There are certainly more but there are two controversial subjects in particular where people who support them will always use extreme examples to justify them. What this means is that because an extreme exists (as it always does), we should forget having any standards at all. I have experienced both these cases personally and heard them in public debates. I find this very irritating so I’m going to write about it.
One example is with the legalisation or decriminalisation of drugs. If you argue with someone who is for legalising marijuana, they will often bring up medicinal use. Now the first thing to remember is medicinal should mean medicinal which means set doses to treat a specific malady. When doctors use morphine they don’t hand ten vials to a patient with a broken arm and tell them to go nuts. It has a specific purpose with a measured dose. Pointing out that a drug like marijuana can be an effective painkiller is not an argument that a perfectly healthy person should be allowed to use it to get high. What people really mean when they say this is, “I want to get high and I don’t want to feel bad about it.”
The same is true of legal abortion or infanticide as I more accurately call it. I have often had people bring up rape, ectopic pregnancies, birth defects and poverty as justifications for abortion. Again, the problem here is that they don’t mean that abortion should be legal in just these cases but that because these circumstances exist, it should be legal for any reason whatsoever. What they really mean when they say this is, “I want to have sex as much as I want and I don’t want to feel bad about avoiding the consequences.”
Even if you were to accept that exceptions should be made in these extreme situations, they are not by themselves arguments for abandoning moral positions. One might similarly say we shouldn’t prosecute someone for any crime because there is a chance that an innocent person could be wrongfully convicted. I hope this that seems ridiculous to you. Yet these are common arguments in favour of both. What prompted this post was a brief radio debate I listened to yesterday on drugs with the same argument brought up.
What bothers me in these cases is not so much my distaste for the their positions as is their dishonesty. If one wants to argue that recreational drug use should not be criminal, one has to argue from the position that perfectly healthy people should be able to use these substances for the pleasure they receive from the effects and nothing more. The medicinal case is not actually even relevant as medicinal drugs are already regulated and themselves illegal substances without a prescription. The same is true of abortion. If you believe abortion should be completely legal, for any reason then that is where you should stay when arguing your position. If not, you should honestly and clearly state that you believe abortion should be illegal excepting only extreme and rare cases. Likewise with drugs when bringing up medicinal use. If you think marijuana should be more widely prescribed in medical doses for medical purposes then let that be all you say on the matter.
I have actually gone back and forth on drug legalisation and have somewhat changed my mind again recently after watching this talk by Peter Hitchens. As I say, it’s using these arguments that bothers me more so than the positions themselves. So if people could just be more honest about their actual beliefs and stop using these faulty lines of argument, things would be slightly improved and debates on these subjects would certainly be more honest.