Previous posts in this series:
Defending Life #1
In my first post on Frank's book Defending Life, I presented the core argument he defends:
1. The unborn entity, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community.
2. It is prima facie morally wrong to kill any member of that community.
3. Every successful abortion kills an unborn entity, a full-fledged member of the human community.
4. Therefore, every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong.
To refute this standard pro-life argument, you must do one of two things. 1) You must show that the argument is not valid, meaning the conclusion does not follow logically from the premises. 2) You must demonstrate that the argument is unsound, meaning the truth of one or more of the premises can be falsified.
In chapter 1, Frank deals with the nature of moral reasoning. Specifically, he notes the tendency of some abortion-choicers to skip the hard work of refuting the pro-life argument by changing the kind of claim the pro-lifer makes. That is, instead of refuting the pro-life advocate's moral claim about the nature of the unborn and the wrongness of elective abortion, they simply change it to a preference one they like better.
Suppose I said, "Chocolate ice-cream is better than vanilla." You might well reply (rightly), "Ha! That’s true for you but I like vanilla better." In this case, I’m really telling you what I prefer, not what’s right or wrong, true or false. Problem is, many people today confuse claims about ice cream with claims about truth. They simply don’t know the difference between moral claims and preference ones.
Consider the popular bumper sticker: "Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one!" Notice what’s going on here. The pro-lifer makes a moral claim: "Elective abortion is wrong because it unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being." The abortion-choice advocate responds by changing that moral claim into a preference one he likes better, as if the pro-lifer were talking about what she likes rather than what’s right, regardless of one's preferences. Now, perhaps the pro-lifer is mistaken about her claim (we will grant for the sake of discussion), but we should never confuse the type of claim she is making. She’s not saying she dislikes abortion (maybe she likes it); she’s saying its wrong even if she prefers it. To refute this moral claim, abortion-choicers must present evidence the pro-lifer is wrong rather than changing the type of claim the she is making.
Why do abortion-choicers confuse moral claims with preference ones? The culprit is "relativism," the belief that right and wrong are determined by one's own personal preferences or one's own society.
Relativism fails for several reasons. 1) Cultures may not differ as much as we think. Sometimes the differences are factual not moral. For example, a co-worker may agree with pro-lifers that humans have intrinsic value, yet support early abortion. He does so because he thinks that the unborn are not distinctly human until later in pregnancy. He’s factually mistaken on this point, but he holds the same moral belief as the pro-lifer, namely, that humans have intrinsic value in virtue of the kind of thing they are. This is not a moral difference, but a factual one. 2) Even if cultures do in fact differ, the absence of consensus does not mean an absence of truth. That is, the cultural relativist is guilty of the is/ought fallacy: It does not follow that because people disagree we ought to assume that nobody is correct. 3) If morals are relative to culture or the individual, there is no ethical difference between Adolph Hitler and Mother Theresa; they just had different preferences: The latter liked to help people while the former liked to kill them. Who are we to judge? But such a view is counterintuitive. 4) Relativism, in any form, cannot say why I ought to be tolerant of other cultures. Suppose my culture decides not to tolerate minorities. Now what? 5) If morals are relative to one’s particular society, moral reformers like Martin Luther King and Ghandi are by definition evil. 6) Relativism--and this is the key point--is ultimately self-refuting. The abortion-choicer who says to pro-lifers "you shouldn't force your views on me" just forced his view on them.
For more on relativism, see Beckwith and Koukl here and Hadley Arkes here.