Uh oh STA! Here comes Foucault along with some other sources on ethics and consumption

So way back when we started this project, I suggested that one reason I was doing this blog was to critically reflect on and experiment with virtue ethics in relation to my/our consumption habits. Up until now I haven’t theorized too much about virtue ethics and how it frames my understanding of breaking old habits and making new ones. But last week I did some research on google scholar and found a few really intriguing articles that might help me think through and articulate my ideas. Here they are:

1. “Ethical Consumption, Consumer Self-Governance, and the Later Foucault” by Noah Quastel


This article analyzes the later work of Michel Foucault on ethics, freedom, and self-governance as it applies to the ethics of consumption and to new ethical consumerist movements such as fair-trade coffee. Foucault’s emphasis on practices of the self helps elucidate the virtue ethics involved in consumption choices. Ethical consumption is cast as a set of practices of self-development: through critical activity and the quest for freedom, persons seek to transform themselves to live in reciprocal relationships with other persons and nature. This requires public deliberation and collective action to effect change within ourselves and our practical systems of consumption and production.

One key question that motivates my writing and thinking on this blog (and my practicing off of it) is this: How can changing my habits make me into a better self, one that eats more healthfully and responsibly and that models virtuous behavior for my kids? I can already imagine many different ways in which Foucault’s later work on the care of the self and ethical practices of self-making/self-styling might help me to explore this question.

2. “Vices of Inattention” by Kathie Jenni


Why do we routinely betray moral commitments that, in some sense, we authentically embrace? One explanation involves inattention: failure to attend to morally important aspects of our lives. Inattention ranges from an unmotivated lack of focus, or “simple” inattention, to more purposeful and wilful self-deception. Self-deception has received exhaustive and insightful treatment by philosophers and psychologists; what remains unexamined is the less complex, but more pervasive phenomenon of simple inattention. Since inattention is at least equally important in accounting for our routine moral failures, this gap is an important one to fill.

In this essay I examine moral dimensions of inattention: what makes it problematic, what vices it reflects, what duties we have to overcome it, and how we might try to do that. I argue that inattention obscures responsibilities to prevent harm, erodes autonomy, manifests a lack of virtue, and undermines integrity. For these reasons, we have obligations of attentiveness. I propose that we should attend (at least) to apparent violations of our moral values in which we are personally implicated, which we have power to affect, and to which we have been directed by clues that something is amiss. I end with practical suggestions for enhancing our attentiveness.

While this essay doesn’t seem (at least, at first glance) to talk explicitly about consumption habits, I think the idea of inattention is crucial for breaking old consumption habits and cultivating new ones. I like how Jenni distinguishes between different forms of inattention here. Also, I like her choice of terms; I often write about the value of paying attention (as a form of curiosity) in connection with making and staying in trouble.

3. “The Poison is in the Dose: The French Paradox, the Healthy Drinker and the Medicalization of Virtue” by Jessica Mudry


In this paper I examine the role of wine within the “French Paradox” and the US media and government’s response to that role. I recount the “discovery” of wine’s ability to reduce the incidence of heart disease among a control group of French people, and how scientific research on wine proliferated as scientists attempted to reduce wine to its active ingredients. In this process, discourses of science and quantification create rational and ethical reasons to drink wine. In the process of quantification, wine is defined as a medicalized component of a healthy diet, and those who drink wine become medicalized patients. Knowing the line between “moderate” and “excessive” drinking becomes a mathematical calculation, and this calculation determines whether or not one is healthy. Such a move normalizes a scientific attitude toward public life by making the restrained, rational and numerate drinker into the “healthy” and ethical drinker.

I am excited to read this article. I like her critique of the medicalization of virtue and the idea that being virtuous (as eating moderately and healthfully) should be dictated/determined by scientific studies. At some point (I have very briefly skimmed this essay already), Mudry references Michael Pollan and his critical analysis (and rejection) of nutritionism in In Defense of Food.

Okay, now I need to go read these essays. In an air-conditioned room! It’s hot and sticky here today. I just looked on my weather channel app for my iPad and it is 89 degrees–but feels like 97. Awesome.

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