The Psychology of Values

By Clive Seligman; James M. Olson et al. | Go to book overview

3
The Dynamics of Value Systems
Clive Seligman
Albert N. Katz
University of Western Ontario

Several years ago the Parliament of Canada deliberated legislation dealing with capital punishment and abortion. In discussing these issues, a colleague of ours said that he did not understand people who were against abortion, but for capital punishment. He couldn't see, he explained, how someone who viewed abortion as killing babies could support the death penalty. Didn't people like that realize, he asked, how inconsistent they were -- in support of killing in one case, but against in the other? Neither our colleague nor the rest of us, who were agreeing with him, were aware at the time that we showed the same inconsistency, but in the opposite direction. That is, our liberal beliefs led us to be prochoice on abortion but anti-capital punishment. In other words, we were against the execution of convicted murderers, but for the ending of the lives of fetuses. Why did the apparent inconsistency of others loom so large while our own inconsistency remained hidden?

Part of the answer, we believe, has to do with the value framing of the issues for ourselves and for others. It is understandable that the sanctity of life value, which pervades the rhetoric of prolifers, leads those who differ with them to focus on this value, and thus readily see contradictions when prolifers espouse positions on capital punishment. For ourselves, however, we do not feel compelled to frame these two issues with the same value. For us, capital punishment is an issue of sanctity of life, but abortion is an issue of women's free choice. Quite possibly, prolifers also frame the two issues from two different value perspectives: sanctity of life for the abortion issue, and retribution for capital punishment. They most likely see us as contradictory, because it appears to them that we argue sanctity of life in capital punishment debates, but abandon that value when considering abortion.

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