- Paperback: 232 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; With a New afterword by the author edition (April 29, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691154449
- ISBN-13: 978-0691154442
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #913,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Ethics of Voting With a New afterword by the author Edition
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"The ethics of voting is undertheorized, and so any serious academic work on the matter is welcome. Brilliant works such as Brennan's most certainly are."
From the Inside Flap
"Jason Brennan's surprising investigation of the ethics of voting grapples with some of the most entrenched dogmas in our political culture. His approach is open-minded, his writing crystal clear, and his argumentation of a high standard. His conclusions will shake some readers up, and our thinking about democracy will be better for the debates that are sure to ensue."--David Estlund, Brown University
"This is a fascinating book about a very important topic. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a topic more significant in democratic theory--and it is surprising that, until now, it has been so neglected. The Ethics of Voting abounds in interesting claims and good arguments with often surprising conclusions. Beautifully clear and eminently readable, it will be noticed."--Geoffrey Brennan, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
"Brennan's book is provocative in the best sense of the word--a fresh and challenging approach to important matters in political theory and political ethics. It is also a remarkably accessible book that manages to capture nuances and subtleties without unnecessary complication or jargon. In these respects, The Ethics of Voting is a model of how political philosophy should proceed."--Richard Dagger, University of Richmond--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I found very frustrating the author's underlying assumption that there is one good way of voting and that voters can discover it by informing themselves of their choices and especially the consequences of those choices. However, the world is very complicated, and there are legitimate disagreements as to the impacts of various policies. What does the ethical voter do in these cases? Further, what does the ethical voter do when the choice is between candidates, some of whose policies seem desirable and some undesirable? The author is silent on this.
I said that almost all of the book can be boiled down to this. The last chapter summarizes a number of empirical studies, trying to estimate just how well or ill-informed the typical voter is. I found this chapter to be very interesting. Unfortunately, it amounts to 17 pages out of a 180-page book. The reader looking for a more comprehensive treatment should go to any of a number of other books, e.g. Bryan Caplan, The Myth of the Rational Voter, which I recommend hands down over this book.
I rate it two stars for lay persons like me. If I were a professional philosopher, I would no doubt give it more.
He then proceeds: "Academics and other educated people often are caught up in intellectual fads. They accept doctrines because they are popular or seem intriguing, not because there is good evidence in support of them."
After elaborating on this thought, in a brief moment of rare humility, he admits: "Presumably this applies to me too. Perhaps I should not vote."
I bought this book expecting the quality of work Princeton University Press usually produces, and the endorsement on the back by David Estlund about his quality of argumentation was also impressive.
It turns out, though, that Brennan was right in his brief moment of humility. All of these negative qualities do apply to his own book. The more I read it, the more I started to feel like I was talking to a representative from the tobacco industry (e.g., Malcolm Gladwell), who was being faddish, claiming a thesis only because it sounds sexy, and using a style of pretentious writing to obscure a massive lack of substance. What makes it so pretentious is that he routinely cites empirical research to give his work a sense of rigor that it actually massively lacks. A vast amount of the argumentation is the result of silly intuitions. Set up against his criticism of others for lacking rigor, the result is pretty dismal.
For instance, on p.100, he criticizes Benjamin Barber for having failed to do a survey or any other empirical work to support his claims about what voters want. On the same page, he waters down his own analysis with two really simple-minded personal examples. In the first, he is at Mardi Gras and is being swept along by the crowd, each person equally stuck in collective movement. In the other example, when riding the bus in high school, a "punk rock kid" criticizes him for wearing "Gap just like everyone else." This second anecdote is then used to reveal something about how autonomy and authenticity.
When you think of the level of sophistication Charles Larmore has attained in his analysis of authenticity, and then read these strange examples, you just wonder ... how does Brennan so savagely criticize others (like Barber) for their lack of rigor and then exhibit such a lack of rigor in his own meditations?
Worse yet, this style of argumentation extends to the vast majority of the book, which treats of epistemic credentials in terms of correct decisions. Again and again, his thought experiments involve people who are great at giving us correct advice. Here too, Charles Larmore's work has shown how deeply misguided this whole focus on correct advice, or correct decision-making, tends to be.
I only mention Larmore in these contexts because it is shocking that they were colleagues, Larmore is even cited in the acknowledgments, and yet the book seems to be completely isolated from Larmore's work.
In short, Brennan's book occurs in a strange kind of bubble: it allows for convenient empirical citations, lampoons others for failing to be empirical at all, but then proceeds with isolated, esoteric intuition-mining from really bizarre personal examples.
Anyway, when I eventually did read the acknowledgments, I also saw that he presented some of this material at the libertarian Institute for Humane Studies. Then everything became quite clear ... it is no wonder the book started to read like a spokesperson for the tobacco industry. Just like Malcolm Gladwell, Brennan is a faddish intellectual who uses empirical work done by other people to lend an air of rigor to his worldview, mining supposedly commonsensical examples for guidance, even though most readers will question how commonsensical they really are.
In conclusion, I would just add that the main ideas of the book are not really worthy of a book-length treatment, and so perhaps all of these petty attacks on other scholars, as well as the endlessly bizarre thought-experiments, are actually just page-filler.
When it came to the actual ethical discussion I thought it very simplistic, describing a life where choices about the day's activities are limited to TWO! Perhaps some people DO live in cloud-cuckoo land.