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May 09, 2010


Yes vegetarians are fond of saying that we'd all be vegetarians if we had to kill the animals ourselves, or if we knew what went on in the slaughterhouse. But I don't think the "ick" factor is a reliable barometer of morality. Seeing someone cut open on an operating table turns my stomach too, but my squeamishness would certainly not prevent me from having a necessary surgical procedure myself.

(1) I'm not sure Coetzee's guilty of this "If only..." line of reasoning. A more charitable reading of the excerpt suggests that he's simply wondering why there are vastly different moral reactions to the same situation. Perhaps it's radically disparate perspectives, or perhaps it's different emotional wiring, or perhaps Costello's deluded (unlikely, sure, given Coetzee's leanings), or perhaps others are all slaves to custom... From what I can tell, Coetzee hasn't drawn a conclusion to explain the phenomenon; he's just noticed it.

(2) Maybe I haven't been reading your blog long enough to fully understand the last sentence of this post, but I worry that depending on how you interpret it, your claim is either true but uninteresting or interesting but false. Sure, there's a sense in which we're predisposed to believe whatever we wind up actually believing based on whatever evidence winds up convincing us. That sounds like a psychological tautology.

But if you're making the stronger claim that we're unshakably constrained by our intuitive reactions to new evidence, that seems mistaken. Sure, our involuntary emotional-physical responses play a large role in governing our beliefs and actions, but to say we can't ever make judgments that go against them in individual cases strikes me as overboard.

(3) Perhaps you're merely making the claim that these responses play a bigger role in our belief formation than we think. If so, do you worry about your indifferent emotional reactions? When emotional responses differ, it's not clear that the less emotional response is typically more reliable. (Preferring less emotional responses seems to overvalue masculine stoic approaches to ethics.)

(4) Have any arguments for vegetarianism stirred you from indifference? As an omnivorous reader, I'm guessing you're familiar with some of these. How about arguments against abortion?

Just for today I will be happy. This assumes to be true what Abraham Lincoln said,that "Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be."

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