Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Ivory Cubicle | I See Your Point

It is a truth universally acknowledged, at least among homeschool debaters, that I (the speaker) am right. And, as logic would appear to dictate, if I am right, then everyone who opposes me is by definition wrong. Dead wrong, in fact, and my task as the enlightened soldier of truth is to use my superb argumentative skills to pound the truth into the thick skulls of my opposition, thereby bringing them back into the fold of righteousness.

Of course, the thick-skulled opposition, being thick of skull, are unlikely to recant their heresies and rejoin the narrow way. Rather, seeing a wild-eyed soldier of righteousness wielding a massive sledgehammer of truth, they generally prefer to thicken their skulls further to absorb the massive rhetorical blows issued at their fragile heads by the righteous crusader.

Haters Gonna Make Some Good Points

St. Augustine, in his doctrine of the privatio boni, argues that “there can be no evil where there is no good.” Later theologians have argued that sin is an attempt to satisfy a God-given desire in an illegitimate way. The apostle Paul declared that the law of God was written on the hearts of man (Rom 2:15) and St. Thomas of Aquinas used Paul’s statement to argue that man actions are ultimately formed from basic moral intuitions and oriented towards some perceived good. Point being, when people are wrong, they’re usually wrong for good reasons.

Those of you who read last week’s post may recall that the Toulmin model of argumentation had room for a rebuttal and qualifier. The rebuttal served to recognize legitimate restrictions that could be applied to the claim, and the qualifier served to specify the force of the claim being presented. For conservatives who like standing on abstract, universal, unchanging moral absolutes, the concept of a rebuttal and qualifier may seem foreign. We have a tendency to get up and proclaim “THUS SAITH THE LORD,” disintegrating all opposition under our withering gaze and dogma of sola Scriptura. But people are messy, and sometimes absolute moral truths have to be applied to some pretty complicated situations.

In last week’s example, we considered a rebuttal to the pro-life position, namely, “abortion should be banned except where the life of the mother is endangered.” What exactly is going on when we present the “life of the mother” exception for the consideration of the pro-choice community?

Well, we focus on the fact that the mother’s life is valuable and also worth preserving. This intuition actually forms the basis of a lot of pro-choice thought. The pro-choice community focuses in on the crisis facing a young woman who doesn’t feel ready to begin parenting, all the extenuating circumstances that put her where she is (what about cases of rape and incest?) and concludes (wrongly) that the life of the mother trumps the life of the child. Often, the pro-life community, by focusing exclusively on the right of the child, fails to remember that the mother is a valuable human being who is also fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. Even if you don’t believe that abortion is permissible when the life of the mother is in danger, you can still agree with the pro-choice community that the mother’s life is valuable.

Other clashes between liberals and conservatives are similar. Take the discussion on welfare for example. Liberals possess a strong notion that those who are better off in society ought to care for the less fortunate. Conservatives do as well. The point of disagreement is the means by which we accomplish this (public or private sector). When you trace the argument down to its most basic moral intuitions, there’s often a point of agreement that can serve as a foundation for further discussion.

All right guys, so 1). I’d be very excited to see your thoughts on how conservatives can go about discussing political issues with liberals, so leave a comment, and 2). I’m always looking for ideas to write about. If you have any ideas that are related to Christian philosophy, politics, or life in general, send me an email at, and I’ll see if I can take a shot at it.

Written by Nick Barden

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