Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Stand to Reason points out that a large section of the first chapter of Frank Beckwith's soon-to-be-published Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice has been made available as a pdf. It is titled "Moral Reasoning, Law, and Politics," and makes an argument against "moral relativism." As a teacher I often came across the "I have a right to believe what I want" position as if that freed the individual from any need to make an argument. Beckwith won't let those who are "pro-choice" avoid the need to justify their position:
Moral relativism has stunted the ability of many to grasp the nature of moral claims. Some people often confuse preference-claims with moral-claims or reduce the latter to the former. To understand what I mean by this, consider two statements:
  1. I like vanilla ice cream.
  2. Killing people without justification is wrong.
The first statement is a preference-claim, as it is a description of a person's subjective taste. It is not a normative claim. It is not a claim about what one ought or ought not to do. It is not saying, "Because I like vanilla ice cream, the government ought to coerce you to eat it as well" or "Everyone in the world ought to like vanilla ice cream too." A claim of subjective preference tells us nothing about what one ought to think or do. For example, if someone were to say, "I like to torture children for fun," this would tell us nothing about whether it is wrong or right to torture children for fun.

The second claim, however, is quite different. It has little if anything to do with what one likes or dislikes. In fact, one may prefer to kill another person without justification and still know that it is morally wrong to do so. This statement is a moral-claim. It is not a descriptive claim, for it does not tell us what, why, or how things are, or how a majority of people in fact behave and/or think. Nor is it a preference-claim, for it does not tell us what anyone's subjective preference may be or how one prefers to behave and/or think. Rather, it is a claim about what one ought to do, which may be contrary to how one in fact behaves and/or prefers to behave.

Unfortunately, the espousal of moral relativism has made it difficult for many people in our culture to distinguish between preference-claims and moral-claims. Rather than pondering and struggling with arguments for and against a particular moral perspective, people sometimes reduce the disagreement to a question of "personal preference" or "subjective opinion." For example, some who defend the abortion-choice position sometimes tell pro-lifers: "Don't like abortion, then don't have one." This instruction reduces the abortion debate to a preference-claim. That is, the objective moral rightness or wrongness of abortion (i.e.,whether it involves the unjustified killing of a being who is fully human) is declared, without argument, to be not relevant. ....
Stand to Reason: Abortion, Relativism and Tolerance

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