People sometimes respond to moral arguments, and even just moral premises or conclusions, with what are called “argument stoppers.” These are, unsurprisingly, brief responses to try to stop the presentation or discussion of the argument or claim. Argument stoppers interfere with the attempt to evaluate arguments using rational methods like those in this book: they impede critical thinking and taking moral issues seriously. They are bad and are contrary moral progress. Being aware of them and knowing how to respond to them helps with moral progress.
Below is a list of some common argument stoppers. We first discuss each stopper and explain why it is bad, although this is often obvious. Our discussion often amounts to a modus tollens-patterned argument against the stopper like this:
1. If that stopper is a good response to this issue (or claim or argument, etc.), then it’s a good response to other issues, such as ______.
2. But it is not a good response to those other issues, such as ____.
3. So it isn’t a good response to the initial issue.”
This argument against these stoppers shows not just that people aren’t sometimes inconsistent and arbitrary in their use of stoppers, but that stoppers-responses contrary to the rational evaluation of moral claims and arguments.
Some of these stoppers, however, do have a genuine point behind them: there is a moral insight behind them. When this is so, we observe this, and observe where this insight has gone wrong, and how this insight can be productively redirected.
Here are some common argument stoppers (with some repetition and a need for better organization!):
1. “That’s just your opinion,” or “That’s a matter of opinion.”
2. “I’m entitled to my opinion,” “I have the right to my own opinion.”
4. “But I feel this way…” and “But, they feel that way.”
9. “We should be tolerant.”
10. “We need to be open-minded.”
11. “We should be respectful of others’ actions and beliefs.”
13. “We shouldn’t judge others.”
14. “How would you like it others judged you?”
21. “Who’s to say? Who’s to judge?”
22. “You’re not perfect, so you shouldn’t judge.”
31. “But the Bible says…”
32. “But God says…”
33. “It is what it is.”
34. “That view (opinion, belief) is subjective”
35. “That’s personal,” or “That’s a personal choice.”
36. “Nobody is perfect.”
38. “Who’s to say what's right or wrong?”
39. “You need to address your own problems before addressing anyone else’s.”
40. “If you think this is a problem, then YOU should do something about it.”
41. “You'll never be able to change peoples’ minds.”
42. “People are going to think what they think, and do what they do.”
43. “Things have always been this way.”
44. “But where do you draw the line?”
45. “Nobody cares” or “Nobody is going to care, or do anything about this.”
49. Revisited: “This isn’t wrong to me, or to us,” and “To them, it’s not wrong.” (Cultural Relativism)
50. Revisited: “Most people think this isn’t wrong; most people are OK with this.” (Cultural Relativism)
51. Revisited: “This is a tradition; this is what we do; our culture is OK with this.” (Cultural Relativism)