By: Kevin McDonnell
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. – For the average college student Thursday night plans amongst friends rarely feature a philosophy talk, but on Oct. 24, NU students packed in the Castellani Art Museum to hear Dr. Benjamin Lennertz discuss his own irrationality as a ‘mere’ vegetarian.
The audience comprised of a motley crew of professors and students alike, some intellectually curious and others enticed by the prospect of extra credit sat idly by as Dr. Lennertz went through his presentation that was equal parts TED Talk and philosophy lecture. For students who have already taken Ethics or have yet to take it got a crash course in many of the philosophical frameworks from Utilitarianism to Deontology and student comments welcomed the opportunity to engage with the concepts in an innovative way. Dr. Lennertz’s strategy in using the ethical frameworks was to illustrate his larger argument about vegetarianism as what he referred to as “practical irrationality.” This form of irrationality states that people engage in behavior they know does not fully align with their moral commitments and cannot find a reasonable explanation for continuing it. In this case, Lennertz argues that many of the arguments he makes for vegetarianism make an equally compelling case for veganism and therefore to continue to be a vegetarian in spite of that information is to fall short of his moral commitments to not harm animals.
However, this moral commitment argument is where Lennertz truly demonstrates the central tenets of why students should study philosophy in the first place. In Lennertz view, the human experience becomes deeply intertwined with these moments in which our moral commitments are challenged by the simple nature of applying them in our everyday lives. To Lennertz, this inability to fully own up to these commitments does not mean we should give up on them entirely, rather he argues that these moments are where a dose of practical irrationality may just be the solution to goals we set for ourselves that are currently unattainable. In this way, Dr. Lennertz, argues against our own predispositions to view morality as totally absolute. Instead Lennertz, reminds us that morality exists on a spectrum in which sometimes an effort to attain our moral commitments and fall short fairs better for us than to never had tried at all.
Student sentiments about the talk seemed to echo that of the faculty in attendance. Dr. Brian Bennett of Religious Studies noted that the topic spoke to him personally and found the discussion both timely and the speaker personable. Dr. Levin chairman of the philosophy department seemed to feel similarly stating “Too often in philosophy classes students get the idea that morality is absolute, but this talk was about the middle way and that’s important.” The philosophy department is hardly finished with its programming for the year. This spring the department is offering a slew of interesting topics courses and will be taking a group of students to the Netherlands in conjunction with the Criminal Justice department. For more information about philosophy department events or upcoming course offerings email Dr. Abigail Levin at email@example.com.