Abortion is immoral

According to the relativist view, when anti-abortionists say abortion is morally unacceptable and their opponents contradict them and say that it is morally acceptable, there is no real disagreement; rather the two sides do not share the same moral preferences. Thus, for the relativist, value-statements are always speaker-relative, whether implicitly or explicitly. An apparent disagreement over a value is in this respect like that between Julie and John concerning chocolate versus vanilla ice cream. One reason why this relativistic view of moral issues is so tempting is that we feel uncomfortable about being seen to dictate morals to other people because we (rightly) value tolerance of different opinions.4

We cannot prove, and would not try to prove, that moral relativism is false. It is conceivable that all claims about values are implicitly speaker-relative, or perhaps implicitly relative in some other way. We will, however, try to explain why there is good reason to resist moral relativism. Whilst moral issues are almost always complicated and can be difficult to agree upon, the problem with this simplistic relativist approach is that it leaves no room for genuine disagreement about moral issues. It enjoins us to say, 'You feel OK about abortion, I don't, end of story' without attempting rationally to persuade one another of the truth of our beliefs. The poverty of such a view of morals is illustrated by the following case: suppose there emerged a terrible fascist regime that murdered millions of people on grounds of race, religion or political beliefs. Simplistic relativists who desire to remain consistent with their relativist commitment would be unable to hope that the fascists are wrong, and that, therefore, others could rationally be persuaded that the fascists are wrong; for the fascists' views about the moral status of their victims would be nothing more than preferences that just happen to be different from most other people's. In the same way that most people prefer ice cream to carrots, this regime prefers murdering people who are different

4 This repudiation of moral relativism is aimed only at the very naive type of relativism that holds that moral questions are simply a matter of personal or cultural preference and therefore not the subject of genuine disagreements. There are various more sophisticated versions of moral relativism. It is not our intention to repudiate such theories.

from them to living tolerantly alongside them. This is a very extreme example, but the point is well made. To adopt naive relativism about moral matters, to deny there can be a truth of the matter; and to say that claims such as the claim that torture is wrong have a similar status to the claim that chocolate ice cream tastes best, is to deny ourselves the opportunity to attempt rationally to persuade others that their moral beliefs are false and to persuade them not to follow courses of action that would be harmful to others. It places fundamental moral issues outside of the ambit of critical thinking.

Yet the critical thinker does not have to give up hope. While people may continue to believe that moral relativism is true, they must also be consistent in their judgements. For example: it is irrational to hold that murderers are bad people, and at the same time, in full knowledge of his crimes, hold that Jack the Ripper was not a bad person. Thus, the critical thinker can at least demand logical consistency of the relativist: they can show that there is a valid argument from a premise accepted by the relativist to the conclusion that Jack the Ripper is bad. This means that it is possible to refute the relativist's moral views if it can be established that they are incoherent. In moral arguments a good way to do this is to find a general principle that the relativist accepts and go on to show how it is inconsistent with the belief that you wish to challenge. For example, if a relativist is pro-abortion and you discover that they are also against any form of killing, then you could force them to revise their beliefs if you could establish by argument that abortion was a type of killing.3

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