The Catechism on Voting and Game Theory

October 22, 2008 § 19 Comments

The Catechism tells us:

2240 Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country:

Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

[Christians] reside in their own nations, but as resident aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners. . . . They obey the established laws and their way of life surpasses the laws. . . . So noble is the position to which God has assigned them that they are not allowed to desert it.

The Apostle exhorts us to offer prayers and thanksgiving for kings and all who exercise authority, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”

Despite the lack of any mention of game theory in this passage, some people seem to want to interpret it to mean that there is always a proportionate reason to vote for a medical cannibal who supports aborting children and using their body parts for research (like, say, John McCain), as long as the other major party candidate is worse. I’ll just point out that this interpretation involves more than a little bit of filling in of the blanks. If anything, a much more plausible interpretation is that exercising the right to vote is, when morally licit, about submission to authority, respect, co responsibility for the common good, living a pure Christian life in a pagan culture, etc — that is, it is about outcome-independent considerations, not about making sure I am on the winning team.


§ 19 Responses to The Catechism on Voting and Game Theory

  • Tom says:

    A growing list of American bishops are teaching that “the other major party candidate is worse” is a proportionate reason to vote for a major party candidate. Bishops < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Hermann<>, < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Finn<>, and < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Vasa<>, to name three I came across yesterday.

  • discalcedyooper says:

    You seem to expect the CCC to be something that it isn’t. Given that the folks you’ve been conversing with tend to do so, I won’t hold it against you.

  • zippy says:

    <>You seem to expect the CCC to be something that it isn’t. Given that the folks you’ve been conversing with tend to do so, I won’t hold it against you.<>I try to reach people where they are.

  • zippy says:

    <>A growing list of American bishops are teaching that “the other major party candidate is worse” is a proportionate reason to vote for a major party candidate.<>I don’t doubt it. I also don’t doubt that they are doing so based on sound principles of licit material cooperation with evil layered over the conventional mythology of the nature of elections and voting.

  • JACK says:

    I actually have to agree with Zippy on this. I read Vasa’s comment and I think his interpretation of what it means to vote for a third-party candidate is absolutely off-basis. I agree with his teaching of how it could be a morally licit option, but I don’t think it is in any way the same thing as voting for the least suitable candidate.I suppose I am glad that bishops are weighing in on the subject and if they were to respond to the arguments of a Zippy I’d be very happy to accept their comment that he is wrong. However, so far, what I see doesn’t answer Zippy’s arguments, for I think Zippy’s statement that these bishops, like so many of us living in this culture, misunderstand the true meaning/nature of voting that their analysis, applied to that misunderstanding, results in this position. Until they take on Zippy’s argument, which seems like the most cogent and serious one advanced so far for Zippy’s view, I can’t help but think these answers suffer from a defect in the question’s formulation.I’m not meaning to suggest the bishops are wrong. Just that they haven’t exactly been challenged to put on their thinking caps and be as rigorous and as thoughtful on this question as they should be. I think this election is just beginning (maybe) that process for all of us.Given the bishops statements, though, it does seem to me that humility must permit some sense of “unanswered questions” in this area.I personally find the gating question of the existence of actual candidates who don’t support intrinsic evil as as convincing of a reason as Zippy does the proportionate reasons argument. I think that has been given even less serious treatment.

  • Tom says:

    The bishops are teaching — and have never taught otherwise — that a proportionate reason to vote for a candidate who espouses grave evil is to limit the graver evil the other candidate would do.That’s a straight-up moral doctrine, taught by every bishop I’ve ever heard touch on the subject, which Zippy explicitly rejects.So whether you mean to or not, JACK, if you say you agree with Zippy, you are saying the bishops are wrong.

  • zippy says:

    Where has any bishop even entertained the issues I’ve raised?

  • JACK says:

    Tom:Yes, I am suggesting that the Bishops are not analyzing the matter fully and, given the seriousness and cogency of Zippy’s argument, could very well be wrong. No I am not saying that they are wrong on faith and morals. Your characterization of the statement you suggest is the teaching the bishops have made as being “straight-up moral doctrine” is erroneous. By its very nature, your statement presumes an application to a set of facts (hence your reference to “other” candidate) and that makes it something less than “straight-up moral doctrine”. I’m not suggesting that it shouldn’t be taken seriously or that it couldn’t be the correct answer. But let’s not suggest that it is something it isn’t. Let’s take Finn’s restatement as I find it fully acceptable: “You may choose an imperfect candidate if it is the best chance to limit grave evil.” The questions being raised by Zippy are asking us to give some real thought to the actual nature of the act of voting (rather than just running with the cultural view on this), to consider in a more serious way whether it is in fact the “best” chance to limit grave evil (rather than just running with the cultural view on this that has been built up under the lesser of two evils schema), and to more expressly acknowledge the possibility that the act of voting for the imperfect candidate contains bad effects for the one casting the vote that need to be included in the analysis (rather than running with the cultural implicit assumption that it does not).I don’t see how any of that is saying the bishops are wrong on morals. It is far more like me taking an image that they’ve used to explain by analogy some important doctrine, pointing out some defects in the analogy, and asking for clarification.Maybe they have great answers to Zippy’s questions and can say why either he’s wrong in asking about the things I describe above or how the analysis doesn’t bear things out. But I personally think any Bishop who spent time with Zippy’s comments in a serious way would recognize them as worthy question and are precisely aimed at digging into the nitty-gritty of actually making a prudential judgment using the church’s moral doctrine.

  • JACK says:

    And by “fully acceptable” I meant for purpose of me illustrating what I read as Zippy’s questions, not that I think Bishop Finn has restated Catholic doctrine on this point with perfect precision. Nor would I have expected him to have done in a two line email from probably a blackberry.I have to remind people that the principles being applied here are no different than the ones we apply in just war, where people far more fully recognize the type of analysis Zippy is suggesting. We always take into account all the impacts of the act in doing proportionate reasoning analysis. It’s just most of us cheat, and just assume we know that certain impacts are negligible. And most of the time our instincts are right, but I think that cheating makes us think we are being more rigorous in our application of the Church’s teaching to a set of facts than we really are.

  • Tom says:

    <>By its very nature, your statement presumes an application to a set of facts (hence your reference to “other” candidate) and that makes it something less than “straight-up moral doctrine”.<>This makes no sense to me at all.A) What’s an example of a moral doctrine that isn’t applied to a set of facts? Not double effect, not cooperation with evil, not just war theory.B) What’s the <>point<> of a moral doctrine that isn’t applied to a set of facts?

  • Tom says:

    <>Where has any bishop even entertained the issues I’ve raised?<>A bishop doesn’t have to entertain the issues you’ve raised to contradict your conclusion.But since a growing number of bishops <>have<> contradicted your conclusion, either they’re wrong or you’re wrong (or you’re all wrong).(As it happens, you’re wrong. I have discovered a truly marvellous proof of this, which this comment box is too narrow to contain.)But just because you’re wrong (says I) doesn’t mean that entertaining the issues you’ve raised wouldn’t be profitable for bishops and theologians.

  • zippy says:

    It will take more Wiles than that to undermine my conclusion.

  • JACK says:

    Tom:Maybe I read too much into what you were saying. But you seem to have been calling it “moral doctrine” to suggest that (a) the matter was settled and (b) that as a Catholic I had to accept the bishops’ statement. I simply was trying to point out that we were far removed from a question of the trinity and that in the very formulation you were offering up application to facts was already happening.The quickening was once thought to be a sign of the start of life and Catholic principles, as applied to those facts, might lead one to a conclusion we would recognize as erroneous today because of our better and more complete understanding of the facts of when life begins. That was my point. If you were merely suggesting that I was in disagreement with the Bihops (I still think characterizing my thinking them “wrong” would be too strong a descripter) then fine I accept your judgment.And, dude, if you have a substantive response to Zippy’s concerns that addresses his points, don’t withhold it. While you are right in your last response to Zippy that the bishops need not address his points for Zippy to be wrong, I think Zippy would be all ears to hear his points addressed. In the end, that’s what I think Zippy would want. I don’t get the impression he’s more eager to be judged right than he is to learn what is right.

  • William Luse says:

    <>A growing list of American bishops are teaching that “the other major party candidate is worse” is a proportionate reason to vote for a major party candidate.<>Under any and all circumstances?

  • JACK says:

    For what it is worth, I’ve finally fleshed out my thoughts more fully:

  • Tom says:

    <>Under any and all circumstances?<>The specific teachings constrain the circumstances in various ways. Bishop Hermann, for example, refers to the circumstances in which “both candidates permit the right to abortion, but unequally so,” in which case “we must[!!] choose to mitigate the evil by choosing the candidate who is less permissive of abortion.”

  • William Luse says:

    You didn’t answer the question, which was: are there any circumstances under which our moral duty would lie in not voting for either candidate?

  • […] posted about the Catechism’s exhortation to vote before.   Quite a few people seem to interpret both the Catechism and Faithful Citizenship as if they […]

  • […] those Catholics who would trot out CCC 2240 as implying a universal and nonnegotiable duty to vote, ZC argues that the Catechism’s exhortation must be properly qualified with respect to the context normally lacking in that wretched and unreadable document (emphasis […]

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