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Despite In The 2008 Us Presidential

Despite in the 2008 US Presidential election, there being a 1 in 60 million chance of an individual’s vote determining the outcome (Gelman et al, 2009), it is clear Alvin Goldman’s causal responsibility approach and Carolina Sartorio’s collective responsibility approach provide defensible rationales for voting in a massive election.

Since Meehl’s 1977 paper, which justifies voting for a “sure loser” in rebuttal to the “throwing your vote away” argument, Goldman has developed this challenge. Goldman focuses on moral (or quasi-moral) reasons for citizens to vote. His approach is as follows:

1. Non-swing voters in massive elections make causal contributions (Ridge, p11). If they were to abstain from voting, the election outcome would not have differed, yet their vote still has a causal influence.

2. Voting for a candidate means the citizen makes a greater causal contribution than a citizen who abstains- voting for the opponent would give the opposite effect.

3. If someone plays this causal role for the right reasons, they are worthy of praise or blame depending on their vote and outcome.

4. Gaining praise is a good reason for voting as well as the idea you’d be blameworthy otherwise.

Goldman therefore concludes that this argument provides enough reason to vote. Goldman draws on these premises to form a dominance argument. If the citizen abstains from voting and the best candidate wins, the abstainer has missed praise. Similarly, if the citizen abstains from voting and the lesser candidate wins, the abstainer is held blameworthy.

Once (1) is accepted, (2) becomes plausible. Goldman aims to gain acceptance of (1) through an analogy of a firing squad. There are ten members of a firing squad, who all simultaneously shoot and kill their target. Goldman believes its counterintuitive to claim none of the firing squad have any causal influence on the outcome. If we declare that none of the firing squad have some causal responsibility of the death of the target, we leave no member with moral responsibility which Goldman describes as ‘misguided’ (p205). This would then in turn protect any murderer from blame by having a simultaneous accomplice, which would be counterintuitive. This therefore proves that (1): Non-swing voters in massive elections make causal contributions and that if the citizen doesn’t vote (similarly to one of the ten firing squad not shooting), the outcome would not have differed.

Goldman’s approach is similarly strengthened by an analogous comparison, which helps to justify premise (2). Goldman asks us to imagine a car stuck which can only be freed with the help of three people pushing it. Ten people end up pushing the car (despite only three being needed), yet it would seem counterintuitive to not give praise to all ten people. If all ten people didn’t push the car there is nothing to say more than three still would have, or different people later would have pushed the car (the outcome is the same), yet we still must assign some causal influence to the individual pushing and therefore we must assign some causal influence to individual voters even when they do not hold a decisive vote. By pushing the car, one makes a greater contribution than not pushing the car and is therefore (3) praiseworthy. Finally, Ridge argues in his paper that it seems plausible to aim for praiseworthiness and aim to avoid blame (4).

This is further supported by civil and criminal law: if two defendants individually stab a man who eventually dies of blood loss – they are both still viable for the death of the man. Comparatively, if two citizens abstain from voting and the lesser candidate wins, they are both still held blameworthy for abstaining. These analogies support Goldman’s causal responsibility approach, which is a defensible rationale for voting in a massive election which also accommodates the title claim.

However, Carolina Sartorio aims to disprove that Goldman’s approach is a defensible rationale for voting in a massive election and provide one of her own. It can be argued that Goldman’s approach is narcissistic, with the intention of gaining praiseworthiness and believing the individual is causally responsible for electoral outcomes. Sartorio in her paper How to be Responsible for Something Without Causing it, argues that ‘responsibility does not require causation’ (with responsibility referring to moral responsibility) (p315). Sartorio believes that Goldman commits a fallacy of division, suggesting that no individual can be a cause of an outcome, and in the instance of voting, no citizen can be the cause of the election outcome. She believes that you can be morally responsible for an action without having been the cause, and the responsibility “flows down” from a group to an individual agent whom makes up a group, suggesting a voter or abstainer is only partially responsible (not causally responsible as Goldman suggests). Sartorio aims to prove this through an example of someone failing to clap and someone else finding this rude. In order to clap, both the left and right hand must come together simultaneously to form a sound. By not clapping, this is not just the failure of the left hand, but a failure of both the left and right hand not working simultaneously. The person not using their left and right hand simultaneously causes the other person to believe they are rude, but it would be wrong to infer the lack of left-hand movement was the reason the person believed the other was rude. Treating joint actions in the same way we treat individual actions therefore undermines Goldman’s approach. Sartorio herself aims to provide a defensible rationale for why citizens should vote, and similar to her example of ‘Two Buttons’ (p317) within her paper, she suggests the electoral responsibility is a more complex situation ‘realizable by different combinations of individual omissions by voters’(p332). She argues that if a citizen abstains from voting and the lesser candidate wins, the citizen is not responsible because he/she causes the outcome, but because he/she is responsible for something that did cause the outcome (abstaining). Through this, Sartorio therefore attempts to disprove Goldman’s approach that citizens hold causal responsibility, but that causation is the ‘vehicle for transmission of responsibility’(p330) which could help to solve the problem of voting. Additionally, Sartorio suggests one should vote for whom they believe is the best candidate (despite perhaps being a minor party) as it sends a message to dominant parties that their approach is out of sync, and she believes this to be a reason to vote as it implies praiseworthiness. Overall, Sartorio’s argument proves to be a strong defensible rationale for voting, which seemingly solves problems in Goldman’s causal responsibility approach.

It can be suggested that both Goldman and Sartorio provide defensible rationales for voting in a massive election, and their approaches also accommodate the title claim. Both authors provide alternative approaches to looking at expected consequences of voting and Goldman in particular suggests that even if it’s not a decisive vote, one can gain moral (or quasi-moral) credit for voting. Both Goldman’s causal responsibility and Sartorio’s collective responsibility approaches provide strong rationales for voting.

Freelance Writer

I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.