Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I Offended You? So What? [Jay Watts]

A young woman sat with her arms crossed and lips pursed while shooting me a look that must have been intended to vaporize me on the spot. I was talking to her and some of her fellow students about abortion and the pro-life position, and it clearly made her unhappy. She finally raised her hand and the whole room seemed to gird their loins for what was about to come. I asked her, “Did you have a question or comment?”

She rather forcefully said, “I am offended that you would come here and say these things.”

My response was as follows:

Ok, let's talk about that for minute. I have presented an argument in support of the position that abortion is objectively wrong because it unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being. The lines of evidences that I appealed to were scientific (the identity of the unborn as a human life from fertilization) and philosophical (human beings have value by virtue of what they are not what they can do or how I feel about them).

I also understand that hearing people argue for views you disagree with can be unpleasant. It bothers you to hear someone say you are wrong, just like it bothers anyone including me. I can get really irritated over people disagreeing with me about trivial things. It is natural to have emotional responses to discussions about all sorts of things, but especially about something as objectively important as abortion.

Anytime someone disagrees with us and offers arguments for their position there are only a few options open to us in response. (1) We can quietly listen, consider their views, weigh the counter arguments, and decide they were wrong. (2) We can listen, consider, weigh, then decide we are wrong and adjust our beliefs appropriately. (3) We can listen, consider, weigh, and then decide that we simply lack sufficient information to come down on one side or the other. (4) We can offer counter arguments on the spot addressing the specific lines of evidence offered.

All of those are perfectly appropriate. There are certainly counter arguments to everything that I have said today offered by genuinely brilliant people at an academic and sophisticated level. I've read them and learned from them, though I obviously found them less than persuasive in the end. I encourage you to find and read them and would be happy to point you in the right direction.

But when you say that you are offended, all that you are doing is telling us how you are emotionally responding to what I am saying. I already conceded that we all struggle with our emotions in this kind of conversation, both in my original talk and just a moment ago, so you aren't adding anything to the discussion that addresses the substance of what was argued.

Finally, and I'm not saying you are doing this, but when some people say they are offended what they are really saying is that I'm upsetting them so I ought to stop talking about abortion. I reject that all together. No one has a right not to be offended. Sometimes there are questions of such importance that we are compelled to engage in public discussion knowing that it will be upsetting to do so. Imagine how you would feel if someone suggested that you shouldn't be allowed to argue for positions with which they disagree simply because they are incapable of controlling their emotions. 


  1. Succinctly and wonderfully said!

  2. Well Said. I'm sure I'll borrow some of what you said here in my conversations.

  3. I like that you try to bring a heated debate down to the world of rational thinking and arguments. Although I think arguing takes energy and sometimes people want to relax and enjoy themselves instead of compete in a public debate about controversial topics. I don't think we're compelled to discuss things because they are difficult morally or socially. I think it's wise and respectful to choose the venue. Someone who says they are offended may just be trying to express it's not the desired venue.

    Maturity in my book is defined as the ability of someone to control their emotions and think rationally during times of stress. Not everyone has the maturity to discuss such topics, nor do some people present any arguments outside of personal religious beliefs. Which leads most conversations to agree to disagree and walk away. A no progress solution and stigmatizes the topic as religious in nature and not moral or social.

  4. Very nicely put--thank you!

  5. Hey Frank,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that there are proper venues for conversations. In this particular situation, I was an invited speaker who was meeting with an ethics class after a larger presentation. When I was at work in a more normal office in environment, I never interrupted the work day of others to force an uncomfortable discussion.

    As to whether we are compelled to address certain issues, I would argue that abortion is of such objective importance that is must be addressed. We cannot choose to not engage for fear of offense. If the unborn are not human or proper objects of our moral duties, then pro-life efforts represent an unconscionable interference in the free choices of women and the political process of our nation. If the unborn are full members of the human family, then abortion is the unjust destruction of human life on an unimaginable scale. We must sort it out one way or another. There is no calculation by which it is of no importance.

    We must do so respectfully, which speaks to your recognition that there are proper times to have this talk. But we must do it. That is what I meant.

    Thanks again.


  6. Isn't being offended a choice?
    There is that pesky word "choice."

    She chose to "take offense" over what she heard.

  7. Mr Watts is 100% correct. When a Human female is impregnated by a human male the ONLY result possible is the creation (assuming fertilization occurs) of another HUMAN Life.

    The taking of innocent human life is simply wrong. Wise up radical Lefties.

  8. It seems to me that if somebody says they are offended by what I say, and I respond by explaining to them why they are offended, why they shouldn't be, or how the whole subject of offense is irrelevant, I just risk offending them even more. It seems to me a better response is to simply ask them why they are offended. Then you can reason with them without coming across quite so presumptuously.


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