes Colorado. As far as the signs, though, I contend that people are reluctant to put up McCain signs because there is a subtle undercurrent that people voting for McCain are “racist”. That is probably what is partially skewing the polls too. At the polls, where no one can see your vote, that fear will be removed.
My son said they had a mock election at their high school, and I live in one of the most heavily conservative areas of Minnesota. Nevertheless, when he said he voted for McCain in the mock election, another student asked him if he was racist. I think he replied something to the effect that “no, I’m actually a moronist, and I discriminate against morons.” Good comeback!

SDG October 30, 2008 at 6:43 am

I didn’t misjudge the fact that your comment minimizing the importance of ESCR was an evil effect.

You wrongly thought that a comment minimized the importance of ESCR when it didn’t. You leaped on a poetic phrase (“a small bouquet of cells comprising a human life”) and called it “a concrete example of the bad effect that supporting McCain has on those who support him,” adding the quasi-prophetic coda, “Let he who has ears to hear, hear.”
You appear to be so convinced of your principle of moral harm, and so inattentive to your own confirmation bias, that you are implicitly certain you understand my words better than I do, and apparently will not take my word otherwise. I find this disheartening on multiple levels.

Frankly, though, if we’ve gotten to agreement that comparing the consequences of election outcome A with election outcome B is irrelevant, and that the outcome-independent issues we are talking about now are morally dispositive, then that is about as much progress as I could hope for.

All I’ve agreed to is to hear your case. If that’s as much progress as you could hope for, our work is done.

Baloney. Most of what we know is not based on rigorous scientific experiments, but rather on our own experiences, though rigorous scientific experiments are certainly useful.

Some sorts of things can credibly be known that way. Others cannot.
If you claimed to know, based on your own experiences, that smoking causes cancer, or that teenagers are more reckless than older adults, I would say that you don’t, because you really know those things either from scientific studies or from the collective observations and mutual confirmations of a great many observers.
If you claimed to know based on your own experiences that commenters at JA.o tend to be more respectful to one another than commenters at many other online forums, I would accept that as a reasonable construal from experience. If you claimed to know that commenting at JA.o made people more respectful, or, conversely, that being respectful tended to cause people to comment at JA.o, I would question this.
If you claim to know that voting for candidates like McCain correlates with what you believe are deleterious patterns, I am only skeptical, but willing to hear you out. If you claim to know the causal relationship between the two, based only on your own experience, I laugh you out of court. You have no case.

Zippy October 30, 2008 at 6:49 am

Outcomes do matter.
Oh outcomes do matter, to be sure. But an act of voting doesn’t have any practical influence over the outcome in a presidential election. That is why proportionate reasons to do it, in order to be valid, have to appeal to effects other than “in order to help A win because Y”.

Memphis Aggie October 30, 2008 at 6:57 am

Perhaps voting doesn’t have much impact in the singular case – agreed. However what is the the impact of campaigning for or against a candidate? That may have an impact.

The Masked Chicken October 30, 2008 at 8:28 am

Quit it, quit it, quit it. In a close vote, not all votes are equal. Saying that you have no influence in the outcome of a presidential election, as its done in the United States is wrong and saying it doesn’t make it so. How many times do I have to keep repeating this? The Slate analysis that is being quotes is at least incomplete, if not wrong. A single vote can be very significant. It can be a game changer.
Can’t anyone see this? Do I have to do a detailed mathematical analysis? What do you think statistical thermodynamics deals with: large (non)interacting populations of electrons or molecules in various possible energy states (like possible votes for possible candidates). It is not always right to say that a single electron’s (voter’s) contribution is negligible, especially in threshold situations. If this is true, then it blows the proportionality argument, based strictly on numbers, out the door. Blind voting is not like the lottery.
Good grief, just because someone publishes something in a national publication does not make it true. The experimental basis for cognitive dissonance used to be unquestionsed, until a Yale economics professor showed that the mathematical basis (not necessarily the idea) is incomplete or even wrong.
I am questioning that Slate article that proports to say that a single vote is insignificant. I maintian that this is not always the case. Tthere are situations where votes can be either significant or insignificant. Either case can occur in a blind election. One simply cannot know.
This is the last time I’m saying it. If I’m wrong, prove it. I will listen. I can apologize. If I am right, then quit using this as a basis for proportionality arguments. They can be based on other things, but not simply a comparison of cause and effect or significance of a vote.
The Chicken

M.Z. Forrest October 30, 2008 at 8:32 am

If you has a duty to vote, then addressing the harm from voting should be done in concert with said vote. If there is no duty, then we do as St. Paul says and we refuse to eat the meat so as not to cause scandal. That there may be times when the vote cannot be exercised is certainly a real possibility. To hear some folks though, they take that to mean if there isn’t an EF mass in their community then it is impossible for them to attend mass. Likewise we have a similar self-imposed scrupulocity being applied to voting. Zippy argues on the one hand that voting is frivolous in substancial effect (the election of a person) and therefore not required. On the other hand he argues that voting is substancially a personal consent to something that any thinking person knows doesn’t mean a thing and is therefore imprudent.

Rotten Orange October 30, 2008 at 8:37 am

How many times do I have to keep repeating this?

Dear TMC
Believe me, a lot of times.
And now I think we can officially have the new, updated link for Elections VI: The Undiscovered Country.

SDG October 30, 2008 at 8:56 am

Already done, Orange.

Rotten Orange October 30, 2008 at 9:11 am

Already done, Orange.

Not until I wrote the comment (otherwise I would’n have made it). When I refreshed the page, I saw it.
We did both at the same time, maybe.

Zippy October 30, 2008 at 9:37 am

Zippy argues on the one hand that voting is frivolous in substancial effect (the election of a person) and therefore not required.
That is a really, really bad caricature of my argument.

Memphis Aggie October 30, 2008 at 9:39 am

Zippy,
Voting might not have much of an impact but campaigning for others to toss their votes away might.

Jordanes October 30, 2008 at 10:20 am

That is why proportionate reasons to do it, in order to be valid, have to appeal to effects other than “in order to help A win because Y”.
Interesting that neither the Pope nor any of the bishops seem to agree with you . . . . How is it that you understand Catholic moral theology and the principle of double effect when it comes to voting better than they do?

msb October 30, 2008 at 10:37 am

I agree with SDG and want only to supplement with a summary of some points I’ve posted at WWWTW, showing that Zippy’s argument appears to be self-refuting.
Helping elect a candidate who supports intrinsic evil is remote material cooperation, and so it must be justified by a proportionate reason.
To know whether a reason is proportionate, we must weigh the evil in the cooperation with the good effects.
There are two kinds of evil and good effects in this choice.
(1) the evil of enabling the bad policies by helping elect McCain.
(2) the evil moral taint involved in voting for McCain.
(3) the good of helping defeat the much worse candidate Obama.
(4) the good moral value of trying to defeat Obama and limit the harm.
Zippy says the good (3) is negligible and the evil (2) is very strong. But by arguing that (3) is negligible, it must also be true that the evil (1) is negligible, since both depend, to the same degree, on how much one’s vote is effective. And if we aren’t actually helping McCain win (under Zippy’s theory), we aren’t helping his bad policies. So there is no cooperation. Thus there is no need for a proportionate reason in the first place.
Zippy is left then with arguing the moral taint of (2). First, it is not clear that this taint is cooperation in anything. We’ve already established it is not cooperation in helping elect McCain. I think the theory here depends on the idea that when I vote for a guy I am endorsing all his policies. That is not strictly true, certainly not as much as when a legislator votes for a law (as in EV). A vote for McCain can’t be divorced from his policies, but neither is it identical to endorsing his polices. It’s something in between. If I vote for McCain or Obama I have some responsibility for the policies he enacts, but I do not have the same kind of responsibility that I would if I were voting on a ballot referendum listing all those policies. This point must be made because it diminisnes the level of moral taint allegedly involved in (2).
It is also not clear to me whether Zippy recognizes that the good (4) exists. But I don’t think you can deny that (4) exists.
The question then, on Zippy’s terms, is am I tainted more by the evil part of my vote for pro-McCain (2) than I am edified by the good part of my action that is anti-Obama (4).
I think Zippy’s analysis stacks the deck of this question by initially framing it in terms of remote cooperation in McCain’s policies, when ultimately Zippy believes that there is no cooperation in McCain’s polices. In other words people are looking at Zippy’s argument and saying, well a vote for McCain is remote cooperation in his policies, and if you add that to the moral taint we can’t outweigh it with my one vote against Obama. But under Zippy’s theory it is not cooperation at all in McCain’s polices.
As a result, we are left with this mere proposition that a vote for McCain taints me because it is like endorsing his policies. But there is also this virtuous act of trying to stop Obama. I don’t see how anyone looks at these two things alone, notes that Obama is much much worse, and assumes a pure intention on the voter and clear public explanations, and then says the taint is obviously worse.
Bottom line: stopping Obama is a very good thing to do, when I vote for McCain (and 100% pro-life Palin) it is a big part of the moral character of my act, and a common sense approach to that situation tells me that is can be more good than the evil of voting for McCain.

DBP October 30, 2008 at 10:45 am

Can’t anyone see this? Do I have to do a detailed mathematical analysis? What do you think statistical thermodynamics deals with: large (non)interacting populations of electrons or molecules in various possible energy states (like possible votes for possible candidates). It is not always right to say that a single electron’s (voter’s) contribution is negligible, especially in threshold situations. If this is true, then it blows the proportionality argument, based strictly on numbers, out the door. Blind voting is not like the lottery.

It is always right that the probability that an arbitrary electron will have a non-negligible contribution is a negligible probability.
To answer your questions, yes you would have to since I and everyone besides you, probably, have little or no idea what you mean by “statistical thermodynamics.” To me it sounds like hand waving and involving assumptions of greater dubiousness than the ones some others have made and which don’t give any results for your polemic, anyway.
Not knowing “statistical thermodynamics” and how statisticians — or chemists? physicists? — have applied it to voting, I surmise that your argument is saying that some people are like Joe the Plumber. True. But the probability that an arbitrary citizen will become like Joe the Plumber is negligible.

Good grief, just because someone publishes something in a national publication does not make it true.

This is even more of something put to writing in a blog. So, a layman like myself will rely on the latter, or just on his common sense.
I don’t think you need a study to establish that teenagers are more reckless than adults. Hopefully no taxpayer money was wasted on any such studies. You also don’t need fancy math to realize that the probability that your political action will be significant for any arbitrary ordinary citizen is very very very very low.

Mari October 30, 2008 at 11:07 am

Thanks, SDG, for laying it all out so clearly. In contrast with commenter Tom who thought your paragraph about voters using the arguments of Mark S / Zippy to bolster their Obama vote was weak, I think you are right on the money with that. I do know people who take their argument as “McCain is just as bad as Obama” — so for the Obama leaners, why not vote for Obama?
As far as I’m concerned, it comes down simply to “Who would be worse for unborn children?” There’s really only one way to keep him out, and that is to vote McCain.
God bless!

Jonathan Prejean October 30, 2008 at 11:36 am

Sleeping Beastly:
In other words, is it less immoral to refuse to forbid evil than it is to actively pursue evil?
In general, I would say yes. For example, it is not necessarily immoral (although it could be) to fail to outlaw prostitution, but it certainly immoral to promote it. There is no intrinsic and natural obligation for the government to outlaw most classes of evil.
But there are some grave obligations associated with government, just as there are grave obligations associated with many natural roles of man. For example, if you are a parent, then you have a grave obligation to protect the welfare of your child. Similarly, a government official has a grave obligation not merely to refrain from supporting but also to positively use his office to prevent the murder of the innocent. To exercise governmental authority in a way that derogates from this obligation, even by mere advocacy, is a grave evil in itself. The most fundamental natural obligation of anyone with governmental authority is to use the force of law to protect innocent citizens from death; it is the sine qua non of governmental authority. The next most important is to prevent attacks on the very nature of marriage, since the family is the fundamental unit of human society. It is a reflection of the pitiful state of our society that governments feel free to disregard their own most fundamental obligations, which is why we are in such a miserable position as choosing between candidates based solely on who is doing the least damage to the fundamental natural obligations of government.
Chicken:
Tom Kreitzberg has explained what a vote is, and what is or is not proportioned to the act of voting, about as clearly as it can be explained here:
http://disputations.blogspot.com/2008_10_01_archive.html#7463555691693945958
SDG:
I find it telling that you haven’t received anything even close to an argument in response to your suggestion that the radical (and false) dichotomy between governance and the murder of the innocent, as construed in premise 3, would necessarily contradict the case of voting for a less permissive abortion law. The distinction between voting for a law and voting for a candidate is irrelevant precisely because the act of voting is in each case proportioned to its effect in the process (as Mr. Kreitzberg notes). Differences of scale are irrelevant in terms of the action being right; both are good, although the good of one act might be greater if it is more likely to achieve the intended result (e.g., by putting a candidate over the top).
Permit me, however, to share one quibble with others, albeit for a slightly different reason. How irrationally one might respond to one’s otherwise-moral advocacy for a position seems to be a poor basis for making a decision. If someone is looking for a hook on which to base a decision to vote for Obama and is willing to make an irrational decision to do it, then surely no fault can be assigned to those who will do it.
I think your opponent here has difficulty separating what one knows will happen as a result of your action and what results fall within the reasonable sphere of one’s moral object. I wouldn’t want you making the same mistake. People behaving irrationally is neither a natural nor a moral result of your action, and assuming that the people in question aren’t in a state of diminished capacity or otherwise dependent on your decision, there is no close causal nexus between what you do and what they do. You don’t manufacture an excuse or rationalization for them; they do that on their own, illegitimately relying on another person’s reasonable position. Certainly, I think there are cases where a bad actor might not have complete responsibility, but presumably people are not in a state of diminished will with the temptation to vote the wrong way as they might be with sensuous temptations. But I think we need to scale back the illusory sense of moral responsibility for other people’s free-willed actions.
I take issue particularly with this notion that we are somehow degrading the quality of candidates by continuing to vote for the lesser of two evils. We aren’t the ones who are using our correct political action as an excuse for progressively more immoral stances. If someone is going to use our right action as an excuse to dance the Hegelian mambo, we can’t be accused of leading. The step we take is exactly the one we should take, and if they make something of it, so much the worse for them.

Jonathan Prejean October 30, 2008 at 12:01 pm

As a result, we are left with this mere proposition that a vote for McCain taints me because it is like endorsing his policies. But there is also this virtuous act of trying to stop Obama.
The problem with this statement is that it creates a dichotomy (though an illusory one) between keeping Obama out of office and supporting the candidate, which confusion has been unfortunately exploited. If the virtuous act were simply “trying to stop Obama,” then one could rightly say that your vote is likely ineffectual to that purpose absent some reasonable certainty of massive coordination that you can’t possibly have with “what if everyone did it.” But this isn’t about an effect, at least not in that sense. This is about having a good moral basis for indicating your preference of candidate. One good reason, indeed probably the best reason, to vote for anyone is that he is less likely than his opponent to completely disregard (and worse, advocate the derogation of) the fundamental obligation of his office. In fact, I can’t conjure any better reason to vote for someone than that. Given that voting is a fundamentally practical activity, as politics is the art of the possible, it seems reasonable to limit your choices among those who are seriously presented to you as candidates (I question whether any third party candidate legitimately qualifies as a “choice” in this regard, but I suppose there are people who think otherwise about these effects). Stating the rationale as anti-Obama erroneously ties your reasoning to an actual effect, when the truth is that your positive reason for preferring McCain and indicating this preference is that he takes his most fundamental obligation of government office at least slightly more seriously than his opponent. What I can’t understand is how anyone can, for any reason, advocate voting for someone who can’t even do as well as his opponent on the most fundamental and essential role of his office. Those people have just lost it.

The Masked Chicken October 30, 2008 at 1:04 pm

I don’t really have to do the mathematical analysis using statistical thermodynamics, because it has already been done. Here is a link to a classic article in a very prestigious peer-reviewed journal. The pre-print was posted to arXiv and later published in Physics Review Letters (Phys. Rev. Lett. 81, 1718 – 1721 (1998)). To get the paper, go to the arXiv link posted above and look on the right side to obtain a PDF copy.
The authors show that changing voting preference can give rise to what is known as symbolic dynamics, which is one way to describe a chaotic attractor. Chaotic attractors are known to be fine-grained, i.e., each element in the sysmbolic dynamics is important. Thus, any single voter changing his vote can, in some cases, change the dynamics of the outcome.
They also have topological measures of entropy for a variety of voting methods, including Condorcet methods as well as almost every other method except one: dictatorial, where one vote picks the winner, which is already covered under Evangelium Vitae.
The article is very technical, but as you can see, the significance of any given voter is much more complex than the simple aggregate statistics in the Slate article.
The Chicken

c matt October 30, 2008 at 1:12 pm

In principle, it is not impossible that such advocacy [against voting for either McCain or Obama] could play a significant role in undercutting support for McCain and clearing the way for an Obama victory.
In principle, the exact opposite could just as likely be true. Which means, in fact or principle, you just don’t know.

The Masked Chicken October 30, 2008 at 1:14 pm

It is always right that the probability that an arbitrary electron will have a non-negligible contribution is a negligible probability.
No, it isn’t, depending on how you define arbitrary. You definition of arbitrary above amounts to a tautology. There are cases where it does not (as in, for instance, a cascade). I am not going to turn this into a class on quantum mechanics, because you would have to pay me the standard university rates. Sorry, to be so grumpy. No offense intended to anyone.
The Chicken

SDG October 30, 2008 at 1:27 pm

In principle, the exact opposite could just as likely be true. Which means, in fact or principle, you just don’t know.

I would agree in principle except for the words “just as likely.” That would be true if and only if potential quixotic voters were equally likely to be either McCain-friendly or Obama-friendly; or, conversely, if both Obama-friendly and McCain-friendly voters were equally likely to be persuaded to vote third-party quixotic.
But that seems highly improbable in this election. It seems clear that Obama-friendliness is much more likely to correlate with voting Obama than McCain-friendliness is to voting McCain. Obama enjoys wider and more unqualified enthusiasm and strong support among potential Obama voters than does McCain among potential McCain voters. Conversely, disaffection and discontent runs higher and wider among potential McCain voters than among potential Obama voters.
Thus, potential Obama supporters and potential McCain supporters are not equally likely to respond to third-party quixotic advocacy by abandoning the major tickets and voting third party. The effect of such advocacy seems overwhelmingly likely to disproportionately weaken McCain relative to Obama, and thus to help clear the way for an Obama victory.

Zippy October 30, 2008 at 2:09 pm

I take issue particularly with this notion that we are somehow degrading the quality of candidates by continuing to vote for the lesser of two evils.
That is an arguable question of fact, which everyone can test against reality.
SDG:
Again, the feedback I’ve gotten has given me no reason to suspect that advocacy against voting for candidates who support policies of murdering the innocent has a disparate impact on McCain versus Obama. If anything I tend to suspect the opposite, but that is just a very vague impression from the feedback I’ve gotten as, myself, an advocate against voting for any Presidential candidate who supports policies of murdering the innocent.

SDG October 30, 2008 at 2:12 pm

That is an arguable question of fact, which everyone can test against reality.

No, they cannot, unless you know a way to go back in time four years and have a do-over of the last election, and see what difference it makes this time around.
You consistently ignore questions of cause and effect and simply assume that causal relationships are whatever you want them to be.

DBP October 30, 2008 at 2:17 pm

And since it is very technical, I wouldn’t know what to make of it. I don’t see how it disagrees with one of the two points I made, though.

Zippy October 30, 2008 at 2:30 pm

No, they cannot, unless you know a way to go back in time four years and have a do-over of the last election, and see what difference it makes this time around.
Hmm. Are you really suggesting that the fact that history cannot be repeated implies that we can’t learn anything from it? What a strange suggestion.

JACK October 30, 2008 at 2:30 pm

“No, they cannot, unless you know a way to go back in time four years and have a do-over of the last election, and see what difference it makes this time around.”
SDG, sorry but this is a mistaken argument. While I understand it is tempting, given your penchant (rightly) for pointing out the difference between a demonstration of correlation and causation, you seem to suggest that the only way to reach some certainty of the truth is through experimental inquiry. That of course is wrong. (And as someone who is a Catholic I am sure you know that point well.) So while you are right that we should recognize some humility in speaking of conclusions about causation when we do not have the possibility of experimental inquiry, it is also wrong to suggest that causation cannot be known except with experimental inquiry. Reason is pluri-potent and has many methods of discerning the truth and uses what is best suited to the object being studied.
I need not concur in Zippy’s ultimate conclusion (or the strength of his certainty in it) to agree with him that you are wrong in how quick you dismiss other methods of discerning the truth from the lived experience of engagement with reality.
Frankly, I’m shocked Catholics don’t get this point more readily than most since it is the foundation of the reasonability of our faith.

Jordanes October 30, 2008 at 2:45 pm

I think Zippy’s analysis stacks the deck of this question by initially framing it in terms of remote cooperation in McCain’s policies, when ultimately Zippy believes that there is no cooperation in McCain’s polices. In other words people are looking at Zippy’s argument and saying, well a vote for McCain is remote cooperation in his policies, and if you add that to the moral taint we can’t outweigh it with my one vote against Obama. But under Zippy’s theory it is not cooperation at all in McCain’s polices.
Well said, msb. As I’d observed before, it all boils down to Zippy’s erroneous concept of the effectuality of an individual’s vote. He gets that wrong, so his conclusion (hyperscrupulosity in voting) is wrong.

Dave Mueller October 30, 2008 at 2:47 pm

That is an arguable question of fact, which everyone can test against reality.
I guess I agree with Zippy on his claim here, but disagree that it is true that we are “degrading the quality of candidates” by voting for the lesser evil. I’ve been voting for the lesser evil for a long time now, and sometimes it gets better, sometimes worse. It just depends on the overall quality of candidates in the primaries and the dynamics of them (who cancels each other out, etc.)
This time, it got worse. Next time, it’s very likely to get better. I’d be pretty surprised if one of Palin, Pawlenty, Jindal was not the GOP nominee.

JACK October 30, 2008 at 2:52 pm

“But under Zippy’s theory it is not cooperation at all in McCain’s polices.”
Um, no. That’s under your interpretation of his argument which is summed up on this sentence: “Zippy says the good (3) is negligible and the evil (2) is very strong. But by arguing that (3) is negligible, it must also be true that the evil (1) is negligible, since both depend, to the same degree, on how much one’s vote is effective.”
You may have something worthy of responding to, but don’t get carried away with your own argument. Zippy’s argument has never been solely about the harm done in casting a vote for a candidate who supports ESCR like McCain. It has always begun from classic moral theology on remote material cooperation with evil.

Zippy October 30, 2008 at 2:57 pm

… hyperscrupulosity in voting …
I’ll note in passing that, just as “imperfect” in McCain-and-Obama-supporter-speak is very frequently used as substitute language for “only supports some government sponsored mass scale murder of the innocent”, we now have “hyperscrupulousity” substituting for “won’t vote for a candidate who supports government sponsored mass scale murder of the innocent”.
You may draw your own conclusions.

DBP October 30, 2008 at 3:00 pm

“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”
John Quincy Adams
Votes have intrinsic value. They mean something beyond their practical effect. I don’t consider voting for a third party ticket to be quixotic or not pragmatic. In my opinion, the most pragmatic choice in the long term is to vote for a third party and in the long term it is quixotic to vote for the Republican party.
I don’t know how St. Thomas defines scandal or how the in vogue New Testament scholars define it, but the definition of scandal is a terminological issue. A substantive issue is the fact that leading another person by one’s behavior or attitude to be prone to sin or harm, including error, is a sin against charity unless one has a proportionate reason to justify that behavior or attitude. For instance, making the sign of the cross when eating out may lead others to curse God and religion, both sins, and cause a hardening of their heart, harm. One could argue that there is no need to make the sign of the cross there and that it is thus imprudent and a sin against charity to do so. One could also argue that the intrinsic value of the prayer together with the seeds of Christian witness it may plant in some, are of sufficient gravity to make it prudent and not a sin against charity. One or the other would be true; there would be a fact of the matter; one course of action would be objectively sinful and the other objectively good, even if we couldn’t determine which was which.
Voting for McCain leads others to sin. The question is, is there a proportionate reason to still vote for McCain? Saying that all human acts can lead someone to sin does not excuse. One still must reasonably evaluate whether any particular act will lead others to sin or harm greater in gravity than the goodness inherent in or brought about by the act. There is no goodness inherent in the act of voting for McCain, so the only question is, is there goodness brought about by the act of sufficient gravity? There is not. You don’t need to do scientific studies or use topology, statistical thermodynamics or any other hocus pocus to act prudently here. If you did, every time you cross the street you would need to check your blackberry on the scientific study on whether crossing the street is prudent at that time of day in that circumstance. Being moral does not require a science degree or a math degree. It needs common sense. Common sense knows teenagers are more reckless than adults and common sense knows voting for McCain is exceedingly unlikely in any arbitrary ordinary case to tip the scales. When one sides demands studies for proving teenagers are more reckless, you know which side has the better argument. That too is common sense.

SDG October 30, 2008 at 3:14 pm

Zippy,

Hmm. Are you really suggesting that the fact that history cannot be repeated implies that we can’t learn anything from it? What a strange suggestion.

When did I say that? I denied your premise that the “question of fact” is one that “everyone can test against reality.” “Testing” implies repeatability under controlled conditions.
In the case of a quadriannual political process taking place in a constantly changing society subject to innumerable cultural forces and processes of change, to infer a causal relationship between any alleged decline in candidates and specific voting strategies. I don’t say it would be impossible. But it’s certainly not something that “everyone can test.”
(Aside to JACK: Hope that answers that.)

The Masked Chicken October 30, 2008 at 3:22 pm

My apologies to DBP. I was a little grumpy and very rude in my reply about the electron problem. I didn’t get enough sleep last night :(
My point is that what seems obvious is not always, so. It may seem obvious that each voter contributes little to the outcome of an election, but it also seems obvious that stepping on a butterfly will have no influence on weather a thousand miles away and yet, this is what the mathematics suggests.
Zippy, does it count at all in McCain’s favor that he will only allow ESCR on existing cell lines? McCain is not, at the moment doing anything, as I understand it, except leaving President Bush’s standing orders in place. I am not well enough versed on McCain’s policy on ESCR to know if he is advocating expanding the use of embryos, but I thought he was not. If that is the case, then it would seem that his is a sin of cooperation with an existing sin. This does not excuse him (if my information is correct), of course, but it does limit the damage proposed.
Can someone quickly enlighten me (us)? Thanks.
How many people (show of hands) are suffering from election burnout? We, literally, have buses leaving every half-hour from campus to take students for early voting (the law, here, allows for absentee ballots to be cast by anyone who is too inconvenienced to show up on election day). Their slogan is: vote early, vote easy. I often confuse this with: vote early, vote often or even: vote early, vote Obama. Sigh.
The Chicken

DBP October 30, 2008 at 3:49 pm

If you were rude, I didn’t realize it. I never said that each voter contributes little. I said that the probability that any arbitrary voter contributes more than little is itself little. So some voters contribute a lot but the probability that any arbitrary voter is one of these is very small due to the proportion of these voters relative to the total number of voters. Your butterfly example is enlightening. Some butterflies do influence the weather a thousand miles away in a dramatic way. But the probability that any arbitrary butterfly is going to do it is small. This is what you don’t seem to have understood. Some lottery tickets are not worthless but the probability that any arbitrarily chosen ticket is of dramatic value is negligible, even when the jackpot is hit.

Jordanes October 30, 2008 at 3:55 pm

we now have “hyperscrupulousity” substituting for “won’t vote for a candidate who supports government sponsored mass scale murder of the innocent”.
No, we have “hyperscrupulosity” substituting for “has such scruples that he can’t bring himself to vote in such a way that could help prevent the election of a candidate who supports government sponsored mass scale murder of the innocent, destruction of the Catholic health care system, promotion of homosexuality, and the wholesale deformation of marriage law.” It’s even got you downplaying the importance and effectiveness of voting (reminiscent of the Sour Grapes fable) and playing unconvincing intellectual games with the principle of double effect. But the bishops are better guides on this point, so I’ll listen to them. It’s just too bad you couldn’t keep your scruples to yourself instead of confusing people with your arguments.

msb October 30, 2008 at 4:13 pm

JACK said: “Zippy’s argument has never been solely about the harm done in casting a vote for a candidate who supports ESCR like McCain. It has always begun from classic moral theology on remote material cooperation with evil.”
I am not sure if I have explained myself properly. There are two kinds of bad things on the table in voting for McCain. One is that voting for McCain assists his policies because it helps him get elected. The other is that it taints the voter.
Only the first is remote material cooperation in the evil of McCain’s policies. But under Zippy’s theory it doesn’t exist at all, because under his theory there one person’s vote has no recognizable effect in helping McCain getting elected. I disagree with that but it’s his theory.
The second evil is not remote material cooperation in McCain’s policeis, or in anything at all as far as I can tell. If it is anything, it is proximate evil done on oneself and one’s neighbors. It isn’t even in the cooperation category. It is just an evil thing. We’re not in the realm anymore of needing a proportionate good to justify remote material cooperation.
But maybe there is another moral theory by which we can do this evil if we have a good that proportionately outweighs it. Zippy seems to believe that, so I’ll grant it to him, though I would like to know how he gets there. And in assessing the goods to outweigh this evil, helping McCain get elected is off the table under Zippy’s theory. But trying to stop Obama is a good to balance it out (a big good since he is much worse), as is my good intention and clear well-known beliefs. And if we examine the act of voting for McCain, that choice is attenuated from McCain’s policies somewhat, so it’s not as bad as it seems in itself.
Therefore I argue that the good of my choice to try to stop Obama (and the good of voting for Palin, don’t forget–my ballot lists both of them on the same line) can, without tremendous mental effort, outweigh the stinkyness of voting for McCain.
Which is kind of another way of saying what SDG said, that it is always permissible to vote for the guy who is significantly better.

The Masked Chicken October 30, 2008 at 4:44 pm

Dear DBP,
Thank you for accepting my apology.
You wrote:
Your butterfly example is enlightening. Some butterflies do influence the weather a thousand miles away in a dramatic way. But the probability that any arbitrary butterfly is going to do it is small. This is what you don’t seem to have understood.
I understand chaotic dynamics fairly well (studied it with experts in graduate school and been on special sessions with experts in chaos theory, although I am not an expert, simply a user). The probability that any arbitrary butterfly is going to affect the weather a thousand miles away is the same as any other butterfly’s ability to affect the weather a thousand miles away. The mathematics of the Lorenz attractor (the first chaotic attractor found) says that the dynamics of weather (more precisely, convection) is infinitely sensitive to changes in initial conditions and this includes any and all butterflies flapping their wings, not just any single one.
This is because the position of each butterfly from time t to t + delta (delta very small) constitutes a change in the initial conditions and chaotic systems (like voting and the weather) are very sensitive to any changes in initial conditions. This change takes place for even an infinitesimally small change, including voters who switch sides like a butterfly flapping its wings.
The Chicken

DBP October 30, 2008 at 5:32 pm

It is clear to me that the probability that a randomly selected voter’s vote will change the outcome of an election is small. Yes some small number of voters cast significant votes, including in this election. Joe the Plumber’s vote is significant. But the probability that a randomly selected voter will be one of these Joe the Plumbers is small. If your mathematics doesn’t agree with that, there must be something wrong with your mathematics.

Jonathan Prejean October 30, 2008 at 5:56 pm

No, they cannot, unless you know a way to go back in time four years and have a do-over of the last election, and see what difference it makes this time around.
You consistently ignore questions of cause and effect and simply assume that causal relationships are whatever you want them to be.

I agree with your conclusion, but you can make a stronger case than the first statement. It simply isn’t *possible* for a vote to have made a difference in that way, because voting isn’t ordered to producing the effect that it is purported to create. Even if (per impossible) we could re-run time and it turned out that the outcome changed, that still wouldn’t indicate that the vote caused it. It would simply be an accident that your vote (or some particular collection of similar votes) served as the occasion for someone to make this or that campaigning decision; nothing in your act produced that effect.
To put it another way, the fact that people use a morally good vote as an excuse to do evil is no more caused by the good vote than the fact that people commit adultery is caused by marriage. Yes, marriage is the occasion that must be present for there to be adultery, but that hardly means that getting married somehow becomes a bad decision because one’s spouse later commits adultery. People have so inflated their own sense of determinism that they assign themselves responsibility for someone else’s free-willed choice, which is just hubris. My vote doesn’t make people who choose candidates do anything; I make my choice, and they react as they choose. So I completely reject even the concept that a vote causes this “creep” in the pro-life position, because there is an intervening act of free will that makes such causation impossible.

Zippy October 30, 2008 at 6:02 pm

But under Zippy’s theory it doesn’t exist at all, because under his theory there one person’s vote has no recognizable effect in helping McCain getting elected. I disagree with that but it’s his theory.
The categorical “at all” isn’t strictly true — as a great many people have gone to great lengths to shout in response to my argument. I don’t deny that casting a vote has an effect on the presidential election outcome; I just deny that that effect is at all significant, as an objective matter, compared to its concomitant outcome-independent effects. It is certainly remote material cooperation with evil in the mind of the person who does it in order to help his candidate get elected, and that in itself, its mere status as intentionally calculated remote material cooperation with evil, has outcome-independent effects. That his act done in order to help his candidate get elected is in fact vanishingly ineffectual in actually achieving its intended end is a strike against its proportionality, not a strike against its mere status as an act of remote material cooperation with evil.

Zippy October 30, 2008 at 6:06 pm

“Testing” implies repeatability under controlled conditions.
“Test against reality” implies no such thing in everyday conversation. Now you are just being silly.

Zippy October 30, 2008 at 6:07 pm

But under Zippy’s theory it doesn’t exist at all, because under his theory there one person’s vote has no recognizable effect in helping McCain getting elected. I disagree with that but it’s his theory.
The categorical “at all” isn’t strictly true — as a great many people have gone to great lengths to shout in response to my argument. I don’t deny that casting a vote has an effect on the presidential election outcome; I just deny that that effect is at all significant, as an objective matter, compared to its concomitant outcome-independent effects. It is certainly remote material cooperation with evil in the mind of the person who does it in order to help his candidate get elected, and that in itself, its mere status as intentionally calculated remote material cooperation with evil, has outcome-independent effects. That his act done in order to help his candidate get elected is in fact vanishingly ineffectual in actually achieving its intended end is a strike against its proportionality, not a strike against its mere status as an act of remote material cooperation with evil.

Zippy October 30, 2008 at 6:09 pm

For some reason my posts are disappearing into the ether now. Maybe this one will make it. In any case, I don’t think I really have much to add at this point: this is largely just a rehash of ground already covered.

The Masked Chicken October 30, 2008 at 6:19 pm

Zippy,
Define reality.
The Chicken

SDG October 30, 2008 at 6:24 pm

“Test against reality” implies no such thing in everyday conversation. Now you are just being silly.

I dissent on both counts. AFAICT, it would be truer to say that “test against reality” is not a phrase that has a lot of cache in colloquial usage (e.g., Google clocks matches in only three figures). When someone uses a phrase like that in everyday conversation, I don’t suppose it means something other than what I would mean by it in any other connection. I don’t even know what the “real,” colloquial meaning is supposed to be.

SDG October 30, 2008 at 6:26 pm

I don’t know how St. Thomas defines scandal or how the in vogue New Testament scholars define it, but the definition of scandal is a terminological issue.

Why do you drop prejudicial language like “in vogue”? FWIW, I was talking about the New Testament writers, not “scholars.”

A substantive issue is the fact that leading another person by one’s behavior or attitude to be prone to sin or harm, including error, is a sin against charity unless one has a proportionate reason to justify that behavior or attitude. For instance, making the sign of the cross when eating out may lead others to curse God and religion, both sins, and cause a hardening of their heart, harm. One could argue that there is no need to make the sign of the cross there and that it is thus imprudent and a sin against charity to do so. One could also argue that the intrinsic value of the prayer together with the seeds of Christian witness it may plant in some, are of sufficient gravity to make it prudent and not a sin against charity. One or the other would be true; there would be a fact of the matter; one course of action would be objectively sinful and the other objectively good, even if we couldn’t determine which was which.

You seem to be suggesting that any act we perform that becomes an occasion of another’s sin, even if there was no way to know that our action would have that effect, is objectively sinful. Surely you can see this is nonsense.
What if some people at the table will curse God if you do cross yourself, while others will despise religion if you don’t? Virtually all acts have mixed effects; virtually anything you do may be an occasion of someone or other falling into some sort of sin.

Voting for McCain leads others to sin. The question is, is there a proportionate reason to still vote for McCain? Saying that all human acts can lead someone to sin does not excuse. One still must reasonably evaluate whether any particular act will lead others to sin or harm greater in gravity than the goodness inherent in or brought about by the act. There is no goodness inherent in the act of voting for McCain, so the only question is, is there goodness brought about by the act of sufficient gravity? There is not.

No one has yet shown me any reason to believe that voting for McCain correlates with occasions of (or cooperation with) sin to any greater degree than voting for anyone else, or than not voting, or than most human activities.

You don’t need to do scientific studies or use topology, statistical thermodynamics or any other hocus pocus to act prudently here. If you did, every time you cross the street you would need to check your blackberry on the scientific study on whether crossing the street is prudent at that time of day in that circumstance. Being moral does not require a science degree or a math degree. It needs common sense. Common sense knows teenagers are more reckless than adults and common sense knows voting for McCain is exceedingly unlikely in any arbitrary ordinary case to tip the scales. When one sides demands studies for proving teenagers are more reckless, you know which side has the better argument. That too is common sense.

What does it say about which side has the better argument when one misrepresents the other? For instance, when did I demand studies proving that teenagers were more reckless?
The thing about what you call “common sense” that you have perhaps not glommed to is that it reflects, certainly in this case, the collective, mutually reinforcing observations of countless people over many generations. You may think that it is crashingly obvious to you solely on your own observations, but your observations are worth much less, and your dependence on others is much greater, than you realize.
I’m delighted to hear being moral needs common sense. All of McCain’s countless serious, pro-life Catholic supporters surely can’t all be lacking in common sense. Otherwise, we wouldn’t know that teenagers are reckless, would we? Isn’t that why we call it common sense?
The mantra that “voting for McCain is exceedingly unlikely in any arbitrary ordinary case to tip the scales” has been addressed again and again. On this point at least, the defense rests.

SDG October 30, 2008 at 6:28 pm

I don’t know how St. Thomas defines scandal or how the in vogue New Testament scholars define it, but the definition of scandal is a terminological issue.

Why do you drop prejudicial language like “in vogue”? FWIW, I was talking about the New Testament writers, not “scholars.”

A substantive issue is the fact that leading another person by one’s behavior or attitude to be prone to sin or harm, including error, is a sin against charity unless one has a proportionate reason to justify that behavior or attitude. For instance, making the sign of the cross when eating out may lead others to curse God and religion, both sins, and cause a hardening of their heart, harm. One could argue that there is no need to make the sign of the cross there and that it is thus imprudent and a sin against charity to do so. One could also argue that the intrinsic value of the prayer together with the seeds of Christian witness it may plant in some, are of sufficient gravity to make it prudent and not a sin against charity. One or the other would be true; there would be a fact of the matter; one course of action would be objectively sinful and the other objectively good, even if we couldn’t determine which was which.

You seem to be suggesting that any act we perform that becomes an occasion of another’s sin, even if there was no way to know that our action would have that effect, is objectively sinful. Surely you can see this is nonsense.
What if some people at the table will curse God if you do cross yourself, while others will despise religion if you don’t? Virtually all acts have mixed effects; virtually anything you do may be an occasion of someone or other falling into some sort of sin.

Voting for McCain leads others to sin. The question is, is there a proportionate reason to still vote for McCain? Saying that all human acts can lead someone to sin does not excuse. One still must reasonably evaluate whether any particular act will lead others to sin or harm greater in gravity than the goodness inherent in or brought about by the act. There is no goodness inherent in the act of voting for McCain, so the only question is, is there goodness brought about by the act of sufficient gravity? There is not.

No one has yet shown me any reason to believe that voting for McCain correlates with occasions of (or cooperation with) sin to any greater degree than voting for anyone else, or than not voting, or than most human activities.

You don’t need to do scientific studies or use topology, statistical thermodynamics or any other hocus pocus to act prudently here. If you did, every time you cross the street you would need to check your blackberry on the scientific study on whether crossing the street is prudent at that time of day in that circumstance. Being moral does not require a science degree or a math degree. It needs common sense. Common sense knows teenagers are more reckless than adults and common sense knows voting for McCain is exceedingly unlikely in any arbitrary ordinary case to tip the scales. When one sides demands studies for proving teenagers are more reckless, you know which side has the better argument. That too is common sense.

What does it say about which side has the better argument when one misrepresents the other? For instance, when did I demand studies proving that teenagers were more reckless?
The thing about what you call “common sense” that you have perhaps not glommed to is that it reflects, certainly in this case, the collective, mutually reinforcing observations of countless people over many generations. You may think that it is crashingly obvious to you solely on your own observations, but your observations are worth much less, and your dependence on others is much greater, than you realize.
I’m delighted to hear being moral needs common sense. All of McCain’s countless serious, pro-life Catholic supporters surely can’t all be lacking in common sense. Otherwise, we wouldn’t know that teenagers are reckless, would we? Isn’t that why we call it common sense?
The mantra that “voting for McCain is exceedingly unlikely in any arbitrary ordinary case to tip the scales” has been addressed again and again. On this point at least, the defense rests.

The Masked Chicken October 30, 2008 at 6:29 pm

Dear DBP,
The mathematics of strange attractors has been known for at least one hundred years. Nobody doubts their existence.
The Chicken

SDG October 30, 2008 at 6:40 pm

That his act done in order to help his candidate get elected is in fact vanishingly ineffectual in actually achieving its intended end is a strike against its proportionality, not a strike against its mere status as an act of remote material cooperation with evil.

This appears to make no sense. It has always appeared to make no sense. Many people have pointed this out, including the Chicken, Jordanes and myself. I have never seen an attempt to explain it in such a way that one could possibly think it makes sense.
Your 6-point summary argument has an appearance of making sense. This does not.
Could you try explaining it in such a way that it appears to make sense? Specifically, can you explain why vanishing ineffectuality in contributing to a candidate’s election wouldn’t moderate both contribution to good and remote material cooperation in evil in exact proportion to one another?

bill912 October 30, 2008 at 9:05 pm

This comments link stuff *is* getting old. It’s on all the threads.

DBP October 30, 2008 at 9:06 pm

I think probably you mean “Nobody as educated and intelligent as I doubt their existence and how they apply successfully to the argument I am making” since otherwise I don’t see how your comment is relevant. I don’t doubt that some voters cast votes that are significant including in this election. I doubt that the proportion of these voters to the total number cast in this election is a high proportion. Since it is a low proportion, the probability that you are amongst these few voters is a low probability.

DBP October 30, 2008 at 9:27 pm

You seem to be suggesting that any act we perform that becomes an occasion of another’s sin, even if there was no way to know that our action would have that effect, is objectively sinful. Surely you can see this is nonsense.
What if some people at the table will curse God if you do cross yourself, while others will despise religion if you don’t? Virtually all acts have mixed effects; virtually anything you do may be an occasion of someone or other falling into some sort of sin

You seem to be suggesting that some sins are somehow sinful in a non-objective way. There’s no such thing. There are objective sins and there are formal sins and the formal sins are sinful because it is objectively sinful to go against one’s conscience. There’s no “subjective” sin that doesn’t involve an objective sin. To believe otherwise is to have a relativist mindset.
I never said that causing an occasion of sin for someone else is always an objective sin. In fact I said that it wasn’t always an objective sin and I think you know that.
We may not always know whether something is an objective sin since not all the facts are known to us, but the facts don’t change based on whether we know or not. What does change is whether we sin formally and whether we in doing so commit the distinct objective sin of going against the judgment of our conscience. If a bomber is ordered to drop a bomb on a target that is in fact civilian but was thought in good faith to be military, the person who ordered the bombing commits an objective sin since bombing a civilian target is objectively wrong. Since he didn’t do so knowingly and his ignorance was invincible, no formal sin is committed. If the terminology is confusing just look at this way: An objective sin is any act which would be formally sinful if the person knew all the pertinent facts. All formal sins involve objective sin since going against ones conscience is formally sinful if a person knows that going against one’s conscience is objectively sinful — something which every human being knows as it is objectively sinful, by definition, relativists notwithstanding.

SDG October 30, 2008 at 11:30 pm

You seem to be suggesting that some sins are somehow sinful in a non-objective way.

I have no idea where you think you are getting this from, or even what you think it is supposed to mean.
A thought. The sooner you abandon red herring attempts to implicate me in relativism, the more accurate your thinking will be and the better our chances of communicating at some point.

The Masked Chicken October 31, 2008 at 5:10 am

I think someone should dress up this Halloween as an electable fully pro-life candidate :)
The Chicken

JACK October 31, 2008 at 5:52 am

“Testing” implies repeatability under controlled conditions.”
SDG: Respectfully, I suggest you consider whether the pattern of always responding in opposition to Zippy has accidentally clouded your judgment on this point.
Because if this is your definition of what it takes to verify the truth of something you have no reasonable basis for being Catholic, because any reasonable basis relies on verification through means other than what you favor here. And if you use other means to verify something of that importance, surely it is possible that less significant aspects of life are open to such type of verification. Spend some time thinking about that before you respond. I’d suggest you read a book such as the Religious Sense on this subject.

Jonathan Prejean October 31, 2008 at 6:49 am

We may not always know whether something is an objective sin since not all the facts are known to us, but the facts don’t change based on whether we know or not.
This might be correct, so long as we acknowledge that one of the relevant moral facts is our own internal disposition, which obviously is under our control and does have the power to change the objective moral nature of the act. I mention this because there is a post-Enlightenment tendency to view the term “facts” as being “external facts” so as to exclude objective internal facts, in effect contrasting “objective” with “subjective.” But there are objective facts about the subjective state of one’s mind, just as we speak in law of “objective intent.”
For example, in any double effect case, the question of whether the evil effect is directly intended or only intended ulteriorly is an objective fact that determines the objective sinfulness of the act. If one directly intends the evil consequence, as opposed to it being an unwanted evil that is not essential to the act one is performing, then the act is objectively sinful. By contrast, if one intends the unwanted evil only ulteriorly for an (objectively) proportionate reason, then the act is neither objectively nor subjectively evil. Likewise, what is an objectively proportionate reason may depend on precisely what the facts are about the person’s internal disposition. Finally, even if the act were objectively evil, one still might not know that intending the evil consequence is objectively sinful, so the act still might not be formally evil. But we should distinguish the parts of subjective mental state that separate formal and objective evil and those that distinguish objective evil from not evil.
The reason I bring this up is because voting is obviously a case where the objective facts regarding one’s subjective disposition are extremely relevant to whether the act is objectively sinful or not. In particular, what is an objectively proportionate reason also depends on objective facts about the subject’s internal disposition, i.e., what the person wills to do with his vote.

Sleeping Beastly October 31, 2008 at 6:53 am

Chicken,
I like your costume idea. I can’t see it being very scary to anyone, though, except maybe the folks at the Planned Parenthood down the hill… if they’re not already frightened enough by amendment 48.
In any case, happy All Saints’ eve, everyone! Because it falls on a Saturday, the American bishops have declared tomorrow’s Mass non-obligatory. If you do get a chance to get to Mass tomorrow, though, it might not hurt to ask our brothers and sisters in Heaven for their prayers. Peace be with you all.

Jonathan Prejean October 31, 2008 at 7:03 am

Spend some time thinking about that before you respond.
I think you should have spent some time thinking about what SDG said before you responded. SDG’s response was clearly opposed to the idea that only what can be tested is true. In fact, it was directed against what SDG perceived as an overstatement of the capacity of testing, since it appears relatively obvious that there is no way to “test” what the effect of a different vote would have been with respect to singular and non-repeatable historical events. In other words, there is no way that the claim can be “tested against reality.” SDG nowhere implied that this meant that one could not determine some historical truth or that he was endorsing verificationism (viz., only what is testable in this manner can be accepted as true, which is self-defeating).
If anything, it appears to me that in accepting his opponent’s line of reasoning, you appear to have impaired your ability to heed what SDG is saying. He has been repeatedly misinterpreted, not just by you, but by several people taking the other side. I can understand where he would become frustrated with this style of “dialogue,” particularly since he has been subject to gratuitous assertions of relativism and verificationism. I note with some irony that the charges are mutually exclusive of one another, and being subject to mutually exclusive charges is often a sign that one is being misunderstood. I respectfully submit that if your starting point is that SDG holds some philosophical position blatantly incompatible with Catholic belief, then you should presume that you are in error and should put the burden on yourself to find the error before demanding that SDG explain why he is not a relativist, a verificationist, a positivist, or whatever other philosophical -ist he obviously isn’t.

Tom October 31, 2008 at 7:13 am

It’s been more than 20 years since I had to think about statistical mechanics, and I’m obviously missing something, but I don’t see what the Meyer and Brown paper tells us about the significance of a single vote for U.S. president in the 2008 general election, which is neither a tournament nor a sequence of alternatives.

SDG October 31, 2008 at 8:11 am

Aside to Mr. Prejean: Thank you, sir.
JACK,

“Testing” implies repeatability under controlled conditions.”

SDG: Respectfully, I suggest you consider whether the pattern of always responding in opposition to Zippy has accidentally clouded your judgment on this point.

Because if this is your definition of what it takes to verify the truth of something you have no reasonable basis for being Catholic, because any reasonable basis relies on verification through means other than what you favor here.

But I don’t always respond in opposition to Zippy. I’m happy to agree with him when I think he is right, which has happened a number of times in recent weeks.
Once again, I never said anything about “verifying the truth of something.” I spoke about “testing against reality,” which is one specific way of verifying the truth of something. Apparently you and Zippy got the same colloquial-use memo on that point that I missed, since both of you seem to regard the phrases as interchangeable. I have no problem allowing Zippy to define for himself and for me what his words mean when he uses them. That may indeed be one of the differences between him and me.
While I understand the point you are making about knowledge of truth and don’t disagree, rhetorical conclusions like “if so then you have no reasonable basis for being Catholic” seem to me to be of a kind that we ought to be reluctant to use, even provisionally. Rhetorical escalation should proceed moderately and nuclear options ought to be last resorts. I hope that makes sense. Thank you.

JACK October 31, 2008 at 8:22 am

Jonathan:
Your comment stretches things considerably. Zippy proposed the notion of testing against reality. SDG reduced the concept of what constitutes testing to something that means repeatability under controlled conditions, i.e., scientific method. If Zippy didn’t mean by his phrase testing against reality, and his subsequent clarification of what he meant by it, something akin to a process by which the truth of something is discovered or verified, I’m at an utter loss as to what he could have possibly meant. I think your rendition is not a reasonable reading. I am not suggesting that SDG believes in some absolute form of verificationism as you have called it. I am suggesting that his skeptism about the possibility of being able to discern truth about causation in these circumstances because scientific inquiry is not possible (which I think SDG would readily admit is stated in a strikingly extreme way) is grossly overstated and unwarranted.
And if it must be said so that people to whom the comment was not made can feel better and not take offense at a comment made to another, I have no doubts about SDG’s Catholicism. In fact, precisely because of that, it is why I used that example. For in turning to something that I am highly confident that I know SDG to know to be true, my hope is that he would then be able to see the fact that he has overstated things.
And to correct one final error on your point Jonathan, I actually don’t agree with Zippy’s ultimate conclusion. Shocking as it is, I’m fully capable of defending what I find reasonable and valid of Zippy’s argument against faulty attempts to attack it without ultimately agreeing with all that Zippy has concluded.

JACK October 31, 2008 at 8:26 am

SDG:
I would suggest then that your using a limited concept of reality. Zippy I think was precisely suggesting the notion of verifying the truth of something, which is precisely what testing against reality is. Far from being a subset of the notion of verifying the truth of something, it is its equivalent. The specific method you choose by which to carry out that testing (e.g., scientific inquiry, logical or mathematical deduction, accumulated observation over time and discernment of its signs) is the subset. Testing against reality is in fact the main concept.

JACK October 31, 2008 at 8:49 am

Because, after all, what besides reality is there to test against? And since when does the verb test imply a specific methodology of how to test? Methodology is determined by what is being studied, not the mere decision to test itself.
If the difference of opinion on this is simply a matter of word usage and some exaggerated ways of stating a difference of opinion at the confidence one can place in the conclusions drawn from the tests one is able to do on this subject, then I happily will stand corrected and say we’ve meeted out the crux of it.
It certainly did not read that way to start, though.

msb October 31, 2008 at 9:06 am

Zippy says: “{Voting for McCain] is certainly remote material cooperation with evil in the mind of the person who does it in order to help his candidate get elected, and that in itself, its mere status as intentionally calculated remote material cooperation with evil, has outcome-independent effects.”
This is a confusing way to say it, or a confusing position to hold, I am not sure which.
Remote material cooperation (RMC) is cooperation in the evil of effecting McCain’s policies. By definition, a person does not intend the policies.
You say, well he intends to do RMC. This is confusing. You can’t bring intent back into *the policies*. He doesn’t intend them, by definition. The cooperation isn’t intended. His intent (final end) is to stop Obama (and elect Palin). His object (proximate end) is to do it by voting for McCain. The cooperation is only a foreseen but unintended effect.
And, cooperation in the policies only happens if his vote *actually* helps those policies to come about. The *cooperation* isn’t in “casting a vote for McCain.” The cooperation is in helping enact McCain’s policies. “Casting a vote for McCain” may be an evil, but it’s not a cooperative RMC evil. If it is an evil, it is something else, some kind of proximate (not remote) tainting and scandal.
I grant you it is a tainting evil to some degree. But it is not an evil of *helping the policies happen*, under your theory, unless the vote *actually* helps the policies happen. My *mental* choice to foreseaably help enact the policies may be an evil, but it is not RMC unless it actually (not just mentally) helps them happen.
If I do have an actual impact, I also actually help stop Obama, to the exactly same degree. If I don’t, all we have left to weigh is the non-RMC evil of tainting. And that evil, I have argued, can reasonably be outweighed by the virtuous part of my act, which is to stop Obama and elect Palin. You can disagree with that weighing, but you can’t put your thumb on the scale on the evil side, by suggesting that the evil includes RMC in enacting McCain’s policies, after you just told us it has no actual help, becuase that means it has no cooperation.
So there are four things to weigh, or there are two, but there are not three. Either
we help elect McCain *and* help stop Obama, *and* we taint ourselves by voting McCain *and* cultivate virtue by voting to stop Obama (and electing Palin, I continue to emphasize),
OR
only the last two.
You can’t have the first one *and* the last two *and* leave out the second. And that has to be clear in the language you use to describe it.

DBP October 31, 2008 at 9:25 am

Jonathan, I agree with all you said except how you apply it to voting. What the person wills to do can’t affect whether there is an objectively proportionate reason for it. I understand you to be thinking there of a person’s goal and whether objectively his vote achieves that goal well and that this may differ depending on what the person’s goal is. What a person’s goal or what he wills to do has to not be merely non-intrinsically evil but good in the first place, something that would objectively be prudent, i.e. in conformity with justice and wisdom to do. So one can’t just freely pick and choose one’s goal and have what is objectively sinful vary from person to person based on that picking and choosing as long as the goal is not intrinsically evil. I agree though with you general principle that what is objectively sinful and what may be objectively proportionate reasons may depend on the objective facts about someone’s internal disposition. Someone who is disposed strongly to abuse of alcohol may not have an objectively proportionate reason to drink a couple glasses of wine whereas someone disposed to not abuse alcohol, may. I may have misunderstood how your application to voting. If so, trust it wasn’t intentional.
All formal sins do involve objective sin but not all objective sins involve formal sin. The objective sin formal sin always involves is the sin of going against the judgment of one’s conscience. I agree with your thought on helpful distinctions as long as we are to keep this truth in mind too. It is a pity that we even need to use “objectively” sometimes. Things are true always in an objective way just as sins are sins always in an objective way. I don’t think my opponent denied that he thinks some sins are sinful in a non-objective way; he only questioned what I meant by “objective” and “non-objective.” I’m not going to say that’s a non-denial denial; I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and understand him to be using “objective” in some colloquial way of “verifiable and established as fact.” I do think that reflects a relativist mindset or as I gather someone else said a verificationist mindset. As you note, much of our culture has been corrupted too by the “post-Enlightenment” tendencies. None of us are immune to cultural tsunamis.
I’ve traversed some wikipedia, and it appears that the form of verificationism most similar to what we’ve seen here would be pragmatism or neopragmatism. But I wouldn’t accuse anyone of any of these. I just think the cultural mindset these draw from is a mindset that seeps into many good hearted people. I think the problem is with Vatican II calling for an embracing of and engagement with modern culture and the eagerness to meet and greet culture that it has engendered in many.

JACK October 31, 2008 at 9:27 am

SDG: “While I understand the point you are making about knowledge of truth and don’t disagree, rhetorical conclusions like “if so then you have no reasonable basis for being Catholic” seem to me to be of a kind that we ought to be reluctant to use, even provisionally. Rhetorical escalation should proceed moderately and nuclear options ought to be last resorts. I hope that makes sense. Thank you.”
I can certainly respect that, although I think people might be overreacting to my comment. I presumed this to be a conversation of grown men who are thoughtful about their Catholic faith and frankly still don’t see how suggesting that the basis by which such men find the Catholic faith to be reasonable (and rightly so) would demonstrate the error in their objection to methods by which conclusions about other things not open to scientific testing is somehow an unreasonable rhetorical approach.
But if all conclude that I made it “too personal” and crossed some line by that approach, I’ll out of respect for the forum defer to that judgment.

JACK October 31, 2008 at 9:29 am

should say “conclusions about other things not open to scientific testing are reached”

Jonathan Prejean October 31, 2008 at 9:39 am

JACK:
You simply have no idea of what *I* was talking about, so your analysis with respect to Zippy is inapposite. I was the one who originally stated that this notion that my voting somehow causes the pro-choice creep in the parties was impossible, simply because a vote is not the sort of action even capable of causing that sort of evil decision even though it can be a purely accidental occasion for that decision to be made, in much the same way that the connection between marriage and adultery is purely accidental (viz., one must be married to be an adulterer, but there is no natural or causal connection between marriage and adultery).
Zippy replied that it could be tested against reality whether one’s vote caused pro-choice creep, and SDG responded that there was no way to perform what he would consider a test by his definition of the term. Now you argue that SDG should have known that Zippy didn’t mean by the term “testing against reality” that one performs some repeatable scientific measurement. Blame SDG for that misinterpretation if you want, but that doesn’t demonstrate that SDG consider this sort of testing is the only sort of testing available, only that he considered it exceedingly odd of Zippy to suggest that such testing could be done, as SDG mistakenly took him to suggest. Since you have no basis for your charge that he has any skepticism about more generally ascertaining historical fact, you need to retract it.
What disturbs me, and this reiterates my original point, is that whether one performs scientific inquiry in the sense of repeatable experiment (which obviously can’t happen) OR in the sense of historical inquiry, it is still impossible to demonstrate such a causal connection because the very nature of the thing itself renders such a connection impossible. My vote simply does not have the causal power to cause pro-choice creep; it is not ordered to cause the free choices of a subsequent actor, period. What a later person chooses to do given the circumstance of my vote simply cannot be caused by my action. Even granting that there are means of scientific inquiry into history apart from repeatable experiment, it is STILL impossible for such methods to show a causal connection between my (or aggregate) voting patterns and pro-choice creep, because my votes don’t have the causal power to produce the effect in principle. Before we get into HOW to test the causal principle, there must be some coherent causal principle being articulated to test, and until I hear one, I remain staunchly opposed to this idea that voters can cause pro-choice creep. It’s superstitious nonsense, precisely the same sort of romantic exaggeration of the power of the vote that leads people to parse the act of voting by effects rather than the nature of the act itself.

Jonathan Prejean October 31, 2008 at 9:44 am

And to correct one final error on your point Jonathan, I actually don’t agree with Zippy’s ultimate conclusion.
To remove all doubt in this respect, I meant your following this line of reasoning that there was some way to “test against reality” the phenomenon of voting causing pro-choice creep. That is an error in principle, of which quibbling over the form of testing with SDG is merely a symptom. This is not testable in principle, because votes have no causal power to produce the effect of free-willed decisions by others toward evil.

DBP October 31, 2008 at 9:57 am

I agree with Jack that Jonathan’s interpretation was not how it came across.

I can certainly respect that, although I think people might be overreacting to my comment. I presumed this to be a conversation of grown men who are thoughtful about their Catholic faith and frankly still don’t see how suggesting that the basis by which such men find the Catholic faith to be reasonable (and rightly so) would demonstrate the error in their objection to methods by which conclusions about other things not open to scientific testing is somehow an unreasonable rhetorical approach.

I agree with you and your approach. We are often too sensitive, myself included. Your approach was the exact approach St. Anselm used in his counter rebuttal to Gaunilo. So you are in good company. An indictment of you there would be an indictment of a Saint and Doctor of the Church. Maybe the person you were speaking with is a convert to the Faith; in that case, he may somewhat understandably be more sensitive to perceived challenges to his catholicity. I understood you well and saw you to be pointing out a potential contradiction between something two things he believed in … so it is amazing that someone would interpret you to be saying he was not Catholic. My hunch is that his perceiving some other people to be accusing him of moral failure led him to be hypersensitive to what you wrote. It happens and it’s not your fault. 2 cents please.

JACK October 31, 2008 at 10:07 am

Jonathan:
That the thread on testing began with a response to a comment of yours Jonathan doesn’t mean to suggest the argument didn’t evolve from there. So I’m not sure your read that it is so intimately tied up in your commentary is entirely warranted. But for what it is worth, I was making no attempt to respond to you at all.
The issue about testing I was raising was one with SDG’s comments and if he wants to suggest that your interpretation of his comments is correct, okay, but I’ll admit I struggle to see them in the text. You raise an obviously different objection, one focused on the intervening acts of other moral actors as some how “cutting” the causal chain. I’ll let Zippy handle that one on his own, because I have no particular passion for the subject other than to say there are obvious questions to be raised about the premise that creates this “impossible to test in principle” situation. After all, in the end you really are saying it is impossible to test because you deny it is possible for there to be a causal connection.
DBP thank you for at least demonstrating that I wasn’t a complete buffoon when I wrote my comment and didn’t anticipate such a reaction to it.

JACK October 31, 2008 at 10:15 am

“Since you have no basis for your charge that he has any skepticism about more generally ascertaining historical fact, you need to retract it.”
But that’s not what I said. I said SDG is skeptical about the ability to ascertaining the truth of Zippy’s hypothesis (see the words “in these circumstances” in the sentence you are referencing) given the lack of the option of scientific inquiry. I think that is precisely what SDG is arguing and I would think he wouldn’t object to my suggestion of that. He of course likely would object to my thought that his skepticism is not so warranted, but I’m at a loss how you could think that SDG would be offended by me saying he finds it hard to believe that, given the tools available for examining Zippy’s hypothesis, that SDG finds it difficult to believe they will demonstrate with sufficient confidence that the causation Zippy suggests is in fact true.

SDG October 31, 2008 at 10:27 am

JACK,

I would suggest then that your using a limited concept of reality.

I seriously doubt that my concept of reality has anything to do with it.
The issue seems to me to be what is meant by “testing.” I don’t see how anything I would ordinarily describe as “testing” can be performed by individual voters in an election scenario as regards the relationship of voting patterns with quality of candidates, and I don’t readily see what further semantic range might plausibly be available for “testing” to cover so as to allow us such a usage.
The proposal that “testing” and “verifying” are synonymous seems to me sheer Humpty-Dumptyism. If I look up a word in the dictionary, I verify its meaning; I don’t “test” it. Sitting here in New Jersey, I can verify that the Chunnel runs from Folkestone to Coquelles, but I can’t “test” it without going to Europe. And while I might be willing to speak of the Catholic faith as “verifiable,” I very much doubt I could be persuaded to say that it can be “tested against reality.” Do you see my point?
But this is semantics. If Zippy and/or you consider “testing against reality” to be, in some colloquial sense with which I am unfamiliar, broadly synonymous with “ascertain through observation and experience,” I’m perfectly willing to grant that usage for this discussion. I don’t care about semantics, or rather I do care, but it’s beside the substantial point.
The substantial point is this: Coexistence is one thing; correlation is something else; and causality is a third thing.
Zippy claims to know, first, that certain problems exist among McCain supporters. I’m willing to grant this, though with reservations about his assessment of particulars (since he was not only wrong about me, but won’t admit it, which right away raises certain flags).
From there, Zippy’s argument seems to me to leap to a causal model explaining the coexistence of McCain support and the problems in question. At least, sometimes he does. At least once, confronted with evidence that what he diagnosed (wrongly) in me as callousness with respect to murdering the unborn was not the effect of supporting McCain, he seems to have retreated to a mere statement of correlation (“Callousness with respect to McCain’s brand of murdering the innocent, and voting for McCain, are birds of a feather”).
However, moving from coexistence to correlation involves comparison against control groups. In this case, it involves empirical verification that the problems in question are more common among a given population than among other populations. For practical purposes, it would seem also to require verification that other equally serious problems do not similarly correlate with other populations; otherwise, it might be a case of choice of evils.
Finally, moving from correlation to causality involves… difficulties. To start with, it would seem to require meaningful experience with individuals moving into a given population from other populations. It might require before-and-after data, on a sufficiently granular level to be able to say which correlating factor was the likely cause of which. One would also need to have some basis for excluding the possibility that both correlating factors were causally connected to some third principle.
Nothing in Zippy’s discourse that I have seen persuades me that it is even marginally probable that he has any reasonable basis for making the moves described above.

I can certainly respect that, although I think people might be overreacting to my comment. I presumed this to be a conversation of grown men who are thoughtful about their Catholic faith and frankly still don’t see how suggesting that the basis by which such men find the Catholic faith to be reasonable (and rightly so) would demonstrate the error in their objection to methods by which conclusions about other things not open to scientific testing is somehow an unreasonable rhetorical approach.

It’s not a point I want to get sidetracked on. There is a difference between saying “The basis by which you find the faith to be reasonable should demonstrate that X is false” and saying “It looks to me like you are saying X, and if that is true, you have no reasonable basis for being Catholic.” Again, I throw this out for whatever value it may have to commend itself to you. If it doesn’t help, then it doesn’t help. Take it for what it’s worth. (I certainly don’t say you are a complete buffoon.)
Aside to DBP:

I agree with you and your approach. We are often too sensitive, myself included. Your approach was the exact approach St. Anselm used in his counter rebuttal to Gaunilo.

Very few people have ever found me to be too sensitive; many have found me the opposite. I don’t say such escalation is never justified; I question its propriety in the actual setting in which it appeared. It does not appear to be the case that Anselm’s reply to Gaunilo took the form you suggest.

Jonathan Prejean October 31, 2008 at 10:51 am

Jonathan, I agree with all you said except how you apply it to voting. What the person wills to do can’t affect whether there is an objectively proportionate reason for it. I understand you to be thinking there of a person’s goal and whether objectively his vote achieves that goal well and that this may differ depending on what the person’s goal is. What a person’s goal or what he wills to do has to not be merely non-intrinsically evil but good in the first place, something that would objectively be prudent, i.e. in conformity with justice and wisdom to do. So one can’t just freely pick and choose one’s goal and have what is objectively sinful vary from person to person based on that picking and choosing as long as the goal is not intrinsically evil.
These are all salutary points, and I would like to build on them to see if we can’t end up in agreement. I do not suggest that one can choose objective reasons willy-nilly, but perhaps it will help to say what voting is by its nature. By its nature, voting is the formal indication of a reasoned preference from options presented to you. It is all to the good if that reasoned preference actually has some effect in terms of actually putting the better man in office, but in the end, the good produced by your vote is essentially that a responsible citizen thought through a decision carefully about which preference best serves the common good and formally committed his reasoned decision in the public trust.
What counts as a preference or option in this case is conditioned on judgment of politics as the “art of the possible.” Some people believe that there can be a real effect of voting third-party or abstaining in elections; in my judgment, those are acts of such miniscule political significance that they can never have any effect. It therefore seems legitimate to limit my preference among those that I see as being really presented to me as options within the democratic system, although reasonable men might disagree about the possible effects of third-party coordination or mass abstention.
Given that definition, there is an essential role for reasons in terms of the moral significance of this act, and that is why I say this is one of those cases where the objective facts about the person’s state of mind matter. The vote is objectively wrong if the choice is objectively unreasonable. And that is where the objective hierarchy of Catholic moral teaching comes into play. We have been instructed repeatedly by the Magisterium that some objective reasons for voting for candidates are graver than others. The intrinsic evils of abortion, euthanasia, and homosexual “marriage” are fundamental assaults on human dignity so severe that even advocating against government limits against them is intrinsically evil, so grave that no reason can possibly support them. Thus, objectively, there is no amount of good (or poor) judgment on any other issues that can override the actual evil done by a government official using his office to advocate for these things. Conversely, the only objective reason for selecting between two candidates who are both doing these is to limit the harm by choosing the candidate whose position entails less of this sort of harm.
So I am not advocating a purely subjective determination here. Far from it! I am simply saying that reasons matter in the choice, that these reasons must be objective reasons, and that objective reasons demand that one vote to limit the direct harm a candidate does to the most fundamental obligations of government. Perhaps if the government ever gets past the level of complying with its basic natural obligations, then we will have the luxury of deciding based on better reasons. But in a case where both candidates are so poor that they inflict harm on the public good merely by taking office, objective reason demands that we make the choice to limit this harm to the extent possible. If I thought that a third party candidate was a legitimate democratic choice, that might involve voting third party, but again, I personally do not judge that to be the case.

Jonathan Prejean October 31, 2008 at 11:04 am

One would also need to have some basis for excluding the possibility that both correlating factors were causally connected to some third principle.
But even before you get to excluding alternate explanations, you need to have a first explanation. I haven’t seen one single explanation in principle for linking the two phenomena causally. There seem to be this “sense” that pro-life creep is somehow caused by votes, and I am not willing to accept the notion that irrational people use legitimate votes as an excuse as a causal explanation, any more than I am willing to accept that the star positions at someone’s birth dictated what they would do on some later date. Nobody forces the Republican party to trend toward evil based on the legitimate indications of preferences between candidates before us; they do that on their own. How on earth can I be said to cause someone’s poor choices simply by saying that, of two bad candidates, I consider this one slightly less bad?

JACK October 31, 2008 at 11:20 am

SDG: On the Catholicism comment, I’m willing to drop it, but I will simply say that if my sentence actually ended there instead of going on to say that what I meant by the comment (that whole “because any reasonable basis relies on verification through means other than what you favor here” part) I’d agree with your construal and point.
On my mention of a possible difference in the concept of reality, I threw it out there because some of your earlier comments seemed to suggest that the difference might have been due to how you were conceiving what fits into those terms. If your argument is entirely on the differences in the view of testing, ok. No biggie. It just seemed like you seemed to possibly restricting what could be taken into account by a testing process a priori and not merely arguing over what a specific method of testing could take into account.
On the difference between testing and voting, funny thing is I did look it up in a dictionary and thesaurus just for fun. Guess what? They are listed as synonyms. But I agree I care less about the semantic argument than the substantive one, so if a change in terms is what will advance the subject then by all means.

JACK October 31, 2008 at 11:24 am

that should have been “testing and verifying”

SDG October 31, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Synonyms are not always synonyms. (Let the reader understand.)
What shall we talk about?

DBP October 31, 2008 at 1:52 pm

It does not appear to be the case that Anselm’s reply to Gaunilo took the form you suggest.

Have you read it?

But I call on your faith and conscience to attest that this is most false.

St. Anselm to Gaunilo

St. Anselm pointed to what he believed to be a contradiction between Gaunilo’s Catholic faith and something Gaunilo was contending. That’s what I understood Jack to be doing too.
I don’t think the situation St. Anselm faced was more grave than the one faced by Jack or for that matter, Zippy. I don’t think there was any “escalation” anywhere, a thousand years ago or today. If a remark like St. Anselm’s is too harsh or grating then we know one thing, one is not cut out for political life and one may not even be cut out for political participation. If voting and political participation is an occasion of sin, grief, harm, or some other deprivation of good, then it is morally incumbent to refrain from it. The secular dogma of voting as an unquestioned right permeated many of your polemical points against Zippy. Instead of appealing to your faith and conscience to attest to the falsehood of that secular dogma, I will let the matter rest with the example of St. Anselm’s remark to Gaunilo. I don’t hold this with the same certitude, but those not educated enough to vote should also have the humility to abstain from voting too. Since I don’t know what strange attractors are, maybe I fall in that category 😉

Jonathan Prejean October 31, 2008 at 2:08 pm

The secular dogma of voting as an unquestioned right permeated many of your polemical points against Zippy.
Just to be clear, the obligation of political participation is a natural obligation, not a secular one. Man is by nature a social and political animal. There may be serious reasons not to participate in some particular exercise of the political process, but the obligation motivating SDG’s position should charitably be assumed to be the natural obligation to participate in political society. If you aren’t going to exercise your opportunity to participate in the political process, then you had better have a good reason, because natural reason says that you should avail yourself of such opportunities as a responsible member of human society.

Rotten Orange October 31, 2008 at 2:27 pm

The secular dogma of voting as an unquestioned right permeated many of your polemical points against Zippy.

Dear DBP
Perhaps I’m too stupid, but I’ve been following this (now rather tiring) whole affair and I didn’t get that impression at all, quite on the contrary. It’s Zippy’s position (criticized by SDG) that seems to be giving the act of voting some very weird connotations…

Anonymous October 31, 2008 at 2:53 pm

DBP,
I wouldn’t have said it if I hadn’t.
I think my existing comments are sufficient response.

SDG October 31, 2008 at 2:55 pm

oops, that was me on my iPhone.

Rotten Orange October 31, 2008 at 3:13 pm

oops, that was me on my iPhone.

…inside a movie theater?

DBP October 31, 2008 at 3:46 pm

One can participate in politics without voting. Youth who participate in peaceful pro-life demonstrations don’t vote but they are politically active.
One can contribute to the good of society in many ways and there is a “munus” of man to do so, but the way we do it is an individual calling. One has limited time and resources; not all are called to place these in the political sphere.
Catechism 2240 does speak of an obligation to exercise one’s right to vote. But the secular dogma was in accepting an unquestioned right to vote. There’d be nothing wrong with society going back to a higher age for suffrage and there’d be nothing wrong intrinsically with going back to selective suffrage. If Zippy’s position is contrary to Catholic doctrine, then SDG should be able to refute it without appeal to secular doctrine or the memory of Ronald Reagan. I don’t interpret the Catechism there the way you might. They may have in mind countries where voting is obligatory by law. A college student who decides to spend 10 hours studying instead of doing the necessary research for his local elections is doing nothing wrong. You don’t need any more a reason to not vote than you do to vote. In both cases you need a good reason to justify the time you are spending that could be spent doing something else. But since we can’t be constantly juggling the mathematics of opportunity cost in our head, it is fine to just go with the flow except for the most important decisions.
One person may be called by God to educate himself on the issues and vote accordingly. Another person may be called by God to deeper personal prayer and spend the time saved in that prayer and reflection. If one chooses, based on simply a stirring of one’s heart, to be steeped in prayer and meditation instead of political engagement, God won’t tell you when you approach him in prayer: “You better have a good reason for spending so much time in prayer and meditation that you don’t have the time to spend a few days to familiarize yourself with the issues and vote.” God would be pleased that you put him first and left providence to Providence. It’d be a different story if you were a U.S. Senator needed in a critical close vote; there your vote has a high chance of being significant and you have an additional obligation to represent your State. Here, your vote has a low chance of being significant.
I think it is common sense that for many people political participation harms their practice of moral virtue. Browsing any political forum would make one see it, it not meeting some scientific standard, notwithstanding. If science and math were needed for moral virtue, then I guess we would need to decanonize a whole bunch of saints. If “strange attractors” or “mutually reinforcing” ever appears in a teaching instrument signed by the Holy Father, then I’ll stand corrected. Rigor has a place in science and math. It’s not something that has a place in the virtue of wisdom. St. Francis of Assisi shared with you:

Hail Queen Wisdom, the Lord salute thee with thy sister Holy-Pure Simplicity. . . . Holy Wisdom confounds Satan and all his wickednesses. Pure Holy Simplicity confounds all the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the body.

We need but ask one question if and when we vote:
Which choice would be most pleasing to God?
Pretend that God is right there with you when you vote and then ask yourself that question again. Then, vote and realize that you needn’t have pretended since He really was right there. Can you imagine a member of the Holy Family voting for someone who supports government sanctioned killing of innocent children, especially considering what they went through? Peace is a sign of good moral judgment.

SDG October 31, 2008 at 5:20 pm

…inside a movie theater?

Never. Trick-or-treating.

We need but ask one question if and when we vote:
Which choice would be most pleasing to God?
Pretend that God is right there with you when you vote and then ask yourself that question again. Then, vote and realize that you needn’t have pretended since He really was right there. Can you imagine a member of the Holy Family voting for someone who supports government sanctioned killing of innocent children, especially considering what they went through? Peace is a sign of good moral judgment.

I’m sure you don’t mean it this way, but it comes off like you think little of others if you think that the level of moral reflection that has been expended so far has not brought them so far as your thought experiment. Ditto if you think I would expend all this energy defending a course of action that deprived me of peace with God.
Reconsider your thought experiment in light of Pope John Paul II’s scenario from Evangelium Vitae. Could you imagine a member of the Holy Family as a public official casting a decisive vote for legislation restricting some abortions while permitting others? If not, your experiment would seem to be at odds with the Holy Father’s teaching. If so, wherein lies the difference?

Jonathan Prejean October 31, 2008 at 7:06 pm

But since we can’t be constantly juggling the mathematics of opportunity cost in our head, it is fine to just go with the flow except for the most important decisions.
I don’t disagree. Just as there are can be good and serious reasons to miss Mass, there can be good and serious reasons to miss voting. God may be calling you not to go to Mass if you have a serious reason that justifies not doing so. My point is only that, like Mass, voting is a serious obligation that sometimes requires us to put even other good things that are less important out of the way. You can’t just say “I didn’t feel God was calling me to Mass this week” or even “I felt like praying to God in a different way this week” as a serious reason. Voting is similar.

Anonymous October 31, 2008 at 7:53 pm

Dear Tom,
I have been a devotee of your blog for some time, even being a participant under my civilian identity. I take your comments very seriously, both on your blog and here. I know that you are a mathematician, so I will try to be as careful as I can in what I say about the mathematics (or statistical mechanics) of voting so as not to confuse anyone or overstate something or say something outright stupid (but, pride, being what it is, it could happen). I don’t do work in either social mathematics or game theory, directly (and electron are so much easier to work with – as far as we know, they can’t change their minds!), but I do do work in belief revision theory because of work I am doing in another area at the moment.
The whole topic of the mathematics of voting is very interesting and I have spent a pleasant evening getting up to speed with some of the classic results.
You wrote:
It’s been more than 20 years since I had to think about statistical mechanics, and I’m obviously missing something, but I don’t see what the Meyer and Brown paper tells us about the significance of a single vote for U.S. president in the 2008 general election, which is neither a tournament nor a sequence of alternatives.
The Meyer and Brown work is relevant because it applies Arrow’s theorem or Arrow’s Paradox to the specific problem we have been considering in this combox and more generally to the election coming up (technically, called the voting paradox).
It has been claimed by Zippy that no individual vote is really very significant and so a single vote is non-proportional to the damage of voting for a candidate who supports an inherent evil, say ESCR as McCain does. I am going to specifically name this phenomenon so that we can properly refer to it. It is called, Down’s Paradox or the paradox of voting. The paradox says that since the cost of voting vastly exceeds the benefit (Zippy’s term is significance), there would seem to be no rational reason for voting and yet, for some reason, people do vote. Zippy’s point is a derivative of Down’s paradox in that he believes that (if I am stating his case correctly), that not only is a single vote insignificant and thus non-proportional to the outcome, but that positive harm can accumulate to the individual by the act of voting.
I do not wish to try to resolve these paradoxes, here, although I think I could make some headway, but there are several things I wanted to point out with regards to the issue of significance of a voter, since there is more than one way to look at significance. it can be used either statically, as in Down’s case or dynamically as in the Mayer and Brown case.
One of the purposes of the Mayer and Brown paper is to show that if each person has a ranking system for importance of topics (say, economics, abortion, gay rights, etc.) in an election (Arrow’s theorem requires a minimum of three topics – a, b, c in their figure 1, although the principle applies to more than just three preferences) and there are more than two people voting (the number can be any finite number > 2), then the end results of the voting can be cyclic (over time, each of the topics sticks it head out of the pack as the determinative topic for elections), even in a majority type election, such as we have in the United States but not only cyclic, but chaotically cyclic so that it seems as if the results of the voting were random and free, but they are not. This doesn’t have to happen in every case – there are probably some basins of stability in the state space (as I say, I haven’t done any work in this area), but according to the Mayer and Brown paper, chaotic cycles can be generated in some cases for some starting values of preferences, ranking, and numbers of voters.
The tournaments they are referring to in the paper in the graph theoretic sense, refer to the arrangements of dominance of voting preference (ordering of topics) at any given time. Certainly, this is happening in the election at this point with such things as the economy competing against the pro-life agenda for dominance.
Until each vote is cast and the voting process achieves a final state, where, indeed, each vote has a final assignable (but unknowable in a blind vote) significance, the preferences will be in a constant state of flux, cycling back and forth as each new pull or push changes the ranking of each topic of consideration in the election. If we had a box with each social topic in every home and everyone in the country would rank each topic each night before they went to bed, you might see this chaos (if we were in that region of state space) as stable grouping give way to short bursts of some dominant topic only to fall back in to a generally stable ranking which then suddenly flairs up again in a seemingly random pattern.
Statistically, however, I would conjecture that there is a bound around the variations that is rarely exceeded. If this is the case, then Down’s Paradox can be explained by the fact that they are using the wrong distribution to model it. The Wikipedia article talks about using a binomial distribution, but finds it to constricting in its social dominance. This may be because the distribution is too wide. I would like the results to be run again with a more narrow distribution, such as a Weibull distribution. I suspect the paradox would go away. Again, I don’t want to get drawn into thinking about this too much, since, in fact, some real distribution might be derived from actual voting patterns.
If the shifting of preferences up to the time of the election happened to be c chaotic (which we could find out if we had a ranking box in everyone’s home), then the ranking of each voter would be extremely significant, since chaos is fine-grained. Thus, at this point, right now, before the election, if the final rankings are in a state of flux (and who would not believe this?), then each voter’s state of mind, his vote, tonight, on the most important issues to him, would be extremely significant. As such, these “votes before the vote” are very significant in determining the way a person will vote on the day of the vote. So, voting is dynamically significant as a process of decision making.
As we approach the end of the voting cycle, people usually lock in on a particular mindset and in chaotic type elections a phenomenon called “critical slowing,” usually appears, where it becomes increasingly rare to see someone change their mind at the drop of a hat.
So, the Mayer and Brown paper is important in showing that the dynamics of an election can be very sensitive to the ranking of the topics (preferences) and that each person’s shift in preferences (as indicated by shifts in candidates who best match those rankings) can be very significant in determining how the final vote shakes out.
This same idea applies to what we have been discussing in the combox – whether to vote for no one, vote for a third party candidate or vote for McCain (I suspect most people, here, exclude Obama). There are more than three people reading this combox and three possible preferences, so Arrow’s theorem applies. There is no way to really satisfy everyone by what they do. All elections (according to one paraphrase of the theorem) are inherently unfair. We cannot have a situation where we can maintain all three options and still have a pro-life agenda perfectly realized.
Another reason for this has to do with what is known asDuverger’s Law that states that in a majority voting system (such as in the United States), that two party systems are, on average, more likely. While third parties increase the ranking space (the number of acceptable ways to order the topics), they do not expand the outcome space because the third party candidates are not viable. In considering whether to vote for for a major party candidate or a third party candidate, one has to consider not only the rankings of the topics up for influence, but also the ranking of the rankings. If the third party candidate is the only person who has the perfect order of ranking of preference of social topics for an individual, but he cannot be realized, then is a ranking of the rest of the space (the other candidates) also not a ranking? In this case, if a third party candidate cannot be realized, then can one not cast a meta-vote, a vote on the rankings, themselves? This is the basis of SDG’s arguments.
I guess I have made no sense and I am probably either wrong or speaking out of my depth. In any case, my study this evening of social choice theory has given me a lot to think about. Maybe I might learn a thingor two and not make such a fool of myself in making wild claims in this combox in the future.
The Chicken
p. s. Type pad may not let me put all of these links in, so I might have to break up the post.

DBP October 31, 2008 at 8:00 pm

I would say voting is more like daily Mass. You don’t need a serious reason. If you’ve been assigned responsibility in a serious way by society, then you would need a serious reason. A senator would as would a delegate to a convention. 2240 of the Catechism puts the moral obligation to vote in the same category as paying taxes and serving in the military. You don’t need a serious reason to not serve in the military. A draft would be a different story. If voting were a universal obligation like Sunday Mass, the juxtaposition in 2240 doesn’t make sense.

In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to “take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it”.98
A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

A law permitting abortion in the case of rape, incest, and jeopardy to the mother’s life is “intrinsically unjust” and “it is therefore never licit … to .. vote for it” or to campaign for it. The next paragraph does not prejudice this. If it did, it’d be reduced to nonsense. John McCain doesn’t favor rolling back pro-abortion laws; he favors creating new pro-abortion laws once Roe v. Wade is overturned. Upon Roe’s reversal, he would be for laws on the federal or state level enshrining abortion as a right in the cases of rape, incest and risk to the mother’s life. Voting for such a law in a state with currently no abortion law would be “never licit” as the law is “intrinsically unjust.” Voting for such a law as long as the law is merely functional when the state has already passed a more permissive law is a different story, presuming one’s intention is good. Evangelium Vitae can’t be spinned to be an endorsement of voting for McCain. If anything, it suggests that voting for McCain for the purpose of having legislatures one day do things which are “never licit” would be formal cooperation in evil.

DBP October 31, 2008 at 9:50 pm

My comment on applicability was not “taken very seriously”; Tom’s understandably was. St. Benedict in my opinion would have taken both seriously. When an erudite chicken dismisses the opinions of unlearned people like me with a lone sentence and wikipedia link, and then “takes very seriously” the identical opinion of a mathematician spending several pages in reply, it tells us two things: making someone else feel out of his depth runs the risk of someone else coming along making you look “foolish” and “out of [your own] depth” and forcing you to acknowledge the “wildness” of your claims; relying on the former person as a polemic against one’s opponent runs that same risk. I know this makes me look bad, but I speak in charity and am suggesting the “lessons” proposed by the erudite chicken as something we could all imbibe.
In the three links offered by SDG supposedly contradicting the “mantra” that “voting for McCain is exceedingly unlikely in any arbitrary ordinary case to tip the scales”, in the first, that fact is affirmed not denied and has been reaffirmed by Tom above. The next two links appear to be malformed, but I assume they were meant to link to comments by a chicken applying fancy math in ways that both a puny layman and a true blue mathematician, question.
I thought it was I not Zippy who disputed the applicability of those papers. Zippy’s position as portrayed by the chicken is not my own. I believe some individual votes are very significant in almost all national elections, including this one. The proportion of significant votes to total votes cast however is small. Therefore, the probability that a randomly selected voter will cast a significant vote is small. The chicken is characterizing Zippy’s position as, to analogize:
There’s a bag of 1000 marbles and Zippy says they are all purple; none are green.
I am saying the bag of 1000 marbles does have a few green marbles, say 3. A randomly selected marble has therefore a 0.3% chance of being green.
Crytopgraphic hashes. A change in the value of any one bit of data will in virtually every case dramatically change the hash value. The chicken gives the impression that votes work the same way. That a change in any one vote will in most, many or a high minority of cases dramatically change the outcome of a national election. That’s nonsense. If he specified what the proportion is I must have missed it admist the references to strange attractors and graph theory. Joe the Plumbers and charismatic voters are rare. The fact that no one can predict who will become a Joe the Plumber does not mean we can’t know that they will be rare.
I guess I was right when I said “then there must be something wrong with your mathematics.” 😉 Two links for consideration.
The fancy math the chicken is using is just technical window dressing masking what is at root an empirical and outlandish claim, not a deducible truth of math. If you fell for that, then now you know better. I didn’t digest the chickens new masterful mathematics but I did catch some talk about how inferior voting systems lend themselves to two party rule. I believe that’s true. But the response shouldn’t be to accept the inferior voting system and then make do with it. The response should be to try to change it. No theorem of math can disprove that the best way to change this inferior voting system is to consistently vote third party and encourage others to do so. Vox and I have had discussions on this in the part 5 thread. Vox, if you are reading this and you have more to add, I suggest you add it to this thread for convenience’s sake.

SDG November 1, 2008 at 5:50 am

I would say voting is more like daily Mass. You don’t need a serious reason.

It is not immediately apparent how this might be reconciled with the Catechism’s description of voting as “morally obligatory,” which going to daily Mass is not.

The Masked Chicken November 1, 2008 at 8:21 am

Dear DBP,
You have seriously misunderstood me. This is not my math, it is good, published literature. Tom questioned how it could be applied regarding significance. I have attempted to show how. I may be slightly out of my depth in that I haven’t had time to read all of the social theories of voting, but I sort of do know the math, since I do research and publish in the area of dynamical systems theory (the math used in the Mayer and Brown article).
No one is questioning the math in the article, Tom just questioned the applicability of it to the problem at hand.
Let me try it, again. Behind a final vote in a winner-take-all election, there are many difference preferences (ranking of importance) on many different topics for each individual voter. While the vote is taking shape in the days and weeks before the vote, these preferences are in a constant state of flux – coalitions are made and dissolved among the various topics, although you don’t see this because people do no have to state their rankings each day in public (it was part of the Mayer and Brown paper to give crude measures of this). You only see the final vote. These little clumps of coalitions may develop for any number of reasons: personal friendships, religious reasons, etc.
The final vote is a frozen snapshot of the ranking of the preferences of the voters at the moment of the vote. There many be n different topics of importance among m different voters and they give rise to a weighted spectrum that usually shifts around a central point until it settles in (converges) to some final distribution on the day of the election.
Where you give your weight to which topics within the total number can have a tremendous influence on the final election result and can cause the election results to change like greased lightening over seemingly very insignificant things. This does not always happen – there can be sedate elections, but in a highly polarized election, such as this, things can turn very quickly, as they did because of the sudden change in the economy.
Thus, the final vote in a winner-take-all election masks the true significance of each voter’s contribution to the final vote because it filters the rankings to an n state outcome, where n is the number of candidates (n very small). A candidate is a surrogate for the rankings of the voters. It would take a very large number of candidates (the same as the number of tournaments in the Mayer and Brown paper) to properly express the weights of each rankings of the voters. In statistical mechanics, we call this a partition function – how many voters fall into the different possible ranking slots.
The spectrum of rankings, its shape, etc., is extremely important in some cases, in determining the final vote, but the winner-take-all election smears out the data. It is a very course filter. One does not see the relative contributions of each subcomponent in the ranking process.
There may be many people who disagree about p out of the n possible ranking topics, but there is enough weight to push them all toward one particular candidate. Have you ever heard of the phrase, “politics makes strange bed fellows”?
Given that there is this masked significance to each vote, it makes no sense to say that each vote, simply because its final product is reduced to one candidate, is insignificant or disproportionate to the outcome. This, by the way, is why Down’s paradox is wrongly phrased. The word significance is applied to the vote outcome, only. Really, in a multi-ranked game with m voters, it is coming to be understood that there may be multiple Nash equilibria that may be reached. The particular input of any one voter pushing towards a particular equilibrium state can be huge. Unfortunately, the final vote does not show this influence. This is the way significance should be defined, not the results of a filtering process that simply smears out the whole state space to a single point.
I am pretty sure that these ideas are pretty close to being the right way to look at the process, but since I don’t have the technical apparatus of game theory at my finger tips, I will stop here.
As I pointed out earlier, each person’s vote is a measure of his ranking of the importance of each topic under his consideration as represented by a surrogate (candidate).
Zippy is, apparently, claiming that people who consider voting for McCain must consider pro-life issues more important than the state of their immortal soul (since they would be harming it by voting for McCain) or rather that McCain is not a true surrogate for life issues that are ranked very highly. This may be true, but since as I have tried to show, a vote can be significant for setting the agenda for discourse (ranking the options for public debate), we loose all voice in voting for a nonviable third party candidate in this election. The correct strategy is to build up strength for the third party between elections, not recommend that they be voted for at the last minute.
The Chicken
Oh, DBP, next time, skip the abusive ad hominem. I am not trying to bamboozle you with fancy math. The mathematics of voting is hard. I am trying to do my homework, but given the time constraints I am faced with (the topic of significance only came to my attention about a week ago), I am trying to summarize a very complex subject as best I can while I am trying to study it. A am a theoretician in the hard sciences, so, while I may be incorrect, I am not trying to blow smoke. If you don’t like my presentation, feel free to ignore it.

Jonathan Prejean November 1, 2008 at 8:27 am

A senator would as would a delegate to a convention. 2240 of the Catechism puts the moral obligation to vote in the same category as paying taxes and serving in the military.
Actually, the obligation is “to defend your country,” and in the context of the later quote, this means that you can’t simply abandon your country when it is invaded by aggressors, since your country is where God has placed you. It is also grouped with paying taxes, which is clearly not optional except for serious reasons. Voting is something which you HAVE been assigned responsibility to society to do, so it does fall within the class of obligations you listed.
I believe you have misinterpreted Catholic teaching on this point, which does put the obligation on the same level as other serious obligations, such as Sunday Mass attendance. Perhaps this misinterpretation, although it appears to be innocent, has caused you to take this obligation less seriously than you ought.
A law permitting abortion in the case of rape, incest, and jeopardy to the mother’s life is “intrinsically unjust” and “it is therefore never licit … to .. vote for it” or to campaign for it. The next paragraph does not prejudice this. If it did, it’d be reduced to nonsense. John McCain doesn’t favor rolling back pro-abortion laws; he favors creating new pro-abortion laws once Roe v. Wade is overturned. Upon Roe’s reversal, he would be for laws on the federal or state level enshrining abortion as a right in the cases of rape, incest and risk to the mother’s life. Voting for such a law in a state with currently no abortion law would be “never licit” as the law is “intrinsically unjust.” Voting for such a law as long as the law is merely functional when the state has already passed a more permissive law is a different story, presuming one’s intention is good. Evangelium Vitae can’t be spinned to be an endorsement of voting for McCain. If anything, it suggests that voting for McCain for the purpose of having legislatures one day do things which are “never licit” would be formal cooperation in evil.
You’ve confused a couple of concepts here. First, no one denies that there might be serious reasons to abstain from voting if you believed that action likely to produce more good than voting for the less restrictive law. That is a matter left to the judgment of the individual. I simply have no conviction that there are any alternatives realistically likely to produce more good than supporting a better candidate who might actually be in office. Others obviously differ, which they are entitled to do.
With regard to whether EV supports the freedom to vote for McCain, it clearly does. Voting for McCain precisely because he will pass laws with exceptions for rape and incest is clearly wrong; there is no question about that. However, voting for McCain because his position
relative to his opponent is more restrictive is a perfectly good reason to rationally prefer McCain and to indicate this preference (and voting is a preference as between democratic options, not an absolute endorsement). EV poses a case where both laws are intrinsically unjust, but one is less so. We have the same case with this election. Again, this doesn’t mean that one MUST vote for McCain, but one must have a serious, articulable, objective reason for why abstaining or voting third party is better than voting for McCain, since voting for McCain is clearly a licit option.

Jonathan Prejean November 1, 2008 at 8:28 am

italics off

Jonathan Prejean November 1, 2008 at 8:29 am

off

Jonathan Prejean November 1, 2008 at 8:30 am

off

Anonymous November 1, 2008 at 9:01 am

In a greater elaboration of the citizen’s duty to participate politically, the magisterium lists voting as just one of a variety of ways in which a citizen may do so, noting that not all are called to participate in the same way. Not everyone pays taxes, including payroll taxes. A good portion don’t. That’s why Obama’s claim of a tax cut for 95% of Americans is misleading. If you are saying that military service — which you concede is what the Catechism is referring to — is obligatory only when the nation is invaded, then you have to ask when paying taxes is obligatory. Obviously only when you are required by law. The same is true of voting. In the United States voting is not required by law. In other countries, for instance, Australia, it is. The Catechism is a universal catechism and designed to be a blueprint for local catechisms more applicable to countries and cultures.
The presence of something in the Catechism doesn’t add any more authority to a teaching than it had prior to its placement there as the Catechism contains no new teachings is not intended to add authority to existing teachings. So if there is some teaching that voting is a universal obligation then we would see it in another teaching instrument. SDG has the extreme view that the right to vote is universal, that it would be wrong in every circumstance for a nation to deny women suffrage. That has no support in the Catechism whatsoever. If the right to vote is not a universal right, then voting can’t be a universal obligation even restriced to those able to vote. We know this because if voting is not a universal right then someone may not only be justly not given the right but someone may on his own iniative decide that the right was not justly given him. For example, a woman just granted suffrage may decide that it’s best that women not have suffrage and best that she not vote. Interpreting voting as a universal obligation for those with the right, wouldn’t allow a woman to do that.

You have seriously misunderstood me. This is not my math, it is good, published literature. Tom questioned how it could be applied regarding significance. I have attempted to show how. I may be slightly out of my depth in that I haven’t had time to read all of the social theories of voting, but I sort of do know the math, since I do research and publish in the area of dynamical systems theory (the math used in the Mayer and Brown article).
No one is questioning the math in the article, Tom just questioned the applicability of it to the problem at hand.

No, it is you who have seriously misunderstood me. Do you have any interest in understanding what I have to say or just what mathematicians like Tom have to say? You don’t seem to have realized, even though it has been pointed out to you, that on one or two occasions I said the same thing Tom said. I questioned how the math you cited could be applied in the way you applied it. The “mathematics” that was wrong was your own, your application of those papers and your application of other things “to the problem at hand”; if what you were doing there in applying mathematics, wasn’t mathematics, then you should have in transparency to your readers said so and instead described it as “guess work” or “chickenology.” You don’t seem to have seen the significance of what I wrote here:

I don’t see how it [the math you cited] disagrees with one of the two points I made, though.

DBP November 1, 2008 at 9:02 am

That was me. Italics off Hopefully it is off now.

DBP November 1, 2008 at 9:09 am

Repost to make my comment more readable with elaboration.
In a greater elaboration of the citizen’s duty to participate politically, the magisterium lists voting as just one of a variety of ways in which a citizen may do so, noting that not all are called to participate in the same way. Not everyone pays taxes, including payroll taxes. A good portion don’t. That’s why Obama’s claim of a tax cut for 95% of Americans is misleading. If you are saying that military service — which you concede is what the Catechism is referring to — is obligatory only when the nation is invaded, then you have to ask when paying taxes is obligatory. Obviously only when you are required by law. The same is true of voting. In the United States voting is not required by law. In other countries, for instance, Australia, it is. The Catechism is a universal catechism and designed to be a blueprint for local catechisms more applicable to countries and cultures. I don’t think your interpretation of military service as speaking of invasion is plausible by the way. Invasion is a cataclysmic event. Rather I think the Catechism has in mind countries where military service for a number of years is required by law. The world doesn’t begin and end with the United States.
The presence of something in the Catechism doesn’t add any more authority to a teaching than it had prior to its placement there as the Catechism contains no new teachings and is not intended to add authority to existing teachings. So if there is some teaching that voting is a universal obligation then we would see it in another teaching instrument. SDG has the extreme view that the right to vote is universal, that it would be wrong in every circumstance for a nation to deny women suffrage. That has no support in the Catechism whatsoever. If the right to vote is not a universal right, then voting can’t be a universal obligation even restriced to those able to vote. We know this because if voting is not a universal right then someone may not only be justly not given the right but someone may on his own iniative decide that the right was not justly given him. For example, a woman just granted suffrage may decide that it’s best that women not have suffrage and best that she not vote. Interpreting voting as a universal obligation for those with the right, wouldn’t allow a woman to do that.

You have seriously misunderstood me. This is not my math, it is good, published literature. Tom questioned how it could be applied regarding significance. I have attempted to show how. I may be slightly out of my depth in that I haven’t had time to read all of the social theories of voting, but I sort of do know the math, since I do research and publish in the area of dynamical systems theory (the math used in the Mayer and Brown article).
No one is questioning the math in the article, Tom just questioned the applicability of it to the problem at hand.

No, it is you who have seriously misunderstood me. Do you have any interest in understanding what I have to say or just what mathematicians like Tom have to say? You don’t seem to have realized, even though it has been pointed out to you, that on one or two occasions I said the same thing Tom said. I questioned how the math you cited could be applied in the way you applied it. The “mathematics” that was wrong was your own, your application of those papers and your application of other things “to the problem at hand”; if what you were doing there in applying mathematics, wasn’t mathematics, then you should have in transparency to your readers said so and instead described it as “guess work” or “chickenology.” You don’t seem to have seen the significance of what I wrote here:

I don’t see how it [the math you cited] disagrees with one of the two points I made, though.

DBP November 1, 2008 at 9:36 am

Likening voting to daily Mass doesn’t mean I take voting less seriously than you do. If it did, that would mean people attending daily Mass would be taking daily Mass less seriously than Sunday Mass. There’s no obligation to surprise a loved one with a gift, but that doesn’t mean you think the act a trifle.
In a democratic society, voting is a general obligation. But the United States is not a democracy. It has become more and more like a democracy over the years, but it is historically a Republic. Senators used to be appointed by State legislatures. If voting for a senator were a universal obligation then it would be impermissible for Americans to vote for a constitutional amendment repealing the part of the amendment making Senators directly elected by the people, since that would be casting their obligation off on someone else. If you view America as more a democracy than an orderly Republic, then you would be obliged to vote. If you view America like I do as a Republic, then you wouldn’t. It comes down to national identity and national good, a prudential judgment. I don’t try to turn back the clock on this one though; I recognize democratization is here to say. Accepting two party rule is like acquiescing to tyranny and a self-fulfilling prophecy. For the Libertarian candidate, polls show that a majority of Americans wanted him included in the presidential debate. Clearly, then a majority of Americans do not favor two party rule. If America is a democracy like you say, then what gives? It should be possible to effect the will of the people.

SDG November 1, 2008 at 10:36 am

Likening voting to daily Mass doesn’t mean I take voting less seriously than you do. If it did, that would mean people attending daily Mass would be taking daily Mass less seriously than Sunday Mass. There’s no obligation to surprise a loved one with a gift, but that doesn’t mean you think the act a trifle.

This doesn’t address what I said.

In a democratic society, voting is a general obligation. But the United States is not a democracy. It has become more and more like a democracy over the years, but it is historically a Republic.

The Catechism doesn’t say that voting is morally obligatory in democracies but not in republics.

If America is a democracy like you say, then what gives? It should be possible to effect the will of the people.

When did I make any unqualified statement about the United States as democracy?

Tom November 1, 2008 at 11:16 am

Chicken:
Thanks, I understand better what you’re getting at with the math of voting.
I may take this up later elsewhere — this is already a long comment thread and there are some pretty complicated ideas involved — but for now I’ll just say two things:
a) I think the candidate preferences, not the issues preferences, is the fundamental thing. The candidate preferences is what counts, literally, and an individual voter’s candidate preferences may change without his issues preferences changing (and of course vice versa).
b) I like formalisms as much as the next guy, but before I draw conclusions I’d like to see the model adapted to the actual situation (in particular, accounting for the facts that more than 90% of the voters regard the presidential election as a two-candidate election, and that choosing to not vote is more likely (if it is) than voting for a third candidate).

The Masked Chicken November 1, 2008 at 3:11 pm

Thanks, Tom, for being a calming voice in an already over-heated discussion. DBP, I apologize for being testy with you.
Down’s Paradox (the significance of a vote), being a paradox, has two sides of approximately equal logic. One side sees that the vote of an individual has near zero significance and wonders why anyone bothers voting, since putting that much effort into something with that small a significance seems irrational; the other side says that to put that much effort into something that requires a reason must imply that the process and the vote is extremely significant. One cannot be both rational and irrational, both proportionate and disproportionate at the same time. This is an apparent paradox and both sides of it have been argued in this combox.
I have indicated my take on the problem – I think the problem lies in an imprecise use of the word significance. The matter is still open for debate among anyone who wants to try to resolve it.
I conclude that neither side is to blame for the paradox and Zippy is certainly allowed to use one side of it to frame his argument, as long as he concedes that there may be a matching argument on the other side that is equally difficult to get rid of. Both sides may be right; both sides may be wrong. We do not yet understand the situation of the paradox of significance enough to say who and why.
So, we do the best we can. Everyone, here is doing the best they can to make an informed decision on Tuesday. I think all people, here, agree that they wish McCain had not made the situation so difficult. I think we should print out and mail him all six parts of this debate by first class mail and charge him postage.
The matter of voter significance is a matter I may revisit someday, since I have some ideas relating to the geometry of voting (how people and preferences approach a decision by a kind of trajectory in state space) as well as memory functions (that many preferences get compressed into a single vote that somehow, seems to store the data). I may have to wait until retirement to write any papers (and since I plan never to retire…).
In any event, this will be my last comment on voting until after the election and the post-mortems begin. I am really sick of dealing with all of this mess – every single day I hear at least two or three discussions about the voting process and then I come here and have to deal with the same (necessary, I know, but it can still be overwhelming).
I know we all want God’s will to be done in the election. I think that is the safest prayer, of all. I don’t care who is elected as long as God’s will is done. If his will means that we must suffer, well, then we must learn to accept our chastisement and be brave. If he wills a miracle, then we must realize that whether it be a purely pro-life candidate that is elected or only a mostly pro-life candidate (if Zippy will let me use that term), we dodged a bullet and we must work hard to cement the pro-life view in this country.
I will still post on non-vote topics, but I would rather go off and let things take their course, now, since it will be less stressful. I think we’ve all pretty much said what we have to say. I certainly have. I am content to let SDG and Zippy have the last words.
The Chicken

ErinZack November 2, 2008 at 10:50 am

All of this is just sowing confusion. The bottom line is that Obama will set back pro-life efforts for a generation as it is GUARANTEED he will appoint pro-abortion judges to the Supreme Court and push the Freedom of Choice Act. We’ve fought for 30 years and are on the brink of finally sending the issue back to the states for real political debate and this will give Roe v. Wade another generation of killing. McCain could be better but that’s all we have. GO OUT AND VOTE and get others to vote for him.
See what the Bishop of Biden’s home town Scranton has to say: http://www.wiredcatholic.com/wc/2008/11/02/high-noon-in-bidens-backyard-scranton-bishop-martino-faces-down-abortion-forum/

Terence M. Stanton November 3, 2008 at 6:53 am

A.M.D.G.
IBD currently has Obama leading McCain by two percent. They were the most accurate polling group in 2004 (they were off by O.3% in predicting President Bush’s victory). Get out there and vote tomorrow!

Dave Mueller November 3, 2008 at 2:06 pm

The race is a tossup. Make sure you get out and vote….
Do you believe anything the media says? Then don’t believe the polls that they pay for, either!
If your brain doesn’t automatically scream “BS” just by looking at the state polls, then check out this web site for detailed analysis of the polling:
http://stolenthunder.blogspot.com/

catholic maverick November 3, 2008 at 7:56 pm

The most authoritative text presently on the “duty” to vote is Guadium et spes no. 75. Ignore the English translation; only the Latin is truly authoritative. The English translation speaks of a “duty” and “right” to vote. But the original Latin mentions no such thing:
Memores ergo omnes cives sint iuris simul et officii suo libero suffragio utendi ad bonum commune promovendum.
No reputable — indeed none at all, but I am aware of all the reputable ones — examination of conscience booklet asks a person if they have voted according to their ability in every national, state, and local election. These can happen as often as several times a year.
In terms of more recent magisterial articulations, the most authoritative is “Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life” from the CDF under Ratzinger. Nothing in there can be responsibly interpreted to mean that Catholics should be told that not voting is a sin. That is a grave sin against charity, especially considering that many Catholics suffer from scrupulosity.
JPII’s writing in EV is ambiguous. It begins by including a situation where two intrinsically unjust laws are both up for consideration presumably in the absence of anything intrinsically unjust to overturn or repeal. But it ends with limiting the teaching statement to situations involving the overturning or repealing of intrinsically unjust laws. This legitimate exercise of political responsibility does not include voting for laws that contain things that fundamentally contradict faith or morals or which involve a compromise with intrinsic evil.
For example, if a law permitting abortion is in place, it would be wrong to vote for a law overturning it except in the case of rape and incest if the law stated in a preamble that abortion was a human right in those cases. Likewise, if a law permitting abortion is in place it would be wrong to vote for a law repealing it that was to be voted together with a law authorizing same sex marriages.
Whether voting for McCain involves an elicted act of the will in the first regard, it does in the second for voting for McCain involves acquiescing in one’s will to his support for the slaughter of innocent children whom some may not think as valuable as those to be killed through abortion, but whom are just as precious in God’s eyes and who may also judge as.
Only vote for McCain if your conscience would be clear on Judgment Day when facing an embryo slaughtered by the McCain machine, you could tell him that you are proud of your vote.
With respect to the mathematics of voting. I am a mathematician and a philosopher and I can say these things with certainty:
1. The SVALUE* of a voter in an election consisting of just 3 voters is higher than in an election consisting of n>3 voters where n is an odd integer, ceteris paribus, for races with exactly two candidates.
Someone with a penchant for making grandiose claims regarding solving numerous paradoxes and having philosophy masquarade as mathematics without cleanly separating the two seems to think that in this election, the SVALUE of a voter is the same as that in an election with just 3 voters; that’s pure nonsense and an embarassment to mathematicians everywhere if this person is a mathematician as he suggests.
2. Ceteris paribus, the SVALUE of a voter in an election with c voters is greater than the SVALUE of a voter in an election with d voters just in case c>d for all c and d positive odd integers, for races with exactly two candidates.
*SVALUE of a voter v is the probability that the following counterfactual is true:
Had v not voted, the outcome of the election would have changed**
**changed is defined relative to the outcomes of win, loss, draw for a given candidate.
There is no lower bound to the SVALUE besides zero, theoretically. Given the finite capacity of the earth, there will be due to physical factors and limits on population. It is simple to prove that there is no lower bound (or more precisely no lower bound that corresponds with a real number) given certain philosophical assumptions regarding the counterfactual above.
The issue of issue-based voting is interesting, but it has no bearing on the simple proof alluded to above. On that subject, using a methodology in that spirit, McCain is forecast to lose soundly:
http://www.forecastingprinciples.com/PollyVote/
The cries of liberal media bias are either dishonest or uninformed. Karl Rove, no liberal, forecasts on the eve of the election that Obama will win in a landslide of 338-200
http://www.rove.com/election
The best thing to do to slow down the liberal avalanche is to sit out this election. The landslide electorally and in the popular vote is largely set in stone. What is not as set in stone is the turn out. A landslide electorally combined with a record turnout will be a double mandate. That would be Obama-Pelosi-Reid Cubed, instead of just Squared. Apply this Pope Benedict approved model of voter abstention to this election.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4086296.stm

Jonathan Prejean November 3, 2008 at 10:10 pm

This legitimate exercise of political responsibility does not include voting for laws that contain things that fundamentally contradict faith or morals or which involve a compromise with intrinsic evil.
For example, if a law permitting abortion is in place, it would be wrong to vote for a law overturning it except in the case of rape and incest if the law stated in a preamble that abortion was a human right in those cases. Likewise, if a law permitting abortion is in place it would be wrong to vote for a law repealing it that was to be voted together with a law authorizing same sex marriages.

I’d love to see the argument that voting for a candidate despite his stance involves “a compromise with intrinsic evil.” It seems to be obviously false, particularly given the specious distinction between overturning/repealing a law and passing a new law, a distinction that a philosopher such as yourself ought to see as one that needs justification. As to the hypothetical involving a law with a rider on same-sex marriage, politics is the art of the possible. If that is the best option before you, and there are proportionate reasons to prefer that option to the other alternatives before you, then there is no compromise involved. Rather, there is positive work to do the best that you can do given the political circumstances. As far as I can tell, you have simply made gratuitous assertions here without the benefit of any reasons to support them, and that is hardly in keeping with the seriousness of the matter.
A landslide electorally combined with a record turnout will be a double mandate.
While the assertions above were unjustified, this one is simply unwise. Abstaining in a case of record turnout simply makes the percentage margin larger, and anyone who follows politics on a regular basis knows that the margin looms larger than the absolute vote. The fact that there is some variation in what will by all accounts be a record turnout is completely irrelevant.
It’s this sort of cobbled-together, thoughtless emotionalism that will prevent far too many Catholics who ought to have known better from casting their ballots for McCain.

SDG November 4, 2008 at 6:19 am

Only vote for McCain if your conscience would be clear on Judgment Day when facing an embryo slaughtered by the McCain machine, you could tell him that you are proud of your vote.

I would not ordinarily do this, but it is warranted by extenuating circumstances: “Catholic Maverick,” you seem to be our non-theist gadfly CT.
You have rejected the Catholic faith, and it is disingenuous of you to affect to Catholic piety in order to subvert the Catholic vote.
Pursuant to the point you make, no reputable examination of conscience booklet asks a person if they can say they have done only things, or cast only votes, that they can say they are “proud” of. You seem to be putting yokes on the necks of disciples and binding burdens difficult to bear that you yourself will not lift a finger to move. Is this consonant with your notion of the the good and the beautiful? You know far too much to be wholly inculpable. I almost never say this, but I fear for your soul.
I notice you don’t discuss the Catechism.

Rosemarie November 4, 2008 at 6:28 am

+J.M.J+
Don’t know whether anyone will read this, but if you do please pause to pray for our country and its future on this Election Day.
Our father’s God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King.*
Immaculate Mary, Patroness of the United States, pray for the USA during this dark and uncertain time. Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of the Americas and Mother of the Unborn, pray that the pro-life cause prevails in our nation. Terror of demons and destroyer of heresies, crush the abortion industry under your feet to the glory of your Son. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.
O Glorious Guardian Angel of the United States, to whom God has entrusted the care of our beloved country, we honor you and thank you for the care and protection you have given to this great nation from the first moment of its conception. O powerful Angel Guardian, whose watchful glance encompasses this vast land from shore to shore, we know that our sins have grieved you and marred the beauty of our heritage. Pray for us, O Holy Angel, before the Throne of God. Obtain for us, from the Queen of Heaven, the graces we need to overcome the forces of evil so rampant in our beloved land. Help us, our God-given protector and friend, to offer the prayer and sacrifice necessary to bring peace and goodness to our nation. We want to make you known and loved throughout our land, so that with your help we may become once more “one nation under God”. Amen
Saints John Neumann, Frances Xavier Cabrini, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Katherine Drexel and all the saints from the USA, those canonized and those known only to God, please pray for your former homeland in its hour of need. Blessed be God in His Angels and in His Saints. Amen.
In Jesu et Maria,
Rosemarie
*”My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” by Samuel Francis Smith, stanza 4

Jonathan Prejean November 4, 2008 at 7:58 am

Another good idea a Knight of Columbus forwarded to me:
“I shared the following inspiration with someone today and she told me that it was a great idea and that we should try to spread it quickly. So here it is –
we should petition all the aborted babies in Heaven to intercede for us in this election. There are millions of them, and so precious to God, can you imagine the power????
In addition to prayer and fasting, the intercession of these little ones can be a powerful secret weapon that the other side could certainly never use.
‘Victory in war does not depend upon the size of the army, but on strength that comes from Heaven.’ (1Maccabees 3:19)
If you think this is a good idea, please pass it along to as many people as you can.
Fr. Richard Drabik”

Inocencio November 4, 2008 at 7:59 am

Charel Weng,
Y…A…W…N…
Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

jtr November 4, 2008 at 9:33 am

Regardless who wins, the Bible commands us to pray for our leaders.

Sleeping Beastly November 4, 2008 at 11:03 am

I would not ordinarily do this, but it is warranted by extenuating circumstances: “Catholic Maverick,” you seem to be our non-theist gadfly CT.
LOL. Welcome back, CT. 8]

Sleeping Beastly November 4, 2008 at 11:22 am

CT,
The best thing to do to slow down the liberal avalanche is to sit out this election. The landslide electorally and in the popular vote is largely set in stone. What is not as set in stone is the turn out. A landslide electorally combined with a record turnout will be a double mandate.
Umm… So you’re saying that a landslide popular vote is “set in stone,” but the turnout is not??? How can I have an impact on the turnout but not on the popular vote? Or are you just hoping I’m stupid enough to swallow this line and sit home anyway?

catholic maverick November 6, 2008 at 10:40 am

1. catholic maverick did not identify himself as a Catholic be it Roman, Eastern, Orthodox, or Anglo. Truth: he identified himself as catholic in his maverickness, both words lower case. Distortion: he identified himself as a Catholic Maverick, uppercase, not that being uppercase is dispositive but being lowercase is.
2. catholic maverick apologizes for the typos and grammatical errors made such as saying “greater” rather than “lower” etc.
3. If catholic maverick was in some past life a non-theist, then it is materially a sin against charity to assume that he is a non-theist today if as you believe had he not been he would have been affecting to a piety entailing theistic belief. There is nothing to rule out for example that catholic maverick rejected Catholicism but has now embraced it. If there were genuine concern for his soul, then there would be genuine hope for his soul, something whose absence is betrayed by the unqualified assumption that he is a non-theist today.
4. I noticed you claimed Catholicism was incompatible with deontological ethics. You may be a consequentialist or subscribe to virtue ethics, but Catholicism is decidedly not incompatible with deontological ethics. In fact, the doctrine that some acts are intrinsically evil entails deontology in ethics. Deontological ethics states merely that some acts are evil by nature. Denying that may make you an avant garde Catholic, joining the avant garde spirit of Karl Rahner and Hans Kung, personal friend of Pope Benedict whom Pope Benedict has met since ascending to the Throne of Vicar of God the Son and visible Head of the Church; but it does not place you in the mainstream of traditional Catholicism. Contemporary Catholicism, perhaps.
5. Sitting out would as pointed out affect both the popular vote and turn out. But, it is the electoral landslide not popular landslide that gets the most press. Moreover, the marginal political impact of an increase in popular vote margin from, a 4 to 1 victory to a 9 to 1 is less than the marginal political impact of an increase in turn out from say 81% to 90% — both margins involve the same numbers sitting out against similar percentage turn outs and popular vote tallies. This is because the number of elections that are decided on a 9 to 1 basis versus a 4 to 1 basis involves a difference greater than the number of elections that are decided with 90% turn out versus an 81% basis. In other words, 9 to 1 (or better) victories are not as rare relative to 4 to 1 (or better) victories as 90% turn outs are rare relative to 81% turnouts. This same or similar marginal analysis would be true of this particular election.

Tim J. November 6, 2008 at 10:53 am

Glad to hear you are a theist now, CT.

SDG November 6, 2008 at 11:15 am

CT:
Whether or not you explicitly laid claim to Catholic faith is a side issue. You placed the discussion in the context of Catholic faith by citing authoritative magisterial texts and discussing which are most authoritative on a Catholic blog and taking for granted points of Catholic faith with respect to the morality of abortion and Judgment Day. (In the absence of further context and given your self-identification as “catholic maverick,” whether caps or not, at least creates the impression of being a Catholic.) You then presumed to offer Catholics an ostensible moral standard, apparently within the context of a common worldview, for judging their vote in view of Judgment Day.
Given your past history on this blog, including your past discussion on abortion, it is my judgment that, without prejudice to the demands of justice, charity and hope for conversion, I can reasonably suspect of, and publicly implicate you in, disingenuous intent. Charity does not demand that we ignore probability. If you have embraced theism, my soul rejoices for you, and I will be more than happy to apologize for (but not repent of) my inadvertent (but not unjust or uncharitable) mischaracterization of your present views. If you haven’t, it’s just more smoke-blowing by a tireless practitioner of the art.
On point 4, please review your logic. I made no such claim.

catholic maverick November 6, 2008 at 12:03 pm

1. I am a theist, suitably defined. This does not mean though that I have an aversion to arguing against theism or arguing against arguments for theism, good or bad. As both a philosopher and someone who has in the past engaged in professional debate, he enjoys and sees the value of this.
2. Why do you assume I do not believe in a Judgment Day? In any event, I was speaking to my audience and addressing there primarily the matter of formal sinfulness not material sinfulness. Indeed, whether you believe in a Judgment Day or not, the thought I suggested would have been useful in moral action.
3. On ignorance of the primary definition of the word “catholic” which does not include any relation or reference to Catholicism the religion, that is not something I am obligated to make constrain my parlance. If I say that I am feeling gay today and many assume that means I am a homosexual, that may involve a sin of scandal and arguably it is imprudent. But adopting this strategy of prudence leads to the emasculation of the English language, part of culture, and per the teaching of popes, as an authentic part of culture, a gift of God.
4. If the basis for my believing that say the English langauage as a part of culture should be cherished were based on arcane philosophy rather than on papal dicta, then in the course of conversation such as above, it may be more useful to do something as above which may seem to readers who approach blogs with a microscopic obssession as a disingenous affectation but which would be accepted by more composed and reasonable persons as a proper and pragmatic use of language.
5. You stated that Don Quixote was “confusing” “being a Catholic” with “being a deonotologist”, implying that one can be a Catholic without accepting the essence of deontology as differentiated in that context. I noticed you do not state whether you are a deontologist, consequentialist, virtue ethicist or some other.
6. Philosophers who are non-Catholic cite magisterial texts all the time. Non-believers cite the Bible all the time, even as an authority. For example, non-believers may cite the Bible as an authority for some proverbial wisdom, even though they do not believe in its divine authorship. Let’s consider this passage written by a philosopher which begins his discussion of fides et ratio, an encyclical of JPII which in my judgment was rather intellectually weak:
The last years have seen a remarkable series of letters and encyclicals from Pope John Paul II. The most remarkable, in my opinion, is Salvifici Doloris (“The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering”), published in 1984—surely one of the finest documents (outside the Bible) ever written on this topic, and surely required reading for anyone interested in the so-called problem of evil, or the problems that suffering can pose for the Christian spiritual life or, more generally, the place of suffering in the life of the Christian. Last fall the pope issued another in the series: Fides et Ratio (“Faith and Reason”). This one doesn’t strike me as having the sheer depth and power of Salvifici; and perhaps its message is also a little blurred, hard to get completely in focus.
You, reading that would have assumed I gather, had he been anonymous, that he was a Catholic and gave in this portion of the text at least the impression that he was one. But he is not a Catholic. He is Alvin Plantinga
http://www.ctlibrary.com/bc/1999/julaug/9b4032.html

SDG November 6, 2008 at 12:53 pm

1. I am a theist, suitably defined.

Well, that’s good hearing, CT/cath mav. Taking this at face value, without peering excessively into suitable definitions, I’m happy to apologize for mischaracterizing your present views.

2. Why do you assume I do not believe in a Judgment Day?

When did I do that?

3. On ignorance of the primary definition of the word “catholic” which does not include any relation or reference to Catholicism the religion, that is not something I am obligated to make constrain my parlance. If I say that I am feeling gay today and many assume that means I am a homosexual, that may involve a sin of scandal and arguably it is imprudent.

I don’t see the need to revise anything I said on the basis of these comments. FWIW, nobody who means to say anything relating to homosexuality says they are “feeling gay today.” For that matter, nobody who means to express their mood says that either; the phrase as such is essentially an archaism, though you’re welcome to use it, and I think most people will know what you’re talking about.

5. You stated that Don Quixote was “confusing” “being a Catholic” with “being a deonotologist”, implying that one can be a Catholic without accepting the essence of deontology as differentiated in that context.

That is correct. Your earlier assertion is not.

I noticed you do not state whether you are a deontologist, consequentialist, virtue ethicist or some other.

I didn’t think it was relevant. I tend to find virtue ethics most persuasive.

You, reading that would have assumed I gather, had he been anonymous, that he was a Catholic and gave in this portion of the text at least the impression that he was one. But he is not a Catholic. He is Alvin Plantinga.

I think sufficient differences in content and context have already been noted or are immediately evident to more or less moot any parallel force of this example.

Jonathan Prejean November 6, 2008 at 1:03 pm

This is because the number of elections that are decided on a 9 to 1 basis versus a 4 to 1 basis involves a difference greater than the number of elections that are decided with 90% turn out versus an 81% basis.
…This same or similar marginal analysis would be true of this particular election.

Fair enough, then; your heart is in the right place, but you’re not very good at math. Each new voter necessarily affects the turnout margin (which is a percentage of total voters, i.e., divided by a larger denominator) less than he does the margin (which is a percentage only of those that voted). Therefore, by your reasoning and taken on the margin, because your damage to his margin will necessarily be more significant than the increase to his mandate.

Jonathan Prejean November 6, 2008 at 1:04 pm

… you should vote against him.
(oops! forgot the conclusion)

Patrick November 6, 2008 at 1:37 pm

SDG,
Do you think it’s fair to conclude that voting for Obama as a Catholic in this election is a grave sin?
Thanks

SDG November 6, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Do you think it’s fair to conclude that voting for Obama as a Catholic in this election is a grave sin?

I do conclude that such a vote entails materially grave offense, yes.

Anonymous November 6, 2008 at 3:44 pm

SDG,
Is it a grave sin to vote for Obama in this election?

Anonymous November 6, 2008 at 3:45 pm

Forgive my last post:
SDG,
Is it a grave sin to vote for Obama in this election?
I posted in error! My apologies

Sleeping Beastly November 6, 2008 at 7:01 pm

CT/Charel Weng/catholic maverick,
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I have not laughed that hard all week, and I really needed it. Your valiant defense and simultaneous brutal abuse of the English language was priceless! Encore! Encore!

catholic maverick November 6, 2008 at 7:48 pm

Jonathan, you are rude and you are either terrible at math, terrible at reading comprehension or both.
Fair enough, then; your heart is in the right place, but you’re not very good at math. Each new voter necessarily affects the turnout margin (which is a percentage of total voters, i.e., divided by a larger denominator) less than he does the margin (which is a percentage only of those that voted).
You are either dishonest or do not even have elementary school level mathematical skills or high school level reading comprehension skills. Listen, to borrow a page from the Chicken, I was studying college-level mathematics when I was about 10 years old and actually studied at the college level once I entered high school. I know about what you wrote and it is irrelevant to any point I made, which you either did not understand or understood but decided to be dishonest about. I will charitably assume you did not understand and that my typos and poor writing skills greatly contributed to it.
I made no mathematical errors.
First. I was speaking of “marginal POLITICAL IMPACT” and that same word “MARGINAL” harkens back to the original “marginal POLITICAL IMPACT” as well as all the stuff in between which you evidently did not understand. I was NOT making any claim about a vote having a margial impact on turnout percentage greater or lesser than its marginal impact on margin of victory.
Let’s make this simple for you. You have 1000 voters.
Scenario 1 900 vote and 720 vote for A and 180 vote for B.
Then the turn out is 90% (900/1000) as I pointed out. The victory ratio (I assume you know what a ratio is) is 4 to 1 (720/180), as I also pointed out.
Scenario 2 90 of those that voted for B in Scenario 1 decide to sit out.
Then, only 810 vote and of these 720 still vote for A and only 90 vote for B.
Then the turn out is 81% (810/1000) as I pointed out. The victory ratio is 9 to 1 (720/90) as I also pointed out.
Now you point out something totally irrelevant to any point I made (I am going to clean up your own math to higher standards to make your “point” as good as can be), namely that the absolute increase in victory ratio (namely 4/1 – 9/1) is greater than the absolute decrease in turn out ration (namely 9/10-81/100). My point, to simplify it and bastardize it was that elections with 90% turnout are RARER than elections decided by a 9 to 1 ratio. Count up the number of elections decided by a 9 to 1 or greater ratio and count up the number decided by a 90% turnout and the latter number will be less. That was the kind of “numers” I was referring to (not the precise numbers, but the kind of numbers). These numbers are not directly related to marginal political impact. By the way the way these numbers come out is an EMPIRICAL, HISTORICAL question of fact and has NOTHING to do with mathematics. I did make a typo in one of the sentences that may have caused confusion but it should have been clear from the “In other words” sentence that followed. In any event, the typo if accepted literally without correcting for it would have AGREED with your conclusion, so your quoting of the typo-ridden sentence is not really a testimony to your mathematical abilities. Anyway, the “marginal POLITICAL IMPACT” is a result of “press coverage” and other significance society gives to it, as I mentioned and alluded to. Also, I said I simplified and bastardized the more precise view captured in my original “In other words” sentence and its context. I won’t bother trying to be more precise as that would undoubtedly just confuse you or remove any clarity I have newly introduced for you. Let’s just say though that the WOW factor of a 90% turn out MINUS the WOW factor of an 81% turn out is greater than the WOW factor of a 9 to 1 victory versus the WOW factor of a 4 to 1 victory. Maybe you agree with that but you dispute the correspondence of these figures. If so, look over again at the kindergarten math above in Scenario 1 and 2 and know that my “heart is in the right place” as you mentioned even though my tone here in this post may be brusque due to my hurriedness. Instead of taking the time to revise this post, please in your great understanding, accept my apology in that regard.

Bo Diddley November 6, 2008 at 8:07 pm

The victory ratio is 9 to 1 (720/90) as I also pointed out.
Wouldn’t that be 8 to 1?

catholic maverick November 6, 2008 at 8:58 pm

You are right, Chicken. But my point still stands. In any event, that wasn’t the mathematical error that Jonathan thought I had made.

catholic maverick November 6, 2008 at 8:59 pm

To be more emphatic, that arithmetic error is also totally irrelevant to my point. Thank you though for pointing something irrelevant out.

catholic maverick November 6, 2008 at 9:07 pm

I apologize. It could have relevance in terms of evaluating the truth of the empirical claim regarding historical election results and it could thus have relevance in evaluating “marginal political impact” in terms of press coverage and so forth based on those same results.
I assumed — correctly in my view judging from your moniker — that your post was not in good faith, but that led me to not appropriately respond to the objective point that might have been made assuming one was intended and for that I apologize. In the spirit of SDG though I do not repent of my assumption for I believe it was the correct one to make both methodologically and factually.
I do apologize however for the assumption that you are The Masked Chicken. I don’t know whether you are Jonathan, Chicken, Tim J, SDG, or some other indiividual who has posted in this thread or perhaps in some statistically unlikely occurence someone who has yet to comment in this thread.
BTW, congratulations on your arithmetic skills. Perhaps you could help me also with applying forcing techniques to first order set theory. We use a lot of arithmetic there. Actually, we do …..

catholic maverick November 6, 2008 at 9:10 pm

I apologize once more.
Your correction actually makes my point stronger. Your correction would skew the empirical historical data even more in the direction of the point I was making.
So I thank you for your correction and assume that it was in good faith made to bolster my point and argument rather than made in bad faith to embarasss someone who is skilled at embarassing himself left to his own devices.
I thank you for making my argument stronger and teaching me not to let passion lead to impulsive and unthinking posts.

Sleeping Beastly November 7, 2008 at 2:07 am

Jonathan, you are rude and you are either terrible at math, terrible at reading comprehension or both. [insults continued ad absurdum]
CT, this was completely unwarranted and unfair. Jonathan was a gentleman about it, and did not object, but I do.

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