[EM] Voting on matters of pure fact

Anthony Simmons asimmons at krl.org
Fri Apr 20 14:31:56 PDT 2001

>> From: Blake Cretney
>> Subject: [EM] Social Utility


>> But let's say you have a group of people voting on whether
>> the universe will always expand, or will eventually
>> contract.  This is an objective question.  The correct
>> answer is independent of the will of the voters, and to
>> answer it, the voters have to make educated guesses about
>> the world around them.  Any answer will only be a guess,
>> but we would want the method to pick the guess most likely
>> to be right, based on the votes.  It isn't as clear that
>> utility measures would be useful in this kind of election.

Here's a nifty complication:  If we were to vote on a matter
of objective fact, what would we really be voting on?  On
whether a particular fact happens to be true?  Or whether we
should take a particular action -- officially announcing that
a fact is true.  These aren't necessarily the same thing.  In
the latter case, I may have reasons other than objective fact
for voting the way I do.  I'm sure if we thought hard enough,
we could come up with a hypothetical situation in which, for
example, legislators might vote to modify the science
curriculum in Kansas for reasons not entirely confined to
science in Kansas.  Hypothetically.  In such a case, social
utility determines perceived fact.  Though this could also be
considered a question of making a decision about the
curriculum rather than just a matter of fact.

It's a pretty commonly heard adage that we can't vote on
matters of objective fact.  Well, obviously, we can, but the
result carries no weight.

Yes, we do sometimes have to vote on matters of pure fact,
but not really.  For example, climatologists might be asked
to vote on whether CO2 production is turning the whole planet
into a Devonian swamp.  But we would only do that if it were
necessary to make a decision of some sort.  It might be
whether to stop using fossil fuels and start building psychic
reactors.  Or it might even be an implied election -- in
which there is no formal vote, but simply a recognition of
the relative abundance of opinions -- that influences a
personal decision, such as whether to buy an electric scooter
or a sport-utility-amphibious-armored-vehicle.

But to the extent that there is a social decision to abide by
an election outcome in any meaninful sense, doesn't there
have to be a consequent action of some sort?  Even if the
question being voted on is nothing more than the "sense of
Congress" clause of HB1189, which only expresses an opinion",
the whole point of that is to influence.

It's an interesting question -- is it meaningful to vote on a
pure matter of objective fact?  Whatever the answer to that
question, I think a more practical question is:  does it
affect the choice of election method.

More information about the Election-Methods mailing list