This is a hypothetical situation, not reality. Yet.

Alice, Bob and Carol are neighbours. They voted in a referendum. Bob is a thoughtful chap who likes to be helpful and do the best for his community, so voted Remain. Carol said she voted Remain too. Bob doesn't know how Alice voted but suspects that she voted Leave, despite widespread opinion that this would lead to increased poverty, disruption to trade, and a less tolerant society.

The worst comes to pass and there are many job losses and great disruption to trade, which leads to food shortages.

Alice comes to Bob and asks for help because she has no food. Normally Bob would share all he had with a neighbour in distress. But Bob knows that he will run short soon too, and he is already helping Carol. Morally, would it be right to ask Alice how she voted?

How can Bob assess the correctness of his actions? Should he save his food for the neighbour he believes acted properly? Or should he also support a neighbour whose action brought calamity on them all, even though that might risk his own life, and Carol's?

Would anything change if Bob knew that Alice's children were going hungry too?

I looked at many questions here that referenced actions and consequences but found nothing that helped me understand this.

  • Maybe you should also clarify that this question is about the Brexit. Also a lot of your statements are speculation and biased towards the remain group... – A.bakker Dec 14 '20 at 14:39
  • I phrased it as I did because I'd like to hear general methods for understanding how to think about such situations. And it's remain-centric because that's Bob's point of view. It's not all about Brexit, it could be any problem where Bob believes that Alice has brought calamity on them all. (but certainly it's not inconceivable that Brexit could turn into a real-world example.) – emrys57 Dec 14 '20 at 16:05
  • Bob may be justified in declining to help in some circumstances, if he is really down on resources. But Alice's vote strikes me as completely irrelevant to this particular decision. The sort of abstract vindictiveness implied by the question is petty and does not appeal to many people, at least in their better moments. And it isn't endorsed by mainstream ethical doctrines. – Conifold Dec 15 '20 at 5:41
  • Please be aware that questions and answers are subject to editing and closure, and that reflects the site's policies on acceptable questions and NOT a personal attack. What to avoid in questions. Anything closed can be edited to bring it within guidelines. Keeping questions on-topic. Additional clarification at MetaPhil. – J D Dec 19 '20 at 11:14

There are a lot of questions here. I take the basic question to be:

'Morally, would it be right to ask Alice how she voted?' Short of extra information, no. Whatever the 'widespread opinion' might have been, there is no evidence that Alice did not have her own opinion (duly considered) and no evidence at all that she voted with the intention of causing (of contributing to bringing about) 'the worst' when it actually came. Alice voted - why not assume this? - according to her best estimate of the likely outcome. That estimate proved false, her probability calculation turned out wrong. This can happen to anyone. Only if Alice voted in ignorance when she could and should have made herself better informed, can she be held to be at fault. In the situation you describe, no-one knew better than anyone else what the outcome would be. 'Widespread opinion' is not knowledge.

In light of this, Alice did not vote 'improperly'. Nor does Bob know that Carol voted 'properly': (1) he does not know but only has a belief (how well-grounded?) about how Carol voted and (2) Carol may have voted without any careful consideration of the options. Alice had a duly considered opinion and things turned out differently from how she expected. Carol may have voted without due consideration of the issues involved. The only difference would then be that Carol happened to chose the option that, we assume, would have prevented 'the worst' from happening. That is nothing to her credit.

As to the other questions, moral judgements are sensitive to considerations of need. On the maxim, 'one to count for one, nobody to count for more than one', Bill should distribute his precious food according to need - including his own need. He should take into account, when fixing the allocation, the probability of future food supply.

I am not saying, or denying, that Bob has an obligation to share food on this basis with the world at large (it wouldn't go far!). I am assuming that Bob, Alice and Carol form a moral community. In other words, I am assuming that only the needs of these three persons are involved. This corresponds to the situation as described.

  • "... if Alice voted in ignorance when she could and should have made herself better informed" -- I wonder how that would be even possible?... If she could do better, why didn't she? – Yuri Alexandrovich Dec 14 '20 at 17:51
  • Very well done, sir. Kudos. – gonzo Dec 14 '20 at 18:44
  • @gonzo -- and you too, sir philosopher -- feel free to come up with your explanation of how could Alice's vote be her own fault. Or -- in general. How can anyone deserve punishment for anything they could have possibly done? – Yuri Alexandrovich Dec 14 '20 at 23:56
  • Yuri Alexandrovich. I assume from the nature of this case, with so many variables known and unknown in play, that Alice could not have made herself better informed to the extent of knowing with >.5 probability what the actual outcome would be. I am, so far as I can see, in agreement with you. – Geoffrey Thomas Dec 15 '20 at 9:10
  • @Yuri Alexandrovich I said no such thing, and neither did Geoffrey. Possibly he should have said queried why ask Alice the question in the first place. And of course it would be "morally" OK "to ask Alice how she voted" Unless this implies that you would help her only is she voted a certain way. And I do not believe Geoffrey's answer was so intended to be interpreted (though his answer may have been unclear). I acknowledge that entire OP was ambiguous and left left shitloads unarticulated, though possibly implied -- say by his "what about if she had children" query. We 3 agree. – gonzo Dec 16 '20 at 1:33

We act towards others with their best interests at heart.

It by no means implies we should always give them what they ask. It does imply we understand ourselves, our relationships, our lives, and the world around...

In short, we need to know what we are doing.

In this case,

  1. No, Bob should never ask Alice how she cast her vote (nor inquire about his wife's phone password, etc.) And it's no secret that many struggle with personal boundaries, both setting them and respecting them. For that reason alone, I'd say go with the reference design.
    And if I find intuition disagree, I'd take it as a good excuse to review my own reasoning.

  2. However, even if Bob knew, one way or another, that Alice voted for the wrong guy, what would be the point of punishing her? It would even more antagonize them -- and isn't the polarization in society and politics already a huge factor in the present calamities?

And I know it is not the most rigorous argument. But I also know that there are no simple answers Or, rather, simple arguments -- the answer may be as straightforward as "Punishment as a concept is deeply misguided. Our focus should be on helping each other to learn the right lessons and prevent past mistakes from reoccurring". But understanding it is only simple if you know... everything. And you can. Š•veryone should have, but to get there, it's been an uphill battle for quite some time now.

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