Indifference Curves & Voting Principles
In my last post I suggested that the difference between NeverTrumpers and reluctant Trump voters was not different principles per se, but either different analyses of the facts or different weights in the same principles or both. I ended that post with a quote from Rawls in which he states that all ethical systems worth taking seriously consider consequences when considering rightness. That brought to mind Ralws’s discussion of indifference curves in his section on intuitionism in A Theory of Justice. (Having gone back and taken a closer look at that section, Rawls’s discussion must have been more present in the background of my thought than I realized.)
Rawls present a diagram like the following on page 33 (I’ve tried to reproduce it as best I can):
A few points of explanation:
Curve I represents all the points which are judged equally just. So any point along curve I will be equally just to point A and, thus, one will be “indifferent” to any scenario in which a different point along curve I obtains. The same holds for curve II: it represents all the points which are judged equally just, such that any other point along that curve would be equally just to point B.
Rawls says “a point which is northeast of another is a better arrangement: it is superior on both counts. For example, the point B is better than the point A in figure 1” (33).
The axes represent different principles being considered (this will be important later). The y-axis is the principle of equality, x-axis the principle of total welfare. The slope of the curves represents the relation between the way in which the principles are weighted.
The solid lines represent the judgments of one person and the dotted lines represent the judgment of another person who gives different weights to the principles of equality and total welfare.
Thus, the solid line is supposed to “depict the judgments of the one who gives a relatively strong weight to equality, while the dashed lines depict the judgments of the other who gives a relatively strong weight to total welfare” (34).
Now I think we can take these figures and substitute different axes (principles) more relevant to our NeverTrump/reluctant Trump voters. The result would be:
Let the dotted line represent the NeverTrumper, whose judgments give a relatively strong weight to character. The solid line represents the reluctant Trump voter, whose judgments give a relatively strong weight to policy. In my previous post I ended with the following question: in what sense might differences in weights indicate differences in principles?
In Rawls’s scheme, the axes are the principles. Thus, it’s not the case that the person whose judgments are represented by the dotted lines, the NeverTrumper, for our purposes, has different principles than the person whose judgments are represented by the solid line. The principles worth considering are the same, the difference is in how the principles are weighted. But, Rawls adds the following caveat:
“Of course, it may be claimed that in the assignment of weights we are guided, without being aware of it, by certain further standards or by how best to realize a certain end. Perhaps the weights we assign are those which would result if we were to apply these standards or to pursue this end. Admittedly any given balancing of principles is subject to interpretation in this way”
— p. 34
Rawls’s statement about being guided “without being aware of it” isn’t relevant for my purposes and can be ignored. What is relevant is his statement that differences in weights might be due to differences in standards. In that case, we could think of the NeverTrumper as being guided by a different higher-order principle than the reluctant Trump voter. But whether there is a higher-order principle or not isn’t going to be determined by the weights themselves, such that a reluctant Trump voter is forced into a sort of intuitionist position (where, according to Rawls “there exists no expressible ethical conception which underlies theses weights” (34)) by virtue of the weights he holds to!
In other words, the NeverTrumper can’t point the mere fact of the difference in weights as justification for an ethically superior or more principled position. Further, the NeverTrumper may themselves end up holding to the intuitionist position when it comes to answering that question.
The upshot of this as it applies to the question my previous post left off with is this: I need to nuance my basic claim. I don’t want to claim that in no case is there a difference in principle between a NeverTrumper and a reluctant Trump voter; rather, I want to claim that there is not necessarily a difference in principle between a NeverTrumper and a reluctant Trump voter. The difference between a NeverTrumper and a reluctant Trump voter may or may not be due to a different higher-order principle that assigns weights to different lower-order principles about character and policy — but, as far as I can tell, there’s no reason to just assume this is the case and certainly no reason to assume that the reluctant Trump voter has no higher-order principle.
P.S. In one of my earlier posts I argued that a politician’s policy stances should be (and, if only implicitly, almost always are) understood as reflective of one’s character. This means the axes of figures 3 and 4 should be more carefully nuanced to something like interpersonal character and social character.
Also, the above considers things at a very abstract level — Rawls’s entire project for the original position and justice as fairness is, of course, more abstract by design — but it would be interesting to try to flesh out some specific examples and also consider how the conceptual scheme of the indifference curve relates to the concept of fixed and floating thresholds. … Maybe in another future post.