Philosophy is hard, but it is sometimes unavoidable. We have to make philosophical choices all the time. While you may not come across trolley problems in real life all that much, you will be forced to make choices. You will vote or you won’t. You will eat meat today or you won’t. You will give all your money to charity or you won’t. You will walk around town naked or you won’t.
There is one particular choice people make which seems important and which people seem to care about a lot. Voting. It’s perhaps unsurprising that people care a lot about voting; you are trying to change your whole country (and maybe the world). Even if you don’t vote, that is making an active choice not to try and influence the running of your country.
So, how should you vote?
Like most philosophers, I’m not going to give you a simple answer. Sorry… This is really hard! There are so many things to think about. Is increasing taxes fair? Should we care about fairness? Is what benefits your country even good? I could go on for quite a while. Furthermore, unless you are seriously impressive, you are nowhere near an expert on all the things which governments make decisions about.
How can you escape from this mess?
When faced with this ethical quagmire – about which you will be forced to make a decision on Election Day – you need to make some progress. A natural first step seems to be to sort of what the big issues are. No matter how well he managed the economy, it would have been wrong to vote for Hitler, for example. Somethings are so important, they outweigh everything else.
What are the most important issues then?
This question is hard for a number of reasons. For a start, you need to work out a whole ethical system. Also, there is the real danger that you have made a mistake in your thinking. This seems pretty likely. People aren’t all perfect philosophers. Perhaps, you should hedge your bets. When working out whether you should do something, you probably weigh how good or bad it is with how likely it is. You wear a seat-belt even though crashing a car is unlikely because it would be so bad if you were to crash without one. This uncertainty and uncertainty about the uncertainty is hard, but you probably have some ideas at the moment.
There are some obvious contenders for ideas which could be of titanic importance and some very clever people stand on both sides of. Animal lives being as important as human lives (veganism) and foetuses being as valuable as birthed humans (abortion). If you stand on the wrong side of these issues you could be standing on the side of mass genocide. You may be very sure about your position, but if you give proportionate weighting to the opposite position, this may outweigh your certainty. Furthermore, it might outweigh any other concerns because the issue is so important. If the Republican candidate for president advocates a restriction on abortion, maybe that should swing your vote towards him, even if you don’t think abortion is bad. This is because the risk of you being wrong would be so catastrophically bad.
So, maybe, even if you disagree with almost all of his policies and dislike him intensely, perhaps you should vote for a slightly more orange shade of president than usual.