- An ethics professor teaches Peter Singer’s arguments for vegetarianism to her undergraduates. She says she finds those arguments sound and that in her view it is morally wrong to eat meat. Class ends, and she goes to the cafeteria for a cheeseburger. A student approaches her and expresses surprise at her eating meat. (If you don’t like vegetarianism as an issue, another example could serve: marital fidelity, charitable donation, fiscal honesty, courage in defence of the weak.)
‘Why are you surprised?’ asks our ethicist. ‘Yes, it is morally wrong for me to enjoy this delicious cheeseburger. However, I don’t aspire to be a saint. I aspire only to be about as morally good as others around me. Look around this cafeteria. Almost everyone else is eating meat. Why should I sacrifice this pleasure, wrong though it is, while others do not? Indeed, it would be unfair to hold me to higher standards just because I’m an ethicist. I am paid to teach, research and write, like every other professor. I am paid to apply my scholarly talents to evaluating intellectual arguments about the good and bad, the right and wrong. If you want me also to live as a role model, you ought to pay me extra!