I have been pondering this question for the past few days and have come up with this short argument to support the ethical value of abstinence from participation in a democratic system.

If we are all naturally subjective and are not all-knowing, how can we morally participate in a democratic election or any other form of democratic vote. We cannot predict the final outcome and consequences of our vote which, due to our natural cognitive bias may largely be based on impulse or instinct which holds no credibility to speak of. Even if one were to hypothetically achieve total objectivity and were to hear all the best points and goals of each party competing in the election, all while understanding the needs of the people, one still cannot know the future and cannot predict the consequences of a certain party coming into power and whether or not it will benefit the greater good or be to the detriment of the people. Therefore I would like to make the statement that if one is not omniscient and wholly objective while understanding the needs of the people and understanding the entirety of what each competitor in the election stands for and what their goals are, that they should resign themselves from voting in said election. Am I correct in stating this?

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    Denigrating democracy has a venerable pedigree from Plato to Thoreau (latter who inspired Gandhi). Your reasons OTOH are not so clear. "even if one were to be objective" is meaningless : Objective about benefits to whom ? – Rusi-packing-up Jul 23 '19 at 9:27
  • Democracy is based in the idea that most people, would choose, most of the time, what benefits most people; in other words it relies on a group effect rather than individual choices. It is also usual for an entity reliant on making decisions by vote to have what is known as a quorum, a minimum allowed amount of voters. If that quorum isn't reached it is usual for the status quo to remain. So in practice abstaining is a vote for whatever is there now. Also, let's say you can sway a large number of people with your argument, who will vote but those who disagree with you... - And welcome! – christo183 Jul 23 '19 at 9:27
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    If only "omniscient" beings can vote, nobody will do. If only omniscient beings are entitled to take decisions, while we may hope that some president, king, emperor, dictator may rule ? – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jul 23 '19 at 9:53
  • @JohnForkosh I believe Churchill also said: "The greatest argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter." – user4894 Jul 23 '19 at 23:15
  • Thank you all for your answers, I was just pondering this question and knew that it was most probably more on the moronic or incoherent side of things. I just wanted to express my thoughts and see the thoughts of others regarding the situation. Thank you all very much, all of the answers thus far have been rather enlightening. – NoahIngham Jul 23 '19 at 23:53

If I may argue by sarcasm for just a moment, let me point out that every time we get out of bed in the morning, we face an uncertain future in which our own ignorance can have devastating effects. Maybe we'll take a wrong turn in the car and kill a mother and child; maybe we'll advance our career in some way that costs someone else their entire livelihood; maybe we'll do or say something impulsive (out of our own biases) that causes immeasurable harm to someone else. Thus, if we are not wholly omniscient and wholly objective as we move into the day, we should just stay in bed: lock the door and resign ourselves to isolation, because we cannot predict what the day will hold or what harm we might inflict on others.

Am I correct in stating this?

Two points that you should reflect on:

  1. Many people lack the compunctions that you are invoking here

There are many people in the world who have absolutely no compunctions about acting out of ignorance or causing harm to others. One glance at the news should show you this. If you were out in the woods and said to yourself "I cannot foresee the consequences of my actions, so I refuse to act" you might very well end up as a meal for a hungry mountain lion or bear. Animals don't think it's wrong to kill, and they are not inclined to discuss the morality of the situation.

This is true of many of the human species as well. Sociopaths are willing to harm others if it advances their ends. Narcissists are indifferent to harming others; they will get what they want, and expect others to get out of the way or get trampled. If people with compunctions opt out of political life, then political life will be dominated by sociopaths, narcissists, and their kin, and it is people with compunctions who will suffer. Part of the standard theory behind (modern agonistic) forms of democracy is that if everyone participates, people without compunctions will fight among themselves, and people with compunctions will band together for the common good. If the latter doesn't happen, we end up with degraded demagoguery (Aristotle's worst form of government). If it does happen, we end up with polity (Aristotle's best form of government). Vive la différence!

  1. Arguments from fallibility are always non-starters.

It is the nature of humanity to be fallible: we do things badly until we learn to do them better, and then we learn to do them better yet again. No one is ever perfectly omniscient or perfectly objective. Wise people constantly try to improve, unwise people don't, but in any case we cannot wait until we have achieved a perfect state before we act. The point isn't that we know what the outcome will be; the point is that we have a coherent moral understanding of what the outcome ought to be, and are always working to improve that vision and implement those outcomes. We cannot work for a higher, more moral social vision if we decide to suck our thumbs.

Really, arguments from fallibility are selfish arguments. We don't think we are good enough to make a 'right' choice; we don't want the embarrassment of making a 'wrong' choice; we don't want the conflict of confronting what other people want. Passivity is a sop to our egos, where we can say to ourselves "Everything is sh!t, but at least it's not my fault that it's all sh!t." But that's a lie. If we don't take the time and effort to try and de-sh!ttify the world, then we are (in part) responsible for the sh!ttiness we've allowed.

So no, really, you are not correct making that statement. In politics, abnegation is capitulation, and it's high time we all learned that.


This argument commits the Nirvana fallacy. You argue that participating in the democratic process cannot be guaranteed to always produce the best possible outcome, and therefore it should not be done at all. This is fallacious, because participation might still do more good than abstinence, even if it does not produce the best possible outcome. For example, you might vote to prevent some obvious harm that does not require omniscience to predict.


All important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficent data.

-- Sheldon Kopp in An Eschatological Laundry List

No offense, but I suspect many people will consider your question a little lame or simplistic. However, it's really quite intriguing - almost a paradox, in fact.

We could take a couple steps back and first ask whether democracy is the best form of government. That, too, is an intriguing question, considering the fact that there have been dictatorships that made the U.S. democracy look like a joke.

But if you're going to choose democracy, then it doesn't make much sense to not get the most out of it. Democracy requires citizen participation. It could thus be argued that people living in a democratic state have a responsibility to participate in government. And since ignorant people make lousy voters, we could further argue that citizens have a responsibility to educate themselves.

But not everyone has an equal education. In the U.S., there are a frightening, almost unbelievable, number of people who are frankly stupid. We might therefore change your yes-or-no question into something else:

Should everyone participate in a democracy?

One of the key words is "participate." Are we talking about voting, protesting, vigilantism or what?

To be perfectly honest, there are many - probably millions - of people here in the U.S. that I personally wish weren't allowed to vote. But someone has to participate, or you don't have a democracy at all. And if you want a healthy democracy (and society), that participation has to go beyond voting.

In general, I think participating in a democracy is not only ethical but a responsibility. However, I think it is unethical for certain people to participate - the people who knowingly vote for a corrupt candidate or who only think about their own special interests when voting.

However, the answer may vary somewhat between democracies. If your democracy is extremely corrupt, so much so that the election system is a total farce, then the rules may change. If there are no good candidates to vote for, then your participation has obviously been limited. However, there are other ways to participate, including political reform or even revolution. Or you could simply move to a country with a functioning democracy - or a dictatorship that actually works for the people.

In summary, politics is a part of life, and if no one participates - whether your government is a democracy or a dictatorship - the only people who benefit will be the ones in power...and you know what they say about absolute power.


I believe u made 2 mistakes, for what I see. 1) your argument about knowledge is far to extreme. You could argue that if you have to chose for something where you know nothing at all or very little, abstinence is better and should be suggested. But this is only because there are other people that know far more than you. If u argue about very kind of knowledge, than there is no-one that knows far mor than you, like it was before, so now u are no more justified. 2) Democracy is not meant to give the good answear. A technocrat would be far better. Democracy is our best political system not because it gives the best outcome, but because is the most controllable system. 2e can change without a violent revolution, as long as we are in democracy. Any other kind of political system leads to big centralized power that tends to get corrupted. I know that you can abstain from making a decision and still voting supporting the democratical system, but that makes it slightly weaker.

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