We agree…

…but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re correct.

When I wrote Common Ground Without Compromise, I didn’t think to clarify this point. Since then, I’ve realized that if we’re not careful, some people will assume there’s an implicit statement in the building of common ground: that if we agree on something, there’s no need to discuss whether we’re right about it.

Look at the Portland survey results I posted earlier this week. About 60% of people agreed that if a woman is impregnated through rape, abortion is not wrong and should continue to be legal even in the second trimester. Does the fact that so many agree about this mean it isn’t an issue worth discussing? No. Because agreeing on something doesn’t make it so.

(If we say either explicitly or implicitly that finding common ground means we’re correct, we’re unwittingly expressing the informal fallacy called ad populum.)

So, when we build common ground, we should remember that agreement doesn’t end the discussion.

As one pro-choice advocate said after reading the book: “There were definitely moments when reading this that I had some buttons pushed and wanted more explained from ‘my side.’ Then I realized that this was the purpose — to start conversations with each other, not to say how they should end.”

That’s the proper place for common ground. It’s not a guarantee that we’re correct. Even if everyone agrees with me about something, it’s important to move to the next step and begin offering arguments for those positions.

This is equally true when people have common ground against certain abortions (for example, using abortion as birth control) and common ground for certain abortions (for example, abortion in the case of rape). It’s not enough to claim “most people believe.” Since morals are not subject to the whims of a majority (a la cultural relativism), we must give reasons for our various views.

(originally posted at the STR blog on May 9, 2008)

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