People often disagree on moral questions. When these disagreements arise, it is often difficult—and sometimes impossible—to resolve them. At times these disagreements turn on questions of fact. If one person thinks that an action will have a particular consequence, and another thinks that it will not, they might well disagree on the moral worth of that action. For example, those who have defended the United States’ decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan have often claimed that it was the only way to end the war quickly without creating a great number of casualties on both sides. Many critics of this decision have denied this factual claim.

Moral disagreements can also arise from disagreements about moral prin- ciples. To many people, it is immoral to have sex outside marriage. To oth- ers, it is immoral to interfere with such acts.

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Despite such disagreements, it is surprising how much agreement there is on general moral principles. In our society, most people accept a great many moral principles as a matter of course. If a policy has no other conse- quence but to produce widespread misery, it is rejected out of hand. We share a conception of justice that includes, among other things, equality of opportunity and equality before the law. Most people also have a conception of human dignity: A human being is not a thing to be used and disposed of for personal advantage.

With all this agreement, how does moral disagreement arise at all? One answer is that in certain circumstances, our moral principles conflict with one another, and people are inclined to resolve these conflicts in different ways. People often agree on principles about welfare, justice, and human dignity, and yet, by weighing these principles differently or seeing the situa- tion in a different light, they arrive at opposing moral conclusions.

Another kind of moral disagreement concerns the range or scope of moral principles. Even if everyone agrees that death and suffering are bad, they often disagree about whose death and suffering count. With few exceptions, it is thought to be wrong to inflict death and suffering on hu- man beings. Most people have a similar attitude toward their pet dogs or cats. Some, however, go further and claim that it is also immoral to kill any animals—including cows, chickens, and fish—just to produce tasty food for humans. The hardest problems combine issues of range with conflicts of principles. It is a disagreement of this complex kind that we will focus on in this chapter. The problem is abortion. The main issues are (1) whether fetuses lie within the range of a standard moral principle against killing, and (2) how to re- solve conflicts between the principles that protect fetuses and other princi- ples concerning, for example, human welfare and a woman’s control over her body.

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