Jason BrennanThe Ethics of Voting

Princeton University Press, 2011

by Robert Talisse on September 30, 2011

Jason Brennan

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It is commonly held that citizens in a democratic society have a civic duty to participate in the processes of collective self-government. Often, this duty is held to be satisfied by voting. In fact, the sentiment is commonly expressed that voting is always a good thing for citizens to do, no matter how they vote. Similarly, it is widely held that when citizens neglect to vote they violate a civic duty, no matter how uninformed or misguided their votes would have been. These popular pieties about voting are, at the very least, philosophically suspicious. In voting, citizens perform a collective action that impacts the lives of others for better or worse; voting thus seems to be the kind of act that can be performed well or badly. Indeed, it seems that there should be circumstances under which it would be wrong for some individual to vote.

In The Ethics of Voting (Princeton University Press, 2011), Jason Brennan presents a provocative case for thinking that citizens who choose to vote have a duty to vote well. He then argues that voting well is difficult, and concludes that not only is there not a strong duty to vote, but, for many citizens, there is a duty not to vote. Importantly, Brennan takes his view about voting to be fully and enthusiastically democratic.

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