Hitler and the Lottery

June 12, 2008 § 49 Comments

There has been a lot of resistance and confusion revolving around my use of the terms “never” and “miracle” in recent discussions both here and in Lydia’s thread at What’s Wrong with the World. I don’t think my understanding of “miracle” and “never” are wrong, but lets re-frame the discussion in a way which takes that off the table.

I will assume for the sake of this argument that voting for Hitler is (minimally) remote material cooperation with evil.

Suppose they handed out lottery tickets worth a one in one trillion chance for a huge jackpot when you vote for Hitler. Someone might propose that it is morally licit to vote for Hitler under the prudential judgement that if he (the voter) wins the Hitler-lottery he will give the money to the poor.

Proposition: If reason requires me to stipulate winning the lottery in the causal chain from my act to the intended end which putatively justifies my act, then deliberate premeditated material cooperation with grave evil is not justified.

(Note: I inserted the word “grave” based on combox discussion)

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§ 49 Responses to Hitler and the Lottery

  • Tom says:

    I don’t think this gets you where you want to be.Suppose the odds are even of me achieving some good end by, I don’t know, what’s your favorite example of remote material cooperation with evil? Paying taxes? Would that not be licit for some example?Now suppose the odds are six to five against. Again, would there not be some evil sufficiently minor and sufficiently remote that I could cooperate?And by induction, would there not be some evil sufficiently minor and sufficiently remote that I could cooperate <>whatever<> the finite odds against?

  • zippy says:

    <>would there not be some evil sufficiently minor and sufficiently remote that I could cooperate whatever the finite odds against?<>Probably. But harvesting the bodies of live children for medical research fails the first test. To revisit earlier discussions, just because we have a sorites that doesn’t imply that there is no such thing as a sand pile.

  • zippy says:

    I realize that I left a word out of the post. It should read <>“…material cooperation with <>grave<> evil is not justified.”<>

  • Tom says:

    Again, that would depend on the degree of remoteness of the cooperation.You may be better off arguing about the degree of remoteness inherent in voting, and seeing what sort of proportionate reasons would be required, than trying to come up with a way of highlighting one part of the boundary of licit remote material cooperation with evil.

  • William Luse says:

    <>You may be better off arguing about the degree of remoteness inherent in voting…<>But hasn’t he already done that, concluding that, in its virtually neglible effect on the outcome, it is very remote indeed?I think he’d be right, Zippy, if that were the point of focus: how remote is remote enough? But if you’re contention that the act of voting is primarily significant for what it says about, and does to, the voter, then there is nothing remote about those effects.My own suspicion (which I do not attribute to you) is that the kind of cooperation at stake is not material, but formal.

  • Tom says:

    As it happens, I’m inclined to accept that the act of voting is primarily significant for what it says about, and does to, the voter.Zippy points out that the act of voting for cannibals habituates the actor to voting for cannibals.That sounds terrible. But how terrible is it? (That’s “how” in both degree (somewhat terrible, really terrible, terribly terrible, etc.) and in kind (morally evil, regrettable necessity, etc.).)

  • lurker says:

    But wait a minute. Remote is not the same thing as partial. If I am one of the 20 people who stab Caesar, I am not a remote killer, I am an immediate killer. But I am only a partial cause of his death because he did not die just from my stab wound alone. In fact, I would never have stabbed him if I thought maybe I would be the only stabber, because I simply did not think one stab would do the job (except if it were really, really lucky – kind of like winning a small lottery). A voter is only one or two steps “removed” from the most immediate cause of the person actually taking office in concrete fact. This is more remote than the most immediate cause, but not by all that much. A vote, though, looks more like a partial cause. You need different terminology for partial cause than for remote cause. A carpenter is a partial cause of a house being built, but he is not remote at all – he is a direct, immediate cause of it in part. Zippy, your question about Hitler leaves out the probability of having an effect on Hitler actually getting elected. Suppose that the odds of Hitler winning WITH your vote are 1 trillion times worse than the odds of your winning the lottery. If the proportion in the double effect equation takes into account the probability of the evil effect as well as the probability of the good effect, then it would be possible (morally) to vote for Hitler in that scenario. If the proportion does not take probabilities of the outcomes into account, but just the evil effect itself and the good effect itself, then of course winning the lottery isn’t proportionate to getting Hitler in power. But I think that reasoning will hurt your main point rather than help it. One thing seems certain, though: you cannot take the evil effect as if it were definitive of the nature of the act when it has in reality a far from certain possibility of being an outcome, and then take the hoped for good effect as if it were a non-definitive mere contingency when it too is a far from certain possibility. Either you factor in the probability for both, or for neither.

  • zippy says:

    <>Either you factor in the probability for both, or for neither.<>Probability that you will affect the outcome of the election: negligible. Probability that you will become the kind of person who is willing to give your personal endorsement to a cannibal: certainty.

  • lurker says:

    <> Probability that you will affect the outcome of the election: negligible. Probability that you will become the kind of person who is willing to give your personal endorsement to a cannibal: certainty. <>Au contraire: probability you will affect the election: certainty. The election results will, with certainty, have one more vote for the candidate than it would have had if you did not vote. This is an effect on the election. The question is, is this order of effect an order that is morally significant? You are assuming it is not. Maybe you could substantiate that, but you haven’t even tackled it yet. <> you will become the kind of person who is willing to give your personal endorsement to a cannibal <> I am not giving my personal endorsement, I am giving my VOTE when I cast a vote. They are morally distinct, though similar. if you were to say “you will become the kind of person who is willing to give your vote to a cannibal” I would agree with you entirely. But then, I should be perfectly willing to be the sort of person who will “give my vote to a cannibal” when the moral circumstances are such that this vote is both moral (in a proper and exact sense) and is also the choice that has the greatest weight towards good in terms of suitably desirable “outcomes”. Do you think that we should NOT be that sort of person?

  • zippy says:

    <>Au contraire: probability you will affect the election: certainty.<>Did you think I wouldn’t notice the tendentious change of wording?<>I am not giving my personal endorsement, I am giving my VOTE when I cast a vote.<>There is no getting around the fact that a vote is a formal, personal endorsement of <>that<> person for <>that<> office. (It may be more than that, but it is at least that).<>I should be perfectly willing to be the sort of person who will “give my vote to a cannibal” when the moral circumstances are such that this vote is both moral (in a proper and exact sense) and is also the choice that has the greatest weight towards good in terms of suitably desirable “outcomes”.<>Well, yes. Circularly, we should always do X when doing X is the right thing to do.

  • lurker says:

    <> personal endorsement of that person for that office <>OK, yes, in that limited sense I accept the statement – it is a personal endorsement of that candidate for that office. The “for that office” being important – the vote does not constitute an open ended endorsement of the candidate it toto. Which means that I can have reservations about the candidate concerning certain aspects – I am not saying I endorse ALL of his ideas by my vote. <> we should always do X when doing X is the right thing to do <> Naturally. And since nothing you have posited indicates that it is inherently wrong to vote for a cannibal, there may in fact be some circumstances where it is both moral and the most prudent choice. In <> those <> circumstances I would want to be the kind of person who votes for a cannibal.

  • zippy says:

    <>And since nothing you have posited indicates that it is inherently wrong to vote for a cannibal, there may in fact be some circumstances where it is both moral and the most prudent choice.<>Sure. In contrived circumstances where doing so has the immediate effect of saving a particular person’s life, for example, it might be the right thing to do. In circumstances where the effects of your vote (other than on yourself) are negligible, no.I’ve never said that voting for a cannibal is <>intrinsically<> immoral, like fornication: merely that doing so determinately has damaging, evil effects on the soul and intellect of the person who does it.“Moral and most prudent” does not mean “no objective criteria apply, I always get to decide for myself whether or not it is morally right, and nobody can tell me I am wrong”.

  • lurker says:

    <> merely that doing so determinately has damaging, evil effects on the soul and intellect of the person who does it. <> But when the OTHER effects are proportionate (not including the effect you mention here that is damaging) your voting for the cannibal does NOT have the damaging effect you are talking about, because it is only there when it is not a moral and prudent thing to choose. Because without assuming the vote is harmful to the person voting, the vote may be the optimal choice of action available, and is therefore a morally <> good <> act, if entered into with right intention also. This morally good act will not be damaging to the soul and intellect because there is nothing about it that contradicts right reason and adherence to God’s law or His will – it is rather in agreement with right reason. Therefore, it is necessary for the vote to be either disproportionate taking into account OTHER grounds than the corrosive effect on the soul of the voter, or entered into with bad will, in order to even have the evil effects you are talking about.

  • zippy says:

    <>But when the OTHER effects are proportionate (not including the effect you mention here that is damaging) your voting for the cannibal does NOT have the damaging effect you are talking about…<>I don’t agree. While it may in principle in contrived circumstances be morally licit to vote for a cannibal, it is nevertheless always tragic, regrettable, and damaging to the person who does it. That one may <>accept<> that damage in the presence of a proportionate reason may be true, but it doesn’t mean that the bad effect is not present.

  • lurker says:

    <> While it may in principle in contrived circumstances be morally licit to vote for a cannibal, it is nevertheless always tragic, regrettable, and damaging to the person who does it. That one may accept that damage in the presence of a proportionate reason may be true, but it doesn’t mean that the bad effect is not present. <>No, here, finally, is the crux of the matter. Here you are FLAT wrong. Is it morally damaging to a policeman’s soul for him to shoot and kill a kidnapper in order to save the life of the kidnappee? Well, it <> could be <> damaging to his soul if he enters into the act with the wrong intention – hatred, revenge, sadism, etc. But if he explicitly has the RIGHT intention – to <> stop <> the danger to an innocent victim in the least violent manner likely to succeed, and within the rational bounds of violence given the danger criminally posed by the kidnapper, then the act is morally upright, and the act does no moral damage to his soul. You have to introduce some OTHER element to posit that the act damages him morally. <> it is nevertheless always tragic, regrettable, and damaging to the person who does it. <> It is only regrettable in the sense of regretting the <> conditions that necessitated <> THIS action are such as to make this be the best one available, not in the sense one regrets a past moral failure. And it is not damaging to the person who does it if he does it with right reason – that is, seeing both the good and the bad and having his will fully aligned with God in choosing aright. The damage can only be there when one’s will is not right. Without supposing that there is some additional defect in the soul of the actor, the act of choosing a good under (real) double effect conditions is NOT damaging to the soul.

  • zippy says:

    <>Is it morally damaging to a policeman’s soul for him to shoot and kill a kidnapper in order to save the life of the kidnappee?<>Yes, it is damaging, though it isn’t clear that the qualifier “morally” applies. The damage may be <>accepted<> in the presence of a proportionate reason, but it is always there nonetheless. Are you really unaware of the fact that killing someone, even in a morally acceptable act, hurts the person who does it?Voting for a cannibal does serious damage to the person who does it, always, and without the presence of a proportionate reason it is immoral to do that damage.

  • William Luse says:

    <>Is it morally damaging to a policeman’s soul for him to shoot and kill a kidnapper in order to save the life of the kidnappee?<>I don’t get the analogy with voting, Zippy. Shooting someone in defense of another is sometimes – given the proper circumstances of course – a moral duty. When would we ever be morally obligated to vote for a cannibal? Furthermore, in contrast with the likely negligible effect of a single vote, even if cast in the fantastical hope that it would save a life, there is nothing negligible about the immediate and overpowering effect of the policeman firing his weapon. He had a pupose in mind and he achieved it. Alone.

  • lurker says:

    Perhaps you are speaking in a way that I am not familiar with. You say “damaging” to the policeman’s soul, that he “accepts” for a greater good. Can you clarify the damage he accepts? I understand that there are usually emotional and sometimes psychological after-effects to the policeman. If we are talking about the immediate emotional result, which will pass away in a few hours or a couple days (and mostly through natural course of events rather than any therapy), I don’t think of such a short-term effect as “damage”. As to the psychological effects, which may indeed be long-term, I cannot speak with any confidence. But I can speak with confidence about one aspect of it: if the policeman was confident that shooting the guy was the most prudent action taking into account all of the circumstances, was not only allowable under good morals but was (for him, a defender of the peace) a duty, and if he did it out of love for God, love for the community, and love for the kidnapee, and without hatred for the criminal, then the psychological after-effects would be far less than if he did it without these conditions being present. Part of the typical psychological effects come not just from the shooting, but from the surprise and compression of time allowed for decision making so that the policeman often doubts whether he really had to shoot, whether he really did it for the right motives, etc. Such conditions apply less for someone trained and brought in order to be ready to shoot, such as a SWAT team member – in part because their training includes the opportunity to think through before-hand the right process for determining whether one needs to shoot or not, and allows them time to formulate a <> habit <> of working under sound motives rationally pre-considered for such events. Thus, one can with certainty posit that much, if not all, of the psychological after-effects are due to issues not simply based on the shooting itself. But what about a doctor who does a heart transplant. He causes all sorts of damage to the body of the patient in getting the new heart in there. He plans on repairing some of the damage himself, and HOPES the body can repair the rest on its own. But he certainly doesn’t feel any deep remorse or regret about the damage he causes.

  • zippy says:

    Bill:<> Shooting someone in defense of another is sometimes – given the proper circumstances of course – a moral duty. When would we ever be morally obligated to vote for a cannibal?<>I can think of no reasonably likely circumstances in the real world. In some contrived casuistic circumstances where doing so would save the life of an innocent (say the voting machine was cross-wired to her life support or something), we might be so obligated.lurker:<>But what about a doctor who does a heart transplant.<>It would also be wrong to do a heart transplant without a proportionate reason.

  • lurker says:

    Of course – I agree entirely. But assuming there is a good reason to do a heart transplant, the doctor feels no great upset over the damage he does to the body getting the new heart in there. Why? Because he sees the big picture very clearly, and sees that he is doing much more good than harm.

  • zippy says:

    <>…and sees that he is doing much more good than harm.<>In this case though his act is proportionate to achieving its end; which is to say, he is justified in carrying out his means because it <>works<>. As an aside, it isn’t entirely clear to me that there still is literally no damage at all to the acting subject himself in this case. We Romans tend very much toward categorical distinctions here. I believe that in the Eastern tradition though (including that part of it in full communion with Rome) there is very much the concept that when we do something like maim a person’s body, even for his own good and even though we wish we did not have to do it, that nevertheless there is harm to our soul which must be healed by the Sacraments. It isn’t clear to me that this Eastern tradition is completely off base.At issue in the present discussion is whether voting for a cannibal in a national election is ever proportionate to achieving its end. It may not be <>intrinsically<> immoral to vote for a cannibal in a national election; but just because an act is not <>intrinsically<> immoral it does not follow that there is ever a real-world case of that act being objectively proportionate to its end. As Bill points out in the case of the policeman, it is the <>efficacy<> of his act which in part – a necessary part – justifies it. If it were possible for the policeman to kill the kidnapper without in any way carrying out justice or rescuing the kidnapee, it would be wrong for him to do it. (One might argue that in no case is it possible for those conditions to obtain, particularly with the ‘carry out justice’ option, but if so that just means we have a bad analogy to voting).

  • lurker says:

    Zippy, I believe you are still confusing two separate issues, and that confusion is leaking into other areas of the question. First, what, if any, is the connection – moral and causal – between a vote and the win that the winner thus achieves? I don’t mean in a national election, I mean in general, or rather <> in principle <>, so that it bears on all elections by the nature of the election itself. Take a vote with 15 people, or still more clearly, with 5 people. If 5 vote, and the outcome is 4 for choice A and 1 for choice B, did ANY of the 4 votes for A have an effect on A winning? Did ALL of the 4 have an effect on A winning? Did some have an effect and some not? If some, how does one decide which ones? Do any of the 4 bear a moral responsibility for being a cause of A winning? Does A winning by more than a difference of one single vote mean that the ones who voted for A have a different moral responsibility than if A HAD won by exactly one vote (if the vote had been 3 to 2)? Do they bear a different moral responsibility than if A had lost? These questions help get to the <> intrinsic <> relationship between a vote and the resulting win. The second issue is what, if anything, does increasing the number of voters and votes cast do to the relationship found above in the first issue? We cannot even hope to understand a proper answer to the second until we see the right relationship(s) that answer the first. I think you have confused the second because of confusion about the first, but maybe I am wrong. So, can I ask humbly for answers to the questions above? I would be happy to answer them, but I don’t want to color the discussion with unnecessary commentary.

  • zippy says:

    lurker:One of the things I explicitly deny is that a national election is the same <>kind of thing<> as (say) a vote held by a quorum of a board of directors (similarly to how a storm is a different kind of thing from a small quantity of air). Your questions seem to me to amount to asking me to assume that my premeses are wrong.

  • lurker says:

    It is indeed theoretically possible that they are something like different species of the larger genus “voting”. If that were to be true, there would be some specific difference that makes them of fundamentally different character. I am open to the possibility. But whether that is true or not, it is undeniable that they both belong to the category “voting” as such. If we can discover truths about “voting” simply as such, that apply because of the intrinsic nature of voting, then those truths will apply to both national elections and board of director voting equally. That is what it means to belong to the genus. For example, I believe that it is undeniable that when 4 members of the board vote for A and 1 member votes for B, the 4 who voted for A are causal in A winning. I suspect that you will deny that this truth applies simply on account of the nature of the process of the vote simply as such, but applies also on account of how the 5-member board is different from a national election. This is a possibility – but you have to show it, not simply claim it. For myself, I don’t see how that could be true: I don’t see how my use of 4 and 1 as <> very low <> numbers somehow makes the causal process of the result of A winning different for 5 votes as for 50 million. For, the root concept of how the 4 cause A to win is this: that by those 4, A has the most votes. “Has the most votes” is inherently free of taint of specific numbers or classes of numbers. If there is some other principle needed to explain how the 4 cause A to win, please elucidate.

  • zippy says:

    <>But whether that is true or not, it is undeniable that they both belong to the category “voting” as such.<>Well, yes. A car crash and the growth of an apple tree both belong to the category “motion of atoms”.<>This is a possibility – but you have to show it, not simply claim it.<>I don’t <>have<> to show anything. Indeed I suspect that for those for whom it is not manifest that a board of directors operates entirely differently — even just as a formal matter, in terms of the explicit rules which govern the process, let alone in terms of its entire context as something utterly different from the <>American Idol<> process we call Presidential elections — for those for whom it is not manifest that these are fundamentally different in kind, there is very little that I can <>say<> which will help them to see it.

  • TomBomBadil says:

    So we see that once again your argument comes down to “I can see it, and it is manifest to me, and if you can’t that’s your problem”.This may even be true. But it does not constitute useful discourse. If you will not try to <> help <> us see what you see, then your words would appear to be for some other purpose than that of rational discourse. I thought that’s was the purpose, but it’s your blog so I suppose you can blather if you want. Did you ALSO want us to take you seriously? Of course a board election operates differently than a national election <> in some respects <>. But HOW to determine the winner does not differ: in both cases the person getting the most votes wins. The rules do not differ on this aspect. If the other differences undermine the sameness of this rule, then it should be possible to show that. If they don’t, then your intuition is unfounded. Since I don’t share your intuition, I depend on demonstration, proof, examples, illustrations, or even induction, to get at the truth. Mere declaration – that a national election does not in any way share the same kinds of causal relationships as a board election – does not constitute any of those.

  • zippy says:

    <>Did you ALSO want us to take you seriously?<>I leave that entirely up to the reader. (I have to laugh though at the notion that I haven’t argued for something that I’ve spent ten-plus posts and hundreds of comments arguing for).An improvement in your tone would be appreciated. You are wearing out your welcome, and I really have little patience these days for cheap shots. A thinning patience with buffonery and personal attacks is I expect an outcome of the material cooperation with evil that goes along with blogging over a lengthy period of time, though of course that doesn’t mean that to blog is to do moral wrong.On the substantive question, we are not yet to where you are even capable of correctly paraphrasing the argument or its premeses. To wit:<>Mere declaration – that a national election does not in any way share the same kinds of causal relationships as a board election – […]<>It would be false of course to claim that a car accident and the growth of an apple tree <>do not in any way share the same kinds of causal relationships<>, and to paraphrase me as having said as much about the objects we are discussing is just silly. What I have said is that car accidents and growing apple trees are fundamentally different kinds of things. The reductionist conclusions folks are drawing from that statement is a reflection of their own prejudices, in my view, not a reflection of the quality of my arguments or the underlying truth of the matter.

  • TomBomBadil says:

    <> What I have said is that car accidents and growing apple trees are fundamentally different kinds of things. <> Certainly. So are humans and chimpanzees. But they are not fundamentally different such that they do not share being warm blooded mammals. So what pertains to warm blooded mammals <> as such <>, in virtue of warm-bloodedness, applies to them both even though they are FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT. Likewise, the fact that a board election and a national election are fundamentally different does not say where the difference lies, so it does not help establish whether the difference between them matters for this discussion. <> I have to laugh though at the notion that I haven’t argued for something that I’ve spent ten-plus posts and hundreds of comments arguing for <> I am glad to afford you some amusement. You have spent hundreds of comments on saying THAT there is a difference, but you have not spent any time at all identifying exactly what the difference lies in. (I don’t think referring to the national election as a liturgy counts, because it is merely a name, which assumes the point I am asking for evidence of, not evidence itself.) So, what it is about a large election that makes it other in kind from a small election, other in such a way that the causal relationships themselves are different in kind? Of course, it would be a lot easier to verify that you have hit upon a difference that matters with regard to the causal relationships and the morality these imply if you were willing to help identify the relationships (and their principles) in a small election too. That was what I was trying to do.

  • zippy says:

    <>… it would be a lot easier to verify that you have hit upon a difference that matters with regard to the causal relationships and the morality these imply if you were willing to help identify the relationships (and their principles) in a small election too. <>I am sure it would help the Richard Dawkins’s of the world if I were willing to help them identify just where the Catholic religion is the result of mindless materialist processes, and all that matters is the underlying interaction of particles according to the laws of physics, too. That is, it would help to affirm them in the okayness of their reductionist presuppositions. But it wouldn’t really help them understand an apple tree.Folks keep asking me to affirm their underlying prejudices, even when I disagree with those prejudices. The blog for that is down the hall, up the stairs, and around the corner. It isn’t here.

  • TomBomBadil says:

    You say that there is a fundamental difference between a national election and a board election. But you won’t point out what that difference is at root. When I ask you to point out the difference, you say you know it by intuition, but cannot state it. How can my request for a statement of the difference you insist is there be coddling my prejudices? That is really odd. I am not the one who insists a fundamental difference exists, am I? I want to explore the difference, so I can understand WHY it makes a moral difference in the actions of voting in the different spheres. If there really is a difference that matters for moral understanding these acts, then it rests on something comprehendable by the human mind, because it resides in the natural order. If it’s there, let’s find it. I would rather do it as a team, but that doesn’t seem to work.

  • TomBomBadil says:

    In all walks of life, whether it is math and physics, to car driving, to teaching, to baking cakes, we try to understand the difficult by taking something that seems like the same type but is simpler – smaller, fewer variables, etc. If we can understand that simpler case, we take the logic developed and see if it applies to the real case. If it does – great, we are done. If it does not, then we go back and see where the <> differences <> are that caused the logic to break down. Then we tackle it from there. If this is faulty as a process, then not only are math and the physical sciences wrong, but so is theology, the arts, teaching, etc. Say a 5 member board votes for a chairman, and 4 vote for A, while 1 votes for B. Let’s assume that the vote is secret also. A wins, and becomes the chairman. First question is, is any of the 4 who voted for A a cause of A being the chairman? In one sense, there is an outside cause – separate from their acts of voting: the rules that first require a chairman position, and second how to get one. But those are only a partial cause, because they are there before the vote, and if they were alone sufficient to cause the chairman to be chairman, he would be chairman without need of their voting activity. So the rules and structure are only <> partial cause.<> The only thing that is left is the 4 who voted for A. They must be causes of A being chairman. Now, are they all causes? Or only some of them? It might be tempting to say that only 2 are causes, because only 2 were needed to surpass B’s total vote. True enough, but WHICH 2? We don’t have a way of saying. So tackle if from another angle: If the vote were 3 to 2 for A, then would all 3 be causes of A winning and taking the chairman’s position? Presumably yes. Are they all equally the cause? Again yes, for there is no difference in how much of the total vote for A each one of them cast and so each is equally responsible for 1/3 of A’s total vote. No one of them can claim “I had the critical vote” because without the other 2, the one vote he cast would not have tipped the balance – it would not have been critical. Now, look at the decision person 1 made: without knowing how many others were going to vote for A, he voted for A in order to further A’s chances. Person 1 didn’t know if his vote would be needed, or useless because B would win anyway. All he knew was that, without knowledge of who was going to vote how, he could only predict with certainty that A had a better chance of winning if he chose A than if he did not. And so his choice to vote for A was to advance A’s possibility of winning, whether that should eventually be successful or not. But there is nothing about person 1’s decision process that is different when the outcome is 4 to 1 outcome versus the 3 to 2 outcome. In neither case did he know the votes needed for A win, or who would vote how. In both cases he added 1 vote to A’s total, which is all the power he had to do. In the 3 to 2 vote, that 1 vote was critical – as it turns out. But the actual choice made by person 1 is identical in either outcome. The moral event is seen in the action chosen, not the outcome. This means that when the vote goes 4 to 1 for A, all 4 are equally responsible for A winning. No one of them can claim “I had the critical vote”, they all morally made the same decision as when A wins by 3 to 2. If they made the same decision, their votes stand in the same moral and causal relationship to A winning. Therefore, whether A wins by 1 vote exactly, or by more than one, does not alter the choice activity of his voters. It cannot <> by itself <> alter the moral relationship between their action to vote for him and the outcome of his being chairman. Whether he wins by exactly 1 vote, or by several more than 1, each and every voter who votes for him is in the moral sense a cause of his being the chairman. Now, maybe this explanation incorporates into its reasoning something specific to small numbers of votes, even though I don’t see that. I think the rationale applies to all votes that are real votes (as opposed to flim flammery where the votes are not even counted, for example). But maybe I am wrong. If I am wrong, it should be possible to see where my reasoning rests on small numbers. It should also be possible to show where (even roughly) in the chain from small to larger elections it breaks down: town alderman (500 votes wins), city councilman (15,000), city mayor (80,000), state legislator (250,000), governor (1,000,000), president. I cannot come up with a material difference anywhere in that chain, but perhaps others can. Doubtless Zippy will object that this is reductionist and beside the point. Unless he can explain how, claiming it is “reductionist” is just a tag, a name to disguise the fact that you have no adequate counterargument. It does not actually show what is bad about the process as done. One of the smartest professors I had in college, in one of his first lectures, said that if you cannot explain your point, then you don’t really HOLD your point firmly and with sufficient understanding. I suppose there are limits to such a claim, but I think it holds good a in a lot of cases.

  • zippy says:

    <>Unless he can explain how, claiming it is “reductionist” is just a tag, a name to disguise the fact that you have no adequate counterargument.<>Another possibility, of course, is that ‘reductionist’ actually does mean something and applies here, and that, like any atomistic materialist, you’ve dug in and are simply unreachable on the subject despite my good faith (though possibly inadequate, to be sure, at least in terms of your personal needs) efforts.You are quite finished telling me I am trying to “disguise” things, that my purpose is other than rational discourse, etc though. Disagreement is one thing, that is quite another, and your welcome is officially worn out. Goodbye. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  • zippy says:

    I’m going to point out, once again, and in closing, that the whole point of the post above is that this analytic tangent <>doesn’t even matter<> to my overall argument.

  • doubting t says:

    But Zippy, your earlier posts don’t answer his objection either. If reduction is the wrong way to go about understanding this issue, you can answer him substantively. I would like to see that. Why exactly is reduction the wrong way to examine this?

  • zippy says:

    A vote at bottom is just a concrete human decision. All human activities and processes are composed of concrete human decisions at the atomic level, just as all physical events are composed of particle interactions at the atomic level. The outcome of a national election, the present value of the Standard and Poor index, the pareto frequency of the most common house colors, the average length of the grass on the average American lawn, the winner of American Idol, the Nielson ratings for <>Sex and the City<>, etc. are all precisely ‘the same kind of thing’ at the ‘atomic’ level. How are they different? In almost every conceivable way, other than that their ‘atomic’ composition is in part human decisions. Where do you even start, and why would you want to?The ‘atomic’ level isn’t the only level of description, or even a particularly interesting level of description.It is flatly false that I haven’t argued for this understanding or answered the objection. And when I say that if people don’t ‘get it’ after what I have said, I can’t help them, well, that is what I mean. I am sure that there are better orators and teachers who might be able to help beyond what I’ve already said; but I’m not one of them.That the NASDAQ is a fundamentally different kind of thing from a game of monopoly is a manifest truth. When it comes to manifest truths, you either see it or you don’t. Argument doesn’t go “all the way down”: reality isn’t argument.Maybe I’m just too lazy to argue with folks who can’t see that monopoly and the NASDAQ are essentially different. Perhaps that is a valid criticism of my whole approach: that that there are folks who just can’t ‘get it’ without more handholding. Well, sorry. I’m not in a position to do that handholding – while being insulted along the way by the very people who need it, by the way – on a subject that isn’t even critical to my central argument about the morality of voting in a national election. No outcome of this particular tangent changes my central argument about cooperation with evil and national elections.This tangent is not a soft spot in my overall argument, and nobody should get the impression that it is. Lydia and lurker have gone after the genuine soft spot in my argument. If you don’t believe a person can ever harm himself by doing a morally acceptable act, then my argument collapses. That in itself is untenable though.If you don’t believe that voting for a cannibal does any harm to the one who does it, then my argument collapses. It is here where I actually do assert something as a matter of intuition without explicitly demonstrating the ‘turtles all the way down’: I think giving a personal endorsement to a cannibal for the highest office in the land always harms the man who does it, whatever the reason he does it. Someone might disagree, and if I am wrong then my moral argument doesn’t hold. (I don’t think I am wrong, of course, and my tactical argument is still viable even if my moral argument is wrong).But this analytic tangent on the specific nature of a national election is, though perhaps interesting to some, irrelevant to my core argument.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Maybe it’s intrinsically wrong to give one’s personal endorsement to a cannibal for the presidency.It’s a very strong position, but it would in a sense make things much simpler, argumentatively.

  • William Luse says:

    <>Maybe it’s intrinsically wrong to give one’s personal endorsement to a cannibal for the presidency.<>I like the possibilities. Though voting is not intrinsically evil, and though remote material cooperation with evil is sometimes permissible, there are certain evils with which we may never cooperate. Is that how it would go?

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Or perhaps we cd. dispense with the material cooperation altogether and say that there are certain evils that are such that, when other people stand for them, we may never morally take our stand with those people by some known and defined method of “taking a stand with.”Remember that according to Zippy the evil with which one is materially cooperating in voting for Obama is not abortion but rather the harm to oneself of voting for that sort of person.The idea here rather would be to say that Obama stands for all sorts of grave evils (let me count the ways) that are so evil that I would be symbolically aligning myself with them–even if I did not actually causally make it the case that they were done more often–if I voted for him, which (perhaps) one may never morally do.

  • zippy says:

    <>Remember that according to Zippy the evil with which one is materially cooperating in voting for Obama is not abortion but rather the harm to oneself of voting for that sort of person.<>Well, one is also cooperating with the abortion policies of his candidate; but that cooperation is as attenuated as the efficacy of the vote, whereas the effects on the voter are immediate and not attenuated at all.It would definitely be simpler if we could just declare voting for X, where X is a <>person<>, intrinsically immoral. The problem is that I don’t think it is true. That is also what makes this whole subject interesting: there is I think a strong tendency even among those who want to be orthodox in their morality to treat “intrinsic” as a synonym for “objective”, with the corrollary that we can’t say that as a matter of objective fact it would be always morally wrong to perform act A in material cooperation with evil E. “Intrinsically evil” is a <>subset<> of the categories of acts which are always morally wrong though. There are plenty of categories of acts which are <>always morally wrong<> but which are <>not intrinsically immoral<>.More bluntly, the old ‘freedom of conscience’ canard is worming its way, in the case of material cooperation with evil, into the discourse of even those who know better when it comes to intrinsic immorality.I’m trying to put a well-deserved bullet into the head of this ‘limited’ moral relativism as much as to argue the specific case. (Another reason why the subject is nontrivial is that the premises are indeed heretical to our modern civic religion. I suspect that that, more than anything else, is what makes straightforward and manifestly true claims like ‘your individual vote will not change the election outcome’ and ‘your vote affects you far more than it affects anything else’ counterintuitive to many).

  • lurker says:

    Zippy, I do not say that you cannot be harmed by a morally licit act. I am saying that you cannot be harmed spiritually by an act which – apart from the putative harm which the very matter in doubt here – is a positive DUTY to do, (and is ipso facto a morally licit act but much more). I will put it another way: if God has given you a duty to do act X which includes material cooperation with evil, then God has, by the very fact of giving you that duty, also promised the grace to keep you free from any spiritual damage – if only you ask for that grace and adhere to His will. If you ask for the grace and embrace His will, NO damage to your spirit can be the result of choosing the act which is your duty. There is a quote from Scripture that has been on the tip of my tongue for 2 days on this – can anyone help me remember?

  • zippy says:

    <>I am saying that you cannot be harmed spiritually by an act which – apart from the putative harm which the very matter in doubt here – is a positive DUTY to do…<>I suppose then that the natural question is whether ‘vote for a cannibal’ in the present circumstances is that kind of act: an act which it is a sin not to do. I’m rather doubtful.It seems to me that there may well be acts/situations where one and only one positive act is on the table as a licit option, and all other possible courses of action or inaction are morally illicit. ‘Vote for a cannibal’ is probably not one of them, at least in circumstances anything like our actual circumstances.(Another question this raises is, what is the nature of spiritual harm and is it exhaustive of the kinds of harm which constitute material cooperation with evil? I’m inclined to think for example that an executioner is harmed by repeatedly carrying out his trade, even though licit; but I’m not sure I would attach the qualifier ‘spiritual’ to the harm, even though it is not physical.)

  • lurker says:

    <> what is the nature of spiritual harm and is it exhaustive of the kinds of harm which constitute material cooperation with evil? <> Yes, I was thinking about that too. But I came to the tentative conclusion that spiritual harm is the only one we should focus on here. We already know that there are many times that doing God’s will entails physical harm to ourselves. That is the reality in this sin-infested world: He uses such physical harm for our spiritual good. I think emotional harm – which includes everything from grief over the loss of a loved one, to more serious and long-lasting emotional disturbances, are again not things that <> of themselves <> are detrimental to our spiritual welfare: God sends them our way to help us learn interior fortitude and patience, among other things. Even such harm as psychological illness is not, of itself, something that damages our spiritual welfare, if we accept it rightly from God. When a person is subject to this sort of illness entirely from causes not of his own defective will, they can still gain great merit and please God by accepting their suffering. There are instances of God sending such suffering to his chosen holy ones at some time in their lives. The only remaining type of ill that would seem to matter is what I would class as that of coarsening the sensibilities. If that were to happen even against the will of the person doing his duty, I cannot see how this kind of harm can be MORE serious to his ultimate welfare than psychological illness, which a person can suffer without harm to the spirit. I conclude, then, that any evil suffered, except the evil of sin, can be useful to the spiritual good of the person. <> It seems to me that there may well be acts/situations where one and only one positive act is on the table as a licit option, and all other possible courses of action or inaction are morally illicit. ‘Vote for a cannibal’ is probably not one of them, at least in circumstances anything like our actual circumstances. <> Yes, I see your point. But I am still troubled about an aspect of this line of reasoning in how prudence comes into it. In general, if your prudential judgment is that the evils of cooperation with evil are vastly outweighed by the goods from such cooperation (not yet accounting for the harm to yourself from such cooperation), then it is also likely in some of those situations that your prudential judgment will conclude that the evils of cooperating with evil <> even taking the damage to yourself into account<> are still outweighed by the good to be achieved. Just speaking in general, then, it seems that you can have a set of options before you where you have a conclusion that the best choice available (including all of the non-action choices) is cooperation with evil even though it may harm you in ways not determinative of your spiritual good. In THAT case it seems to me that once you have concluded as a moral proposition that this act A of cooperation with evil is the best possible choice (taking into account all the known effects), it is then your God-given duty to go ahead with that one option, even though other options would have been morally licit before you came to that conclusion. In other words, other options which are morally licit IN GENERAL can be taken off the table IN THIS CHOICE as having much worse results than one of the options which entails cooperation with evil. Once you have a conclusion of the practical order that options B, C, and D (all of which are licit in general) have worse results than A, then B, C, and D are no longer available options in THIS instance, and your duty lies in A.

  • zippy says:

    <>But I came to the tentative conclusion that spiritual harm is the only one we should focus on here.<>Well, I do disagree with that pretty much categorically. It is wrong to cause physical harm, even to a part of nature (say in an act of killing an animal), let alone a person, without a proportionate reason; and proportionate reason is ‘entangled’ with the efficacy of the act in terms of achieving its (good) end, which is why we can’t leave out consideration of the efficacy of the act of voting in terms of the outcome of the election (as an intermediate and necessary cause on the way to achieving the good end which putatively justifies the vote) in the kind of case in question.<>if your prudential judgment is that the evils of cooperation with evil are vastly outweighed by the goods from such cooperation (not yet accounting for the harm to yourself from such cooperation),…<>Well, again, I think you are trying in the parenthetical to ‘disentangle’ parts of the problem which cannot be disentangled. There simply and objectively are not (in my view, of course, which can always be wrong), as a matter of fact, any goods which can result from a vote for a cannibal in a national election in current circumstances which are capable of doing the moral heavy lifting required to justify the choice. Votes in a NE are simply not efficacious enough to do the job. But at least we’ve come to an understanding of where a point of substantive disagreement (or maybe just doubt) lies; it is clearer to me, at any rate. I appreciate the comments.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Do I have it right that the difference between something that is intrinsically wrong and something that in a colloquial sense is “always wrong to do” but not intrinsically wrong is that there are _conceivable_ circumstances in which it would not be wrong to do the latter kind of thing, but those conceivable circumstances are just so bizarre that they will almost certainly never obtain in the real world?

  • zippy says:

    Lydia:I suppose we could craft a kind of simplified ‘in a nutshell’ heirarchy. I’m not trying to describe <>what these are<>, mind you, but merely to rank them:1) Intrinsically immoral acts: always immoral under any conceivable circumstances and for any conceivable intention.2) Formal cooperation with evil: always immoral no matter what concrete act instantiates the formal cooperation.3) Material cooperation with evil which is always wrong under any conceivable circumstances, i.e. in all conceivable worlds. (I’m not sure this category exists, but it is here for completeness).4) Material cooperation with evil which is always wrong given <>any<> real-world constraints at all (e.g. it would be wrong for the Aztecs as much as for us).5) Material cooperation with evil which is always wrong given circumstances anything like ours (this is where, I claim, that voting for a cannibal in a NE lies).6) Material cooperation with evil the justification of which requires a subtlety of reason which is beyond most people. (In this kind of case, even where it is justified for the man of subtle reason he still causes scandal, which must be factored in as one of the bad effects).7) Material cooperation with evil which is justifiable on reasonably ordinary terms, but where most people in our culture do this act under an unjust intention.8) Material cooperation with evil which a significant number of people in our culture engage in under a just intention.9) Material cooperation with evil which is easily justifiable, but which is regrettable nonetheless.There are no ‘better’ ones, in my view. Material cooperation with evil is always regrettable, even when it is easily justified.Finally:10) Material cooperation with evil where the act is morally compulsory: there is literally no other morally licit option than to do <>this<> act which materially cooperates with evil.

  • lurker says:

    <> I do disagree with that pretty much categorically. It is wrong to cause physical harm, even to a part of nature (say in an act of killing an animal), let alone a person, without a proportionate reason <>Yes, that is true – I thought we were talking generically about cases where we already have a conclusion that we have proportionate reason with respect to THAT kind of evil effects. <> and proportionate reason is ‘entangled’ with the efficacy of the act in terms of achieving its (good) end <> Can we discuss this? I agree that proportionate reason must take into account the efficacy expected. But I think that two things should be said here. At the least, the proportionate good must be sufficient to justify the act ASSUMING the good effect will in fact come to be, in order to be proportionate reason at all. So a first hurdle would be on the basis “would this be proportionate reason if the good really does happen.” Then an initial conclusion that some good is NOT proportionate reason could be had without ever asking how likely it is the good effect will come about. Therefore, a determination of how much evil the good “offsets” CAN be looked at separately from the likelihood of the prospect of the good – as an initial effort, but not as a final judgment on the act. One could reasonably say first, “is this good enough good to justify the evil ALONE”, and then as the second part of the process say “is the good taking into account the likelihood of efficacy of my act proportionate to the evil taking into account the efficacy of my act.” Zippy, I think it really comes down to whether the external efficacy is ABSOLUTELY zero verses other levels or kinds of efficacy, even very small. I sure wish you could see your way to establish this other than by saying it is manifest, because there there might be a big difference (in moral terms) between saying the efficacy (externally) is absolutely 0, and saying it is vanishingly small. In the one case, the good effect (with 0 efficacy) cannot be proportionate to ANY evil effect at all. In the other, it could be proportionate to a corresponding vanishingly small evil effect. I don’t think it is manifest whether the (external) efficacy of one vote in the national election is absolutely 0 versus very small.

  • zippy says:

    <>I thought we were talking generically about cases where we already have a conclusion that we have proportionate reason with respect to THAT kind of evil effects.<>I don’t think cooperation with evil ‘works’ that way though. If we already have a conclusion, we already have a conclusion, and we are just sneaking around the evil that our act objectively causes by the back door. Again, it seems to me that you are trying to analytically ‘parse out’ the proportionate reason such that it is possible to have a proportionate reason to explicitly and deliberately cooperate with grave evil <>in one’s intention<> – not intending the grave evil itself, perhaps, but certainly intending to deliberately cooperate with it – despite an utter lack of practical efficacy with respect to bringing about the putative justifying ‘good’ via that concrete act.<>because there there might be a big difference (in moral terms) between saying the efficacy (externally) is absolutely 0, and saying it is vanishingly small.<>I don’t think it makes a difference though. A proportionate reason to deliberately and explicitly cooperate with grave evil simply cannot be constructed from a vanishingly small capacity in the concrete act to bring about the putative good effect, in my view.(Last time I took a close interest in it, it was my understanding that each vote cost about $1 in marketing expenses; yet each voter consumed many times that $1 getting to the polling place and casting his vote. Even in economic terms voting is a sucker’s game: if you really want to win you are better of spending your money on marketing to the <>American Idol<> audience than you are spending it getting to the polls).

  • lurker says:

    <> I don’t think it makes a difference though. A proportionate reason to deliberately and explicitly cooperate with grave evil simply cannot be constructed from a vanishingly small capacity in the concrete act to bring about the putative good effect, in my view. <>Can a proportionate reason to deliberately cooperate with vanishingly small evil be constructed from a vanishingly small capacity to bring about the putative good? Obviously, I am not talking about grave evil here. Asking about a different situation.

  • lurker says:

    <> Last time I took a close interest in it, it was my understanding that each vote cost about $1 in marketing expenses; yet each voter consumed many times that $1 getting to the polling place and casting his vote. Even in economic terms voting is a sucker’s game: if you really want to win you are better of spending your money on marketing to the American Idol audience than you are spending it getting to the polls). <>I have no clue what your words even mean here. The presidential candidates spend vastly more than $1 per vote “marketing” themselves. Each voter’s polling place is usually within 3 miles of home – often less: even with a gas guzzler and even with high gas prices, the cost to the voter <> directly <> is $2 or less. The vast majority of election day “costs” are borne by volunteers – the rest does cost money, but way less than the sum of what the whole field of candidates spend – by about 2 orders of magnitude. Are you talking about the cost of voting machines, polling places, etc? That cost is spread over many offices up for election, including the town dog catcher, etc. Who is the “you” when you say “if you really want to win” – the candidate? Me? If me, what would I be spending my money on “marketing to the American Idol” for, what am I supposed to be marketing to them: my vote?

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