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The setting? Madrid. The food? Vegan paella. The quality? Not great. And  it really doesn't take much to satisfy me when it comes to vegan food, like I'm really happy to just have options. But so I'm going to leave this place a review, because I consider reviews to be kind of a common good that I make use of a lot and want to contribute to as such, but as I'm about to post it I'm having second thoughts. 

The consequentialist: What if this lowers the restaurant 0.1 stars and then causes people to choose a non-vegan option 1% of the time? 

The deontologist: "Well you can't leave a fake review, if it wasn't good it wasn't good"

The consequentialist:  "Well what do you want me to do, not leave a review? Or well, maybe this can work out. Because what if people come here, and use this as an exemplar for vegan food, then getting the paella and deciding that vegan food is nasty and not for them?"

The rationalist: "Sure, but do you really think that's more likely than the 1% reduction?"

The consequentialist: "Possibly. I mean it would be one thing if we were in a vegan restaurant desert, but we're not, so the group you're really concerned with is a subset of the original, those who are geographically constrained to a tiny area in which there would not be other vegan options, which then sounds a lot less like someone who would meticulously plan their eating by researching online and more of a go-with-the-flow sort of person who will likely eat at whatever looks best in the real world."

The deontologist: "How much are you willing to compromise on things you enjoy because of a potential, hard to quantify, negative effect? A lot of what you're saying feels kind of manipulatish to me, like you're trying to think about how you can change other people's actions not exactly by lying but by hiding the truth from view. Sure this is small, but how many times have you thought about other small actions like this? How much of how you interact with the real world has been distorted by visions of what you think it should be

The consequentialist: "Jesus dude it really is just a review, you really think I'm out of touch if I don't toss another opinion into the ring? You're not concerned with the truth, just a facade for a basic desire to do something that makes us happy, to leave a review. But why does it make us happy? Sure, in part because we now have a trove of memories, a piece of an externalized self to come back to, but it's really to give back and help others as we have been helped so why can't we just be sure we are actually helping others, and the world, and not blindly following rules that we have never been sure of in the first place?"

The debate goes on, without winner, so I come to consult the masses, to see what input you might have for this internal debate I'm currently having. Comments welcome at both the specific level (should I leave the review) and more general level (how do others that feel they contain both deontology and consequentalism within them adjudicate hard decisions. 

Update: The review has been left (in Spanish)

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When I first was looking into being veg^n, I became irritated by the inflated reviews at veg^n restaurants. It didn’t take me long to apply a veg^n tax; I started to assume the restaurant’s food was 1 star below what their average was. Made me more distrustful of veg^ns too.

I think using virtue ethics is the right call here, just be truthful.

Probably contributing to people being able to trust reviews for vegan restaurants is good from a consequentialist perspective as well.

Fostering a world of trust and honesty tends to produce the basis for happier lives. I bristle at how frequently people seem to imply utilitarianism implies dishonest actors.

I agree in the conclusion, but I do think this starts to point to a significantly worse action, which would be leaving a false, positive review. Or do you see a sort of without the truth (without external pressure, or an expectation that you have to do it) as just as bad as posting something false?

Brad West
I'm a bit confused. If vegans were to leave false positive reviews personally or abstain from leaving negative reviews that they were otherwise inclined to leave, there will be artificially inflated reviews of bad vegan restaurants, with various knock-on effects that others have discussed in these comments. I don't think I am pointing toward false, positive reviews. Rather, I'm endorsing honesty and candor as something that generally produces good consequences. I think this vegan restaurant situation would be part of the rule, for the reasons discussed throughout the comments.
Tristan Williams
Communication misunderstanding: meant "pointing at" not as something you endorse but are critiquing. My point was that simply abstaining from leaving negative reviews seems less bad than actively leaving false, positive reviews, and just wanted to know if you view those as similarly bad or not.  Minor question with broad agreement with your comment. 

This is too galaxy brained for me. When in doubt, be honest, cooperative and kind!

I think this is a heuristic I've leaned on more in the past, and it's something I probably should return to more, so thank you for flagging. 

But I think the reason I started using it less is because there are times when this leads me astray (or at least somewhat astray) i.e. when I see a homeless person and immediately want to give them some money so they can eat some food tonight. I don't want to not feel compassion for them, but as a base EA thing, I do want to make sure that I make the decision to put the money into an institution that's more likel... (read more)

I'm not sure how many stars you should leave, but I think there are ways to write a review that successfully convey both of:

  1. This restaurant wasn't very good
  2. Vegan food is great and you should eat it

A very brief sketch of a review for a mediocre vegan restaurant:

"I was happy to find a vegan restaurant in AREA, and I thought it was cool they offered DISH. So I ordered that, as well as OTHER DISHES. Unfortunately, the food wasn't great; I thought OKAY DISH was fine, but BAD DISHES had problems; DESCRIPTION OF PROBLEMS. The service was fine, ETC., ETC.

There are some much better vegan restaurants I'd recommend that aren't too far from here; the DISH at RESTAURANT 1 is to die for, and RESTAURANT 2 has a great atmosphere for lunch dates. As for this restaurant, I'm giving two stars for food, three for service, and five for "not hurting animals", since that's a real advantage to this place over non-vegan options. I'll average that to a three, but would still recommend the other vegan places I mentioned."

This is insightful and something I'm astounded I didn't think of before. Especially the bit on recommending another restaurant, that seems like a perfect way to provide a nearly frictionless path to another vegan meal while also being honest and straightforward about my experience. 

I've still been unable to write the review, but I think I can write it soon now, and think I can generally use this going forward, many thanks Aaron!

If your criticism can be constructive, it's worth passing on in some form so they might improve

If you are the type of person to leave restaurant reviews, then I'd say yeah, you probably should! Lots of non-vegan people eat at these places. Some are flexitarians, while others have been dragged along by friends. If a non-veg's first experience at a vegan restaurant goes poorly, that's probably a bad thing overall. In theory, negative reviews help mitigate that. 

(saying first I broadly agree with this and am just picking up one small question I have that relates) how good a job do you think negative reviews do with mitigation?

Dunno, but I'd guess it would depend on the rough percentages through which you weigh the different moral stances. Myself, I tend to feel like 70% deontologist, 30% consequentialist, which means I would definitely write the negative review (I'm not vegan or vegetarian either, so it's really a no-brainer for me here, though). Ultimately, you have to make the choice which you think is the best given the limited information available.

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This post is a good example of the risks of tying yourself in knots with consequentialist reasoning. There are a lot of potential consequences of leaving a review beyond "it makes people less likely to eat at this particular restaurant, and they might eat at a non-vegan restaurant instead". You get into this some, but three plausible effects of artificially inflated reviews would be:

  • Non-vegans looking for high-quality food go to the restaurant, get vegan food, think "even highly rated vegan food is terrible", don't become vegan.

  • Actually good vegan restaurants have trouble distinguishing themselves, because "helpful" vegans rate everywhere five stars regardless of quality, and so the normal forces that push up the quality of food don't work as well. Now the food tastes bad and fewer people are willing to sustain the sacrifice of being vegan.

  • People notice this and think "if vegans are lying to us about how good the food is, are they also lying to us about the health impacts?" Overall trust in vegans (and utilitarians) decreases.

We need a morality for human beings with limited ability to know the impacts of their actions, and reasoning through the full impact of every decision is not possible. You'll generally do a lot more to make the world better if you take a more "rule utilitarian" approach, at least in low stakes situations like restaurant reviewing. Promoting truth and accurate information is almost always the right thing to do.

[EDIT: expanded this into a post]

Ah yes, I thought of other things like your first point, but there are good, longer term things you bring up in your other two points that was not something I was thinking enough about. 

But I suppose one thing I didn't make clear his is how tailored this was to just representing, without distortion, how I thought about this scenario. I've engaged with the different forms of utilitarianism, and I've engaged with other schools of thought as well, and I when doing this in an academic setting, I generally come away unconvinced by many (rule utilitarian are related approached included). So absent that sort of framework you mention in the first part of your second paragraph, it's hard for me to choose any one thing and stick with it.

But perhaps you would reply "sure you might not find rule utilitarianism totally convincing when you sit down and look at the arguments, but it seems like you don't find anything totally convincing, and you are still an actor making decisions out in the world. Further, as this post evidences, you're using frameworks I'd argue are worse, like some sort of flavor of classical utilitarianism here, that shows that despite what intellectual commitments you may have you're still endorsing an approach. So what I'm saying is maybe try to employ rule utilitarianism the way deployed classical utilitarianism here, as the temporary voice to the consequentialist amenable side of yourself, because it might help you avoid some of these tricky knots, and some bad longer term decisions (because your current framework biases against noticing these). And who knows, maybe with this change you'll find a bit less tension between the deontologist and consequentialist inside you"

Does that seem like the sort of principle you would endorse?

That principle sounds about right! I do endorse thinking very hard about consequences sometimes, though, when you're deciding things likely to have the most impact, like what your career should be in.

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