Friday, May 30, 2014

Sexual cant from the asexual Kant


Kant never married and apparently died a virgin.  He is sometimes described as having had a low opinion of sex, on the basis of passages like this one from his Lectures on Ethics:

[S]exuality is not an inclination which one human being has for another as such, but is an inclination for the sex of another… The desire which a man has for a woman is not directed towards her because she is a human being, but because she is a woman; that she is a human being is of no concern to the man; only her sex is the object of his desires. Human nature is thus subordinated. Hence it comes that all men and women do their best to make not their human nature but their sex more alluring and direct their activities and lusts entirely towards sex. Human nature is thereby sacrificed to sex. (Louis Infield translation, p.164)

“Sexuality, therefore,” Kant concludes, “exposes mankind to the danger of equality with the beasts.”  He qualifies the claim, but just barely:

Sexual love can, of course, be combined with human love and so carry with it the characteristics of the latter, but taken by itself and for itself, it is nothing more than appetite. Taken by itself it is a degradation of human nature; for as soon as a person becomes an Object of appetite for another, all motives of moral relationship cease to function, because as an Object of appetite for another a person becomes a thing… (p. 163)

I think the account of sexual desire implicit here is seriously wrong both metaphysically and phenomenologically -- that is to say, both in terms of what the natural end or telos of sexual desire actually is, and in terms of how this desire is typically felt and its end typically perceived.  Kant is correct that sexual desire is not aimed at another human being merely qua human.  But it is wrong to say that the end is or is perceived to be merely the sex of the other as such.  Kant makes it sound as if a man’s sexual desire is “aimed” at femaleness per se, and a woman’s sexual desire “aimed” at maleness per se -- as if it could in principle equally well be satisfied by a female or male of any species.  That is definitely not the case where the natural end of human sexual desire is concerned.  (Naturally, in affirming the existence of a “natural end” I’m looking at the subject from a Thomistic natural law point of view, which I’ve developed and defended elsewhere.)  Nor is it true phenomenologically either, except in those rare individuals tempted to bestiality. 

As I argued in an earlier post and a NCBQ article, a man’s sexual desire is aimed by nature toward a woman and a woman’s sexual desire is aimed by nature toward a man.  And that is also how it is typically experienced, though of course as everywhere else in the natural order there are imperfections and aberrant cases.  What a man wants, even when his intentions are not honorable, is not “a human being” but neither is it merely “a female.”  He wants a woman, and a woman is of course simultaneously human and female.  And what a woman wants is a man -- who is of course both human and male -- and neither “a human being” nor “a male.”  Kant abstracts out “being human,” “being female,” and “being male,” and seems to think that if the object of sexual desire isn’t the first, then it can only be one of the latter.  (For Kant, it seems, we’re all like George Michael.)  But the true object of sexual desire is what you had before you abstracted these things out.

As I indicated in the earlier post, it is important to keep in mind how true this is even in most immoral sexual encounters.  Conservative moralists often speak  as if sexual immorality were essentially a matter of dehumanizing or animalizing the sexual act, but that is not quite right.  Casanova and Don Draper are womanizers, not “femalizers.”  Nor is it merely that they want females of the species Homo sapiens.  They want their sexual partners to have the reason and volition that distinguish human beings from other animals.  The womanizer wants a woman to admire and surrender to him, and only what can think and choose (as non-human animals cannot) can do that sort of thing.  You can’t seduce a non-human animal.  That is not to say that there aren’t perverts who really do desire something non-human or formerly human (as in bestiality or necrophilia) but that is rare and so very far from the paradigm case that even many people otherwise unsympathetic to the natural law understanding of sex can see that there is something warped about it.

It is also just mistaken to say that “all men and women do their best to make not their human nature but their sex more alluring” and that the “Object of [sexual] appetite… becomes a thing.”  It is true that men and women trying to attract members of the opposite sex do not try to enhance what they have in common as human beings, but neither do they try to reduce themselves merely to maleness or femaleness understood as that which they have in common with non-human animals.  A man tries to enhance his masculinity and a woman her femininity.  Non-human animals are male or female, but they are not masculine or feminine.  To be masculine is to be (to that extent) an excellent specimen of a male human being, and to be feminine is to be (to that extent) an excellent specimen of a female human being.  Humanness as such is not emphasized, but neither is it abstracted out.  The man trying to attract a woman is not saying “Look at what a human being I am” but neither is he saying “Look at what a male animal I am”; he is saying “Look at what a man I am,” where a man is both human and male at once.  Similarly, a woman trying to attract a man is saying “Look at what a woman I am,” where to be a woman is to be neither merely human nor merely female but both at once.

So, while it is understandable why Kant would be suspicious of sexual desire if it really had the teleology he seems to think it does, I think he just gets the teleology wrong.  To be sure, Kant does not say that the gratification of sexual desire is inherently immoral.  He allows that it is morally permissible in marriage.  But the reasons he gives are instructive:

The sole condition on which we are free to make use of our sexual desire depends upon the right to dispose over the person as a whole... If I have the right over the whole person, I have also the right over the part and so I have the right to use that person’s organa sexualia for the satisfaction of sexual desire. But how am I to obtain these rights over the whole person? Only by giving that person the same rights over the whole of myself. This happens only in marriage… Matrimony is the only condition in which use can be made of one’s sexuality. If one devotes one’s person to another, one devotes not only sex but the whole person; the two cannot be separated. (pp. 166-67)

With sex as with everything else, morality for Kant boils down to respect for “the person.”  It is because in marriage two “persons” are united -- not a man and a woman, mind you, but “one’s person” and “another [person]” -- that the gratification of sexual desire becomes morally permissible.  (Why is not clear.  If sexual desire as such involves treating another person as a mere animal or as a thing, how can it ever be permissible on Kantian terms to gratify it?  Why wouldn’t the ideal Kantian marriage be sexless?)

We seem to have implicit here a kind of Cartesianism.  There’s the body, which is either male or female but as such a merely animal and inhuman sort of thing; and then there’s “the person,” which is a bloodless, sexless, rational and willing agent hidden behind the body.  Men and women disappear.  It’s as if for Kant, the ideal human beings would all be like the androgynous Pat and Chris from the old Saturday Night Live “It’s Pat” sketches

Not (to be fair) that Kant explicitly says this or would want to say it.  And Kant himself inadvertently gives the reason why this would be a mistaken view of human nature when he writes:

The body is part of the self; in its togetherness with the self it constitutes the person; a man cannot make of his person a thing… (p. 166)

Exactly right.  But that means that since Harry’s body is part of himself and it is a man’s body, then being a man, specifically, is part of what it is to be Harry, and thus Harry’s being seen and sexually desired as a man is precisely not to be seen and desired as a thing.  Similarly, since Sally’s body is part of herself and it is a woman’s body, then being a woman, specifically, is part of what it is to be Sally, and thus Sally’s being seen and sexually desired as a woman is precisely not to be seen and desired as a thing.  Where real human beings (as opposed to angels and as opposed to SNL’s Pat) are concerned, to be a person just is to be either a man and thus male, or a woman and thus female.  It just is to be of one sex or the other.  And to desire someone sexually just is a way of desiring a kind of person, namely the human kind.  Your sex is not contingent and extrinsic to you but rather intrinsic and essential to you.  (That is why, for Aquinas, though sexual intercourse will not exist in the hereafter, sex -- being a man or being a woman -- will exist forever.)

But then, Kant’s discussion of sexual morality in the Lectures is not clear or carefully worked out in the first place.  For example, his account of marriage makes crucial use of the notion of having mutual property rights in one another, yet just a couple of pages earlier (at p. 165) he had argued that a human being cannot properly be thought of as a kind of property, not even his own property.  Presumably he would regard the “property” talk in the passage about marriage as metaphorical, but how exactly do we cash out the metaphor in a way that will preserve the force of the argument?

Given that he very strongly condemns homosexual behavior in the Lectures, Kant would no doubt have been horrified by the notion of “same-sex marriage.”  Yet what he says about marriage could certainly be developed in a way that would allow for it.  If marriage is essentially a union of human persons, and maleness and femaleness are extraneous to being human persons (as what he says about sexual desire seems to imply, whether or not he would want to draw the conclusion), then why couldn’t a marriage exist between any two human persons? 

As I have noted before, while Kantian personalist talk has in recent decades become popular among some conservative Christian moralists, it is something of which they ought to be wary.   It is conceptually sloppy and tends toward conclusions that are (at least from the point of view of the traditional natural law theorist) either too rigorist or too lax.  Yes, human beings are persons, but so are angels.  What is distinctive about human morality is what sets us apart from the angels.  That is one reason why the traditional Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of human beings as rational animals is superior to the Kantian approach.  Our animality -- and thus our being either men or women, either male or female -- is as essential to us as our rationality, not something extraneous or tacked-on.  For the Thomist, “It’s Patrick” or “It’s Patricia.”  It ain’t “Pat.”

238 comments:

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rank sophist said...

Interesting post. A few thoughts.

1. It seems to deny, implicitly, that anything like sexual objectification (i.e. reduction of person to usable object) can exist. A controversial statement, if I'm reading it right.

2. A full-fledged attack on JPII's personalism?

3. The claim that humans are naturally sexually binary is up for debate. First, Aristotle believed that humans were naturally one sex (male), and Aquinas followed his natural science on this point. Second, born hermaphrodites seemingly cannot be reduced to either sex without begging the question.

4. What does it mean to be an "excellent specimen" of a particular sex? The view seems to entail that maleness and femaleness, despite being mere accidents, come packaged with different ethical demands--such that men and women have different ends. If so, it's dubiously coherent at best.

Dan said...

In A-T would you treat intersex people as being male or female, with the ambiguity being epistemic?

Thursday said...

This goes seriously off the rails. Of course, the seducer wants a human female, not a just any female. But what he wants out of her is often mainly just a live human female body, not the full person. To quote Phil Hartman doing Frank Sinatra: "Put a bag over her head and do your business."

The womanizer wants a woman to admire and surrender to him, and only what can think and choose (as non-human animals cannot) can do that sort of thing. You can’t seduce a non-human animal.

I'm sure that a lot of seducers like the power trip aspects of fornication, but I'm not sure that this is all that important to them. Perhaps we'll find out when the sexbot revolution arrives. The proverbial "wet hole in the night" has an appeal even absent surrender and admiration.

Thursday said...

If Kant can think of sex in this perverse way (and it is perverse), why can't a seducer think of sex in this perverse way. It can and has been done.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I think Dr. Feser is closer to the truth than those who use the idea of objectification in an unnuanced way. In all but the basest individual could lust be purely physical - otherwise there is always an important psychic component to the interaction.

rank sophist said...

Jeremy,

At least in postmodern discourse, objectification isn't a matter of ignoring (say) the psychic elements of a person. It includes that, but as part of a much more basic concern. Objectification is a phenomenological stance along the lines of what Buber called "I-It", when an entity's substantial reality (i.e. existence as a concrete substance separate from oneself) is skipped over and its accidents, analyzable structure and practical uses are focused on. As such, objectification is a form of devaluation that can be applied to animals, plants and (at least for Buber) rocks no less than to people. So, lust doesn't have to be "purely physical" in order to objectify someone. Just failing to appreciate them as substances is enough--and reducing them to self-gratifying use is more than enough.

Joe K. said...

Rank,

Quick question. With that definition of objectification, what sort of sex or sexual attraction would count as not being objectification?

Anonymous said...

2. A full-fledged attack on JPII's personalism?

Full-fledged seems a little strong. But I can see how his critique of Kant could be applied to the theology of the body.

Ed - Do we have to be black and white in our approach though? Is there not a lot of good that can be drawn by the Cartesian turn to the subject, as JPII tried to draw out?

Cheers,
Daniel

rank sophist said...

Joe,

Long time no see. Anyway, to begin with, I'd defer to JPII on that point. His Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body were attempts to answer your question within a broadly postmodern framework. If you aren't familiar with those works, I'll just say that JPII's response to your question centers on the idea of sex as self-giving. Objectification is a way of empowering the self, whereas proper sex (for JPII) necessarily involves powerlessness and care for others. And he spends a long time proving that the only really self-giving sexual act is one that is "open to life" in a marital (one man, one woman) setting.

As for sexual attraction, aside from what JPII says about it, I'd add that it's a thorny issue. For starters, I agree with Michael Hannon that heterosexuality is a cultural fiction, and that "sexual orientation" in general is completely fluid. Sexual attraction to a sex-as-such is, in my opinion, a kind of fetish. It has to be grounded in love (in the classical sense) for a particular person.

Joe K. said...

Rank,

Sorry, I should have been more specific. I'm looking for examples of non-objectifying sex with the definition you gave. Like, maybe paint a (SFW hopefully) picture for me. You wrote "Objectification is a phenomenological stance along the lines of what Buber called "I-It", when an entity's substantial reality (i.e. existence as a concrete substance separate from oneself) is skipped over and its accidents, analyzable structure and practical uses are focused on."

What does it mean, sexually, to "skip over" a human's substance and "focus on" his or her accidents? Even more specifically, what are you calling the "accidents" of a human being, in the sexual context.

I'm just thinking of a man who loves his wife's breasts. And because he sees her walking in the kitchen after a shower, he notices her breasts and wants to have sex with her. So they have sex, and during sex, he appreciates her breasts. He also appreciates her personality and her love, but her breasts are what got him in the mood. Has he "objectified" her? Is he not properly "caring" for her in JP2 terms? Is it bad that he did this? If so, how would he have gone about not objectifying her? How does he "appreciate" her "substance" exactly?

Perhaps I'm struggling with the terms. I'm just trying to figure out how sex and sexual attraction isn't almost always focused on what I think you are calling accidents and not substance.

Tony said...

Rank, I agree with your point about JPII's treatment of sex as being for self-giving. I am not sure I would call it a form of "powerlessness": though there is a form of vulnerability in making a gift to another, the particular form of self-giving in sex (and marriage) is mutual self-giving, and this implies something more complex than simply letting go. Like Stephen Covey's distinction of dependence from both independence and interdependence. Interdependence is complex, and is not really the same thing as giving up power - for one thing, it results in both parties being stronger than they would otherwise be. There is something odd about powerlessness resulting in greater strength (even apart from grace, that is).

I really have a LOT of reservations about Michael Hannon's thesis that heterosexuality is a cultural construct. While he has a point in that there was, in the past, a different take on the relations between the sexes, his point muddles as much as he gets right, I think.

In any case, Kant's view of sexual acts is pretty crabbed compared to JPII's, and leads more or less directly to a number of errors (as Ed indicates). For one thing, it seems to cut out the possibility of their being a true human virtue with regard to sex.

whitefrozen said...

I kant understand how he'd die a virgin. Seems like he was the real life of the party.

rank sophist said...

Joe,

JPII does give examples within a version of that framework, as I said. As for your example, it is quite possible that there's objectification taking place, although not necessarily. Sexual attraction to accidents (such as particular body parts) becomes objectification if it is not quickly referred to the substance of the person in question. That is, it's important that sex is directed toward this person, rather than toward a collection of accidents that could be possessed by anyone. Aquinas suggests something along these lines in the Supplement: "[I]f pleasure be sought in such a way as to exclude the honesty of marriage, so that, to wit, it is not as a wife but as a woman that a man treats his wife, and that he is ready to use her in the same way if she were not his wife, it is a mortal sin" (ST Sup. q49 a6). Seeing a spouse as a stand-in is never good. Focusing on your own gratification, in general, is automatically a bad idea.

Obviously, a lot of sex, particularly for men, involves objectification. There's no doubt about that. But it's neither necessary nor desirable.

Tony,

Good point about powerlessness. I could probably have picked a better word. Agree to disagree on Hannon's claim, I suppose; my inner historicist finds it compelling.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Rank,

But in such an approach to sexuality, doesn't one risk losing sight of the sexual itself? It seems to me that the perspective you describe risks negating the sexes and sexuality, rather than transcending them.





Jeremy Taylor said...

Also, I know in the Platonic perspective - and I believe it is reflected in Kabbalah and amongst the Sufi - the distinction between male and female in mankind is seen as symbolic of the primal duality of creation (that between essence and substance, form and matter). From this perspective, the bodily and psychic attributes of the sexes are determined by this reflection of creation and, ultimately, God - the sexual aspects of man and the sexual union is powerfully evocative of spiritual realities (including sexual ecstasy, which is a reflection of heavenly bliss).

Female beauty is an example of the real spiritual propensity of our sexual attributes. I think Ibn Arabi somewhere mentions that the contemplation of female beauty is one of premier means to glimpse the beauty of God.

I do, though, certainly agree with you in the need to support our sexuality with a framework that helps lead from eros to agape. From the perspective of sexual desire, like all fallen man's desires, it may easily go astray. But it is also important not to lose sight of the primordially sacred nature of human sexuality.

Joe K. said...

Rank,

First, thank you for that quote. I have been looking for that quote. I never seemed to be able to find it. Appreciate it.

Second, I'm not totally sure that answers my question. I'm not married and I've never had sex (Kant and I have a lot in common I guess), so maybe my sexual attractions are always misdirected or objectifying (and I wouldn't even deny it). But I guess my problem is this. So much, if not all, of sexual attraction (and sex itself?) is, as far as I can tell, attraction to what you are calling (and probably rightly) "accidents" of the human being. I'm just trying to figure out what it could possibly mean to be sexually attracted to the "substance" of a human being. Maybe this could be a better question. What is the substance of a human being?

I mean, is it "wife" that a man is supposed to be sexually aroused by? But what does that term mean without the accidents? I would agree that a man, while having sex with his wife, thinking "it doesn't matter whose breasts these are, I'm using them for my gratification" would be doing something wrong. But at the same time, it's that they Are breasts (or whatever other accident(s)) that he's wanting her. If she did not possess any of what we call the female characteristics (or what Feser calls femininity here, I think), he just wouldn't want her. (Unless he were gay or had some other paraphilia, etc.)

Edward Feser said...

Rank,

Suppose a husband thinks, vis-a-vis his wife, "Oh my goodness, look at those breasts. I want to make passionate love to her right now." It seems you think there is a real danger of "objectification" here.

Now suppose he thinks, vis-a-vis his wife, "Oh my goodness, look how kind she is to our children. I want to make passionate love to her right now." I would bet you think there is no hint of "objectification" here.

But if so then there are two problems. First, in the second case as much as in the first his immediate attention is on "an accident that could be possessed by anyone." You might respond that the accident in the second case is more "personal" than in the first, which is why there is less of a tendency toward "objectification." But in that case it seems you would be making bodily traits, and in particular those traits that are tied to a person's sex, somehow less part of the real person than the moral traits are. And then we seem stuck back in a kind of Kantian-Platonic-Cartesian extrusion of the body from the self, and an associated discomfort with the sexual as such -- which, I imagine, you agree is not a good thing.

So that's one problem. Here's another problem. The idea that the thought "She's so kind to the kids!" really ought to be more arousing to a man with a healthy sexuality than the thought "She's got gorgeous breasts!" is too stupid for words.

Maybe you'd agree, in which case it would be interesting to hear your take on these examples.

George R. said...

Ed writes:
"What a man wants, even when his intentions are not honorable, is not “a human being” but neither is it merely “a female.” He wants a woman, and a woman is of course simultaneously human and female."

Can we assume from this that you have backed away from your unfortunate "the sons of Adam mated with sub-human brutes" thesis from back in 2011:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/09/modern-biology-and-original-sin-part-i.html

rank sophist said...

Jeremy,

From the perspective of sexual desire, like all fallen man's desires, it may easily go astray. But it is also important not to lose sight of the primordially sacred nature of human sexuality.

I agree with that.

Joe,

Sex and sexual attraction lose their coherence outside of a marital setting, so it's difficult for the unmarried (such as you or I) to see how they fail to be objectifying. I think this is partly because, without a concrete spouse for those things to be directed toward, one's left with ungrounded imagination.

As for what I meant when I mentioned substance, I could have been clearer. I was trying to describe the person as a totality. Regarding the encounter with a tree as a totality (or Thou), Buber wrote, "Everything belonging to the tree is in this: its form and structure, its colors and chemical composition, its intercourse with the elements and with the stars, are all present in a single whole." In other words, the tree is a substantial reality--possessed of essence, existence, form, matter and accidents--perceived as one. Buber describes encountering a person as a totality in this same way.

Similarly, JPII harped on the importance of intersubjective encounter (i.e. seeing a person as a whole subject like oneself, without reducing them to use or to a collection of parts) almost to no end. For example:

"Through the ethos of the gift the problem of the 'subjectivity' of man, who is a subject made in the image and likeness of God, is partly outlined. In the narrative of creation (especially in Genesis 2:23-25) the woman is certainly not merely an object for the man. They both remain in front of each other in all the fullness of their objectivity as creatures, as 'bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,' as male and female, both naked. Only the nakedness that makes woman an object for man, or vice versa, is a source of shame. The fact that they were not ashamed means that the woman was not an 'object' for the man nor he for her.

Interior innocence as purity of heart made it impossible somehow for one to be reduced by the other to the level of a mere object. The fact that they were not ashamed means that they were united by awareness of the gift. They were mutually conscious of the nuptial meaning of their bodies, in which the freedom of the gift is expressed and all the interior riches of the person as subject are manifested.

This mutual interpenetration of the 'self' of the human persons, of the man and of the woman, seems to exclude subjectively any reduction to an object
" (Man Enters the World As a Subject of Truth and Love).

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

Thanks for taking the time to respond.

It seems you think there is a real danger of "objectification" here.

Yes.

I would bet you think there is no hint of "objectification" here.

Actually, no; but it's complex. See below.

First, in the second case as much as in the first his immediate attention is on "an accident that could be possessed by anyone." You might respond that the accident in the second case is more "personal" than in the first, which is why there is less of a tendency toward "objectification." But in that case it seems you would be making bodily traits, and in particular those traits that are tied to a person's sex, somehow less part of the real person than the moral traits are. And then we seem stuck back in a kind of Kantian-Platonic-Cartesian extrusion of the body from the self, and an associated discomfort with the sexual as such -- which, I imagine, you agree is not a good thing.

In the broadly postmodern framework I keep mentioning, it would be a form of objectification to reduce one's wife to the accident "nice-to-the-kids". It isn't sexual objectification, since it doesn't involve reducing her to sexually usable accidents. But it's still a form of objectification, since the person (substance, totality) in which "nice-to-the-kids" exists is unfathomably larger and more complex than that accident. One's wife becomes less than she is whenever one loses sight of her substance (JPII's "person", Buber's "Thou") and breaks her down to a use or to a collection of accidents, no matter how necessary that use may seem or how morally praiseworthy those accidents happen to be.

Probably thanks to feminism, the term "objectification" gets thrown around as an unsystematic, sexual term these days; but the concept's main developers, like Buber and Heidegger, saw it as a psychological stance that could be taken toward many (if not all) substances in the world. JPII also used the concept in this earlier sense, although, to my knowledge, he only discussed it in the case of persons.

So that's one problem. Here's another problem. The idea that the thought "She's so kind to the kids!" really ought to be more arousing to a man with a healthy sexuality than the thought "She's got gorgeous breasts!" is too stupid for words.

Maybe you'd agree, in which case it would be interesting to hear your take on these examples.


I do agree. I'd also clarify that admiring your wife's body does not automatically entail objectification. The same goes for any accident. Objectification is when the mind transforms a substance into something reduced, closed and dead to be analyzed or used. Its concrete, mind-independent existence is ignored. If admiration for her body is referred to the actual person present, and one isn't engaging in self-gratification or ignoring the whole in favor of the part, then objectification in the proper sense isn't taking place. From your study in this article, it seems that Kant lacked this more developed view; but thinkers like JPII most definitely did not.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"Sex and sexual attraction lose their coherence outside of a marital setting, so it's difficult for the unmarried (such as you or I) to see how they fail to be objectifying. I think this is partly because, without a concrete spouse for those things to be directed toward, one's left with ungrounded imagination."

As it stands, that seems a bit of a risky statement in view of your general deference on the matter to the decidedly unmarried Pope Saint John Paul II. ;-)

Ty said...

@Rank (add this to Scott's comment):

It's important to remember that none of us Christians are really "unmarried" in the strict sense. Christian qua Church or Nun is the Bride of Christ; Christian qua Priest/Friar is married to the Church. These are metaphysical realities, not (mere) metaphors. Celibacy in the High Church traditions is not just the absence of normal marriage.

Tony said...

While Rank is right to point out JPII's theology of the body and the risk of objectifying in sexual desire, I think the better way to explain the desire is to go from the right way around, not from the wrong way.

Sex, as is each of our due physical acts, is supposed to be an act of an animal that is raised up to be - integrally - an act of the reasoning being as well. But note that when you put in "integrally" there the act isn't merely an animal act and ALSO a rational act, like multi-tasking; rather the reason raises up the act with regard to the animal instincts and the animal desires and the animal teleology so that they themselves become at the service of a higher order of good.

So in marriage, I think the proper sexual act is, ordering from the top down, entered into to be pleasing to God who made man fruitful and commanded us to "be fruitful," and for the good of the child who may be conceived, and reproduction for the good of the whole society which consists in persons and requires new persons, for the good of the family (on many levels), for the good of the marital union on more than one level, for the good of your spouse personally (again on several levels, including spiritual, psychological, affective, and sensory), and for my own good (also on the levels of spiritual, psychological, affective and sensory. The man who loves his spouse well loves all of these goods served by the sexual act. The sensory goods are neither divorced from the picture, nor mere accidental add-ons to the picture, because the sensory goods ALSO serve to perfect the marital union, serve to make us more thankful for the gift of God, make us rejoice more completely in receiving a new person to the family from God. There is, thus, a feedback loop in loving all of the goods in their proper order. Because man's animality is part of his nature (he is not a mind that happens to be housed by an animal's body) goods that are goods of the animal are AS SUCH goods for him - it is good for him to desire them because they are good. Sexual physical pleasure is a good for man, and it is a good for the well-ordered man, and one OUGHT to desire the good in its proper ordering, properly related to the hierarchy of goods.

Thus, the man whose spouse has well-made physical sexual attributes ought to desire her on account of those attributes, but not solely nor even primarily on account of those attributes as such. He ought to desire her sexually on many planes at the same time. Nothing of the right ordering precludes that he get turned on by her physical gifts, as long as he co-opts that desire and makes it subservient to the whole hierarchy of good that he desires in her and with her. (For example, God want's us to be fruitful, but it is up to us to pick the time and place, and a chance unsought moment of being turned on is, sometimes, a highly reasonable way to fulfill the command.)

One aspect of that: the man who loves his wife wants her to please him physically because of the mutuality of sex. That is to say, he takes joy in her delight in pleasing him, just as she takes joy in his own delight in being able to please her. That's one example of the feedback loop, but it is perhaps a mere reflection of the more mysterious feedback loop of pleasing God by taking the delights God has designed us for.

rank sophist said...

Scott and Ty,

True enough. I rescind the statement.

Tony,

Really great post.

Anonymous said...

Here's a wild one for you all. If, humans being naturally either male or female, we assume that human hermaphroditism is unnatural, what happens to a human hermaphrodite at the general resurrection of the body? Is it given a body that is either male or female? If not, why would this not be necessary? And if so, what determines which gender it ends up being?

Christopher said...

Dr. Feser

'So that's one problem. Here's another problem. The idea that the thought "She's so kind to the kids!" really ought to be more arousing to a man with a healthy sexuality than the thought "She's got gorgeous breasts!" is too stupid for words.'

Yet if you reverse the statement and prioritise breasts for the means of sexual activity, it does not avoid the problem that the main reason the husband engages in sexual procreation is merely due to the woman's chest. Suppose the woman had to undergo mastectomy, and the husband's sexual attraction falls, the very act of procreation would falter along with the respect of the woman being diminished. The emphasis on the accidents of the body, as a focus, would thus be corrupting, that is De Facto Lust. A man desiring sexual intercourse on the basis of a woman's kindness to children is a bit odd, but it is not odd for sexual intercourse to occur with the expression of love due to the overall quality of the woman's soul. As procreation is the purpose of sex, merging the two issues raised, the accidents of the body and the kindness of the soul, you thus have a synthesis to which full union occurs. Two flesh become one, and life begins.

BenYachov said...

>Can we assume from this that you have backed away from your unfortunate "the sons of Adam mated with sub-human brutes" thesis from back in 2011:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/09/modern-biology-and-original-sin-part-i.html

The sons of Adam at that point where fallen dude.

Young Earth Creationism is not mandated by the Catholic Church though you have the Christian liberty to believe in it.

But belief in the authority of the Pope, the Indefectability of the Church, infallibility of the Church and the necessity of Catholics submitting to the authority of the Pope for salvation remains an infallible dogma.

Thus it's better to be a YEC Catholics who submits to the Pope vs a "Catholic" Theistic Evolutionist who is a Sedevicantist.

Just saying..........

Edward Feser said...

Christopher,

Nothing I said implies "prioritizing breasts," "emphasizing accidents of the body," nor any of the other stuff you're talking about.

I was making a very simple and obvious point, albeit one which, it seems to me, tends to get lost when the personalist prose gets too purple. The point is this: It is part of our nature to be moved to sexual arousal by the distinctive physical traits of the opposite sex. Hence, all things being equal, men are bound to be aroused by the curves of a woman's body, shapely breasts, etc. Hence, all things being equal, women are bound to more aroused by a man who looks and carries himself like (say) Hugh Jackman or Jon Hamm than by someone who is a nice guy but more doughy or wimpy in his appearance or personality.

Hence any view which frets and wrings its hands over this, condemns it as "objectifying," or otherwise finds it inherently problematic, is to that extent just at odds with the facts about human nature and had better adjust itself to those facts if it wants to get sexual morality right and have a hope of convincing people not already on board.

Are these sorts of traits the most important ones in a spouse? Of course not. Are they too often overemphasized? Of course they are. But they can also be under-emphasized, as they clearly are by Kant, and as they are in danger of being whenever we lose sign of the fact that we are by nature not androgynous "human persons" but men and women specifically.

Christopher said...

When does sexual arousal due to distinctive physical traits become lust?

Paul Amrhein said...

@Anonymous
Why do men have nipples? Could it be that we are all really hermaphroditic in one way or another? Jeremy mentioned the Kabbalah. In the Kabbalah, a man’s soul is thought of as feminine, a woman’s masculine. Or think of the Yin/Yang symbol. There’a a little black in the white, a little white in the black. If the sexes were utterly unlike one another, the possibility of rapport would be foreclosed. Jeremy also mentions Plato, who told the myth of the original androgyne.
So, as far as I can see none of this contradicts the notion that one is either male or female as long this is not an exclusive disjunction. And nature seems to tell us that it is not. So my guess as to the state of the body after a resurrection would be that it would be, as St Paul somewhere says, perfected. Whatever sex pre-ponders in this life would do so in the next, only more beautifully.
If you’re asking about the ideal case in which neither sex pre-ponders, the perfect Pat, well then I have no idea.

Edward Feser said...

Christopher wrote:

When does sexual arousal due to distinctive physical traits become lust?

First of all, for uninitiated readers, let's note that "lust" in the context of moral theology doesn't mean "strong sexual arousal" or the like. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. "Lust" is used in a technical sense to refer to sexual desire that is in some way disordered.

Now, since the natural ends of sexual arousal are procreative and unitive, the short answer is that such arousal becomes disordered when it in some way frustrates those ends. Now I imagine that what you're interested in is the case where the desire is disordered even though the procreative end is not being frustrated, the two people are married, etc., so let's consider that.

Obviously one way in which it might be disordered is if someone starts fantasizing about someone other than his or her spouse. That would obviously frustrate the unitive end, since the spouse with the adulterous fantasies would thereby be preventing the act from tending to bond him or her emotionally with the other spouse, specifically. Or suppose someone was not having adulterous fantasies but was positively indifferent to the fact that he or she was married to this person in particular. Suppose, for example, a man thought "I won't think about anyone else, but I really couldn't care less about the fact that I'm married to this particular woman. I'll just focus on what I like about her body, because I just want to have sex right now." In that case too the unitive end would be frustrated, because the arousal is being prevented from bonding him to this particular woman specifically. He's basically just using her as a sex toy. (This is a good example of "objectification," but notice that what makes it objectionable is the frustration of the unitive end. I would say that it is that teleological point that is really doing the moral work here, and not the Kantian stuff about making people "objects" or "things" per se.)

But suppose Harry is married to Sally and he thinks "Boy oh boy, Sally is so gorgeous, I want her right now." His desire is directed toward Sally, specifically, even though what is at the forefront of his mind is her physical beauty and he's just feeling the normal sort of affection toward her, specifically, that any husband might feel for his wife. Suppose he isn't having any high falutin' thoughts about how he wants to affirm her dignity as a fellow human person, or how their relationship is like that of Christ to the Church, etc. (Suppose they're uneducated people unfamiliar with fancy books on the theology of sex, and suppose they are not Christians but happen to live in accordance with what is in principle knowable to anyone as part of the natural law.)

In that case I would say that there is nothing at all "lustful" or morally deficient in the situation. Of course there might be a mindset that is better or more ennobling that the case I described, but my point is that there is no positive defect (as opposed to the absence of some higher motivation) in the scenario in question.

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

Not that I agree with Christopher's argument (it's too simplistic by a long shot), but...

Hence, all things being equal, men are bound to be aroused by the curves of a woman's body, shapely breasts, etc. Hence, all things being equal, women are bound to more aroused by a man who looks and carries himself like (say) Hugh Jackman or Jon Hamm than by someone who is a nice guy but more doughy or wimpy in his appearance or personality.

This is a by-the-books example of using biologism to project historically, culturally and personally relative views universally. Mannerisms and physical traits considered ideal in either sex vary depending on who you're asking--and on the culture and time period in which you're asking them. The hyper-masculine Hugh Jackman-type popular among modern American women is, for example, very different from the androgynous, "sensitive" male (such as Gackt) idolized by modern Japanese and Korean women. In the '60s, The Beatles were the obsession of most American and British women--but they were boyish upstarts, a far cry from Jon Hamm. And those examples only cover men during a brief slice of history, in a bare handful of cultures. As for female breasts, their current status as a turn-on is largely historical. In many periods, they've been seen as just functional, which is why icons of Mary breastfeeding Jesus were typical in Christendom for hundreds upon hundreds of years. It's also why many women in ancient societies, and in contemporary tribal societies, still leave them exposed. Again, it's a construct.

Your question-begging assertion that those who deny your claim are "at odds with the facts about human nature" is just lazy--and very far from your typical standards of argument. What one finds arousing is by no means hard-coded: aside from the historical/cultural examples above, just look at the studies of porn addicts' increasing depravity. For that reason, attempts to essentialize sexual attraction are doomed to fail. So it's no use to appeal to "human nature" to wave away criticisms of sexual objectification. It's real and it's a serious problem, especially when it disguises itself as a natural, inevitable impulse.

Again, I'm not claiming that sexual attraction is bad: I'm just saying, with Aquinas, that one's spouse cannot be viewed as an interchangeable bearer of (i.e. a dead vessel for) desirable traits. And that's what happens when someone is sexually attracted to disembodied accidents, rather than to their concrete instantiations as parts of a beloved person (who is form, matter, essence, existence and accidents in one). It dehumanizes husbands and wives and undermines marriages. Following JPII, contemporary Catholic writers about sex generally agree on this point, so I'm a bit dismayed to see you defend such a Freudian view against them.

rank sophist said...

cont.

But then your post at 3:53 PM seems to disagree with the idea that a dehumanizing focus on sexual accidents gets a pass on the grounds that it's natural. I largely agree with what you wrote there. If I've been misreading you, I suppose the time I spent on my previous post was a waste.

rank sophist said...

One more thing before I shut up.

It's definitely the case that the moral weight in situations of objectification (sexual or otherwise) is not carried by the wrongness of objectification as such. Objectification is, first and foremost, an expression of pride, which is where it gets its sinful quality. The language of objectification, at least as it's been developed in the 20th century, is a phenomenological way of speaking about acts of pride. Treating one's spouse as a sex toy, as in your example, is an example of pride ("I'm going to get want I want, regardless of anyone else") undermining the unitive end of sex.

Just something I thought might help to clear the air.

Al said...

This is a by-the-books example of using biologism to project historically, culturally and personally relative views universally. Mannerisms and physical traits considered ideal in either sex vary depending on who you're asking--and on the culture and time period in which you're asking them. The hyper-masculine Hugh Jackman-type popular among modern American women is, for example, very different from the androgynous, "sensitive" male (such as Gackt) idolized by modern Japanese and Korean women. In the '60s, The Beatles were the obsession of most American and British women--but they were boyish upstarts, a far cry from Jon Hamm. And those examples only cover men during a brief slice of history, in a bare handful of cultures

This comment is a by-the-books example of modern relativism-induced blinders regarding the biological bases of sexual attraction.

What do these examples have in common? They are all FAMOUS men, desired by women because they are famous and not because of any specific characteristics they might have. Danny DeVito is the textbook example of this phenomenon, which is well in line with the observations that, in general, across time and in all cultures, women go for status and power, men go for youth and fertility, in so far as they have any choice on the matter.

rank sophist said...

Al,

Which is, of course, utterly different from Prof. Feser's argument.

Ewerton Caetano said...

This is off topic, Prof. Feser, but I would like to know if a new edition of "Scholastic Metaphysics" will be published soon, as I could not find it in Amazon.com.

George R. said...

The sons of Adam at that point where fallen dude.

Hey Yachov, try to focus on the point at issue. Do (fallen) men desire females of whatever species, or women, i.e., rational females? If it's the latter, as Ed says here, then we should hardly suppose that the patriarchs of the human race would have attempted to establish their foundational dynasties by copulating with irrational brutes, especially since there is every reason to believe that there were just as many genuine women available as there were men to desire them.

Imo, what Ed is saying here makes perfect sense, but what he said in the article I cited above made no sense whatsoever. Therefore, he should follow and maintain his line of thinking here, and should repudiate his former view, which, after all, was only put forth in response to the alleged necessities of schlock (i.e., Darwinistic) science.

Christopher said...

Dr. Feser,

Thank you for your reply, it has helped clarify quite a lot.

Scott said...

@Ewerton Caetano:

Ed has said in a couple of other threads that Amazon just ran out of copies of Scholastic Metaphysics as a result of unexpectedly high demand; they've placed a big order for more and the book should be available again soon. (He says the same thing happened with Aquinas when it was first published.)

BenYachov said...

>Hey Yachov, try to focus on the point at issue. Do (fallen) men desire females of whatever species, or women, i.e., rational females?

Same species & men have been known to abuse mentally dysfunctional women. But the difference between lust or concupiscence vs ideal sexual desire reigns.

> If it's the latter, as Ed says here, then we should hardly suppose that the patriarchs of the human race would have attempted to establish their foundational dynasties by copulating with irrational brutes, especially since there is every reason to believe that there were just as many genuine women available as there were men to desire them.


Why would you assume at the time of Abraham soulless humanoids still existed and where not superseded & died out?

>Imo, what Ed is saying here makes perfect sense, but what he said in the article I cited above made no sense whatsoever. Therefore, he should follow and maintain his line of thinking here, and should repudiate his former view, which, after all, was only put forth in response to the alleged necessities of schlock (i.e., Darwinistic) science.


Rather what makes no sense is your rejection of the Papacy and still calling yourself Catholic.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"If I've been misreading you ... "

I can't speak for Ed, of course, but I see nothing in his use of Hugh Jackman and Jon Hamm as examples that suggests that all women in all times and places will find just those precise features sexually arousing. His point, as I took it, was just that it's normal to be sexually aroused by some physical features, whatever these may be. Whether those features remain the same across all times and cultures, or even for all the relevant people of the same time and culture, is a different question and I see nothing to indicate that Ed was addressing it.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Edward Feser: Your sex is not contingent and extrinsic to you but rather intrinsic and essential to you.

This claim puzzles me. I've read just enough Aristotelian/Thomism (A/Tism) to be confused, but not enough to get past what is, I'm sure, an elementary point.

This was my understanding of the A/Tist view: My essence just is to be a rational animal. I share this essence with all other humans. Since, in the natural course of things, some humans are male and some are female, it necessarily follows that being male and being female cannot be essential properties. On the contrary, two individual humans will naturally share all of their essential properties because all of these properties flow just from being a rational animal, and this is held in common by both individuals. So, being male in particular cannot be an essential property.

(I suppose that two people could differ in their essential properties if one of their essential properties is being unnaturally suppressed, or if an essential property hasn't manifested in one of the individuals yet because the two individuals are at different stages of the natural maturation process. But a male isn't an immature female, and a female isn't a human whose maleness has been unnaturally suppressed, so these cases don't apply.)

That, at any rate, was my no-doubt-confused understanding of the A/Tist position. I thought that being male was like being exactly 5 feet and 10 inches tall. While having a height might be one of my essential properties (you can't be an animal without being some height), being that height in particular is just an accidental feature, something which might have been otherwise, and which is otherwise in nearly all other members of my species. Likewise, having a sex might be one of my essential properties, but being male is not.

Again, all of the above is just my confessedly confused understanding of the A/T position. I know that I'm getting something wrong. I'm sure that I'm missing something well known. Could someone direct me to something that will explain this point in elementary terms? (... "elementary" in the sense of laying subtleties and technicalities bare for people without much background, not in the sense of trying to avoid these technicalities.)

In abstract terms, my question is this: Suppose that X and Y are individuals from the same species S, so that X and Y have the same essence. Suppose that P and Q are two ways that members of S can be. Suppose further that being P excludes being Q. How, then, can it be that X is essentially P, while Y is essentially Q? (In the concrete case at hand, S is the species human, P is being male, and Q is being female.)

rank sophist said...

Scott,

Quite possibly. I'm not sure.

Tyrrell,

Honestly, I might be wrong, but I don't think you're making a mistake. After a lot of reading, I've come to the same conclusion. It doesn't seem like a particular sex can be essential to you. Aristotle didn't think this; he endorsed something that you proposed above as an alternative:

a female [is] a human whose maleness has been unnaturally suppressed

For Aristotle, everyone is essentially male, and females are unnatural deviations from the type. Scholastics, trying to keep with Christianity's belief in the idea that God made women, backtracked on this point. But, as far as I know, they never managed to explain how a 50/50 sexual binary could be essential to human nature. It just doesn't make any sense given Aristotelian essentialism. If there's an answer, I'll be waiting to hear it just like you.

Scott said...

@Tyrrell McAllister:

"My essence just is to be a rational animal. I share this essence with all other humans. Since, in the natural course of things, some humans are male and some are female, it necessarily follows that being male and being female cannot be essential properties."

I think Ed was speaking loosely, but I also think you're confusing yourself by thinking in terms of "essential properties." Depending on precisely what you mean by this phrase, it's either redundant or oxymoronic.

A property, for A-T as for Scholasticism generally, is not just any old accident of a substance, but one that follows or results from (or, in the phrase Ed and David Oderberg prefer, "flows from") the substance's essence. All such properties are "essential" if that means they flow from the substance's essence, but no properties are "essential" if that means they're part of its essence.

Now—is the sex of a human being a "property" in this sense? I would be inclined myself to call it a mode (of being human) rather than a property, in which case I would take Ed to be saying that it is of the essence of a human being to have a sex (whichever it is). It seems to me that having a sex expresses the essence of human beings in a way that having a height does not. (All material objects have sizes, after all, and in most cases those sizes don't express much of anything about the natures or essences of the things they're sizes of.)

Or suppose we do take being male and being female to be "properties." I would still say that our particular ways of being male and female are specific to human beings, and I think this is what Ed was trying to get at in his comments about "masculinity" and "femininity." So here again he seems to be saying that there's something about our male- and female-ness that expresses our human essence.

I'm not sure how much that helps, and I'm very sure it doesn't address every aspect of your question. But no doubt others will chime in on anything I've overlooked or gotten wrong.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Scott: Depending on precisely what you mean by this phrase, it's either redundant or oxymoronic.

I meant the redundant usage.

(I've read part of Oderberg's Real Essentialism, so I'm aware, in an elementary sort of way, of the A-Tist's distinction between properties, which flow from the essence of a thing, and features or aspects of the thing, which might be accidental. I wrote "essential property" because the word "property" has a very general meaning in many quarters of philosophy, and I wanted to emphasize that I meant "the aspects of a thing that flow from its essence". But I intend to mean exactly what Oderberg means by "property" simpliciter.)

It seems to me that having a sex expresses the essence of human beings in a way that having a height does not. (All material objects have sizes, after all, and in most cases those sizes don't express much of anything about the natures or essences of the things they're sizes of.)

I'd be interested in teasing out this distinction a bit more. It's true that having a height is not at all distinctively human. Having a sex is more nearly distinctively human, though of course non-human animals also have sexes. What about having a sex in the specifically human way of having a sex (including whatever aspects of our rational nature are involved in the way in which each of us has a sex)? According to my beginner's understanding of A-T, that would also be a property, and it is a very distinctively human one. But it still wouldn't follow that being female in the specifically human way of being female is a property.

By analogy having skin in the specifically human way of having skin is a property, but having white skin in the specifically human way of having white skin is not, as I understand A-T. If I recall correctly, having white skin was one of Aristotle's paradigmatic examples of an accidental feature that people could have.

Anonymous said...

Rather what makes no sense is your rejection of the Papacy and still calling yourself Catholic.

I don't really want to get involved, but doesn't this beg the question?

Scott said...

@Tyrrell McAllister:

"I'd be interested in teasing out this distinction a bit more."

So would I, so let's give it a whirl. Everything I say from here on out is provisional and tentative unless I say otherwise. ;-)

"[I]t still wouldn't follow that being female in the specifically human way of being female is a property."

That's right, it wouldn't, and that's part of why it's my initial preference to regard that as a mode of being human rather than as just a property that flows from the essence of humanity.

But if it turns out to be better to think in terms of properties, I think a more plausible candidate (for what Ed seems to be getting at) is having a sex in the specifically human way of having one. It's true that being female (etc.) and being male (etc.) are different ways of instantiating this proposed property, but at first look I'm inclined to say that they express something sufficiently central—"essential"—to humanity that it makes more sense to regard the more general "property" as in a way more fundamental. But I'm not at all sure how to articulate that (beyond "male and female created He them").

For the same reason, though I find it just as difficult to articulate, I don't think the analogy with skin color quite works. Having a skin color just doesn't seem fundamental in the way that having a sex does.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Scott.

Are you saying that you don't think that having a skin color in the specifically human way of a having skin color is a property? If so, is that because

(1) the description is ill formed, because there is no specifically human way of having skin color; or is it because

(2) while the description is well formed, and while it is a quality that we each have, it is not a quality that flows from our essence?

Scott said...

@Tyrrell McAllister:

"Are you saying that you don't think that having a skin color in the specifically human way of a having skin color is a property?"

Yes, I suppose I am; I certainly don't think it's an accident that somehow follows from our essence, and that means it's not a property in the A-T sense.

As for why, I'm going to have to go with (1). If there were a specifically human way of having a skin color, then that quality/characteristic would flow from our essence, so I don't think (2) is coherent.

Matt Sheean said...


Certain species change their sex as a result of certain environmental factors, so it makes sense to me to say that sex in the abstract is not a rigid aspect or mode of being (not a hard "binary", as rank says) for just any thing that is (or has) a sex. This, though, seems to me to suggest that there are distinctive ways of being male or being female, even if we haven't got at the human way of being male or female. For instance, there is a difference between the California Sheephead way of being female and the Porpoise way of being female.

Im wading into unfamiliar territory here myself, so I hope I'm not just kicking up dust.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

Okay, I guess that I can see that. Since the species human is supposed to include any kind of rational animal whatsoever, no matter how outlandish, it's not even clear that having skin is a quality that all humans share. (... such as Hortas, maybe.)

In contrast, all humans, even under this expansive construal, naturally procreate. "Sex", plausibly, names whatever it is in virtue of which humans have that capacity. And "the sex (of a given individual)", plausibly, could name whatever it is each individual human that takes on some particular quality or other so that that individual can contribute to the procreative capacity of the species. In that sense, every human would have a sex, even the ones who don't have skin.

How does that sound?

Tyrrell McAllister said...

Sorry, my last comment was in reply to Scott.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

Whoops. A typo might have rendered that comment more incoherent than usual. I meant to write the following:

And "the sex (of a given individual)", plausibly, could name whatever it is in each individual human that takes on some particular quality or other so that that individual can contribute to the procreative capacity of the species.

Matt Sheean said...

No, my apologies. The comments are flying and I interjected. The conversation between the two of you alone is much more clear and productive if I stay on the sidelines, too.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Matt Sheean,

For what it's worth, I appreciated your interjection. You brought up just the kind of issue that I'm trying to take into account as I grapple with the A-T view on sex and essence.

Joe K. said...

Tyrrell and Scott,

Thank you for the conversation. It's something I've been thinking a lot about lately. What you have here is good stuff, I think.

Scott said...

@Tyrrell McAllister:

"How does that sound?"

It sounds pretty good to me.

It's probably also possible—and I suspect this is at least along the lines that Ed had in mind—to argue that "whatever it is in each individual human that takes on some particular quality or other so that that individual can contribute to the procreative capacity of the species" either just is, or at least is a consequence of, rationality.

Scott said...

@Joe K.:

Thanks—glad you've found it helpful. I certainly have as well, so my thanks to Tyrrell as well for a good question and an insightful follow-up.

Scott said...

@Matt Sheean:

"This…seems to me to suggest that there are distinctive ways of being male or being female, even if we haven't got at the human way of being male or female. For instance, there is a difference between the California Sheephead way of being female and the Porpoise way of being female."

This sounds right to me.

More generally still, as Tyrrell suggests (and I hereby amplify), any rational animal (presuming that "animals" are mortal) is going to have to procreate somehow, and will therefore have ways of being a "procreative being" (whether male/female or something else, as in e.g. Isaac Asimov's The Gods Themselves) that can and will be taken up into that rationality as "masculinity" and "femininity" are for us.

So perhaps the point is that the specifically human ways of being male and female are best understood as (some of) the ways a rational animal can be procreative (and, also importantly, unitive, although we haven't said much about that). If that's the case, then being male or female is part of the essence of humans because it is specifically a mode of (or, alternatively, a property of humans because it specifically flows from) our rationality, given the rest of our accidents, including the ways we happen to reproduce.

dguller said...

Tyrrell:

It's true that having a height is not at all distinctively human. Having a sex is more nearly distinctively human, though of course non-human animals also have sexes.

It seems that neither having a height nor having a sex is distinctively human, because both are properties (or modes, if Scott prefers) of animals, of which humans are a particular species. So, you would have to demonstrate that having a sex flowed from the rational part of human nature, and not from the widely shared animal part, so to speak. And I'm not too sure how you could do that, because rationality is primarily immaterial whereas having a sex is primarily material, i.e. having sex chromosomes, a body for procreation, and so on.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"[Y]ou would have to demonstrate that having a sex flowed from the rational part of human nature, and not from the widely shared animal part, so to speak."

Well, that's pretty much why we've gone on to say that the distinctively human way of having a sex (or, more generally, being procreative) involves having one's biological sexuality "taken up" into one's rationality. It's the latter, not the former, that's distinctively human, and it appears to apply to any biological species (if there are others somewhere in the universe) that qualifies as metaphysically human.

And again, I take it that this is more or less what Ed was getting at in his talk of masculinity and femininity and their being specifically human.

Scott said...

For example, let's return to the example Tyrrell mentioned: the Horta. The "Star Trek" episode in question makes clear that the Horta reproduces sexually and the specimen the regular characters encounter is female (and a mother).

I have no clue what Hortas would find sexually attractive in one another, or what precise form "masculinity" and "femininity" would take in such an alien species. But assuming the Horta is a rational animal (and therefore metaphysically human), then it makes sense to me, at least, that Hortas would have their own "modes" of being male and being female, corresponding (or analogous) to our own "masculinity" and "femininity."

And in that case it also makes sense to me that in some significant way, however hard to articulate, Hortas who "take up" their sexual roles into their rationality would be doing the same thing that we do when we "take up" our sexual roles into our rationality.

The difference between this case and the case of skin color would then be that, really, there's nothing in "skin color" that's susceptible of being taken up into rationality. I'm the same person even if I'm three shades darker; in fact I have been, when I've had a suntan. There's not much for rationality to work with there. ;-)

Paul Amrhein said...

No kill I

Scott said...

"What is that? A plea for us not to kill it, or a promise that it won't kill us?"

Scott said...

(And just in case, I'm standing by with my Feser.)

Paul Amrhein said...

@Scott

LOL

Sobieski said...

It seems to me that sexuality has to be non-essential because if it were of the essence, then male and female would be different species, which is not the case. Aristotle says in Generation of Animals that male and female are differentiated on the basis of their respective powers of generation and bodily faculties (cf. I.2, 716a18-33).

Since one’s particular form (soul), however, is only suitable for one’s particular matter (body) — e.g., my form is not numerically the same as my wife’s and would not be suitable for her body, though it is specifically the same in terms of nature — and because I am neither a soul nor a body, but a body-soul composite of which the former are principles, I can say that I and not merely my body is male. That I am male is intrinsic to my substance because my matter and form are the intrinsic principles of my substance. When I speak about my body, I am speaking about myself and not an instrument, which would be more akin to type of Platonic dualism.

On related note, I think Aristotle often gets a bum rap for being read anachronistically as a complete misogynist (i.e., because he calls women defective or mutilated males). I wrote a term paper in grad school on this topic and thought this section might be appropriate given the discussion:

Aristotle does use peperomenon to describe animals which have lost body parts (e.g., a centipede with some of its legs cut away) and anaperia to describe animals in a mutilated state (e.g., a dog with two heads), but he also uses the word to describe animals which are not mutilated in the normal sense. Nolan [“The Aristotelian Background to Aquinas’s Denial that ‘Woman Is a Defective Male’”, The Thomist 64.1, 21-69] offers as an example, Aristotle’s reflections on the seal. Though the seal is peperomenon as regards its lack of external ears, nature has worked this for the seal’s advantage in that it is better fitted for a liquid medium. So in this case being peperomenon is not a mutilation or defect in the strongest sense, but rather a state that nature has utilized for a good purpose. Nolan says (2000:25) “the principle that Nature can turn to the good what at first sight is defective is central in Aristotle’s biology”. He offers a similar example for anaperia found in Aristotle’s description of the crocodile. Aristotle (mistakenly) explains that the crocodile has a jointed rather than fixed upper jaw, which results in its having a malformed tongue. Again this “defect” is worked by nature for the advantage of the animal. In like manner, the female as hosper peperomenon turns out to be a development of nature for the good inasmuch as female can “generate in herself”. Nolan explains that peperomenon does not have a pejorative sense here due to Aristotle’s (c.345/4abc: PA, I.5, 645a21-25) view of nature: “…[S]o we should venture on the study of every kind on animal without distaste; for each and all will reveal to us something natural and something beautiful. Absence of haphazard and conduciveness of everything to an end are to be found in Nature’s works in the highest degree, and the resultant end of her generations and combinations is a form of the beautiful.”

Nature is purposive and always seeks that which is better, and this applies as much to the adaptation of the seal as to that of the female for the purpose of generation. Given these points, one can argue that woman is relatively material and passive as regards her generative faculty without going to the extreme of [Sr. Prudence] Allen’s interpretation. She is “defective” in a certain respect as well, viz., inasmuch as she is modified and used by nature for the good of the species, something still beautiful in Aristotle’s estimation...

Sobieski

Sobieski said...

Correction in the first paragraph, I meant to say "bodily parts".

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Aristotle's theory of matter is not entirely consistent. He holds that matter is pure potentiality, but he also holds that matteer gives rise to the specific property of having three dimensions ("extension"). That should not be possible for what is completely indeterminate of itself.

So much of his metaphysics of biology needs revision. We now know that the operations of the cells of the body (or at least some of the operations) are purely a matter of chemistry, with different parts of the cells being made up of different chemical substances which still operate as those kinds of substances, sometimes even against the good of the larger organism. See cancer cells. In other words, the organism is at war with itself in places. Hmmm.

Scott said...

"It seems to me that Aristotle's theory of matter is not entirely consistent. He holds that matter is pure potentiality, but he also holds that [matter] gives rise to the specific property of having three dimensions ('extension'). That should not be possible for what is completely indeterminate of itself."

I wouldn't attribute a substance's extension to its prime matter and as far as I know Aristotle didn't either. Do you have a source for this?

dguller said...

Scott:

Well, that's pretty much why we've gone on to say that the distinctively human way of having a sex (or, more generally, being procreative) involves having one's biological sexuality "taken up" into one's rationality. It's the latter, not the former, that's distinctively human, and it appears to apply to any biological species (if there are others somewhere in the universe) that qualifies as metaphysically human.

But then why can’t we say the same thing about any human property, such as having a skin color? In other words, why couldn’t we just say that having a skin color is “taken up” into one’s rationality, as well? More on this below.

But assuming the Horta is a rational animal (and therefore metaphysically human), then it makes sense to me, at least, that Hortas would have their own "modes" of being male and being female, corresponding (or analogous) to our own "masculinity" and "femininity."

You would then have to spell out in what way our modes of being male and being female are analogous to their modes of being male and being female. Presumably, one of the sexual pair would produce eggs of some kind that contain one half of the genetic material of the future offspring, and the other one would produce sperm of some kind that would provide the other half of the genetic material. Sure, the kinds of eggs and sperm may differ, but the underlying mechanism should be the same in order to count as sexual reproduction at all.

The difference between this case and the case of skin color would then be that, really, there's nothing in "skin color" that's susceptible of being taken up into rationality. I'm the same person even if I'm three shades darker; in fact I have been, when I've had a suntan. There's not much for rationality to work with there.

I disagree. You still haven’t given a reason for why skin color is different from having a sex that would account for why the latter and not the former could be “taken up into rationality”. It would seem that the totality of animality is taken up into rationality, and if part of animality involves having a skin color, then that should also be taken up. I don’t think it makes sense to pick and choose which aspects of animality get taken up into rationality, because those aspects would be left outside the essence of a human being altogether.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"You would then have to spell out in what way our modes of being male and being female are analogous to their modes of being male and being female."

And if and when we ever encounter such a species, I'll be happy to try. ;-)

"You still haven’t given a reason for why skin color is different from having a sex that would account for why the latter and not the former could be 'taken up into rationality'."

You're expecting an inordinate amount of rigor in what is at this stage a tentative and exploratory conversation. Nevertheless, I think I/we have given at least the beginning of a reason: we know from our own experience that having a sex is in some way more central to our humanity than having a skin color. We also know from our own experience that humans are "masculine" and "feminine" (however the precise features of masculinity and femininity vary across times and cultures) in a way that other animals apparently are not. Since it's rationality that differentiates us, it's not a long leap to the conjecture that rationality is the explanation for this difference as well. (As for skin color, at this stage we don't need to give a reason why it can't be "taken up" into rationality in the same way as sex; we just have to observe that is isn't. If it were to turn out that is is, or can be, after all, well, nothing in the aforementioned conjecture would be affected as far as I can see.)

Granted, that's not a very precisely articulated reason, but it isn't just nothing. It's the sort of provisional speculation we'd expect at this stage of the dialectical game.

rank sophist said...

Scott,

I'm intrigued by this discussion of masculinity and femininity being rational elevations of physical characteristics. Since it doesn't entail that gender traits are set in stone across all times and cultures, it seems to avoid the problems of naïve biologism. At the same time, it doesn't fall into the trap of relativism, in which sex becomes irrelevant. Definitely food for thought.

George LeSauvage said...

This is kind of OT, but Sobieski raises a point which has always troubled me about AT (which I generally accept).

"Since one’s particular form (soul), however, is only suitable for one’s particular matter (body) — e.g., my form is not numerically the same as my wife’s and would not be suitable for her body, though it is specifically the same in terms of nature — and because I am neither a soul nor a body, but a body-soul composite of which the former are principles, I can say that I and not merely my body is male. That I am male is intrinsic to my substance because my matter and form are the intrinsic principles of my substance. When I speak about my body, I am speaking about myself and not an instrument, which would be more akin to type of Platonic dualism."

I've always been puzzled by one aspect of the soul as form of the body. If it's a form, it should be the same in all instantiations; it is hopeless to say there are as many forms of triangle as there are triangles. That would lead people to embrace Ockham.

But each soul is the soul of a particular substance. This soul is the soul of this body, and not appropriate for others. But doesn't this mean that the soul isn't really a form in the usual sense? Again, you cannot say that "this form of circularity is the form of this circle, and no others". But we do say this about souls. So there is a form of man for every man, which is troublesome. ("Who are those two guys?" "Oh, they are Parmenides and Harry Lyme.")

(I wonder if this may be at the root of Averroes's single rational soul for all men.)

As I recall - though I cannot find the passage - Aristotle actually introduces the notion by saying that the soul "is a kind of form", or words to that effect.

Can someone straighten me out here?

(PS: The captcha pics are clearly intended for people with better eyes than mine.)

Scott said...

@George LeSauvage:

"If it's a form, it should be the same in all instantiations; it is hopeless to say there are as many forms of triangle as there are triangles."

However, it does make sense to say that there as many instantiations of the form of triangle as there are triangles.

The A-T view of the rational soul is that it's immaterial, incorruptible, and subsistent once created, so that it isn't completely, fully, 100% dependent on the body to exist at all (though it's incomplete without the body it "goes with"). So the idea must be that it continues to be "instantiated" in some attenuated way even when not embodied in matter.*

I fully agree that this view is puzzling and I'm still trying to work it out myself. However, there are ways to make it less puzzling—for example, by dropping or at least questioning the sometimes-hidden assumption that forms are just the same things as universals.

----

* Not all forms require matter in order to be instantiated; angels don't, although without matter as a principle of individuation, there can be only one angel of each form. Human souls seem to be somewhere in between: they need matter in order to be fully "instantiated," but they don't just vanish when the matter goes away.

Scott said...

I said that "[w]e know from our own experience that having a sex is in some way more central to our humanity than having a skin color," and it occurs to me that since we're already using "Star Trek" as a source of hypothetical examples, we might be able to do so again… ;-)

Paul Amrhein said...

@Scott and George
I know professor Feser addresses this somewhere in SM. Two things he mentions seem relevant; the reason angels are each *sui generis* - one of a kind, and the reason human forms survive the body. I can’t do the treatment justice right now. I’ll try to find the passages.

Matt Sheean said...

@scott

Nice reference! It relates to a thought that I had regarding this thread, namely that a theory of persons that "essentializes" skin color is problematic in practice, and similarly a theory that de-essentializes sex is also problematic. I realize that only works as far as the metaphysics are accepted, but y'know, call it an "intuition pump."

Scott said...

@Paul Anrheim:

"I know professor Feser addresses this somewhere in SM.…I’ll try to find the passages."

You're probably thinking of p. 201, where he says parenthetically that disembodied human souls are still individuated by having been associated with matter as substantial forms and then hands off to Oderberg* because the question is beyond the scope of the book. (And what he says about angels is the same thing I've already said.) It's a fine passage, but it doesn't resolve the problem George LeSauvage is having—and if he discusses the matter anywhere else in the book, I'm not recalling it.

@Matt Sheean:

"[A] theory of persons that 'essentializes' skin color is problematic in practice, and similarly a theory that de-essentializes sex is also problematic."

I like that thought and I think that if you have more to say along those lines it will be relevant to the thread. And if it has anything at all to do with whether such features can or can't be (or even just are or aren't) rationally elevated, it will probably be especially interesting to me, rank sophist, and dguller.

----

* And quite rightly; Oderberg's discussion in chapter 10 of Real Essentialism is quite good, and section 10.6 is especially relevant here although I don't think it directly addresses George's question.

Scott said...

Oops. "Amrheim." Sorry, Pail. ;-)

Paul Amrhein said...

@Scott
Exactly!
Here it is anyway.

“A famous implication of Aquinas’s account of individuation is that where immaterial substances are concerned, there cannot be more than one member of a species, since there is no matter to differentiate one member from another. Hence each angel is the unique member of its own species. (Disembodied human souls would still be individuated, however, by virtue of having been associated with matter qua the substantial forms of living human beings. They subsist after death only as incomplete substances. But this subject takes us beyond general metaphysics into the philosophy of human nature.” SM page 201

Scott said...

@George LeSauvage:

"Sobieski raises a point…"

…that I'm glad you brought up again, for a reason that ties back in to the topic.

When Sobieski first posted, I considered replying with a suggestion/conjecture/speculation: that what continues to individuate a human soul even when it's disembodied is, in some way, that it has elevated some of the physical processes of that particular body to the level of rationality, precisely because the human person is (as Sobieski says) a body/soul (matter/form) composite.

That's horribly imprecise and not at all thoroughly worked out. As a first attempt to point in the direction of a solution, though, does it even appear to make sense to anyone but me?

For that matter, is there anyone more familiar with the relevant literature than I am who can point us to somewhere the question has been addressed before?

Matt Sheean said...

It might take me a few more hours to swing back around and flesh that out. But, I'll be back.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Scott
“that it has elevated some of the physical processes of that particular body to the level of rationality"

The other passage I had in mind ran something as follows. The rational animal can contemplate eternal things. Therefore there is something eternal about it.

We differ from animals in our sexuality how? Animals are interested in sex for a season. We seem to be interested in it year-round. More to the point, we want to make it last forever “Is this burning, and eternal flame?” We want to bring it into the realm of eternal things. Is matrimony a way of doing this? I would argue that it is. (Of course it cannot be the only way. After all St Paul said that it is better to stay single than to marry, but better to marry than to burn.)

Scott said...

@Paul Amrhein:

"The other passage I had in mind ran something as follows. The rational animal can contemplate eternal things. Therefore there is something eternal about it."

That's certainly apt, as your third paragraph makes clear. I don't recognize it from SM, though, and I can't find it in a quick glance through the book. But either way, yes, something along those lines would surely support and advance the point at issue.

George LeSauvage said...

I've been going through the relevant sections of STIa, and until I misplaced it, De Anima (with ST's commentary), for a while, trying to make sense of this. It really is the one sticking point for me. It always has been. (As opposed to the Trinity, which I just don't understand enough to misunderstand it. I rely on faith in the Church there. But this is philosophy.)

I was even tempted to Averroes's view, at one time. But the arguments against are compelling. But it does seem to me that the soul - at least the rational soul - seems to be a sort of form plus. But the plus part seems to move it away from being a form in the first place. After all, Aristotle criticizes Plato's theory specifically for making universals into a kind of particular. That has always carried weight with me, and was one reason for giving up on Platonism.

But this seems to me to be putting me right back where I was.

George LeSauvage said...

@Scott: This puzzles me: "...dropping or at least questioning the sometimes-hidden assumption that forms are just the same things as universals."

As I read Aristotle, that is just what I take him to say they are. Of course, that scores very low on the authority meter, but that's how I've always understood it.

rank sophist said...

George,

After all, Aristotle criticizes Plato's theory specifically for making universals into a kind of particular. That has always carried weight with me, and was one reason for giving up on Platonism.

He criticizes Plato's theory for claiming that the Forms are anything other than particulars, at least as Aquinas reads him. His solution is simply to make Plato's particular forms intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, to substances. I agree with Scott that universals and forms are very different--to the extent that identifying forms with universals is a contradiction.

Sobieski said...

@George and Scott,

I am a little hazy on this topic and would have to give more thought to a precise answer, but I would start by saying first that form and essence are not coextensive in material being (ens). The definition of essence in a material thing includes both form and matter. As I recall, Aristotle talks about this in the Metaphysics and the Posterior Analytics. The definition of human, for example, includes being material and having a body in terms of the genus. In angels, essence and form are coextensive — that’s why there can be only one as Highlander says. The form in material things nevertheless makes a thing to be what it is. While the intrinsic principles of any substance are both substantial form and prime matter, no substantial form is educed (or infused in the case of the human soul) into prime matter. The latter is a principle of substance and never exists on its own. Rather, substance comes from other substances through a process of substantial change, prime matter in things ultimately being the underlying principle accounting for the possibility of such change (in answer to Parmenides). So substance has to be generated from pre-existing material (i.e., substance(s)) suitable for its generation. In the case of animals, form is educed from the combination of sperm and ovum or in the case of humans, by the infusion of the soul by God at conception. The genetic makeup of the material into which a human soul or from which the soul of a lower animal is educed, then, would account, I think, for the gender of said animal since form and matter are correlative principles. The human substantial form is not infused into iron or granite, for example, but into the appropriate matter for which it is particularly suitable. As such, neither my body nor my soul could be anyone else's.

What is of the essence, Aristotle says, is found in every instance. But the male and female generative powers and reproductive organs are not found in every instance of the human species. As such, it is accidental that a human being have one or the other, and this must arise from the material principle of human being. Likewise, I think temperament, personality, etc. arise from one’s bodily composition. I think Fr. Chad Ripperger discusses this in his Introduction to the Science of Mental Health -- haven't read all of it yet. So the essence my form entails is “human,” but I don’t think that the way my individual form disposes my substance entails that every accident or modification of my substance has to be essential. If that was the case, then men and women would be different species, as would people with different skin or hair color.

Though we can analyze the human being into it constituent principles, in A-T terms a person is still ontologically one being, unity or composite and not an aggregate of substantial forms or substances, or a soul associated with such. So my point was that while I am not essentially male but human, that I am male is intrinsic to my substance inasmuch as that characteristic is dictated by its intrinsic principles. I am not sure this is the best or clearest explanation, but I think the answer on A-T terms lay in this direction. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any secondary resources that address this issue, but I would think that the “Natural Philosophy” or “Aristotelian” Thomists have written about it somewhere (e.g., William Wallace or Benedict Ashley).

Sobieski

dguller said...

Scott:

we know from our own experience that having a sex is in some way more central to our humanity than having a skin color.

Again, I’m not so sure that this will work. Sex and skin color have both been seen to be “central to our humanity” for centuries. Slavery in the United States, for example, certainly took skin color to be a key matter, and not some peripheral issue. I will agree with you that this was wrong, because skin color is a secondary issue with respect to what is distinctive about human beings, but I think the same can be said for having a sex. Even if having a sex is subsumed under rationality, it still remains the case that it is rationality that is distinctive about human beings, and anything else is of secondary importance, including anything else that is subsumed under rationality.

We also know from our own experience that humans are "masculine" and "feminine" (however the precise features of masculinity and femininity vary across times and cultures) in a way that other animals apparently are not.

As you said, our way or mode of masculinity, for example, is different from other animals, but I still don’t see how this is relevant. What they all have in common is the presence of distinctive roles in procreation, each providing a necessary ingredient in the formation of offspring, which is part of our animality, and not our rationality. Our rationality only becomes relevant when it tries to understand our animality, but this is true of any aspect of our animality.

Since it's rationality that differentiates us, it's not a long leap to the conjecture that rationality is the explanation for this difference as well.

But that is only if you already assume that if X is subsumed under the rationality of humanity, then X is a distinctive feature of humanity. And that is precisely the premise that I don’t see as true, at least without further persuasion.

(As for skin color, at this stage we don't need to give a reason why it can't be "taken up" into rationality in the same way as sex; we just have to observe that is isn't. If it were to turn out that is is, or can be, after all, well, nothing in the aforementioned conjecture would be affected as far as I can see.)

But what is the observational evidence that you are alluding to? I can point to cultural evidence in which both sex and skin color have been taken to be fundamental markers of key distinguishing features of human beings. You would rightly reply that such evidence is merely cultural, and thus should not be taken as metaphysical evidence at all. However, you then need some standard, even if imprecise at this time, to distinguish between metaphysical distinctions and cultural distinctions in human beings, such that having a sex would be part of the former and having a skin color would be part of the latter.

dguller said...

Scott:

Upon further reflection, I’d like to make some revisions to my position.

First, I’ve been saying that to be rational is distinctive of human beings, but I’d like to reject that, because rationality, i.e. the ability to cognitively unite with eternal truths, is a characteristic both of God and angels, according to Aquinas. So, focusing exclusively upon our rationality would not focus upon what is distinctive about ourselves. What is distinctive about our rationality is that it is exercised by abstracting forms from sensible particulars, and thus is discursive. However, its discursivity is precisely due to our materiality as grounding our presence as a being that unfolds in space-time while interacting with other material entities. So, what is distinctive about ourselves is how our rationality unites with our animality into a single substantial form of human nature. And since having a sex and having a skin color are both aspects of our animality, then they would also be distinctive of human beings, especially when united to our rationality. But that would mean that both having a sex and having a skin color are on an equivalent footing here, and there is no real principled distinction between them in terms of one being more essential than the other. In fact, both are present in the substantial form that is human nature itself, and thus the absence of either one would be tantamount to negating the presence of a human nature at all.

Second, I don’t think it makes sense to say that our animality is “taken up into rationality”. Animality is certainly taken up into the substantial form of human nature, which includes the presence of the power of rationality, but which also includes the powers associated with animality. So, both are equally necessary here, as I described above, and to prioritize one over the other is to miss an essential aspect of our humanity. In fact, that is precisely why disembodied intellects that occur postmortem are considered to be incomplete human beings. In other words, it is false that animality is taken up into rationalitiy and that rationality is taken up into animality. Neither is taken up into the other. Rather, rationality and animality are taken up into a single substantial form, and that is the unifying principle of our nature.

Any thoughts?

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Sobieski: I don’t think that the way my individual form disposes my substance entails that every accident or modification of my substance has to be essential. If that was the case, then men and women would be different species, as would people with different skin or hair color. [...] So my point was that while I am not essentially male but human, that I am male is intrinsic to my substance inasmuch as that characteristic is dictated by its intrinsic principles.

Is there any sense, on this view, in which your maleness is "more intrinsic" to you than your hair or skin color or height?

George LeSauvage said...

@rank:

1. "I agree with Scott that universals and forms are very different--to the extent that identifying forms with universals is a contradiction."

I don't read Scott as saying that; he seems to me to have suggested that forms may not be universals, and nowhere said that to say they were is contradictory. ("I fully agree that this view is puzzling and I'm still trying to work it out myself. However, there are ways to make it less puzzling—for example, by dropping or at least questioning the sometimes-hidden assumption that forms are just the same things as universals.)"

Your statement is both stronger and surer than his.

2. Do you have citations of places where either Aristotle or Aquinas explicitly states the doctrine you are proposing?

3. What do you mean by this, anyway? I note that Ed speaks of forms as universals, as does Copelston, and other books on Thomas or Aristotle do so.

Your way seems to hold that forms do not have instantiations, as each substance has its very own, unique form, all to itself. Which strikes me as really no better than nominalism.

4. "He criticizes Plato's theory for claiming that the Forms are anything other than particulars"

Well, you've studied it more than I, but again, where does he say this, exactly and explicitly. And how does making forms intrinsic help here? What is the problem it addresses? It makes literally no sense to me.

George LeSauvage said...

@Scott and dguller:

I'm not entirely following the sex/skin color argument. Surely the two do differ in this: that every human is either man or woman (leaving out sports, I suppose, but in general), while individually people vary all over the map on skin color.

Of course, dguller explicitly identifies "skin color" with "race" in speaking of slavery. We do that, but it is speaking figuratively. In fact, not all slaves here were always the same color, or even the same race. (There were attempts as enslaving Indians, but they didn't work. But they did try.)

Now, skin color is - not understood as race, but literally as skin color - actually one of the features in which we invest beauty and desirability. I am not speaking of groups here, but of individual women. To give examples, both Beyonce and Kate Beckinsale impress me here, more than most. (Though not so much in other ways.)

Isn't it true that, when speaking of a given subject, there is an ad hoc division of genus and species, and essence and accident, which parallels that of Aristotle's natural divisions?

Matt Sheean said...

Ok. Here's a stab at it.

I'm not sure that I will be using terms like "elevated" "taken up" and so on in the right way, so I'll ask everyone's pardon up front for my idiosyncratic way of putting things. I'll try to put what I want to say in a more naive fashion that will hopefully be easily translatable for the topic at hand.

The intuition that I am trying to flesh out is that if the manner in which skin color is essential, intrinsic, or in any way determinative of this or that human being is taken to be such that it entails obligations or a at least that the bearer of the skin color is more "fit" for one task than another, we have on our hands an evil way of thinking about human beings. That's to say, if someone tells us that being black imakes one more fit for manual labor or more inclined to superstition or that a "cleaner race" would be a fairer one, we should denounce them as wicked. Suppose, for the sake of argument that such a thing is true, that there is in general a tendency to enjoy labor more than scholarship that is somehow genetically ingrained so that it nearly always is present with a certain skin color. At best that would give us the right to make inferences about what career path a certain person would find fulfilling based on their pigmentation. We do this anyways, though, with our friends, according to a variety of things we know about them. I can say of one that I am not surprised she went into social work or another that I am not surprised that he is a neuroscientist. Still, these are all inferences from their habits, family life, ethnic background, etc. none of these factors taken alone or cumulatively could amount to an obligation on the part of the person in question. Neither could they be deduced from the skin color of the person.

On the other hand, if I see a couple in which the man fails to care for his wife when she is pregnant, choosing to lounge around after work or spending time with his fellows away from her, or a woman who refuses to breast feed her children, instead insisting that they be given formula and that her husband accommodate and feed them so that she can further her career, I would see these two hypothetical persons as blameworthy. Furthermore, their blameworthiness is inextricable from the gendered nature of their obligations. So while I cannot say to the aspiring young black physicist, "but you're black, you should do something else!" I can say to the absentee father or mother, "but you are the father!" or "you are the mother!" I suppose we can imagine a society in which infants are cared for by robots and so on, so that the parents are free to pursue their own interests as they please, but even in this case the metaphysics are not affected, as the robot is filling in for some natural function. If we say "it takes a village", we are still proposing a social apparatus to fill in for the natural relations between the bodies involved (mother, father and child bodies). On the other hand, when chattel slavery was abolished, it was by no means important that the apparatus of production that replaced it was "black" in some way, or had some sense of africanness about it.

I hope these are useful thoughts to the discussion at hand.

rank sophist said...

George,

I don't read Scott as saying that; he seems to me to have suggested that forms may not be universals, and nowhere said that to say they were is contradictory.

I didn't mean to suggest that Scott himself thinks that identifying forms with universals is contradictory. A shoddy sentence; my apologies. However, from my previous discussions with him, he does seem to think that forms and universals are different.

Do you have citations of places where either Aristotle or Aquinas explicitly states the doctrine you are proposing?

No. It's an extrapolation. What Aquinas explicitly thought about forms and universals is not very clear, despite (or perhaps because of) his copious writing on the subject. I do take my view to be supported by passages like this, though:

"[B]y its abstractive power the intellect makes this universal unity [between substances of a particular species] itself, not as though it were a unity existing in things themselves, but as an immaterial representation of them" (de Anima a3 ro8).

Your way seems to hold that forms do not have instantiations, as each substance has its very own, unique form, all to itself. Which strikes me as really no better than nominalism.

"Very own, unique form" has to be understood in a specific way. For Aristotle and Aquinas, it's true that every substance has its own form, and that forms never subsist outside of substance. But they draw a line between numerical and formal uniqueness. Every form is numerically unique, but only some are formally unique. Classic nominalism entails either that A) all forms are formally unique or B) forms do not exist.

Well, you've studied it more than I, but again, where does he say this, exactly and explicitly. And how does making forms intrinsic help here? What is the problem it addresses? It makes literally no sense to me.

Aquinas in de Anima a2 ro5:

[A] thing is actually known because it is immaterial, not because it is universal. Indeed, the universal is intelligible because it is abstracted from material individuating conditions. Moreover, it is evident that separate substances are actual intelligibles and yet are certain individual entities; just as Aristotle says in the Metaphysics [VII, 14, 1039a 23], that the separated forms which Plato claimed to exist, were individual things.

Making them intrinsic solves the Third Man problem, among other things.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I’m missing the point, but it occur to me that we might want to emphasize that reason is an essential part of human animality in the specific sense that humans are obliged to use reason in order to discern and regulate their animality toward appropriate ends, however those ends might be defined. This leads me to think that there is something else besides reason alone that sets the human animal apart from other animals and is therefore essential to defining the distinctively human. I’m referring to the open-ended, potentially irrational (as opposed to non-rational) nature of human animality, its capacity to freely (some will say anarchically) diverge from or embellish animal functions that in non-rational animals are self-regulating. In other words, the definition of “human being” might require not just its having reason, but also - and necessarily? - its having the _need_ for reason in order to know and give shape to its unregulated appetites and impulses. This knowledge includes knowing the appropriate ends and limits of the human being’s animal functions as well as how to harmonize them with one another in the light of what reason might also discern as the human being’s ultimate end. Ironically perhaps, being a rational animal seems necessarily to imply its also being an irrational animal, i.e., an animal with the capacity and indeed strong inclination to digress from goals and modes of behavior that are naturally regulated in non-rational animals. If this is so, then the complete definition of a human being might have to be something like “the irrational rational animal.”

How this might be relevant to the skin color/sex discussion is that one’s skin color is not associated with an irrational animal function that needs to be directed and shaped by reason, whereas one’s sex is.

George LeSauvage said...

@rank:

1. I'm sorry, I can't see that the passages you cite entail that "He criticizes Plato's theory for claiming that the Forms are anything other than particulars". Rather the reverse; Aristotle seems to be criticising Plato for treating them as if they were particular substances, themselves.

2. Once again, Aristotle does seem to be speaking of forms as universals. As does Aquinas. (Here barring the particular identification of forms and souls, which is the heart of my confusion.) If the forms are intelligible species, in what sense does that mean they are not universals?

I'm not trying to be argumentative here; I want to understand this. And I don't.

Anonymous said...

Above comment was intended for dguller.

Scott said...

I'll be a bit busy for the next couple of days, so I'll have to limit myself here to just a couple of brief and inadequate comments.

On universals and forms (mainly @George and rank):

George is right about what I said and meant, but rank is also correct that I have at least grave doubts about simply identifying forms and universals. My misgivings largely began with Lloyd Gerson, who discusses the problem in this paper and further in chapter 7 of this book; they've recently received another boost from my reading of Jonathan Lear's excellent exposition of Aristotle, in which he argues at some length (pp. 282-291) that for Aristotle, species-forms are neither "particular" nor "universal."

That doesn't mean that no form is a universal or that no universal is a form. However, I do largely agree with Gerson's view that the question has been misposed thanks to a misunderstanding of the job the Forms were supposed to do.

On skin color and sex (mainly @dguller, George, and Matt):

I don't have much more to add at this point, but I'll briefly note that I agree with George's initial observation and I think Matt's summary of his thoughts is a quite good one.

One more thing specifically @dguller:

"[W]hat is distinctive about ourselves is how our rationality unites with our animality into a single substantial form of human nature."

Right.

"And since having a sex and having a skin color are both aspects of our animality, then they would also be distinctive of human beings, especially when united to our rationality."

I would say that they're distinctive of human beings only when, and only to the extent that, they are united to our rationality. And by united to here I understand something more than coexisting with or even governed by, and more along the lines of transformed by (although I recognize the hazard of using the word "transformed" in this context!).

But in that case it simply doesn't follow that having a sex and having a skin color are on equal footing in terms of essentiality (or anything else). I simply don't see any significant way in which the mere having of a certain shade of skin (if we don't conflate this with race) can be "united" to one's rationality in the way that having a sex can (see Matt's post).

Scott said...

@Anon:

"[O]ne’s skin color is not associated with an irrational animal function that needs to be directed and shaped by reason, whereas one’s sex is."

That's a good observation and it supports what I was trying to get at in the last paragraph of my previous post.

Scott said...

It also occurs to me to clarify that I am not a nominalist and I do think there are (and must be) real universals; I'm just not convinced that they should be identified with forms.

dguller said...

George:

Surely the two do differ in this: that every human is either man or woman (leaving out sports, I suppose, but in general), while individually people vary all over the map on skin color.

Why does the fact that the former has only two possibilities whereas the latter has a near-infinite number of possibilities matter? The point is that having a sex and having a skin color are both essential properties of human nature. Furthermore, there are a near-infinite number of possibilities involved in intellectual understanding of a subject, and yet such understanding is considered a paradigmatic and distinctively human power.

Of course, dguller explicitly identifies "skin color" with "race" in speaking of slavery. We do that, but it is speaking figuratively. In fact, not all slaves here were always the same color, or even the same race. (There were attempts as enslaving Indians, but they didn't work. But they did try.)

Yes, but the tendency was that the darker the skin, the more the person was considered inferior, and thus you are correct that skin color was used as a stand-in for racial inferiority.

Now, skin color is - not understood as race, but literally as skin color - actually one of the features in which we invest beauty and desirability. I am not speaking of groups here, but of individual women. To give examples, both Beyonce and Kate Beckinsale impress me here, more than most. (Though not so much in other ways.)

True, which supports my point that having a skin color does contribute to distinctively human modes of interactions and behaviors.

Isn't it true that, when speaking of a given subject, there is an ad hoc division of genus and species, and essence and accident, which parallels that of Aristotle's natural divisions?

I agree, but I’m not too sure how this is relevant here. Care you elaborate?

Scott said...

@dguller:

Just time for one more round here.

"True, which supports my point that having a skin color does contribute to distinctively human modes of interactions and behaviors."

But surely not in any way that significantly unites it to the rationality of the skin-color-haver. And at any rate, nothing in the present discussion really requires that skin color not be "rationally elevatable" at all, just that it not be so to anything like the same degree as sexuality.

"The point is that having a sex and having a skin color are both essential properties of human nature."

I must have missed your argument for this, so I'll supply it myself. The having of skin is an accident that flows from the essence of a human being and is therefore a(n essential, but again, this is redundant) property of humans. All skin has a color, so having a skin color is a property of humans too.

The fact that I have to, or even can, introduce that second step is at least an indication that having a specific skin color is not as fundamental ("essential") a property of humans as having a sex.

dguller said...

Matt:

What is the relevance that the obligations that follow from a given property have to whether that property is essential to our humanity or not? In other words, if property P carries obligations for person A while property Q does not, then is P more distinctive and characteristic of human nature than Q? For example, what obligation does having a heart involve with respect to other people? I don’t see any such obligation, and yet having a heart is certainly as essential a characteristic of human nature as having a sex.

Any thoughts?

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Anonymous @ June 4, 2014 at 10:54 AM: How this might be relevant to the skin color/sex discussion is that one’s skin color is not associated with an irrational animal function that needs to be directed and shaped by reason, whereas one’s sex is.

I'm not sure that this is a clear distinction. A person with fair skin might be rationally obliged to use sunscreen in a situation where someone with dark skin is not. A person with dark skin might be rationally obliged to take vitamin D supplements in a situation where someone with fair skin is not. In both cases, the skin-bearer needs rationality to be able to use his skin in conformity with its purpose. One's own skin is something that one can use irrationally, but what constitutes irrational use depends on an accidental feature, namely its color.

This seems analogous to the case of sex. A-Tists use perverted-faculty arguments to argue that certain uses of one's sexuality are immoral. But what constitutes immoral use will be different for different people, depending on their sex. This sex, be it male or female, is an accidental feature. (That they have a sex may not be accidental, but that that sex is the particular sex that it is is accidental. This, at any rate, is what I've gathered from this comment thread.) In this sense, the "perversions" that perverted-faculty arguments allege depend in part on accidental features.

dguller said...

Anonymous:

How this might be relevant to the skin color/sex discussion is that one’s skin color is not associated with an irrational animal function that needs to be directed and shaped by reason, whereas one’s sex is.

That was an excellent commentary that I’m hard-pressed to disagree with.

My only comment would be that skin color can be used in an irrational fashion, thus placing it firmly within your analysis. For example, rationally speaking, skin color is irrelevant to intellectual performance, and yet people can use skin color, irrationally, to classify people according to their degrees of intellectual understanding. So, even skin color can be analyzing by reason in an irrational fashion and used inappropriately.

dguller said...

Anonymous:

I think Tyrell's comments state my position far better than I was able to.

dguller said...

Scott:

I would say that they're distinctive of human beings only when, and only to the extent that, they are united to our rationality. And by united to here I understand something more than coexisting with or even governed by, and more along the lines of transformed by (although I recognize the hazard of using the word "transformed" in this context!).

And yet, I find it hard to see a difference between having a sex and having a skin color in the light of your above comments. Both can be transformed or united to our rationality. As Tyrrell stated, different skin pigments do carry certain rational obligations, such as the need to be more careful with sun exposure, the need for supplementary vitamin D, differential risk of skin cancer, and so on, all of which would be under the purview of our rational decision-making process. Similarly, our sexuality has various obligations that stem from the natural ends of our sexual organs, and our rationality is capable of understanding those ends and either conforming to them or subverting them. Again, no substantial difference between them, at least in this regard. So, I’m still looking for the distinguishing feature that marks one as more fundamental than the other. Perhaps you have already explained it, but I must have missed it.

But surely not in any way that significantly unites it to the rationality of the skin-color-haver. And at any rate, nothing in the present discussion really requires that skin color not be "rationally elevatable" at all, just that it not be so to anything like the same degree as sexuality.

I think it might be helpful if you, or someone else, provides an account of what you precisely mean by saying that X is united to our rationality. You obviously mean something more than X is under our rational control and influence, but rather that X has changed somehow by virtue of being part of an entity with rationality. My understanding is that this is just a way of saying that X is united to a single substantial form, but that form is not rationality per se, but rather rational animality, and thus you should say that X is united to our rational animality. But given that skin color or sex are essential parts of our animality, then I’m not too sure how they are transformed, other than saying that they serve the overall wellbeing of a rational entity, but that is precisely what you deny you mean. So, I’m confused here.

The having of skin is an accident that flows from the essence of a human being and is therefore a(n essential, but again, this is redundant) property of humans. All skin has a color, so having a skin color is a property of humans too.

Yes.

The fact that I have to, or even can, introduce that second step is at least an indication that having a specific skin color is not as fundamental ("essential") a property of humans as having a sex.

I don’t follow. Sorry.

Matt Sheean said...

Dguller,

So, having a heart is like having a skin color then.

Paul Amrhein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dguller said...

Matt:

So, having a heart is like having a skin color then.

If you are putting them in the same level of importance in human nature, then the implication would be that with regards to human nature, having a heart is less important than having a sex, which I think is absurd. Or, maybe you mean something else?

Sobieski said...

@Tyrrell

Is there any sense, on this view, in which your maleness is "more intrinsic" to you than your hair or skin color or height?

I don't think so.

Sobieski said...

@dguller

If you are putting them in the same level of importance in human nature, then the implication would be that with regards to human nature, having a heart is less important than having a sex, which I think is absurd. Or, maybe you mean something else?

Yes, and I would think that having a heart would be something intrinsic to human nature because all individuals of the species have a heart. Likewise, having skin would be essential to human nature, but not a particular skin color.

Matt Sheean said...

Dguller,

I mean something else. Earlier, I did say "the manner in which skin color is essential..."

If the heart ceased to function properly, it would have to be replaced with a heart-like thing, which is analogous to the manner in which, as I said earlier, that the natural function of a sex, such as nursing the young, would have to be replaced if an infant, say, were to be cared for in the absence of the mother. The skin COLOR is not like this.

I can see that having a skin color is essential, just because having skin is, just as being male or female is essential because having a sex is. But the notion that the color and the particular sex are on all fours in any non-trivial sense strikes me as crazy talk.

Mr. Green said...

I'm not sure quite how to understand the "taking up" into rationality of biological sex, but I want to make a case that it's getting things upside-down. Or, given that it clearly is true in the sense that we can integrate our bodily features into a rational whole — or refuse to do so — I dispute that sex is only something physical that gets brought into our rationality in whatever sense. (I'm also not convinced that any rational animal must be able to procreate, although it's obviously a popular choice! But since human beings clearly do, that's certainly enough for the relevance to human nature.) Rather, I think it is something about human beings that is represented or instantiated physically by means of sexuality. After all, it is at least suitable for the lower to mirror or embody the higher, so if sexuality is something important to human nature, I think we should expect its biological manifestation to be some sort of reflection of something higher.

Of course, that is merely suggestive; but we also know that sex is not just a physical attribute. It's commonplace nowadays to claim that God, being pure spirit, is beyond such things, but in the Judeo-Christian tradition God has been considered masculine. God is a Father, indeed the model of all fatherhood; not as a metaphor (though of course He can be metaphorically described as a father, or as a mother); rather human fatherhood is a sort of metaphor for divine Fatherhood. So there is some sense in which biological sex must be a lowering down of a higher reality, rather than vice versa. Or perhaps the physical aspect just is human sexuality given that we are integrally physical beings (i.e. thinking of the human person as a single substantial whole rather than a spiritual "half" and a material "half").

How this fits in with the essence of being human, I'm not entirely sure. My maleness certainly seems to be more "essential" to me than the colour of my skin, though it cannot be part of my essence in the A-T sense. (Having red hair is not essential to being a human, but it is "essential" to being a redhead! But presumably there is no substance of "redheaded human", only "human" with the accident of "red". And of course our perceptions can also be coloured — such as by the everyday connotations of "essential" meaning "important".) God could change the colour of my hair or skin, but He couldn't turn me into a frog, because by definition that would be a different substance and not me. (Though He could presumably make me look like a frog, by greatly deforming my body.) But if sex is an accident, then God could change me into a woman — which sounds suspicious. One is tempted to suppose that, like the froggy case, I would still be me, just in a womanly-shaped body. (Or is that only a construct of my Hollywood-screwball-comedy historico-cultural context?)

Mr. Green said...

As far as significance goes, I don't think I have a problem with saying that sex is in some way on a par with colouring. Certainly there is something more important about one's sex than the colour of one's skin or hair, but one answer is simply that sexuality does more than skin-colour: it does more things and more important things, since it is related to interpersonal relationships and procreation. But either way, this suggests a reason why sex could be accidental and yet not alterable: a (non-brute, at least) father is defined not by some biological arrangement of organs, but by relationships; for example, he is the father of the children he begets. For God to change him into a woman would break that relation; so while it might be possible in a technical sense, it would be an evil in a way that entails God wouldn't ever do that. And even if a man has not begotten any children, he still is related to other people in various ways according to his sex. In other words, we are each created to be a specific person — which person we are is an accident of our common human nature, but (and perhaps especially since God creates each human soul individually), each of us is created to be the particular individual that he is, and so it makes no more sense to speak of God making me a woman and my still being me, than it would to speak of God changing me into Scott or DGuller and my still being me.

(I wonder if this amounts to a sort of reinvention of haecceity? I have a certain fondness for the concept... I'm just not sure how it actually is supposed to work!)

Anyway, the relational aspect is key — that of course is necessary for the first Person of the Trinity to be the Father, and so it seems to me we have an analogous distinction in human nature that is neither physical in itself, nor substantial (since neither kind could apply to God). And of course we're not talking about spatial or geographical relations, or relations of height or colour, but personal relationships. The colour of your skin may be relevant to whether you use sunscreen or vitamin D, but not to how you love someone (or at least it oughtn't). But we do legitimately relate to people differently because of our different sexes.

Matt Sheean said...

I was wondering when the Turnabout Intruder would figure into this conversation...

Anonymous said...

Amazing. During the course of this philosophical discussion we gentlemen have managed to have a detailed conversation about the nature of women's breasts and to make frequent reference to Star Trek, which might serve to prove that the philosophy student's preoccupations and interests do not much change beyond what they were during his Freshmen and Sophomore years.

Sobieski said...

@Anon 7:07

And don't forget, I threw in a Highlander reference.

Anonymous said...

@Tyrell, June 4, 1:05 PM. “One’s own skin is something that one can use irrationally, but what constitutes irrational use depends on an accidental feature, namely its color.”

I don’t know if the following agrees or disagrees with what you’re saying. Perhaps it’s a question only of emphasis?

If I am light skinned and prone to sunburn but can’t resist the pleasures of sunbathing, then what needs to be regulated is my irrational impulse to sunbathe, not anything specifically to do with my skin. My using or not using sunscreen does not reconstitute my skin or its natural way of reacting to sunlight. My skin has no part in either my irrational (human) animal desire to over-bask or with my rational capacity to assess the dangers of that pleasure and resist it. Obviously it makes no sense to speak of rational or irrational sunbathing except in reference to skin and its sensitivity (unless of course the issue is time management); but the thing that needs modification or reshaping here is not my skin per se but my urge to keep sunbathing (or to waste time). My skin’s purpose, if we went to talk about that, is to protect my muscles, bones, and internal organs from exposure to the open elements, a purpose it fulfills regardless of my basking habits. If I subsequently contract skin cancer, my skin goes on doing the best it can just like all my other animal parts until, for whatever reason, it gives out.

Which brings me to sex. My sex organ is not strictly speaking the item that requires regulation. What needs management is my un-self-regulating impulse to do various things with my sex organ that detract from my overall well-being. My reason (or to speak more naturally, my experience and capacity for reflection) enables me to ascertain in general the activities I should be directed toward and how my various other impulses and activities help or hinder me toward my principle ends. My skin and sex organ are neither rational nor irrational, but my desires and aversions can be either one or the other or a combination of both. Perhaps, then, it comes to this. When you say, “…what constitutes irrational use depends on an accidental feature [of skin or sex organ],” I say, what constitutes irrational use depends on the unformed or partially formed disposition to use, granted that the thing used has it own fixed nature regardless.

Hum…

Scott said...

Indeed you did. And for whatever it's worth, as I was writing at least one of my posts, I was having a beer.

And here's a suitable image for "Turnabout Intruder".

Paul Amrhein said...

Mr Green said;
“I'm not sure quite how to understand the "taking up" into rationality of biological sex, but I want to make a case that it's getting things upside-down. Or, given that it clearly is true in the sense that we can integrate our bodily features into a rational whole — or refuse to do so — I dispute that sex is only something physical that gets brought into our rationality in whatever sense.”

Is love the better part of reason?
Reason, in the person of Virgil, guides Dante through the Inferno and the Purgatorio, but can take him no further. Love, in the person of Beatrice, must usher him into the Paradiso.
The Biblical word for actual sex is “yodea” literally “knowledge.”
If God is love can love in turn be fundamentally irrational? No.
Sex can be transcendent, answering to the formula “Sat-Chit-Ananda” (Being-Consciousness-Bliss). But this is not an irrational experience. Being is intelligible. Here Being and Knowing are one in Bliss.
Which way is up?

Scott said...

(Oops, my previous post was in reply to Sobieski.)

As usual, some good sense from Mr. Green.

"I'm not sure quite how to understand the 'taking up' into rationality of biological sex, but I want to make a case that it's getting things upside-down."

Even aside from the details of Mr. Green's two posts (with much of which I find myself agreeing), I think this is right. It would be better to speak of the taking up of rationality into biological sex rather than vice versa.

I'd also like to note in passing that if we're now regarding skin color as in some way essential to humanity (that is, as a property that flows or follows from the essence of a human being), and sex as at least as essential as skin color even if not more so, then Tyrrell's original question (how having a specific sex can be an essential property of a human being) must have been answered.

dguller said...

Mr. Green:

I dispute that sex is only something physical that gets brought into our rationality in whatever sense … Rather, I think it is something about human beings that is represented or instantiated physically by means of sexuality. After all, it is at least suitable for the lower to mirror or embody the higher, so if sexuality is something important to human nature, I think we should expect its biological manifestation to be some sort of reflection of something higher.

This is interesting, and I appreciate that these are just tentative reflections on your part. Just a few questions:

First, how would you determine when something is “important to human nature”? Presumably if X is “some sort of reflection of something higher”, then X is “important to human nature”, and vice versa, but could you flesh this idea out a bit?

Second, would you say that all bodily functions are “some sort of reflection of something higher”? Would you say that defecation and urination are equally mirrors of the divine?

in the Judeo-Christian tradition God has been considered masculine. God is a Father, indeed the model of all fatherhood; not as a metaphor (though of course He can be metaphorically described as a father, or as a mother); rather human fatherhood is a sort of metaphor for divine Fatherhood.

First, I thought that God’s masculinity was simply a manner of speaking. There is no reason that I know of as to why God could not be considered a mother, as well as a father, especially as he has characteristics of both. Interestingly enough, in the Islamic tradition, God’s attributes are both masculine and feminine.

Second, I think you want to say that human fatherhood is analogous to divine fatherhood in the sense that the former is derivative image and imperfect instantiation of the latter as divine archetype and source. To say that human fatherhood is a metaphor for divine fatherhood implies that fatherhood is only truly present in one and not in the other, at least insofar as Aquinas defines “metaphor”. An analogy is such that something is present in both analogates, albeit in a primary and fundamental fashion in one analogate and a secondary and derivative fashion in the other analogate.

God could change the colour of my hair or skin, but He couldn't turn me into a frog, because by definition that would be a different substance and not me. (Though He could presumably make me look like a frog, by greatly deforming my body.) But if sex is an accident, then God could change me into a woman — which sounds suspicious. One is tempted to suppose that, like the froggy case, I would still be me, just in a womanly-shaped body. (Or is that only a construct of my Hollywood-screwball-comedy historico-cultural context?)

I agree, especially if one takes the Platonic position that my personality is in truth my status as an immaterial knower of eternal truths, and all else is secondary and accidental on the basis of my material and bodily existence, which is an imperfect image of my true reality.

For God to change him into a woman would break that relation

I’m not sure about that. “He” would still have begotten his children in the past, and “he” could still have children in the future, albeit as the bearer of children instead of the sperm provider.

each of us is created to be the particular individual that he is, and so it makes no more sense to speak of God making me a woman and my still being me, than it would to speak of God changing me into Scott or DGuller and my still being me.

But that assumes a more Aristotelian line in which personal identity is necessarily related to one’s bodily existence to be complete. A Platonist would take a different position in which one’s true identity is independent of one’s physical existence, and is actually inhibited by one’s material characteristics such that the philosophical quest for wisdom is simultaneously a systematic stripping of incidental and physical qualities.

dguller said...

Scott:

It would be better to speak of the taking up of rationality into biological sex rather than vice versa.

I’m not so sure. I think it would make more sense to speak of taking up of rationality and animality into the substantial form of human nature, which is the holistic unity that the virtual components derive their sense and meaning from. Within the substantial form of human nature, rationality is modified by animality, and animality is modified by rationality into a unique synthesis that corresponds to humanity.

Matt Sheean said...

Dguller, and to a lesser extent Mr. Green,

If I understand you correctly, you are concerned with a very technical matter, simply whether or not "maleness" and "blackness", say, should both be described as accidents. If "blackness" were considered to be the "what it is" of some persons, that would separate them out as a species. While there are only two kinds of biological sex to be had by humans, but a variety of skin colors (even varying shades for one person in a lifetime) does not go to show that sex is somehow more of the essence than skin color. Just like the skin color, if the sex where to define what a kind was in its essence, it would separate it out as a species of its own, but this is absurd. So, being male or female, like being black or white or red haired or brown, is an accident. Furthermore, that the sex might require more of the person, as far as obligations, doesn't go any further to show that it is not an accident just like the aforementioned traits. I'm inclined to agree here, after more thought, since I could have been born lame (an accident, like hair color, etc) and that would evince a (imperfect) duty to be fulfilled by my parents and members of my community to care for me in certain ways. This would really be an obligation, though, sure as motherhood or fatherhood has obligations by itself (and these are imperfect obligations as well, to use the Kantian jargon - and give the old boy his due, as we have him to thank, in a roundabout way, for this conversation).

I think, like Mr Green, to suppose that I could have been biologically female is problematic at best. It strikes me as quite plausible to say that in a world that is in all respects like this one except that I am female in it (call it w2), is to say that in that world I do not exist. It seems just as plausible to me to say as well that in another world that is just the same except that "i" was born (had the gene for) black hair instead of the blond I have in this one, I do not exist in that world either. I am this person here, if I am any person or a person at all. Those properties that determine my "thisness" must be accidental, not because they are properties that I could or could not have had as me, Matt, this guy here but properties that I could or could not have had as a human.

Finally, I am not sure how helpful it is to drag Plato in at this point. If he was right, there's nothing to prevent me from being Mr Green's frog, either (or if there is, I'm simply not aware of what could prevent my ethereal soul from being united to a frog body, perhaps because I demonstrated myself unworthy of human embodiment in a past life).

Matt Sheean said...

Eeesh... I edited that second paragraph a bit and forgot to remove some parts that are now vestigial (though I think it still makes sense).

I want to pose another problem for the matter with which the first paragraph is concerned. That is that My being white does not, or should not, have the same existential consequences for me as my being male. Even if my being male is, technically, an accident, it is strangely more important than my being white. Though perhaps my having a heart is also strangely more important than my having an appendix though both are essential.

rank sophist said...

Matt,

I want to pose another problem for the matter with which the first paragraph is concerned. That is that My being white does not, or should not, have the same existential consequences for me as my being male. Even if my being male is, technically, an accident, it is strangely more important than my being white.

Here's a speculation of mine in response, hopefully worthwhile.

Is your skin color really less existentially important than your sex? Consider the possibility that your particular sex is bundled with no ethical obligations--that is, maleness does not entail a specific set of ethics, beyond those entailed by sex-as-essential. In other words, your concrete sex has no bearing on your quest for eudaimonia, any more than your skin color does. No natural law binds you on this point.

This doesn't mean that your skin color or sex are not existentially important. Perhaps they are equally existentially important--but through their interaction with positive customs and cultural standards. Your skin color alone can change your relation to the community, which changes your existential situation. For example, being white in British India was very existentially relevant, just as being black in the American south was (and, to a lesser extent, continues to be) existentially relevant. Even though these examples are historical rather than essential, they don't thereby lose their existential importance to the people involved in them. Existential importance, being phenomenological, includes positive and customary as well as natural laws.

Compared to racial issues throughout most of history, I would say that the existential importance of having a particular sex isn't much different. Positive customs and common opinions related to each sex have a large existential impact, and it is only through them that any kind of life is possible. (On this view, even total relativism about sex is a positive custom, with its own existential impact.)

I don't know if I necessarily agree with this. I'm tossing it out there to see if it floats. I do think it meshes with Scott's comments about sex being "taken up into rationality", in that the rational mind (i.e. the intellect and will) make practical judgments related to a particular sex and thereby elevate it into the realm of reason. In the same way, skin color would be taken up into rationality by being made an element of the rules of conduct--even if those rules are simply to ignore skin color completely. I'd be interested to see someone else's opinion on this.

Matt Sheean said...

I have been speculatin' left and right myself.

As for what you said

"No natural law binds you at this point"

I don't know. I think my maleness, even if we are dealing with some bare bones golden rule type imperative, means that I have a duty not to force myself on the female of the species. I can't see how the female has a similar duty on this minimal conception of sexual ethics. If she seduces me, and succeeds, even if I would have wished her not to in a more sober moment, she has not forced herself on me - she's done unto me what, after all, I wanted done! On the other hand, if she is stronger and forces herself on me and I am unwilling, nature will ensure her task will prove nigh impossible. (I don't know, maybe there is such a duty for the female but it is simply so unlikely relative to the opposite case that it just sounds absurd at present.)

Go any more minimal than that, tho, and it sounds to me like you're asking me to imagine a world in which rape is ok!

That seems to me to have a lot to do with the rest of your comment. I do hope it is interesting.

rank sophist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rank sophist said...

Matt Sheean,

I can't see how the female has a similar duty on this minimal conception of sexual ethics.

A dark turn in the conversation, but relevant. Anyway, female-on-male rape is real. While hardly authoritative, this Wikipedia page provides a detailed summary. Also see this article from CNN or this article on Vocativ. (Or, on a literary note, Lancelot's rape by a woman in T. H. White's The Once and Future King.)

So, while it's unusual, I think it's clear that women do rape men. And I think it's clear that this is wrong. As a result, it would follow that women do have an ethical obligation not to force intercourse on men. This obligation doesn't relate to the accidental characteristics of women; it derives from humanity's essentially sexual nature. I see no need to bring in accidental traits to argue for the wrongness of rape.

Within a positive/historical framework, though, I would agree that there is something very critically different between men and women in terms of rape. Most men are stronger than most women, and (although I'll probably catch flak for this) I do agree with the feminists that we suffer from "rape culture", in which male-to-female rape is an expected and normalized force in society. Topping it off, as the statistics in those links claim, is the fact that only 1% of reported rapes are by women.

So, existentially, men and women relate to the issue of rape very differently. But I'm not sure this shows us anything about the essential constitution of maleness or femaleness. I'm more inclined to chalk it up to custom and history. This is not to dismiss the issue, as I believe that custom and history are extremely important to human life. I just think that it might be a more coherent way of tackling the problem of accidental traits (skin color, sex, height and so on) than an appeal to essentialism.

dguller said...

Matt:

If I understand you correctly, you are concerned with a very technical matter, simply whether or not "maleness" and "blackness", say, should both be described as accidents.

Yes. I think that having a sex and having a skin color are both equally essential to being a human being, and that being a male and having black skin color, for example, are accidents. I just don’t see how one can prioritize one over the other as more important to our humanity. If a being was a rational animal, but lacked any skin color whatsoever, then they would be invisible, which would certainly be a far more significant feature of theirs than their sexuality.

Finally, I am not sure how helpful it is to drag Plato in at this point.

I only brought Plato up, because (1) he has a different point of view on these issues that I thought might be interesting and relevant, and (2) I happen to be reading a book on Plato’s theory of persons. :)

Matt Sheean said...

"So, existentially, men and women relate to the issue of rape very differently. But I'm not sure this shows us anything about the essential constitution of maleness or femaleness. I'm more inclined to chalk it up to custom and history. This is not to dismiss the issue, as I believe that custom and history are extremely important to human life. I just think that it might be a more coherent way of tackling the problem of accidental traits (skin color, sex, height and so on) than an appeal to essentialism."

Ok, so, i was much too specific in my comment regarding rape. Certainly, even if a woman could not do that, she could violate a man. Anyways, none of this gets to the key point which was that I cannot imagine, let alone conceive of, a world in which no natural law binds me that does not somehow involve reference to my maleness. In either case, male-female or female-male, the unwilling partner is being drawn into a relationship with the other, against their will, that is only intelligible if we consider their sex. A male-male violation is surely heinous as well, but doesn't involve the same, unique natural process as the unwilling union between the male and the female. To say, "well, they're both rape" would be to gloss over an important and relevant distinction.

To turn to something happier, another feature of sex that is puzzling is that no other bodily function is shared by the species. There are not some of us with half a digestive tract. Food for thought, I guess.

Matt Sheean said...

Dguller,

K, I see where the Plato thing was coming from.

So, on the other side of things, help me out, huh? Why is it the case that my being male, being a father, and suchlike entail all these gender specific obligations for me (e.g. To not sow my oats wildly, so to speak), but my being white vis a vis any other skin color, doesn't.

Matt Sheean said...

"that is only intelligible if we consider their sex."

This is a bit hyperbolic on my part. What I mean is that rape, as a distinctive act, only makes sense with reference to the telos of the parts involved. Otherwise it's just part of a broad category of non-consensual acts, like mugging, theft, etc.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Matt Sheean: I cannot imagine, let alone conceive of, a world in which no natural law binds me that does not somehow involve reference to my maleness.

Suppose that there were a natural law that said, "Always take every opportunity to procreate."

(I'm not suggesting that there is such a law, or that anyone claims that there is such a law. I'm just supposing that there were such a law for the sake of illustration.)

This law would place obligations on you, but the specifics of those obligations would depend on which "opportunities to procreate" manifested themselves to you. These opportunities, in turn, would depend on all sorts of accidental features of your situation. Included among these accidental features would be your maleness.

Thus, your maleness would place natural-law-based obligations on you, but this would happen without needing the natural law to "involve reference" to your maleness.

Matt Sheean said...

How about if I said that I can't make sense of my obligations without reference to my maleness?

Suppose in every instance I took to procreate, I presented my nose to my lady partner, for her to tickle it.

Paul Amrhein said...

I’m trying to catch up with some of the threads of this conversation. So I’m starting from scratch.
The soul is the form of the body. Or better, my soul is the form of my body. To what extent, if at all, can changes in the body affect its form, its essence? If one loses a limb, for example, would this be reflected in the form? My hunch is that it would not. But I have no argument to support that hunch. (Some faiths fear the loss of a limb believing that it will be permanent, I.e. Carrying through to the next stage of life.)

rank sophist said...

Matt,

Anyways, none of this gets to the key point which was that I cannot imagine, let alone conceive of, a world in which no natural law binds me that does not somehow involve reference to my maleness.

I would echo Tyrrell's comment.

Natural law obligations are primarily about one's essence as a rational animal, without reference to any accidents. However, in order to act on natural law obligations in history, accidents must be taken into account. That is, natural law relies on theoria (knowledge of form), while actions in line with natural law rely on praxis (practical application of theoria via accidents).

So, for example, it makes perfect sense to say that one should be modest. This is a universal law of human nature. But particular instances of modesty rely on accidents (i.e. covering certain accidental areas of the body) and customs. Or take lust. Its wrongness is again dictated by our essential constitution as rational animals. But the way it plays out in history always relates to physical accidents. A man's lust and a woman's lust are therefore different, for example, even though they don't differ in terms of natural law obligations.

How about if I said that I can't make sense of my obligations without reference to my maleness?

And this would explain your comment here. Moral obligations must make reference to accidents in order to take place in history. Therefore, your maleness is part of your natural law decision-making. Critically, though, your maleness in itself would not give you specific obligations that differed from those of a woman, even though you must always take your maleness into account while acting on those obligations. If the natural law binding you differed from that binding a woman, then it would seem that men and women are different species.

Finally,

What I mean is that rape, as a distinctive act, only makes sense with reference to the telos of the parts involved.

I'll ask someone to correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm not sure that telos is a coherent idea when reductively applied to accidents. It seems clearer to me that it would apply to substances primarily. Given the teleology of my substance qua sexual being, procreation is good and what frustrates procreation is bad. To me, reducing the issue to a "teleology of accidents" smacks of biologism, if it's coherent at all.

Paul Amrhein said...

More puzzles.

How do hyle and morphe relate to act and potency? Both are composites of act and potency?

If there is something immortal or immaterial in the human being, why can it not act without the body?

Scott said...

@Paul Amrhein:

"How do hyle and morphe relate to act and potency? Both are composites of act and potency?"

Matter is potency (prime matter is pure potency) and it's actualized by form, although of course a form may also be in potency to other actualities. According to A-T, the distinction between potency and act is more general than that between matter and form; angels, for example, are immaterial, but their essence still stands in potency to their existence. (Scotus disagreed and regarded angels as material in a certain sense arguably different from Aquinas's.)

"If there is something immortal or immaterial in the human being, why can it not act without the body?"

It can to a degree—just not in any way that depends on the bodily senses.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Scott

So let’s see, secondary matter (hyle) can be a composite of act and potency, say for example with genotype (potency) and phenotype (act). And form (morphe) can be either, depending on whether it is considered in relation to hyle or to other things. The only things that can’t either switch between act and potency, or be both at once, are God and prime matter.

Scott said...

@Paul Amrhein:

Pretty much. Prime matter is pure potency and can't exist by itself, and God is pure act and can't not exist. In between, everything that's in act also includes potencies that need to be actualized (if at all) by something extrinsic.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Scott
A caution. Reviewing SM I find on page 38;

“Finally, act is prior to potency insofar as while there can be nothing that is pure potency — since, if a thing were *purely* potential and in no way actual, it would not exist […] ”

So we have pure actuality, God, who cannot not exist. Then we have prime matter, which must, apparently, exist in some sense, but not independently. So, what is the actuality of prime matter? If matter is what individuates things, perhaps it is the number 1, the quantitative unit, the smallest limit. But that’s speculation.

Matt Sheean said...

Rank and Tyrrell,

I'm out in a cabin for a couple days, so I must be brief and won't reply as quickly as I have been.

I think that there is something that I want to say, but do not have the intellectual resources at the moment to say it. I am becoming increasingly muddled in my efforts to communicate what I wish to (and I think, a bit off the beaten path). So, I will request a bit of aid from the two of you (and Scott, Mr Green, et al) and concede as well to Rank his latest point about accidents and telos. I agree as well that whatever the natural law is for either sex, it must be the same principle for both, simply as a law to do with sex in itself as having procreation as it's end.

So why do I still think my comment back there at June 4, 10:17am still means something? What does it mean?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Dguller writes,

A Platonist would take a different position in which one’s true identity is independent of one’s physical existence, and is actually inhibited by one’s material characteristics such that the philosophical quest for wisdom is simultaneously a systematic stripping of incidental and physical qualities.

As a Platonist, I'm not sure this is correct. The Platonic viewpoint is much the same as the Christian in being two-sided. The material is a reflection and path to God, on the one hand, but when viewed in itself and for itself alone, on the other hand, it can be seen as a limitation and snare. Sometimes Platonism stresses the dangers of the flesh, whilst at other times it stresses its divine symbolism. Our bodies are a part of us and a reflection of highest nature (which is itself a reflection of the divine) - so they are sacred and can be positively sacramental, to the Platonist. But this is when they are viewed properly, in their full spiritual context. If this vision is lost - if our mindset is essentially idolatrous - our material aspects can be a dangerous snare.

Paul Amrhein said...

Speculation on prime and secondary matter. Prime matter is matter that is divisible but undivided, as a single intact stem cell is divisible into many types of specialized cells. Counting begins with specialization, with the manifestation of *types*, with delimitation, with quantity, (defined by Aristotle as that which is mutually external.)

dguller said...

Jeremy:

The Platonic viewpoint is much the same as the Christian in being two-sided. The material is a reflection and path to God, on the one hand, but when viewed in itself and for itself alone, on the other hand, it can be seen as a limitation and snare. Sometimes Platonism stresses the dangers of the flesh, whilst at other times it stresses its divine symbolism. Our bodies are a part of us and a reflection of highest nature (which is itself a reflection of the divine) - so they are sacred and can be positively sacramental, to the Platonist.

Not necessarily. If our true identity is as an immaterial knower of Forms, then the body is necessarily an impediment and impairment of our true selves. That is why Plato and Plotinus wrote that philosophy is necessary to purify our true selves as much as possible from the contaminating influences of sensory and material reality, which present the Forms in a compromised and deficient manner as the image of the archetype. Plato said that the goal of philosophy is to become like the Forms and God, which is precisely what occurs during knowledge, which is an immaterial process. That is a core feature of Platonism as far as I am concerned.

Scott said...

@Paul Amrhein:

"A caution."

I'm not sure what you're cautioning me about; what you find on p. 38 of SM is exactly what I've already said.

"So, what is the actuality of prime matter?"

According to Aristotelian and Thomistic hylemorphism, all physical substances are compounds of form and matter, and thus ultimately of form and prime matter. Neither exists independently, although forms do (according to Thomism) subsist in the divine intellect.

But the fact that prime matter doesn't exist independently doesn't mean it doesn't exist at all. Bill Vallicella points out an interesting analogy between prime matter and consciousness.

"If matter is what individuates things, perhaps it is the number 1, the quantitative unit, the smallest limit. But that’s speculation."

I'm not sure what you mean by that.

"Speculation on prime and secondary matter. Prime matter is matter that is divisible but undivided, as a single intact stem cell is divisible into many types of specialized cells. Counting begins with specialization, with the manifestation of *types*, with delimitation, with quantity, (defined by Aristotle as that which is mutually external.)"

I'm not sure what you mean by that, either.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Scott

Oh dear, I’m not being very clear here at all. And “caution” was clumsy. Maybe its being tired. But if I’m not getting through to *you* I should probably stop and regroup.

Scott said...

@Paul Amrhein:

No worries, mate. Take it up afresh when you're ready.

Matt Sheean said...

Peeking back in for some additions to my last comment.

1. I said "concede..the point" in my last comment, which implies that I am more firmly opposing what you (Rank and Tyrrell) are saying (a Freudian slip, perhaps, owing to a competitive streak). I'm really not sure what I think about where the whole argument should lead at this point. I'm only sure that I have just led myself into a dead end. I'm enjoying the back and forth here as it is helping find some holes in my learning.

2. I read the First Things article by Hannon you linked to earlier, Rank, and I liked it. I said similar things in a much cruder manner to a friend a year ago or so in a conversation about the same issue. If I agree with the article, I think I must disagree with myself in the last few posts.

3. Perhaps a story will illustrate the feelings that are driving me to continue commenting on this topic (feelings without much coherent expression so far). A friend is in the military, and has spoken to me about the difficulties in his branch resulting from the addition of women. Rape, as well as (to a lesser extent) opportunistic accusations of it, have been a big problem, not to mention the far more common occurrence of good old consensual but entirely inappropriate liaisons. I should say at this point that I do not have a problem with women in combat roles per se, but this circumstance my friend describes has seemed to me to be the result of treating particular sexes as if they were like a skin color (as if they needed to be "integrated" by law in the same manner). Of course, the soldiers should learn to behave themselves, but simply saying that in response seems a bit calloused when they are being thrown willy nilly into unambiguously tempting circumstances. What is becoming more clear to me here is that this has much less to do with whether or not, technically, the sex is an accident or mode rather than of the essence. At any rate, I'm still trying to parse out why I'm inclined toward treating the masculine and the feminine as somewhat normative concepts.

Sobieski said...

I found a text where St. Thomas explicitly talks about the masculine and feminine as accidents:

“There are three genera of accidents: some are caused by the principles of the species, and are called proper accidents, for example, risibility in man; others are caused by the principles of the individual, and this class is spoken of [in two ways]: first, those that have a permanent cause in their subject, for example, masculine and feminine, and other things of this kind, and these are called inseparable accidents; secondly, those that do not have a permanent cause in their subject, such as to sit and to walk, and these are called separable accidents. Now no accident of any kind ever constitutes part of the essence of a thing, and thus an accident is never found in a thing’s definition. Hence we understand the essence (quod quid est) of a thing without thinking of any of its accidents. However, the species cannot be understood without the accidents which result from the principles of the species [i.e., the proper accidents], although the species can be understood without the accidents of the individual, even the inseparable accidents.” (Q. de anima 12 ad. 7)

So I wasn’t correct to say being male or female is intrinsic to one’s substance in the sense of being essential to it. Rather, masculine and feminine are inseparable accidents that arise due the disposition of substance to further adventitious perfections (i.e., accidents):

“[S]imple forms such as the angels and the human soul, even though they are subsisting beings, can, nevertheless, be subjects inasmuch as they possess some degree of potentiality which enables them to receive new perfection.” (Ibid., 6 ad. 1)

and

“Although human souls are forms in their entirety, nevertheless they are forms individuated in bodies, and are multiplied numerically because of the multiplication of bodies. Consequently, nothing prevents certain accidents which do not belong to the entire species from belonging to these forms inasmuch as they are individuated.” (Ibid., 6 ad. 4)

What determines gender, then, isn’t substantial form according to St. Thomas, but the principle of individuation or matter. Specifically, I would think it would be the genetic material into which a soul is infused.

“Matter is in potency to forms with respect to a certain order, not that it receives different substantial forms in a certain order, but because it receives whatever is proper to a superior form only through the medium of what is proper to an inferior form, as was shown. In this way matter is understood to receive other forms by way of the forms of the elements.”

Here I think he is talking about substantial perfections vs. accidental so I am not clear whether this statement is applicable, but it seems to me the matter into which the soul is infused accounts for the accident of gender.

As to why one’s soul and body are unique to each individual, I would venture to guess that when the soul is enmattered, the resulting substance is perfected with certain inseparable accidents (e.g., masculinity) in such that they cannot be (naturally) changed or fitted to another body.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Scott

I’ve ordered David Oderberg’s *Real Essentialism* and a dictionary of Scholastic philosophy. I’d like to get *Analytical Thomism* for Oderberg’s essay *Instantaneity Without Instants*, but I’ll have to save up for that. Mainly I’m going to try to trace out how all things Aristotelean-Thomistic follow from or relate to finality. That should get me up to speed on the *basics*. Then maybe I’ll have something more coherent to say about prime and secondary matter.

Anonymous said...

@rank sophist, June 6, 12:32 p.m. Or anyone else.

“Given the teleology of my substance qua sexual being, procreation is good and what frustrates procreation is bad.”

The very existence of a settled homosexual predisposition seems to challenge the assumption that men and women are by nature sexually directed to one another for the purpose of procreation. Here are men and women, homosexuals, who are not so directed and who therefore appear to be an exception to the law that restricts sexual conduct to the end of procreation. If the homosexual’s settled predisposition is not to persons of the opposite sex, what reason is there to claim that their sexual behavior is bound by the same rule that pertains to heterosexuals? This is the standard opening “move” of people who want to make an exception of homosexual conduct.

The counter-move, as I understand it, is to say that a settled same-sex predisposition is an aberration, a defect, a freak of biological nature, etc., and as such does not affect the moral law that is derivable from biological sexuality as it is ought to be, i.e., as directed toward members of the opposite sex. What applies to human sexual nature as such necessarily applies to homosexuals too, since they are first of all human beings. Maybe we can say, in line with the discussion in this thread, that the accident of homosexuality does not exempt homosexuals from the laws that pertain to their essential sexual nature, which is other-sex directed. Homosexuals, strange as it may sound, are essentially heterosexuals by virtue of being human, even if accidentally they predominately have sexual feelings for persons of their own sex. In a sense, then, the homosexual is restrained by a double ought. He ought to have been born heterosexual, but, failing that, he still ought to conduct himself according to the same natural law that pertains to his essential sexual nature as "read" from the heterosexual norm. What that means practically for homosexuals is that they are to have no sexual relations, period, for their entire lives - a somewhat severe-sounding requirement. Taking the equivocal use of “nature” into account - which, if you ask me, causes most of the bafflement in this dispute - I suppose we can say that the homosexual is biologically unnatural (despite his obviously being a product of nature) because he is not what we should expect a human being to be (heterosexual); and his same-sex conduct is ethically unnatural because it violates the law of procreative sex, which, again, derives from human nature as we should expect it to be.

Needless to say, this argument doesn’t go down well. The retort it often elicits is that it is patently circular: Homosexual conduct is contrary to the natural moral law because the homosexual predisposition to such conduct is a defect of biological nature; and the homosexual predisposition is a defect of biological nature because homosexual conduct is contrary to natural moral law (again, as derived from what is presumed to be non-defective sexuality). What motivates this circular argument - so the retort goes - is that homosexuality _has_ to be characterized as defective if the advocate of natural law is to continue to argue that natural law is ultimately rooted in human sexual nature biologically construed. On this fundamental point, biological sexuality cannot be essentially defined as admitting alternatives or ambiguities of any kind. If it cannot be shown, apart from the moral law itself, that the homosexual predisposition is biologically defective (and that would have to mean something more than statistically fewer), then it appears that the natural law advocate is deriving an ought from an is which in turn is delimited and defined by that very same ought.

And this is the point in the argument where I appeal to the “obvious,” which is to say, the point where I basically admit defeat. No doubt this is a muddle. So how does one break out of it?

Paul Amrhein said...

@Anonymous
I don’t know if this helps but somewhere in *The Last Superstition* professor Feser says that the homosexual ought to marry a member of the opposite sex. As I recall he does not go on at length about this. And I haven’t given much thought to the issue. I’m still trying to master the basics here. There’s more to say but I seem to have writer’s fatigue or something.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Paul. Just getting acquainted with this blog. I'm sure Prof. Feser has answered my concerns many times, since they're probably fairly elementary. But I thought I'd take the lazy route and let myself get sorted out by one or more of the eager commentators here. It'll give them something to practice on. It does seem, though, that this thread has pretty much petered out. Oh well....

Mr. Green said...

Paul Amrhein: I’d like to get *Analytical Thomism* for Oderberg’s essay *Instantaneity Without Instants*

Oderberg has lots of his work available via his website: ‎www.davidsoderberg.co.uk/home/articles, so you can at least read "Instantaneous Change without Instants". If you can "get" it, you're a better man than I.

Scott said...

@Paul Amrhein:

"I’ve ordered … a dictionary of Scholastic philosophy."

Wuellner's, I hope. It's quite good.

Scott said...

I'd also recommend his Summary of Scholastic Principles.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Mr. Green

Beautiful! Thank-You

I’m hoping it will help me with two things;
1- the idea of simultaneity especially with regard to causal series *per se*
2- I have a pet peeve about “instantaneous velocity” in that I don’t think there is such a thing. What if there’s a better metaphysical foundation for the notion of instantaneous change?

@Scott
Great! Glad for your recommendation. Ordered it. I'll put it at the top of the queue when it gets here.

rank sophist said...

Matt,

I'm confused on the subject too, and I'm still not sure if my comment about teleology and accidents was completely accurate. Regardless, I think this has been a profitable exchange.

Sobieski,

Interesting quotes you dug up there. As far as I know, Aristotle believed masculinity to be a proper accident, so this would be a way that Aquinas distanced himself from his more sexist predecessor. I could be wrong, though.

Anon at 1:04 PM

The very existence of a settled homosexual predisposition seems to challenge the assumption that men and women are by nature sexually directed to one another for the purpose of procreation.

I deny that there is anything like a "settled homosexual predisposition". In fact, I don't believe in "heterosexuality", either. As I said earlier in the combox, I agree with Michael Hannon's thesis that sexual orientation is a social construct.

However, even if sexual orientation had some kind of basis in biology, it still wouldn't tell us anything about morality. The moral supremacy of procreation doesn't rely on a "natural attraction" between men and women, and it would continue to exist even if that attraction did not. It derives from our nature as rational animals.

This is the standard opening “move” of people who want to make an exception of homosexual conduct.

Indeed. But the natural law argument against homosexual acts does not rely on sexual orientation, even if such a thing were to exist. (Also, if it does exist, it was only discovered in the last few hundred years. Sexual orientation was a foreign concept to the ancients who actually developed natural law theory.)

His same-sex conduct is ethically unnatural because it violates the law of procreative sex, which, again, derives from human nature as we should expect it to be.

Yes. Although I don't think it's necessary to bring biology into it, or to speak of people being "born" (properly or improperly) into a particular sexual orientation. People who engage in homosexual behavior, or who experience homosexual attraction, are obviously humans. Therefore, they are bound by the natural laws of human nature, regardless of what their passions dictate.

Homosexual conduct is contrary to the natural moral law because the homosexual predisposition to such conduct is a defect of biological nature; and the homosexual predisposition is a defect of biological nature because homosexual conduct is contrary to natural moral law

Actually, homosexual conduct is contrary to natural law because it is fundamentally non-procreative. Animals, as finite material beings, are subject to death. In order for an animal species to continue to exist, it must procreate. That is the core purpose of sex. A secondary purpose is that it bonds a husband and wife together in a unique way, and as such is an expression of love. Without the procreative aspect, though, even this bond-seeking is disordered.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Dguller,

When I talk of Platonism I don't just mean isolated readings of Plato and Plotinus, but the entire Platonic tradition from Pythagoras and Plato to the Cambridge Platonists, Coleridge, and beyond. I fully agree with what Dr. Feser writes about the need for a tradition of great interpreters to bring out all that is implicit in the tradition.

Anyway, I'm not sure our true identity is simply an immaterial knower of forms, for Platonism. This leaves the nature of the body as a mystery. For the Platonist, our bodies, and our senses, are a reflection of our higher being. They are also, in a sense, part of the full possibilities and nature of being a man. They are a snare and a danger only when we view them in themselves and for themselves. In reality they are a reflection of the divine and a path to the divine. The problem is that, what the Christians would call, fallen man has a tendency to view the material, the flesh, in an idolatrous way. This is why, as in Christianity, some Platonists have stressed the evils of the flesh. But the perspective being invoked is one of spiritual efficacy - a decidedly relative approach, that neglects certain complicating truths for the sake of easier assimilation.

Mr. Green said...

Dguller: First, how would you determine when something is “important to human nature”?

I'm thinking in an ordinary sort of sense, such as that our rational side is better or more important than our physical side (so as to sacrifice a bodily good for an intellectual or spiritual one, for example), or looking after your children is more important than looking after your pets; or that someone's personality is more important than the colour of his hair or skin, and so on.

Second, would you say that all bodily functions are “some sort of reflection of something higher”? Would you say that defecation and urination are equally mirrors of the divine?

Well, I suspect that we could always come up with something; this is in some ways a poetic approach, and of course everything resembles God in at least being something that exists. There are different ways in which thing reflect higher degrees of being: for example, the ability of mortal creatures to reproduce has traditionally been seen as a way of reflecting God's eternal life in organisms with a limited lifespan. Or the great variety of beings reflects God's infinite being even though each one by itself has just a limited nature. Expelling bodily waste suggests God's rejection of evil — in this case, I would more likely see the parallel as a material reflection of how we should act on a spiritual level, by knowing or willing what is good, or taking the good from what we receive and pushing away the bad.

First, I thought that God’s masculinity was simply a manner of speaking. There is no reason that I know of as to why God could not be considered a mother

He indeed can, in certain ways; and there are passages of Scripture that do say that God is like a mother. But it says He is a father. Certainly in Christian terms, this is explicit (Ephesians 3:15), and of course the first person of the Trinity is explicitly the Father. (Also, good point about human fatherhood being analogous to divine fatherhood, not a metaphor; I agree.)

I’m not sure about that. “He” would still have begotten his children in the past, and “he” could still have children in the future

Yes, but there's more to the relationship of being a father than just begetting. The relationship that that causes endures perpetually, because the people involved do (insofar as their souls continue to exist even if their bodies die). Admittedly, my thoughts here are somewhat tenuous, but it seems to me that there is something more persistent about being a father or a mother than some other kinds of relationship. (E.g. it's unlikely, but theoretically possible that you could go from being a subject of Queen Elizabeth to being the king and she the subject, because the monarchic relationship is inherently a temporary one.)

Mr. Green said...

Matt Sheean: To turn to something happier, another feature of sex that is puzzling is that no other bodily function is shared by the species. There are not some of us with half a digestive tract.

Well, I can't think of anything as starkly binary in the way reproduction is, but there are all sorts of things that a human can accomplish only with the co-operation of other people (you can't tickle yourself!)...


Even if my being male is, technically, an accident, it is strangely more important than my being white. Though perhaps my having a heart is also strangely more important than my having an appendix though both are essential.

Your heart is more important than your appendix because you can live without the latter but not the former, which is a pretty important point. On the other hand, it's what's outside that counts — that is, in one way it doesn't matter whether you have a heart or some artificial stand-in (as long as it works); whereas it does matter whether you produce offspring in the natural way or whether you get random people to submit genetic material to a lab. So again it seems we come back to human relationships. And that's how I would treat your previous comment you referred to: as you said, there are natural relations between mother, father, and child — not just physically, but mentally or spiritually too — or rather, personally (as a whole); if a machine, say, can substitute for your heart or your skin, fine, but by definition a personal relationship entail moral obligations on the persons.

George LeSauvage said...

@rank:

While I'm generally sympathetic to the Hannon article you linked, I think it's a bit too much to say that the concept of hetero/homosexual orientation is wholly new. What of Aristophanes's passage in the Symposium? Surely that posits such an innate orientation.

@Anon:

"What that means practically for homosexuals is that they are to have no sexual relations, period, for their entire lives..."

Along the lines of rank's post, I must point out that this is another very recent notion. Oscar Wilde wouldn't have understood it, let alone Edward II. No one thought, until about my lifetime, that being homosexual precluded all sex with women. (And that was, and is, true in reverse; note the record of sailors, schoolboys, and prisoners.)

Anonymous said...

@ rank sophist. Thank you very much for your thorough response and for the link to Michael Hannon's fascinating article. I can't say I understand everything I've read, but it does seem clear that much of my previous comment was, to say the least, "retro" in its basic assumptions and vocabulary. I’ll have to make some major readjustments before commenting on this subject again.

Matt Sheean said...

This was said earlier, by Tyrrell

" A person with fair skin might be rationally obliged to use sunscreen in a situation where someone with dark skin is not."

And more recently mr green has referred to tickling as something that, like sex, requires the cooperation of two individuals.

I think that the case of sunscreen and the case of tickling both collapse pretty quickly as analogies. In the case of sunscreen there is no duty for the fair skinned person to use it, as there is nothing in the nature of fair skin to tend toward cancer as a rule (my Irish relatives have difficulty with skin cancer no matter how careful they have been, but my fair Norwegian relatives haven't had to worry about it at all).

Tickling is a form of play, and if sexual satisfaction were to be pursued in the same way that that tickling is, it would be an example of the kind of sexual behavior that violates the natural law.

Mr green,

I am thankful for your comment, especially the second paragraph. I must take some time to think about it.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Matt Sheean: I think that the case of sunscreen ... collapse[s] pretty quickly as [an] analog[y]. In the case of sunscreen there is no duty for the fair skinned person to use it, as there is nothing in the nature of fair skin to tend toward cancer as a rule (my Irish relatives have difficulty with skin cancer no matter how careful they have been, but my fair Norwegian relatives haven't had to worry about it at all).

Could you elaborate on why this makes the analogy collapse?

It is true that new information can change which action is rational. If all you know is that your skin is fair, then certain precautions are rational. But if you learn more about your genetic predispositions to skin cancer, then the most rational course of action might change. You are rationally obliged to update on any new evidence, and new evidence can "screen off" old evidence. (Learning that you are genetically immune to skin cancer makes your fair skin irrelevant to the question of whether you should use sunscreen to avoid skin cancer.)

More to the point, deciding how to apply whatever information you have requires your using your human rationality. So you always have an obligation to apply rationality in deciding what to do with your skin. It may be that that application of rationality will tell you that you have nothing to worry about (because of your family history, say), but you still had an obligation to exercise your rationality to be justified in reaching this conclusion.

Paul Amrhein said...

This is off-topic but...

Cause-Effect and Reversibility

The brick, hurled at the window, could turn into a bouquet of flowers not because cause and effect are “loose and separate” but because of reversibility, no? That is, it is not only “conceptually” possible for the brick to so transform. It is physically possible, according to contemporary physics, for its constituent particles so to re-arrange themselves, or to be so re-arranged. As far as I know, there is no scientific explanation of why the brick doesn’t so transform spontaneously, or why, to use the stock example, the smoke does not go back into the pipe spontaneously. It is only claimed that this has never been observed or that it contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. I know it may sound like I’ve been smoking something, and this could be clearer. But…

Paul Amrhein said...

Reversibility and Identity

Doesn’t the fact that things don’t willy-nilly reverse themselves favor the idea that there is such a thing as identity over time? The brick in smashing through the window retains its identity. The pane does not. There’s an asymmetry in this case. It seems to me that the resources of Scholasticism can be brought to bear fruitfully here where science is silent. Okay enough.

rank sophist said...

Anon,

No problem. It's an interesting topic.

George,

The traditional interpretation of Aristophanes's speech is that it's a joke. Which fits with his plays, which are outrageous subversions Greek culture. His "theory" of the basis for sexual attraction is a parody of the sexual practices of his time, and should not be taken seriously. Further, although he does speak of people naturally being drawn to the same sex, he also speaks of natural pederasty.

It's hard to resist the temptation to read his speech in light of Freud, but it must be done. There have always been people who've engaged in homosexual behavior, and Aristophanes is merely presenting a ridiculous explanation for it. He is not arguing for Freudian orientation essentialism.

dguller said...

Jeremy:

When I talk of Platonism I don't just mean isolated readings of Plato and Plotinus, but the entire Platonic tradition from Pythagoras and Plato to the Cambridge Platonists, Coleridge, and beyond.

They are not isolated readings, but rather pervasive throughout the Platonic corpus, and certainly far more substantial than the claim that material reality is something to be cherished and embraced as an imperfect image of the divine. In Platonism, it is always about intellectual union with the divine, which requires a maximal separation and purification from material reality.

I fully agree with what Dr. Feser writes about the need for a tradition of great interpreters to bring out all that is implicit in the tradition.

Yes. Even Plato was considered by Platonic thinkers to have not invented “Platonism”, but rather to have been its more original and fundamental expositor.

Anyway, I'm not sure our true identity is simply an immaterial knower of forms, for Platonism.

Plato argued that to see the soul as it truly is would require one to “view it not in its condition as maimed by association with the body and other evils, as we are now viewing it, but as it is when it has become purified” (Republic 611b). Although the body is a necessary aspect of our material existence, there is a recognition that we also have an immaterial existence, which preceded our material existence, and will continue after our material existence ends. There is also a recognition that our material body somehow inhibits or interferes with our true self, which is fundamentally immaterial. Why bother emphasize the need for purification of bodily images and sensations unless this was a necessary path to achieve our true self? And throughout the Platonic tradition, our true self is an immaterial knower of Forms, which is precisely the ultimate goal of philosophy. The only ambiguity here is whether one must know the Good (or the One) in order to know the Forms at all due to their complex interconnectedness with one another, or if such knowledge is impossible, because the Good (or the One) is fundamentally unknowable due to its transcendence beyond being and intelligibility.

For the Platonist, our bodies, and our senses, are a reflection of our higher being.

Our bodies are a “reflection of our higher being” only insofar as they are enmattered forms. It is the forms within material beings that are the image of higher being, which is ultimately the immaterial Forms (either virtually present in the One or eminently present in the Intellect, according to Plotinus). After all, Platonism of all kinds associates being with intelligibility, and thus the highest being is associated with the highest degree of intelligibility. The One is beyond being, because it is beyond intelligibility, and vice versa. It is a higher form of being, which is unintelligible to finite intellects, being simply inadequate to the task of achieving union with the One.

Now, bodies and the senses are considered to be the lowest level of reality, and the minimal amount of intelligibility that they possess is exclusively due to the presence of enmattered forms within them. Thus, bodies are images of higher being only insofar as they possess forms that are instantiations of eternal and immaterial Forms. The problem is that matter is an essential principle of bodies, and thus must exist in some sense. Furthermore, its existence must be somehow derived ultimately from the One, and the paradox is precisely how this can occur. In other words, if bodies are reflections of higher reality only insofar as they possess forms, then the matter of the bodies must not be a reflection of higher reality at all. And yet, the fact that matter exists in some sense must mean that matter must also be a reflection of higher reality after all. Hence, the paradox of matter in Platonism, which has been present since Plato’s khora in the Timaeus.

dguller said...

They are a snare and a danger only when we view them in themselves and for themselves. In reality they are a reflection of the divine and a path to the divine.

But the bodies themselves are not a path to the divine. The presence of enmattered forms within bodies is the path to the divine, because the divine is the highest intelligible reality, and matter is the polar opposite. In other words, when using bodies as tools for purification, it is precisely focusing upon their intelligible forms, and excluding their material aspects altogether, that represents the path to the divine.

George LeSauvage said...

@rank:

Of course it's a joke (hence the hiccoughs), presumably Plato hitting back for the Clouds. And I wasn't reading it in a Fraudian light. But I do think it implies that some people do have such preferences. That is the only point I was making. I think it's hard to say that no such concept existed before c 1850. That doesn't mean endorsing the current BS.

dguller said...

Mr Green:

I'm thinking in an ordinary sort of sense, such as that our rational side is better or more important than our physical side (so as to sacrifice a bodily good for an intellectual or spiritual one, for example), or looking after your children is more important than looking after your pets; or that someone's personality is more important than the colour of his hair or skin, and so on.

To paraphrase Plato’s Socrates: you have given me examples of X when I have asked for a definition of X. ;)

Expelling bodily waste suggests God's rejection of evil — in this case, I would more likely see the parallel as a material reflection of how we should act on a spiritual level, by knowing or willing what is good, or taking the good from what we receive and pushing away the bad.

If the matter is one of poetics, then does the poetics actually correspond to something true about reality, or are you merely talking figuratively and metaphorically?

He indeed can, in certain ways; and there are passages of Scripture that do say that God is like a mother. But it says He is a father. Certainly in Christian terms, this is explicit (Ephesians 3:15), and of course the first person of the Trinity is explicitly the Father. (Also, good point about human fatherhood being analogous to divine fatherhood, not a metaphor; I agree.)

It seems that other than the New Testament, there is no other reason why God is a father and not a mother, even though he can be characterized as having maternal and paternal “properties”.

Yes, but there's more to the relationship of being a father than just begetting.

Begetting is necessary and sufficient to being a father. Certainly, there are other factors that would determine whether one was a good or bad father.

Admittedly, my thoughts here are somewhat tenuous, but it seems to me that there is something more persistent about being a father or a mother than some other kinds of relationship.

Wouldn’t the same be true of siblings, cousins, uncles, nephews, aunts, and any biological and familial relationship?

rank sophist said...

George,

The speech has been a subject of debate among those who've tried to create genealogies of sex. I personally don't find it to be convincing evidence of sexual orientation in the ancient world, particularly given Aristophanes's famous tendency to undermine social myths. But certain writers have taken it at face value, and they've provided arguments to that effect. I'm not well-versed enough in the debate to defend my position better than I already have. I just thought I should let you know that the Symposium speech has not been overlooked by these theorists.

Divine Frenzy said...

Sobieski,

Do my following paragraphs sound right to you?

Masculinity and femininity are inseparable accidents caused by the principle of individualization (matter) into which a soul is infused. They are not proper accidents determined by nature (the substantial form or soul.) The soul mentioned is the form of the body of a rational animal so this applies to all metaphysical humans’ genetic material inherited from their parents.

Our animality is the reason for being male or female for the purpose of reproduction, but our humanity, as rational animals, is the reason for our masculinity or femininity: being a man or a woman. Unlike non-rational animals, human reproduction is marital. Since it is marital, it is procreative and unitive.

A person instantiating the human nature is perfected with a certain inseparable accident, masculinity or femininity, in a way that the individual is not fungible with regards to sex: being a man or woman. In order words, the modes of being an actual human substance is being a man or a woman and this is determined by the matter into which the soul is infused. You are your sex and cannot be changed without ceasing to be you.

Catholic theology would affirm this as well, since Christ’s male sex is everlasting and enhypostatically united to him at the Incarnation. As a person instantiating the human nature, Christ’s masculinity is intrinsic and essential to His person, rather than nature. It is the reason only men can be priest, because only they are capable of acting in the person of Christ.

After reading that, I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts on transgenderism as a result of genetic disorders. I'm brainstorming this lately. (I noticed a comment referencing hermaphrodites went unanswered.) I think a distinction needs to be made between the natural modes of being a human substance and the personal mode of existing as a man or woman.

If I’m correct, a person who is intersex has a sex by virtue of being a human substance, but primarily due to the defects in matter, it is difficult to know, enhance, or express their sex properly. This second potentiality of being capable of acting according to their sex is damaged, but the first potentiality of being a certain sex remains. You wrote that “masculine and feminine are inseparable accidents that arise due the disposition of substance to further adventitious perfections”, but this situation is a case where furthering adventitious perfections is thwarted at the root. I don’t think anything, except the resurrection, could completely restore this second potentiality, because anything on this side of the grave would involve hardcore genetic engineering.

This sounds similar to me to the issue of whether it is possible for two persons to share one body. We know from a hylomorphic theory of personal identity that every person has their own body. So in the case of a seeing two persons with what looks like one body, they truly have two bodies. In this case, is it possible for someone to truly be a sex, yet as a result of genetic defects, even sex chromosomes disorders, not seem like they do. I look forward to your thoughts!

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: The very existence of a settled homosexual predisposition seems to challenge the assumption that men and women are by nature sexually directed to one another for the purpose of procreation.

By "settled" do you mean "cannot be trained out of"? Even assuming that, as RS says, that's irrelevant to the moral question. We don't say of someone who has lost his appetite that he is "heterodigestive" or that there's nothing wrong with pursuing an "alternative dietstyle". Such a person has exactly the same moral duty as anyone else to keep himself healthy and fed, regardless of how he happens to "feel" about it. Of course, this isn't circular because it's quite obvious what role feeding and digestion play in human biology; likewise, it's equally clear how sexual reproduction works (whether someone likes it or not).

George LeSauvage: While I'm generally sympathetic to the Hannon article you linked, I think it's a bit too much to say that the concept of hetero/homosexual orientation is wholly new. What of Aristophanes's passage in the Symposium? Surely that posits such an innate orientation.

Well, the idea of recent cultural constructs is in some ways itself a recent cultural construct! But I think RS and Hannon are largely correct in saying that there was nothing quite like the concept as it is generally thought of today. Obviously people knew that human beings are typically attracted to the opposite sex, and most human beings mate and raise families. And as even Aristophanes's speech notes, the one is not dependent on the other.

I think that the modern problem is thinking of it as an "orientation". Hannon uses the word this way too, but of course the obvious biological fact is that every human being is orientated towards the opposite sex. Our feelings may or may not match that orientation, but that doesn't (or shouldn't) drive anything. Interestingly, I notice that Hannon's point is a parallel or spin-off of one of the Profeser's recurring themes: the modern attempt to reject teleology led in science to free-floating "laws of physics"; likewise, it's led in psychology to a free-floating "law of heterosexuality" — which, having no solid philosophical foundation, is naturally — or should I say "unnaturally"? — proving difficult to support.

(I'll also quibble that "fluid" is the wrong term for human reactions or psychology, because it implies there is no proper or natural state at all. Human behaviour is surprisingly malleable, but of course there is a state or range of states in which it ought to exist.)

And I wasn't reading it in a Fraudian light.

I'll assume that wasn't a Fraudian slip.

Matt Sheean said...

Tyrrell,

I think that, in this case, what you said makes the disanalogy more clear. In the case of sex and natural law the question has to do with how I should shepherd my potencies into actuality (should I become a father or a monk?). But, in the case of skin, at least as we are talking about it now, the question is what I should do just in case I have a defect, or privation, that might be statistically correlated with my skin color.

George LeSauvage said...

@Mr Green:

"And I wasn't reading it in a Fraudian light.

I'll assume that wasn't a Fraudian slip"


Wholly intentional.

My take on this is that it is habit, in the sense used here. But lifelong habits become so ingrained that they are too hard to break; often impossible. (There was a time when I gave up smoking every Lent. Can't do it anymore.)

The way it works is that each builds his own character, one decision at a time. After years, it's not longer a conscious decision. (Ari's ideas on this were some of the earliest things which attracted me to his philosophy.)

rank sophist said...

Mr. Green,

A tangential point, but I feel like making it.

Well, the idea of recent cultural constructs is in some ways itself a recent cultural construct!

Aquinas and Aristotle both theorized about the social construction of beliefs. Aristotle tackled the subject at length with his theory of "endoxa", the overriding opinions (or "cultural myths") of a society that build up over time. And Aquinas considers the subject a few times in passing. For example:

"Custom, and especially custom in a child comes to have the force of nature. As a result, what the mind is steeped in from childhood it clings to very firmly, as something known naturally and self-evidently" (SCG b1 ch11.1).

"[I]n some the reason is perverted by passion, or evil habit, or an evil disposition of nature; thus formerly, theft, although it is expressly contrary to the natural law, was not considered wrong among the Germans, as Julius Caesar relates" (ST IIa q94 a1).

"[B]y actions also, especially if they be repeated, so as to make a custom, law can be changed and expounded; and also something can be established which obtains force of law, in so far as by repeated external actions, the inward movement of the will, and concepts of reason are most effectually declared; for when a thing is done again and again, it seems to proceed from a deliberate judgment of reason. Accordingly, custom has the force of a law, abolishes law, and is the interpreter of law" (ST IIa q97 a3).

Jeremy Taylor said...

Dguller,

I'm afraid you are wrong. For the Platonist all reality, all the levels of being are a reflection of the divine. This is why the doctrine of the symbol is at the heart of Platonism: why Platonism has stressed that one may see through corporeal forms to the higher levels of being they reflect. If the corporeal were simply evil then this could not be. Nor would corporeal beauty be the splendour of the truth, as the Platonic tradition has always maintained.

Algis Uzdavinys, in his work Philosophy and Theurgy in Late Antiquity , quotes P. Struck to this effect:

The Image (eikon) marks the material world in its status as a fainter reproduction of a higher principle, but the world seen as symbol indicates its status as a manifestation - that is, something that works according to the logic of the trace, with the capacity to point us back up to the higher orders that produced it.

Certainly, it is primarily through form that one can glimpse higher realms of being, but this is not, for the most part, about abstraction - it is not a discursive process, as you seem to imply, but a vision of the creative imagination and of the Intellect. The corporeal form, contained in matter, is itself a part of and a reflection of a higher reality. This goes for the corporeal world as a whole as well.

Henry Corbin puts it this way:

Idolatry consists in immobilising oneself before an idol because one sees it as opaque, because one is incapable of discerning in it the hidden invitation that it offers to go beyond it. Hence, the opposite of idolatry would not consist in breaking idols, in practising a fierce iconoclasm aimed at every inner or external Image; it would rather consist in rendering the idol transparent to the light invested in it. In short, it means transmuting the idol into an icon.

This is symbolic of the entire Platonic position on the world. It is not evil or simply negative. It is a sacred and beautiful reflection of the divine, which can lead us to God. But fallen man has a propensity to view it as an idol, which makes the world a dangerous snare, from one point of view. This is why there is an ambiguity in the Platonic tradition, much as there is (for identical reasons) in the Christian

Now, I'm not saying the corporeal, the flesh, is anything but a small part even of creation. And even when one gazes on the full beauty and truth of nature, there will always be that spiritual hunger, and nostalgia, for something more. It has been said of that consummate Platonist, William Blake, that though he saw the world as a reflection of God, he was impatient of the limits of corporeal forms. But the point is the Platonist does not see the corporeal simply negatively. Indeed, it is the positive approach which is closer to more central truths of Platonism, with the negative approach you refer to being mostly a case of spiritual efficacy to guard against the distorted tendencies of fallen man.

Mr. Green said...

DGuller: To paraphrase Plato’s Socrates: you have given me examples of X when I have asked for a definition of X. ;)

Well, the examples are easier! But "important": of greater significance or value, in this case, regarding regarding a person overall, or considering his end as a whole. I think it's easier to see in terms of asking, "is this worth sacrificing for that?"

If the matter is one of poetics, then does the poetics actually correspond to something true about reality, or are you merely talking figuratively and metaphorically?

Yes. They are true figures and metaphors, of course! That is, they are "poetic" in that they are suitable or fitting in some sense, though perhaps not strictly metaphysically required. Sometimes certain trade-offs are necessary, but God creates order, not disorder; given the universe must be harmonious as a whole and in fact shows certain obvious signs of artistic coherence, we can look for such signs where they are less immediately obvious. In fact, this is what mathematicians and physicists do when they look for "elegance" — they are letting poetry (in a broad sense) be a guide to truth. Of course one should exercise discretion, since it's easy to get carried away.

It seems that other than the New Testament, there is no other reason why God is a father and not a mother, even though he can be characterized as having maternal and paternal “properties”.

It's a matter of yin/yang. For the classical theist, God is pure act, and thus better represented by the active principle in parenthood rather than the passive.

Begetting is necessary and sufficient to being a father. Certainly, there are other factors that would determine whether one was a good or bad father.

Begetting isn't even necessary, since you can establish the relationship by adoption. But it's sufficient to create the relationship of being a father; the very fact that there are further factors to being a good father proves there is more to it, right? Otherwise being a good father would be solely a matter of how well or successful one was at begetting.

Wouldn’t the same be true of siblings, cousins, uncles, nephews, aunts, and any biological and familial relationship?

Yes; in fact, I think it follows that it doesn't make sense for anyone's sex to change, because even if you aren't a father or mother, you are a son or a daughter, and so are partially defined by that specific relationship.

Jeremy Taylor said...

On Aristophanes speech from the Symposium, it might be worth noting that, from his extant work, Aristophanes' work was racy and often sexualised, but almost entirely heterosexual. From memory, his only allusions to homosexual acts are rare and disparaging. He also famously mocked and derided Socrates. So, there is something unusual going on in Plato's use of him in the Symposium.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Mr. Green,

You seem to be echoing the Platonic understanding of sexuality, albeit in a more Aristotelian framework. Very interesting.

http://www.sacredweb.com/articles/sw12_editorial.html

Mr. Green said...

Divine Frenzy: In order words, the modes of being an actual human substance is being a man or a woman and this is determined by the matter into which the soul is infused. You are your sex and cannot be changed without ceasing to be you.

I wonder what you'd base that inability to change in, since your matter can be changed in other ways while you still remain you. I take it you mean it's determined by the initial act of infusion; do you have any thoughts different from previous suggestions in this thread as to how it would persist apart from matter?

If I’m correct, a person who is intersex has a sex by virtue of being a human substance, but primarily due to the defects in matter, it is difficult to know, enhance, or express their sex properly.

Yes, I think that's right.

So in the case of a seeing two persons with what looks like one body, they truly have two bodies.

An interesting case (see also Feser's Meditations on the Fly). I am also reminded of the question of the resurrected cannibal: the supposed problem being that the same bodily matter belongs to both the cannibal and his victim — but surely what makes matter "yours" is by definition whether it is informed by your soul. It seems completely irrelevant whence it may have come.

dguller said...

Jeremy:

For the Platonist all reality, all the levels of being are a reflection of the divine.

But that is only because at any level of reality, there is the presence of instantiations or images of forms. That is what makes all levels of reality reflections of the divine.

This is why the doctrine of the symbol is at the heart of Platonism: why Platonism has stressed that one may see through corporeal forms to the higher levels of being they reflect.

Interesting that you speak of “corporeal forms” as the means by which one may reach “the higher levels of being”. Again, it is not matter or material beings as such, but rather form that is the means by which one attains the divine, according to Platonism.

If the corporeal were simply evil then this could not be.

I never said the corporeal world was “simply evil”. Only that whatever good is in it is a byproduct of the presence of form within material beings. In fact, material reality is the furthest reality from the One, according to Plotinus, and it is precisely because it is the level of reality in which the forms are the most diminished and masked.

Nor would corporeal beauty be the splendour of the truth, as the Platonic tradition has always maintained.

Care to cite any Platonists or Neoplatonists?

Certainly, it is primarily through form that one can glimpse higher realms of being, but this is not, for the most part, about abstraction - it is not a discursive process, as you seem to imply, but a vision of the creative imagination and of the Intellect.

First, I’m glad that you concede that I was correct that it is forms in material reality that are the means by which we reach “higher realms of being”.

Second, I never mentioned or implied that it was a “discursive process”. Discursive reasoning is saturated by duality, and thus cannot possibly attain the One.

dguller said...

Third, here are some quotations from Algis Uzdavinys’ Philosophy and Theurgy in Late Antiquity, which you have already cited, and which is perfectly consistent with everything that I have written:

“… purification and initation are inseparable, like the purification (katharsis) and separation (chorismos) in Plotinus’ philosophy. Since ta noeta, the noetic realities, are completely free (katharotaton) from body, the soul must separate (choriai) itself from body also, thereby becoming form (eidos) and formative power … Being completely purified is a stripping (aphairesis) of anything alien … and restoring one’s true identity: in this way, Plotinus says, ‘it becomes clear what we are made to be like and with what god we are identified’ …

“Plato himself argues that death is a release (lusis) and separation from the body … thus linking purification with the life of the philosopher who seeks wisdom and knowledge. However, death from above and death from below are not the same, according to Damascius: death as such is not identical with purification, only that death which detaches from the inferior … -- that is, the death which corresponds to initiation and ascent (anagoge)” (p. 45).

“For Plotinus, it is dialectic which constitutes the contemplative path upward to Intellect, the path by which the Forms (eide) descend from, and ascend to, the throne of the King. Since wisdom (Sophia) is an intellectual, purificatory, and anagogic activity which turns away from the things below, the dialectical wisdom (or the science of dialectic) enables the soul, when it is purified, to become an eidos belonging to the plentitude of God. In order to turn away from shadowy multiplicity and attain union with the Intellect, and finally with the One, the Soul must strip off what she put on in her descent” (p. 47).

Jeremy Taylor said...

Dguller,

You seem to be leaving out an important aspect of the Platonic doctrine of the form. All corporeal instances are, in a sense, formal (as, indeed, are all subtle instances). A form of a man includes all particular possibilities of man, corporeally manifested and not, as well as transcending and unifying such possibilities. The corporeal world is formal. One cannot glimpse prime matter, obviously, so all one can ever sense and know of the material world is corporeal forms. Obviously, one wishes to ultimately know the forms entire, of which the particulars are only a small part, but this does not mean the particular is nothing. It goes to make up the form and is a reflection of it.

I do think you are focusing too much on the discursive means of glimpsing Noetic truths. Indeed, Plato and Plotinus themselves focus on this means to truth somewhat too much, compared to the symbolic and sacramental. Iamblichus and the latter antique Platonists restored the correct balance, not to mention the Hermetica. The point is that a form is not simply an abstraction of all particular and individual instances, but includes these - properly unified and transcended. You are stressing too much the notion of form as abstraction, which would, if followed to its consequences, compromise the doctrine of the symbol that is at the centre of Platonic thought. Platonism, although this is somewhat obscured in Plotinus and Plato himself, although it has an important place for dialectic, tends to see the symbolic and the sacramental as the chief means to sanctification. And the symbolic stresses the role of the concrete and the particular as vehicles to the divine. Your emphasis on the abstract would seem to comprise this aspect of Platonism.

William Chittick, in writing of Ibn Arabi, says this which expresses the perspective of the whole broad Platonic tradition (of which the Sufis themselves are a part):

Imagination perceives the symbol is identical with what it symbolises, creation is the same as the Creator, the form is none other than the meaning, the body is the spirit, the locus of manifestation noting but God as manifest, and the image is the object. This perception...is unmediated by any rational process - it is a tasting, an unveiling, a witnessing, an insight....It is best exemplified in human experience precisely by concrete experience - tasting food, being carried away by music, falling in love. Theologically, imagination...achieves an incontrovertible understanding that the creature is God.
The mysteries of the universe do not lie primarily in the universal laws and principles, even though these are mysterious enough. What is most mysterious and miraculous about the universe is its concrete particularity, its every object and inhabitant, each of which is ultimately unfathomable.


Maybe I'm wrong, but I think your perspective would largely miss out of this central aspect of Platonism.

The quote that beauty of the splendour of the truth is from Plato himself, I believe. I have seen it so attributed in several, source, although I have not found from where it was quoted.

http://www.cslewis.org/journal/beauty-will-save-the-world-but-which-beauty/

As for the quotes about Plotinus, you are not taking on board what I said about salvic efficacy. For Platonism, as for all traditional mysticism, it is possible to become enlightened, sanctified, in this life. But not many can achieve this - and the world for all but the Saint does have its dangers. So, for many, escaping the world can do them much spiritual good. But this does not mean that this is the complete and comprehensive truth - even if some Platonists have put too much emphasis on it.

Jeremy Taylor said...

That link I posted to Mr. Green, which gives a more or less Platonic view on sexuality, makes a point pertinent to our current discussion, Dguller:

Sexuality, like all creation, is within the Cosmic Veil of Maya, and therefore contains a certain ambiguity. The ambiguity lies in the fact that, unless things are metaphysically transparent, their allure is seductive and illusory. Thus beauty can be perceived as a sacred theophany or can be viewed as an end itself, and thereby profaned. Sexuality, as a response to beauty, must therefore be sacralized, lest it be profaned as lust (“the expense of spirit in a waste of shame”, as Shakespeare described it). Thus, the sexual act is not in itself sinful, so long as its orientation is sacred and within the bounds of the Divine Law, but when it transgresses these bounds, it is considered sinful. This explains why the same tradition can contain two apparently contradictory perspectives (participative and penitential) regarding sexual conduct. For instance, the Pauline perspective within the Christian tradition emphasizes the blessing of conjugal procreation (because it is assumed to be a sacrament, and is within the prescribed bounds of matrimony), while the Augustinian perspective encourages abstinence (associating the sexual act primarily with carnal desires). Both these perspectives, despite their apparent contradiction, share the view that concupiscence is a profanation of the gift of sex. It places the flesh above the spirit, in an inversion of traditional morality (which places the spiritual above the material). The denial of transcendence—which characterizes modernism, throws open the gates of licentiousness, in a parody of true liberty.


All though the perspective in this passage here is more explicitly Vedantin and, then, Christian than Platonic, it expresses the Platonic position well. I did not mean to suggest that the world should not metaphysically transparent. But when it is viewed in such a light, which is its true reality, the Platonist holds no proto-Gnostic view that sees the world or the senses or flesh as simply evil or negative or limiting or illusory or a snare, and so on. In fact, the world in truth is for the Platonist, as for the Christian, Good, a reflection of and path to the divine.

Mr. Green said...

Rank Sophist: Aquinas and Aristotle both theorized about the social construction of beliefs.

Oh, indeed. Yet once again, the modern version falls short. As you pointed out in an earlier comment, there are two equal but opposite errors: to think that everything is fixed in a definite and obvious way (which suspiciously often seems to coincide with the proponent's own views or feelings); or else it's all arbitrary and to be defined as we see fit. Our present age is perhaps especially susceptible to both extremes because we (as a culture!) have lost our teleological sense of balance. Even the term "construction" connotes something standalone, that can be evaluated (if at all) in an environment of competing constructions; rather than something rooted in a human substance, a good habit or a bad habit.

dguller said...

Jeremy:

The corporeal world is formal. One cannot glimpse prime matter, obviously, so all one can ever sense and know of the material world is corporeal forms. Obviously, one wishes to ultimately know the forms entire, of which the particulars are only a small part, but this does not mean the particular is nothing. It goes to make up the form and is a reflection of it.

Again, none of this is inconsistent with anything that I have written. It is through the formal, i.e. intelligible, aspects of material reality that one reaches the divine, but not the material aspects per se. In other words, by focusing upon the transient and mutable particularity and individuality of material beings, then one is actually distancing oneself from the divine. That is precisely why Platonists of all stripes affirm that to reach the divine is to purify oneself of the material particularity of things and reach through their formal aspects to the divine via the intellect.

I do think you are focusing too much on the discursive means of glimpsing Noetic truths. Indeed, Plato and Plotinus themselves focus on this means to truth somewhat too much, compared to the symbolic and sacramental.

Plotinus focuses too much on discursive reasoning? He repeatedly denigrates its ability to reach the One due to its inherent duality and sequential unfolding over time. However, he does certainly affirm it as a necessary step to take to reach the union with the One, insofar as this is possible, because discursive reasoning can assist one in the habit of purifying oneself of material particulars to reach their formal aspects. And although Plato did affirm the importance of discursive reasoning, he saw it more as a tool of dialectic and dialogue between who individuals who become transformed by the discussion itself, and that this transformation would coincide with a unitary knowledge of the Good.

Iamblichus and the latter antique Platonists restored the correct balance, not to mention the Hermetica.

Yes, by making magic and ritual as essential parts of the purification process. But again, the purpose of such theurgic practices was to transform the individual’s intellect in a non-discursive fashion to achieve a unitary knowledge of the One or the Good, which inherently required the abandonment and jettisoning of material particulars as imperfect reflections of the divine. You continually imply that the material particulars themselves are treated as inherently positive and to be embraced and not abandoned or rejected, and yet no Platonist that I know of would share that view, other than perhaps some modern Romantics. And if Plato and Plotinus, the exemplary representatives of Platonism, both agree on this point, then anyone who rejects it should not be called a Platonist at all. Perhaps you should just call them Perennialists?

The point is that a form is not simply an abstraction of all particular and individual instances, but includes these - properly unified and transcended.

First, that seems to be more akin to Hegelianism than Platonism.

Second, the abstraction is not simply a mental construct, but rather corresponds to the divine reality by virtue of the divine ideas in the divine intellect.

You are stressing too much the notion of form as abstraction, which would, if followed to its consequences, compromise the doctrine of the symbol that is at the centre of Platonic thought.

First, I don’t recall mentioning “abstraction” at all.

Second, the symbol is “at the centre of Platonic thought”, but only when it is another term for form. Otherwise, it is a conventional association between a symbol and a thing, e.g. “a dog” is a symbol of a dog. So, again, form is central, and simply replacing it with a synonymous term does not change this.

dguller said...

Platonism, although this is somewhat obscured in Plotinus and Plato himself, although it has an important place for dialectic, tends to see the symbolic and the sacramental as the chief means to sanctification.

I agree with you, but only insofar as the ultimate goal of philosophy is self-transformation, which can be achieved through reaching the limits of discursive reasoning in a dialectical and dialogic engagement, as well as through other non-discursive spiritual exercises and practices. Depending upon the personality of the philosopher, one or the other broad class of practices would work better than the other, although I would imagine that most people would require both to some extent. Remember, though, that both discursive reasoning and non-discursive theurgic practices are designed to call to mind certain essential truths, which can only occur by transforming the mind into a new state of cognition that is non-propositional and non-representative, but rather unified with divine reality, insofar as this is possible. And since the mind is essentially immaterial, it follows that this transformation essentially involves our immaterial aspects, which are persistently thwarted by our material aspects, which is a common position in Platonism, and certainly one that you haven’t cited any ancient Platonists to rebut.

And the symbolic stresses the role of the concrete and the particular as vehicles to the divine. Your emphasis on the abstract would seem to comprise this aspect of Platonism.

Again, the concrete is a vehicle to the divine, i.e. it is a means of transportation. The ultimate goal is to unify with the divine, and thus leave the vehicle behind. The fact that this is not possible in the material world is not something that Platonists celebrate and cherish, but rather they see it as a perpetual frustration. Honestly, cite me an ancient Platonist, or Neoplatonist, that relishes in the material itself as something to be embraced wholeheartedly and never to be abandoned or rejected.

Theologically, imagination...achieves an incontrovertible understanding that the creature is God.

It seems that Ibn Arabi, with whom I am not very familiar with, is calling “imagination” what Platonists would call non-discursive intellect (or nous). It an immediate intellectual apprehension of a unified totality in its wholeness. According to Ibn Arabi, this faculty allows human beings to essentially see through material reality to the divine by directly experiencing the presence of the divine in the material, while retaining the transcendence of the divine from the material. I don’t think he literally means that “the creature is God”, because that would be pantheism, and he is likely a panentheist.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Jeremy and dgeuller

From *Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth* by Henri Corbin page 10-11

“This dual structure establishes a personal relationship that parallels that other basic relationship expressed in the Mazdean cosmology by the distinction between the *menok* state and the *getik* state of beings. This distinction is not exactly between the intelligible and the sensory, nor simply between the incorporeal and the corporeal (for the Celestial Powers have very subtle bodies of light; the distinction is rather a matter of the relationship between the invisible and the visible, the subtle and the dense, the heavenly and the earthly, provided that it is clearly understood that the *getik* state (earthly, material) in itself by no means implies a degradation of being, but that it was itself, before the Ahrimanian invasion, as it will be thereafter, a glorious state of light, peace, and incorruptibility. Every being can be thought of in its *menok* state, as well as in its *getik* state (for example in its heavenly state, the earth is called *zam*; in its empirical, material, ponderable state it is called *zamik*, or *zamin* in Persian.”

More later

Paul

Anonymous said...

Mr. Green, June 9, 3:41 PM. “By ‘settled’ do you mean ‘cannot be trained out of’?”

Sort of, except that we’re not talking about dogs that can’t be housebroken. The apparently old-fashioned way of defining homosexuality still seems to me to be a good starting point. “Authentic” homosexuality, the definition goes, is more or less exclusive, involuntary, and, for all moral, legal, or medical purposes, unchangeable. The latter two features may be discerned in various ways. Probably the most convincing evidence is that despite social censure, illegality, imprisonment, medical stigmatization, psychiatric torture, schoolyard taunting, back-alley beating, mutilation, and murder, the orientation persists. Also, of course, homosexuals themselves testify that they experience their orientation as though it were fixed at birth, whatever science may finally have to say about it. I my original comment, I used "biological homosexual" as a short-hand term for these general facts.

The reification of homosexuality into something bordering on a racial identity might also partly be explained by the extreme animosity directed against same-sex-oriented people. On the one hand, the homosexual feels himself, if not born to be homosexual, at any rate fated to be one; and on the other hand, he finds himself socially and psychologically marginalized and in many ways threatened for this fact - not just for his behavior but also for the very suspicion that he might be one, i.e., look or act like a queer, a fag, a fruit, a ponce, etc., etc. For these reasons, the homosexual is forced to seek out his own kind in ghettoized underground communities that are characterized by an intense us/them social psychology, strongly reenforcing his sense of being not just homosexually inclined but also of being a homosexual person. In recent decades, of course, this general picture has changed dramatically. It’s conceivable that these developments will result in a gradual disappearance of the exaggerated self-identified homosexual person.

As for the notion that “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” are social constructs and therefore in some sense unreal, while it's true that the population at large can’t be rigidly divided between heterosexual sheep and homosexual goats, I think it’s mistaken to go to the opposite extreme and deny any distinction at all. Psycho-sexual responsiveness is on a continuum ranging from exclusive other-sex attraction to exclusive same-sex attraction, with everyone else falling somewhere in between and most people being bunched up at the other-sex-attracted end of the spectrum. Gore Vidal, whom Hutton cites as among contemporary homosexuals who deny the rigid homosexual-heterosexual divide, did accept the idea of a sexual continuum, with "exclusives" at either end. He was very much a booster of Alfred Kinsey’s general model of human sexual response. Vidal's point was, given the generally murky picture as to who is what and how you know, why does society put such an artificial and distorted emphasis on this binary differentiation of sexual natures. I’m suggesting that much of the explanation lies with what has happened historically to the people at the homosexual end of the spectrum.

You've already said that even if all this is true, it doesn't affect sexual ethics; but there are some here who seem to deny that homosexuality exists at all as a settled orientation, and I think it's important to get clear about that. Whether the existence of homosexuality has a any bearing on sexual ethics is what I want to understand. Somehow I think it must. But right now, I have to take a break.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Jeremy and dguller

Ibid continued

“Here precisely we arrive at that particular mode of perception of beings and things which, by reaching the possibility of understanding no longer simply *what* they are, but *who* they are, will allow us to meet them in the person of their Angel. It is quite evident that the mental vision of the Angel of the Earth, for example, is not a sensory experience. If, by logical habit, we classify this fact as imaginary, the question nonetheless remains as to what can justify an identification of what is imaginary with what is arbitrary and unreal, the question as to whether representations deriving from physical perception are the only ones to be considered as *real* knowledge, whether physically verifiable events alone can be evaluated as facts. We must ask ourselves whether the invisible action of forces that have their purely physical expression in natural processes may not bring into play psychic energies that have been neglected or paralyzed by our habits, and directly touch and Imagination which, far from being arbitrary invention, corresponds to that Imagination which the alchemists called *Imaginatio vera* and which is the *astrum in homine*.
“The active Imagination thus induced will not produce some arbitrary, even lyrical, construction standing between us and “reality,” but will, on the contrary, function directly as a faculty and organ of knowledge just as *real* as — if not more real than — the sense organs. However, it will perceive in the manner proper to it: The organ is not a sensory faculty but an *archetypre-Image* that it possessed from the beginning; it is not something derived from any outer perception. And the property of this Image will be precisely that of effecting the transmutation of sensory data, their resolution into the purity of the sublet, world, in order to restore them as symbols to be deciphered, the “key” being imprinted in the soul itself. Such perception throughout the Imagination is therefore equivalent to a “dematerialization”; it changes the physical datum impressed upon the senses in a pure mirror, a spiritual transparency, thus it is that the Earth, and the things and being of the Earth, raised to incandescence, allow the apparition of the Angels to penetrate to the visionary intuition. […]”

Anonymous said...

Mr. Green, June 9, 3:41 PM. “Of course, this isn't circular because it's quite obvious what role feeding and digestion play in human biology; likewise, it's equally clear how sexual reproduction works (whether someone likes it or not).”

Of course everyone understands how sexual reproduction works, but how reproduction works doesn’t decide (factually) how human sexual motivation and activity work, nor does it decide (presto) how they ought to work. Unlike sexual response in most animals, human sexual response is almost entirely detached from the exigencies of procreation. Lacking seasons of estrus and rut, human do not behave as reflex instruments of a more or less impersonal drive to replenish the species; they are not instinctively and irresistibly directed to procreate at such and such a time, in such and such a place, in such and such a way. They are remarkable free in this respect, just as they are in so many other respects.

The questions of sexual ethics get interesting (at least for me) when we put these two big facts together. If we’re going to derive our ethical ‘ought’ from some biological ‘is’, which ‘is’ are we going to select as the really pertinent one: the ‘is’ that human reproduction occurs in such and such a way, or the ‘is’ that human sexual response and expression are strikingly detached from any reproductive purpose? Both, I dare say, are facts of our human-animal nature, and how one would derive an ‘ought’ from either of them seems to me quite perplexing.

The natural law response is, yes, human sexual response is free compared to other animals, but that is precisely why humans have oughts in the first place and other animals don’t. Humans need oughts in order to direct their free will, which has a natural tendency to anarchy if unregulated. Where they are to look for determining the ought for their sexuality is to the other animals whose sexual behavior is rigidly tied to reproducing their kind. In the human case, in other words, the rigidity is morally introduced rather than biologically determined. The question then would be: Why? Why could there not be distinctively human norms to governing distinctively human sexuality. Why should the purpose of human sexuality be to imitate the other animals simply because, at the genital level, we reproduce like them?

These are fightin’ words, I know, and I’m sure natural law theory does a much better job. But these elementary steps are as far as I’ve gotten with the issue. Just ignore me if I sound childish, and I’ll go away.

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