30 December 2003

Misunderstanding Moral Argument

In a long, interesting comment on one of my posts, Mary writes: "eat what you like and let the rest eat what they like." With all due respect, Mary, you make it sound as though I'm coercing you into giving up meat. No. I'm trying to persuade you to give up meat. There's a big difference between coercion and persuasion! The main difference, and it's a morally important one, is that only persuasion is respectful of the person.

How does persuasion work? By drawing out the implications of what your interlocutor already believes or values. Have you read Mylan Engel's essay "The Immorality of Eating Meat"? If not, please do. There's a link to it on the left side of the blog. Mylan tries to show you that you are already committed (without knowing it) to vegetarianism. There are three things you can do in response to his argument (assuming you want to avoid self-contradiction). First, deny that you have the beliefs and values he says you have. Second, show that even if you have those beliefs and values, they do not commit you to vegetarianism. (In other words, find fault with the structure—validity—of his argument.) Third, accept his conclusion and become a vegetarian. Please read (and think about) his essay. Nobody is trying to force or coerce you into anything. Law is coercive; morality is persuasive. And don't say that Mylan is imposing his values on you. He's imposing your values on you!

Addendum: Mylan's essay is on my university's server, which is down for maintenance for a few days. Please keep trying the link until it works.