Friday, October 12, 2012

Whose nature? Which law?


You’ve got your natural law.  You’ve got your natural rights.  You’ve got the state of nature.  Then there’s naturalism.  And laws of nature.  And the supernatural.  There’s St. Paul’s natural man and the Scholastics’ natura pura.  There’s nature and nature’s God.  There’s natural science, natural history, natural selection, natural theology, natural philosophy, and the philosophy of nature.  There’s the Baconian scientist putting nature on the rack, and Galileo telling us that the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics.  And let’s not forget the literal books, like Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things, Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature, Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, and Edward O. Wilson’s On Human Nature.  There’s Emerson’s essay “Nature.”  For fans of underground comics, there’s Mr. Natural; for fans of obscure superheroes too preposterous ever to get their own billion-dollar-grossing film adaptations, there’s Nature Boy.  There’s Oliver Stone’s movie Natural Born Killers and Robert Redford in The Natural.   There’s Ringo Starr singing “Act Naturally,”  Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” the Steely Dan album Two Against Nature, and that stupid Gilbert O’Sullivan tune.  

There are natural disasters, natural resources, natural gas, and dying of natural causes.  There’s natural beauty, but also freaks of nature.  There’s going back to nature and getting a natural high.  There are Mother Nature, nature hikes, all natural foods, natural family planning and natural childbirth.  There’s the natural order, and second nature.  There are natural numbers.  There are all the examples I didn’t think of.  There are blog posts that are starting to sound like George Carlin routines.
  
With “nature” and “natural” used in so many different ways, it’s no wonder people often misunderstand what classical natural law theorists mean when they define the good for man in terms of what is natural and what is bad as what is contrary to nature.  Hence the blizzard of clueless objections: “If what is unnatural is wrong, then wouldn’t eyeglasses and prosthetic limbs be wrong?”; “But everything is natural, since everything follows the laws of nature”; “If I was born this way, then it must be natural”; etc.  Remarks of this sort reflect fundamental misconceptions about what the natural law theorist means by “nature.”  (Again, I’m talking about classical natural law theory there, the kind rooted in classical metaphysics of the broadly Platonic, Aristotelian, and/or Scholastic kind.  I’ll let “new natural law theory” adepts speak for themselves.)

The basic idea is really not all that complicated, and can be understood at least to a first approximation by reference to everyday examples.  Everyone knows that it is in the nature of grass to require water and sunlight but not too much heat, and that for that reason it is good for grass to be watered and well lit and bad for it to lack water and sunlight or to be exposed to great heat.  Everyone knows that is in the nature of a tree to require soil into which it can sink its roots and from which it can draw water and nutrients, and thus that it is good for a tree so to sink them and bad for it if it is somehow prevented from doing so.  Everyone knows that it is in the nature of a squirrel to gather nuts and the like and to dart about in a way that will make it difficult for predators to catch it, and thus good for it to do these things and bad for it if for whatever reason it fails to do them.  The natures of these things entail certain ends the realization of which constitutes their flourishing as the kinds of things they are.  

Hence, no one would make stupid remarks to the effect that to say that some things are naturally good for squirrels would entail, absurdly, that putting a little splint on a squirrel’s broken leg to help it heal would be “unnatural”; or that to say that some things are naturally good for grass would entail, absurdly, that watering it with sprinklers rather than rainwater would be “unnatural.”  For it is quite obvious that, though man-made and thus artificial, neither of these things is unnatural in the relevant sense.  A splint doesn’t frustrate the realization of the ends a squirrel has to fulfill in order to flourish as the kind of thing it is, and sprinklers don’t frustrate the ends grass must realize in order to flourish as the kind of thing it is.  On the contrary, the splint and the sprinklers facilitate the realization of those ends.

Similarly, no one would object that it is trivial to talk about what is natural for a tree, a squirrel, etc., since, after all, everything follows the laws of nature anyway.  For though it is of course true that all material things are subject to the laws of physics, different kinds of material things have their own distinctive natures that determine distinctive kinds of flourishing.  Darting about is something a squirrel needs to be able to do in order to flourish as the kind of thing it is, but it is not the sort of thing a tree or grass needs to do in order to flourish as the kinds of thing they are.  In addition to the laws that govern all material things as such, there are less fundamental laws that govern only specific parts of nature, and it is these that reflect the goods distinctive of these various parts.

Nor would anyone would raise silly objections to the effect that if a certain squirrel is born without a leg, then it must be natural for that squirrel to lack four legs, or that if a certain sickly tree fails to sink roots into the ground and ends up falling over or drying out, then it must be natural for that tree to fail to sink roots.  For though these circumstances are “natural” in the sense that they sometimes occur in the ordinary course of nature and arise from factors internal to the things in question rather than from human action or some other external factor, they are nevertheless unnatural in the relevant sense.  For a squirrel’s being born without a leg or a tree’s having weak roots constitute failures to realize the ends that define the flourishing of these sorts of thing, and thus are failures fully to realize a thing’s nature.  That is why we call them defects in a thing.

Now, none of these examples involves moral goodness or badness, because morality involves intellect and will, which grass, trees, and squirrels all lack.  Rational creatures like ourselves are capable of moral goodness or badness precisely because we do have intellects and wills.  The will itself has as its natural end the pursuit of the good, and determining what is in fact good is part of the natural end of the intellect.  Morally good action thus involves the will to do what is good for us given our nature, while morally bad action involves willing contrary to what is good for us given our nature.  And to the extent that the intellect knows what is good for us we are culpable for these good or bad actions.  To will to do what is “natural” for us thus means, in classical natural law theory, something like to will to do what tends toward the realization of the ends which, given our nature, define what it is for us to flourish as the kind of things we are.  And to will to do what is “unnatural” thus means something like willing to do what tends toward the frustration of the ends which, given our nature, define what it is for us to flourish as the kind of things we are.  

If a squirrel were rational, it would be natural and good for him to will to escape predators and to gather nuts for the winter and unnatural and bad for him to will to offer himself up to predators and to eat only toothpaste or stones.  And the latter would be unnatural and bad for him whatever was the reason why he willed these things -- brain damage, genetic anomalies giving rise to odd desires, bad squirrel upbringing, squirrel peer pressure, the influence of squirrel pop culture, arguments from squirrel philosophers who were hostile to natural law, or whatever.  They would also be unnatural and bad for him however strongly he wanted to eat the toothpaste and offer himself to the predators, and even if he found the idea of eating nuts and fleeing from predators repulsive.  The provenance and strength of the desires wouldn’t show that they were somehow natural (again, in the relevant sense) but on the contrary indicate instead how deeply distorted and unnatural the squirrel’s character had become -- like a hose that’s gotten so many kinks in it that it is hard to get water through it anymore, or a vine whose growth pattern has gotten so twisted that it ends up choking itself to death.

Now where human beings are concerned, to know in detail what our nature determines to be good for us would require a careful analysis of each of our various faculties and capacities -- reason, speech, labor, sex, and so forth.  I’m not going to get into all of that here because it is not relevant to the point of the post, and each of these would in any event require a treatment of its own.  (I’ve addressed some of these issues in other places, such as in The Last Superstition, in my Social Philosophy and Policy article “Classical Natural Law Theory, Property Rights, and Taxation,” and in blog posts like this one and this one.)  No natural law theorist claims that merely saying “Act in accordance with nature” is the end of the story.  It’s just the beginning of the story.  The point for now is that while the details about what counts as acting in accordance with nature or contrary to nature in particular cases raise all sorts of questions, the general idea of acting in accordance with nature is not subject to glib objections of the sort referred to above.

Thus, when natural law theorists talk about acting in accordance with nature, they do not mean “natural as opposed to artificial or man-made.”  For example, when they say that contraception is bad, they don’t mean that it’s bad because it involves the use of pills, or mechanical devices, or man-made substances like rubber.  They mean that it positively frustrates the natural ends of the sexual faculties (or at least partially frustrates them, since it is not denied that sex is naturally oriented toward bonding the spouses, expressing affection, and the like, as well as toward procreation).  And methods that do not involve the use of any man-made or artificial devices (such as withdrawal) can frustrate this end just as much as the others can, and therefore are in the relevant sense “unnatural.”  (Again, I’m not trying here to answer every question one might raise about this specific example, just indicating the sense of “natural” that is operative.)

Artificial or man-made devices as such are not only not “unnatural” in the relevant sense, they can restore or even facilitate the natural end of our capacities, as eyeglasses, tools, computers, prosthetic limbs, etc. do.  (And this is as true in the sexual context as in other contexts -- an impotent man who used Viagra would be facilitating the natural end of his sexual faculties rather than frustrating them.)  Nor is there anything in natural law theory that entails even a preference for what is “natural” as opposed to artificial (Luddism, living in the woods à la Thoreau, a fetish for “organic foods,” etc.).  On the contrary, given that we are distinctively rational animals, technology and other products of artifice are manifestations of our nature.

In commending what is in accordance with our nature, natural law theorists also do not mean “natural in the sense of commonly occurring in the ordinary course of nature.”  All sorts of things commonly occur in the ordinary course of things that tend to frustrate our nature -- injuries, diseases, floods, earthquakes, and, for that matter, immoral choices.  Hence when people say that it is “natural” for a child to be selfish or for a man to have a roving eye, while there is a sense in which this is true, it is not the sense that is operative in natural law theory.  A goldfish will “naturally” tend to keep eating the food you drop into its tank even after it is full, but that hardly fulfills its nature in the relevant sense (since it will overeat and thereby kill itself).  Similarly, we have, given our limited nature as created things, inherent susceptibilities to defects and failures of various kinds -- overeating, overreaction to injustices, excessive fear in the face of danger, sexual vices, bodily injury, the contraction of various diseases, etc.  These are not “natural” in the relevant sense of fulfilling our nature even though they are “natural” in the different sense that they are defects or failures to which we are prone to given our nature.  

For the same reason, the natural law theorist does not mean “natural in the sense of flowing from a deep-seated tendency.”  For a deep-seated tendency could result from habituated vice or heredity defect, either of which would be contrary to nature in the relevant sense.  A predisposition to alcoholism or heart disease doesn’t help the person who has it to realize the ends inherent in his nature, even if such a predisposition has a genetic basis.  A character trait may have become so habituated that it has become “second nature,” but that doesn’t make it natural in the relevant sense either.

The natural must also be carefully distinguished from the supernatural, where in classical natural law theory the “supernatural” has nothing to do with ghosts and other paranormal phenomena, but rather with what is above or additional to our nature and the ends inherent in it.  For example, knowledge of God is something of which we are capable given our nature and which we require for our complete flourishing as the kinds of things we are -- that is why natural theology is possible -- but the intimate, “face to face” knowledge of God that is the beatific vision is not “natural” in that sense.  That is rather a matter of grace, of being raised to an end higher than what we would be due or capable of given our nature.  (I have said more about this here and here.)

The tendency to confuse the natural and the supernatural can be found not only in the opponents of natural law theory but also in some of its friends.  On the one hand there are critics of Catholic sexual morality who suppose that it is grounded merely in scripture, or tradition, or the authority of the popes.  And on the other hand there are well-meaning orthodox Catholic writers who at least seem to suppose that Catholic sexual morality can only be understood and defended in theological terms -- in terms of the “theology of the body,” say, or “covenant theology.”  Both suppositions are in error, for at least the fundamental aspects of Catholic sexual morality (and certainly its most controversial aspects) are grounded in natural law, and thus in premises that are accessible to all human beings (whether or not they are Catholic) and that would remain true even if there had been no divine revelation on which to base the theological approaches in question.  

That is not to say that these theological approaches to do not have value.  The point is rather that they are not and cannot be complete accounts of sexual morality.  They can supplement what we know from natural reason, but cannot replace it.  For grace builds on nature.  When we ignore nature in favor of grace or blur the boundary between them, we distort the latter and make the former inaccessible to those who do not know or accept divine revelation.  That is why, for many non-Catholics, Catholic teaching on sexual morality falsely seems like mere diktat, or at best something purely theological that can have appeal only to those already convinced of the moral relevance of the story of Adam and Eve, or of analogies between spouses on the one hand and Christ and the Church on the other.  

This brings us to the “law” side of natural law, and thus to another term used in various senses which need to be carefully distinguished.  Is the natural law a law given by God?  Yes and no.  Yes insofar as the natural law reflects the natures of things, and God, as creator, is the author of things and their natures.  But the natural moral law is to that extent no different from what was said above about grass, trees, and squirrels.  You don’t need to study theology in order to find out what is good or bad for grass, trees, and squirrels; indeed, you could be an atheist and know it.  And the same thing is true for what is good or bad for us given our nature (at least to a large extent -- though there are religious obligations of a general kind under natural law given that the existence of God is knowable through unaided reason).  

The natural law differs, then, from law that is directly given by God via a special revelation, as with the law given to Israel through Moses.  Knowledge of the latter requires knowledge of certain specific historical events and of certain miracles associated with those events.  The natural law is not like that; it is in principle available to all men simply by virtue of being rational and capable of knowing what is good or bad for them given their distinctive nature.  Thus does Aquinas distinguish natural law from divine law.  (He also distinguishes natural law from human law, which is or at least ought to be grounded in natural law and which determines, when it isn’t already clear, how natural law gets applied in concrete historical circumstances; and from eternal law, the archetypes or ideas in the divine mind according to which God creates things and which is thus the ultimate ground of the natural law, even if we can know much about the natural law merely by knowing human nature and without reference to God.)

It is thus an error to suppose that natural law arguments are inherently theological, at least in the sense many of their critics suppose.  Though the natural law theorist would regard natural (as opposed to revealed) theology as part of a complete account of natural law, there are still large areas of morality which can be known without reference to theological claims of any sort, and these include the ones that are matters of the most intense controversy between natural law theorists and their critics (e.g. abortion and sexual morality).  (I’ve said more about the relationship between theology and ethics here and here.)

So, for the natural law theorist, certain things are “natural” for us in the sense of tending to fulfill those ends the realization of which constitutes our flourishing as the kinds of thing we are.  But perhaps it is also natural for us -- in a different sense, the sense of being a weakness to which we are prone given the limitations of our nature -- for us to want to deny that we are subject to natural law.   To that extent at least we are all natural lawyers, but of a rather sleazy kind -- seeking, not justice, but to find any way we can to get ourselves off the hook.

122 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds great, except for having almost nothing to do with "nature" and "law" as those words are used by anybody who isn't stuck in the premodern era.

Since then, Darwin came up with a very nice theory that can put the kind of tendencies you are talking about on a scientific footing, without the need for obsolete and useless conceptual gubbish.

Zachary Alain said...

An excellent post, my thanks. Secular as I am, I winced when I read and saw the recent nonsense about Viagra.

But I'm still new to this stuff, so please help me out. My question follows this: "For example, when they say that contraception is bad, they don’t mean that it’s bad because it involves the use of pills, or mechanical devices, or man-made substances like rubber. They mean that it positively frustrates the natural ends of the sexual faculties (or at least partially frustrates them, since it is not denied that sex is naturally oriented toward bonding the spouses, expressing affection, and the like, as well as toward procreation). And methods that do not involve the use of any man-made or artificial devices (such as withdrawal) can frustrate this end just as much as the others can, and therefore are in the relevant sense “unnatural.”"

Here we're passing an ethical judgment of `bad' based on a partial frustration of a human faculty. Would it not be possible to arrive at a judgment of good/bad/neutral on an aggregate assessment, depending on how such things are weighted?

I'll try to clarify what I mean. To simplify, let's assume that the nature of the sexual faculty be described as a means for the fulfillment of three ends only: bonding, expression of affection, and procreation. Again to simplify, let's assign goodness a numerical value, where these numbers correspond to the `weights' of some virtue like affection. Denote this process by a function V, so Goodness(some sex act S)= V(extent that S satisfies bonding) + V(extent that S satisfies expression of affection) + V(S satisfies purposes of procreation). [This is obviously not an axiomatic calculus, but an illustration.]

I think most people would agree that sex conducted by an older and infertile but loving couple is a good thing. So I think we would agree that V(S satisfies purposes of procreation) cannot as a general consideration be of such weight so as to make a sex act S `bad' regardless of the value of S up to bonding and expression of affection. But that same consideration makes it impossible to say that homosexual sex is bad in general, even if we agree that it is in some important sense unnatural or not as good as heterosexual sex can be.

I guess there's some other virtue at play here other than procreation? I assume that it's conjunction with the value of procreation is to outweigh things like sexual pleasure as well.

So I guess my problem here ends up being an analogue to one (of my very many) problems with a Harris-like crude utilitarianism. Do we really know what human nature is in such detail that we can be reasonably confident about how to weigh various virtues when arriving at a moral judgment? Even if we do not fuss about general conceptions of human nature (of which I am usually suspicious), how can we use a knowledge of it to arrive at judgments like, "procreation outweighs pleasure and bonding"?

Cale B.T. said...

"stuck" is a very loaded word, Anonymous 9:41.

Gene Callahan said...

@Anonymous: "But perhaps it is also natural for us -- in a different sense, the sense of being a weakness to which we are prone given the limitations of our nature -- for us to want to deny that we are subject to natural law."

Ian said...

Prof. Feser,

Excellent post, thank you.

I have some follow-up questions: How do we go about knowing what constitutes human flourishing and the ends our nature has set for us? What does 'flourishing' mean, exactly? It can't just mean whatever helps me survive, since I could do all sorts of immoral things that might improve my chances of survival.

I get that determining the ends our nature has set for us would involve looking at the final causes of actions, e.g. since the final cause of intercourse is obviously procreation, it is wrong to frustrate that end by contracepting. But a lot of actions deemed immoral do not seem nearly as straightforward as that. E.g. what natural end am I frustrating by stealing? What natural end is polygamy frustrating?

Thanks.

Zachary Alain said...

Addendum to my first comment:

In the simplest case, I did not put in conditionals like "in circumstances X". So we might agree that procreation outweighs other considerations if there were 100 people left on Earth. But then we have the issue of judging non-procreative sex as negative with respect to procreation. So if out of those 100 people, 50 were women and they were already pregnant, what would be the cost up to procreation of two of the men having gay sex?

So while we can grant that procreation can take on positive values, it is difficult to see why a non-procreative property to a sex act should in general reduce the value of that act. If those 100 people engaged in nothing but non-procreative sex with non-procreation as an opportunity cost, it makes sense to assign that sexuality a negative value. Even this assessment only makes sense over a large number of events, not a particular sex action or inaction.

These are some of my main difficulties with seeing a moral judgment against gay sex in general as being a product of secular, rational considerations in a framework of natural law. But again, I'm new to all of this, so if I'm way off the mark or omitting some massively important factor, please let me know.

Jay Kay said...

Please indulge me in playing squirrels' advocate for a bit.

"Now, none of these examples involves moral goodness or badness, because morality involves intellect and will, which grass, trees, and squirrels all lack."

I'll concede the point on grass and trees, but animals clearly do have a will and intellect. Squirrels at least have the basic morality that they shouldn't go around attacking people without provocation.

"Morally good action thus involves the will to do what is good for us given our nature, while morally bad action involves willing contrary to what is good for us given our nature."

To attack people unprovoked is bad for the squirrel's given nature, because people will retaliate and start killing squirrels.

Jay Kay said...

If we leave squirrels and talk about cats. Once you've trained a cat to not poop on the carpet, it knows its wrong. But I guess that's more about revelation than natural law. Anyway, the point is, the cat has a will and an intellect. It knows that certain things are wrong according to its master and if it does them it does them in spite or anger, and you can see that expression on its face.

Joe K. said...

Zachary,

This is another classic misunderstanding that Ed didn't address here. Sex doesn't have to be procreative, in the sense that it has to make babies every time it's done, to be morally good. A couple may not even be thinking about having babies when they're having sex (it actually seems strange, in the moment, to really be thinking about that). They just have to have sex in a way that is not Contrary to the end of having babies. Doing so would be morally bad. The other two ends you mention are fine (I guess), but they're not really relevant to the question of whether intending to use contraception is immoral.

So, an elderly, infertile couple does nothing morally reprehensible by having sex, even though the couple Knows no child will be born. They are not acting to frustrate any natural end by having sex. On the other hand, a fertile couple that has sex while intending to frustrate the procreative end of sex Does do something morally reprehensible. And no amount of bonding or whatever will somehow convert that bad behavior into something good.

It's not just a matter of procreation versus not-procreation. For some reason, people really misunderstand this point. It's simply a matter of using yourself in such a way that your ends are fulfilled (or are not frustrated).

The homosexual issue is a little different conceptually, but the principles are the same. Homosexuals don't use contraception for a contraceptive end when they have sexual relations. This is because homosexual sexual relations cannot, categorically, fundamentally, by their very nature, create children. Why not say, then, that homosexuals are just like infertile couples? They're not Intending to not have kids; in fact, I'm sure many want them.

But an elderly couple is clearly different than a homosexual couple. An elderly couple which, as male and female, categorically Is by its very nature able to make children. That they can't because of their age is a defect or lack of ability not because of their nature of being male and female, but simply because their bodies are Failing to do what they naturally do. Homosexual sex on the other hand is completely different. That homosexual sex does not result in children is not a defect or failing in the sex. It is just by its nature infertile. So when a homosexual intentionally has sexual relations with another man, he is intentionally acting in a way that is categorically bad or contrary to his good end as a human male.

You don't need to appeal to virtues to determine whether homosexual activity is bad. It's not a matter of "as good" either. That something has good side effects (bonding, love) is irrelevant to whether or not it is fundamentally bad. Many bad acts have good aspects to them. No amount of good to them can transform them into not bad, though. There are a number of strange paraphilias that people suffer from, for example. These no doubt receive many good things by pursuing their perverse ends. In some cases (and from what they claim) they may only feel complete or bonded when they are pursuing strange goals (I just recently heard of people who are only fulfilled when they remove some of their limbs?). Is this relevant to whether or not the goals are good? No. What is good for them According To Their Nature (not according to their own personal preference) is to seek the opposite human sex in a healthy way. What is bad for them, by their nature, is to seek anything else.

Zachary Alain said...

Joe K.,

First, I want to thank you for your long and nicely written response.

"This is another classic misunderstanding that Ed didn't address here. Sex doesn't have to be procreative, in the sense that it has to make babies every time it's done, to be morally good. A couple may not even be thinking about having babies when they're having sex (it actually seems strange, in the moment, to really be thinking about that)."

I was not operating under the impression that natural law requires the proposition "sex is good if and only if procreation can result." As I stated, I assumed that nobody here thought that. The reason is how that can be, if procreation is the purpose of the sexual faculty. As Edward Feser stated, the reason is that there are other legitimate purposes. This is why it is fine to do something even if the manner in which it is done is not "completely natural".

As you go on to clarify, the case with contraception introduces the notion of "intention to frustrate." I agree that this is an entirely sensible consideration in this context, and it would apply to your example of contraception. But that was not my example.

The point of my example is that we admit multiple purposes for certain actions, and if we want to evaluate whether actions are good or bad, we need to weigh those various purposes. Bonding and affection - not my examples, but Dr. Feser's - are legitimate purposes of sex. Homosexual sex may satisfy these purposes, and procreation in itself is evidently not of such weight that we only sanction sex with that as a possible result. "Intention to frustrate" applies to contraception, but homosexuals have no "intention to frustrate". You note the difference here, and introduce something else altogether separate from the issues of weighing and generality.

"But an elderly couple is clearly different than a homosexual couple. An elderly couple which, as male and female, categorically Is by its very nature able to make children. That they can't because of their age is a defect or lack of ability not because of their nature of being male and female, but simply because their bodies are Failing to do what they naturally do."

I'm not sure how this squares with our understanding of aging, but I'll treat that as an aside.

So we come to this: "So when a homosexual intentionally has sexual relations with another man, he is intentionally acting in a way that is categorically bad or contrary to his good end as a human male."

I take this as meaning that the problem is not reducible to the purposes of the sexual faculty, since that takes us back to the weighing issue. This seems like a much broader statement about a "good end as a human male", requiring that we men seek only heterosexual sex (and this under certain restrictions). Would you please clarify?

Joe K. said...

Ed,

I have a more personal and perhaps different sort of question. As I've mentioned on here before, I am a celibate homosexual man, and I had a question to you about marriage. And no, don't worry, this isn't a gay marriage question. In TLS, you made a comment, where you said:

"The $64 question in recent years, of course, is,: "Does natural law theory entail that homosexuals can't marry?" And the answer is that they Can marry. But of course, what this means, as a matter of conceptual necessity, is that they can marry Someone Of The Opposite Sex."

In this post, you said:

"To will to do what is “natural” for us thus means, in classical natural law theory, something like to will to do what tends toward the realization of the ends which, given our nature, define what it is for us to flourish as the kind of things we are."

In the first quote, you're really just identifying what Marriage is, that it's something that is defined by its nature. What you're really saying there is that "gay marriage" doesn't actually exist. It's like a "square triangle." I get that. In the second quote, you're not really talking about sex or marriage or anything like that. I get that too.

What I'm getting at by bringing up these quotes is whether there would be anything morally reprehensible, according to natural law theory, about a gay man marrying a woman. I can think of nothing, and your first quote Kind of implies that there would be nothing fundamentally wrong with it. And your second quote Sort of implies that it's good to always seek those ends set in us by our nature.

It is mistaken, though, I think, to see sex like other ends. That is, it's good to seek food because humans, by their very nature, need food to exist. But sex is different. Humans (as least individual humans) do Not need sex to exist. Similarly, a human cannot flourish at all without food. But he can flourish without sex. (There are plenty of priests or monks or nuns or etc. who can attest to this, I think.) So, I don't think a human has to seek good with respect to sex in the sense that he has to seek the end of sex in finding a mate like he does with food. He just merely has to use his sexuality appropriately when he Does engage in sexual activities. But he would never be bad if he didn't seek it at all (unless he were married and purposely neglecting his wife or something).

continued...

Joe K. said...

continued...

But my question is on the other side. What if a homosexual does seek sex appropriately? Among Protestants and Catholics there's a little different view here. Protestants think they can usually fix homosexuality right up and put the gay person back into to society to get married and make babies. Their tactics are usually pretty stupid. Catholics usually always recommend celibacy. But Catholics find great value in celibacy. And there is great value in celibacy. But the context of celibacy with Catholics is more in the sense that they seek and devote themselves to God and are willing to give up everything else for that. The homosexual, though, doesn't really get that choice. That is, he doesn't have the option of choosing one of two good paths: marriage and family or the Church and celibacy. He If he wants to be good, he just gets celibacy.

This is a difficult issue to discuss, I think, because the modern world is all, "ARE YOU CRAZY; IT'S WRONG TO DO THAT! IT COULD NEVER WORK!" etc. when you mention the idea that a gay man marry a woman (or vice verse...though I'm pretty skeptical of lesbians to begin with, to be honest...). But I can never figure out if that's because they're speaking to some truth about marriage (that it REQUIRES intense affection) or if it's because the modern world is Obsessed with affection and ignores the actual end of sex, the creation and rearing of children.

In your post about the metaphysics of love, you mention how mating has sort of two ends, but that one (the unitive) is subordinate to the life-creating in that the unitive naturally Leads To the life-creating and that unitive without life-creating (intentionally) would be bad but life-creating without unitive would not be. (I'm paraphrasing from memory; correct me if you need to.) My question is this, I guess: is marriage/sex's end (in the sense of natural law) Really two-fold in that it is unitive and procreative, or is it unitive and that simply leads to its procreative end? In other words, would a person do something morally reprehensible if he were unable to fulfill (out of no control of his own) the unitive aspect of the marriage so long as he were fulfilling the procreative aspect?

This may not be a tricky natural law question at all. My gut instinct is to say that a homosexual who married a women is in no way acting contrary to a good end and is, at worst, being imprudent, but sometimes I really am not completely sure. The unitive aspect of sexual relations is very strange to me. And I don't mean to sound like I'm saying that sex is "just pipes" or whatever. At the same time, the constant obsession with the not-pipes in the culture makes me hesitant to even consider doing anything with my sexual life. Not that I have any prospects or anything. I have no idea if the pipes part of it would even work with a woman. It's just something I mull over quite a bit. It's a long question, but any insight (from anyone really---as long as the anyone doesn't go on a "YOU SHOULD JUST EXPRESS YOURSELF AND BE HAPPY THAT GOD MADE YOU THE WAY YOU ARE STOP REPRESSING YOURSELF!" boring speech) would be incredibly helpful.

Zachary Alain said...

Since I'm a scatterbrain, I'll append another note, and hope that my impatience didn't cost you the chance to read it before responding. I at least hope that the thought can be treated separately from the other issues we're discussing.

"That something has good side effects (bonding, love) is irrelevant to whether or not it is fundamentally bad. Many bad acts have good aspects to them. No amount of good to them can transform them into not bad, though."

This is another source of difficulty for me. "Goodness" and "badness" of thought and deed are in natural law supposed to be derived from an understanding of human nature and (in moral terms) the intentions of a rational actor with respect to it, unless I am gravely mistaken.

The problem is that human nature is complicated and multifaceted and we can recognize many legitimate purposes of actions based on an understanding of human flourishing. It does not tell us which aspects of that are so "fundamental" that no other intended flourishing can make that action good. Granting other dubious things and ignoring (what I think) to be fatal consequences for coherency, we do have such statements if we accept the categorical imperative. No amount of lives saved makes lying to save them good. Schindler acted wrongly. Usually, utilitarians not named Harris at least recognize the problem of weighing various values and accounting for complicated circumstances, but I think they fail to account for it unless they allow the "general" harm principle to dissolve into many harm principles. What's left very much resembles virtue ethics.

With natural law, I can (tentatively and for purposes of discussion based on what we've said so far) see how "intention of frustrating" can be sensibly incorporated and leave us regarding contraception as immoral, since the question is not whether contraceptive sex fulfills various purposes but rather involves rational agents acting intentionally to subvert them.

But with homosexual sex, there is no intent to subvert a purpose of the sexual faculty. Rather, the goal is to fulfill purposes we take to be legitimate. Two gay men having gay sex can be rationally acting in a way that fulfills legitimate purposes. It is possible for two men to have sex and in every other (non-revealed) way live flourishing, happy lives. So it is difficult to see why the fact that that sex falls into a "non-reproductive category" (whatever this means) must be bad in general.

This judgment does not fall out of any secular assessment of human nature, at least as I understand it. I can see how someone might argue that in an imaginary world where the options are a strict either/or between homosexual and heterosexual sex, heterosexual sex would be better. But it would be better in the same sense that more pleasurable sex is better than less pleasurable sex, all other things the same.

Joe K. said...

Zachary,

It's not a matter of weighing goods. Things are always in reference to their higher order. A human penis is not aimed at "emotional bonding." A human bonds, and this makes him want to either put his penis inside of a vagina, or it makes him want to continue putting his penis inside of a vagina. This ultimately results in the creation of children so that the species can continue. I don't mean this condescendingly, of course; I just mean to say how one thing points to the other. But the bonding is Clearly not the end of human sexuality, the placing of the semen into the vagina to create children is. Sexuality exists for the propagation of the species. It does not exist for bonding. If there were no bonding, the good end of sexuality would still be the propagation of the species. If there were Just bonding, the species would die out, and it would not flourish at all because it just wouldn't exist. This creation is its flourishing. So if I (or anyone) were to act sexually, I would be required to act in a way that was not contrary to That end.

A homosexual, categorically, can never not act contrary to that end when he engages in homosexual activity. So, I apologize for being graphic, but when a homosexual ejaculates Not in a vagina (but in an anus or somewhere else on a man), he categorically can not be said to be aimed at his good end because an anus (or anything that isn't a vagina) is not, by its nature, aimed at creating children. In the same way, a masturbator, categorically, can never not act contrary to his end when he ejaculates in his hand because a hand is not aimed at creating children. An infertile elderly male, on the other hand, categorically (by his nature), does Not act contrary to that end when he ejaculates into a vagina because a vagina categorically is aimed at creating life. As an individual member of the species, he may not fulfill that end because he's old or broken, but again, categorically, he is completely in line with his end.

JohnnyD said...

Excellent post!

Now to explain these concepts to my secularist friends ... *sigh*

Zachary Alain said...

Joe,

"It's not a matter of weighing goods."

But that matter cannot be avoided. I'm trying to understand how we're able to ignore this.

"Things are always in reference to their higher order."

But of course. Things good-in-themselves and things good-as-means and so forth. We'll return to this.

"If there were Just bonding, the species would die out, and it would not flourish at all because it just wouldn't exist."

Which I never said or implied. The point is that this is also a value. Gay sex is not a threat to the continued survival of the species, which brings us back to the previous item. (After noting that this fact seems to make gay sex not "contrary to that end", but irrelevant to it.)

Let's be clear: are you saying that all goods must ultimately reduce to procreation? I was under the impression that procreation was part of human flourishing, not its entirety.

"An infertile elderly male, on the other hand, categorically (by his nature), does Not act contrary to that end when he ejaculates into a vagina because a vagina categorically is aimed at creating life."

Presumably true even if that vagina is infertile. But now the question seems not to be sex, but the placement of semen. I suppose we can't avoid being graphic here. Would it be permissible for a man to "warm up" with another man so long as he finishes inside a vagina?

And I'm still lost at why it is you use the "categorically" modifier. It seems to be separate from any mixture of (a) an understanding of nature, and (b) judgment of actions with respect to that nature. Part (a) would give us things like bonding, pleasure, and procreation. Part (b) would tell us which actions to approve/disapprove relative to that understanding and the intentions of the rational actors involved. What's missing is a part (a') which tells about "categorical procreation." Without it, we're left to discuss the value of infertile sex relative to things like bonding and pleasure without reference to procreation, and perhaps noting that this sort of sex is in some sense "incomplete", but not "bad" since it can fulfill other purposes. (a') appears to be an entirely different sort of operator: it appears to require us to judge the morality of sex based on counterfactuals like "but only if the sex might have been fertile given certain things that aren't true." How do you select those counterfactual circumstances?

Joe K. said...

Zachary,

You also seem to be confusing acting intentionally and acting with the intention of doing something else. When a builder hits his hammer, he is intentionally doing so, but he's Also acting with the intention of making a house. The difference between the two matter. Elizabeth Anscombe wrote a great deal on this. For an act to be morally permissible, both the intentional act and what you are intending to accomplish must be good. She wrote this in reference to natural family planning:

"The reason why people are confused about intention, and why they sometimes think there is no difference between contraceptive intercourse and the use of infertile times to avoid conception, is this: They don't notice the difference between “intention” when it means the intentionalness of the thing you're doing—that you're doing this on purpose—and when it means a further or accompanying intention with which you do the thing."

I'm not bringing up contraception again to prove anything about contraception. I'm just applying that principle to homosexuality. With sex, you must act intentionally to use your body in a way that matches its natural end AND you must not act with a bad further intention. The homosexual may not have the further intention of acting contrary to his end in that he is seeking some good end like bonding, but he Is intentionally acting in a way that is by its nature contrary to his good end when he ejaculates not inside of a vagina.

Joe K. said...

"Which I never said or implied. The point is that this is also a value. Gay sex is not a threat to the continued survival of the species, which brings us back to the previous item. (After noting that this fact seems to make gay sex not "contrary to that end", but irrelevant to it.)"

It has nothing to do with whether or not gay sex is a threat to the continued survival of the species. I was pointing that out simply to identify what the end or purpose of sex is.

"Let's be clear: are you saying that all goods must ultimately reduce to procreation? I was under the impression that procreation was part of human flourishing, not its entirety."

Good is merely defined in reference to its end. The end of sex happens to be open to procreation, yes. You're confusing ideas here about flourishing. It's not like, when a person has X amount of procreation, and Y amount of love, and Z amount of food, then he counts as a flourishing thing. It's instead "if X is doing Y in such as way, he is flourishing; if he is doing Y in a way that is contrary to Y's end, he is not flourishing." In the case of homosexual sex, the homosexual is using his Y contrary to its end, even if he is intending some other good. He is not flourishing in the relevant sense, no matter how bonded he feels to his lover, because he is acting contrary to his sexual end.

Your discussion at the end seems to misunderstand what Ed is getting at in this post. It's not a "given things that aren't true" sort of issue. It's a question of the nature of the thing when determining whether its use is good or bad. That's all I mean by categorical.

Zachary Alain said...

Joe,

"I'm not bringing up contraception again to prove anything about contraception."

I understand, and I've already stated that I understand the importance of "intention to frustrate". The point is that I don't see how that principle applies to homosexuality without assuming a wholly different from of reasoning, like that of (a'), which I gave in counterfactual form.

"I'm just applying that principle to homosexuality. With sex, you must act intentionally to use your body in a way that matches its natural end AND you must not act with a bad further intention. The homosexual may not have the further intention of acting contrary to his end in that he is seeking some good end like bonding, but he Is intentionally acting in a way that is by its nature contrary to his good end when he ejaculates not inside of a vagina."

If placement of semen in a particular act is the issue and the end of importance is the good of procreation, placement of semen in an infertile vessel of whatever variety is the "bad" here, whether that infertile vessel happens to be a vagina or a hand. Unlike in the case of contraception, there is no intention to act "badly" by avoiding procreation. Typically, avoiding procreation is incidental here. (It would be different if someone was masturbating or having gay sex because he wanted gratification without risk of procreation.) If I need a parallel to understand where I am going wrong, please find an example other than contraception. It's not helping me.

"For an act to be morally permissible, both the intentional act and what you are intending to accomplish must be good."

Gay sex can be intended for the goods of pleasure and bonding, and it is not done with the intention of frustrating human nature.

I think we're back to where we last left off with the issue of "categoricals".

I'm also still confused about weighing. It makes sense to me to say "contraception is bad" because it amounts to an intention of subverting a natural function (assuming that the sex faculty is by nature always be used for procreation, not sometimes, which is doubtful). But it doesn't follow from this that "contraceptive sex is bad", since that involves judging all of the purposes involved. We can say "contraceptive sex is worse than reproductive sex" with some very weak assumptions about weighting, but we still might applaud it if we think bonding sufficiently important. (We might applaud it almost without reserve in the presence of other compelling reasons.)

So, making as many generous assumptions as I can about human nature and granting the framework of natural law, I guess the above are my two major difficulties.

----

"It has nothing to do with whether or not gay sex is a threat to the continued survival of the species. I was pointing that out simply to identify what the end or purpose of sex is."

A end. Not the end.

"Your discussion at the end seems to misunderstand what Ed is getting at in this post. It's not a "given things that aren't true" sort of issue."

I didn't get a sense that (a') was required from Feser's post, but from your comments. I framed it counterfactually, since that was the easiest way I could depict the restrictions you get from "categorical" judgments which I am having difficulty understanding. To be clear: the issue is the strength of what you derive from such conclusions, not about a reference to nature. Otherwise, I would have treated (a') as part of (a) and worked from there. I see no need to repeat the summary above.

Anonymous said...

On the topic of weighing different goods, could I use an analogy? Suppose that I want to place a vase of flowers on a table. A good table (with regards to the ends implicit in this use) must be flat (within a certain tolorance), level (within a certain tolorance), and able to support the weight of the flowers (possibly there are other properties as well, but to keep it simple I will stick to these three). (These are defining properties of tables in general irrespective of this particular example of a vase). If it falls short in any one of these, then the table is a bad table: either the vase of flowers will fall over, fall to the ground, or the table will collapse. In either case, the table fails.

Now in sex, we have established three natural ends: procreation; bonding and affection (with possibly others as well). These are all derived from the overall end of raising children. If it falls short in any one of these, it is bad sex. It is not that you can balance them out, saying that it is bad at bonding and affection, but still procreates so is still good -- if it is directed away from any of its ends it is bad sex because it falls short of the ideal, which is to be directed towards all its ends.

Obviously, I am not discussing moral goodness here, which would need the added component of the intention to fustrate one of the ends.

bls said...

Hmmm. Let's see. Homosexuality occurs, it would appear, in some small percentage of human beings naturally. Their "good ends" would seem to be in forming loving relationships with a member of their own sex; we have, in fact, lots and lots of examples of this having occurred. People inside the church might not know much about this, because gay people have had to leave the church for it to happen. If the church really wanted to assist gay people to flourish, it would encourage and help its gay members to form stable relationships; we have lots and lots of evidence that this is, indeed, good for human beings and helps them flourish.

Stigmatizing homosexuality has in the very recent past created a situation in which homosexual persons have violently destroyed themselves, via alcohol, drugs, and direct suicide. This situation has improved markedly over the past 20 years or so, with a lessening of the stigma and the acceptance that some few people are simply oriented towards members of their own sex.

"Frustrating" homosexuality very often leads to severe depression; we have lots of testimony to this effect, too. (It might help to try to imagine what unchosen lifelong celibacy would have meant in your own life. Most people, as is well known already, are not called to celibacy.)

Homosexuality is not alterable, as we now know after more than 40 years of attempts at "reparative therapy"; we have this data at hand as well.

So the only way to make the argument work is to totally ignore all this evidence that the church's approach to homosexuality does not, in fact, lead to "flourishing" - but instead to suicide, alcoholism, death, depression, and destruction. In other words, simply ignore the actual people involved, and all is well.

And guess what? That's exactly what you've done!

Bilbo said...

Ed,

Just wondering what your take might be on Randal Rauser's example of traumatic abdominal insemination of bat bugs:

http://randalrauser.com/2012/10/bat-bugs-frankly-my-dear-i-dont-give-a-damn/

I would suggest that it is a perversion of nature, requiring an explanation of some kind. I prefer C.S. Lewis's explanation of demonic tampering with nature.

Eduardo said...

is it me or I just read that it is because are not accepted by a certain group that they may or may not been part of... is the reason why people decide to destroy their bodies and throw their life in the shitter...

Which means people are not really in control of what they do... Nah I blame the people themselves who destroyed their lives. Is just me and my super overweight ... hey wasn't Coke's fault that I decided to drink 2 liters of their "juice" every day.

Eduardo said...

I know this questions pops up all the time, but I have to ask it again, since I love systematical approaches.

How do we come to know something natural end's ?

is it simply by observing it in it's environment, or is there something else.

Joe K. said...

Zachary,

You seem to not have a grasp on the metaphysics here at all when you write:

"If placement of semen in a particular act is the issue and the end of importance is the good of procreation, placement of semen in an infertile vessel of whatever variety is the "bad" here, whether that infertile vessel happens to be a vagina or a hand."

An anus is not a vagina that is not working properly. It is just an anus. It's not an "infertile vessel." An anus metaphysically has nothing to do with fertility. A vagina that does not work properly is Still a vagina. A vagina positively does have everything to do with fertility. A human male does something natural (as defined by the ends dictated by nature) when intentionally ejaculates inside of a vagina, regardless of the result of the ejaculation. He does something Unnatural when he intentionally ejaculates in something that is not a vagina. The question of whether or not that act is intended for some other end is irrelevant to whether or not the act itself is natural. It doesn't matter if he's ejaculating into his hand, a condom, a mouth, the Atlantic Ocean, or whatever. None of those things are aimed at, by their metaphysical nature, the creation of human life---or fertility. No other intention they may have in doing those things would render those actions natural.

So, a healthy 20 year old gay man who ejaculates into his lover, even though he is having sex Not with the further intention to frustrate his ends but to express his love, is still doing something unnatural. No further intention can render the intentional act he is committing natural. An elderly, infertile couple, on the other hand, Is committing a natural act because a penis, metaphysically, and a vagina, metaphysically, are both aimed at the end of sex---life. That their specific, defective body parts aren't specifically aimed in that direction is not relevant to whether it is natural. That something is natural is simply a metaphysical claim. And again, a penis and an anus are metaphysically Not aimed at the creation of life, while a penis and a vagina are. A gay couple, metaphysically-speaking, is not "infertile" in the same sense that the straight, elderly couple is "infertile."

"Gay sex can be intended for the goods of pleasure and bonding, and it is not done with the intention of frustrating human nature."

That sentence shows your misunderstanding of the issues here. You are not even distinguishing between the two intentions I already pointed out. Being "intended for" and being done with the "intention of" are the same type of intention. I was noting two different types of intention. I'm talking about intentionally ejaculating inside of an anus. Like intentionally hitting a hammer. That intentional act, regardless of its further intentions, must be natural for the act to be morally licit. In the case of ejaculating inside of an anus, it can Never be natural, regardless of the further intention. So, when a gay man intentionally ejaculates inside of his partner, he is intentionally committing an act that metaphysically/by its nature is contrary to his end, regardless of whether or not he is intending some larger different end.

continued...

Anonymous said...

This isn't related to this post, but I wanted to bring to your attention this interesting post relating to your book on Philosophy of Mind, over at the "Just Thomism" blog: http://thomism.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/a-mysterian-account-of-mind/

-CJ Wolfe

Joe K. said...

continued...

I'll use a non-contraceptive example. Intending to control family size is a good in the sense that it would be entirely imprudent to have 10 kids when you can only afford 5. So, let's say a couple is pregnant. The woman is already pregnant. I'm not talking about contraception. And let's say the couple already has 5 kids and can only afford 5. Prudence would dictate that it's a Good thing to have, do something with the intention of, having less kids. So, what can she do? One option would be for her to intentionally kill the child growing inside of her with the further Intention of reducing the amount of kids she has. Would this be morally licit because the further intention is a good one? No, because intentionally killing the child growing inside of her would be unnatural in that it is an intentional act that necessarily runs contrary to the ends set by nature. Again, she may do it for some greater, good intention. But this has no bearing on whether the act itself is natural and consequently good.

At this point, I think we're both just kind of repeating ourselves. Not a good place to be in a discussion. I think it best in such a case to end it before it goes on forever. I mention this not to get the last word but to note that I probably won't be chiming in again.

Joe K. said...

Sneaky move, anonymous, finding your way between my two posts. Very clever, very clever. Worse, I'll never really Know who committed this injustice against me...

Joe K. said...

Wait, no, just saw that your post was signed. Joke ruined. You just can't help but to keep ruining my day, can you, CJ Wolfe?

TheOFloinn said...

nothing to do with "nature" and "law" as those words are used by anybody who isn't stuck in the premodern era.

Minor correction:
nothing to do with "nature" and "law" as those words are mucked up by anybody who is stuck in the post-modern era.

Always happy to help.

Anonymous said...

Bilbo,

I'm in agreement with you that nature has been perverted somehow (demon fall, human fall, or whatever). The trouble is, once we agree that nature has been perverted somehow, how do we go about delineating the extent of that perversion? Put another way, how can we take nature to be a reliable guide to what is good or bad? It's sort of a meta-critique, too: Sure, it's "good" for the parasite that it fulfill its natural ends and violently invade and kill its mammalian host, but zooming out, something about this entire picture seems wrong.

To my eyes, the idea of nature being perverted throws a monkey wrench into Natural Law morality.

TheOFloinn said...

I notice there seems to be a confusion on some parts between the natural end of a process and the intentions of the actor. They ain't the same. The natural end of gravity is to move heavy bodies to the point of lowest gravitational potential. It doesn't matter insofar as the gravitational attraction is concerned whether you jump of the cliff from unrequited LOVE or you stumbled accidentally over the edge. It's still bad.

Eduardo said...

This natural ends part is so hard to understand. Dunno if it like Feser have spoken once that it might be due to some metaphysical constraint that a person has, which ends up unabling that same person to understand new metaphysical ideas...

But what would be a typical discovery of natural ends? Yeah ... like a model to how someone discover natural ends.

I am starting to sound like "Stonetops", the difference is that I am just half the asshole he was.

Daniel Smith said...

I'm very confused by the Catholic teaching on sexuality. It seems that, according to Catholicism, any kind of sexual act that could not result in conception is evil. Thus any non-vaginal heterosexual sexual act is also evil - even though it is heterosexual.

The infertile couple however, know that any sexual act they perform cannot end in conception - so are they absolved of guilt if they perform non-vaginal sex? I mean, any sex act they perform is non-procreative, so why must they be limited to only vaginal sex (if they indeed are)?

And, I'm also confused about the doctrine of celibacy - doesn't the celibate person also frustrate the natural end of humans to procreate? I get that they are "seeking the greater good" (theoretically) by abstaining from sex in order to devote themselves to God, but aren't they still frustrating one of their natural ends?

So, if it's OK to frustrate one natural end for the sake of another higher end, then isn't it OK to do that every time? As others have said here - sex is not just for procreation - so why is it not OK to put bonding and pleasure above procreation in the rankings of natural ends?

IOW, who decided that procreation is the highest end of sex?

Then there's the issue of overpopulation... Is there any consideration at all for the overall well being of humanity when discussing procreation?

And, what about economics? If a poor couple cannot afford to feed more kids (but will end up on government assistance) is it still evil for them to avoid procreative sex?

It's all very confusing!

Michael said...

Zachary,

It is good that you are here and engaging in discussion in a reputable way and legitimately seem to be seeking understanding. I only wish to make a few comments in your discussion with Joe.

""For an act to be morally permissible, both the intentional act and what you are intending to accomplish must be good."

Gay sex can be intended for the goods of pleasure and bonding, and it is not done with the intention of frustrating human nature."

I think you passed over an important distinction that Joe was trying to make. That an act is intentional has very little, if anything, to do with the motives of a person. You can think of an act's intentionality as merely denying any involuntary reaction if it helps. This distinction should help clarify some of the confusion you have towards Joe's comments.

I would also like to say that in the big picture of moral evaluation, as I believe Dr. Feser has said in a previous post, the frustration of ends is only one small part. I might add that the frustration of ends only really helps us determine some of those acts which are always wrong, regardless of circumstance. An act may still be morally wrong if it does not frustrate any end.

And also a comment on the purposes of sex. Bonding and procreation are the purposes of sex. However, bonding is subservient to procreation insofar as that purpose of the act would not exist without the purpose of procreation. Therefore procreation is more fundamental in that sense. It's still wrong to frustrate either end and that is what is being done with homosexual actions. One way to look at it is that a person has certain capacities or functions by nature that are directed to certain outcomes by nature... and contraception or masturation or homosexual acts are contrary to that function.

I also would like to challenge the notion that contraception doesn't also frustrate or partially frustrate the purpose of bonding in sexual intercourse.

Take care all,
Michael

Black Luster said...

Dan Smith,

Have you checked out Joe K's comments? he seems to addess some of your questions.

Anonymous said...

OFloinn said The natural end of gravity is to move heavy bodies to the point of lowest gravitational potential. It doesn't matter insofar as the gravitational attraction is concerned whether you jump of the cliff from unrequited LOVE or you stumbled accidentally over the edge. It's still bad

Wait, I thought the achieving of natural ends was good. So gravity fulfills itself by smashing you into bits, that's good -- for gravity, if not you.

Or take lions and antelopes. The natural flourishing of one is in direct conflict with the natural flourishing of the other. The natural end of malaria parasites is in conflict with the natural flourishing of human beings.

I can't be the first one to notice this. But since nature supports entities with conflicting natural ends, it suggests that a singel person might also multiple and conflicting natural ends.

Eduardo said...

Well the rock smashing you, would frustate your natural ends no?

so maybe it is ... indifferent ?

TheOFloinn said...

Or take lions and antelopes.

Exactly! The flourishing of one kind does not mean the flourishing of another. The end of gravity -- perhaps I should have said mass, since gravity is a power of mass -- is to assume a spherical shape, the which is the most stable form to assume. Hence, gravitational attraction is good for dead matter.

The same for lions and antelopes. For some reason, post-Victorians have a hard time dealing with 'nature red in tooth and claw.' Eeuuw, it's so gross. Methinks it may be a consequence of a childhood raised on Disney cartoons and "True Life Adventures" that never showed the unpleasant side.

Anonymous said...

"The will itself has as its natural end the pursuit of the good"
It is good for us to be good, because the Good cares for the good, ultimately. That is part of what Christians hope. Without God, what would it mean that the good flourish? Doesn´t Christians believe, that what makes the good flourish, is that God has offered us a way, to partake in his nature?
An Austrian Kantian

CJ Wolfe said...

Dear Joe K.- I'm sorry I busted up your comment, my timing was completely unintended! Have a good day,

-CJ Wolfe

DNW said...

Edward Feser writes,

" ... no one would make stupid remarks to the effect that to say that some things are naturally good for squirrels would entail, absurdly, that putting a little splint on a squirrel’s broken leg to help it heal would be “unnatural”; or that to say that some things are naturally good for grass would entail, absurdly, that watering it with sprinklers rather than rainwater would be “unnatural.”


Apparently you haven't wasted enough time arguing with leftists over the right to keep and bear arms, and its ultimate natural rights groundings.

"Tell lions and tigers and bears about your natural rights! ... he he he"

Forget mentioning that the key terms are natural and law, human law. Forget citing Lon Fuller or Thomas Cooley or Aristotle. What would be the point?

You can even forget about quoting say, legal positivist Herbert Hart and 'The Concept of Law' instead; i.e., citing an intelligent natural law skeptic who recognizes that to even have a meaningful discourse regarding law, some portion of the idea of intrinsic purpose must be granted.

It will get you nowhere. What need has a modern progressive with a subscription to "Discover" magazine for a knowledge of history or law?

No, it's all smirking, pudgy boy conventionalism, and relativism, and ultimately, nihilist-turtles all the way down style retorts.

Until such point that is, as you grant their radically anti-teleogical thesis for the sake of argument, and then begin exploring the possibility of applying the interpretive principles they've laid out, to them *personally*.

Then, as you rapidly learn, that while natural rights and even natural kinds (say 'human beings' for example) are ultimately fictional and objectively meaningless concepts, from which no sound inferences may be drawn whatever, if perchance, there were such valid concepts, and if such concepts applied to you, why then they are quite certain that such protective inferences would apply to themselves as well.

In other words: There are no natural kinds and no valid inferences to be drawn from any such premise or premises. But on the other hand, "How dare you characterize *me* as 'other'." That's clearly not right.

And the proof that it isn't, has something to do, I am assured, with fractals and an ever expanding circle of concern.

Or some crap like that.

Mr. Green said...

The Profeser: And let’s not forget the literal books, like Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things, Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature, Richard Rorty’sPhilosophy and the Mirror of Nature, and Edward O. Wilson’s On Human Nature.

Oh, let us at least forget the Hume, no?!?

and that stupid Gilbert O’Sullivan tune.

Yeah, what up with awful songs? Bad lyrics in particular — I mean, the tune is rather catchy, and it even plays with some internal rhymes, but overall it's sloppy and the metre is forced. Is that supposed to reflect the distraught mind of a man in the throes of suicidal desperation? Or was it just too much work to make it all fit? I have to suppose that most songs get popular based on the music; so often the words are irredeemably insipid — or worse. Well, when nature hands you lemons, make up better lyrics!


<< ahem >>

A squirrel danced about my lawn
For several weeks but now it's gone.
  It's a shameful waste
  But it ate toothpaste,
And now I'm feeling sad and drawn.

But how could I have ever guessed
That a rodent can't survive on Crest?
  Seems a living beast
  Needs a proper feast —
When it's nourished it will flourish best!

And
On top of that, I feel an ass:
My garden's got all dried-out grass.
  I just didn't think
  To turn on the sprink-
ler, till this drought should pass.

And now my yard is full of straw.
To rectify my fatal flaw,
  I'd better learn — natural law.


[Instrumental interlude… make up your own verse!]


Society is over-sexed,
It's got me vexed and quite perplexed:
  Gratification
  Trumps procreation —
A deluded view in all respects.

Pop media's become so crude,
Because the modern view is skewed.
  On my TV screen
  Shows are so obscene
That even ads should not be viewed.

Of
Course truth can be found with ease, 'n'
If you think that it's displeasin',
  Don't attack
  What's clearly fact,
But hear the voice of reason.

So be iconoclastic,
Go study a scholastic!
  And get to know ... natural law.
    It steals the show — natural law.
      On you 'twill grow! Natural Law!

Eduardo said...

I love DNW's rant .... and Mr green and thing for poetry... or is it a form of bad pop music?

W.LindsayWheeler said...

What does the "Natural Law" or "Laws of Nature" have to do with sex? Is not the Natural Law the laws and principles that undergird the Natural Order? If the Spartans practiced "Dikaios", the dictum that all things are created to do one thing, that their citizens only did soldiering, did they not have the Natural Law? The Natural Law pertains to the constitution of the cosmos, not to human nature. Roman Catholics are off on a wild goose chase following the error-prone Stoics who mangled the transmission. There is no moral natural law.

Do Catholics have the real, original Natural Law? There is only one Natural Law found in Plato. It means, "according to nature". As Nature teaches "dikaios", men must also practice dikaios. Here is the list of the real, original natural law.

Eduardo said...

Genetic fallacy...

Even if the concept was transmitted wrongly, that does not mean that there is no moral natural law.

Anonymous said...

In and of itself Nature is a relentless death or eating machine which is completely indifferent to the well-being or survival of any of the biological forms that temporarily arise. On this Earth world alone billions of living-breathing biological entities get snuffed out every day. And yet despite all of the carnage the entire beautifully horrific spectacle has never ceased to arise.

The death saturated nature of nature is perhaps best pictured by images of the blood-thirsty Kali who eats all of her babies for supper. And entire solar systems for a morning snack. The image of Kali also signals to us that none of our fancy theories, metaphysical or otherwise, make the slightest bit of difference to anything.

Nature is a transformer, a play on God, Who is the only living One. In the realm of Nature, beings appear to be born, changed, and destroyed at last, but the principle and condition of their existence is also the principle and condition upon which the realm of Nature itself is dependently set.
The realm of Nature does not give us our existence-being, nor can all its changes and endings negate our existence-being. We must surrender to the Living One and awaken to the presumption of unqualified existence as our very condition. Such is of course the essence of True Faith.

Then we will transcend our born selves, our changes, and all the inevitable endings in store for us. In our ecstasy, we will be fearlessly present in the play of changes as the Living One, the Master of Nature, free of all fear, despair (with all of its mind-created programs for "victory").

Then we will be Happy without cause, and we will also manifest or serve the motive whereby Nature itself is ultimately purposed toward the Good and Happiness of all beings.

Every living being has the instincts and the intrinsic Destiny of Infinite Life.




W.LindsayWheeler said...

The term "natural law" comes from the Greek. The Greek word for "nomos", first means custom. Then, later, it means law. In the Platonic dialogues, the "natural law" is referred as either "laws of nature", "according to nature" or in proverbs, like in "the old saw". First, the real original natural law was taken down in proverbs, maxims like "As Above, So Below". Or in Plato, it is "The beginning, the middle and the end", which only in Aristotle is it labelled "law of nature". Xenophon just says, "Nature teaches", like in "Nature teaches "dikaios" for those willing to learn...". Plato's Republic is based all around the natural law of dikaios.

The home of Greek philosophy were the Doric Greeks on Crete and in Laconia, i.e. the Spartans. It was they who were readers of nature and put into practice the natural law. The leaders of the Cretan republics were called "cosmi" for that very reason. They imitated the Cosmos.

Can you find any textbook, article in the Catholic field that talks of dikaios and puts it into practice? No. Do Catholics have the real, original natural law? no.

Anonymous said...

From another perspective the human body-mind is a self-replicating shit machine, the natural impulse of which is to reproduce itself. Just like all the other non-human biological shit machines.

In and of itself in its natural un-enculturated state how much real intelligence or Wisdom is a shit machine capable of producing?

Especially in the world of now-time in which we do not have anything even remotely like a Living Wisdom Tradition with its associated living Saints, Mystics Sages and thus Spiritual Masters. Men and women who are thus full of hard-earned Spiritual Wisdom (as distinct from all of the usual left-brained spirit-killing "theology" or pseudo-wisdom). There is thus NO associated culture of testing and demand which would necessarily be a culture of initiation with very real and demanding tests.

When for instance was the last time that an Illuminated Saint appeared in the Western world?
There hasn't been any for well over 500 years.

Mr. Green said...

Well, we seem to have acquired one of the weirdest trolls I've seen for a while.

I'd like to say I appreciate the change of pace, if nothing else... but that would frustrate my faculty for true communication.

Mr. Green said...

Eduardo: I love DNW's rant .... and Mr green and thing for poetry... or is it a form of bad pop music?

Well, you can sing it to the tune of "Alone Again (Naturally)". But since the song turns out to consist of a series of limericks, you could read as poetry too!

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: doesn't the celibate person also frustrate the natural end of humans to procreate? I get that they are "seeking the greater good" (theoretically) by abstaining from sex in order to devote themselves to God, but aren't they still frustrating one of their natural ends?

I think this issue is so confusing because it is so simple — the modern view is tied up in knots to such an extent that it makes it hard for anyone raised in our culture to see straight!

Now, celibacy clearly does not frustrate a natural end, because human beings do not have a "reproductive mode" that is always switched on — if we did, then celibacy would involve stopping it in some way, which would be wrong. It's the difference between not doing something in the first place, and hampering something that you are doing. Consider that the Latin frustra means "in vain". A celibate person is not "[attempting to] reproduce in vain" — he's just not making any attempt to reproduce at all. Someone who begins the natural reproductive process but deliberately subverts the natural outcome (by blocking it in some way, or leaving out some necessary part, etc.) is frustrating it. An infertile couple is not doing anything to subvert the outcome. (Unless, of course, they made themselves infertile in some way, in which case, yes, that would be wrong.)

So, if it's OK to frustrate one natural end for the sake of another higher end, then isn't it OK to do that every time? As others have said here - sex is not just for procreation - so why is it not OK to put bonding and pleasure above procreation in the rankings of natural ends?

It's OK to sacrifice a lower (non-necessary) end for a higher one. It's never OK to frustrate a natural end. It's acceptable to fast (for a short time); it is not acceptable to eat food in order to vomit it up again. I don't really think it's quite right to put bonding "below" procreation, although people often talk about it that way (for various reasons, in various contexts). The whole point is that they are the same thing — I mean, they flow the same act. Humans do not have a "unitive sexual act" and a "reproductive sexual act". There's only one act, and you can't engage in one part of it while suppressing the other half… human biology simply doesn't work that way, and that's why the marital act is a marital act: the action of a husband and wife who are bound together as parents of a family.

Then there's the issue of overpopulation... Is there any consideration at all for the overall well being of humanity when discussing procreation?

Well, apart from overpopulation being a myth (it's not the earth's incapability to provide us with enough food, but greed and warmongering that is the root of most of the problem), if hypothetically it were a problem — or in the limited case of a particular couple who may legitimately not be able to afford more children — it is, as always, evil to subvert the natural procreative act. But they can avoid the procreative act altogether.

Mr. Green said...

W.LindsayWheeler: Can you find any textbook, article in the Catholic field that talks of dikaios and puts it into practice? No. Do Catholics have the real, original natural law? no.

Who cares? Catholics also don't have the original Homer's Illiad, but that's OK. The words "natural" and "law" are not trademarks, and can be used in variety of ways — as is the very point of the original post. Ed made it quite clear how the phrase is used in the context of Thomistic philosophy, it's a perfectly legitimate use, and it's been employed that way for hundreds and hundreds of years. If you have some special brand-name meaning of the words, fine. Good for you. It's a free country. But it would be off-topic, since this post is about the meaning of "natural law" so eloquently explained above.

Christian said...

Hello Professor,

This was a very good post, and I have one question. I know the doctrine of analogy is important to the classical theist tradition and I was wondering if you know of any good books or articles that break down and explain this doctrine. Thanks.

Mr. Green said...

bls: In other words, simply ignore the actual people involved, and all is well. And guess what? That's exactly what you've done!

That's funny — ignoring the actual argument presented is exactly what you've done! Well, not funny, really… the people you seem to want to help will not be helped very much if you have got things exactly backwards. If only there were some way that sincere folks could discuss contentious issues in a calm and intellectual way to come to a reasoned conclusion, some sort of discipline guided by a love of wisdom, shall we say…. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

In response to Joe K's question about homosexual men marrying women:

Prior to meeting my wife, my spontaneous sexual attractions were virtually always towards males. I was married a few months ago, and the "pipes" work just fine. I would still probably rate as mostly gay if we were judging based on the ease of being sexually attracted to strangers---but that's not very relevant to a Christian, now is it? Honestly, I think the whole notion of "sexual orientation" is very misleading because it makes people think about sex in the wrong way. For a chaste Christian, sexual interest is something that ideally should build up over a long time with a particular person. The starting point may be based on ones "orientation" which is very difficult to change, but what matters is how you develop it. It's not important to become attracted to women in general, it only matters to become attracted to ONE woman.

The result of a "gay" man marrying a Christian is not a "loveless" marriage as homosexual activists insultingly suggest. I think almost any man is capable of having sex with almost any woman, and that passions will naturally precede and follow. And of course, it is deeply disordered "love" and "affection" is exclusively about sex.

From a pastoral point of view I think it is very important that Christians in this position realize that BOTH celibacy AND heterosexual marriage are ethically allowed. Their options are already restricted enough by morality, without well-meaning "Protestants" or "Catholics" telling them which option they have to choose. However, if a gay man chooses to court a woman, ethics does require him to do two things before getting engaged:

1. At an appropriate time in the courtship, the man must fully inform the woman of the situation, &

2. The man should convince himself that he is capable of performing sexually with her. This does not require fornication. In my case, I noticed that arousal would occur automatically after kissing or embracing my beloved for a sufficient length of time.

Joe, I wish you the best of luck regardless of which ethical option you pursue.

Anonymous said...

comment above should read:

deeply disordered *to think that* "love" and "affection" is exclusively about sex

Anonymous said...

Doc Feser,
What was the name of the conservative blog you used to contribute at? Is that still around?

Zachary Alain said...

I want to thank everyone again, especially Joe, for being patient and forthcoming, since I am requiring people to repeat themselves. I'll understand if he declines to respond further. I've been on that end in other matters, and I know it can be draining. I'm trying to understand the internal logic here, but that requires me to emulate a type of thinking with which I am not very familiar. I'm almost certainly bringing in things which do not belong. So a brief explanation of the way I typically think about such things is in order.

Whenever I say that this or that action is good or bad as a moral matter, the `factual' content of that statement is conditional on values. If one rejects all such conditions - which I do not think are true in the way that "snow is white" is true - one can consistently act and judge in any manner. It is therefore not necessarily a failure of rationality or knowledge to approve of murder in the way that it is a failure of rationality to bet heavily on me becoming the next President or a failure of knowledge as in believing that the moon is made of cheese. So at the end of the day, I am a non-realist.

At the same time, this is not the end of ethical thinking, because we do not make moral assessments arbitrarily. Hume opens his Inquiry into the Principles of Morals with an attack on nihilism, argues that ethical judgments are ultimately rooted in sentiment, and yet argues that our judgment of various character traits as praiseworthy/not praiseworthy appears to depend on utility to society. The idea can be extended.

A thing can be `a good hammer' because it satisfies various, usually unstated but not arbitrary assumptions about what we desire a hammer to do and in what way. If we want to evaluate whether or not an action is good, we talk about what it is up to its relevance to our values. So we hunt for `morally significant' properties of actions. That drone strikes destroy lives and property and raise serious questions about transparency and national sovereignty is morally significant. So is their material cost and the relative precision of their strikes. It's not significant that drones displace nitrogen. And the weighing of those morally significant properties is crucial: to modify Anonymous' analogy of a `good' table, subordinating all purposes of sex to the single purpose of procreation is like requiring that an old oak dinner table never be used for working on your laptop. It is like requiring that a hammer only be used to drive nails or can only be considered `good' up to doing so. Such a constraint, however derived, does more work than we want. I think it more sensible to think of a table as being `good' as a description of its having properties like those anonymous mentions.

Zachary Alain said...

(cont.)

So one sees why my first concern when evaluating an ethical system is that of "weighing/weighting", because in my experience the key practical obstacle to moral consensus is not that we all have wildly differing values (that happens as well), but that we appear to weigh these values differently, and I've yet to discover some definite and conclusively argued means for how those values and desires are to be weighted or how in difficult, complicated decisions to go about it precisely. One can in simple cases use formalisms like decision theory, but only once we've assumed the most crucial information, i.e. a utility function. (One fortunate consequence of looking at difficult decisions in decision-theoretic terms is that they are in terms of risking utility the easiest decisions to make. When in complete doubt, flip a coin.)

So when I evaluate the ethics of some sex act, I'm not thinking about intended biological functions or Darwin, though I might in far more desperate circumstances. I do think about the consequences of procreation, so I tend to approve less of casual sex if it is done without regard for the consequences in those terms, not to mention the potential health consequences. But the use of (very reliable) contraception "screens off" the consequences of procreation. Casual sex may have health or social implications, but procreation ceases to become relevant to that act. I do not think of "risk of non-procreation in any particular case" as necessarily being morally significant, regardless of the activity or what organs are involved. In this way, I end up judging homosexual sex, contraceptive heterosexual sex, or other forms of non-fertile sex on almost exactly the same terms.

The terms should be familiar to most of you. A rough summary of the principle concerning human sexuality is as follows: "mutual, informed consent amongst mature individuals". The `mature' here means that the "consent" has to be meaningful. This principle does not capture everything I approve/disapprove of, but it's a decent condition for intervention in the affairs of others: if the principle is violated, it's legitimate to intervene. It's a boundary, if you will. It doesn't tell us what to think, but it does place a limit on how we act. It is a special case of the harm principle, and it may be defended on grounds similar to those used in other cases, such as freedom of speech. Such a principle in itself would not tell us what to think about the State sanction of gay marriage. That might require a distinct statement of an egalitarian, though it might be argued that as a practical matter, sexual liberty and sexual equality are difficult to separate.

Zachary Alain said...

(cont.)

But as I've stated, it is ultimately separate from how we judge particular actions. We might grant racists freedom of speech, but that is different from approving of that speech. One might approve of Lawrence vs. Texas and still claim that there exists a moral problem with homosexual acts. Or to take an easier example, there exists a moral problem with staging a `thoughtless orgy' in which nobody involved cares about the consequences for health and society.

On the above principle, there are limits to what we can mean by a thoughtless orgy. Everyone involved must be mature and informed about the presence of any STDs, and they must have all consented without undue pressure. But it could be that they are all aware that one guy has HIV and continue without protection. It could be that they are all coworkers. It could be that nobody knows each others health histories very well and nothing is being done to prevent pregnancy. I'm sure everyone here would react to this in a similar way: "what a stupid idea."

That judgment could be accounted for on utilitarian grounds. Sure, everyone involved is taking their own risks, but they are unnecessarily risking a lot of suffering. It could to some extent be accounted for on libertarian grounds. Sure, everyone involved is making a legitimate choice, but that choice is risking the imposition of all manner of constraints on future decision-making. It could be accounted for on grounds of various, quite secular virtues, e.g. "prudence". We can use a wide range of methods to arrive at a similar conclusion.

So I can't give you a proof that all rational beings must condemn thoughtless orgies, but I can show you that such a conclusion is "robust" in several important ways, which amounts to an indirect proof that so long as the various properties attendant to thoughtless orgies remain true, people will likely continue to disapprove of them and should continue to do so given values they are likely to continue holding.

This is not the case with homosexuality. So I would say that natural law in the conception we've discussed so far is not robust on this issue. In the same way, I would say that utilitarianism is not robust concerning organ lotteries. Again, this is not meant as an argument, but it could serve as an outline for one, so I'll accept responsibility for the argument.

Zachary Alain said...

(cont.)

This rough idea of my background in place, one can begin to see where I start to have difficulties understanding classical natural law, at least up to its conclusions regarding sexuality. Though it has been some time and I was never any expert, I have read some Aristotle, so I understand the process of categorizing various things as things good-in-themselves or things good-to-achieve-other-things. For humans, possessing the collection of the former at their best is called happiness, and its achievement is our telos. (Doubtless everyone here will instantly know if I remember wrongly.) My first difficulty is that I know of no way to convincingly argue for a highly detailed, `objective' account of what is to be included in that collection. That's on the metaethical level, and is to me not particular to virtue ethics. On the ethical level, I think virtue theory can do quite well up to capturing moral intuitions, but I think this is mostly due to triviality: e.g., we can identify lots and lots of virtues, and saying that someone who has internalized them will tend to choose rightly leaves one shrugging. The primary advantage is that it captures much of ethical thinking omitted (or once omitted) by utilitarian accounts. The primary disadvantage - to me, based on my minimal understanding - is that evaluations based on virtue ethics are risky up to `universalizability', that is, the desirable property of ethical judgments that they can in principle make sense to everybody with functioning rational faculties. Even when allowing a lot of flexibility to the concept of happiness, it is difficult to believe that we've not included something better described as a prejudice than a virtue. A `local virtue', if you like.

To virtue ethics, I say, "excellent, let's discuss decisions and judgments in these terms as well." I'm all for multiplying those methods of assessment which help us to find judgments which are `robust', which are `robustly not', and which are genuinely difficult. Determining whether or not classical natural law will assist me in that is one reason why I am interested, though my main reason is to try to understand what those who oppose things I take to be quite acceptable are thinking. I've mentioned a few types of thinking which I find helpful, and I've mentioned one which I think not helpful (the categorical imperative), though some forms of deontological thinking help. To the list of not-helpfuls, I would add social Darwinism.

Zachary Alain said...

(cont.)

Since I do not yet understand it, I cannot yet decide how to categorize classical natural law theory. I think I can understand how certain acts can on its assumption be regarded as `incomplete' with respect to some natural function, but I am not used to identifying this incompleteness with `goodness' or `badness'. I do not identify the usages of sexual organs which qualify as `intention to frustrate' with any degree of `badness'; I feel about the same way about such things as I feel about somebody using a hammer as a paperweight. We might think it strange if it is insisted on or designated as a paperweight, but we might also think it strange that one insists upon using a broken hammer to drive nails instead of a wholly different implement. With contraception, I think I can at least grasp the internal logic, but I see little reason to employ it unless that logic does work that the various other accounts of ethics I find useful do not, and much reason to not employ it if the only novel results are not robust. Again, this would have to be argued, and it might help me if there is a freely available resource detailing how classical natural law really is a valuable supplement to or replacement of other ethical systems. Perhaps I do not understand that the conclusions of classical natural law concerning sex are essential to/strongly suggested by any non-arbitrary application of virtue ethics. I would be very interested if this were true.

But when Joe talks about `categorical' notions which allow us to, regardless of the fertility of a sex act, decisively judge some as good and others as bad based on whether or not semen ends up in a vagina, it is more difficult. I understand it when he tells me that the crucial distinction is that an infertile vagina is a `broken' reproductive organ - again I very much disagree with the conception of nature involved here, but that's an aside to which I'll return later - whereas a hand is not. The issue is the decisiveness of this consideration, despite procreation not being the only admitted natural function of sex and procreation having nothing to do with infertile sex. Though this hasn't been explicitly stated, I am assuming that on these grounds alone a secular man only attracted to other men should elect a life of celibacy, even if at great cost to happiness in the Aristotelian sense of the term up to other matters.

Zachary Alain said...

(cont.)

Part of the difficulty here might be that I'm trying to think of this in Aristotelian terms and on a novice level. In this discussion, we've narrowed our focus to the nature of the sexual faculty, and I've tried to assume for purposes of discussion certain conclusions about that nature. But I might have failed in this respect, and those failures might be confusing my attempt to understand the logic here. I should state mine.

I think it is incorrect to describe procreation as "the ultimate purpose" of the sexual faculty in the very strong sense I've been trying to assume throughout this discussion. I think that the natural function of the sexual faculty is that we reliably pass on genes. Part of this means that we have an urge to actually procreate. Part of this means that it involves bonding and community cohesion so that our offspring have a decent shot. What I do not get from this are strong proscriptions about the placement of semen. Again, this might be my is/ought gap creeping it, but I don't think that it is necessary to mention it.

To take an example, a person who only procreates once or twice and otherwise avoids it has not undermined the ultimate purpose of his or her sexual faculty. A person who never procreates but takes part in caring for the offspring of his or her kin has fulfilled that purpose indirectly. That person may or may not be entirely celibate. The only class of people who subvert the natural ends of reproduction are those who do nothing to contribute to secure the safe existence of future generations. To me, this has nothing to do even with an obligation to increase the size of that generation. It certainly has nothing to do with what one does with his semen on any particular occasion. It's very difficult for me to judge any particular sex act based solely on the nature of that faculty. It is however easy for me to arrive at conclusions about environmental issues and nuclear proliferation.

Zachary Alain said...

(cont.)

And just as the sexual faculty is not by nature about particular applications, the various uses of the sexual faculty are not about a particular purpose. I do not think that the values of community cohesion and bonding are solely about how they ultimately aid in the successful production of the next generation. I am not a social Darwinist in the sense that I do not consider any bonding and pleasure which do not ultimately increase the chances of reproductive success to be at best morally neutral. I consider them good for their own sake and part of a happy life. Employments of the sexual faculty which facilitate that are to be celebrated. I think one can see clearly where Michael and I diverge on this. "Faculty X would not have existed were it not for applications of type Y" is not a very good argument for faculty X being used exclusively for applications of type Y. I think this is true regardless of our (presumable) disagreement about the nature of the sexual faculty, and true even if we presume agreement about which ends are "higher" or "lower". Here I could talk about hammers again.

It is therefore difficult for me to "step outside" of this sort of thinking and attempt to understand what is wrong. Again, with contraception, I understand the "intention to frustrate" based on a conception of the sex faculty which I again do not share in the case of contraception. But I'm still having difficulty understanding how, given that this conception of the sex faculty is adequately argued and classical natural law is shown to be valuable as a part of ethical thinking, we would have an argument against homosexuality. As I requested, Joe was kind enough to provide a non-contraceptive example:

Intending to control family size is a good in the sense that it would be entirely imprudent to have 10 kids when you can only afford 5. So, let's say a couple is pregnant. The woman is already pregnant. I'm not talking about contraception. And let's say the couple already has 5 kids and can only afford 5. Prudence would dictate that it's a Good thing to have, do something with the intention of, having less kids. So, what can she do? One option would be for her to intentionally kill the child growing inside of her with the further Intention of reducing the amount of kids she has. Would this be morally licit because the further intention is a good one? No, because intentionally killing the child growing inside of her would be unnatural in that it is an intentional act that necessarily runs contrary to the ends set by nature. Again, she may do it for some greater, good intention. But this has no bearing on whether the act itself is natural and consequently good.

Zachary Alain said...

(cont.)

This example only avoids the issues of weighing and "categorical" judgments I mentioned by making of itself an exact parallel with contraception - i.e. an action to intentionally prevent procreation - which again does not exist in the case of homosexual behavior. I'm also not so confused about weighing to the extent that I think natural law allows that all intended consequences of an act can be ignored so long as one intended part of that act is "good". I'm having difficulty understanding how a homosexual or masturbator is intending to frustrate the nature of the sexual faculty (again, assuming a conception with which I wholly disagree) by employing it for non-procreative means, even while non-procreative employments are completely acceptable in some other cases. I understand that this has something to do with the exclusive acceptability of certain reproductive organs, even if they happen to be `defective'. Where I am having trouble is in deriving that exclusive acceptability, since it seems to ignore the admittedly multiple purposes of sex. I'm having trouble seeing how masturbation is a subversion of the sexual faculty in the way that contraception or abortion are. I can understand how masturbation and homosexual sex can be considered inferior to procreative sex, but I can only understand it on grounds similar to how we assess infertile sex generally. How is using sex to bond with another man more subversive or subversive in a qualitatively fundamental way than sex with an infertile female?

There are multiple legitimate purposes that can be served, as we all agree. There is no concern about `opportunity cost' to reproduction, as we all agree. Vaginas are in some sense `meant' for reproduction in a sense that hands, mouths, and anuses are not, in that they've developed especially for this purpose in a way that the other mentioned organs have not. Fine enough. I can see how semen is `meant' to go there more than it is `meant' to go other places. I do not see how intentionally placing semen anywhere else amounts to a contradiction of any of the above such that we are required to judge it wholly immoral. I can see how the above would give us relative statements regarding morality. To me, it makes sense on these assumptions to say that fertile sex is "more natural" than infertile sex, and it makes sense to say that ejaculating in a vagina is "more natural" than ejaculating elsewhere. I do not see how the latter yields a universal proscription while the former does not.

Zachary Alain said...

(cont.)

A potential source of my confusion here might be the roles of activity/passivity here. The derivation here is supposed to be a general proscription on uses of genitals not resulting in semen placed in vaginas while not proscribing infertile sex or celibacy. Again, this sort of deontological thinking is unfamiliar to me. Weighing of values is supposed to (sometimes) go out the window. I can see how that might consistently happen with abortion and contraception, since there is an active attempt to subvert a (highest) end of some faculty while employing it for other ends, though I disagree that the categorization of `lower' and `higher' ends this requires is at all a natural conclusion. It is more difficult to see how the "passive subversion" of masturbation and homosexual sex is so decisive while similar statements are not so regarding infertile sex, as non-procreation is incidental. I do not think that this follows at all from the fact that one particular organ has as a natural purpose the reception of semen. I don't think one is intending to "misuse" one's sex organs by ejaculating in an infertile vagina any more than one is intending to "misuse" one's sex organs by ejaculating elsewhere. I don't see how this is intentionally frustrating some higher natural end in one case and not in the other. I think it is quite consistent to assert all of this while simultaneously asserting that vaginas are especially `meant' to receive semen in a way that other organs and objects are not. And I think that one can ethically ejaculate elsewhere if doing so facilitates goods other than procreation, as we all agree the sexual faculty can.

This is the crucial thing which I think I've failed to adequately convey. I can with straining see "X is less natural than Y", and can recognize "intention to subvert" as unethical in the sense that one is doing X to the exclusion of Y through active measures of frustration. But without those active measures, I have difficulty seeing how "X is less natural than Y" to entail that Y not only be preferred to X, but X be prohibited in general, as I think we agree that this is not always the case.

It's the (apparently) selective rigidity of the reasoning involved that bothers me. It's difficult to understand how it is to work even without getting very, very creative and necessarily graphic with our examples. I suspect that I can name all sorts of sexual activities which (secular) natural law is supposed to proscribe that ends with all the semen involved intentionally placed in a vagina.

Perhaps it would be best for me to return to the topic only after understanding what classical natural law is supposed to permit/prohibit regarding sexual behavior in greater detail. Maybe then it will be easier to see the details of the rules of reasoning and assumptions involved.

bls said...

Mr. Green - I thought I addressed the argument exactly, since I was looking at the first sentence in the last paragraph of the original post, which says:

"So, for the natural law theorist, certain things are “natural” for us in the sense of tending to fulfill those ends the realization of which constitutes our flourishing as the kinds of thing we are."

And, of course, the topic of homosexuality DID come up during the discussion; I'm not drawing this out of thin air. So where, exactly, have I gone wrong, in your estimation?

Eduardo: perhaps you ought to get a bit of a grip on history before you decide to condemn people for "throw[ing] their life in the shitter." Shame, blackmail, loss of employment, electroshock therapy, prison: those were the things homosexual people had to look forward to. If you can't imagine this - well, that's pretty much the point.

bls said...

(I mean, Mr. Green: if you can't take facts and the clear evidence of what leads to "flourishing" and what leads to destruction into account - then what you're saying is that "natural law" is what I say it is. And it no longer has to do with "flourishing" - but with defending poor logic.)

Eduardo said...

So wait, although I am not saying that homossexual people didn't had it rough because of their sexual orientation, the decision to use substances is still their own. Or you disagree, and you think that they had nothing to do with it ?

Well condenming someone for doing what they have done is not something bad I think. Now, about the punishments that homossexual people suffered.... Yeah alright, I heard a bunch of eary stories even to this day about what could happen or have happened to homossexuals, so as far as it goes, yeah I can imagine that, but your point wasn't that at all. Your point was about the Catholic Church not really caring about the florishing of homossexual people, like being against gay marriage which helps homossexual people florish.

Now, dunno exactly what are the procedures for identifying when something is florishing or when it is not, so perhaps youare right, but still, I don't think it changes the idea that people have decided what they wanted to do with their bodies own their own. Yeah there was pressure, but unfortunately they gave in to it.

Daniel Smith said...

Mr. Green: It's OK to sacrifice a lower (non-necessary) end for a higher one. It's never OK to frustrate a natural end. It's acceptable to fast (for a short time)

This got me to thinking. St. Paul makes a similar statement in 1 Corinthians 7 about abstaining from sex: Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

So he is talking about sacrificing a lower end (marital sex) for a higher end (devotion to prayer). But then he makes an interesting statement, that the married couple must come together again (have sex) lest they be tempted. From this we can gather that one of the natural ends for marital sex is the staving off of temptation.

Later he goes on to say: Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Here again, he seems to be saying that it is a natural use of marital sex to keep sinful desires at bay. This suggests to me that since the sex drive (as we all know) is such a powerful natural urge, marital sex is the legitimate outlet - lest we indulge the urge sinfully.

Earlier in that same chapter he says this: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.

Again, St. Paul is saying that one legitimate purpose of married heterosexual sex is the satisfying of natural desires - lest we burn with passion and commit fornication. This, like celibacy, from a theological standpoint at least, would be a higher end than procreation since the goal is to frustrate temptation and live a more sinless life. The celibate abstain from sex to devote themselves to God; those who cannot obtain pure celibacy (due to passions) have married sex in order to keep themselves purer before God. It serves a similar function just "one step down" as it were.

So marital sex does not have to be procreative to serve this higher purpose (in fact, limiting oneself to only procreative sex may not be enough to stop temptation from entering in). The sex act, in this case, is used for another purpose altogether - a more sinless life before God (which I would argue is a higher purpose than procreation). From this, I would conclude that non-procreative, heterosexual, marital sex is a legitimate use of our natural bodies for the higher end of serving God.

W.LindsayWheeler said...

So, Mr. Green, we repeat the errors of the Stoics? Error repeating itself thru the generations of men because----we fear to "examine"? No one examined the case and questioned it and so it is mindlessly accepted even though what the Stoics taught in not in the Platonic dialogues. The Natural Law in Plato is far different from the Stoics. Plato's Republic is based on two natural laws, dikaios and macrocosm/microcosm. When is the last time any Catholic used those terms and recognized those coming from nature?

Contrary to Prof. Feser, "classical" natural law theory can not possibly be "classical" in any stretch of the imagination. The Natural Law is the CONSTITUTION of the Natural Order found in the Cosmos---has nothing to do with man or morality per se.

The term "classical" should be attached to "original meaning". The Stoics redirected natural law to their own means and that is what "Thomistic natural law" is based on--the Stoic bastardization of it. So in no way can it be "classical". The Natural Law is in Herodutus where he says "Ex Uno Plures" and "E Pluribus Unum". This is how nature works. The way up is also the way down.

So what is found in Plato, Xenophon, and in Herodutus is the "Classical Natural Law" and what Prof. Feser and Catholics engage in, is psuedo-science.

Neil said...

ty@Daniel Smith

Granting that marital relations has multiple good ends which can be higher or lower, it does not follow that the couple may deliberately frustrate one end simply because they act with a different end in mind.

Turn the situation around. Suppose a husband and wife make love with the precise intention to conceive a child. Can they therefore treat each other with contempt during the act simply because they have a different purpose in mind than bonding, affection, pleasure, etc.? Of course not.

Eduardo said...

Is it me, or there are people fighting over the name .... I mean, really?

Brian Killian said...

I think you are too optimistic about the power of natural law. Particularly when it comes to something like the Church's teaching about contraception.

Catholics have been robbed of the sacramental/biblica./theological basis of the Church's position on Contraception because theologians have insisted on pretending it's a natural argument instead of a theological argument.

But there can be no natural law argument against contraception as the Church sees it. And if it appears that there is, it's because theological premises are being smuggled into the arguments.

Joe K. said...

Zachary,

I think you bring up a lot of excellent points in your posts. I don't intend to address all of them, and I hope someone else jumps in with some comments. I also appreciate your patience and understanding. I think, and perhaps I didn't quite catch it at first, there is an underlying disagreement about metaphysics here. As I read over your long post, I kept thinking, "well, no, wait, he's not understanding the metaphysics at all there." Those are way bigger topics than this conversation, though.

I do want to comment specifically on this, though:

"Though this hasn't been explicitly stated, I am assuming that on these grounds alone a secular man only attracted to other men should elect a life of celibacy, even if at great cost to happiness in the Aristotelian sense of the term up to other matters."

I think you are using "happiness" in a non-Aristotelian sense here, not an Aristotelian one, unless I'm just misunderstanding what you mean. I will say that I think "happiness" is a horribly misleading word, but it feels like you're using happiness to mean something close to nice feelings or pleasant days, as compared to something like "flourishing." I'll address both concepts though.

I don't consider myself particularly unhappy in the feelings-sense, for what it's worth, and I'm celibate and gay. And I mean, I'm really celibate, so don't assume I'm cheating or anything. I get frustrated and annoyed and maybe a little morose sometimes, but I'm rarely genuinely unhappy---not really any more unhappy than anyone else I come across. To be fair, I'm just one guy, and I've heard plenty of stories about homosexuals that attempt to avoid their sexuality who end up miserable, depressed, or worse.

But in the Aristotelian respect, I consider myself Much happier when it comes to sexuality than people I come across. Most people I know are complete wrecks when it comes to sexuality. They are either addicted to pornography, in awful (genuinely meaningless) relationships, or are just plain screwed up. There's rarely anything resembling flourishing about them. In fact, I Rarely see anyone (straight, gay, married, single, or dating) who is successful when it comes to sexuality. And I Do think this is because they don't attach reason---or a bigger view of themselves---to sexuality. And I don't mean this to be condescending. I think I've just had to face it more head-on being homosexual. Growing up, Everything felt bad, so I had to step back and say, "Well, wait, what's Good."

Truth be told, I think the entire culture is completely broken when it comes to sexuality. There is little, if any, flourishing going on on a larger societal level. And not to be all Catholic-y about it, but I think it creates so many larger societal problems that we can't even begin to deal with without first addressing the underlying view of sexuality.

Anyway, I just wanted to note this because I don't really like how people start with the "well, if people just fulfilled their sexual desires, they would be happier" (in the common sense or the Aristotelian sense) when they address homosexuality or sexuality in general. It's just not the appropriate starting place. I don't know if this is exactly what you were saying, but it's how it struck me.

Crude said...

Joe K,

Just wanted to say I've found your input on this topic to be pretty fantastic - tone and knowledge and all. I agree with you completely, especially with regards to the last post. Seeing a self-identified gay man regarding natural law and Church teaching on this matter as something positive, rather than an assault, is encouraging.

So, thanks for piping up.

Anonymous said...

"and that would remain true even if there had been no divine revelation on which to base the theological approaches in question"

I believe this is an anthropocentric wedge in the theocentric door that opened Christendom up to secularism. "We do not need God to have a good society", goes the cry.

I believe the argument is false, because of the is-ought problem. Insofar as morality involves reasoning from nature it is because a subjective value judgment is presupposed. For Catholics, this is the judgment that Christ is to be followed. Sexual morality matters because it is where babies come from, but babies matter because we are all created in God's image.

Outside of this, arguments from "flourishing" are just kidding ourselves. We do not flourish in this world. We die.

This is not to advocate relativism. A cannibal and a Christian may sincerely differ in their relative moralities, but the Christian's morality tells him to stop the cannibal.

Kiel said...

Joe K, I'd like to join the others in thanking you for your contributions. No amount of words can adequately describe how valuable your witness is - not only to other homosexuals but to all those who are aspiring to live a chaste life.

If you write a blog, what's your URL?

Joe K. said...

Thank you for the kind words, I really appreciate it. It's actually weird getting them in a lot of ways. I live a relatively private life when it comes to sexuality, so very few people really know about my whole situation. As such, I rarely get to talk about it so directly.

I genuinely don't know how a person in my situation Is supposed to talk to people in real life about this. If you say, "I'm a homosexual," they immediately assume you're having sex with guys. If you tell them you Aren't having sex with guys, they immediately jump all over you and get weirdly defensive, wanting to know why. Believe it or not, discussing natural law or your entire life story every time you meet a new person really isn't all that enjoyable. It's like you have to justify your entire existence every time you meet a new person. And with family, no matter how understanding they may be, it's never completely all right. No one ever wants to be the weirdly kind-of disabled guy with an issue no one wants brings up. This isn't meant to be a woe-is-me kind of thing. I really don't know if there's a better or worse way to approach the situation to be honest. Maybe I'll figure it out one day.

I have never seen the Church's teaching to be anything like an assault. I do happen to be a convert to Catholicism, so this may have something to do with it. But I've never really thought the Church's teachings were particularly bad, even when I wasn't a Catholic. (Weirdly enough, even when I wasn't Catholic, I always thought there was something really suspect about contraception.) Most negative responses to the Church's teaching are from people who feel entitled (or have some special right) to do whatever they want with their bodies sexually to begin with. That is, it usually came across as "you're being mean and telling me I shouldn't do what I want to do!" and nothing more. If your starting place is total sexual autonomy, of course you're going to feel like the Church is assaulting you. I've never been particularly convinced by this mindset, though, and it's always seemed a little childish to me. (This is not to say there aren't formidable arguments against the Church's position; automatically assumed-sexual autonomy just isn't one of them.) Even as a kid, when someone said something like "as long as it doesn't hurt anyone!" I would get annoyed. I wanted to know what was Good sex. I didn't want to know what wasn't rape...I knew at least that much already.

I do not have a blog. I can recommend a couple on topic though: www.stevegershom.com and www.joshweed.com. The first one is by a homosexual (also celibate) Catholic fellow. The second is by a homosexual Mormon man who is married to a woman. What you'll notice about both of those writers (and most other people similarly situated) is that we have relatively similar personalities. We've had extreme battles with insecurity, self-identity, manhood, etc. I'm a relatively firm believer that homosexuality is a more comprehensive disorder than just having wrongly oriented sexual desires. That is, a homosexual isn't just a totally normal individual who also just happens to like dudes. Some of the non-sexually-oriented differences are innocuous. Some are really harmful. But I've never really found any writers taking up this position. Especially today. For obvious reasons. Some of this stuff is discussed in those blogs anyway.

But again, thank you for the encouragement. It means a lot.

Zachary Alain said...

Joe K.,

I think a misunderstanding of the relevant metaphysics here is the most likely explanation of my difficulties. I think my autobiography suggests that rather strongly :D

I was tempted to use the term eudaimonia instead of "happiness", but I didn't want to imply my having more knowledge about Aristotle than I feel I have. I understand the distinction between how we use the term happiness and how it is used in Aristotle, I think. A hedonist is not necessarily happy. A man who is happy in his friends and wealth might not be happy in that he has not developed his rational faculties to their fullest. He can feel happy, but he has not become a virtuous man. I think I've managed to avoid this confusion.

I do not think that "fulfilling sexual desires" means happiness in either sense. This is a pretty early life lesson for most, I should think. I've taken my stupid risks, and I certainly have my regrets in this regard.

Sex is powerful stuff, but not strictly positive stuff.

You note in your next comment that autonomy does not tell you what sex is good or not. I think that I touched on this in my novel when I outlined a harm principle commonly enunciated by advocates for sexual freedom. I think it is generally correct as a political principle, but as I noted, it tells us basically nothing about what is good for us. All it really does is proscribe rape and pedophilia. So it is a triviality, unless it makes you realize the sheer variety of non-traditional relationships and sexual practices that it is at least possible to approve.

But then there are thoughtless orgies. I gave that as an extreme example, but there is a much more common, much more frustrating example for people in my demographic.

I rarely party or hang out with my peers, partly because it is difficult to just hang out with a few people my age and have a nice relaxing time without somebody saying, "dude, we really need to find bitches." Or we're out at a bar. "I think that girl over there is looking at you." And quite often, that's it for the evening: only sparse conversation of any length, then the topic comes up again.

I like drinking, going out, and hanging out with folks. I don't expect people who also like to do that in a small-ish city to share my intellectual interests. But is there nothing else, really? Lots of guys my age while away most of their free days doing the drinking, chasing, and recovering cycle. It's not cheap, and I think it's stunting. Moreover, it's very much an expectation that you do this amongst quite a large fraction of my demographic. For expressing boredom with the idea of chasing tail, I'm asked if I'm gay.

I'm very libertarian about sex. Some of the best and most fulfilling experiences I've had have been outside of monogamous relationships. But yes, there are big problems. I don't think those problems stem from our culture being overly libertarian. I doubt that a lack of acceptance of homosexuals had the effect of making gay men more cautious in their sexual affairs. Discouraging sexual expression generally has not been particularly helpful in preventing our very real problems. At the same time, it isn't true that putting everything into daylight solves them either.

If we figure out a long term solution, I think we shall have done something completely novel.

I thank you again for your patience. I'll wait until I have studied natural law more systematically before blathering anything else I might end up regretting. And of course, I wish you happiness in both senses, and I hope you find a means to both soon.

Joe K. said...

Anonymous at October 13, 2012 11:32 PM.,

Thank you for responding to my initial question. I really, really appreciate it. I'm sure discussing these issues on an open forum is not preferred. If you wouldn't mind corresponding about these issues by e-mail or something, I can give you mine. Just let me know. If you don't mind, I had some comments and questions though.

I think I basically agree with you about the notion of "orientation." I also don't particularly like the whole idea of "identifying" as a homosexual. But I do get it. I also see sexual attraction's main purpose as aimed at mate-finding and reproducing. That is, without it, we, as humans, would have to rely solely on cold reason to seek out mates, and we'd be in a kind of bad situation as a species. I see homosexuality, then, as kind of having that part of the whole process as broken and working improperly. Like lacking appetite for food.

What I most wonder, of course, is whether you Can skip that part of the process and move on to the thing that attraction is pointed out. Namely family, intimacy, etc. You can do it with food even if you lack an appetite, surely, and it seems possible for some people (and you seem happily married), but I wonder if it's possible or even prudent for most people in my situation.

I see it sort of like this. If I were blind, I would change my life in a way that allowed me to use my other senses to make up for my lack of sight. I would use context clues, create systems, whatever, to live like other people live. I would skip over the seeing part to the place seeing is aimed---information gathering for survival, etc. I would live as normal life as I could. I would read braille books, I would take up writing books, I would find a mate who I could flourish with. But at the same time, I would probably Not take up a life as a professional tight-rope walker. And I would probably not become a Ms. America beauty contestant judge. In other words, if you lack sight, there are some things you can just Not do, no matter how clear of a picture you have of what sight is for.

I know I'm never going to train myself to becoming sexually attracted to all women. I have some faith in the idea that I could be sexually attracted to one woman, but I've seen no indication that it'll happen. Likewise, I can also see myself having Sex with a woman. I think I could pull that off quite easily. Is it just modern sentiment, though, to think that having sex with someone you are not sexually attracted to is somehow wrong? Not an easy question to answer. Furthermore, where does something like "love" land where there is little or no sexual attraction? I know I could love a woman. And I don't mean having a loving feeling. I mean, continually will the good for her. But is that a family that could raise children?

A couple more personal questions, which you surely don't have to answer. When in the courting process did you tell your wife about your attractions? And when you wrote you have to "convince" yourself you can perform sexually, did you mean Confirm that you can perform sexually?

Again, thank you for all of the insight. It's not easy finding information on this topic. And as I approach 30 years old, these questions have become increasingly pressing. Who knows if I'll be bald in 5 years! Or fat. Or, sigh, BOTH in 5 years! Who wants to marry a fat, bald guy! Heh. No, the possibility does seem sillier every year I get older.

Joe K. said...

Zachary,

That was a lovely comment. Thank you. I wish you the best as well.

dguller said...

I’ve always thought that the distinction between choosing not to actualize a natural end and choosing to frustrate a natural end is fundamentally unhelpful.

I look at it in the same way that I look at the difference between neglecting a child and abusing a child. If you neglect a child, then you are not meeting their fundamental needs through inaction towards the child, and if you abuse a child, then you are not meeting their fundamental needs through action towards the child. Both would be considered harmful and wrong, because they prevent, albeit in different ways, the flourishing of the child.

If we look at celibacy, for example, through this framework, then neglecting one’s sexual ends is akin to neglecting a child, and both would have to result in the failure to actualize an essential end, which is the definition of "evil". Saying that one happens by action and one by inaction does not change the ultimately end point at all, and seems to be a distinction without a difference.

The most that you could say is that neglect is less evil than abuse, but it is still evil nonetheless, because it is a choice that results in a failure to actualize a natural end, which is the definition of "evil".

Where am I going wrong here?

Michael said...

Zachary,

"I think one can see clearly where Michael and I diverge on this. "Faculty X would not have existed were it not for applications of type Y" is not a very good argument for faculty X being used exclusively for applications of type Y"

Of course I would agree with you. If you reread my post you will find that I did not say so; you are assuming. I do, however, understand why you may have said the thing you did.

What I was trying to say was one of the reasons why/how the different purposes are said to exist in a hierarchical relationship. As I said, I think the frustration (a term that you don't quite get yet) of any of the purposes of sex is wrong.

I think you are very right that there are many things that you do not yet know about this approach to ethics and many metaphysical and foundational assumptions of your philosophy will have to be bracketed off... there is also some what of a language barrier for those schooled in modern philosophy, which as a defender of some aspects of Hume's ethics, you apparently are.

That said, when frustration here is mentioned, it is not necessarily wrong for a faculty to be used for something other than its purpose. You can find more on this vital distinction in some of Feser's past blog entries. Hence your table and hammer analogies rather miss the point... though it is somewhat interesting that you chose man-made artifacts as examples.

I must also reiterate the vital distinction between an act's intention (specific component of philosophical analysis of morality) and psychology such as motives.

And reading your latest posts you still seem to treat frustration as equaling the sum total of natural law philosophy. It is not; it is only a very small part.

The differences in your moral philosophy with that of natural law philosophy would seem to go back at least as far as Hume's philosophy of human nature... but most likely goes farther back than that, even to some of the first principles of philosophy.

I think you will find many interesting and life-breathing articles on this blog that would pertain to many of the questions that you seem to have.

Good luck.

Michael said...

dguller,

If human beings are directed to the care and love of others as social beings, then both neglect and violence would be frustrating a capacity.

I see where you are going with the whole celibacy thing; very interesting. First, I suppose it must be remembered that sexuality is more than sex. Fatherhood and motherhood and the interactions between members off the opposite sex isn't necessarily given up for those who choose it, or even for those who are born with birth defects and are incapable of having sex.

Second, and I think most importantly, the propagation of the species is the job of the entire population. While I would agree that it is wrong for everyone to go and become a celibate, I don't think it's wrong for a subset to do so. What I'm saying is that, individually speaking, I'm not so sure having sex is one of those things needed to flourish--especially if such a good thing was given up for an even higher calling and good.
Basically, I think you are doing what Zarchary did a couple times in his posts... that of treating frustration of ends as the whole of natural law philosophy and moral evaluation.

Ciao fellow Fesserite (I should be able to call you that because you follow his blog...no?) !!

Zachary Alain said...

Michael,

I chose to use hammers as they had already been mentioned, and I remembered instantly the article I linked.

"The differences in your moral philosophy with that of natural law philosophy would seem to go back at least as far as Hume's philosophy of human nature... but most likely goes farther back than that, even to some of the first principles of philosophy."

I've little doubt. I will work on it by continuing to follow this blog.

As a footnote, I'll add that I do not think I'm making the same mistake as dguller. I was never confused about how one might distinguish between celibacy, neglect, and abuse. I did not think that intention to frustrate was the "sum total" of classical natural law, as in parallel with virtue ethics, I never thought the notion of flourishing was a still negative process of listing, "do not do X, Y,...".

A footnote. It would be otiose of me to add that categorizing child neglect as a `passive' process is a grave mistake.

I'll keep following things here and make a few trips to the archives. Edward Feser writes very well, and I have in very occasionally following this blog in the past found many interesting articles. Thanks, Michael.

Miklos Hollender said...

Dear Prof. Feser,

I still don't understand the epistemological basis of A-T.

When you say there are natural ends to a squirrel, that there is such a thing as objective flourishing to him, are you talking about the map or the terrain? Do you seriously think this truth is somehow hardcoded in the fabric of reality itself, or is it just simply the best human attempt to make sense of the situation, the best man-made model or map or interpretation of it?

This is what constantly confuses me about reading you or the Classics. I am perfectly used to always keeping the map-terrain distinction in mind, while these always seem to be blurred here. To me it is obvious that no statement is ultimately true because reality is not made of words, words are our attemps to approach and model reality, how comes it is not obvious to you or to the Classics?

Or am I really misunderstanding something?

Eduardo said...

Dr Feser is talking about the terrain, so yeah it is part of the fabric of reality.

Well, most likely you simply have some other metaphysical commitment and that is why everything the Classics say, seem to blur things... To you.

Well the substance of a statement can be true ... or you are just throwing words at the wind without actually believing there is any truth to what you just said.

Brian said...

How come homosexuality is not regarded by the medical and psychological communities as a disorder? Are they just full of shit, and does A-T philosophy commit one to thinking that homosexuality, contra the judgment of medical and psychological professions, is a medical/psychological disorder, anyway?

Eduardo said...

It was regarded by the psychological community as a disorder, until they changed, or took homossexuality out of the psychological disorder list.

Second, you are doing a argument of popularity. The thing is simple, what were the proccess that took them to identify homossexuality as normal or as a disorder. Were these methods, right or wrong? Do they waarant us to believe ther results... you know the idea is to discuss the proccess used by the professionals, not their opinion on a subject.

Now, I have no idea how they include behaviors in the list, but even if I agree that homossexuality is not a disorder according to their method; that does not necessarily means that the method used by A-T will reach the same conclusion. Now, I prefer not to venture myself into trying to come with a correct conclusion, but it seems to have something to do with our organs "natural ends".




Anonymous said...

I came to this thread late, but it is very, very informative. There are some really standout comments that I want to add my two-cents to.

@Joe K:

I commend your candor, honesty, and courage. I would like to know if you have read any of Anthony Esolen's writings on the topic of homosexuality? He addresses it from a holistic perspective on personality and psychology. You previously commented that being homosexual is not "simply a matter of being a normal person who happens to like dudes." I think he might have insights on the matter, although I do not know because I am not homosexual.

However, that comment of yours interested me greatly because I am a recovering alcoholic. I can tell you that, similarly, alcoholics are not just normal people who like to get drunk all the time. Alcoholism typically involves an entire cluster of psychological and personality issues that are common to almost everyone who has the disorder. This cluster of traits, though very complex, is fairly well expressed by the slogan that "the alcoholic is an extreme narcissist with a crippling inferiority complex."

dguller said...

Michael:

If human beings are directed to the care and love of others as social beings, then both neglect and violence would be frustrating a capacity.

I actually agree. I don’t see much substantial difference in terms of outcomes between neglect and abuse, except that they are both forms of evil with perhaps neglect being a less severe form of evil than abuse. If this is correct, then the Thomist response of saying that there is a difference between choosing not to fulfill a natural end (e.g. celibacy) and choosing to actively frustrate a natural end (e.g. sexually active homosexuality) is a difference that makes no difference, and ultimately collapses into the same category of “evil”.

First, I suppose it must be remembered that sexuality is more than sex. Fatherhood and motherhood and the interactions between members off the opposite sex isn't necessarily given up for those who choose it, or even for those who are born with birth defects and are incapable of having sex.

Agreed. I actually think that there is a hierarchy of natural ends such that not actualizing a lower natural end for the sake of actualizing a higher natural end is perfectly reasonable. As such, I can see why a devout Catholic would choose celibacy within the clergy rather than a marital heterosexual relationship. But, it must follow that someone choosing to be sexually active as a homosexual, or sexually active within a marriage that uses contraception, or sexually active in any of the number of ways that differ from traditional heterosexual marital interactions for the purpose of procreation, are also acting reasonably and appropriately, if making that choice allows them to achieve a higher natural end in the process.

Second, and I think most importantly, the propagation of the species is the job of the entire population. While I would agree that it is wrong for everyone to go and become a celibate, I don't think it's wrong for a subset to do so. What I'm saying is that, individually speaking, I'm not so sure having sex is one of those things needed to flourish--especially if such a good thing was given up for an even higher calling and good.

Exactly. As long as the majority of people no longer tries to procreate, and the human population continues to increase to a healthy and sustainable level, then it is completely irrelevant whether a portion of the population chooses to engage in sexual activity that is not directed towards procreation, or in some other non-traditional fashion. After all, if the distinction between avoiding the actualization of a natural end and frustrating the actualization of a natural end is ultimately unsustainable, then to condemn and criticize non-traditional sexual activity would necessarily have to condemn and criticize the celibacy at the heart of the Catholic clergy.

Basically, I think you are doing what Zarchary did a couple times in his posts... that of treating frustration of ends as the whole of natural law philosophy and moral evaluation.

I don’t think I’m doing that. I’m just looking at this one small part of natural law theory. The overall framework I actually have a great deal of sympathy for.

BenYachov said...

Choosing lawfully not to have sex doesn't frustrate any natural ends.

A child is an actual entity which we as moral agents have obligations too so ceasing to feed or take care of a child frustrates His/Her natural end of living.

If I choose not to have sex(& my wife agrees) then logically we haven't frustrated any natural ends. Choosing not to have sex is an ontological zero. You are not doing anything you are obligated to do nor failing to do what you are obligated to do.

We don't as such as individuals have an obligation to have sex(with qualifications for example as a husband I owe my wife sex).

dguller's objection is a variation of an objection I've see leveled at Natural Family Planning vs contraception.

I don't see anything in natural law that obligates every individual to sex and marriage.

I have a natural urge to eat but it doesn't follow I should stuff my face or eat then throw up so I can eat some more.

Nor does it mean I may morally starve my self. I may not. But fasting is curbing your eating habits from eating for pleasure to eating for mere sustenance.

Not that taking pleasure in eating is a sin but it's not required for sustenance.

Some random thoughts on my part continue.

Zachary Alain said...

Brian,

"How come homosexuality is not regarded by the medical and psychological communities as a disorder?"

Typically, disorders are things considered to seriously impede one's having a normal, functioning life. This is why diagnoses of schizophrenia, properly conducted, are done relative to culture. Since homosexuality is not, all other things similar, a serious impediment to functioning, it is not considered a disorder. Gender identity disorder is, however. If your biological gender is so unsatisfactory that you seriously desire surgery and hormone therapy, or that this is often the best option from the standpoint of psychological health, that's not healthy functioning. I think it is incorrect to categorize transgender persons as suffering from a mental disorder, but crippling, untreated unhappiness with one's biological gender is. By the same rationale, homosexuality can be fairly treated as a mental disorder if it seriously impedes normal functioning. If self-hatred over sexuality keeps that person locked in a depressive state, that's a disorder. But homosexuality, in itself, is not the disorder.

It is interesting to read about the history of homosexuality's classification as a mental disorder. It was largely due to ignorance and prejudice, but if memory serves, homosexuals themselves often encouraged the classification. This behavior makes sense, if they had a chance to be considered ill instead of criminal... I think that Oscar Wilde at one point plead to be regarded as sick rather than criminal. I'm trying to track down the reference.

Anonymous said...

I have a question for anyone who can help. My wife and I are Roman Catholics who have done NFP for our entire married life (9 years now). We have 3 children. My wife has an inherited kidney disease which progressively leads to kidney failure. She can take medication to slow progression of the disease, but, if we were to get pregnant, it could cause severe birth defects. She is afraid to just go with NFP, and some doctors won't prescribe the medication unless she agrees to go on the pill. What is the right thing for us to do from a Catholic natural law perspective?

BenYachov said...

Even Birth Control Pills aren't 100% effective. I remember as a boy listening to Dr. Ruth on the radio talking to a 17 year old girl who was on the pill but got pregnant anyway. I've also personally known Catholics who used condoms but the damn things broke and they got pregnant anyway.

I've been married 18 years with only three children but all of them have Autism. My son is very high functioning he I believe could maybe on day pass as "normal".

Three autistic kids is very taxing & I don't want a fourth. The odds are against me but if we got pregnant you know I would accept it.

Just be more diligent with the NFP.

OTOH if the doctor insists the Birth Control pills serve some other medical end other then to prevent pregnancy then you could licitly use them for that purpose only. But to show your solidarity with the Church you should only have relations with your wife during her probable infertile time & obtain the rest of the Time.

Joe K. said...

Yes, Ben, I think that is correct. Also note, dguller, that procreation and survival are different things with different obligations. That is, if I choose not to eat again, I die. I've frustrated the natural end of my entire body: to exist. If I don't have sex, nothing happens to me (aside from a wandering eye and some unfortunate dreams). I don't harm myself by acting contrary to my end in any relevant sense.

A person can't have a duty to a thing that doesn't exist. I can't neglect a thing that isn't there. It's like saying I'm being a bad person by neglecting (not cleaning up) the house I haven't built yet. In the case of a child, the obligation of the parents run to the child, which actually exists. As such, there's a need to help that child fulfill its natural ends. In the case of me, being celibate, the obligation really only runs to the thing that actually exists (me). And again, a failure to have sex has no adverse affects on my existence.

Now, you may say I have a larger obligation to the whole of humanity, to its survival, but again, that obligation would run to the thing that actually existed: the people walking and talking right now (who I would no doubt have less of an obligation than my own children). So I pay my taxes, feed the poor, and help old ladies cross the street. (I really only do the first one consistently :() Now, surely prudence would say that every person being celibate would be bad. It would mean the extinction of the species. But as long as some people continue to reproduce (and we don't seem to have any major problems with that), it would not mean that bad end.

As rational animals, we are fully capable of determining a healthy number of people in order to keep on going strong. (If other animals had rationality, they would surely do the same thing. It is truly wrong to choose a bad end like continued reproduction when there is a lack of resources.) But once those people exist (at their conception), we must respect their ends by ensuring protection of both their negative and positive rights. Furthermore, our Means of choosing a healthy number of people to stay strong must be natural and good. This is the reason NFP (and celibacy for some) is licit, while contraception is not.

Joe K. said...

Anonymous at October 16, 2012 8:43 AM,

I have not read anything by Esolen. I don't think I've heard the name actually. I'm looking into him now, though, thank you. I do think we look at homosexuality all wrong. And I don't mean that in some modern-psychology kind of way. I think we look at all sex kind of wrong. We focus everything on the pleasure, getting laid, getting off, getting it out of us so we can go on with the rest of our day.

I always find it very strange, for example, when people say, "we are going to start trying to have a baby!" Something about that is so strange to me, completely disconnecting that incredible pleasure from the infinity that is childbirth, and then making some Later decision to connect the two back together.

I think because we have this view, we see homosexuality as just like...a biological sexual preference. Like, you like nice legs, he likes big breasts, I like guys. But sexuality has so much to do with our entire nature as human beings. You hear it all the time, homosexuals taking on homosexuality as their whole identity. I don't think this is strange to be honest, even if it is completely annoying. (Trust me, I know it's annoying.) But let's assume that homosexuality really is that much a part of who they are. If homosexuality really is also a disorder, then that means a very large part of them is disordered.

I mentioned it before, but of all the homosexuals I've ever come across or read, there's a consistent sort of larger disability. It manifests as a lack of and an inability to cultivate, to put it vaguely, the male virtues. It's always a struggle to be a man in the way heterosexuals are men. This generally leads to extreme insecurity, which no doubt leads to the opposite of flourishing in most cases. (See, e.g., http://www.stevegershom.com/2012/05/moving-out-pts-i-ii/)

Now, I can't speak for every homosexual, and I doubt it's that consistent across the board, sexuality is pretty complex stuff, but similar problems seem to be incredibly common. The general response is to redefine "man" into...well, whatever---call it a social construct, etc. etc. This usually just serves to compound the problem and really ignores the actual problem, of course.

"This cluster of traits, though very complex, is fairly well expressed by the slogan that "the alcoholic is an extreme narcissist with a crippling inferiority complex.""

I grew up very close to alcoholism. That sounds about right, heh.

Daniel Smith said...

Neil: Turn the situation around. Suppose a husband and wife make love with the precise intention to conceive a child. Can they therefore treat each other with contempt during the act simply because they have a different purpose in mind than bonding, affection, pleasure, etc.? Of course not.

Here's an analogy that explains my position on the matter: Consider a hammer... A hammer has two legitimate uses: 1) to drive nails in and 2) to pull nails out. If I only use the hammer to drive nails today, am I frustrating the legitimate use of the hammer because I'm not pulling nails? Of course not! The two uses are not connected (other than the fact that they both involve the hammer).

I think a similar error is made when it is assumed that sex must be used for all of its potential purposes at the same time - or else it is being "misused".

That's my take on it.

Daniel Smith said...

Wow, I didn't realize hammers were already mentioned so often in this thread! I guess I should go back and read all the posts I missed before posting an answer.

Oh well...

Anonymous said...

@Joe K:

Thanks for your response. As a conservative Catholic, I think my struggles with alcoholism have given me a certain compassion for homosexuals.

I do believe that many "normal" people simply do not understand alcoholism; they wonder "why can't you just stop drinking?!" And, although I believe that I am fully morally responsible for all of my alcoholic binges, the question simply doesn't make sense; when on a binge, I cannot always will myself to "stop" drinking even though I know that there are things I can do to place myself out of the near occasions of sin.

The only way to stop the alcoholic from drinking is for him to take certain actions that will arrest the patterns of thought that make the necessity of getting drunk seem inevitable. A.A., for all of its theological flaws, does help alcoholics who are willing to participate in it and who are willing to change. Most will not until they have either lost everything or are on the brink of death. Such is the nature of the pathology; it is an ugly thing.

Now, I cannot help but think that a resource similar to A.A. could have been made accessible to homosexuals who wanted to stay celibate. I would imagine that, if the APA had not declared homosexuality a "normal" condition, and had they not vigorously opposed sexual orientation correction programs as they now do in CA, then we would not be where we are now as a culture.

I sometimes think that, had alcoholics behaved like modern homosexuals, they would be lobbying the government to have A.A. and MAAD targeted by the DOJ and SPLC as "hate groups", and that they would be lobbying to repeal the statues against drunk driving on the grounds that they "discriminate" against alcoholics who can drive safely with a BAC of .15, and that they would be infiltrating the schools trying to set up "drunk/sober alliances" where they try to recruit heavy drinkers into the alcoholic lifestyle.

In other words, what could have happened for the better if only the APA had not succumbed to political pressure?

I think the Church needs input from people like you.

Brian said...

Hey, Ben. I am a fellow Catholic, but I get seriously depressed when I read situations like yours. I see how Catholic morality proceeds from reason and there's really no avoiding it, but I just get really bummed out over what seems like severe situations - situations like yours. That SEEMS like it isn't a situation conducive to happiness or even health, and that's what kills me about Catholicism sometimes. It seems like it forces you to yourself at risk in those extreme situations. What do you think?

Mr. Green said...

W.LindsayWheeler: So, Mr. Green, we repeat the errors of the Stoics? […] The Stoics redirected natural law to their own means and that is what "Thomistic natural law" is based on--the Stoic bastardization of it. So in no way can it be "classical".

I wouldnt be surprised; we repeat many errors. Such is the lot of our fallen race. For you to deny that natural law has anything to do with man or morality is to claim that man has no nature (or simply that you've missed the point); either way, you can imagine why people might not take you seriously. And for the record, "classical" means pertaining to ancient Greek or Rome. I think you'll find that Aristotle and the Stoics both qualify.

Mr. Green said...

bls: So where, exactly, have I gone wrong, in your estimation?

You said:

Homosexuality occurs, it would appear, in some small percentage of human beings naturally.

Indicating that you missed a key point of the original post. The rest seemed to follow on this misunderstanding.

Mr. Green said...

Zachary Alain: We might think it strange if it is insisted on or designated as a paperweight, but we might also think it strange that one insists upon using a broken hammer to drive nails instead of a wholly different implement.

The reason why we can use (or abuse) a hammer in different ways is that it is not a substance — it has no nature of its own, only the ends that are imposed by us externally. Thus we are free to "redefine" those ends at will. (This should make sense since you know some Aristotle — a human being is not merely a collection of parts, but a single substance. This is a theme Feser frequently deals with on this site; see for example, Nature vs. Art.) So a hammer has only ad hoc ends, not natural ends to be perverted or frustrated in the same way as a human does. Animals are also substances, which is one reason why it is not moral for us to treat them like things. Even so, it is generally against reason to use a tool in a way contrary to its purpose. Using a hammer as a paperweight does not really do this (after all, it is part of the "nature" of a hammer to have mass, and thus using it to hold down paper does not thwart its properties or functions).

I see little reason to employ it unless that logic does work that the various other accounts of ethics I find useful do not, and much reason to not employ it if the only novel results are not robust.

In one way, natural law will not reach empirical conclusion much differently from consequentialism, or utilitarianism, etc. — for example, observing that human beings need to eat and studying which foods are most healthy and so on is something to be determined by biology, etc. I would say the most important reason for natural law is that it is by its, er, nature rooted in objective reality. Other systems have trouble grounding morality because of the so-called "is-ought" problem; but the point of natural law is that "is" is "ought": morality simply consists in properly following our nature, so the two cannot be disconnected. (Other things will follow from that, of course, but if you plan to learn more about it, this may provide a bit of useful context.)

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: From this we can gather that one of the natural ends for marital sex is the staving off of temptation.

Well, that's not really an end; just a side-effect.

This suggests to me that since the sex drive (as we all know) is such a powerful natural urge, marital sex is the legitimate outlet - lest we indulge the urge sinfully.

Right — for example, by hiring a prostitute (violates the unitive aspect) or by using contraceptives (violates the procreative aspect). "Not sinning" is in one sense a better act than procreation, but of course "not sinning" is not an act at all, but refraining from an act, and it is not mutually exclusive with procreation. I'm not sure what you mean by "limiting oneself to only procreative sex may not be enough to stop temptation from entering in"; some temptations can be prevented, others need to be fought against. We should never commit one sin to avoid another.

If I only use the hammer to drive nails today, am I frustrating the legitimate use of the hammer because I'm not pulling nails? Of course not! The two uses are not connected

That's the key difference (well, other than that a hammer is an artefact, not a substance, but we can ignore that for the sake of the analogy). The two uses are not connected — they could even be (and sometimes are) implemented in two separate tools! As I said before, if human beings had two separate powers, one of "unitive sexualty" and one of "procreative sexuality" that could be exercised independently as well as in concert, then yes, all these objections would work (whether for contraception, homosexuality, etc.). But human beings do not work that way. It is one and the same act that accomplishes both the unitive and procreative ends, and thus to engage one aspect while thwarting the other is to pervert one's nature. If it were part of your nature, then you could do it without needing to thwart anything in the first place.

Mr. Green said...

Dguller: Saying that one happens by action and one by inaction does not change the ultimately end point at all, and seems to be a distinction without a difference.

As Michael noted, there is a difference because in this example the child already exists to be neglected. If the end is (in simplified terms), "it is part of human nature to help one's fellow man in need", then yes, you have a natural moral obligation to help the child. But if there were nobody else (or nobody else who had any needs going unfulfilled) then there would be nothing to do, and no obligation to perform. As soon as you introduce this needy child, you have half the picture — and at that point, the picture must be finished, brought to its natural fulfilment. If you do not employ your sexual faculties, then there is no problem. If you start to employ them, if you employ them in some partial way, then it follows that you have to complete the act in a natural way and not frustrate it unnaturally.

If this is correct, then the Thomist response of saying that there is a difference between choosing not to fulfill a natural end (e.g. celibacy) and choosing to actively frustrate a natural end (e.g. sexually active homosexuality) is a difference that makes no difference, and ultimately collapses into the same category of “evil”.

But what makes you think that every possible end must be fulfilled? If that were true, then the wrongness of lying would imply that we have to keep talking (truthfully) twenty-four hours a day. Indeed, we would have to be doing everything all the time — so clearly there is a meaningful distinction between doing something the wrong way and not doing it. ("If you can't do it right, don't do it at all!")

it is completely irrelevant whether a portion of the population chooses to engage in sexual activity that is not directed towards procreation, or in some other non-traditional fashion.

Yes to the first half, no to the second. Individuals are quite free to choose not to engage in sexual activity directed towards procreation (by choosing not to engage in sexual activity at all). They just may not choose it unnaturally. Otherwise you would be arguing that bulimia is fine and dandy. Sure, not all the time, or you'd starve (comparable to the human race dying out). But as long as you hold down enough nutrients to stay alive, then it would be good to vomit up your food the rest of the time… but of course, it isn't.

Miklos Hollender said...

Eduardo,

I don't know if I have any metaphysical commitment. I am trying to be open-minded and not to be too biased by modernity. Still...

If there is a metaphysical commitment, it is to a kind of empiricism, that reality is something experienced, not defined, words cannot be more real than experiences. Mathemathics, geometry are nice and useful toys, but by no means a higher reality than experiences. We aren't throwing words at the wind, we are trying to predict, explain etc. experiences, but only experiences are the ultimate reality. Words and the logical connections we make between word are nice and useful, but we need to frequent reality checks because experience does not necessarily conform to logic.

BTW by experience I don't just mean sense experience, anything goes from religious experience to general life experience and common sense.

Is this a methaphysical commitment? I think it is just common sense.

I mean the whole Classical tradition began by Plato saying geometry and words are somehow more real than experiences. How comes it was not immediately obvious to everyone that it is wrong? Am I missing something? Aristotle thankfully dragged the whole thing halfway towards experience-ism, but why don't we go the whole way and officially announce that words and math and logic are feeble human attempts to describe the reality of experience and they need to be frequently reality-checked? And always keep the map-terrain distinction in mind?

Eduardo said...

I know, what you mean, but think what you just told me. you say that Reality is not suppose to be defined, but then you went on to define reality is something that is experienced only.

Don't get me wrong, but it seems that you believe in some form of self evident features. Which is a metaphysical commitment, but one that happens to be more common among the Old school thinkers.

You see it seems to me the divide here is something like this. Classics believe that you can propose a metaphysical truth and argument about it, to the point you can discover by arguments and reason, plus some experience of some sort, these new features of reality.

You seem more focused on outside information, and you seem believe that the reality is just that outside information. Excluding any other claims or something like that, am I right?

Now, like I said, these metaphysical features proposed by A-T are based also in experience, now sorry, I most likely know less than you about philosophy, but it looks like these metaphysical claims are based on experience and interpretation, followed by arguments that try to confirm its truth.

So you disagree with the interpretation of the experience... What about saying that these metaphysical claims are also feeble attempts to talk about reality?

By the way... Feeble according to what? Anyways it seems that you have some sort of self evident philosophy, so I tend to conclude your interpretation of experience is completely different from A-T's interpretation that is all.

As an end note, I made this too long already, I sort of get your point, and I tend to think sort of like you, or use to at least.

Daniel Smith said...

Mr. Green: Well, that's not really an end; just a side-effect.

That's not how St. Paul describes it. He says "Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you". He is saying that sex is a tool intended to keep Satan from tempting us.

"not sinning" is not an act at all, but refraining from an act

Only this time we are instructed to "come together" (an act) in order to defeat temptation.

We should never commit one sin to avoid another.

That begs the question whether non-procreative marital sex is a sin or not.

It is one and the same act that accomplishes both the unitive and procreative ends, and thus to engage one aspect while thwarting the other is to pervert one's nature.

You are assuming that the only legitimate sex is procreative sex. Many things have multiple uses (and they don't have to be artifacts!) Our hands, for instance, have multiple uses, is it necessary or even practical that we always seek to utilize every "natural end" our hands possess?

Think about it in terms of act and potential: every sexual act a married couple can perform has the potential to be a unitive force, a pleasurable experience, and a defeater of temptation. Not all sexual acts have the potential to be procreative. Now you can argue that only the sexual act that has the potential to be procreative is legitimate but you must show then why the other potential uses of sex are illegitimate.

Joe K. said...

Daniel Smith,

I am incredibly skeptical of this sort of prooftexting. It stinks of unsophisticated Protestantism. (Not that all Protestantism is unsophisticated; just this stuff is.) You can't take a quote completely out of context from the Bible to make an argument about natural law. But I'll bite:

First, that "so that" purpose use in the verse you quote is not always translated that way. The Greek (and I assume you're quoting 1 Corinthians 7:5) uses a "ἵνα" (a notoriously difficult word to work with) which can be translate as "so that" Or something like "with the result that" or even something like "lest" when it's used with "μὴ." In fact, just looking quickly at the Greek, you do not have to translate it in the strict natural-law-y kind of purpose as you're trying to argue here. Here, I'll do a quick gloss:

μὴ (do not) ἀποστερεῖτε (deprive) ἀλλήλους (one another), εἰ μήτι (unless/except) ἂν ἐκ (by means of) συμφώνου (agreement) πρὸς (to/for) καιρὸν (a time) ἵνα (so that) σχολάσητε (you can have time) τῇ προσευχῇ (to pray) καὶ (and) πάλιν (again) ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ (together (really it's like "to one another")) ἦτε (you might be), ἵνα μὴ (LEST/or else/otherwise) πειράζῃ (tempt) ὑμᾶς (you) ὁ Σατανᾶς (the Satan) διὰ (through) τὴν ἀκρασίαν (incontinence/intemperance) ὑμῶν (of you).

This gloss obviously does not carry the same natural law sense of purpose you're arguing here. The "so that" you use is definitely not obvious.

To bolster this a little bit, the "ἵνα μὴ" construction employed here is also used in the "Judge not, (ἵνα μὴ) lest ye be judged" verse (Μὴ κρίνετε, ἵνα μὴ κριθῆτε) from Matthew 7:1. Now, this Can have that purpose sense, like "do not judge so that you won't be judged." But it can also have the other, more natural-result sense like "when you judge, you are going to be judged" or "don't judge or else you'll be judged too" or something similar. This latter sense makes a little more sense considering what follows in Matthew 7:2. This is obviously nothing like the natural law sense of purpose, even though it uses that same "so that" word.

Now, the ἵνα above in 1 Corinthians really might mean something closer to strict purpose and less result. Or it may be both. (Jews tended to not like separating the two ideas.) My point is merely that pulling that quote out like that is unconvincing when you're discussing this topic.

Second, that verse may not have Anything to do with natural law even if it's a purpose ἵνα. To make some sort of argument here that Paul is necessarily saying something about natural law is just sloppy---especially considering the above illustration of how language is used differently depending on context and nuance. Paul may be correct in noting that sex with your wife tends to help you avoid temptation. In fact, Everyone says this. It's just good advice. To quote the Bible to give that observation special meaning, though, or to imply that Paul really was speaking transcendent truths about the nature of sexuality as related to natural law is just silly. Not everything in the Bible is drenched with that deep meaning about nature's purposes. "Purpose" does not mean Purpose in the natural law sense all the time. It depends entirely on context. If Paul (or anyone) wrote "have sex with your wife so that you can burn some calories," he would be using the "so that" properly, and he wouldn't be saying Anything about the natural law.

continued...

Joe K. said...

continued...

The rest of your arguments are already addressed in this post, in the comments, and elsewhere numerous times. I recommend Edward Feser's The Last Superstition! Most importantly, though, everything about the sexual process is aimed at the creation of life. The penis has to get stiff to get into the lubricated vagina. That's why we have sexual arousal. That's why we ejaculate things that have life-giving material in them. Yes, sex brings people closer together. Okay. But it brings people closer together So That they have sex again and put more life-creating material into one another.

Joe K. said...

I guess I should throw up my translation since that gloss above may be pretty difficult to read or understand. It can be translated:

Don't deprive one another (of sex), unless you both agree to become temporarily celibate in order to have more time to pray. But then come back together again (have sex with one another again), otherwise Satan is going to tempt you through your sexual frustration.

Michael said...

dguller,

You are a persistent fellow, so you will probably read this so late in the post game.

"Agreed. I actually think that there is a hierarchy of natural ends such that not actualizing a lower natural end for the sake of actualizing a higher natural end is perfectly reasonable. As such, I can see why a devout Catholic would choose celibacy within the clergy rather than a marital heterosexual relationship. But, it must follow that someone choosing to be sexually active as a homosexual, or sexually active within a marriage that uses contraception, or sexually active in any of the number of ways that differ from traditional heterosexual marital interactions for the purpose of procreation, are also acting reasonably and appropriately, if making that choice allows them to achieve a higher natural end in the process."

Not if it involves any evil. A wrong and a right don't give you a net right. True, pursuing celibacy for God is a higher end than fulfilling the human capacity for sex, but ALSO, not engaging in sexual activity is not an objective evil, nor is it sometimes evil in the least. Your examples of homosexual acts, contraception, and others are objectively wrong at least because they all actively frustrate an inherent function. Refraining from sex is different in that humans are not meant to do it all the time; by not having sex you are not damaging your innate capacity to have sex. Also, please do keep in mind those who, by birth defect or other circumstances, cannot have sex at all.

"After all, if the distinction between avoiding the actualization of a natural end and frustrating the actualization of a natural end is ultimately unsustainable, then to condemn and criticize non-traditional sexual activity would necessarily have to condemn and criticize the celibacy at the heart of the Catholic clergy."

I don't see how such a distinction is unsustainable. It's there. And neither is neglecting a neighbor in need the same as choosing to refrain from intercourse, for the reasons stated above.

Michael said...

Joe K,

"Also note, dguller, that procreation and survival are different things with different obligations. That is, if I choose not to eat again, I die. I've frustrated the natural end of my entire body: to exist. If I don't have sex, nothing happens to me (aside from a wandering eye and some unfortunate dreams). I don't harm myself by acting contrary to my end in any relevant sense."

I of course agree with you. However, the word "contrary" seems to be mistaken in my judgement as it is synonymous with frustration.

***hat's off to you.

Michael said...

Perhaps scratch the last comment, I kind of see how it makes sense to say what you did.

Move along, nothing to see here...

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: What was the name of the conservative blog you used to contribute at? Is that still around?

What's Wrong with the World is still around. Right Reason and The Conservative Philosopher are not, but those links go to archives at the WayBack Machine. (Also here.)

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: She can take medication to slow progression of the disease, but, if we were to get pregnant, it could cause severe birth defects. She is afraid to just go with NFP, and some doctors won't prescribe the medication unless she agrees to go on the pill. What is the right thing for us to do from a Catholic natural law perspective?

Pray! NFP followed faithfully is as effective as birth control pills, and it seems you have sufficiently serious circumstances. I don't know what the situation is like for doctors where you live, but I really hope you can find a Catholic physician who understands these issues and takes them seriously. You might check out the Catholic Bioethics Center for more information; you can also send them questions. (And of course, remember to ask everyone else to pray for you, which includes me and anyone reading this.)

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: He says "Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you". He is saying that sex is a tool intended to keep Satan from tempting us.

He could have said, "Take a cold shower and go play football so that you won't be tempted", but that wouldn't make that the purpose of showering and playing football. But Joe went into more detail on this point than I could.

You are assuming that the only legitimate sex is procreative sex. Many things have multiple uses (and they don't have to be artefacts!)

No, I'm observing how actual human biology works. I can use my hands to play the violin, or to knit wool, but I can't do both at the same time. The unitive and procreative acts, however, I can't NOT do at the same time, because I'm not referring to two acts but to one act that has multiple effects. If by "not all sexual acts have the potential to be procreative" you mean something like kissing your spouse, then we have been talking at cross-purposes. Yes, of course kissing your mate is good, but then there is no question of frustrating a procreative end which simply is not present. I have been referring to the martial act (so called because a marriage is the only context suitable for both the unitive and procreative effects together), a physiological phenomenon which involves a whole host of chemical and biological reactions, none of which may be legitimately frustrated.

Not all sexual acts have the potential to be procreative. Now you can argue that only the sexual act that has the potential to be procreative is legitimate but you must show then why the other potential uses of sex are illegitimate.

If it involves the activity of one's reproductive organs and processes, then it is legitimate only if those processes are not interfered with. If you are referring to some other activity (e.g. kissing your wife) that does not involve reproduction, then there is nothing to interfere with, so of course it is all right.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Green.
Thanks for your comments. I think the most difficult part is the psychological effect it has on my wife to rely only on NFP. She is a new convert to Catholicism, and as you know, these are the more difficult teachings for some to follow. I think she'd like to practice NFP and do something else as well. Otherwise, the stress on her is great and, as a result, is hesitant to you know what and be on the medication.

Daniel Smith said...

Joe K: You can't take a quote completely out of context from the Bible to make an argument about natural law.

I didn't take it out of context. Read the context: it goes into more detail about how our bodies are not our own but belong to our spouses, etc.

There's more going on here than just "good advice".