March 26, 2010 § 24 Comments
There is a ridiculous objection which often comes up when discussing voting or other sorites-building contests like the rocket race in the last post.
The objection goes something like this:
If we accept that our own personal act of voting has negligible influence over the outcome of the contest it must follow that the outcome of the contest has no cause, since everyone’s individual vote has negligible influence over the outcome. Obviously the outcome has a cause; therefore our individual vote has non-negligible influence over the outcome.
A moment’s reflection reveals the silliness of this objection.
The outcome of the contest is caused by all of the votes taken together. These votes are separated into two categories. All but one of the votes are votes cast by other people, not you. Therefore they form part of the circumstances of your vote. The remaining vote is, of course, your vote itself.
The outcome of the contest is determined by your action in combination with the circumstances of your action. The influence of your action on that outcome is literally negligible compared to the influence of the circumstances: the outcome is going to be the same whether or not you even exist, let alone whether or not you vote in a certain way.
Therefore it is simultaneously true that the outcome is caused by all the votes taken in aggregate, and that your vote’s influence on the outcome is literally negligible.