Posts tagged with: William James

There’s more to voting than tallying up the number of yays and nays. Although you’d never guess it by the numbingly perfunctory attitude taken toward voting by most Americans—especially in this late hour—who see it either as the highest duty of a good citizen, or as an inconvenient inevitability.

What makes voting worth it, anyway? Is it the possibility of shaping our nation’s future? The opportunity to express our deepest-held principles? Or is it worth it precisely because not doing it would be a civic or moral failure that we wish to avoid?

A recent conversation at Ethika Politika draws some of these questions together. Responding broadly to my characterization of Alasdair MacIntyre’s now somewhat popular case for non-voting, Acton’s own Dylan Pahman offers a perspective that emphasizes real-life consequences stemming from our attitude toward civic choices. Pahman takes as a philosophical basis for this approach William James’s idea of genuine options, suggesting that voting meets all the criteria, and that to not vote is, strictly speaking, not a real option.

As the defensor MacIntyri, here—at least for the sake of argument—I submit that Pahman’s analysis, while logically consistent, introduces a false assumption about the nature of morals vis-à-vis public life. In other words, I think that favoring a “duty to consider the consequences” need not take precedence over—and certainly needn’t extinguish—one’s “focus upon the personal, moral value of voting.” What are personal morals, after all, if not deeply connected to reality?

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