So I am continuing my blog on the PLP, see number 1 in the series for key terms and introductory notions. Now we get into the basic ethical theories.
Without going too deep into the technical, I still want to engage the philosophical. So ethics is the study of how actions are to be valued, as good, bad, right, wrong, evil, etc. That means that ethical theories are basically just codified and systematic ways of evaluating actions. An ethical theory asks if a certain action is right and it determines the rightness of that action according to the rules and standards laid out by that ethical theory. Ethical theories themselves derive from logic, observation, reflection, and the brilliant workings of various philosophers throughout history.
Throughout this series then I will be evaluating the PLP from the perspective of 5 main ethical theories. Relativism, Consequentialism, Virtue Ethics, Divine Command Theory, and Deontology. So here are the basic definitions:
Relativism: actions are right or wrong depending on the social circumstances and situations under which they are performed
Consequentialism: an action is right if the consequences of that action are the most desirable consequences, the action is wrong if the consequences are the least desirable
Virtue ethics: an action is right if it contributes to the development of a positive character trait, a virtue, which ultimately causes the person doing the action to live the best possible life
Divine Command Ethics: an action is right if it is done in accordance with a principle which has been ordained by God, or the gods
Deontology: an action is right if it fulfills a duty or preserves a deserved entitlement
To begin we should remind ourselves of what the PLP is, “A mother ought to carry her fetus to term”. Having done that let’s see how well it fits into the moral theory of Relativism.
So in the first place philosophers like to distinguish between descriptive and prescriptive relativism. Descriptive relativism simply explains how people’s morals change from society to society, age to age, and group to group. The point of this kind of relativism is really more historical than anything else, as it seems merely to offer an accurate historical account of the different moralities of humanity. Prescriptive Social relativism is the position that it is just or right to honor the moral rules of your own society while keeping in mind that your morality does not expand beyond your social groups.
Sometimes philosophers go further and make a distinction within prescriptive relativism between two more subcategories: personal and social relativism. Prescriptive Personal relativism would be the position that my morality is completely unique to myself and therefore no one else is fit to judge or condemn any of my actions.
In contrast Prescriptive social relativism is the position that my morality is defined by my society, but that my morality does not extend to anyone who is an outsider.
Now that I’ve laid it out it seems pretty obvious how the PLP will fit here. You could, from a descriptive relativistic standpoint, simply claim that the PLP is a position held by one group of people. Yet the whole point of the PLP is that it presents a universal ethical claim. So although it is not contradicted by descriptive relativism, it is not particularly helped by it either.
On the prescriptive side of things the PLP would not be content to exist as merely a personally relativistic claim. The PLP is a universal claim and it will not limit itself to the whims of one person.
From the perspective of social relativism you can claim that the PLP fits very well within certain societies, and that within those societies it would surely be morally wrong to have an induced abortion. It would then also be morally right for a mother to carry to term. So we have already found a theory which will support the PLP, social relativism.
There are several countries where abortion is illegal or is permitted only in very rare instances where a woman’s life is threatened. These countries include Brazil, Ireland, Kenya, Iran, Laos, and many others listed here. From the perspective of social relativism it would be immoral to seek out an induced abortion in those countries. Such an act would be in violation of the codes by which the members of that society have agreed to abide.
So social relativism does provide support for and defense of the PLP, but only in a limited, and never universal, fashion.
However, social relativism will not allow someone from the PLP to argue that someone from a country where abortion is legal, or a society which is pro-abortion, is immoral in getting an abortion. In those cases we must allow those people to be judged according to the rules of their own society, rather than our own rules.
Although social relativism will create a live and let live scenario, in general this will prove to be very unsatisfying for the PLP. Within social relativism the PLP has no universal claim to morality. Things are right and wrong relative to the situation, people group, or society in general. Thus social relativism can never provide an adequate support and proof for the PLP, unless the proponents of the PLP are prepared to surrender their universal claim. While that seems highly unlikely it may also prove to be unnecessary. There are still 4 good alternative theories to make this case.