Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Moral Arguments from Misunderstanding

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 30, 2009

Frequently, I see both sides of a debate making arguments based on an unsupported assumption that the other side does not hold. For example, pro-abortioners say “it’s a woman’s choice what she does with her own body”, which falsely assumes that a fetus is part of the mother’s body. This is painful to listen to, especially when there are so many good arguments in favor of abortion. Similarly, the argument for gay marriage that “we love each other just as much as a straight couple” is irrelevant to most anti- gay marriagers, since they think that gay love is the spawn of Satan, or something like that (I don’t actually know what those crazy basterds believe).

The problem here is a fundamental misunderstanding between both sides of the argument. The solution is to try to see the argument from the other side’s perspective and find common ground. Base your case off of certain assumptions that both sides hold. Even the two most-opposed people on earth still must agree on many, many points. For example, nearly everyone probably assumes that humans exist (even though it is unproven). Even people who “know” it is unproven still assume existence in their daily lives.

So the next time you are in a disagreement, try to uncover the foundation upon which each side is standing. Try standing on your opponent’s foundation. Find shared ground. And then you might actually get somewhere.


4 Responses to “Moral Arguments from Misunderstanding”

  1. The Center Square said

    I think you are correct, and this is always a good reminder. The thing that really annoys me, though, is not when people work off assumptions, but when people fail to understand that their assumptions are assumptions, or think they are facts. We all bring individual paradigms and blind spots to our thinking.

    • phynnboi said

      The trouble is, when we express our assumptions as assumptions or our arguments as opinions, people tend to quickly dismiss them as such. Eventually, we learn that, to be taken seriously, we must phrase our arguments in terms of facts. After a while of doing that, though, it’s not just others we fool, but ourselves. “Repeat a lie often enough…,” and all that. One philosopher talked about this in terms of confusing the map with the territory. I call it “buying into our own bullshit.” 🙂

  2. phynnboi said

    While I agree that “it’s a woman’s choice what she does with her body” is a feeble argument*, why do you think a fetus isn’t part of its mother’s body? What makes something part of one’s body?

    * since we, as a society, have already agreed that there are many things “we can choose to do with our bodies” that we shouldn’t actually do, such as kicking people in the head, robbing banks, snorting lines, etc.

    • 1. A fetus has a mind independent of the mother. Mothers do not know what their baby is thinking.

      2. Late-term fetuses are capable of feeling pain. And yet if the fetus feels pain, the mother does not. Their nerves are separate.

      Overall, they are separate entities. The only connections are that the fetus is inside the mother’s body and the mother provides nutrients for the fetus directly from her own body.

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