Category Archives: Ethics

The Ethics of Voting

Here is Jason Brennan‘s provocative view on voting:

“In The Ethics of Voting, I argue that citizens have no standing moral obligation to vote. Voting is just one of many ways one can pay a debt to society, serve other citizens, promote the common good, exercise civic virtue, and avoid free-riding off the efforts of others. Participating in politics is nothing special, morally speaking.

However, I argue that if citizens do decide to vote, they have very strict moral obligations regarding how they vote. I argue that citizens must vote for what they justifiedly believe will promote the common good, or otherwise they must abstain.

That is, voters should vote on the basis of sound evidence. They must put in heavy work to make sure their reasons for voting as they do are morally and epistemically justified. In general, they must vote for the common good rather than for narrow self-interest. Citizens who are unwilling or unable to put in the hard work of becoming good voters should not vote at all. They should stay home on election day rather than pollute the polls with their bad votes.

and that is his interesting interview with Robert Talisse on the New books in philosophy blog:


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The Duty of Inquiry: William K. Clifford (II)

See below another nice passage from the classic “Ethics of Belief” of William K. Clifford:

A shipowner was about to send to sea an emigrant-ship. He knew that she was old, and not well built at the first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often had needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him that possibly she was not seaworthy. These doubts preyed upon his mind, and made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly overhauled and refitted, even though this should put him at great expense. Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely through so many voyages and weathered so many storms that it was idle to suppose she would not come safely home from this trip also. He would put his trust in Providence, which could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere. He would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors. In such ways he acquired a sincere and comfortable conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched her departure with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance-money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.

 

So the shipowner has formed a sincere “faith” in his ship. However we would all surely find this faith discreditable. Sincerity does not alone fulfill the duties implied by the process of rational belief formation. Or as Clifford comments:

 

the sincerity of his conviction can in no wise help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him. He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts. And although in the end he may have felt so sure about it that he could not think otherwise, yet inasmuch as he had knowingly and willingly worked himself into that frame of mind, he must be held responsible for it.

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The Ethics of Belief: William K. Clifford

Here is a beautiful excerpt from the “Ethics of Belief” of William K. Clifford which I thought I should share with you:

If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it — the life of that man is one long sin against mankind….

“But,” says one, “I am a busy man; I have no time for the long course of study which would be necessary to make me in any degree a competent judge of certain questions, or even able to understand the nature of the arguments.”

Then he should have no time to believe.

 

He who truly believes that which prompts him to an action has looked upon the action to lust after it, he has committed it already in his heart. If a belief is not realized immediately in open deeds, it is stored up for the guidance of the future. It goes to make a part of that aggregate of beliefs which is the link between sensation and action at every moment of all our lives, and which is so organized and compacted together that no part of it can be isolated from the rest, but every new addition modifies the structure of the whole. No real belief, however trifling and fragmentary it may seem, is ever truly insignificant; it prepares us to receive more of its like, confirms those which resembled it before, and weakens others; and so gradually it lays a stealthy train in our inmost thoughts, which may someday explode into overt action, and leave its stamp upon our character for ever.

 

Insolence

ὕβρις φυτεύει τύραννον·
ὕβρις, εἰ πολλῶν ὑπερπλησθῇ μάταν,
ἃ μὴ ’πίκαιρα μηδὲ συμφέροντα,
ἀκρότατον εἰσαναβᾶσ’
αἶπος ἀπότομον ὤρουσεν εἰς ἀνάγκαν,
ἔνθ’ οὐ ποδὶ χρησίμῳ
χρῆται. τὸ καλῶς δ’ ἔχον
πόλει πάλαισμα μήποτε λῦσαι θεὸν αἰτοῦμαι.
θεὸν οὐ λήξω ποτὲ προστάταν ἴσχων.

εἰ δέ τις ὑπέροπτα χερσὶν ἢ λόγῳ πορεύεται,
δίκας ἀφόβητος οὐδὲ δαιμόνων ἕδη σέβων,
κακά νιν ἕλοιτο μοῖρα,
δυσπότμου χάριν χλιδᾶς,
εἰ μὴ τὸ κέρδος κερδανεῖ δικαίως
καὶ τῶν ἀσέπτων ἔρξεται
ἢ τῶν ἀθίκτων θίξεται ματᾴζων.
τίς ἔτι ποτ᾽ ἐν τοῖσδ᾽ ἀνὴρ θεῶν βέλη
εὔξεται ψυχᾶς ἀμύνειν;

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Translation:

Insolence breeds the tyrant; Insolence, once blindly gorged with plenty, with things which are not fit or good, when it hath scaled the crowning height leaps on the abyss of doom, where it is served not by the service of the foot. But that rivalry which is good for the state I pray that the god may never quell: the god ever will I hold my champion.

But whoso walks haughtily in deed or word, unterrified by Justice, revering not the shrines of gods, may an evil doom take him for his miserable pride, if he will not gain his gains fairly, if he will not keep himself from impieties, but must lay wanton hands on things inviolable. In such case, what man can boast any more that he shall ward the arrows of anger from his life?

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Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus

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