Saturday, April 22, 2006

On Vegans, carnivores, and ethics of persuasion

So our little blog has been silent of late. For my part I apologize for falling down on the job. I committed to posting and I haven't been. Consider this my penance.

With Monica Gerrek's permission I would like to recount a conversation we had as a way of opening up a subject for discussion. At the BG conference on Practical Reason, I was eating a delicious buttered scone. I asked Monica if she had tried them. Her response was that she doesn't eat animal products. It was unexpected. (I haven't quite kept track of who's a vegetarian, who's a vegan and who's a steak loving minion of Satan). I immediately felt compelled to apologize. She quickly added, "But are they good? " To which I made a joke and said, "Well they were good, but not now!" She laughed and added to my joke, "I mean you know even though their immoral right?" I laughed and nodded. Then she felt compelled as well to apologize. About that time Michael Smith started talking. But something bothered me and it wasn't M. Smith's take of Davidson. I had apologized for eating the scone and Monica had apologized for pointing out that eating the scone was immoral. But why? What was my apology for? What was hers? Even more important than perhaps the psychological reason why we did apologize, should we? My apology was an instinctive response to causing Monica pain at seeing me eat a scone. Hers, she explained, was a response her past experience with non-vegans. It seems that many non-vegans have said that pointing out that the food they are eating is the result of heinous torture of the animals is not exactly the kind of garnish one wants for the meal. The mere act of convincing or reminding us of the ethics of eating (to use Singer's term) causes the non-vegan discomfort. So Monica said she tends to be sensitive to that.

So here's my question. Did I owe Monica an apology for the pain she ostensibly experienced even though I think (as a non-vegan) such pain is unwarranted? Did Monica owe me an apology for possibly causing me to consider the ethics of eating WHILE I'm eating? After all of this Monica and I considered a different problem. Suppose your a vegan and consider eating butter filled scones a travesty for the cows of the world. Should you apologize for ruining my scone tasting experience? If I say, "Not while I'm eating" are you obligated to reserve your proselytizing to another time when I'm up for debate not scones? Or could she still register her disapproval without giving me details about factory farms. Suppose I say, "I don't ever want to here anymore about the torture of the animals!" You are convicted that my actions are not just callous they are immoral. At what point do you owe me a moratorium on your vegan proselytizing?

The upshot to all of this is that it seems that the question of what tactics, timing, and when to stop are all very ethical sort of issues. They are concerned with what we owe to each other (and to ourselves) when we are strongly convicted of something and another person is not. (if Veganism doesn't engender these concerns insert your own conviction: Libertarians consider the issue was taxes or property rights) Here are some possible trajectories for this discussion. Suppose I'm a consequentialist. How do I calculate the consequences? If we are to maximize something like desire satisfaction who's desire satisfaction counts the most? Vegan, Carnivore, or the animals who would be saved torture if more people listened to Vegans? If respect is most important, doesn't the fact that the vegan seeks to convince the non-vegan by appealing to arguments about morals and animal rights, imply a sense of respect for the non-vegan even if that convincing is offensive. And vice versa? In other words, my offending you has everything to do with which of us is right. So offending you isn't the worse thing I could do to you and it certainly isn't disrespectful. Since I "picked on" consequentialists, I'll pick on my own ilk. How in the world would a virtue ethics approach this? Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the vegan and non-vegan are both phronimoi. They are both virtuous. It seems both could be. They are both respectful and kind, etc. I suppose the phronimoi would just know at what point their discussion was pushing the bounds of . . . what? Friendship? Respect? Magnanimity? If what is important is the kind of people we are supposed to be, then what is more central to character, friendship or our convictions?

I've purposely left any of my own conclusions or arguments out of this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I'm still working out my thoughts on what we owe to those we are trying to convince. Two, if I had to actually philosophize on every blog, I'd never get these stupid papers finished. And C I'm hoping I've missed something, or assumed something, or annoyed with my diatribe to the extent that it will get us all blogging again.