Works for me

A reader sends along the following syllogism:

Thoroughly Catholic, and approved by more than one priest and theologian, atleast one of whom has appeared numerous times on EWTN and teaches in our seminaries.

Each moral decision ought to be based on the natural law.
Each moral decision should be unaffected by the trends of how other people make the same moral decision.
Voting is a moral act.

Therefore, the act of voting ought to be based on the natural law and be unaffected by the trends of how other people vote.

The premises are true, so the conclusion is true. And this ought to be included in every voters guide in the world.

Of course, people will argue about the second premise, but just wish them good luck in formulating a hypothetical scenario in which a truly moral act ought to be decided according to what other people do in the same moral act.

Seems clear to me. I’m still amazed to here a prolife Catholic speaking of the idea of voting one’s conscience as “bizarre”.

"thanks. just what i expected a rightwinger to say."

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  • Mercury

    So this person is saying, in other words, that no Catholic can vote in any election where none of the candidates match the magisterium perfectly. That I a candidate supports abortion for only the “three exceptions” and can and will act to reduce abortions otherwise, we cannot vote for him. If one is a scumbag who will attack the church an one is a scumbag who will ignore it, we cannot vote for the latter.

    Even third parties do not match the Catechism perfectly. If one digs deep enough, one will fin dirt on even Hoefling, who is my only viable option besides the Protestant theocratic Prohibition Party.

    • ivan_the_mad

      No. It’s an argument against the notion that most everyone is going to vote for Obama or Romney, so on those grounds you need to vote for one of them as well.

      • Right. Moral decisions should not be affected by the trends of how other people make the same moral decision. This is different than following sage advice or the example of wise individuals.

      • Mercury

        Well doing wht everyone else is doing just because everyone is doing it is stupid, but realistically, there ARE only two candidates who can possibly win in this election. Realistically, the only way for Obama to lose if gfor Romney to win, and there are people in swing states who do not have the luxury of voting for a hopeless third party candidate, people who know that their vote could determine whether abortion will be advanced as far as possible and Catholic fleeced to pay for it, whether the court will be stacked in such a way as to make gay marrige inevitable, and whether the Church will be actively driven from public life.

        I neither like nor trust Romney, but my options are either American Independence and Hoefling, who I am sure does not perfectly toe the Church’s line, and the Protestant fundamentalist Prohibition Party. I know that no matter how crappy Romney is, he will not *advance* any grave evil beyond what Obama has done and will do.

        I have also been told it’s a sin to not vote. Looks like I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

        • Mercury

          And voting third party when the third party has absolutely NO chance of making a dent IS the same as not voting.

          • Mark Shea

            No. It’s not. Not voting is the same as not voting. Voting is not the same as not voting.

        • Mercury

          And voting third party when the third party has absolutely NO chance of making a dent IS the same as not voting, with the exception of this who vote for the third party because they truly believe in the party’s platform.

          • “…a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”

            Yet another reason to vote third party. Since all 4, yes there are FOUR who have the technical possibility of winning, of the candidates support and promote grave intrinsic evil, we have an awesome reason to support an improbable winner. If he fails to win, then we won’t be complicit in the winning candidate’s evil.

        • Kristen inDallas

          It’s not a sin not to vote. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s. Your heart and well-formed conscience are God’s, your money is Caesar’s. Neither one of them have asked for your vote. There is no legal code, or line in the Cathechism stating otherwise.

          • It is morally permissible to recuse oneself from voting. This is not the same as being lazy or apathetic.

  • NoahLuck

    As it happens, that’s not a valid syllogism. It can be corrected to make it valid, however:

    All moral decisions ought to be based on the natural law and unaffected by the trends of how other people decide that same moral decision.
    Voting is a moral decision.
    Therefore, voting ought to be based on the natural law and unaffected by the trends of how other people vote.

    The soundness of the revised syllogism is still not perfectly obvious, because the first premise overstates well-established truths. Traditionally, there are three components of the morality of a specific act that must all be good for the act itself to be good: the nature of the act itself, the motives, and the circumstances. It appears to me that a person could make a strong case for “the trends of how other people decide that same moral decision” as an essential part of the circumstances. For a very weak example, consider that driving on the right side of the road in the U.S. is the prudent thing to do only because nearly everyone drives on the right side of the road in the U.S. (And as prudence is a cardinal virtue, prudent decisions are most definitely moral decisions.)

    Even if the soundness of the revised syllogism is granted for sake of argument, it only becomes a useful argument when the opposition accepts your (separate) argument for how the natural law says you should vote. The strength of a syllogism is its clarity. The weakness is that it can’t take you very far.

    • Noah, I understand where you were coming from, but I’m quite certain your incorrect. The most fundamental error is calling voting a decision rather than an act. Decisions are internal resolutions, whereas voting is an exterior performance. (I can decide that I will do X but never actually do it. Decisions are about intentions.) Of course, I’m not saying that you are incorrect in addressing decision-making; that is obviously relevant.

      Your driving example is interesting but not applicable. Neither side of the road is inherently morally preferable. I’m not saying that it is obvious which of the 4 candidates is inherently morally preferable, but they do promote and represent differing values and ideas which themselves are more or less morally preferable. Coming to the conclusion as to whom is morally preferable is definitely a matter of prudence and conscience that will validly differ between people. (Although, some matters seem to invalidate a candidate, eg. a near total privation of integrity.)

      The larger point is not the “natural law” portion. That the act of voting ought to be unaffected by the trends of how other people vote is clearly demonstrated by the syllogism. In practice, this means that refusing to evaluate candidates who are considered improbable victors is a failure of conscience, a failure to act morally. Furthermore, deciding that an improbable winner is best-suited, among all options, to the office being sought and then voting for another candidate is immoral.


      • Mercury

        So you are saying there is never an excuse to vote for a lesser of two evils among the viable candidates IF there is some dude who is more morally perfect, but has a 0.0000000% chance of even getting a single electoral vote? And that those who in conscience believe that stopping Obama is or paramount importance and vote for the empty suit who will at least not attack the Church or *advance* more evil, and who may even reduce ti, if only slightly – that people who vote for him act immorally and sinfully in doing so?

        Here is the Archbishop of Paris in 1921:
        “It is your duty to vote. To neglect to do so would be a culpable abdication of duty on your part. It is your duty to vote honestly; that is to say, for men worthy of your esteem and trust. It is your duty to vote wisely; that is to say, in such a way as not to waste your votes. It would be better to cast them for candidates who, although not giving complete satisfaction to all our legitimate demands, would lead us to expect from them a line of conduct useful to the country, rather than to keep your votes for others whose program would indeed be more perfect, but whose almost certain defeat might open the door to the enemies of religion and of the social order.”

        Aside for the question of whether Romney is “worthy of esteem and trust”, the bishop is clearly saying that when the state is waging a war against the Church, we have a duty to consider who CAN win, and who we CAN work with, even if the candidate is far from perfect. And France in 1921 was not much different than where we are now – it wasn’t like there was a devout Catholic party, but laicists on all sides, some hostile and some indifferent.

        • Kristen inDallas

          Statistics. About as useful to political campaigns as they are in predicting the weather. Say I live in Death Valley, where it almost never rains, say the historical rate at which a large rain event has occured is about .00000000% for the past 100,000 minutes. Would you ridicule me for carrying an umbrella the next day, in the event that the weather might change? How is voting 3rd party any different?

          What bearing to the past 40 elections cycles have on this one? (and better not go looking too much further than that or it will destroy your theory). Every 4 years, older generations die out, new generation get the vote, the world changes, the candidates change, our outlook changes, our priorities change. And you seriously think that in the same span of time that we can invent new way of reading books, a new way of funding charities, and a driverless car, that it’s completely inconcievable that we may change our outlook on 3rd parties.

          Sure, it’s getting close to the election, and we have some barometers (polls) that help predict how it may go. But do you ALWAYS trust the weatherman? Just like the weather, our political barometers can change pretty quickly. Do you really think we can always acurately predict an outcome based on the actions of millions of highly independent and spontaneous beings? If one person can change his mind in an instant, so can millions of people. Do I think it’s likely this time around? Maybe not much, but I’m not about to throw away my umbrella (or my hope for a just candidate) when I know that it IS possible.

          • Kristen inDallas

            Also, France in 1921 was VERY different than USA circa today. Just a few items: 24-hour news cycles, electoral college, memes on twitter and facebook guiding people’s political priorities, temporal proximity to a just war, physical proximity to a hostile nation, availability of information, politifact, percentage of candidates promising to advocate grave intrinsic evil, on and on and on. And unless I missed something a Bishop’s opinion, no matter how sound it may have been at the time is not binding canon law 90+ years later.

            • Mercury

              My point was not that the bishop was infallible, but that Catholics leaders have ALWAYS been willing to work with indifferent and even somewhat hostile political forces in order to combat greater evil. Always.

              Of course France in 1921 was different. But when we are faced with literally the most hostile foe the Church has ever faced in this nation, apparently the only answer is: pray and waste your vote.

          • Mercury

            But are you voting third party because the candidate is someone whose platform you actually believe in, or because he is not Obama or Romney? In that case, I believe voting third party is equal to not voting. This is different from voting for Romney as “not Obama” because there is an existing chance that he can defeat Obama.

            As it stands, there is no third party that I actually believe in – the American Independents and Hoefling *seem* okay, but digging deeper there may be something that makes them imperfect as well. No one here has ever addressed whether Hoefling & co. are okay, so I don’t know what to think.

            If there were a mass third party movement underway, it might be different – enough votes would guarantee growth in the long-term, and certainly parties CAN be replaced. But there is NOTHING even remotely like that on the horizon right now, especially one week out.

            So I was going to vote for Romney, not because I like him, but because he cannot be worse than Obama, and would be better on many issues I care about. But after reading commenters on Catholic blogs, it has become clear that the only options are not to defeat Obama, but to vote for third party guys I am unsure about or to simply not vote. It’s apparently not very important to defeat Obama, unless there is a perfect candidate somewhere. Guess we better get used to living under him.

            And to be honest, I will watch the election results and hope and pray the whole time that Obama will lose. The ONLY way for this to happen wil be for Romney to win. So will the combox theologians around here tell me if I will be sinning if I am pulling for Romney to win on Tuesday, since only by him winning can Obama be defeated?

        • The bishop was incorrect. By the way, I’m not blaspheming by saying so.

          The premises are true, therefore the conclusion is true. You have but one recourse to demonstrate that the conclusion is wrong, and that is to prove that either 1) the premises are unrelated, or 2) one or more premises is false.

          Go for it!

  • Noah:

    “It appears to me that a person could make a strong case for ‘the trends of how other people decide that same moral decision’ as an essential part of the circumstances.”

    The trends of how other people decide how to vote are part of the circumstances. However, that others are not observing moral norms in their voting, or in their decision-making process, does not excuse me from acting justly.

  • Imrahil

    Voting is a moral act.
    It is very permissible for the voter to vote for the lesser evil among realistically possible outcomes, as the Church taught repeatedly, and the sense of conscience of Christians show.
    Which outcome is realistically possible depends on the decision of others.

    Hence, the second premise does not hold because voting serves as counterexample.

    • Kristen inDallas

      …Which outcome is realistically possible depends on the decisions (which we do not know and cannot presume until the desicion has been made) of others (whose hearts God is as free to change as he is our own.)

      • Mercury

        Yes, we get it. It is certainly possible for everyone to change their mind Tuesday, so we cannot *possibly* say this election only has two possible outcomes.

        What about the fact that few if any non-evil third parties appear on ballots in enough states?

        And can someone for the love of God please tell me if Howfling is alright, or do I HAVE to vote for the King James theocrats, who do want to ban all alcohol and increase the death penalty, but advocate no *intrinsic* evils. I’ve already had enough people imply thy a vote for Romney will send me to hell.

        • Imrahil

          Banning all alcohol is an intrinsic evil. (Cf. Chesterton, On Prohibition, in: Generally Speaking).

        • Imrahil

          Also: who said we cannot presume others’ decisions?

          If anyone says anyone else than Obama or Romney has a realistic chance of winning, I’ll just think: er, no. And isn’t that the voice of common sense?

          (Note I’m not implying an obligation to vote for Romney. I’m implying an allowance to vote for Romney; and I’ll stick to that.)

  • Imrahil

    Note: It could, of course, quite possibly be shown to be a lesser evil.

    • Imrahil

      Meant to be above. Sorry.