Monday, July 1, 2013

He refutes you thus


In the photo at left, Justice Anthony Kennedy presents his considered response to Plato’s Laws, Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles, Kant’s Lectures on Ethics, and his own Catholic faith.  Asked to develop his argument in a little more detail, Justice Kennedy paused and then solemnly added: “I got lifetime tenure, beyotch.” 

Court observers expect that Justice Kennedy’s subtle reasoning, backed as it is by a sophisticated philosophy of language and philosophy of law, puts him in the running for the prestigious Ockham Award for Catholic Statesmanship.  Competition for that prize has, however, been particularly fierce of late.

889 comments:

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Timotheos said...

I wonder what Anthony Kenny would say about Anthony Kennedy?

DNW said...

How do you argue with people who claim that what the majority wants is the very definition of what is right, unless they say that it isn't?

Probably the same way you argue with someone who shrugs at the law of non-contradiction, who sees the faculty of reason as purely instrumental, who asserts that existence itself is an illusion and the individual unreal, but nonetheless insists that you treat them with consideration ...

Anonymous said...

This is an offensive posting, a step down from this blog's usual gentlemanly standard, especially since there is no link to Kennedy's statements.

The Deuce said...

We're all aware of Kennedy's statements, and Kennedy's statements amounted to the claim that other people's statements don't need to be considered, dealt with, or even mentioned, regardless of their pedigree - making this a very appropriate treatment of them indeed.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

Come back through the looking glass. Kennedy characterized DOMA as motivated by nothing more than an irrational and malicious "desire to harm a politically unpopular group." Being ridiculous -- not to mention demogogic, and offensive (and you're very worried about offensiveness, after all) -- such a claim invites, and deserves, ridicule.

Anonymous said...

Kennedy was sipping the same Kool-Aid as this guy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43WJ4AlOI2Y

Maybe they're pals.

Chad Handley said...

This brings up an issue I had with The Last Superstition. Overall, I enjoyed the book and though I was raised an Evangelical I found your arguments for traditional Catholicism very persuasive. But your arguments against gay marriage, in my opinion, were less so. As far as I understand it, your point was that homosexual sex is wrong according to natural law theory because goes against the natural ends of sexual intercourse by denying the possibility of children. But even if that point against homosexual sex is granted, I don't see how it establishes anything about homosexual marriage.

Sex is given to us by nature and/or God and has its ends set by nature and/or God. But marriage is a social and societal institution, and has its ends set by the society in which it is established. Nature may have as its end for sex procreation, but a society might have as its end for marriage the establishment of any number of rights, such as inheritance rights, visitation rights, etc.

Thus, I just don't see how even the most effective natural law argument against homosexual sex establishes the immorality or impropriety of homosexual marriage.

I'm not a philosopher, so it's entirely possible I'm missing something (or everything).

rank sophist said...

Chad,

The natural law understanding is that marriage is not "a social and societal institution" but an institution of nature directed toward procreation. As a result, there can never be same-sex marriage, because same-sex partners cannot procreate.

Not that holes don't exist within the natural law version of marriage. Natural law cannot prove that, say, Christian marriage is inherently better or worse than simple cohabitation for the purpose of procreation. As long as there is a life-long union between opposite-sex partners who procreate (or at least attempt to), the natural law definition of "marriage" is satisfied. On the topic of same-sex marriage, though, there really aren't any holes. The case is pretty much closed.

Anonymous said...

Kennedy characterized DOMA as motivated by nothing more than an irrational and malicious "desire to harm a politically unpopular group."

Sounds about right to me, what other motivations could there be?

Edward Feser said...

Hello Chad,

Natural law theorists would deny your key premise. Marriage does not have its ends set by society, at least not its fundamental ends. It is, rather, a natural institution. Human law may legitimately tinker with the details around the edges according to historical and cultural circumstances, but it cannot change its fundamental nature.

Compare the institution of property, which for natural law theorists is also a natural institution because a necessary precondition for human well-being, given that our natural capacities are world interactive, is that we be able to bring those powers to bear on a stable set of resources. (There are exceptions, of course -- people who get by without property of their own -- but what matters for natural law theory is the standard or paradigm case.)

Now, this allows for a fair bit of leeway for human law to adapt the institution of private property to circumstances. But not anything goes; in particular, the extremes of socialism on the one hand and absolute laissez faire on the other are ruled out in principle as incompatible with the natural end of property. (I've got a whole paper -- "Classical Natural Law Theory, Property Rights, and Taxation" -- dealing with this if you're interested.)

Now, as you know, for natural law theory the natural ends of sex are procreative and unitive. Procreation is understood not merely in the raw biological sense of generating new organisms, but in the richer sense of educating them, over the course of a fairly long period of time, in what is useful and right, which is part of what makes for the nurturing of a rational animal. Our sexual drives also point in the direction of having lots of children in the normal case. This in turn points to the need of a stable union between mother and father, which is what the unitive end facilitates. And this union needs to last not only for as long as children need the parents -- which is a long time, especially considering that lots of children are the norm -- but also past the time that having children becomes possible, since the partners still need each other for companionship in old age, have responsibilities as patriarch and matriarch of their extended family, etc. This stable union is just what marriage is. It can be modified in various ways according to human law, but cannot be altered in its fundamental ends, which are procreation and the emotional bonding of the man and woman who procreate.

That some men and women can't procreate is irrelevant. Just as a damaged eye is still for seeing -- that is still its natural end, whether or not it can realize it, and thus still defines the boundaries of its good use (which can be other than, but never contrary to, that end) -- so too our sexual capacities, psychological as well as bodily, are naturally "directed at" physical and emotional union with a person of the opposite sex, whether or not a particular set of organs can fully realize the procreative side and whether or not a particular person's psychological drives have gotten aimed in some other direction. What something happens to "aim" at is not necessarily what it naturally aims at, any more than a vine which grows so as to choke itself off does so naturally in the relevant sense of fulfilling the ends its nature sets for it.

(continued)

Edward Feser said...

(continued)

(Compare: Thirst is for getting us to drink what will be healthy for us, and that remains true even if some particular person has for whatever reason acquired an intense desire to drink gasoline. That is not what even his capacity for thirst is for, and how strong his desire is, or whether it has a genetic component, is completely irrelevant. Psychological drives, no less than bodily organs, have natural ends.)

Now, since our directedness toward a stable sexual union is the ground of marriage and what is definitive of the nature of that union is the paradigm or standard case (just as what is definitive of the good use of the eye or of thirst is the standard or paradigm case), it is from a natural law point of view metaphysically impossible for there to be such a thing as "same-sex marriage." It's like talking about "thirst which is naturally directed to getting us to drink poison." Given human nature -- for other creatures, I suppose, things could in principle be different -- there couldn't be such a thing as thirst which was naturally for getting us to drink poison. Any desire to drink poison would necessarily be a distorted desire.

Similarly with marriage. It might be tinkered with in principle in some ways within various societies -- the legal age for marriage, polygamy as with the biblical patriarchs (which is, BTW, why the analogy of "same-sex marriage" with Mormom polygamy is a bad one IMO), etc. -- but "same-sex marriage" is not one of them. It just isn't within the space of possibilities set by natural law, given its theory of the good and the metaphysical underpinnings of that theory.

This is, of course, just a brief summary. As I said in an earlier combox discussion, I've got a paper on general sexual morality coming out soon which sets out and defends the traditional natural law position (as opposed to the "new natural law" position) at greater length than I have elsewhere.

But here's the key point: When it is properly understood, it cannot reasonably be denied that the traditional natural law position is at the very least perfectly coherent, rational and defensible, even if one ultimately rejects it. I submit that anyone who denies this much is either ignorant or lying. But then it is just false for Kennedy and his cheerleaders to pretend that only bigotry could motivate opposition to "same-sex marriage." That is just demogogic thuggery that ought to be aggressively fought at every turn.

Edward Feser said...

Sounds about right to me, what other motivations could there be?

Nice try, but question-begging bluff like that doesn't fly here.

Anonymous said...

What question begging? If you have some other motivation, what is it?

In your other comment, you say: it is from a natural law point of view metaphysically impossible for there to be such a thing as "same-sex marriage.

Most metaphysical impossibilities do not require federal law to enforce them. Metaphysics, like physics, seems to enforce its own rules quite nicely without human intervention.

There is also the fact that there are many thousands of these relationships in existence with or without the law. I won't call them "same sex marriages" to avoid the charge of question-begging again, but they are definitely something, they do not cease to exist because of your metaphysics.

ingx24 said...

But here's the key point: When it is properly understood, it cannot reasonably be denied that the traditional natural law position is at the very least perfectly coherent, rational and defensible, even if one ultimately rejects it. I submit that anyone who denies this much is either ignorant or lying. But then it is just false for Kennedy and his cheerleaders to pretend that only bigotry could motivate opposition to "same-sex marriage." That is just demogogic thuggery that ought to be aggressively fought at every turn.

This. While I ultimately don't think the natural law position is correct, it is actually *very* defensible, and I can definitely see why a rational person would find it compelling. Based on what I've heard, I feel like Kennedy either does not know about natural law in general or has disastrously misunderstood it: either that, or he's just being intellectually dishonest.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

Every moral position rests on metaphysical assumptions, including those that lead to endorsement of "same-sex marriage." Hence defenders of the latter, no less than opponents, advocate what they advocate on the basis of deeper philosophical commitments that other citizens don't share. And in that sense they too are trying to use federal law to promote a certain metaphysical view. There is absolutely nothing unique about natural law theory in this regard, and the liberal position is in no way more metaphysically or philosophically "neutral" between citizens than the natural law view is.

Perhaps you disagree with all of this, but if so then an argument, as opposed to more question-begging snark, would be nice. 'Cause your side is, y'know, so rational and evidence-based.

monk68 said...

Anonymous,

"I won't call them "same sex marriages" to avoid the charge of question-begging again, but they are definitely something, they do not cease to exist because of your metaphysics."

Of course they exist as “something”. They simply don’t exist *as marriages*.

Indeed, your stance is perfectly compatible with the goal or motivation behind DOMA. This is not that. Let's not tell lies and call the sun the moon or vice-a-versa. Nor would the sun become the moon simply because five of nine judges insisted upon it, nor because justice Kennedy attempted to bully persons of common sense by suggesting that the only possible motivation for upholding the distinction between sun and moon were hatred or bigotry.

Tony said...

I assume that somewhere in the 100 amicus briefs SCOTUS received, at least one of them outlined the natural law position. It seems likely that Kennedy has heard it before, too. He simply rejects that natural law has anything to say about the understanding of law. In that, he is pretty much in direct defiance of Catholic doctrine.

His bishop ought to have (years and years ago) had a very pointed discussion with him about his obligations as a Catholic. The fact that no bishop has done so, or at least not a pointed enough discussion, seems like another failure of the hierarchy.

Anonymous said...

There is absolutely nothing unique about natural law theory in this regard, and the liberal position is in no way more metaphysically or philosophically "neutral" between citizens than the natural law view is.

Well, that is obviously wrong, because the essence of liberalism is that the state should remain as neutral as possible about things like metaphysics. Yes, a liberal state still has to take moral positions, but it tries to ground those in something other than metaphysics, eg "utility". The state should be metaphysically minimalist.

So, liberalism is not trying to promote a metaphysical view in the same sense that, say, the Catholic Church is. The latter purports to be the bearer of metaphysical truth. The liberal state just wants to set things up so people can discover the truth for themselves.

Tony said...

There is also the fact that there are many thousands of these relationships in existence with or without the law. I won't call them "same sex marriages" to avoid the charge of question-begging again, but they are definitely something, they do not cease to exist because of your metaphysics.

Actually, that touches on a most significant point. For those who insist that the law can recognize gay "marriages" if it wants because the law can determine things like permissible contracts and so on, there is a further problem. See, when you set up a corporation, and record the entity with the state, the changes are changes in law properly understood. The incorporation contract doesn't change YOU, it is a legal reality but not an ontological reality independent of the law.

True, heterosexual marriage is different, at least according the Christian understanding. When two, a man and a woman, become "one flesh" in marriage, they become "a one thing" in a way that is valid whether or not the state recognizes it. There now exists a family where there wasn't one before, and the family, though not a substantial unity, is still a unity of sorts independently of law. It doesn't depend on law to come into being the way many legal things do. There is a real thing that exists really, even though its existence is derivative of the two and their consent to form such a unity. The union is a real thing precisely by reason of its referential ordering toward the pro-creation of a new person, an ordering of which (by being of complementary sexes) contains within it the natural capacity to generate a new person (unless impeded by defect).

monk68 said...

"but it tries to ground those in something other than metaphysics, eg "utility"."

But utilitarianism entials a whole host of meta . . well nevermind.

The mythology of secular metaphysical minimalism, the gravest story never told.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

Sure, liberalism claims and even aims to be neutral, but that doesn't entail that it really is or ever could be. To think that the mere existence of one's intention to be neutral guarantees that one really is neutral is not only a fallacy, but an especially dangerous one -- it makes the one beholden to it blind to his own biases.

Suppose the Supreme Court declared that 2 and 2 sometimes make 5 but also declared itself neutral between those who think 2 and 2 necessarily make 4 and those who do not. Obviously the "neutrality" would be completely phony. You either agree that 2 and 2 cannot make 5 or you do not. If you do, your position favors "traditional arithmetic" -- that is to say, arithmetic full stop -- and if you do not, then you have put yourself at odds with arithmetic and replaced it with something totally different that it only superficially resembles and which you call by the same name.

Same with marriage. Whatever "same-sex marriage" is, it is no more marriage in the traditional sense of the word than 2 + 2 = 5 is a statement of arithmetic. That, at any rate, is what the natural law theorist (and pretty much everyone else in history except liberals in the last couple of decades) have held.

Now, you can say that the natural law position is wrong, that the new use of the word "marriage" captures something better than the old, etc. But what you cannot coherently claim to be is neutral. Calling it "neutral", insisting that you want to be neutral, doesn't make you really neutral. The very possibility of "same-sex marriage" logically requires that the metaphysics underlying the natural law approach, and other approaches that rule out "same-sex marriage," is false. Ergo it is not metaphysically neutral.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser

Your case is far different than the one presented in the public forum. It would be a great service for you to write a book on this, I think. It would enrich the marketplace of ideas at the very least. Do you know of a book which makes a similar case to your own? I am looking for thorough treatments.

Anonymous said...

Sure, liberalism claims and even aims to be neutral, but that doesn't entail that it really is or ever could be.

Well, I already said that this is an aspiration that is not perfectly attainable, so we are in agreement.

Same with marriage. Whatever "same-sex marriage" is, it is no more marriage in the traditional sense of the word than 2 + 2 = 5 is a statement of arithmetic.

Oh please. The laws of arithmetic are universally valid, meaning that if we could communciate with the slime-creaturers of Proxima Ceti we could probably reach agreement with them about what 2 + 2 is. Marriage, on the other hand, is a construct peculiar to our particular biology. Nobody needs to pass laws regulating arithmetic, but there have always been laws regulating marriage, and they are not always the same laws (rules about minimum age, multiple partners, economic factors, racial factors, how much consanguity is allowed...these all vary widely across cultures).

In short, the idea that the definition of marriage has something in common with the definitions of mathematics is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Other anon,

What a wonderfully insightful and in depth counterpoint to Dr. Feser's numerous writings on Morality, Natural Law, and Marriage you have just provided.

How will he ever respond to your water tight refutation of the naturalness of marriage? It isn't as if he has already, on numerous occasions, dealt with such sophomoric nonsense.

In response to the Dr. Feser:

Those in favour of marriage (which is heterosexual by definition) have done a terrible job of getting our point to the masses. It is no wonder we lose in the Courts.

Some of the problem is, of course, that marriage can hardly be defended in isolation when social liberalism is consolidating its grip through out society and culture. But even on marriage itself we don't get through to the public or the media, who simply treat our arguments as only be biblical or based on tradition for tradition's sake.

Brandon said...

the essence of liberalism is that the state should remain as neutral as possible about things like metaphysics

Well, in addition to Ed's point, this is not universally true of liberalism; liberal neutrality was originally a claim about religion specifically, and the attempt to make it about metaphysics generally is a relatively recent push by just one form of liberalism. Historically outside this school liberalism has usually been very explicit about its metaphysical assumptions, and controversies among different schools of liberalism have typically been on metaphysical issues; what differentiates the Mill-style liberal from the Bosanquet-style liberal from the Dewey-style liberal from the Rawls-style liberal is fundamentally a matter of the metaphysics of human persons and human actions, particularly as they relate to the possibility of society. What's more, this is widely recognized among philosophers who actually write on liberal theory. Liberalism isn't committed to any one particular metaphysics (although it rules out some), but justifying a liberal state always requires some particular set of metaphysical assumptions about individual persons and their capacities. And as lots of people have pointed out, even state neutrality can't be established without some fairly robust metaphysical assumptions about individuals and their capacities.

As a side note, you've misunderstood Ed's point about same-sex marriage being "no more marriage in the traditional sense of the word than 2 + 2 = 5 is a statement of arithmetic"; read the statement again carefully and you should be able to catch the qualifying phrase that your interpretation dropped, changing the entire meaning of the claim.

Joe K. said...

I figure I may as well chime in.

First, I want to address this nonsense about the only motivation for opposing same-sex marriage being hate. I write about this a lot on my blog (over at beatushomo.blogspot.com, if anyone is interested). For those of you who don't know, I'm the resident celibate gay guy who defends traditional natural law sexual morality. I mention this fact only to point out that such opposition is most assuredly not based in hatred of homosexuals or anything of the sort. I would even go as far as to say that such assertions, beyond being childishly political, are downright slanderous. I don't hate gay people. In fact, I quite like them, seeing as I am one. I also don't find what they do to be revolting. In fact, I quite like what they do; I would even go as far as to say that what they do is hot. But I also happen to think that what they do is immoral and that it is bad for them and society to do these things.

I also think that marriage is the foundation of a flourishing society, and that if we don't get marriage correct, the entire society will remain ill. Look at fornication or abortion or birth control or divorce. These things have been incredibly detrimental to society, to the point that we no longer even believe in the foundational principles of society. Banging your boyfriend, becoming a single mom, sleeping with multiple partners, having an abortion, etc. have become acceptable social norms. "Same-sex marriage" is merely in line with the general decline of the Western world. It just so happens to be a pretty substantial step in the decline, so people care more. This has nothing to do with hate, at least for the vast majority of people.

Which leads me to my second point. Beyond the obvious natural law justifications for what marriage is, it's always ignored what state (and now judicial) sanctioning of same-sex unions really does. It promotes and protects grave immorality, something that is immoral in its own right. That someone consents to grave immorality does not make it any more moral. And before one goes on and on about how the purpose of the liberal government is to be neutral and allow people to pursue their own happiness, recognize that this is not merely a matter of Allowing homosexuals to do what they want. Sodomy is already legal (see Lawrence v. Texas for a ridiculous judicial opinion on this). This is a matter of getting the state to support such unions. Even if one accepts the absurd position that a government has no right to stop immorality (which has NEVER been true of American democracy), it would not follow that the government must support and encourage immorality. This isn't the libertarian "let man gamble away all his money and buy all the women he wants; it's freedom!" This is "Government, provide an apparatus by which he can do these things; citizens, pay for it and recognize it."

Not the the American form of government is even close to libertarianism, nor does it have to accept the ridiculously fallacious position of "government neutrality." But Even If It Did, "same-sex marriage" would not follow.

abelian said...

Well, I already said that this is an aspiration that is not perfectly attainable, so we are in agreement.

But this doesn't answer Feser's point. Feser would disagree with you on what neutrality ought to look like - his end goals are not the same as yours. You need to show that your position really is more neutral, that what you consider biased really is biased. If you are tempted to employ Occam's Razor, realise that a minimal facts explanation is no explanation if it simply dismisses what it cannot explain. Likewise, one is not more neutral if he simply dismisses what he doesn't like.

Marriage, on the other hand, is a construct peculiar to our particular biology.

Exactly. That's why marriage is heterosexual by nature, and why heterosexuality is not an arbitrary requirement. The litany of examples you cite only goes to show this: isn't it curious that none of them touch on the heterosexual quality of marriage? Lest you are tempted to say polygamy contradicts this, bear in mind that polygamy is *not* group marriage. It is one man having many marriages with many women, not one marriage with many women - the women are not married to each other.


Nobody needs to pass laws regulating arithmetic, but there have always been laws regulating marriage, and they are not always the same laws.

Laws regulating the proper practice of arithmetic do exist - that's what it means to graduate from school with passing grades, without which no sane employer would hire you for, say, accounting or engineering. The courts are not in the business of issuing laws on arithmetic because that is just not their jurisdiction.

Are the laws governing the practice of arithmetic a human construct? Yes. Are the laws of arithmetic a human construct? No. Likewise, marriage law is a human construct, but a construct that can be judged to be better or worse depending on how close it gets to what marriage is.

Chad Handley said...

Mr. Feser, what are the arguments the natural law theorist uses to demonstrate that marriage is a natural rather than a social institution?

Reading between the lines, I gather it's because man's essence requires that he can only reach some of his higher ends by participating in a long-term sexual relationship that produces children?

Religiously, I'm sympathetic to your opinion. I have a problem with gay marriages being recognized in the Church. But politically, I can't see how the Aristotelian position would possibly be persuasive in the public square.

Just because a gay couple can't physically produce the children themselves doesn't mean they can't fulfill every other end of marriage you set out given adoption and surrogacy. I know of gay couples with children who perform every aspect of marriage you describe except physically produce the children themselves. I don't see why their simple inability to physically reproduce means they can't have family visitation rights in hospitals, can't inherit property from each other, can't jointly file taxes, and in various other ways have their unions have equal recognition under the law.

And if you are in favor of homosexual couples having all these rights but just wish that their unions be called something other than marriage, then I don't see how traditional Aristotelian arguments are of much help. What would nature or its ends care if you called a homosexual union marriage or if you called it a turtle? If the union itself is wrong, it's wrong regardless of its name. As a private citizen you of course have the right to never refer to a homosexual union as a marriage, but if you admit that homosexual unions should enjoy all the protections that heterosexual marriages do, then why should the government call it something other than marriage? If that's what DOMA does, then it seems like all DOMA does is write prejudice and bigotry into law.

To take your poison analogy, gay marriage seems to me a to be analogous to a filter which can remove the contagions from poison and make it safe to drink. If there were means of doing this for a person with a biological compulsion for drinking poison, why would you forbid him from having access to this filter? Why would you grant him the right to have this filter but demand that the United States government pass a law requiring that the activity of quenching his thirst via use of that filter be called something other than drinking?

Anonymous said...


But this doesn't answer Feser's point. Feser would disagree with you on what neutrality ought to look like - his end goals are not the same as yours. You need to show that your position really is more neutral, that what you consider biased really is biased.


Well, Feser wants to limit people's freedom, and I want to expand it. That is not neutrality exactly, but is related. Feser claims to know exactly how human sexuality and relationships should be ordered and believes the state should enforce his particular view; I am of the opinion that as far as it is practical the state should get out of the way and let people do what they want. Again, that is not exactly neutral, but it does allow the state to be more neutral about certain things than it does in Feser's world.

rank sophist said...

I am of the opinion that as far as it is practical the state should get out of the way and let people do what they want. Again, that is not exactly neutral, but it does allow the state to be more neutral about certain things than it does in Feser's world.

It isn't neutral in the slightest. Among other things, you've smuggled in a certain understanding of what "let[ting] people do what they want" means. Let's take it a step further to show how it works.

Why should the state prevent people from killing one another, if that's what they want to do? If you reply that murder should be stopped because it infringes on another's right to life, then you've made the standard appeal to universal human rights. Therefore, you admit that the state should not be totally neutral: it should enforce a particular understanding of human rights that you have set forward. But what are these rights? I don't have a right to murder people, but do I have a right to steal from them? Do I have a right to destroy another's property? Do I have a right to flash people on the street?

Your specific answers to these questions are irrelevant. All that matters is that you must, if you believe in universal human rights, give each of them a yes or no answer. Thus you will provide an account of what humans have a right to do and what should be prevented by the state. This brings us back to same-sex marriage. Your presupposed understanding of human rights tells you that it is something that the state should not prevent. But the Thomistic understanding of human rights disagrees. Either side you pick is going to be a side: neither one is magically more "neutral" than the other.

The state has ruled in favor of your side and against the Thomistic side. It has not ruled in favor of neutrality. In fact, a state that ruled in favor of neutrality would cease to exist, because an appeal to neutrality is really an appeal to valueless nihilism and anarchy. So don't kid yourself about the neutrality of liberalism. It's an ideology among other ideologies, and its defenders need to argue for it as one.

Timotheos said...

In short, the idea that the definition of marriage has something in common with the definitions of mathematics is ridiculous.

Well, of course the definition of marriage has something in common with the definitions of mathematics since they are both, you know, definitions… ;)

Being a little more serious, it may be harder to determine a strict definition of traditional marriage than a mathematical definition, but that isn’t Feser’s point. He is simply pointing out that we cannot define marriage in both the traditional and newer senses at the same time without being logically contradictory. In other words, if we want to redefine marriage from the traditional meaning to a new “whatever sexual relationship two people consent to” then we can’t think that the proponents of traditional marriage are defining the word in the same way. By marriage they would mean something completely different from the way it was redefined.

P.S.
I liked the Johnson reference for the title Dr. Feser. Maybe you could do a post on him some time.

Anonymous said...

sophist -- you seem to have reading or comprehension difficulties, since I not only never claimed the state could be totally neutral, I specifically said it couldn't.

Tony said...

Anonymous: So, liberalism is not trying to promote a metaphysical view in the same sense that, say, the Catholic Church is. The latter purports to be the bearer of metaphysical truth. The liberal state just wants to set things up so people can discover the truth for themselves.

Actually, the Church is trying to present a Revelation - things to be believed because they have been revealed by extra-natural acts, not a metaphysics. It happens to believe, as well, that there IS a metaphysics that is true, and that it can be found by reason just fine. Such as the law of non-contradiction. That the distinction between act and potency and defect explains what we mean by "evil". That you cannot get act out of potency, only from prior act. These metaphysical truths, and more of them, all lead to certain understanding of human nature, from which it is possible to say

Man is designed for heterosexual marriage.

That's what it means, by the way, to call this "Natural" law - that it is derivable by reason without revelation. So, the Church isn't really trying to promote this metaphysics as if it were a special deal to Catholics, it is merely recognizes this metaphysics as valid both to Catholics and to anyone else who is going to engage in metaphysics because it is TRUE, and knowable, for all.

since I not only never claimed the state could be totally neutral, I specifically said it couldn't.

You said the state should be minimalist metaphysically. The problem is that what the liberal state is being is just PLAIN metaphysical, not minimalist at all. It is making JUST AS MANY foundational presuppositions as does natural law or any traditional state, just DIFFERENT metaphysical presuppositions. Making a different set of them isn't minimalist in any intelligible sense.

Anonymous said...

The interesting thing about the use of the term bigotry is that, at least where I live (Australia), most of us opposed to so called gay marriage and homosexual actions are forced to really think about the reasons. Indeed, some of us (like myself) were even raised in families that did not accept traditional Christian positions on homosexuality.

On the other hand, many of those who support so called gay marriage and homosexual actions and even those who throw around terms like bigot and hate at opponents do not seem to think about their positions in any careful way, and certainly do not really know about or consider their opponent's positions. Rather, they just imbibe the social liberal assumptions about human nature, sexuality, and homosexuality in the cultural air and lash out in a knee jerk way at those who step out of line.

If the term bigot is to mean those who accept a position unthinkingly then more social liberals are bigots, in Australia anyway, than thorough social conservatives.

Chad Handley,

To put it briefly, gay couple's cannot form the correct kinds of families or, in general, bring up kids properly.

Even more fundamentally they cannot bring together, in a stable and constructive way, the two sexes, the poles, of humanity. They cannot experience eros in its fullest sense and therefore they are kept from having eros lead, in a particularly important way, to agape.

Here is a very good essay on this subject.

http://www.the-pope.com/maresayc.html

Anonymous said...

Chad Handley,

You bring up a good point. No traditional conservative should be in favour of any more toleration (toleration, originally, was the allowance of immoral behaviour because of pity or efficacy - with the proviso it was tolerated as a favour - it certainly did not denote a right to be noisily claimed) for homosexual activities than not making them illegal. Any recognition of rights for homosexuals couples, and especially civil unions, is already moving towards recognising them as legitimate and will tend to lead to where it has.

Any conservative that claims to be against gay marriage but for civil unions is acting very foolishly.

Joe K. said...

sophist -- you seem to have reading or comprehension difficulties, since I not only never claimed the state could be totally neutral, I specifically said it couldn't.

His response makes perfect sense in light of the comment on neutrality. Neutrality in this context is neither a legitimate goal (an "aspiration") nor a reality. It's a nonstarter, and that's all Rank is saying.

Well, Feser wants to limit people's freedom, and I want to expand it. That is not neutrality exactly, but is related. Feser claims to know exactly how human sexuality and relationships should be ordered and believes the state should enforce his particular view; I am of the opinion that as far as it is practical the state should get out of the way and let people do what they want. Again, that is not exactly neutral, but it does allow the state to be more neutral about certain things than it does in Feser's world.

I'll say it again. This is Not what you're advocating. You're advocating the state Actively recognize and Support the activity. What you claim about "freedom" is not what's at issue. Homosexuals are free in this country to do whatever they want with themselves. They can have a hundred partners a night. What they are aiming for now is both recognition and support by the state and the citizens of the state. This is not "leave me alone with my man!" This is "recognize me as a special group that deserves special benefits!" They are asking the state and its people to Do something, not to Not do something. (For the record, American democracy does not even entail that it has to "leave you alone with your man," but at least get the issues straight.)

Joe K. said...

And if you are in favor of homosexual couples having all these rights but just wish that their unions be called something other than marriage, then I don't see how traditional Aristotelian arguments are of much help. What would nature or its ends care if you called a homosexual union marriage or if you called it a turtle? If the union itself is wrong, it's wrong regardless of its name. As a private citizen you of course have the right to never refer to a homosexual union as a marriage, but if you admit that homosexual unions should enjoy all the protections that heterosexual marriages do, then why should the government call it something other than marriage? If that's what DOMA does, then it seems like all DOMA does is write prejudice and bigotry into law.

We're not in favor of homosexuals having those "rights," as those rights are for married people. No moral person would want to set up a system that condones and supports immorality. It's one thing saying, "Okay, we're not going to regulate what you do in your bedroom." It is quite another to say, "What you do in your bedroom is going to get special recognition from the state."

And this has nothing to do with "bigotry." The purpose of such laws are to protect and promote traditional moral norms in society. In the same way that we protect anything with laws in society. We say "X is good and Y is bad; we should promote X and curtail Y." This is a completely legitimate use of the law and we've done it throughout both the history of this country and the history of any civilized government.

A system that protects and promotes an immoral union is categorically a Bad Thing. Now, this does not entail that we should harm homosexuals simply for Being homosexual (that is, we shouldn't have laws that say that homosexuals can't receive social security benefits Because they are sexually attracted to the same sex), but it does entail that we should avoid laws that foster homosexual sex and homosexual relationships. And again, this doesn't mean we have to have moral police that knock on doors to make sure people aren't having anal sex. It just means that it is absolutely legitimate to say "marriage is special; marriage is THIS and NOT THIS."

Chad Handley said...

Anonymous,

Even if one agrees that the ideal marriage should model eros leading into agape, should the supposed inability of a marriage to do so make that marriage illegal? Even if one recognizes the force of such an argument in a religious context, it's not a very persuasive legal argument.

I think the other anonymous might have put things too broadly when he said the state should be metaphysically minimalist. However, I do think the state should be in some sense morally minimalist, in that it should require of its citizens only that level of morality that is necessary for a stable society. That homosexual marriage supposedly does not reach the absolute highest zenith of marriage is no argument that the state can't allow it. The state shouldn't set such a high bar on things. Not every immoral activity needs to be illegal; that's what separates democracy from theocracy.

And assuming you are also the Anonymous who posted at 5:28 AM EST, I would tend to agree with you that it makes little sense to be for civil unions but against gay marriage. For my part, none of the arguments presented justify the state denying a gay man a right to visit his partner in a hospital. If that means the state has to recognize his marriage, then so be it.

Tony said...

Even if one agrees that the ideal marriage should model eros leading into agape, should the supposed inability of a marriage to do so make that marriage illegal...However, I do think the state should be in some sense morally minimalist, in that it should require of its citizens only that level of morality that is necessary for a stable society.?

According to some thinkers, such as Augustine and Aquinas, the object of the state is to make as possible as it can, to the limits of the temporal end of man, living "the good life", which can also be understood as "the life of full freedom". But "freedom" in that context is not license, not "do whatever you please", but those acts that properly fulfill human nature in the concrete, which means actions in conformity with virtue. Even the TEMPORAL end of man includes living the good life in the sense of living the virtues.

As a result, according to this view of the purpose of the state, it has the right (and in some cases duty) to mandate some acts of the virtues, and forbid some acts of vice, to the extent that it can promote living the good life more fully, more readily, more easily, by more people. This means (as St. Thomas says) that it belongs to the state NOT to forbid all of the acts of vice, for all men are fallen and all are subject to sin, and from having laws too onerous contempt for the law would be deleterious as a whole. However, he says, law may ordain acts of the virtues insofar as all men (no murder) or nearly all men (no adultery) can achieve them without undue burden or heroic self-control.

The law is a teacher of right as well as a restraint of evil. By mandating some of the acts of virtue it can (in a well-disposed populace) help to train people in good habits, which of themselves makes virtue more readily achievable.

In general, then, there is no FOUNDATIONAL reason why we must view the state has being minimalist in terms of its orientation toward man's good. In promoting the good life, it should at some times mandate good acts and restrain some evils that need not be tolerated.

Chad Handley said...

Arguably, the foundational reason in America is the Constitution. The Constitution seems to suggest the government should do the least it has to in order to promote virtue, rather than the most it can.

DNW said...

In responding to Anonymous, Rank Sophist @ July 1, 2013 at 10:37 PM, has gotten the question precisely right, and Joe K has followed up with pertinent and important observations regarding the progressive's social segue from requests for tolerance, to demands for affirmation and distributed risk.

I see no answer on the part of "anonymous".

Probably, because like Rorty, anonymous realizes that there isn't one under, or given, his own scheme of interpretation (or non-metaphysical metaphysics).

He just wants; and in a universe where there is no objective standard for gauging the respectability of various wants, that's more or less the end of the story.

The rest is all about getting it from others; either through rhetoric or violence.

Chad Handley said...

There's not much recognition here that the morality of gay marriage and the legality of it are two separate issues. Even if one grants that your moral arguments are rational and defensible, that wouldn't move the needle on the legal question an inch.

A gay man wants to visit his lifetime partner in the hospital. How does it serve the best interests of the state to keep him from doing that?

If the answer involves natural ends and Augustinian theories of government and eros not properly leading into agape, that's just not good enough from a legal standpoint.

We can throw our tantrums about DOMA only being struck down because of the demanding arrogance of liberals and their obnoxious sense of entitlement, but the truth is gay marriage is going to become the law of the land because the strictly legal arguments against it are absolutely terrible.

Joe K. said...

Arguably, the foundational reason in America is the Constitution. The Constitution seems to suggest the government should do the least it has to in order to promote virtue, rather than the most it can.

Incorrect. The Constitution is merely a limit on what the government can do. It's merely a restriction on certain powers, mostly those that are exploitative of citizens. There is no justification whatsoever for the argument that the government cannot enact laws concerning moral goods or that government must remain "minimally moral." This is why laws concerning polygamy or bestiality or gambling or drugs or pornography or incest (even among sterile couples!) are all constitutional.

We can throw our tantrums about DOMA only being struck down because of the demanding arrogance of liberals and their obnoxious sense of entitlement, but the truth is gay marriage is going to become the law of the land because the strictly legal arguments against it are absolutely terrible.

Did you read the DOMA opinion? It's one of the most pathetic pieces of jurisprudence since Roe v. Wade. No one can really even identify Why the law was struck down from a constitutional perspective. It doesn't matter why it was struck down of course, as people are political animals, but that's my point.

"Gay marriage" is going to become the law of the land because people have moral opinions of homosexuals and homosexual relationships. It has Nothing to do with the law. No one cares about the law. The ridiculousness of saying that people are against "gay marriage" because of non-legal moral arguments while Simultaneously saying that "gay marriage" will Become the law not because of moral reasons but because of legal argument is truly dumbfounding.

Both are moral positions. The people were endowed with the ability to make laws concerning moral goods. The people just happen to be making the wrong decision today. Do not frame it as "moral argument" versus "legal argument." It's just not true.

Now, you can make prudential arguments about what unions the state should recognize, but prudential arguments are just as "moral." There's no special place for morality; it is always a part of government (what do you think a "right" is?). Morality is just how people deal with one another and run their societies. Some people say that society should be run in a way that reveres, supports, and protects marriage, the foundation of human society, for what it actually is. Other people say that marriage can be redefined in such a way as to appease certain groups that want marriage-like benefits. Whichever is correct, THEY ARE BOTH MORAL ARGUMENTS.

DNW said...

" ... the morality of gay marriage and the legality of it are two separate issues. Even if one grants that your moral arguments are rational and defensible, that wouldn't move the needle on the legal question an inch."


" ...the best interests of the state ..."


Whose interest does the state serve?

Blackstone (attributed): "Law is the embodiment of the moral sentiment of the people."


Blackstone certainly: "The other sort of disabilities are those which are created, or at least enforced, by the municipal laws. And, though some of them may be grounded on natural law, yet they are regarded by the laws of the land, not so much in the light of any moral offence, as on account of the civil inconveniences they draw after them. These civil disabilities make the contract void ab initio, and not merely voidable: not that they dissolve a contract already-424- formed, but they render the parties incapable of forming any contract at all: they do not put asunder those who are joined together, but they previously hinder the junction. And, if any persons under these legal incapacities come together, it is a meretricious, and not a matrimonial, union."

Chad Handley said...

This is why laws concerning polygamy or bestiality or gambling or drugs or pornography or incest (even among sterile couples!) are all constitutional.

Those laws are all constitutional because there are obvious legal arguments as to why it is in the best interests of the state to prevent all of those activities.

What are the similar arguments for why the state would be best served by not recognizing gay marriage?

The ridiculousness of saying that people are against "gay marriage" because of non-legal moral arguments while Simultaneously saying that "gay marriage" will Become the law not because of moral reasons but because of legal argument is truly dumbfounding.

I'm not a lawyer so I'm not sure what the strict legal explication of this principle would be, but it seems to me the courts have always operated under the principle that if a man wants to do something that other men can do, and if his doing it will not harm anyone else, the state needs a compelling reason to forbid him from doing it.

I come back again to the gay man who merely wants to have visitation rights with his loved one at a hospital. What compelling reason is there to deny this man this right?

I don't necessarily find the arguments against all the vices you list persuasive, but even the relatively weak social cost arguments that can be raised against polygamy are much better than the arguments that can be raised against homosexual marriage.

Polygamy can lead to a scarcity of marriageable women and to depriving men below a certain class of any available women at all. And a large underclass of men with no prospects of finding a partner is bad for society.

Now, that's not a very good argument, but it's better than any argument I've ever seen as to why the state shouldn't allow gay marriage.

So far, I haven't seen anyone in this thread do any better than "Well, you're arguing for your morals, too! Why can't we argue for legal recognition of our morals!"

Well, what morally reprehensible law could not be argued for if that was the standard? A slave trader and a segregationist could also make such an argument.

What is needed is not a Tu quoque tirade against liberals but an argument that could prevail in the public square spelling out exactly how gay marriage is harmful to the state.

The problem is, as far as I can see, there are no such arguments.

Anonymous said...

Since homosexuality and pederasty are closely linked, the acceptance of gay marriage will lead to an increase in the sexual abuse of adopted children.


http://www.queerty.com/gay-couple-child-sex-abuse-to-stand-trial-20130408/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1522158/Gay-couple-jailed-for-abusing-their-foster-children.html

Brandon said...

So far, I haven't seen anyone in this thread do any better than "Well, you're arguing for your morals, too! Why can't we argue for legal recognition of our morals!"

Obviously; Anon opened by appealing to metaphysical neutrality and you explicitly appealed to ethical minimalism. If the argument is explicitly put on those grounds, what else do you think people are going to do other than argue that such neutrality and minimalism can't be consistently maintained (which is what tu quoque arguments do)? You're getting responses other than what you want because you've set the problem up incorrectly.

Your strongest ground for argument, it seems to me, is the legality/morality distinction, which actually has potential you are not using. (The visitation rights argument is weak because there's actually no compelling reason to hang hospital visitation rights on marriage at all. Think for instance of two life-long close friends, one of whom is in the hospital and the other of whom wants visitation rights; what is this compelling reason by which you are denying it to them because they aren't married? It doesn't exist; marriage enters into such questions for reasons of legislative convenience, not compelling state reasons.)

However, I'm not sure your formulation is quite clear enough to answer as it stands. For instance, you seem to confuse 'compelling state reasons' with 'beneficial or harmful to the state', when compelling state reasons are actually concerned with what benefits or harms the people in general insofar as the state is tasked with supporting and protecting them and their rights. Likewise, you talk about 'the public square'. But 'the public square' means many different things depending on your account of the distinction between public and private, which is a moral distinction in kinds of good. Likewise, you seem to be assuming that the distinction between legality and morality is so sharp that one can have legal arguments that are not based on moral arguments. But this already presupposes that natural law theory is false, since natural law theory, insofar as it is a legal philosophy, entails that all legal arguments are directly or indirectly moral arguments; for a natural law theorist, the distinction between morality and legality is a distinction between moral obligation as such and moral obligation as qualified by practical limitations and the principle of tolerance. If you keep talking about the public square and the distinction between legality and morality as if it were just obvious that they have the implications you suggest, people are inevitably going to keep arguing that your account is not consistently sustainable, because they have a different account of the public square and the distinction between legality and morality than you think is obvious, and thus when you try to base claims on these things, they are going to think that you are obviously saying inconsistent things.

Chad Handley said...

Brandon, I'm obviously not the best person to make these arguments, as I am an admitted philosophical and legal neophyte.

I, however, am not the homosexual marriage opponent's problem. Their problem is the lack of a compelling case.

And what matters isn't the dispute between myself and the natural lawyer, but between the homosexual marriage opponent and the Constitution.

Anonymous,

What if we were to find that statistically, abuse were more common among Black families. Would that show that the state should stop recognizing all Black marriages?

Or what if it were more common among people below a certain income level or in a certain region of the country?

Even if it were the case that most acts of pederasty were same sex, that wouldn't show that most men who had same sex attractions were pederasts. It's like saying that because most people in jails are non-whites, most non-whites are criminals. The logic doesn't follow.

Anonymous said...

To redirect this a bit, here's a question. Even if you are 100% correct about the nature of marriage, why do you care so much?

It may be that listening to Bach rather than Eminem is better for the soul and more in comport with genuine human nature. That doesn't mean that the government should be in the business of telling people what music to listen to. We let them figure it out for themselves, for the most part.

Yes, this is not a perfect analogy for marriage, that is why it is called an analogy. But musical affinity is something that people take very personally. It is also something that changes over time; your parents were probably dismissing the music you liked as not real music. Time defeated their conservatism.

All this talk of Thomism and natural law ignores the plain fact that same-sex marriage is something that people want to do, because they believe, not only that it will make them happier but that it is necessary for their fulfillment. Maybe they are wrong, but why is it your business to tell them they are wrong and use the power of the state to forbid them from seeking their destiny?

rank sophist said...

Anon at 11:42 AM,

It may be that listening to Bach rather than Eminem is better for the soul and more in comport with genuine human nature. That doesn't mean that the government should be in the business of telling people what music to listen to.

The government's job is to enact laws that support the common good. A Thomistic government would most likely ban Eminem's music as obscene and contrary to the common good. (Even a government from forty or fifty years ago would have done this.) Likewise, it would ban same-sex marriage as contrary to the common good, since institutionalizing it provides a negative example for the people. So, your analogy is perfectly sound, but not in the way you want it to be.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you folks would be happier in Putin's Russia, where they have no qualms about jailing offensive artists and enacting harsh laws against gays. The Orthodox Church is gaining political power so it sounds like a good place for those who want their government infused with spirit. It would mean giving up some of the comforts of the west, to be sure, but are all those big houses worth the anomie?

I suggest you look into immigration, your chances of imposing your theocracy here don't seem good.

Anonymous said...

Given the low birth rate among Atheist types and the influx of Mexicans, it seems very good.

DNW said...

"All this talk of Thomism and natural law ignores the plain fact that same-sex marriage is something that people want to do, because they believe, not only that it will make them happier but that it is necessary for their fulfillment. Maybe they are wrong, but why is it your business to tell them they are wrong and use the power of the state to forbid them from seeking their destiny?"

It seems that fulfilling their same-sex destiny - whatever that actually might be supposed to be - somehow entails the cooperation, affirmation, and social solicitude of others within the polity.

What however, if the fulfillment of those "others'" destiny does not include assisting the same-sexers to fulfill theirs?

Just as a general observation, one would think that something akin to a shared power-of-attorney arrangement between competent adults could be devised, thereby avoiding the legal imposition of a generalized civic obligation requiring every citizen to take seriously a charade of the genuine marital contact.

But I take it that something more is desired. Which, kind of puts paid to the proposition that it's all about private relations and access to bank accounts and such.

Anonymous said...

Chad, to my knowledge, there isn't a law anywhere in this country that "bans" gay persons from exchanging vows with one another. If they want to call themselves "married," that is their business. So, no liberty in that regard is being infringed.

A state-recognized marriage is another matter. Until of late, marriage has always involved men and women because humans are overwhelmingly heterosexual. Commitment and fidelity are virtues and provide a stable environment for the rearing of children. A state's interest in promoting marriage in one way or another stems from a state's need of self-preservation. Stable families and an optimal environment for the socialization (not socialism) of children is good for the overall health of the state. Hence, the promotion of traditional marriage is a beneficial reciprocal relationship (e.g. see Augustus' marriage laws).

There is simply no compelling state interest to promote gay marriage, other than what now exists: the personal liberty to call any non-conventional relationship anything one wishes. And since legal mechanisms are or can be utilized or implemented to address property distribution, there is no logically compelling reason for the state to include non-conventional groups within the rubric of marriage.

The objection that the exclusion of groups such as homosexuals is a violation of equal protection is non sequitur. If an equal protection claim is sufficient to fundamentally change the definition of a legal term, then there is no logical defense against any redefinition of said term. Why can't roommates be legally recognized as married? Why does "erotic love" have to be the standard? Why must it be restricted to humans? Who says that "consent" must be the standard (for those wishing to marry their pillows and such)? Answers to these and similar questions involve an appeal to one's definition of marriage, and if one has already conceded that a fundamental redefinition is justified on equal protection grounds, then the logical extension of that position is to render the term in question meaningless.

When "marriage" means everything, then it means nothing. If the state is going to hand out benefits to those who are married, then everybody can redefine that term and appeal to equal protection to access those benefits. If a gay marriage advocate insists that "marriage" must be defined as a sexual relationship, then h/er original objection backfires.

In sum, there is no law prohibiting any couple from exchanging vows, legal mechanisms are or can be constructed for property division, and equal protection guarantees either have nothing to do with homosexual "marriage," or they logically render meaningless state-recognized marriages. Let's just call everybody married lest we violate the Constitution.

Edward Feser said...

Maybe you folks would be happier in Putin's Russia...

Well, it was only a matter of time before the trusty Argumentum ad Hitlerum made it's appearance. Credit to Anonymous, though, for at least putting a new spin on the fallacy by citing Putin rather than Hitler, Goebbels, and Co. And for making it your last, desperate move rather than your opening shot. (I'm assuming -- though who can keep all these "Anonymouses" straight?)

Anonymous said...

It was not an argument, but an observation.

Putin is not Hitler. I don't care for him much, but he is not, AFAIK, an insane mass-murderer who is leading his own people to doom. He's an authoritarian, comparable to Franco perhaps, who was long a beloved figure of the religious right.

I'm not interested in name-calling. You people don't like liberalism and want to replace it with something else, something more rooted in religion and traditional authority I assume. If Franco and Putin aren't good models for what you want, what is?

Chad Handley said...

Anonymous,

I think there's a happy medium available between "more relationships can be recognized as marriage by the state than previously thought" and "everything can be recognized as marriage by the state."

And I still haven't seen a convincing case made as to why a homosexual couple couldn't provide a stable home for raising children. I know of homosexual couples who do just that. Again, perhaps you're right that they don't correctly model eros leading into agape, but is that failure a matter for the state?

I agree that there is no need for the state to promote gay marriages, but I don't see how recognizing gay marriage promotes gay marriage.

You seem to be in favor of all the state recognized rights conveyed by marriage being extended to lifelong homosexual unions, so long as it's not called marriage. I don't see how the simple act of calling it marriage rather than a civil union makes it into a danger to the stability of families. If gay marriage is harmful, then why would civil unions which enjoy all the legal protections of marriage not also be harmful?

Again, I am religiously sympathetic to arguments favoring traditional marriage over gay marriage. I just don't think the religious arguments are of much use in the public square, because even to most Christians they're very unpersuasive.



Chad Handley said...

I think the Anonymous who made the Putin argument makes a point.

Rank Sophist says that an Augustinian government would probably ban Eminem along with gay marriage.

Such a government would presumably also ban any number of television shows, movies, video games, newspapers, magazines, etc. on similar grounds.

If that is indeed the case, I wouldn't want to live under an Augustinian government. Would any of you?

But then I am a Protestant (worse, a Baptist!) who believes in the priesthood of the believer, and as such I desire the right to work out my own salvation, rather than have the state take on that responsibility. Perhaps that's ultimately why we differ.

Tony said...

Arguably, the foundational reason in America is the Constitution. The Constitution seems to suggest the government should do the least it has to in order to promote virtue, rather than the most it can.

No.

Inarguably, the foundational reason FOR the American Constitution came before the Constitution. The Founders were fixing something that was awry. The "fixed" state of affairs, getting to the state of not being awry, is the "reason for" changing from the prior order to the Constitution.

The Constitution seems to suggest the government should do the least it has to in order to promote virtue, rather than the most it can.

No again.

The Constitution, its first Articles, were designed to establish a government whose powers were ceded to it from the already existing powers of the individual states, which were legally sovereign entities capable of consenting to the Union of the Constitutional order or not. As that Constitution was designed, it did not absorb ALL of the prior state powers, only the enumerated ones. Thus it's "reason", its logical order is limited government. The Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments, made explicit limitations on the FEDERAL powers, and then some limitations on BOTH federal and state powers. But aside from those stated limits, states have plenary authority on all things not ceded to the federal government in the Constitution.

All you can say, then, is that it is not a federal role, as envisioned, to make positive law in every matter for virtue or for the fulfillment of good in men generally. But on the Constitutional order you cannot even say that directional goal is denied to the states themselves.

Moreover, in the preamble, it says "in order to...promote the general Welfare". You cannot pretend that the rationale of that statement, or the preamble as a whole is to PRECLUDE the federal government from ruling in any way other than "minimally" in terms of what GOODS the federal government is to aim at. It just isn't there. It is a liberal figment of imagination, a myth, that liberal-style minimalism is written into the Constitution directly.

I think the Anonymous who made the Putin argument makes a point.

Funny, that. Until about 2000 or so, nobody in public made any confident prediction that public opinion would eventually go for gay "marriage" (even in the "tolerate it" sense). As a result, at the time, certainly in the 80's and 90's when the possibility was discussed, when the traditionals held all the reins and had total lock on all levels of government in terms of not allowing sodomy or not allowing gay "marriage", the pro-gay "marriage" people did not say "well, dang, I might as well just go and live in Holland, because public sentiment is against me." They said "it's UNJUST. It's contrary to basic principles of rights. The law is obliged to change to suit my preferences because it is unjust not to." Now that liberals are (about to) get sufficient majorities in significant numbers of states, THEY are telling traditionals to go live elsewhere? Yeah, that's consistent with toleration for others' points of view, isn't it? It's bullsht.

Edward Feser said...

How on earth did we get to Franco, banning Eminem, etc.? All that is at issue here is "same-sex marriage," and someone could coherently oppose that while favoring nothing more radical than the legal status quo as of just a few years ago. All this other stuff is a red herring.

Tony said...

All this talk of Thomism and natural law ignores the plain fact that same-sex marriage is something that people want to do, because they believe, not only that it will make them happier but that it is necessary for their fulfillment. Maybe they are wrong, but why is it your business to tell them they are wrong and use the power of the state to forbid them from seeking their destiny?

What about the person who is mentally deranged and thinks it is his destiny to rip the scalp off anyone with gray hair? How is it the government's job to put a stop to him?

Any answer to that requires a view of what the good of man is, and what the role of the state is in achieving the good of man. If we disagree with you on what the good of man is, your using YOUR presuppositions about that are not going to persuade us. Nor should they somehow TRUMP our view in law.

I, however, am not the homosexual marriage opponent's problem. Their problem is the lack of a compelling case.

Typical. We give you a rational that is internally consistent and is at the very least reasonable in its foundational premises, and your response is merely "I don't see a compelling argument." Without every proposing a reason why the argument is not reasonable. That's so intellectually puerile. The equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and yelling "I can't hear you!"

And I still haven't seen a convincing case made as to why a homosexual couple couldn't provide a stable home for raising children. I know of homosexual couples who do just that.

"Stable home". Typical. That's not what the argument is about - changing the goal post. The question isn't whether they can provide a "stable home". A slave owner can do that, for crying out loud. The question is whether they can provide a proper home. Proper takes into account much more than stability. One of the things it takes into account is that human beings model the totality of rational good in two fundamentally distinct ways, that of male and that of female. Family life is designed to provide the child with the model of BOTH. No homosexual man can model it the rational beingas a woman, no matter what else is true of him. All he can do is model it as a man either acting well as a man or acting poorly as a man.

Again, perhaps you're right that they don't correctly model eros leading into agape, but is that failure a matter for the state?

Now who is scraping at implausible arguments? According to the classic view of the state, YES, that may be exactly a matter for the state, if the failure is grave enough.

Anonymous said...

@Tony: the pro-gay "marriage" people did not say "well, dang, I might as well just go and live in Holland, because public sentiment is against me." They said "it's UNJUST. It's contrary to basic principles of rights. The law is obliged to change to suit my preferences because it is unjust not to." Now that liberals are (about to) get sufficient majorities in significant numbers of states, THEY are telling traditionals to go live elsewhere? Yeah, that's consistent with toleration for others' points of view, isn't it? It's bullsht.

Well, you are certainly free to try to make the US more like Franco’s Spain or Putin’s Russia if you want, but I don’t think you will get very far. The US was founded on generally liberal principles, and rather surprisingly is still working out the consequences of those principles, of which the DOMA ruling is one. There have also always been factions trying to pull the country in different directions, but they haven’t gotten much traction.

I think you are taking my remark too literally. I don’t care if you move to Russia or not, but I will repeat the question I asked awhile back – if you don’t like living in a liberal polity, what’s your alternative?

Anonymous said...

Chad writes,

I think there's a happy medium available between "more relationships can be recognized as marriage by the state than previously thought" and "everything can be recognized as marriage by the state."

You're not arguing anything. As shown, there is no logical defense against "everything can be recognized..."

And I still haven't seen a convincing case made as to why a homosexual couple couldn't provide a stable home for raising children.

On a logical note, that's a separate issue from "marriage." You can argue that an unmarried heterosexual couples provide "stable" homes for children. Human beings are overwhelmingly heterosexual. Consequently, it is in the State's interest to promote an optimal environment for the socialization of children--hence, marriage.

I agree that there is no need for the state to promote gay marriages, but I don't see how recognizing gay marriage promotes gay marriage.

You're not responding to my argument. It is already allowed. Hence, it is a non-issue.

I don't see how the simple act of calling it marriage rather than a civil union makes it into a danger to the stability of families. If gay marriage is harmful, then why would civil unions which enjoy all the legal protections of marriage not also be harmful?

Again, you're not responding to the argument.

Again, I am religiously sympathetic to arguments favoring traditional marriage over gay marriage. I just don't think the religious arguments are of much use in the public square, because even to most Christians they're very unpersuasive.

Again, you're not responding to my argument. I never offered a "religious" argument, unless you think that an appeal to Augustus is a religious one. Perhaps you're replying to somebody else.

Chad Handley said...

Typical. We give you a rational that is internally consistent and is at the very least reasonable in its foundational premises, and your response is merely "I don't see a compelling argument." Without every proposing a reason why the argument is not reasonable

I the moral arguments as far as they go were persuasive. What I haven't seen is a compelling legal argument that would be anything other than laughable to a non-Catholic, non-Thomist.

When I ask for reasons for the state to get involved, I am told about the role of the state in Augustine, or about how there's nothing preventing the state from doing it.

The arguments that are puerile are the arguments presented here that are supposed to persuade someone who isn't a traditional Catholic that the government shouldn't recognize same-sex marriage.

Proper takes into account much more than stability. One of the things it takes into account is that human beings model the totality of rational good in two fundamentally distinct ways, that of male and that of female. Family life is designed to provide the child with the model of BOTH. No homosexual man can model it the rational beingas a woman, no matter what else is true of him. All he can do is model it as a man either acting well as a man or acting poorly as a man.

Maybe I'm not being clear here.

What I'm asking for is the case you would make if you were to go before the Supreme Court and have to argue in favor of DOMA.

Is the above the case you would make? If so you would be laughed out of court. It's simply not the state's business whether gender roles are being properly taught inside home. The state is concerned that the child doesn't become a burden on the state by being abused, being malnourished, not being looked after, etc. The completely ephemeral claim that gender roles aren't being properly modeled doesn't rise to the level of a legal argument worth being taken the least bit seriously.

Now who is scraping at implausible arguments?

From a legal standpoint? You.

Chad Handley said...

You're not arguing anything. As shown, there is no logical defense against "everything can be recognized..."

So, your best argument in favor of gay marriage is the slippery slope argument that if gay marriage is allowed, there's no logical way to exclude marriage to pillows?

Consequently, it is in the State's interest to promote an optimal environment for the socialization of children--hence, marriage.

But it is not in the State's interests to actively prevent environments that are only ever-so-slightly-non-optimal-if-you're-a-natural-law-Catholic . Of course, if it's non-optimal because it's abusive or neglectful, the State has an interest in getting involved there. But if it's non-optimal because eros isn't properly leading to agape, that's a level of non-optimal that the State has no business getting involved in.

You're not responding to my argument. It is already allowed. Hence, it is a non-issue.

I didn't say allowed.

I said "recognized."

As in the having the rights that the government affords other married couples recognized in courts of law.

That is not presently allowed for gay marriages.

I never offered a "religious" argument, unless you think that an appeal to Augustus is a religious one.

I think it's an irrelevant one in terms of the legality of gay marriage in America today.

Perhaps you're replying to somebody else.

That'll happen when there are several people here posting anonymously. It would help if you Anonymous folks signed your posts with at least a pseudonym.

Anonymous said...

"And I still haven't seen a convincing case made as to why a homosexual couple couldn't provide a stable home for raising children. I know of homosexual couples who do just that."

How come proponents for SSM always resort to this claim, amongst other cliche appeal to emotions?

Anonymous said...

Is there a "legal standpoint" where one could argue against two brothers getting married? Based off the reasoning demonstrated at this point, I don't see how Chad could/would. Slippery slope indeed.

E

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"It was not an argument, but an observation."

You are a moron; this is an observation not an argument.

"I'm not interested in name-calling."

And a dishonest idiot as well. Not interested in name-calling, just in pulling an ad-hitlerum.

Chad Handley said...

E,

I do think it would be difficult to make a compelling legal argument against any consensual arrangement among adults.

Which is why I'm glad my position, unlike yours, doesn't require me to make one.

If I were to attempt such an argument, I'd probably make the case that for the most part, the rights conveyed by marriage would be redundant on the hypothetical sibling union. A brother may already be listed as next of kin, have visitation rights, inheritance rights, etc. So, under the equal protection clause there's no reason for the state to recognize rights that would mostly be redundant. And the same argument could be made for opposite sex incestuous marriages, which could be boosted by the obvious genetic risks of such a relationship.

There, that took me five seconds, and (IMHO) it's better than any legal argument against gay marriage that's been produced in this thread in two days.


Anonymous said...

Like Chad I'm a Protestant, but unlike Chad I see SSM as having no legitimacy.

As a Protestant, Chad, on what basis do you think laws should be enacted and maintained? Instead of merely asserting your opinion about traditional Catholic morality, at least defend your own! From what I could tell, you seem to sympathize with secular arguments praising "equality" and condemning "discrimination"--as if marriage were a man-made social construct and not a healthy and normative part of God's creative decree. Now of course if marriage were just a man-made construct the liberal argument for SSM can be easily rejected by pointing out it serves no utilitarian benefit to society anyway (unlike traditional marriage which produces offspring and perpetuate society).

GW

Anonymous said...

You'd be denying them the tax breaks that are afforded to a married couple. So at least in that regard, there is no redundancy. Your position is, based off your earlier reasoning, weak. The position you take in defense against the homosexual marriage of two siblings is inconsistent with your earlier reasoning. My opinion anyway. Isn't it reasonable for us to at least demand consistency?

E

Tony said...

The US was founded on generally liberal principles, and rather surprisingly is still working out the consequences of those principles, of which the DOMA ruling is one.

Correction: the US was founded on certain principles, of which one available corruption was the liberal state we have now.

My alternative, of course, is to change it into a different version of the possibilities inherent in its founding. One that is compatible with man's nature as rational, social, and matrimonial (in its proper sense).

Anonymous said...

If only all of us could be"good" law abiding Americans first and quiet, little, voiceless Christians second like Chad. Just what Christ demanded of us. In fact, there's a scripture saying as much. Can't quite recall where. It had something to do with Paul saying never to proclaim the gospel if it isn't defensible according to local laws. Hmmmm, now where was that?

E

Chad Handley said...

As a Protestant, Chad, on what basis do you think laws should be enacted and maintained?

I tend to be a minimalist. I think the government is only required to pass the minimal laws necessary to ensure a functioning democracy. Unlike some Conservatives, however, I don't think the government is required to restrict itself only to those minimal laws. I think the government can go beyond minimal rights and pass something like national health care if there's a compelling reason and sufficient public support.

But in general I'm a big believer in liberal democracy and the separation of Church and State. On matters that border on the religious, I do think the State should be metaphysically minimalist. I don't think the State should be out there enforcing either the Protestant or the Catholic or the Muslim or the Atheist version of marriage. It should enforce the laws of marriage as it exists purely as a state institution. Whatever other role marriage may be supposed to play in a religious context is none of the State's affair and shouldn't enter into any of its decisions.

as if marriage were a man-made social construct and not a healthy and normative part of God's creative decree.

I think it's both. But the State shouldn't get involved with the "God's creative decree" portion dealing with eros and agape and whatnot. It should only deal with the man-made social construct portion dealing with what rights it will afford married couples.

E,

I did say the rights would be mostly, rather than entirely, redundant. I also admitted the argument was weak. It's just stronger than any strictly legal anti-gay marriage argument that's been produced in this thread thus far.

Anonymous said...

Sadly Chad, your argument is weak. Even worse, it's inconsistent. Inconsistency is one label you can't place on any of the arguments put forward against SSM no matter how weak you might think they are.

Chad Handley said...

What's the inconsistency?

Anonymous said...

Can two friends who are straight get married?

Tony said...

Is the above the case you would make? If so you would be laughed out of court. It's simply not the state's business whether gender roles are being properly taught inside home. The state is concerned that the child doesn't become a burden on the state by being abused, being malnourished, not being looked after, etc.

SCOTUS has been making so-called "arguments" in bad faith since, at the very least, Roe v. Wade. Even the LIBERALS in the law industry agree that Roe was bad argument and irrational, unjustifiable. In the 1990's when SCOTUS revisited it, they simply could not justify it on its own grounds, the could only support it by saying "well, it's settled law now, so we shouldn't overturn it." Similar problems attend the decision in favor of Obamacare, which even liberals have trouble parsing in a way that makes sense. Lawrence was basically raw judicial power overturning state powers on the thinnest of veneers.

In addition, separately from their own justifications for their decisions, they have ignored natural law arguments as if they were unworthy of notice, as if they were not even partially reasonable. In fact, lawyers have been doing this for at least 60 years, not because they have good arguments against natural law, but because they DON'T LIKE THE RESULTS of paying attention to the arguments.

So, asking what argument we would "make to the Supreme Court" is, basically, like asking what argument we would make to a boy with his fingers in his ears.

To be a little more clear, the case for natural law starts with metaphysics, and requires a LOT of background material before you even get into the realm of ethics. That work HAS been done, but Ed Feser has here only given a very brief synopsis, really of only a part of it. You can no more provide the FULL basis for the argument in a couple pages than you can for how we know that Earth moves around the sun (not without stating a lot of assumptions, anyway).

The completely ephemeral claim that gender roles aren't being properly modeled doesn't rise to the level of a legal argument worth being taken the least bit seriously.

Then you have to argue that the state should get the hell out of recognizing marriage at all. Because the state doesn't have a role in telling people that you have to be old enough and 14 isn't old enough, or not brother and sister, or only 2 and not 73 people, or that you cannot marry your dog, or your business partnership, or the oak tree in the yard. If you want the state to be your crazy version of minimalism, then there is no basis for the state bothering with stating state-provided benefits of marriage, that's beyond the state's purview. Let people make their own way in life, if they want to get married, let them shout to the nearest passersby "Hey, we are married" and that's it. If they feel like telling anyone.

The fact is that of the 1000 ways government intersects with marriage formally, about 970 of them are, at final analysis, rooted in the fact that when heterosexuals form a permanent bond, have conjugal relations, and produce children out of that physical relationship, there are lots of ways the effects of those realities impact the state and society (for good or ill). For example, a marital deduction for estate tax (the instance DOMA case) makes sense when one partner gives up a career to take care of the kids. Take away an inherent orientation toward children, and the partnership itself has no logical bearing on a state subsidy of the marital deduction. We would never have chosen to create that deduction for partnerships that have no orientation toward producing children.

Whether or not the state MUST recognize gay "marriage," there is no reason the state MUST grant about 970 of the privileges and benefits of marriage to partnerships that are not oriented toward having children.

Anonymous said...

What about 5 straight friends who really love each other?
Can they be allowed to get married?

If someone were to say, "no, marriage is only between two people."
Couldn't someone respond, "well, if gender complimentarity (Male/female) was viewed as being an arbitrary requirement... Maybe the number requirement is also arbitrary. If marriage simply becomes the institution for people who love each other....who's to say 5 people can't love each other?"

Anonymous said...

Inconsistent in denying the right of SSM of two siblings on account of "some" redundancies while defending the right of SSM if they're unrelated. Apparently, IYHO, it's the sheer number of rights denied that's the mitigating factor. Seems inconsistent. It seems, if you were being consistent, the government should place no marriage restrictions on any consenting adults.

Anonymous said...

Gay couples have children all the time, via adoption, artificial insemination, surrogacy...techniques which are also used by straight couples. Gay couples with children are every bit as much "oriented towards raising children" as any other kind. Surely this is not news to anyone in 2013.

Anonymous said...

Chad writes,

So, your best argument in favor of gay marriage is the slippery slope argument that if gay marriage is allowed, there's no logical way to exclude marriage to pillows?

No, that isn't my argument. You are betraying a glaring inability to follow an argument.

But it is not in the State's interests to actively prevent environments that are only ever-so-slightly-non-optimal-if-you're-a-natural-law-Catholic

Again(!) the State isn't preventing people from calling whatever arrangement they make whatever they want. Pseudo issue.

I didn't say allowed. I said "recognized." As in the having the rights that the government affords other married couples recognized in courts of law.

You should really try to engage an argument before you reply to it. It appears that you're so eager to shoot off a reply, you are failing to apprehend what you are responding to. I initially thought we could have an intelligent discussion, but it appears that you are an unwilling participant. That really disinclines me from pursuing this further.

Chad Handley said...

If only all of us could be"good" law abiding Americans first and quiet, little, voiceless Christians second like Chad. Just what Christ demanded of us. In fact, there's a scripture saying as much. Can't quite recall where. It had something to do with Paul saying never to proclaim the gospel if it isn't defensible according to local laws. Hmmmm, now where was that?

No, you're right. We should lead a purely political revolution to take over the country from a hated ruling class, just like Jesus did when his disciples encouraged him to.

Hmmm, now where was that?

Just because you can't provide arguments to support your position is no reason to make this personal, E.

SovereignDream said...

Chad Hanley:

What are the similar arguments for why the state would be best served by not recognizing gay marriage?

I see same-sex marriage as pernicious for at least two reasons:

I.) The grounds upon which the support of same-sex marriage rest commit one to the accepting of all sorts of absurd configurations of "marriage". Seeking, for the sake of consistency, to "extend" the benefits of marriage to these absurd configurations of marriage would entail the granting of adoption rights to these configurations and/or would otherwise the granting of a green light to confer benefits for the rearing of children in these absurd configurations. This leads to the absurdity that is the promoting of the raising or rearing of children in "families" that could be configured in such a way as to be, say, 13 men and 17 women, or two siblings, or 3 homosexual siblings, etc. In other words, this would entail the raising of children in a "family" with, say, 20 "fathers" and 18 "mothers" or in incestuous relationships, or in same-sex relationships. No one unwilling to associate with fringe kookdom would ever even pretend that such are ideal environments within which to raise a child. That is not to forget to mention, however, that countless empirical studies coupled with our empirically verified common wisdom tell us that a child is best raised by both his or her biological parents.

Corollary:

Argument from Consistency Contra Same-Sex Marriage

P1.) If you accept the proposal, as support of same-sex marriage entails, that marriage, instead of being an institution established to oversee the responsibilities attendant upon procreation, is actually a conventional institution that exists to join/recognize individuals who are "lovingly committed" to one another, regardless of that love's fecundity, then logic demands that you also accept a "marriage" between 4 men and 4 women who have a "loving commitment" to each other, or a "marriage" between 1 man and 16 women who have a "loving commitment" to each other, or a "marriage" between a man and his sister who have a "loving commitment" to each other, or a "marriage" between a man and his father who have a "loving commitment" to each other, or indeed anything whatsoever that one may want to call "marriage," for someone could always argue that even the "loving commitment" criterion is as arbitrary and open to challenge as the heterosexual criterion is.

P2.) Supporters of same-sex marriage claim to be against these other configurations of "marriage".

C: Therefore, their position in incoherent.

II.) The accepting of same-sex marriage promotes the idea of making the the happiness of the parties to the marriage the purpose of marriage rather than the good of the children or the social order. When married persons care more about themselves than their responsibilities to their children and society, they become more willing to abandon these responsibilities, leading to broken homes, a plummeting birthrate, and countless other social pathologies that have become rampant over the last 40 years.

Those are good reasons, as far as I am concerned, why accepting same-sex marriage is pernicious to the public good.

SovereignDream said...

*Chad Handley

Anonymous said...

It is personal Chad. We should proclaim the truth. Whether its accepted or not. Whether we're attacked or not. That is the Christian "argument" which is apparently not a good one in your view. The church has plenty of martyrs that were unwilling to conform the way you're suggesting a Christian should.

E

Chad Handley said...

It seems, if you were being consistent, the government should place no marriage restrictions on any consenting adults.

I never said the government should place no marriage restriction on consenting adults.

I said that compelling legal arguments in favor of restricting the marriage of consenting adults are hard to come by.

Given that I gave a weak argument, I would say I was being consistent.

For the record, I wasn't giving my opinion on the matter. You asked if an argument could be made against two brothers getting married, and I spotted one that could. I preceded that argument with saying that my position didn't require me to make arguments against any consensual marriage relationship for the very good reason that my position just is that such arguments don't exist.

Joe K. said...

Brandon quite beautifully explained why I was criticizing neutrality so I'll move on to the other points.

Those laws are all constitutional because there are obvious legal arguments as to why it is in the best interests of the state to prevent all of those activities.

Your ignorance of the law is clear. These laws are not constitutional because "it's in the best interest of the state to prevent" the activities. They're constitutional solely because the Constitution doesn't proscribe such laws. That is it. No other analysis required.

Incidentally, you're incorrect in your implication. What is the compelling state interest in prohibiting bestiality exactly? It can't be the protection of the animals. Animals are property. We can slaughter a sheep but we can't give it pleasure by having sex with it? The justification for banning such activities are purely moral. Society thinks it is wrong for people to have sex with animals, so we ban the activity. Simple as that. And the Constitution has nothing to say about such laws.

I'm not a lawyer so I'm not sure what the strict legal explication of this principle would be, but it seems to me the courts have always operated under the principle that if a man wants to do something that other men can do, and if his doing it will not harm anyone else, the state needs a compelling reason to forbid him from doing it.

Yes, it is clear that you are a not a lawyer as what you have outlined here is nowhere near the law. Language about interests being "compelling" relate to laws that are, on their face, discriminatory against races and ethnic groups. There is nothing in our law that requires legislatures to have "compelling reasons" to do things like prohibit vice. And again, we're not talking about Prohibiting anything. We're talking about Institutionalizing vice.

I come back again to the gay man who merely wants to have visitation rights with his loved one at a hospital. What compelling reason is there to deny this man this right?

The same reason there is for denying lifelong friends from seeing one another? This is such a ridiculously stupid example; I have no idea why defenders of gay marriage put so much stock in it.

What are the similar arguments for why the state would be best served by not recognizing gay marriage?

But back to this point. Beyond the social goods that you seem to think are irrelevant or "can be done by gay people just as easily" or some other thing (I have no idea why they can't be done by polygamous as easily. In many cases, it may be easier to raise a kid with three people involved) it's important to point out the obvious. Gay marriage institutionalizes immorality. This, in its own right, is sufficient to outlaw it.

How is it immoral? It encourages homosexuals to commit homosexual acts, which are by their very nature immoral. This by itself is enough. Moreover, though, it establishes an institution by which we teach Children that such sexual activity is not only acceptable but good (a seriously grave offense, much worse than sodomy itself). Beyond this, it supports the general idea that sex is Just about consent and that sexual morality is really just some old, fuddy-duddy belief system. This isn't even slipperly slope sort of argument. Liberals Rejoice in non-traditional sexual norms. They think it's good that a woman experiment with ten guys before she finds some guy to settle down with and eventually divorce. But these things, all of them, are bad, and a state has a Duty to steer people from them.

Whether or not this is convincing to immoral people is absolutely irrelevant. Such reasons, by themselves (ignoring everything else), are sufficient to justify banning "gay marriage" from both a legal and philosophical perspective. A justification need not be solely utilitarian for it to be legitimate, despite what you may think.

Chad Handley said...

It is personal Chad. We should proclaim the truth. Whether its accepted or not. Whether we're attacked or not. That is the Christian "argument" which is apparently not a good one in your view. The church has plenty of martyrs that were unwilling to conform the way you're suggesting a Christian should.

Who is telling you that you can't proclaim the truth?

Proclaim away! Shout it from the rooftops!

All I'm saying is that in a secular democracy, you can't have religious truths written into law, even ones you agree with.

And again, I'll point you to the fact that Jesus' followers tried to pressure him into leading an overtly political revolution. And Jesus told them to render unto Caesar what was Caesar's, and proceeded with his spiritual revolution.

Jesus didn't seem to think he needed the government's help to accomplish God's will. He didn't seem to think He needed to take over the government to accomplish God's will. As far as I'm concerned, I'm following his example.

Joe K. said...

If I were to attempt such an argument, I'd probably make the case that for the most part, the rights conveyed by marriage would be redundant on the hypothetical sibling union. A brother may already be listed as next of kin, have visitation rights, inheritance rights, etc. So, under the equal protection clause there's no reason for the state to recognize rights that would mostly be redundant. And the same argument could be made for opposite sex incestuous marriages, which could be boosted by the obvious genetic risks of such a relationship.

You seem to be under this really hilarious delusion that "visitation rights" are what really matter with respect to marriage. No, it would not be redundant. A married couple gets way more legal benefits than do brothers (which, as it stands, are basically none). This is a terrible justification. I daresay it's not a justification at all. Try again.

Anonymous said...

Chad Handley,

You write:

should the supposed inability of a marriage to do so make that marriage illegal?

This seems to beg the question of what a marriage is. To traditionalists a marriage is heterosexual. To talk of any other kind of marriage is like talking of square circles. A state that start enshrining contradictory nonsense like so called gay marriage is not moving in the right direction.

The state is there, like society, for the good; that is, it is there to help men realise their moral and spiritual ends. Not, of course, in an overly paternalistic way, but it is a part of society and does have a role to play in man, a social animal's, spiritual and moral existence.

Homosexuals cannot have children in a natural and humane way. They can only do so by adoption or by ways inhumane, unnatural, and immoral. It is somewhat neglected by Thomists, though it need not be, but us Platonic Christians are sensitive to the symbolic nature of things - the very idea that one can calmly point to gay couples using a third person's uterus or making use of clinical fertilisation to have children, as if these things were a triumph of home-spun human spirit and the joys of natural human reproduction, is absurd enough to illicit laughter, or weeping. The modern world has long since seemed to go mad!

Anyway, aside from all the rational and philosophical arguments about the importance of a mother and a father to raising children, there is in fact plenty of empirical evidence that challenges some of the usual left-liberal claims about homosexual relationships. Of course, in the mainstream media and culture on this issue, and indeed many other issues dear to left-liberals, you don't hear a lot of the empirical and statistical findings that come out against the left-liberal orthodoxy.

Here is a useful discussion of empirical issues relating to homosexual relationships.

http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/DaileyGayAdopt.php

To be sure, that article is itself, no doubt, biased, and it would be wise for those interested to look into the facts themselves. However, it helps to show that on this issue, like many others, the liberal orthodoxy that is received from the media is not necessarily correct, even empirically.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, since you didn't give your opinion on the matter, only secular reasoning is worthy of the public forum. Once again, just like Christ taught. He was so liberal on issues like marriage after all.

Anonymous said...

Chad,

What is a secular democracy?

Where do its values come from? Whence its laws, customs, and mores?

Opposition to homosexual behaviour, in one form or another, does not require biblical law. Natural Law, or traditional morality or what C.S Lewis called the Tao, denounces it again and again, in whichever formulation or culture (claims lacking all proportion that make use of any leniency in whatever culture not withstanding).

Laws, governments, even supposedly secular democratic ones, are for men and the law of humanity denounces homosexual actions.

Greg said...

I tend to be a minimalist. I think the government is only required to pass the minimal laws necessary to ensure a functioning democracy.

That isn't what I asked. On what basis does the government, regardless of what it deems to be law, defend its actions as legitimate? It is a question of moral foundation, not one of legal opinion.

But the State shouldn't get involved with the "God's creative decree" portion dealing with eros and agape and whatnot. It should only deal with the man-made social construct portion dealing with what rights it will afford married couples.

But this is only an opinion, and one based in nothing more than your own whimsical desires. Why should the government afford rights (i.e. benefits) to same-sex couples? You seem to be taking "non-discrimination" as an axiom.

Anonymous said...

One thing I don't understand is why, one you have destroyed actual marriage, you would have any state or socially sanctioned marriage at all. Or, at least, why would you have any restrictions, except perhaps a minimum age, like number or sex, of who could marry whom?

Tony said...

Gay couples have children all the time, via adoption, artificial insemination, surrogacy...techniques which are also used by straight couples. Gay couples with children are every bit as much "oriented towards raising children" as any other kind.

Anonymous, you reveal yourself as unable to follow a distinction. The fact that gays receive children from the actions of others outside their sexual relationship matters NOT IN THE LEAST about whether their OWN sexual relationship is physically oriented toward producing children. Nor does the intention to go out and hire people to produce children for them. I am not talking about their intentions, I am talking about the underlying reality of the way their bodies work together. Nothing about that is oriented toward having children.

Some gay couples want kids, some don't, but the ones who DON'T want kids don't have to DO something about their physical acts in order to achieve a different result than the results the ones who DO want kids get from their physical acts, because in both cases their physical acts don't of themselves produce kids, EVER. The ones who do want kids don't get kids by having sex, their sexual acts are not oriented toward having kids, no matter how much they engage in the act that won't produce kids.

Chad Handley said...

Joe,

You really think the simple immorality of an act is sufficient justification for making an act illegal?

Should fornication be illegal? How much jail time should a repeat offender receive?

How about taking the Lord's name in vain? Should the government assess fines for blasphemy?

There are tens of millions of people having babies out of wedlock as a result of fornication. Is the government teaching children that this is okay by not stepping in and preventing it as a matter of law? Should fornicators be arrested and prosecuted to prevent this?

Is it at all sensible to think that the government should have better things to do with its time and resources than monitor our morals?



Anonymous said...

The Christian must believe all creation and all the facets of the existence of God's image, man, are given pattern and substance by God, by Christ.

To act as if Christ was happy for such an important area of human affairs as government to be somewhere based on a pattern and principles that do not originate with him is absurd.

Chad Handley said...

There are way too many people arguing with me for me to respond to.

So, here's the deal. If you do not identify yourself in some fashion, I won't be responding to you.

I can't have an argument with 10 different people named Anonymous. This is ridiculous. Google accounts are free. They take seconds to sign up for. You don't even have to use your real name.

And I'm making this rule retroactive. If you didn't sign your post, as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

I am talking about the underlying reality of the way their bodies work together. Nothing about that is oriented toward having children.


So what? And of course it is wrong, unless you define persons in the most reductively materialist form possible. That is to say, many gay couples are fully capable of raising a child, nurturing a child. As people, not bodies, they have much the same desires to do this as straight people. So why shouldn't they? You presumably don't think of yourself as defined solely by your bare biological capabilities.

It makes about as much sense to say that since our bodies are oriented towards walking, we should abstain from driving cars.

Joe K. said...

It's just stronger than any strictly legal anti-gay marriage argument that's been produced in this thread thus far.

It's like no matter how many times you explain something, some people just don't get it. There is no such thing as a "strictly legal" argument. The standard makes no sense, so you saying, "you haven't shown me a legal argument" is like saying "you haven't shown me a four-sided circle!" Your entire premise doesn't work. That you cannot understand that is what is inhibiting your ability to understand what is actually going on.

What you seem to be saying is that a law is only justified if it serves some utilitarian purpose, like aiding a certain number of people or stopping harm to some other number of people. There also seems to be this hint of thinking that a law is unjustified (unless it does the above two things) if it inhibits some sort of vague sense of "liberty."

As I've pointed out, there are numerous problems with this. One, no liberty interest is inhibited by refusing to extend marriage to homosexuals (or to siblings or to whatever). Two, it doesn't define what counts as "harm" or "good." It just assumes it (based on modern liberal norms) before it gets started. Three, and most importantly, it's arbitrarily and inconsistently limited. It provides no guidance for why something should count as legitimate and something shouldn't.

In other words, the whole system just begs the question. It assumes these goods (which aren't "moral" goods but are "legal" goods??) without justifying or even explaining them. It then uses this assumption to show others that their arguments don't count when in reality the standard for what counts is exactly what's at issue.

One final thing, the arguments made here are not "religious" arguments, so the "separation of church and state" red herring will not help your cause.

Edward Feser said...

Gay couples have children all the time, via adoption, artificial insemination, surrogacy...techniques which are also used by straight couples. Gay couples with children are every bit as much "oriented towards raising children" as any other kind. Surely this is not news to anyone in 2013.

You might as well say that sticks are oriented toward flying, since we can after all throw them in the air.

What a thing is "oriented toward" in the relevant sense is what it has a natural propensity to do (in the Aristotelian sense of what follows from its form or essence), not what we can make it do by turning it away from its inherent tendencies.

Surely this is not news to anyone who's actually bothered to understand the traditional natural law view before criticizing it.

Anonymous said...

The government exists for our morals, for our moral and spiritual ends.

Of course, so does society and culture and all the social associations and culture facets that make up a healthy civilisation. And the individual, of course, has his own indispensable role to play, after all it is ultimately as an individual that is spiritual and moral destiny is played out.

There is a complex relationship between all the aspects of a civilisation that determines its moral calibre.

Immorality has no rights. Fornication could legitimately be made illegal, but it simply is not usually efficacious, in terms of the complex social framework, to make it so.

Joe K. said...

You really think the simple immorality of an act is sufficient justification for making an act illegal?

Should fornication be illegal? How much jail time should a repeat offender receive?

How about taking the Lord's name in vain? Should the government assess fines for blasphemy?

There are tens of millions of people having babies out of wedlock as a result of fornication. Is the government teaching children that this is okay by not stepping in and preventing it as a matter of law? Should fornicators be arrested and prosecuted to prevent this?

Is it at all sensible to think that the government should have better things to do with its time and resources than monitor our morals?


You are once again confusing a "negative right" with a "positive right." But in direct answer to your question, of course we can set up society in such a way that limits or discourages fornication. In fact, this is a a wonderful idea. I wouldn't personally directly punish fornication because it would be far too draconian, but I also wouldn't use the government to set up singles meet-up stations so that people can fornicate more.

But again, this is not about "monitoring morals." Your point is completely irrelevant to the gay marriage debate. Gay marriage is a positive action being extended to homosexuals. It's not about allowing homosexuals to have the negative right to do what they want. They already have that. No one is talking about making sodomy illegal. We're merely talking about refusing to use the state to support sodomy. Entirely different things. The argument is a nonstarter.

Chad Handley said...

On what basis does the government, regardless of what it deems to be law, defend its actions as legitimate?

I'd tend to favor a social contract theory of some sort, I suppose. A government is legitimate insofar as it has the consent of the governed, and thus derives its legitimacy from the will of the people.

But this is only an opinion, and one based in nothing more than your own whimsical desires.

That the government should not pick sides in metaphysical disputes such as that between the natural lawyer and the utilitarian is just one of my whimsical desires?

Given that the overwhelming majority of Americans couldn't even give a halfway decent account of what the natural law is, and that most of the people who have a passing familiarity with it do not hold to it, what exactly is your justification for trying to write it into the laws of the land on controversial issues.

I'm sure there's wide overlap between the natural lawyer's moral beliefs and the beliefs of a utilitarian. But where that overlap stops, why do you think the government should always side with the natural lawyer? Utilitarianism would seem to be a more natural guide for what the state should do in a democracy.

Joe K. said...

I'd tend to favor a social contract theory of some sort, I suppose. A government is legitimate insofar as it has the consent of the governed, and thus derives its legitimacy from the will of the people.

The social contract theory is a moral position, incidentally. That we should respect consent is a moral claim taken into the theory. There's nothing metaphysically neutral about it at all.

Even if this weren't the case, it wouldn't have any effect on a group of people who by a majority consent wanted to outlaw gay marriage. It certainly wouldn't be particularly compelling here, as in this case we had a small group of five people overturn the will of duly elected representatives.

But I doubt this is why you made this point.

Chad Handley said...

I guess I should have said, I can't have an argument with ten different people, period. Every time I send a post, I see five more all directed at me.

I'm not sure that anything productive is being accomplished here, given that I am admittedly not very well-versed in legal philosophy or natural law philosophy. I write comic books, for Pete's sake.

What I can provide for you is that I am more or less your target audience. I am a Protestant Christian with some sympathies towards the preservation of traditional marriage. I also have gay friends who seem to be asking for very little in having their marriages recognized. I'm a guy with a foot in both camps who could go either way.

And for me, the natural law arguments aren't going to cut it. I read The Last Superstition, I have Aquinas sitting here right beside me, I am a Christian, and even I'm not sure I totally buy natural law even as a moral theory. I certainly do not buy it as a justification for passing controversial laws.

You guys are the ones who think the government should take the lead in promoting virtue and preventing vice. Well, this is a democracy, so if you want the government to do that, you're going to have to come up with arguments as to why the government should that are persuasive to someone who does not already subscribe to natural law.

If it makes you feel better to berate me for stating the obvious, have at it.

Joe K. said...

I'm sure there's wide overlap between the natural lawyer's moral beliefs and the beliefs of a utilitarian. But where that overlap stops, why do you think the government should always side with the natural lawyer? Utilitarianism would seem to be a more natural guide for what the state should do in a democracy.

Ah, and there it is. It's not about neutrality or any of that. You just think utilitarianism is the better framework. Why didn't you just say that from the beginning! But I'll field the question anyway. We should listen to the natural law philosopher because natural law is correct and utilitarianism isn't. It's an objective question, and any good society will seek truth and avoid falsehood.

Anonymous said...

It is a little bit of a tangent, but what is it with Americans always talking about their gay friends?

My experience of life has seemed to support those that maintain Kinsey was wrong: homosexuals, unless you are going to define that term very broadly, make up less than 5% of the population, not 10%+.

I live in Australia, am in my twenties, and definitely don't have an exclusively Christian friendship group (going to a high church Anglican church, I don't mean many younger Christians), but I have no gay friends and am only conscious of a few on the margins of my acquittances. Where do all these gay friends come from (my mum's boss's daughter, for example)?

Joe K. said...

I guess I should have said, I can't have an argument with ten different people, period. Every time I send a post, I see five more all directed at me.

I think it's just me at this point, but your point is taken. I apologize if I came off as harsh. As a gay person myself, this issue is especially important to me, and it is exceedingly depressing seeing the world get it wrong. And the lawyer in me is perhaps even more annoyed. The DOMA opinion is really just pathetic.

It seems to me we'll never get it right either. And religions like yours (by this, I mean Protestantism as a whole) probably has around 100 years left as a result. You're intentionally separating "religion" because your religion is becoming less and less relevant to questions like these.

But this is another issue. I wish you all the best.

Chad Handley said...

Let's try that again, but in English.

Joe, you're making way more out of the moral/legal distinction than I ever intended.

I realize that all legal arguments are also on some level moral arguments. I never intended my comments to be read as if I was saying morality has no place in the law.

I was saying that demonstrating the immorality of homosexuality from a natural law standpoint is a far cry from demonstrating that it should be banned from a legal standpoint.

Depending on a person's view of the role of the state, a person could grant that homosexuality is clearly wrong and still oppose DOMA.

My point was never that moral arguments and legal arguments are entirely separate and distinct, it was rather that you could make a powerful argument as to why an act should be regarded as morally wrong and yet have made a very weak argument as to why that act should be illegal.

Anonymous said...

The parenthesis at the end of my last sentence in the post above should have been on the end of the sentence before it.

Chad,

To be honest, it isn't important, to me at least, that you don't buy natural law. You haven't exactly distinguished yourself here in arguing against it.

A Christian cannot accept homosexual acts, anyway. Natural Law is just a framework for understanding why the Scripture denounces them.

As a Christian, how do you defend a basis for government and the state outside Christ? On what else can principles be founded but Christ, except the devil?

Chad Handley said...

Where do all these gay friends come from...?

I'll break my own rule just this once...

In my particular case they mostly come from the fact that I went to an arts college. And by arts college, I don't mean a liberal arts college. I mean I went to school with lots of folks who majored in ballet. (I was a film major.)

(If blogger had a proper edit function, I would only come across as a substantial idiot, not a hopeless one.)

Joe K. said...

Joe, you're making way more out of the moral/legal distinction than I ever intended.

I realize that all legal arguments are also on some level moral arguments. I never intended my comments to be read as if I was saying morality has no place in the law.


I really focused on the lack of distinction between moral and legal because your argument more or less relied on it.

My point was never that moral arguments and legal arguments are entirely separate and distinct, it was rather that you could make a powerful argument as to why an act should be regarded as morally wrong and yet have made a very weak argument as to why that act should be illegal.

I don't disagree. And I don't even disagree with the argument that we shouldn't seek out many non-violent immoral acts and punish them. But I do disagree with the argument that we can't legislate in such a way as to protect the moral good. If that's all that a law like DOMA is, it is a completely legitimate use of the government's power, and citizens need not say anything more than "we are concerned with ensuring that we have a moral society" in pushing for the law.

Joe K. said...

(If blogger had a proper edit function, I would only come across as a substantial idiot, not a hopeless one.)

Don't feel bad; it's not just you!

Anonymous said...


You might as well say that sticks are oriented toward flying, since we can after all throw them in the air.

What a thing is "oriented toward" in the relevant sense is what it has a natural propensity to do (in the Aristotelian sense of what follows from its form or essence), not what we can make it do by turning it away from its inherent tendencies.


So I take it your position is that we shouldn’t throw sticks, since flying is not an inherent tendency of the stick-essence? That if sticks do anything besides their natural function of holding up leaves, it is some kind of a sin? That we should pass laws to ensure that sticks do not deviate from their god-given purpose?


Surely this is not news to anyone who's actually bothered to understand the traditional natural law view before criticizing it.


I understand it just fine; I simply believe it is an abysmally stupid view, with absolutely nothing to say to me or anybody else who doesn’t have their head buried in the mouldering remains of the 13th century.

Chad Handley said...

Thanks for the kind words, Joe K.

And thanks Professor Feser for putting up with my uninformed ranting.

I really am a fan of this blog. I read it everyday, and I lurk quite a bit in the comments section.

The Last Superstition was my first introduction to natural law and I'm very keen to continue my education. Aquinas is a bit tougher reading (the anti-atheist insults in TLS really helped the medicine go down!) but I'm making progress.

Back to lurking...

Joe K. said...

Chad,

Before you go. Do you have a link to your comic, or? I wouldn't mind checking it out.

Anonymous said...

Chad have you read C.S Lewis's The Abolition of Man?

This work presents Natural Law in a revealing and insightful way, but under quite a different aspect from that generally pursued by Dr. Feser (Lewis concentrates more on the a posteriori consequences of Natural Law, so to speak, and the inability of codes of morality that are not based on Natural Law to be consistent and properly defensible).

Russell Kirk is also an interesting figure for his focus on Natural Law as it forms normality, the normative individual, in art, society, and political leadership.

I think Thomistic Natural Law writers could do with adding more of a focus on such areas in their work. I for instance, was much impressed by an article I read on the Boy Scouts and homosexuality which blended appeals to Natural Law theory with descriptions of parents watching their young boys playing and noting their natural desires to see their boys develop into normal (normally here being synonymous not just with statistical average, but with moral norms)men, and not effeminate or homosexual.

The pro-gay side almost exclusively appeals to sentiment and imagination - using slogans like equality and prattle about equal love. Our side must not neglect out theoretical foundations, but we also need to talk more about normality, about human natural feelings, and the shared moral views of many cultures, times, and places.

Anonymous said...

The pro-gay side almost exclusively appeals to sentiment and imagination.

Those bastards. Appealing to imagination as if it had anything to do with governance, and appealing to sentiment as if it had anything to do with families. Is there no tactic too low for these perverts?

Chad Handley said...

Joe K,

Sure.

My blogspot address is theodicycomic.blogspot.com.

The crudely titled "Buy Now!" link at the top left is a link to my IndyPlanet page. Printing costs are making me sell it for a much higher price than I prefer right now, but the book should be available digitally for a buck at Indyplanet Digital sometime next week (I hope).

Fair warning, the cover of the book and the first page lead people to believe that it's atheistic in its tone and message, but that's all a ruse to draw in religious fence-sitters. (Someone asked if I read CS Lewis' Abolition of Man. I have indeed, but my favorite Lewis book is Till We Have Faces. The way my comic starts is sort of patterned off how that book starts, by making a strong argument against the gods as a set up for later refuting that argument. That's my intention, anyway...)

Anonymous said...

Those bastards. Appealing to imagination as if it had anything to do with governance, and appealing to sentiment as if it had anything to do with families. Is there no tactic too low for these perverts?

None. In fact, some of them intentionally mangle criticisms and strawman their critics.

That's how you can tell they're bitter and ashamed of - among other things - their near complete lack of serious intellectual force in these discussions.

Edward Feser said...

I understand it just fine; I simply believe it is an abysmally stupid view, with absolutely nothing to say to me or anybody else who doesn’t have their head buried in the mouldering remains of the 13th century.

Actually, you show by your moronic remarks (e.g. "Does that mean we shouldn't throw sticks?" and other stupid objections which have been answered countless times by natural law writers) that you don't have the slightest understanding of it at all.

And yet you are perfectly willing to dismiss views you manifestly do not understand, and have no interest in trying to understand, as "abysmally stupid." And, evidently, because you simply don't like the conclusions they lead to.

That, my friend, is a paradigm case of... what is it called again?... oh yes, bigotry.

Anonymous said...

Actually, you show by your moronic remarks (e.g. "Does that mean we shouldn't throw sticks?" and other stupid objections which have been answered countless times by natural law writers) that you don't have the slightest understanding of it at all.

Dude, that was your analogy, not mine. Now you want to disown it? Cowardice.

To recap: I said that gay people were perfectly capable of raising children, and are capable of being just as oriented to that activity as anyone else. You said:

You might as well say that sticks are oriented toward flying, since we can after all throw them in the air.

So sticks correspond to gay people, flying to raising children. Sticks don't "naturally" fly, and gay people don't "naturally" raise children, but they do with some small input of human effort. Neither of those sounds especially like a bad thing to me, but at least one of them seems very bad to you, and by analogical implication, so does the other one.

So tell me, what is moronic about my efforts to draw out the consequences of YOUR OWN analogy?

Brian said...

Chad, try this article: Two Questions on Marriage and the Civil Law. I think there are many good arguments against marriage revisionism, and several of the commenters here have defended some of those arguments.

The article above discusses another argument. Marriage revisionism is harmful to the common good, and the State has a duty as a matter of justice to defend and protect marriage against attempts to change it. The efforts of gay activists on this issue are, therefore, unjust. Read the article in full - it's an excellent read.

I also recommend Robert George's book, What is Marriage? George's co-author on the book, Sherif Gergis, can be seen debating the topic with Andrew Koppelman here. He can also be seen discussing his book here.

Start with the article.

Brian said...

I found the above argument incredibly persuasive. Once I understood how marriage revisionism fails to provide a principled account for the norms we associate with marriage (e.g., the norms of monogamy, permanence, etc.), it became easy to see how marriage revisionism would be very harmful to the institution of marriage, upon which the common good vitally depends. Marriage revisionism severs, in principle, marriage from all these norms, and, therefore, changes the expectations people have about marriage. The argument is that this will lead to a gradual increase in societal and social problems.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

I did not disown the analogy. What I meant (obviously) is that what you think follows from the analogy doesn't in fact follow, and that anyone with knowledge of what natural law theory actually says would know that it doesn't follow.

Natural law theory does not say that it is inherently bad, full stop, to use just anything whatsoever in a way that differs from its natural end. What it says is inherently bad is for a rational agent to use one of his own natural faculties in a way that is not only different from, but positively frustrates its natural end.

A stick is not a rational agent, and throwing it does not positively frustrate any of the thrower's natural faculties. So your example just misses the whole point.

No doubt you'll be coming up with some other half-assed objection now, confidently and cluelessly expressed. But here's the thing. You seem to know the next-to-nothing that you know about natural law theory from scraps of caricatures you've heard here and there. For all I know, you don't know anything that you didn't read in this very combox discussion -- and even that you obviously don't understand.

An intellectually honest person would try to find out about a philosophical view he disagrees with from some source other than a combox. Try reading a book -- chapter 5 of my book Aquinas spells out the basic theory, as do a lot of other books.

Or you could say "I don't have to read it, I already know it's crap" etc. In which case you are just the sort of ignorant, closed-minded bigot -- resting his views on prejudice and emotion rather than actual knowledge of a subject -- that you claim to deplore. But we knew that already.

Anyway, I'm done with you. Have fun with anyone else here who wants to waste his time.

Edward Feser said...

BTW, speaking of cluelessness, I love it when a guy posting anonymously accuses others of "cowardice."

Anonymous said...

So your example just misses the whole point.

It was your example, don't you remember? Now you claim it's irrelevant. I would think a professional philosopher would be better at maintaining consistency across postings.

And how is a gay couple using their natural facilities to bring up a child frustrating anybody's natural ends?

Crude said...

It was your example, don't you remember? Now you claim it's irrelevant. I would think a professional philosopher would be better at maintaining consistency across postings.

It's pretty clear that Ed is referring to your routine that we shouldn't throw sticks because such-and-such. Really, who do you think you're kidding with this kind of bit? This isn't PZ Myers' idiot-swamp.

And how is a gay couple using their natural facilities to bring up a child frustrating anybody's natural ends?

It's the anal sex and the like that's the problem. Remove the sex and the sexual desire from the picture and all you have is an episode of My Two Dads. Which, I grant, may be a crime against nature, but largely because it has Paul Reiser in it.

Or are you conceding that the sex 'frustrates natural ends' and is immoral, not only from a Christian point of view, but the non-religious Natural Law point of view too? Because really, if you are - the conversation's over already, and the central point's been conceded to the Natural Law proponents.

Anonymous said...

Those bastards. Appealing to imagination as if it had anything to do with governance, and appealing to sentiment as if it had anything to do with families. Is there no tactic too low for these perverts?

Another Anon already dealt with your reply; however, you neglected the modifier almost exclusively - which changed the meaning of my comments quite considerably.

Secondly, the clear meaning of my comments is that the pro-homosexual side appeals to sentiments and imagination not grounded in reason or proper principles. They simply try to distorted and dubious passions with the poison of an evil ideology.

Anonymous said...

Gay couples also cannot bring up children they somehow get hold of as well as a marriage can, all things being equal.

There is both philosophical and empirical evidence to support this

There are some studies that are often cited, even if usually vaguely, to back up the pro-homosexual case that gay couples can raise just as healthy children as heterosexual ones. However, as the link I provided earlier shows, these studies consistently have poor methodologies (comparing usually upper middle class gay couples with heterosexual couples of all varieties, poor sized and non-random samples for the homosexual couples at least, and so on).

Tony said...

To recap: I said that gay people were perfectly capable of raising children, and are capable of being just as oriented to that activity as anyone else.

There is no end to ignorance. But in this case it appears to be intentional.

"capable of being oriented" is a complete oxymoron in this context. Under natural law, things are not capable of being oriented, they ARE "oriented" to an end by their natures, not by their own intentions and choices. To say that a gay couple are capable of raising a child, can intend to raise a child, and can choose to raise a child (obtained from someone else) is, precisely, to FAIL to say that their union is oriented toward having a child.

The fact that of the gay couples who don't want children, that they don't have to do anything to achieve their objective of not having any children, proves definitively that there is nothing about the nature of their union that is oriented toward having children. There is no "aboutness" to their union by its own nature that points in the direction of "having children", which is why they don't have to take steps to avoid having children.

And of course it is wrong, unless you define persons in the most reductively materialist form possible...You presumably don't think of yourself as defined solely by your bare biological capabilities.

A human (or any thing) has a natural end based on its basic nature. It's nature is not what it chooses, it is its own fundamental make-up which pre-exists its choices.

Humans are, fundamentally, a union of body and spiritual soul. They are rational animals. As such, the "definition" of human includes both the rational part and the animal part, the capacity to reason AND the physical make-up as an animal. You can't define a human being in terms of just his rationality.

Since man is defined as a rational animal, and since metaphysical principles insist that any substantial thing is a coherent unity, the rationality infuses the animality by raising the animality itself toward a rational correlation. ALL animals have an orientation toward reproduction, and physical conformity toward that end such that their sexual organs naturally carry that reproductive orientation. What rationality does in man is to take that basic natural orientation and integrate its end with an end worthy of the spirit - love - i.e. an orientation toward permanent love: permanent love for the generated child and toward the spouse. Thus man's nature itself determines that he is oriented toward a permanent union which of its own internal capacity generates new persons in acts of love, and more, that both the sensual and reproductive capacity of his sexual organs is oriented toward this rational generative integrated end of new life and permanent love.

Man's physical and spiritual nature includes this orientation - toward a union for rational reproduction in permanent love - independently of whether a man intends them or not. Nothing about a gay partnership conforms to this natural orientation. Whether the men IN the gay partnership intend love, nothing about the partnership itself points their acts of sex toward permanent love of a new child.

Chad Handley said...

Brian,

Thank you for the links. (BTW, what is the html code for making links on this blog?)

I didn't find the arguments in the Two Questions article as persuasive as you did. I'm sure what I'm about to say is not novel, and I'm saying it mostly to learn what the standard natural law rebuttal is to what I think would be the standard objection to natural law.

I don't think quite buy that natural law is a nonreligious theory of morality, because I think it obtains all of its moral force from the belief that nature was ordered by God.

What does your average atheist believe about nature? He believes it is the result of a purposeless, cruel, wasteful process called evolution. Evolution has created any number of suboptimal designs in nature, such as the Panda's thumb, that a human engineer could only improve upon. Furthermore, a look at the natural world shows that if it is "pointed at" anything, it is pointed at cruel, pointless suffering. In the animal kingdom, most of the offspring of most species die in infancy. And this was true even of human beings, before mankind, guided by science, stepped in to correct the deficiencies of nature's design. Those offspring that survive to adulthood typically do so only via predation, by painfully killing and devouring weaker members of other species. Furthermore, it would seem that in nature, the "ends" of various species seem to put them in direct oppostion to one another. After all, when the bubonic plague wiped out half of Europe, the bacteria that cause it were only fulfilling the "ends" set to it by nature. The realm of nature and its ends seems an odd place to ground morals. It would seem that rather than being slaves to nature, humans have an obligation to use science to correct nature whenever possible.

The belief that natural law ought to guide morals was plausible when everyone in the conversation agreed that the natural world was ordered by God, even if they disagreed as to which God. But if you believe the natural world was not ordered at all, and is in fact horribly deficient in many respects, that nature "points at" any particular thing is not a good reason to suppose one has an obligation to do that thing. Natural law would therefore seem to require a belief that nature was designed by a benign force to be persuasive, and is thus not a nonreligious theory. Thus, anyone trying to use natural law to pass legislation is de facto trying to impose a religious belief on the populace.

DNW said...

Blogger Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

I did not disown the analogy. What I meant (obviously) is that what you think follows from the analogy doesn't in fact follow, and that anyone with knowledge of what natural law theory actually says would know that it doesn't follow.

Natural law theory does not say that it is inherently bad, full stop, to use just anything whatsoever in a way that differs from its natural end. What it says is inherently bad is for a rational agent to use one of his own natural faculties in a way that is not only different from, but positively frustrates its natural end.

A stick is not a rational agent, and throwing it does not positively frustrate any of the thrower's natural faculties. So your example just misses the whole point."



Feser has been posting on a developed Aristotelian conception of teleology as it relates to natural law through a Thomistic lens for how long now?

The key concepts being, "a nature" of a/the kind, intrinsic directedness, and as we progress to rational beings, the concept of law as it relates to these rational beings.

And we still have people yammering on about "natural law" as if it refers to "the law of the jungle" or a stochastic process.

The least Feser's antagonists could do is to read something relevant to discussions of law and ends; say Herbert Hart's, "The Concept of Law" which I have mentioned before. As a legal positivist rather than a natural law theorist, he nonetheless has some very useful remarks for the total skeptic.

What ignorant and puerile boors some of these people are.

Chad Handley said...

What ignorant and puerile boors some of these people are.

Some of us just haven't been studying this stuff as long as you obviously have. There's no need to attribute to malice what might be simple ignorance.

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"BTW, what is the html code for making links on this blog?"

Same as regular HTML: <a href="http://www.yourlinkhere.com">text goes here</a>. You can't use attributes other than href, though, so you can't e.g. use the target attribute to make the link open in a new window or tab.

DNW said...

Blogger Chad Handley said...

" 'What ignorant and puerile boors some of these people are.'

Some of us just haven't been studying this stuff as long as you obviously have. There's no need to attribute to malice what might be simple ignorance.

July 3, 2013 at 7:22 AM"




I don't know why you personally took umbrage. I was quoting anonymous. He has been ignorantly haranguing Feser without evincing even the most basic familiarity with the concepts he apparently imagines he's been criticizing.

Certainly anyone who has given any thought whatsoever to the concept of law, will have realized that once rational beings begin pronouncing rules for regularizing their associations that these rules must have some predicate apart from sheer whimsey if they are to be taken seriously.

It's beyond effen remarkable how so many who mock the entire notion of the concept of an objective values predicate underlying any rules which they wish to overthrow, then imagine, or insinuate that the predicate for the rule they wish to establish has some better grounding.

It is that whole smuggling move on the part of progressives so familiar to readers here.

By the way. I am neither a Thomist, nor anything like a practicing Catholic.

Just an ordinary citizen, like yourself.

Tony said...

I'm sure what I'm about to say is not novel, and I'm saying it mostly to learn what the standard natural law rebuttal is to what I think would be the standard objection to natural law.

This kind of caution and openness to new considerations is good. Keep hold of it.

I don't think quite buy that natural law is a nonreligious theory of morality, because I think it obtains all of its moral force from the belief that nature was ordered by God.

It is one thing to say that natural law ITSELF derives from a divine being, and to say it derives its moral force from that Divine being. There are plenty of people who agree that there is such a thing as natural law, who don't ascribe to any particular notion of a divine being, and who STILL think that the natural law is binding law. The sheer concept of things that have natures and thus proper ends implies it. In careful analysis, it doesn't matter whether the natures that imply these proper ends are the result of a Creator creating. The "fact/value" distinction is rejected by natural lawyers in this regard, as being in contradiction to the metaphysical picture they argue to.

The fact that the same metaphysics that grounds natural law ALSO leads to the conclusion that there is a divine "unmoved mover" doesn't lead directly to a "religion." That is, one can believe that the unmoved mover is the source of natural law without connecting it up with any specific religion. (See Aristotle again.) There is such a thing as natural theology that has no connection to supernatural revelation. It is accessible by the sheer light of reason, and thus is not directly dependent on faith, grace, or any of the trappings of "special" revelation.

Thus it simply isn't true that natural law fails of its force without religion.

Your argument with darwinist evolution would deprive natural law of its force only if it were to prove that there is no such thing as "natures", and that's a (very contentious) position of darwinism rather than a proven, accepted conclusion.

But if you believe the natural world was not ordered at all, and is in fact horribly deficient in many respects, that nature "points at" any particular thing is not a good reason to suppose one has an obligation to do that thing

There are, I think, 2 kinds of errors present here. First, Natural law doesn't simply ASSUME that there is order, as an unfounded pre-supposition. There is a direct observation of some order that is ordered with intention (humans designing and building with intention and order), and a series of inductive and deductive analyses that there is order also in other natural things. You may not AGREE that this series of arguments establishes the conclusion sufficiently, once you go through it in detail, but it's NOT a mere assumption and you cannot simply wash it aside without considering it in detail, and that means first reading that account in detail.

Secondly, the evils that you use to point to "defects" represents a very common but very basic misunderstanding of good and evil as ends in natural law. This is an area that depends very heavily on sound metaphysics for understanding the different senses of good and evils, cause, and so on, and you CAN'T represent the above somehow presents a real deal-killer with natural law without understanding the metaphysics that natural law uses to answer the objection. So, I am going to say instead to read up on classical metaphysics (A/T version) and understand the possible analogical uses of "good" and "evil" and "cause" and so on, so that when Ed Feser gets to publishing his article, you can really grasp his thesis and can FAIRLY deal with any gaps he may have (if any).

Tony said...

Sorry, I should have said the "fact/value" theory...

The theory ABOUT facts and values that comes to a conclusion that you can't get values from facts is what natural law disputes. With argument.

Chad Handley said...

Scott,

Thanks!

DNW,

I wasn't taking it personally. It's just that at times yesterday it felt like people were chastising me for not being aware of relatively obscure philosophical and legal arguments I never had occasion to learn. When people hear something for the first time, they're going to lodge the standard, unlearned objections. Everybody starts somewhere.

Anonymous said...

"capable of being oriented" is a complete oxymoron in this context. Under natural law, things are not capable of being oriented, they ARE "oriented" to an end by their natures, not by their own intentions and choices. To say that a gay couple are capable of raising a child, can intend to raise a child, and can choose to raise a child (obtained from someone else) is, precisely, to FAIL to say that their union is oriented toward having a child.

That's all useless mumbo-jumbo to me. I'm sure it's very important to you, but why should I care?

The world is a vibrant and diverse place. It’s not composed of things with fixed natures that determine their actions. Maybe at the level of physics it is – all electrons have more or less the same “nature” and act according to it, but every biological creature is different and unique. That makes the world an interesting place. Then along come moral scolds like you folks who think they know what the Universal Nature of Man is and are eager to ensure by force that everyone conform to their narrow concepts. Oh noes, they say, reality doesn’t seem to match our tiny little worldview! We better pass laws to ensure that it does.

Chad Handley said...

Tony,

Can you point me to any articles specifically refuting my objections?

Strategically, I think this is one of the biggest problems in pushing legal arguments on natural law grounds. If a person has to complete and intermediary class on metaphysics to understand the arguments, it's going to be hard to make the arguments persuasive in the public square. And again, getting angry at wanton liberals for not accepting your extremely complicated arguments isn't a very productive or reasonable response. Liberals might not agree with your arguments even if they understood them, but they have no chance when no one has taken the time to explain the arguments to them.

Gene Callahan said...

@rank sophist: "On the topic of same-sex marriage, though, there really aren't any holes."

You really didn't write that, did you?

Tony said...

"Hey, help, they are beating me to a pulp and putting me in prison for not believing in the Big Bang"

That's all useless mumbo-jumbo to me. I'm sure it's very important to you, but why should I care?

Who cares if someone beats you to a pulp. It isn't me. I am sure you care, but I don't. Who cares whether something happened the way physicists describe it, billions and billions of years ago. It's all mumbo jumbo.

Without your so-called mumbo jumbo, there are no morals. Without morals, there is no reason for law to uphold justice rather than the will of the strongest or the most vocal. Without morals, there is no reason for people to obey the law when "they can get away with it", and without people who are willing to obey the law generally, there is no such thing as civil society, there is only disguised barbarism.

Anonymous said...

"I'm sure it's very important to you, but why should I care?"

Whether you care or not doesn't matter. I don't care very much at all about Socrates, but my indifference is absolutely irrelevant to the truth or falsity of "Therefore, Socrates was mortal."

"The world is a vibrant and diverse place. It’s not composed of things with fixed natures that determine their actions. Maybe at the level of physics it is – all electrons have more or less the same “nature” and act according to it, but every biological creature is different and unique."

Obviously, Squirrel A and B are different in some aspects, such as spatiotemporal location, and some physiological differences. It doesn't follow that A and B don't have a common nature. You are just begging the question. Here, let me help you out:

1) Squirrel A and Squirrel B have differences in location and body structure.

2) ???

3) Therefore, Squirrel A and B do not have a common nature.

Make your argument.

Anonymous said...

Gene,

"You really didn't write that, did you?"

My sides have left me.

Gene Callahan said...

@Anonymous: "Then along come moral scolds like you folks who think they know what the Universal Nature of Man is and are eager to ensure by force that everyone conform to their narrow concepts. Oh noes, they say, reality doesn’t seem to match our tiny little worldview! We better pass laws to ensure that it does."

So, someone here is recommending a law against gay sex or something of the sort?

Gene Callahan said...

"What does your average atheist believe about nature? He believes it is the result of a purposeless, cruel, wasteful process called evolution."

Really?! Then what was "evolution" the result of?

dguller said...

Is it possible to frustrate a lower telos for the sake of a higher telos? For example, to sacrifice one's life for one's children.

Tony said...

Strategically, I think this is one of the biggest problems in pushing legal arguments on natural law grounds. If a person has to complete and intermediary class on metaphysics to understand the arguments, it's going to be hard to make the arguments persuasive in the public square.

There is a difference between making an argument that you think it is going to persuade people who are uninterested in doing any work to understand, and presenting an argument that is complete, sound, and valid even if many people won't listen because they won't do the work. If the latter is the only way to make the argument for natural law understandable to those who come with pre-conceived misconceptions about it, natural lawyers cannot be taken to task for not making a CONVINCING argument to those who won't listen to the whole argument.

It's like my brother always says about poker players who won't even watch the other player's cards: you can't bluff someone who isn't even going to pay attention. You can't convince someone who won't sit still long enough for the argument that unwinds their ill-gotten presuppositions.

And again, getting angry at wanton liberals for not accepting your extremely complicated arguments isn't a very productive or reasonable response.

I will agree that some natural law arguers get unnecessarily angry. But sometimes they are getting angry at wanton liberals for dismissing the extremely complicated arguments as if they don't even exist, when the reality is that they don't want to be bothered to do the hard work of understanding the arguments. It isn't the fault of truth that truth - including answering objections - is difficult to lay out. It isn't the fault of the theory of relativity that it takes a LOT of space and prove to explain to someone who isn't inclined already to believe it.

Liberals might not agree with your arguments even if they understood them, but they have no chance when no one has taken the time to explain the arguments to them.

You mean, in 500 words or less.

You take someone who believes that light is a substance that passes through space using ether, and show them how relativity and quantum theory show that light isn't like that, in 500 words. Can't be done. To do the full work-up, it could require going back to Galileo and Newton, explaining their developments in mechanics and wave theory, working up through several layers to Michelson-Morley, and eventually getting to Paul Dirac and Heisenberg. To do it in detail would require somewhere around 15 books. Modern physics students can short circuit part of the process and do it in a few semesters because they ALREADY BELIEVE that the scientists describing the end results have done the hard work of slogging through the preparatory work. Take away that inclination to believe the teacher, and you are left with much more work to explain the whole argument without gaps.

To do the same with natural law, you would have to read some of the pre-Socratics like Protagoras and Anaxagoras, some of Plato's Dialogues, Aristotle's Physics, some Porphyry, a good stretch of Aquinas. Preferably, with a good teacher as guide. That's actually a lot less work than the full argument that explains relativity / quantum theory on light.

Alternatively, to do the short-hand "cliff notes" version, you can wait follow Feser and his books.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

Is it possible to frustrate a lower telos for the sake of a higher telos? For example, to sacrifice one's life for one's children.

This brings in the issue of the doctrine of double-effect, which is one of the weirdest and shakiest of all Thomistic concepts. Simply put, it's allowable, but the restrictions placed on it are counter-intuitive at best.

Also, I have to apologize for bailing on that last argument. I was writing up my response, but I just kept putting it off and putting it off--until it was just too late to go back.

Chad Handley said...

Gene,

Really?! Then what was "evolution" the result of?

The laws of genetics? Or more broadly,the laws of physics?

Not sure I understand the question.

Anonymous said...

Minor nitpick Chad, "natural laws" cannot cause anything because they are abstractions. Rather, it is the matter that laws describe that does the causing.

DNW said...

For Chad,

From a legal positivist's remarks on the concept.

"... one of the difficulties in understanding a teleological view of nature is that just as it minimized the differences between statements of what regularly happens and statements of what ought to happen, so too it minimizes the difference, so important in modern thought, between human beings with a purpose of their own which they consciously strive to realize and other living or inanimate things.

For in the teleological view of the world, man, like other things, is thought of as tending towards a specific optimum state or end which is set for him and the fact, that he, unlike other things, may do this consciously, is not conceived as a radical difference between him and the rest of nature. This specific human end or good is in part, like that of other living things, a condition of biological maturity and developed physical powers; but it also includes, as its distinctively human element, a development and excellence of mind and character manifested in thought and conduct. Unlike other things, man is able by reasoning and reflection to discover what the attainment of this excellence of mind and character involves and to desire it. Yet even so, on this teleological view, this optimum state is not man's good or end because he desires it; rather he desires it because it is already his natural end...

... much of this teleological point of view survives in some of the ways in which we think and speak of human beings. It is latent in our identification of certain things as human needs which it is good to satisfy and of certain things done to or suffered by human beings as harm or injury. ...

... we say not only that it is natural for all men to eat and sleep, but that all men ought to eat and rest sometimes, or that it is naturally good to do these things....

The force of the word 'naturally', in such judgments of human conduct, is to differentiate them both from judgments which reflect mere conventions or human prescriptions ('You ought to take off your hat'), the content of which cannot be discovered by thought or reflection, and also from judgments which merely indicate what is required for achieving some particular objective, which at a given time one man may happen to have and another may not. ...



... There are, however, simpler, less philosophical, considerations than these which show acceptance of survival as an aim to be necessary, in a sense more directly relevant to the discussion of human law and morals, We are committed to it as something presupposed by the terms of the discussion; for our concern is with social arrangements for continued existence, not with those of a suicide club. We wish to know whether, among these social arrangements, there are some which may illuminatingly be ranked as natural laws discoverable by reason, and what their relation is to human law and morality. To raise this or any other question concerning how men should live together, we must assume that their aim, generally speaking, is to live. From this point the argument is a simple one. Reflection on some very obvious generalizations—indeed truisms—concerning human nature and the world in which men live, show that as long as these hold good, there are certain rules of conduct which any social organization must contain if it is to be viable. Such rules do in fact constitute a common element in the law and conventional morality of all societies which have progressed to the point where these are distinguished as different forms of social control. With them are found, both in law and morals, much that is peculiar to a particular society and much that may seem arbitrary or a mere matter of choice. Such universally recognized principles of conduct which have a basis in elementary truths concerning human beings, their natural environment, and aims, may be considered the minimum content of Natural Law ..."
Herbert Hart, The Concept of Law Paragraphing modified

DNW said...

Read as,

" 'The Concept of Law' ... paragraphing was modified"

http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Concept_of_Law.html?id=53u8K7jNGioC

Crude said...

I disagree that natural law arguments require tremendous intellectual investment to grasp, or even to present in a persuasive way. A basic understanding isn't some esoteric and mystical thing - it's pretty straightforward. What happens is that very specific or complicated objections can take a lot of time to properly sort out or will require going into greater detail than normal, but that's true with a lot of things. You can sum up and explain the first amendment quickly, but whether a blogger counts as 'the press' is going to take a while.

I think Ed remarked in the distant past about the differences in how arguments are treated. His example was theistic versus non-theistic, but I think the same often applies here.

Has an apparent problem been found with an intellectual justification for gay marriage or anal sex? Well, that's an obvious puzzle, there's a diversity of views on how to reply, it's worth further consideration but is ultimately a minor distraction at best, more of a concern for intellectuals than a reason to suspect anything's wrong with the view.

Has an apparent problem been found with an intellectual criticism of those same things? REFUTED! ARGUMENT NOT COMPELLING!

Chad Handley said...

Tony,

I guess my point is, if natural law requires a course in metaphysics that would frankly be beyond the ken of most of the populace even if they were interested in learning about it, then maybe natural law is too narrow a view of the foundation of law to make it the basis of a case against gay marriage.

You're talking about requiring that a person go all the way back to the Pre-Socratics to so much as understand the case you're making. I really can't find a person blameworthy for refusing to do that.

If an atheist came to you making what seemed to you to be a highly implausible moral argument, and then suggested that in order to properly understand his argument, you had to read about a dozen books detailing an obscure and foreign metaphysics, I'm sure you'd balk at the notion that by refusing such a Herculean task you were being derelict in your intellectual duties.

If an argument seems very unlikely to you on its face, I'm not sure intellectual integrity requires you to do such a Brobdingnagian amount of homework before you dismiss it.

Jeffrey S. said...

For the commenter who mentioned the Boy Scouts article, it was written by the wonderful Anthony Esolen and can be found at this link:

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/04/9970/

Crude said...

I guess my point is, if natural law requires a course in metaphysics that would frankly be beyond the ken of most of the populace even if they were interested in learning about it, then maybe natural law is too narrow a view of the foundation of law to make it the basis of a case against gay marriage.

I don't think it makes any sense at all to try and judge the value of natural law as a basis for decision-making on the grounds of what 'most of the populace' can and will easily understand. The conversation people are having in this thread isn't aimed at sharpening rhetoric to persuade the lowest common denominator - people are talking about technical aspects of a metaphysical view, dealing with objections, pointing out contrary assumptions at work in other people's views, etc.

I really hope you're not saying that our laws should first and foremost only be based on reasoning most of the populace can easily understand with minimal effort.

If an argument seems very unlikely to you on its face, I'm not sure intellectual integrity requires you to do such a Brobdingnagian amount of homework before you dismiss it.

Maybe not, though intellectual integrity would probably demand not confusing dismissing with refuting.

Chad Handley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chad Handley said...

DNW, I find that quote not helpful.

Can anyone explain in plain terms what's wrong with my objection that natural law depends on belief in God for its force?

If nature is not designed, then why should the fact that nature points to something carry with it any moral obligation.

An atheist might agree that nature, through evolution, surely brought us sex organs in order that we may procreate. But if we leave God out o the equation and consider evolution as a purposeless, unguided, sloppy, wasteful, cruel process, what morally follows from this fact?

I'm not necessarily raising some philosophically-informed question of is/ought distinctions here. I'm simply offering the naive rebuttal I think most people will give to the claim about what nature intends us to do: "So what?"

If nature is random and directionless and quite often clumsy and cruel, who gives a crap what it intends for us to do?

Chad Handley said...

Crude,

I'm saying that, in a democracy, laws should be based on arguments that the average voter could understand given a reasonable amount of effort.

If the natural lawyer would require the average voter to go back to the Pre-Socratics to understand why gay marriage is wrong, then the natural law theorist is demanding an unreasonable amount of effort from the average voter.

Crude said...

Ed has written a past post about the role God plays in natural law understandings of morality.

A quote: "“Ultimately” is the key word here. It is because secondary causes are real that natural science is possible. When we study the physical world, we are studying how physical things themselves behave given their nature, not the capricious acts of God. And it is because immanent teleology is real that natural law is possible. When we study ethics, we are studying what is good for human beings given their nature, not capricious divine commands. Ultimately the facts studied by science and the facts studied by ethics depend on God, because everything depends, at every instant, on God. In that sense, science, ethics, and everything else depend on God. But proximately ethics can be done at least to a large extent without reference to God, just as natural science can. In that sense, many moral truths would still be true even if, per impossibile, there were no God -- just as the periodic table of the elements would be what it is even if, per impossibile, there were no God. (All of this is discussed in chapter 5 of Aquinas. And see the first half of this article for a sketch of A-T natural law theory.)"

An atheist might agree that nature, through evolution, surely brought us sex organs in order that we may procreate. But if we leave God out o the equation and consider evolution as a purposeless, unguided, sloppy, wasteful, cruel process, what morally follows from this fact?

Why aren't they required to demonstrate that evolution is a purposeless, unguided, etc process in advance? (I will say, they're going to quickly find out that science doesn't support claims 1 and 2, and the rest may well turn out to be question begging.)

Not to mention, this sounds an awful lot like dismissing Natural Law before even arguing against it. As if it's assumed from the outset that there are no natures, or that their understanding of nature is entirely different from what the NL proponent is saying anyway.

Crude said...

I'm saying that, in a democracy, laws should be based on arguments that the average voter could understand given a reasonable amount of effort.

Even if the arguments are ultimately wrong, or dramatically oversimplified?

Not to mention, Natural Law is not - at its base - hard to understand. In fact, it comes naturally (ha ha). Now, understanding what follows given technical objections and deeper questions is a different beast altogether - that's when things get complicated. But then again, I can practically guarantee you that any /defense/ of gay marriage and sodomy and the like is going to quickly fall prey to the same problem.

Joe K. said...

It's the anal sex and the like that's the problem. Remove the sex and the sexual desire from the picture and all you have is an episode of My Two Dads. Which, I grant, may be a crime against nature, but largely because it has Paul Reiser in it.

Just wanted to jump in to note that I laughed heartily at this gem.

DNW said...

"Blogger Chad Handley said...

DNW, I find that quote not helpful.

Can anyone explain in plain terms what's wrong with my objection that natural law depends on belief in God for its force?"

I think you may be missing much of the point I was trying to convey through Hart's remarks on the purpose of the what is conceived of as law as it relates to bith individual and social life in the first place.

I'm not therefore sure what it is you would like to hear. An historical refutation of the "Isn't God necessary for drawing these inferences?" question?

If so, then limiting ourselves to the facts of the matter as regards this specific question, rather than to what might be considered as psychologically sufficient or reassuring enough grounds for your subjective assent, we again refer to the legal philosopher previously mentioned:


"Natural Law has, however, not always been associated with belief in a Divine Governor or Lawgiver of the universe, and even where it has been, its characteristic tenets have not been logically dependent on that belief. Both the relevant sense of the word 'natural', which enters into Natural Law, and its general outlook minimizing the difference, so obvious and so important to modern minds; between prescriptive and descriptive laws have their roots in Greek thought which was; for this purpose, quite secular. Indeed, the continued reassertion of some form of Natural Law doctrine is due in part to the fact that its appeal is independent of both divine and human authority, and to the fact that despite a terminology, and much metaphysics, which few could now accept, it contains certain elementary truths of importance for the understanding of both morality and law. These we shall endeavour to disentangle from their metaphysical setting and restate here in simpler terms."


Now, let's cut to the chase here regarding your real question.

Suppose for a moment that there is a God. Assume also the existence of what your theory seems to suppose is required, a Paley-ean design framework, as opposed to Feser's very different A-T framework.

"So what?" as a number of the more aggressive anti-theists have said here. Who cares what "God" wants if he does in fact exist. So God has structured the possibilities of development within certain constraints?

Why respect that? Why not make ourselves into something, anything, that strikes our fancy, whatever the outcome?

Answer that for yourself, and then when you and all the rest are sure that you are not asking a question on the order of why God cannot make a rock so heavy he cannot lift it, then maybe someone will be able to give you a response you find useful.

Tony said...

I guess my point is, if natural law requires a course in metaphysics that would frankly be beyond the ken of most of the populace even if they were interested in learning about it, then maybe natural law is too narrow a view of the foundation of law to make it the basis of a case against gay marriage.

Chad, when you argue politics (say on taxes) to someone who already believes in the contract theory of law, you can make tons of short-cuts and brief allusions to get to your main thesis, and the listener will go along with those because he is starting with 98/100 of preceding work already done.

But if you were instead to argue the very same point to someone who was mainly unformed, didn't hold the contract theory or any really developed theory, you could get away with only 20 times the above argument - say, re-stating Locke's work in your own words. A mere booklet. Without all that extra material, your position would be full of holes - actually, full of suppositions that you can assume in conversation with person # 1 but not person # 2.

But then if you were to argue politics with someone like Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (who came before Locke), who didn't accept the contract theory of law and instead had a very well developed theory against contract ideas, and you tried to use the same approach, he would (very rightly) say "your argument is full holes and BAD assumptions. You would have to go back through a long laundry list of issues in metaphysics and basic ethics to even start to get at the argument you actually want to make on taxes. There is a big difference between the amount of material to the BASIC underpinnings to your thesis, and the world-consuming amount of material to dispute and cover and argue with the disputed metaphysics (and all the other disputed underpinnings) in a thorough way. The amount of work needed to "convince" goes up dramatically depending on how opposed and how developed the hearer's starting opinions are, which has nothing to do with how true your original thesis is.

If an argument seems very unlikely to you on its face, I'm not sure intellectual integrity requires you to do such a Brobdingnagian amount of homework before you dismiss it.

Until the late 20th century, 99.999% of all people would have said that any political argument that says that gays have a RIGHT to get married would be so "unlikely on its face" as to be laughed at thunderously. That wouldn't make them right would it? Depends on your perspective of what seems "likely".

Well, it turns out that the metaphysics of Aristotle and Aquinas take SERIOUSLY that things that appear to us as real, actually are real. That's a metaphysical starting point that most people of the world would say is "likely on its face." Other theories, like Parmenides saying "all is one, there is nothing but the one, and no change is possible" is, of course, unlikely on its face. So also, Anaxagoras' theory that "all is change, there is nothing the same, sameness is a mere illusion, pure deceit" is, also, unlikely on its face. The notion that I made a contract with the United States when I was born, or turned 18, is unlikely also. Your starting point perspective is highly "special", and you don't seem to realize it: it is the fruit of 400 years of political viewpoints of the Western world since Hobbes and Locke infusing stories, teaching, textbooks, movies, etc; and in Asia or Africa or before 1600 nobody would have thought of it as "likely".

Joe K. said...

Not to mention, Natural Law is not - at its base - hard to understand. In fact, it comes naturally (ha ha). Now, understanding what follows given technical objections and deeper questions is a different beast altogether - that's when things get complicated. But then again, I can practically guarantee you that any /defense/ of gay marriage and sodomy and the like is going to quickly fall prey to the same problem.

I think that this is correct. Most people think in a natural law sort of way, even in our society. They're just afraid to apply the principles as a whole to others. I think people call natural law principles "idealistic" or something similar in unsophisticated discussion. That's how I've heard it anyway. At the very least, the natural law way of thinking is something people "overcome" in that it pops into their head during most moral evaluations. "It's wrong to kill people, but it'll probably be better if..." (This isn't to say that everyone has the same moral compass built in or that culture has no effect on how people evaluate morals; I just mean that natural law is still intuitive and part of the culture, regardless of how far it's fallen.)

Utilitarianism is easier in that most people have their ideals hammered out of them by adulthood. But utilitarianism is no less tangled. In fact, I think it's more tangled at the end of the day. It's just easier for people to say, "Well, I guess that'll be better in the long run" when discussing whether people should have easy access to condoms or whatever. It's easier to stomach a sort of vague utilitarianism because it doesn't really require much analysis. You pick on one good and ignore everything else. It's a lazier way of thinking, for sure, but it's hardly a trait to encourage in people. (I am not calling all utilitarians lazy. In fact, I think real utilitarians are some of the hardest working thinkers out there; all that calculus!)

DNW said...

Goodness. Read,

"I think you may be missing much of the point I was trying to convey through Hart's remarks on the purpose of the what is conceived of as law as it relates to bith individual and social life in the first place."

as

"I think you may be missing much of the point I was trying to convey through Hart's remarks on the purpose of what is conceived of as law, as it relates to both individual and social life, in the first place."


I think I really need to have lunch ...

Chad Handley said...

Why aren't they required to demonstrate that evolution is a purposeless, unguided, etc process in advance?

I thought you were trying to rebut my objection that natural law required a belief in God to be effective?

If you're saying it does require a belief in God, then a natural law argument is just a religious argument in drag.

Even if the arguments are ultimately wrong, or dramatically oversimplified?

What's the alternative? You can't seriously blame people for not taking the time from their 40 hour work week and from raising their families to be as informed about the Pre-Socratics as a professional philosopher. It's not their fault that your argument is so complicated that it's doomed to fail.

Tony said...

It would be fair to say "I have found an appropriate theory, contract law, and I am satisfied with it so I am not going to study 10 texts to understand natural law."

It would not be fair to go on to say that contract theory disproves natural law, or that natural law is unsound, or that it is "unlikely on its face" in anything other than a personal perspective, or that natural law is inherently dismissable in its own right. Without having studied the material that proposes and supports it, you can't make any of those claims. All you can claim is that you don't see the worth of investigating it. And that your not seeing that worth is, at least in part, an accident of your having come across a different developed theory first.

Chad Handley said...

"So what?" as a number of the more aggressive anti-theists have said here. Who cares what "God" wants if he does in fact exist. So God has structured the possibilities of development within certain constraints?

We should care what God wants because He is perfectly good and perfectly wise. If He intends some end for us, it is undoubtedly in our best interests to pursue that end as pursuing it would no doubt lead to our highest fulfilment.

Undirected Nature, on the other hand, is random, cruel, purposeless, and stupid. If it intends some end for me, I repeat, "Who cares?"

Crude said...

I thought you were trying to rebut my objection that natural law required a belief in God to be effective?

If you're saying it does require a belief in God, then a natural law argument is just a religious argument in drag.


Not at all. But just because it's not a religious argument doesn't mean that atheistic or materialist arguments automatically go through or are assumed correct. There's a difference between leaving God's existence out of a given argument, and making some pretty grand assumptions about nature to begin with.

What's the alternative?

You'd better hope there are some alternatives, because 'democracy means you have to pass certain laws, and whether they're right or accurate doesn't matter' is less an argument against Natural Law and more an argument against democracy.

But I already pointed out the alternative in answering the 'NL is just so complicated!' line.

You can't seriously blame people for not taking the time from their 40 hour work week and from raising their families to be as informed about the Pre-Socratics as a professional philosopher.

You don't need anywhere approaching that amount of time to understand the basics of natural law, and why gay marriage is wrong given that. Now, you can absolutely complicate that, demanding drawn out explanations and raising objections that will take time to answer. But as I said, at that point, you're killing any argument in favor of gay marriage too - because I guarantee you, you can use the same exact tactics.

It's not their fault that your argument is so complicated that it's doomed to fail.

Nah, it's not at all. Your objection here is dead - understanding the basics of Natural Law reasoning is easy. What takes time and expertise is dealing with more complicated objections and questions, which will be true of just about any metaphysical or philosophical view you're relying on.

So you're back to square one.

Crude said...

Joe K,

Hey, glad someone laughed. :)

Utilitarianism is easier in that most people have their ideals hammered out of them by adulthood. But utilitarianism is no less tangled. In fact, I think it's more tangled at the end of the day.

I agree. I think sometimes utilitarianism gives off the impression that it may be 'easier' - only because people who endorse utilitarianism often want to get the same "results" out of the view. Watching two utilitarians who want different results from the outset results in some damn amazing footwork.

Brandon said...

I think one of the usual confusions in talking about natural law is muddling up some of the communication in the comments above. The following two need to be distinguished:

Natural Law Theory: This is a theory of how practical reason works, which gets its name because it identifies fundamental principles and argues that they have the character of law, i.e., authoritative obligation, and that all human law has authority only insofar as it is consistent with and derived from this law in practical reason.

Natural Law: The principles themselves.

One of the whole points of natural law theory is that you can have perfectly good arguments from Natural Law without knowing anything about Natural Law Theory, just as you can make perfectly logical arguments without realizing that there is a field called Logic, or knowing what logicians do. Knowing logic may help one be more logical, and, indeed, has that as one of its purposes, but it can only do so because everyone is already at least in a crude and rudimentary way logical. Natural law theory is put forward as the same for practical matters. Thus it is simply not necessary for everyone to know natural law theory, much less everything about natural law theory; but if natural law theory is right in its basic contentions, it's still the case that their moral reasoning is good or bad depending on how it relates to natural law.

Chad Handley said...

Crude,

But just because it's not a religious argument doesn't mean that atheistic or materialist arguments automatically go through or are assumed correct.

But the argument has to go through even if the religious part of the argument is taken out, if natural law is to avoid the charge of being a religious argument in drag. And I can't see how it's at all persuasive if we don't assume that nature was designed.

You'd better hope there are some alternatives, because 'democracy means you have to pass certain laws, and whether they're right or accurate doesn't matter' is less an argument against Natural Law and more an argument against democracy.

Is the fact that the populace can't be expected to follow complicated metaphysical arguments news to you? I feel like you guys are blaming me for telling you there's no Santa Claus.

Guess what? If the public has to do that much work to understand your case, you're going to lose. Every time. That this is true is not my problem; it's yours.

Your objection here is dead - understanding the basics of Natural Law reasoning is easy. What takes time and expertise is dealing with more complicated objections and questions

If responding to the most obvious, most likely, most common objection to natural law requires a deep level of study, then understanding natural law theory requires a deep level of study.

which will be true of just about any metaphysical or philosophical view you're relying on.

I just disagree. The general naive philosophy of juris prudence that Joe Public walks around with is: "let people do what they want as long as they're not hurting anybody." Not that deep, but not that difficult to understand. There's no objection to that naive philosophy that it would require complicated philosophical work to overcome. The same can't be said for natural law theory.

Now, I admit that this may be because the philosophical work for accepting this sort of moral theory has already been done for most people, but again, that's hardly their problem.

So you're back to square one.

It's adorable the way you keep trying to shift the burden back to me.

DOMA was struck down. I have no interest in reviving it, as I think it should have been struck down.

So, how exactly is the difficulty of making the case for natural law my problem?

Chad Handley said...

To explain my POV, allow me to butcher an analogy I've seen Victor Reppert use in defending his AFR.

Say I'm lost in the woods, and I see a sign on the ground that says "Food and Shelter, five miles east of this point."

If an intelligent, intentional agent placed the sign there, I would proceed to walk five miles to the east.

If, however, I saw the sign randomly blown into that spot from over the horizon by a strong gust of wind, I wouldn't follow it.

IMO, natural law without God is like the road sign randomly blown in by a gust of wind. I'd be better off using my own senses and reason to find my way out of the woods rather than using a random sign.

DNW said...

"Undirected Nature, on the other hand, is random, cruel, purposeless, and stupid. If it intends some end for me, I repeat, "Who cares?"

July 3, 2013 at 11:29 AM "

Apart from the fact that a Godless nature would really be none of those things except as seen from the perspective of some conscious structure's take on them, I suppose you would care anyway, since consistent with the sense of human ends and purposes as the terms are used by Hart, you probably do desire to live more than to die, and the pattern of your being requires the admission of certain reasonable predicates in order to maintain it.

If however you are asking me to convince you in a way you find emotionally satisfying that it is better from a transhuman perspective not to morph into something not-human rather than remain a natural human, I will have to say "sorry".

Again, Hart's point, his concession actually, is that law-making if it is to be more than the incoherent babbling of command-like noises, is an irreducibly purposive human activity which rests on certain fundamental human presuppositions which are intrinsically teleological in nature.

As such, the system of inferential reasoning so posited can tell you, for example, that swallowing a cupful of Drano is against right reason. It cannot however make you feel it emotionally, if that is what you are actually looking for.

Derek said...

Hi, I noticed that some people were looking for sources on various issues related to gay marraige. These articles from the Witherspoon Institute, where Robert George, Sherif Girgis, and Ryan Anderson, the philosophers and legal scholars who wrote What is Marraige? Man and Woman: A Defense, might help out:

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/02/7942/ - Check your Blind Spot: What is Marraige?

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/12/2263/ - Marraige: Merely a Social Construct?

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/01/2350/ - Does Marraige, or Anything, have Essential Properties?

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/12/2277/ - Marraige: Real Bodily Union

There are a lot of links on the right side for related articles and videos.

Hope this helps!

AndreasM said...

Hi!
I have been following this debate (and Ed Feser´s blog in general) with great interest.

I think Chad Handley has raised some very good questions, especially in regards to the distinction between morality and legality.

I agree that the case a natural law theorist can make to show that same sex marriage goes against the very essence of marriage is fully coherent and defensible.

My question is this: Can a natural law theorist also make just as compelling and defensible a case to show that, for instance, smoking or drinking alcohol goes against the natural ends of human beings?
I am by no means well versed in natural law theory, but off the top of my head I imagine you could make a (perhaps in this form rather crude) argument like this: If a rational an intelligent being like a human knows that smoking and alcohol is bad for the body, he/she should refrain from indulging in it, since it is a part of a humans natural end to preserve its life as long as possible, especially if he/she has children and an obligation to raise them and to be companions later in life.

The relevance to the topic is of course whether everything that is morally wrong from a natural law standpoint should also be actively discouraged, perhaps even banned, by a state?.

As I said, I am not well versed in natural law, so if I have completely skewed or misrepresented something here, it is not through malice, only innocent ignorance.

Brandon said...

IMO, natural law without God is like the road sign randomly blown in by a gust of wind. I'd be better off using my own senses and reason to find my way out of the woods rather than using a random sign.

Chad,

Do you think the same of logical principles like the principle of noncontradiction? They, too, are rational 'road signs'. Logic is a normative field as well, and the one that natural law theory is modeled on.

Chad Handley said...

Do you think the same of logical principles like the principle of noncontradiction? They, too, are rational 'road signs'. Logic is a normative field as well, and the one that natural law theory is modeled on.

Again, I'm not an atheist, so I don't actually believe that nature is random. I'm just wondering how a natural law theorist would answer someone who did.

But I think the AFR (inasmuch as I understand it) is a good argument, so I think an atheist would have to be distrustful of all his beliefs, including his belief in basic logical laws.

Crude said...

But the argument has to go through even if the religious part of the argument is taken out, if natural law is to avoid the charge of being a religious argument in drag. And I can't see how it's at all persuasive if we don't assume that nature was designed.

Nature having purposes or ends is not automatically "religious". And 'persuasive'? That's an awfully subjective thing - not really a standard I'm too concerned about, at least when it comes to actually evaluating arguments.

Is the fact that the populace can't be expected to follow complicated metaphysical arguments news to you? I feel like you guys are blaming me for telling you there's no Santa Claus.

I won't speak for anyone else, but no, it's not news to me - which is why I don't endorse (in fact, on this site and others, I've explicitly argued against) the rhetorical strategy of trying to convince the public of complicated metaphysical and philosophical arguments. You're confusing intellectual discourse with rhetorical strategy. Believe me, I'm well aware that a position can be intellectually vacant yet presented in a simplistic what that resonates with the public. That's pretty much the essence of what arguments for gay marriage are.

But we're not trying to convince the public in this thread. We're having - or trying to have - a higher level conversation than that.

Guess what? If the public has to do that much work to understand your case, you're going to lose. Every time. That this is true is not my problem; it's yours.

It's not my problem, since I'm not endorsing that rhetorical strategy - in fact I reject it. Your problems are related to the intellectual end of things.

Yes, yes, I know. "I don't care! I just want what I want!" Okay, but you could have saved us time if you just went for this sooner.

If responding to the most obvious, most likely, most common objection to natural law requires a deep level of study, then understanding natural law theory requires a deep level of study.

It doesn't - it was responded to swiftly in this thread alone. And really, take a good look at some of your own objections here: I quote, "So what?" That is your 'obvious, most likely objection'. And it's going to be capable of being deployed against absolutely any justification FOR gay marriage or anal sex you try to roll out.

At which point you're going to have to fall back to something like 'Well it's a democracy, whatever the people want is what they should get'. In which case, great: thank you for sanctifying the case against gay marriage. It's now as intellectually plausible as anything can be in a "democracy". Now it's all about rhetoric and convincing the public, "good reasons" be damned.

I just disagree. The general naive philosophy of juris prudence that Joe Public walks around with is: "let people do what they want as long as they're not hurting anybody." Not that deep, but not that difficult to understand.

Actually, it is. I'm going to put you up against the intellectual wall and make you define "harm", rigorously. I'm going to hit you with counterexamples, tough questions, question your axioms and unstated assumptions.

I'm going to question what you mean by "what they want", what role free will plays in the discourse, what assumptions are made there, whether a willed desire is itself irrational or should be encouraged or discouraged by the state.

Nothing is too deep or too difficult to understand - until someone actually questions it.

It's adorable the way you keep trying to shift the burden back to me.

You have a burden of proof - I'm not shifting it. I'm merely pointing it out. But it's precious the way you clearly fear a burden of proof here. I would too, if I knew I couldn't reasonably meet it.

Crude said...

So, how exactly is the difficulty of making the case for natural law my problem?

Who says it is? At this point it looks like all of your arguments against natural law have failed intellectually, you're not confident enough in any of your arguments for gay marriage or anal sex to dare mount a defense, so... what, it seems like you're reduced to 'I disagree!' and 'I don't care, I got what I want for the moment, that's all that matters!'

Take what you can get, I suppose. If the wind blows in a different direction, just remember your attitude at the time.

Mr. X said...

Chad:

“We should care what God wants because He is perfectly good and perfectly wise. If He intends some end for us, it is undoubtedly in our best interests to pursue that end as pursuing it would no doubt lead to our highest fulfilment.

Undirected Nature, on the other hand, is random, cruel, purposeless, and stupid. If it intends some end for me, I repeat, "Who cares?"”


I think one could dispute the premise that nature being random changes matters in any relevant way. To take an example, human beings are naturally constituted so that companionship is good for them: somebody with lots of friends and a close relationship with their family will be happier and more fulfilled than they would be if they had few friends and were not on speaking terms with any of their family members. Even if you think that this is just because natural selection happened to favour sociable animals over solitary, this doesn’t change the fact that it’s in our best interests to pursue companionship, or that anybody who tried to rebel against nature by cutting themselves off from all human contact would most likely live a miserable and unfulfilled.

(At any rate, I think that line of argument could be promising. As a matter of fact, I’m personally doubtful as to whether natural law theory can be made binding without a belief in God, since it seems to me that it reduces to a mere set of prudential advice; then again, though, I’m sceptical as to whether *any* moral theory can be compelling without God, so I don’t see this as a criticism of natural law vs. any other moral theory.)

I also think that Crude is right in that the basics of natural law theory aren’t too difficult to grasp. Indeed, it’s probably worth pointing out that a lot of people seem to instinctively think in quasi-natural law terms a lot of the time (“Homosexuality is perfectly natural, so what is the nasty Church doing trying to make people feel guilty for the way they were born!”). The real issue, I’d say, is that natural law often requires us to give up a short-term and immediate pleasure to gain a greater pleasure in the future, and modern culture generally encourages people to think that they can and ought to have everything they want whenever they want it, without having to wait. Hence people are culturally predisposed to reject it, and so bring up all sorts of objections, whilst other moral theories (like utilitarianism or “do whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t harm anybody else”), which are at least as problematic but generally easier to give a short-termist and hedonistic spin, are accepted virtually without question.

Edward Feser said...

AndreasM,

Sorry, your comments were getting stuck in the spam filter and I only just now saw them.

Mr. X said...

“The general naive philosophy of juris prudence that Joe Public walks around with is: "let people do what they want as long as they're not hurting anybody." Not that deep, but not that difficult to understand. There's no objection to that naive philosophy that it would require complicated philosophical work to overcome.”

Hmm, not so sure about that... consider the case of a young man at a party, who comes across a woman who’s passed out due to drinking too much. There’s nobody around, so the man rapes her, taking care to use a condom so that he doesn’t get her pregnant. The woman remains passed out throughout the experience, and wakes up the next morning, none the wiser.

Now, do you think that Joe Public would support locking the man in prison? I think he probably would. But why? The woman didn’t suffer any physical or psychological damage from the incident: as far as she knows, she just lay there the whole night. So what justification would there be for prosecuting the man? It seems to me that this could only be justified by appealing to some other legal concept – e.g., that the man violated the woman’s right to bodily autonomy. But this not only brings in metaphysical and ethical baggage of its own (Where do rights come from? And why is “bodily autonomy” included in the list of rights?), but marks the abandonment of the “do what you want as long as you don’t harm anybody” theory.

DNW said...

" Chad Handley said...

' "So what?" as a number of the more aggressive anti-theists have said here. Who cares what "God" wants if he does in fact exist. So God has structured the possibilities of development within certain constraints?'

We should care what God wants because He is perfectly good and perfectly wise. If He intends some end for us, it is undoubtedly in our best interests to pursue that end as pursuing it would no doubt lead to our highest fulfilment."


LOL Then what if they are not interested in their "highest" fulfilment, and would rather self-create insofar as that is possible?

As often as you can say "because", the anti-theist can say, so-what? Just as you do, to a mere intrinsic nature. By adverting to "God", all you have done is upped the ante in what to you is a more emotionally appealing and vivid way.

Numerous philosophers, and not just local trolls, have in fact stated that they actively hope absolute death and finality is their end.


" Undirected Nature, on the other hand, is random, cruel, purposeless, and stupid. If it intends some end for me, I repeat, "Who cares?"

July 3, 2013 at 11:29 AM"

As I attempted to say a little while ago - it apparently didn't take - "cruel and stupid" are certainly not objective characteristics of a Godless universe seen on your terms, since in a Godless universe seen on your terms, these words could only have a subjective meaning; a meaning the importance of which was rendered illusory on your own take.

If on the other hand you wish to grant an interpretive priority to your subjective impression of the actions of the universe, and to take seriously the notion of "stupid" and "cruel" vis-a-vis say, human development, then you have admitted to what is at least the embryo of natural law reasoning.

No naturally adjectivally "stupid" and "cruel" facts obtain without a significant natural framework being already assumed. An assumption which you apparently smuggle in, wittingly or not, in order to provide psychological import and significance to the pejoritives "stupid" and "cruel".

In general, it seems that people are having enormous problems grasping the central notion of natural law as it relates to legal systems, i.e., as a concept of law relating to - based upon intrinsic human purposes.

Presumably this is because they have been schooled to imagine that they have transcended primitive "anthropocentric" biases and achieved some trans-human perspective or leverage point. Driven by the same appetites and urges as before, but now conditioned to see them as non-purposive, they simply let go of justification and think they can float.


Again, for the last time: What Hart is admitting, in the face of his own predominant positivism, is that in order for the very concept of law to be intelligible, (as anything other than bellicose and incoherent command-like noises emitted by any old someone or another) law's intrinsic purposiveness, which is in turn grounded on a view of intrinsic human ends and natural purposes, must be recognized.

Mr. X said...

AndreasM:

“My question is this: Can a natural law theorist also make just as compelling and defensible a case to show that, for instance, smoking or drinking alcohol goes against the natural ends of human beings?
I am by no means well versed in natural law theory, but off the top of my head I imagine you could make a (perhaps in this form rather crude) argument like this: If a rational an intelligent being like a human knows that smoking and alcohol is bad for the body, he/she should refrain from indulging in it, since it is a part of a humans natural end to preserve its life as long as possible, especially if he/she has children and an obligation to raise them and to be companions later in life.”


Yes, I think that would be it. Alcohol could be drunk in moderation without contradicting NL, because small amounts don’t adversely affect your health. Smoking, as I understand it, is harmful in whatever quantity, so should always be avoided.

“The relevance to the topic is of course whether everything that is morally wrong from a natural law standpoint should also be actively discouraged, perhaps even banned, by a state?.”

It depends on who you ask. Aristotle and Isidore of Seville (I think, but I may be misremembering) said yes; Aquinas was more cautious, because he thought that trying to force people to be more virtuous would just make them resentful, and anyway virtue is a matter of someone’s character rather than their outward behaviour, and the law can only affect the latter.

(Probably worth mentioning here as well that, pace the arguments/insinuations of SSM supporters, nobody’s actually talking about banning homosexuality or even gay marriage. If you want to have a special ceremony with your same-sex lover and you can find a pastor willing to accommodate you, it’s not like the Morality Police will drag you off for re-education. What’s at stake is whether or not the government should *actively support and encourage* such relationships, which is different debate altogether. I think natural law theorists were pretty unanimous against actively supporting immorality, even if they thought it was sometimes prudent to accept its existence.)

Chad Handley said...

Yes, yes, I know. "I don't care! I just want what I want!" Okay, but you could have saved us time if you just went for this sooner.

What? What are you talking about? Are you capable of having a discussion without assuming the worst about your opponent?

I've said repeatedly that I have religious inclinations against gay marriage and political inclinations for it. Right now I'm going with my political inclinations because the arguments against gay marriage that I understand are terrible. I'm here trying to learn about one of the arguments against gay marriage I don't understand. So, where are you getting this "I just want what I want, stuff?"

But we're not trying to convince the public in this thread. We're having - or trying to have - a higher level conversation than that.

We've been doing both. We've been arguing about whether or not natural theory is sound and about whether it's persuasive in the public square.

It doesn't - it was responded to swiftly in this thread alone.

Could you point me towards this swift and effective rebuttal? Because I honestly missed it.

To be clear, what I consider to be the most obvious objection is the objection that whatever "ends" there are in nature were put there by evolution, and evolution is filled with such cruelty, waste, and suffering in its operation that it's no place to go for morals.

I quote, "So what?" That is your 'obvious, most likely objection'.

No, it isn't. See above.

My objection is that what nature intends is only morally relevant if nature has been designed by a good God. If nature is random, what it points at is morally meaningless. My "so what?" was only directed towards what a purposeless nature "points towards."

More after the break...

Chad Handley said...

And it's going to be capable of being deployed against absolutely any justification FOR gay marriage or anal sex you try to roll out.

I disagree. A theistic natural law case is very persuasive. Following the ends towards which nature points given that nature was designed by God makes total sense. I couldn't say "so what?" to that.

The problem is, if the natural law theorist is to avoid the charge that he's making a religious argument in drag, he has to leave God out of his case. And without God, I feel the case falls apart.

"At which point you're going to have to fall back to something like 'Well it's a democracy, whatever the people want is what they should get'. In which case, great: thank you for sanctifying the case against gay marriage. It's now as intellectually plausible as anything can be in a "democracy". Now it's all about rhetoric and convincing the public, "good reasons" be damned."

I merely stated the fact that extremely complicated metaphysical arguments aren't going to be effective in a democracy. That doesn't imply that I support using sophistical arguments, or mob rule, or anything you're trying to smear me with here.

I'm going to put you up against the intellectual wall and make you define "harm", rigorously. I'm going to hit you with counterexamples, tough questions, question your axioms and unstated assumptions.

And at no time will I have to tell you to start at the Pre-Socratics, as one of your allies suggested I would have to do to really understand natural law.

I'm proceeding with this hoping that you understand that I am playing Devil's Advocate here. I am giving the stock objections to your case, which I wouldnt' necessarily agree with. Please don't accuse me of actually holding these views in your response.

A naive gay marriage proponent would define harm as that which infringes upon the rights of another person. And the rights I refer to are those enumerated in or consistent with the Constitution. And those rights are arrived at via a Social Contract negotiated between the voters.

"What they want" is self-explanatory. The only relevant concept of free will that is required is that which denies government compulsion. All notions of free will consistent with this are consistent with the concept. I have no idea what the rest of your comments in that paragraph mean.

There, that took two paragraphs.

Now, use the same amount of words to explain why I should care what nature intends if nature is blind.

You have a burden of proof

What burden is that?

What case am I trying to prove?

I'm always the last to know about such things.

I got what I want for the moment, that's all that matters!'

I don't "want" gay marriage. I simply feel that of the arguments I currently understand, the purely secular arguments in favor of gay marriage are more convincing than the purely secular arguments against it. (I personally believe that, religiously, gay marriage is ruled out. But I don't think I can impose my religious beliefs on the populace.) Maybe that will change when I sufficiently understand natural law theory, but I'm not there yet.

Take what you can get, I suppose. If the wind blows in a different direction, just remember your attitude at the time.

You are making some wildly inaccurate assumptions about the person you're arguing with.

Brandon said...

dguller asked,

Is it possible to frustrate a lower telos for the sake of a higher telos? For example, to sacrifice one's life for one's children.

It's possible to let a lower natural end be frustrated for the sake of a higher, which is what usually happens in cases in which one sacrifices one's life for one's children. This is just to let go of a lesser good for the sake of a higher, and can be quite noble. Actively frustrating the lower end is a distinct matter, though, and the corresponding scenario would not be merely letting oneself die in order to protect one's children but deliberately killing oneself to protect one's children. In general, this is usually thought to be always wrong, although under the circumstances it may not be a serious or grievous wrong.

Chad Handley said...

Mr. X,


I think one could dispute the premise that nature being random changes matters in any relevant way. To take an example, human beings are naturally constituted so that companionship is good for them: somebody with lots of friends and a close relationship with their family will be happier and more fulfilled than they would be if they had few friends and were not on speaking terms with any of their family members. Even if you think that this is just because natural selection happened to favour sociable animals over solitary, this doesn’t change the fact that it’s in our best interests to pursue companionship, or that anybody who tried to rebel against nature by cutting themselves off from all human contact would most likely live a miserable and unfulfilled.


But going without the most significant form of human companionship is exactly what is being asked of the gay person in question. He is being asked to live a miserable and unfulfilled life. Why? Because blind nature has decided his sex organs are for making babies?

Look, I would fully allow that nature's ends have to be followed at least to the degree of keeping us alive. We have to eat and we have to drink and we have to seek shelter. But I don't see how nature's ends convey such morally obligatory force that they can compel a gay man to live a celibate life, unless that nature was designed by a good God.

Hmm, not so sure about that... consider the case of a young man at a party, who comes across a woman who’s passed out due to drinking too much. There’s nobody around, so the man rapes her, taking care to use a condom so that he doesn’t get her pregnant. The woman remains passed out throughout the experience, and wakes up the next morning, none the wiser.

Are you seriously suggesting that a woman who was raped while she was unconscious was not harmed?

Find a less horrifyingly disgusting analogy, and we can talk. With all due respect, I'm just not going to dignify that.

Brandon said...

Chad said,

The problem is, if the natural law theorist is to avoid the charge that he's making a religious argument in drag, he has to leave God out of his case. And without God, I feel the case falls apart.

But you seem to hold that all cases fall apart without God; all arguments depend on logical reasoning, which by AFR depends on God; this is very much the same as the case with natural law, which is not made explicit by appeal to God, but is made explicable by appeal to God.

This is why I made a point previously about the importance of not simply assuming what counts as belonging in the public square. Even though people typically don't challenge arguments based on principles of logic in public, as of yet, it's not difficult to find philosophers and, occasionally, others who deny our ability to find self-evident logical principles, on precisely the sort of grounds brought up in natural law cases, and it's not really difficult to imagine people (I've met occasional individuals who come very close) who insist on treating every explicit appeal to the principle of noncontradiction or disjunctive syllogism as an attempt to slip in at least a non-naturalistic metaphysics into the conversation. How would you handle such a situation?

Chad Handley said...

LOL Then what if they are not interested in their "highest" fulfilment, and would rather self-create insofar as that is possible?

As often as you can say "because", the anti-theist can say, so-what?


Sure, and a guy lost in the woods could just as easily say "so what?" to the road sign placed by the experienced park ranger as he could say to the road sign blown into his path by a random gust of wind.

He could do so as easily but he couldn't do so as rationally, and you know it.

It seems intuitively obvious that living in opposition to nature is more dangerous if nature is designed by a good God than it is if nature wasn't designed at all. It is therefore undeniable that removing God from the picture at least significantly weakens the case for natural law. At least, it seems that way to me.

As I attempted to say a little while ago - it apparently didn't take - "cruel and stupid" are certainly not objective characteristics of a Godless universe seen on your terms, since in a Godless universe seen on your terms, these words could only have a subjective meaning; a meaning the importance of which was rendered illusory on your own take.

Absolutely! I agree wholeheartedly. In a godless universe, the only morals would be subjective morals, and nature's ends wouldn't matter.

Brandon said...

Chad,

Mr X is not suggesting that the woman in the rape scenario is unharmed; he's pointing out that in the scenario the harm is neither physical nor psychological -- i.e., that what people find horrifying is the sheer wrongness of the action, not the harm. The horrifyingness of the scenario is precisely the point: ordinary people don't look at that situation and try to pinpoint the harms -- they shrink from it immediately, and take the wrongness itself as the harm even if no other harm can be identified.

Mr. X said...

Chad:

“But I don't see how nature's ends convey such morally obligatory force that they can compel a gay man to live a celibate life, unless that nature was designed by a good God.”

If your nature is such that a certain thing is good or bad for you, it’s good for you, whether or not that’s because God designed you that way or because you happened to evolve that way. I don’t see how the origin of your nature affects the matter.

“Are you seriously suggesting that a woman who was raped while she was unconscious was not harmed?”

No, because I think that her rights were violated and that being treated in that way is contrary to her natural ends. If, however, your hypothetical Joe “Do what you want as long as it doesn’t harm anybody” Public were to use these arguments, he’d have moved away from his laissez-faire approach to jurisprudence to a rights-/NL-based one. Both of these approaches could of course be objected to, and depending on the nature of the objections it might require an extremely long and complex argument to rebut these objections. If this is the case, though, then your contention that “there's no objection to that naive philosophy that it would require complicated philosophical work to overcome” is proved false.

Chad Handley said...

Brandon,

But you seem to hold that all cases fall apart without God; all arguments depend on logical reasoning, which by AFR depends on God; this is very much the same as the case with natural law, which is not made explicit by appeal to God, but is made explicable by appeal to God.

Guilty as charged. Even leaving the AFR out of it, I believe all moral theories fall apart without God. That's why I think the only available arguments against gay marriage are religious in nature from top to bottom. Thus, given explicitly religious arguments are ruled out in American jurisprudence, gay marriage should be legal, even if it is, according to most religious views, immoral.

How would you handle such a situation?

I wouldn't. I write comic books.

Mr. X said...

@ Brandon:

Quite. And of course, if the harm she suffers is due to the wrongness of the action rather than vice versa, then it follows that the wrongness must logically precede the harm, and hence isn't explicable as a product of said harm.

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