An interesting blog post at The Splintered Mind: Eric Schwitzgebel has pointed out a discrepancy between what ethicists preach and what they practice. While ethicists espouse more stringent moral views than non-ethicists (e.g., 60% of them believe eating red meat is morally objectionable, versus 45% of other philosophers and 19% to other academics), they do not behave statistically significantly differently compared to those other groups in the relevant ethical actions (e.g., in their actual consumption of meat). Schwitzgebel's aim is not to "not to scold ethicists for failing to live up to their often high standards but rather to confront the issue of why there seems to be such a tenuous connection between philosophical moral reflection and real-world moral behavior." Should ethicists in fact practice what they preach?
In the comments section, Regina Rini, postdoc at Oxford, gives a nicely reasoned argument for why we should resist this conclusion:
These are very interesting ideas, but I wonder if you've undersold the "job description". Moral philosophers are notmoralists. That is, it is not the job of the moral philosopher to exemplify any particular moral code, as it might be of preachers, educators, or community leaders.
In fact, the task of moral philosophy is marked by a reflective distance from practice. We all have strong psychological programming (acculturated, innate, or otherwise) to unthinkingly act upon a certain range of views. In order to question and probe the received moral positions of one's own culture, one needs to be able to detach philosophizing from action. In a sense, one needs to be able to take one's ethical views "offline" in order to subject them to reflective scrutiny.
If that's right, then a gap between theory and practice may very well be a psychological prerequisite of doing moral philosophy. The moral philosopher's behavior goes on auto-pilot, defaulting to conventional standards, and so can be minimally distinguished from the behavior of others, even while the moral philosopher's theory may widely diverge.
Of course, if moral philosophy is to have any practical value, then we might hope to be able to close this gap at some point. But when? If the gap is needed to pursue reflection, then closing the gap locks the philosopher into some set of views, so presumably this ought not be done until moral theory is somehow complete or immune to revision. Does that ever happen? Doubtful, and so it is unclear why any individual moral philosopher might aim to close the gap.
This suggests a societal division of intellectual labor. Most people are fairly consistent in their moral beliefs and behavior, partly because they don't engage in much reflection upon the accepted standards of the community. Moral philosophers (and some others) are tasked with that reflection, which requires opening a gap between theory and practice, and so leads moral philosophers to exhibit something that looks at least mildly hypocritical. But this is for everyone's benefit, if we want moral systems to be open to change and growth. Moral philosophers do the necessary reflective theorizing, even if its practical effects can (eventually) be detected only at the societal level, and not at the level of the individual philosopher.