It is harmful to act unreasonably

October 20, 2012 § 6 Comments

Quite a few people protest that when we vote for a candidate, we are not endorsing that candidate.   This protest is wrong.   When we vote for a candidate we are endorsing that candidate for that office.   That is precisely what voting for a candidate intrinsically is, as a concrete act.

I think what is happening here is that people are confusing the object of an act of voting with their intentions.   Remember that the object of an act is the actual objective (as opposed to subjective — thus the term “object”) concrete behaviour we choose.   Our intentions are the subjective meaning we attach to our act: in the case of voting this – making sure our intentions are good – is where all the discursive action is in the talk about limiting evil.  When someone says “I am voting for Romney to limit evil” he is referring to his subjective intentions, and it is important to have good intentions.  That is why documents like Faithful Citizenship focus on how you can go about having a right intention when it comes to voting.

As Catholics though – as anyone who apprehends the natural law, for that matter – we know that good intentions, while absolutely critical, are not sufficient to justify a concrete act.  When I say that the voter is endorsing Romney for President I am referring to the actual concrete behaviour he chooses: the object of his act.  He intends to limit evil.  How does he act on that intention?  By endorsing Romney with his vote.

A problem arises because he votes for Romney as a putatively pragmatic act[*]; and voting for Romney as a pragmatic act is not a reasonable thing to do, despite his good intentions.  Voting irrationally has all sorts of harmful effects on the person who does it and on those around him.  Most importantly it reinforces attitudes and manners of thinking, in the voter and in those over whom he has personal influence, which are false: that is, in opposition to the truth.  Reinforcing untruth is harmful to individuals and to the common good[**].

The harm of voting irrationally obtains whether or not Romney wins: outcome-independent harm.  So the rest follows.  Voting pragmatically (as opposed to acting in a principled/idealistic way) with reference to the outcome in Presidential elections is harmful to individuals and the common good.  Because this harm is independent of the election outcome, any proportionate reason to justify it would also have to be independent of the election outcome.  If as an objective matter you actually do have a proportionate reason to join Team Romney, that proportionate reason cannot be because things will be better under a Romney presidency than under an Obama presidency.   It must be some good obtained simply by joining Team Romney, whether he wins or loses.


[*] Someone who is gung-ho Romney without reservations doesn’t have this problem.   But he does have other problems, to wit, formal cooperation with evil.

[**] Note that I have altered my position from four years ago, having fired a neuron or two in the interim.   Four years ago I didn’t have a reason to think that the outcome-independent harm to the pragmatic presidential voter was strictly necessary: it was just something I observed empirically.  I have now identified why that harm is in fact universal for the pragmatic-outcome presidential voter.

§ 6 Responses to It is harmful to act unreasonably

  • […] 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;  [Update 10-20-2012: I have elaborated on at least one of these harms here.] […]

  • Paul J Cella says:

    I think you’re on stronger grounds when you say that the concrete object of voting is conformity to the regnant consensus of how we are governed — an endorsement of the democratic process — and thus that the concrete object of not voting is to decline to conform to that consensus.

    The is ample evidence in history, particularly American history, of a permitted space for oppositional voting: that is, votes against someone that do not necessitate endorsement of someone else. The two major parties stand in opposition to one another. That is obvious. It is less obvious, though no less true, that within each party there are coalitions of oppositions. We’ve seen the influence of one of these intra-party oppositions just in the last few years, with the rise of the Tea Party faction that ousted party stalwarts such as Sen. Bob Bennett and more recently in Texas with the primary victory of Ted Cruz. These and other primaries have put a real scare in many mainstream Republicans. Orrin Hatch suddenly gave up all his dalliances with social-issue moderation after his fellow mainstreamer was oust in a primary. It is arguable that the Tea Party’s success has come precisely because of its willingness to operate as an opposition within an extant party. A similar narrative could be craft to extol the success of the 60s radicals in shifting the focus and center of balance of the Democrats. All of which demonstrates that oppositional voting with a party framework is not irrational.

  • I think you are still importing intentions. I can tell that the behaviour itself (object) is an endorsement because it is impossible to tell the difference, at the level of the specific objective behaviour of voting itself, and indeed by the very design and nature of the process, between the nose holder and the cheerleader. Nose holding and cheerleading may be concomitant separate acts, but the act of voting itself just is concretely endorsing the specific candidate for the specific office.

  • DB says:

    For a different perspective regarding some of your comments elsewhere regarding distributism, etc., please see the following:

    God Bless!


  • […] it is an error in reasoning to vote on pragmatic grounds, a person who so votes is acting irrationally, i.e., offending against the cardinal virtue of prudence. And because the act itself is imprudent, […]

  • […] by applying a concrete understanding of the nature of voting in modern mass-market universal suffrage elections to all of that, I […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading It is harmful to act unreasonably at Zippy Catholic.