22 February 2006

Richard A. Posner on Vegetarianism

Because the academic mind prizes consistency, academic moralists believe that pointing out that a person’s moral beliefs or behaviors are inconsistent can be a powerful agent for moral change. They believe that if you point out to a meat eater that because he considers suffering a bad thing and animals suffer as a result of his diet he is being inconsistent, you may persuade him to become a vegetarian. But behavioral consistency is a weaker ordering principle than logical consistency. To defend a proposition and its negation is a lot more difficult than to tell a story that will make a unity of “inconsistent” behavior or reconcile one’s behavior with an inconsistent belief about how one should behave. The meat eater can distinguish between human and animal suffering; can deny that animals have to suffer in being killed for food (they can be killed painlessly, and since they do not know what is going to be done to them, they do not suffer psychologically in anticipation); can point out that his own consumption of meat is too slight to affect the number of animals killed; can even argue that to put animals on a par, as it were, with human beings could make us less sensitive to human suffering (could, for example, put the annual slaughter of tens of millions of turkeys for Thanksgiving on a level with the Holocaust); can point out that Genesis explicitly invites us to eat meat; or can equivocate, by confining his meat eating to the meat of animals raised and killed humanely, or to road kill, or by adopting the position that the moral philosopher R. M. Hare calls “demi-vegetarianism.” If you want to turn a meat eater, especially a nonacademic one, into a vegetarian, you must get him to love the animals that we raise for food; and you cannot argue a person into love.

(Richard A. Posner, The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory [Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 1999], 51-2 [italics in original] [footnote omitted])

No comments: