Friday, October 24, 2014

Nudge nudge, wink wink


Suppose you go out on a blind date and a friend asks you how it went.  You pause and then answer flatly, with a slight smirk: “Well, I liked the restaurant.”  There is nothing in the literal meaning of the sentence you’ve uttered, considered all by itself, that states or implies anything negative about the person you went out with, or indeed anything at all about the person.  Still, given the context, you’ve said something insulting.  You’ve “sent the message” that you liked the restaurant but not the person.  Or suppose you show someone a painting and when asked what he thinks, he responds: “I like the frame.”  The sentence by itself doesn’t imply that the painting is bad, but the overall speech act certainly conveys that message all the same.  Each of these is an example of what H. P. Grice famously called an implicature, and they illustrate how what a speaker says in a communicative act ought not to be confused with what his words mean.  Obviously there is a relationship between the two, but they are not always identical.

Implicatures can be used to mislead someone without lying to him (and as I have argued in previous posts, such mental reservations can sometimes be morally justifiable).  But as the example just given indicates, they can also be used to “say something without saying it.”  And sometimes they can do double duty.  Suppose a second friend is also present when the first one asks you how the date went, but that this second friend knows the person you went on the date with and you don’t want him to know what you really think.  Suppose also, though, that he is a bit naïve.  If you say “I liked the restaurant,” this time with a little enthusiasm and without the pause or smirk, the first friend might still “get the message” that you didn’t like the person, while the second friend might think you had a good time.

Implicature, sexual morality, and politics

In his 1984 essay “Why Homosexuality is Abnormal,” Michael Levin applies Grice’s notion of implicature to an analysis of the decriminalization of homosexual acts, and other liberal policies vis-à-vis homosexuality.  (The essay originally appeared in The Monist and has been reprinted in several anthologies, such as the third edition of Alan Soble’s The Philosophy of Sex.)  As you can guess from the title, Levin holds that such acts are bad (on sociobiological rather than theological or natural law grounds, as it happens).  But it is worth emphasizing that his application of Grice does not stand or fall with whether or not you agree with him about that.  Levin’s claim is that liberal policies cannot, given our cultural circumstances, be neutral concerning homosexuality.  They will inevitably “send a message” of approval rather than mere neutrality or indifference.  The essay is thirty years old, and it goes without saying that in the age of “same-sex marriage” things have gone considerably beyond mere decriminalization (which has been a dead issue legally since Lawrence v. Texas).  But his remarks are if anything only more plausible as an analysis of the effects of policies currently being pushed.  Here is what he says:

[L]egislation “legalizing homosexuality” cannot be neutral because passing it would have an inexpungeable speech-act dimension.  Society cannot grant unaccustomed rights and privileges to homosexuals while remaining neutral about the value of homosexuality.  Working from the assumption that society rests on the family and its consequences, the Judaeo-Christian tradition has deemed homosexuality a sin and withheld many privileges from homosexuals.  Whether or not such denial was right, for our society to grant these privileges to homosexuals now would amount to declaring that it has rethought the matter and decided that homosexuality is not as bad as it had previously supposed…  Someone who suddenly accepts a policy he has previously opposed is open to the… interpretation [that] he has come to think better of the policy.  And if he embraces the policy while knowing that this interpretation will be put on his behavior, and if he knows that others know that he knows they will so interpret it, he is acquiescing in this interpretation.  He can be held to have intended, meant, this interpretation.  A society that grants privileges to homosexuals while recognizing that, in the light of generally known history, this act can be interpreted as a positive re-evaluation of homosexuality, is signalling that it now thinks homosexuality is all right… What homosexual rights activists really want [from anti-discrimination laws] is not [merely] access to jobs but legitimation of their homosexuality.  Since this is known, giving them what they want will be seen as conceding their claim to legitimacy.  And since legislators know their actions will support this interpretation, and know that their constituencies know they know this, the Gricean effect or symbolic meaning of passing anti-discrimination ordinances is to declare homosexuality legitimate…

Legislation permitting frisbees in the park does not imply approval of frisbees for the simple reason that frisbees are new; there is no tradition of banning them from parks. The legislature's action in permitting frisbees is not interpretable, known to be interpretable, and so on, as the reversal of long-standing disapproval.  It is because these Gricean conditions are met in the case of abortion that legislation -- or rather judicial fiat-- permitting abortions and mandating their public funding are widely interpreted as tacit approval.  Up to now, society has deemed homosexuality so harmful that restricting it outweighs putative homosexual rights.  If society reverses itself, it will in effect be deciding that homosexuality is not as bad as it once thought.  (pp. 119-20 of Soble)

Whether or not this was a plausible bit of Gricean analysis in 1984, it is surely plausible now.  “Same-sex marriage” and antidiscrimination laws are now routinely defended, not on grounds of neutrality, but on the basis of the decidedly non-neutral judgment that moral (or any other) disapproval of homosexuality can only possibly stem from bigotry, ignorance, religious fanaticism, or plain mean-spiritedness.  As Justice Scalia famously complained, opponents of “same-sex marriage” are now treated as if they were the “enemies of the human race,” and their defeat is widely regarded both as a moral imperative and the inevitable next stage in the progress of civilization.  Meanwhile, whether out of fear, lack of conviction, or both, the most prominent conservatives don’t even bother to address the fundamental moral question anymore, but feebly retreat into considerations of secondary importance, such as federalism or judicial activism.  And even then, everything they say is hedged with panicky assurances of their tolerance and compassion.  The moralistic fervor is now all on the liberal side, and as any serious conservative should know, you cannot beat moralism with quibbles about procedure.

So, the “dominant narrative” on the pro-“same-sex marriage” side is: “We have the moral high ground, history is on our side, and conservatives’ retreat from the moral field, desperate resort to secondary issues, and semi-apologetic, defensive presentation show that deep down they know it’s true.”  Now, judges, lawmakers, and political candidates know that this is the “dominant narrative,” and they know that “same-sex marriage” advocates and society at large know that they know it.  They know also that endorsement of “same-sex marriage,” or even just surrender to it where it is imposed, will be widely interpreted as an acknowledgement that that narrative is correct.  So, under these circumstances, endorsement or surrender will inevitably “send the message” that that narrative is correct, and thus that disapproval of homosexuality has no rational basis, and thus that no one should disapprove of homosexuality.  Of course, a sentence like “’Same-sex marriage’ should be legalized,” considered in isolation, doesn’t entail all that, but that is irrelevant.  The point is that that is nevertheless the Gricean implicature of such an endorsement or surrender, given circumstances now and for the foreseeable future. 

Now as Grice points out, an implicature can be “cancelled.”  Suppose that after saying “I liked the restaurant” you added, with a smile: “And I really liked [her, him]!” Whereas the first utterance by itself gave the impression that you did not like the person you were out with, that message would be cancelled by this addition.  The implicature associated under current circumstances with an endorsement or surrender on “same-sex marriage” could also be cancelled -- for instance, if a public official who endorsed or surrendered to it explicitly repudiated the “dominant narrative.”  For example, suppose a candidate for political office in a state in which “same-sex marriage” was imposed by the judiciary declined to support a challenge to it either in the courts or the legislature, and explained his position by saying: “I don’t think there’s any way to reverse ‘same-sex marriage’ in this state given public opinion and the makeup of the appeals courts.  But I am utterly opposed to it and would reverse it in a second if I thought that was possible.”  Whatever the merits of this position, it would cancel the implicature that the surrender to “same-sex marriage” would otherwise have.  However, if a politician repeatedly declined to say or do anything that would cancel the implicature, the implicature would if anything only be reinforced.  It will also be reinforced if the only public remarks the politician ever makes about homosexuality and related matters are positive – calls for tolerance and compassion, condemnations of workplace discrimination, etc.

Note that such a politician would not actually have to believe the “dominant narrative” in order for the implicature to be reinforced.  He may decline to cancel the implicature out of naivete, cynical calculation, or cowardice rather than out of conviction.  But he will nevertheless have “sent the message” that the “dominant narrative“ is correct, even if he thinks it is not correct.  And it would be silly for him to claim otherwise by saying (in private): “All I’ve done is to decline trying to roll back ‘same-sex marriage’ and endorsed being civil to fellow citizens who happen to be homosexual.  There is nothing in that by itself that entails that I think homosexual acts are morally justifiable or that I agree that critics of ‘same-sex marriage’ really are bigots!”  That is true, but irrelevant.  The meaning of the sentences he’s uttered, considered in isolation, might not entail all that, but that is simply not the only thing that determines an implicature. 

Implicature, sexual morality, and Catholicism

Now, what goes for politicians goes for churchmen.  It is part of the “dominant narrative” that the opposition of the Catholic Church and other Christian bodies to homosexual acts is, like  such opposition more generally, rooted in ignorance and bigotry, without rational foundation, and ought to be given up.  Bishops and other churchmen know that this is the “dominant narrative,” and they know that homosexual rights activists and society at large know that they know it.  Hence when they make statements that accentuate the positive vis-à-vis homosexuality (emphasizing inclusiveness, condemning discrimination, etc.) and/or imply that the Church has historically been too harsh or put too much emphasis on the issue -- while at the same time saying little or nothing clearly to reaffirm the traditional condemnation of homosexual acts -- the implicature, the message that is sent, is that there is truth in the “dominant narrative.” 

Here as in other cases, it is irrelevant that the specific sentences that are uttered considered by themselves do not strictly entail any concession to the “dominant narrative.”  There needn’t be such an entailment for an implicature.  Nor does it matter that the churchmen in question do not actually agree with the “dominant narrative.”  If you say “I like the frame” or “I liked the restaurant” in the contexts described above, you have in fact said something insulting, whether or not that was your intention and despite the fact that the literal meaning of the words does not by itself strictly entail an insult.  And if a churchman comments on issues concerning homosexuality with nothing but happy talk, he has in fact “sent the message” that there is truth in the “dominant narrative,” even if that is not his intention and despite the fact that the literal meaning of his words might not by itself strictly entail that there is truth in it.  The implicature is only reinforced by the fact that the average listener entirely lacks any theological training and thus cannot be expected to draw fine distinctions, to assess the doctrinal weight of off-the-cuff remarks made in interviews, etc.  Since churchmen know (or should know) how their misleading words are bound to be taken by the average listener, and since the average listener knows that these churchmen know (or should know) this -- and yet the churchmen say these things anyway -- the implicature is further cemented.

Hence while it is true that secular news outlets routinely read too much into such statements and spin them to their own purposes, they are by no means entirely to blame.  They have been given ammunition.  Some conservative Catholic commentators have tied themselves in knots trying to put a positive face on these sorts of remarks, usually via a pedantic emphasis on what is strictly entailed by the literal meaning of a certain remark considered in isolation, while completely ignoring the glaring implicatures.  At best this reflects an astounding naiveté about how language works; at worst it is itself a kind of intellectually dishonest spin-doctoring.  And it does real damage by giving the false impression that to be a Catholic you have to become a shill and pretend not to see the obvious. 

Judging from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family which ended last week, the messages churchmen send via such implicatures may not always be unintentional.  A key topic of debate in the lead-up to the Synod and at the Synod itself was Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal that divorced and “remarried” Catholics could be admitted to Holy Communion.  Now, the teaching of the Church is that a validly married person cannot divorce and remarry someone else while his spouse is still living.  Such a “remarriage” is adulterous and thus mortally sinful.  The Church also teaches that to go to Communion while one is in a state of mortal sin is itself mortally sinful.  Hence, to suggest that such “remarried” Catholics might be able to go to Communion is to implicate or “send the message” that such “remarriages” are not mortally sinful after all and that the Church can and should change her teaching on that subject. 

Cardinal Kasper denies that he favors such a change, but again, an implicature can exist even when one does not intend it.  Furthermore, to “cancel” the implicature in this case would require far more than Cardinal Kasper issuing such a denial in a journal article, interview, or the like, because most Catholics have never heard of Cardinal Kasper and will know nothing about such denials.  To cancel the implicature would require that the Church loudly and clearly reaffirm that it is mortally sinful to divorce and “remarry” and that no one in a state of mortal sin should take Communion.  The trouble, though, is that loudly and clearly to say this would offend Catholics who have “remarried,” and the whole point of Kasper’s proposal is to make such people feel “welcome.”  Doing what is required to cancel the implicature would thus make Kasper’s proposed policy pointless.  So, there simply is no plausible way to implement such a policy without “sending the message” that the Church can and should change her teaching.

Whatever Cardinal Kasper intends, though, Cardinal George Pell has indicated that some of the churchmen who favor Kasper’s policy do intend the implicature.  As Cardinal Pell has said:

Communion for the divorced and remarried is for some -- very few, certainly not the majority of the synod fathers -- it's only the tip of the iceberg, it's a stalking horse. They want wider changes, recognition of civil unions, recognition of homosexual unions.  The church cannot go in that direction.  It would be a capitulation from the beauties and strengths of the Catholic tradition, where people sacrificed themselves for hundreds, and thousands of years to do this.

That this is the intention seems clear enough from a now-notorious set of passages from the first draft of the Synod report, which included the following lines:

Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? … Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?...

Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.

End quote.  The tone and indeed the content of this passage (“accepting and valuing their sexual orientation,” “precious support in the life of the partners”) are so radically different from what the Church has said historically -- indeed, it would have been unthinkable as recently as two years ago that such words could ever appear in a Vatican document -- that the bland references elsewhere in the document to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality cannot cancel the implicature that there is some truth in the liberal “dominant narrative” vis-à-vis homosexuality.  And those who would use Cardinal Kasper’s proposal as a “stalking horse” (as Cardinal Pell put it) surely intend their implicatures to do double duty.  When, in the example I gave above, you say “I liked the restaurant,” your more sophisticated friend will know that you did not like the person you went on the blind date with, while your less sophisticated friend might think you did like the person.  Similarly, when liberal churchmen speak of “accepting and valuing [the homosexual] orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony,” gullible listeners will be reassured that no substantive change is being proposed, while more sophisticated listeners will “get” the real message.

Now, Cardinal Pell, Cardinal Raymond Burke, the African bishops, and others vigorously opposed this passage, which was ultimately rejected by the Synod as a whole.  But the fact that it got as far as it did in the first place itself “sends the message” that the Church might, if not now then in future, be open to the possibility of dramatic change vis-à-vis matters of sexual morality.   Given how far things have gone, effectively cancelling this implicature would require a vigorous reaffirmation both of the content and the permanence of Catholic teaching on sexual morality from Pope Francis himself.  Cardinal Burke has expressed the view that such a papal reaffirmation is “long overdue,” and another bishop has been even more frank about the damage he thinks the Synod has caused.  But such a reaffirmation seems unlikely given that it would conflict with the Pope’s aim of putting less emphasis on these matters and trying to find ways to attract those who disagree with the Church’s teaching about them.

Nudge nudge, wink wink, or Yes Yes, No No?

How have things gotten to this point?  There are in my view two main factors.  The first is what I have identified elsewhere as the chief cause of the collapse of Catholic apologetics, dogmatic and moral theology, and catechesis: the abandonment of Scholasticism.  Thomists and other Scholastic theologians and philosophers, and the churchmen of earlier generations who were given a Scholastic intellectual formation, emphasized precision in thought, precision in language, precision in argumentation, precision in doctrinal and public statements, and extreme caution about novel theses and formulations which might undermine the credibility of the Church’s claim to preserve and apply doctrine, and not manufacture or mutate it.  Say what you will about the (purported) limitations of Scholastic theology and philosophy, there was, in the days when Scholasticism held sway, never any doubt about exactly what a statement from a bishop or from the Vatican meant and about exactly how it squared with Catholic tradition. 

The tendency among some churchmen toward imprecision, and the appearance of a rupture with past teaching, is by no means limited to matters of sexual morality.  On capital punishment, ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, and other issues, even conservative Catholic churchmen have been fudging things for decades, speaking in ambiguous terms or in platitudes that seem to imply that the traditional teaching of the Church is wrong, and giving woolly arguments or no arguments at all instead of explaining how the new statements can be reconciled with past teaching.

For example, for two millennia the Church very heavily emphasized the urgency of conversion to the Catholic Faith as necessary for salvation.  Yet even many conservative churchmen today emphasize “dialogue” over conversion, condemn proselytizing, etc.  How can these attitudes be reconciled?  The question is generally simply ignored.  Modern churchmen often speak as if capital punishment were incompatible with human dignity and as if any Catholic must oppose it.  Yet Pope Innocent III, when reconciling the pacifist Waldensian heretics with the Church, made acceptance of the legitimacy of capital punishment a matter of basic orthodoxy; the Fathers and Doctors of the Church unanimously affirmed its legitimacy even when they were inclined toward leniency, and such unanimity has always been regarded within Catholicism as a mark of infallible teaching; Genesis 9:6 sanctions capital punishment precisely in the name of human dignity; and so on.  How can these attitudes be reconciled?  Again, the problem is generally ignored.  And so on for other issues.  Typically the novel statements are phrased in such a way that they can be given an interpretation that is not strictly incompatible with past teaching.  However, the implicature -- again, even if unintentional -- is that past teaching was mistaken. 

What is common to these examples is that they all tend to implicate a concession to liberalism.  And that brings me to what I think is the second factor behind the tendency of modern churchmen to speak in ways that seem to imply a rupture with the past: the utter hegemony of liberalism in the modern Western world, indeed in much of the modern world full stop.  Now, when I say “liberalism” I don’t mean merely the sort of thing that characterizes the modern Democratic Party.  I mean that broad tradition that begins with thinkers like Hobbes and Locke and whose basic assumptions are taken for granted by moral and political thinkers of almost every stripe today.  What liberals of all varieties -- from Hobbes and Locke to Kant to Rawls and Nozick -- share in common, whatever their significant differences, is an emphasis on the sovereignty of the will of the individual.  For liberalism, no demand on any individual is legitimate to which he does not in some sense consent.  The tendency is therefore to regard any such imposition as an affront to his dignity.  The liberty that the liberal wants to further is freedom from fetters on the individual’s will, whether those fetters are political, social, moral, religious, or cultural.  The individual will is sovereign, its dignity supreme.

Liberalism in this broad sense is the dominant way of thinking and feeling in modern times.  It is, essentially, the compulsory ethos, indeed the religion, of modern times.  It absolutely permeates contemporary political, social, moral, religious, and cultural life.  This is why the arguments even of political conservatives and Christians reputed for orthodoxy are constantly couched in the language of freedom, rights, the dignity of the individual, etc.  The pressure to conform one’s thinking and sensibility to basic liberal assumptions is nearly overwhelming.  Hence any appeal to freedom is considered all by itself a powerful argument, and any objection to a policy or view on the grounds that it conflicts with freedom is considered a powerful objection which it is imperative to answer.  Scratch many a modern conservative or Christian and you’ll find a liberal, in this broad sense of the word “liberal,” underneath. 

Liberalism is the offspring of Ockham’s voluntarism, the prioritizing of the will over the intellect.  Press voluntarism as far as it will go and you are bound to conclude that what the will chooses is more important that what the intellect knows.  Objective truth itself is bound to come to seem an oppressive imposition on the will.  For Aquinas, of course, this has things precisely backwards.  The will is subordinate to the intellect, and has as its final cause the pursuit of the objective truth that the intellect grasps.  And if the objective truth of the matter is that you deserve a punishment of death, or ought to convert to Catholicism, or ought to restrain your sexual impulses, then it is just tough luck for the will if what it wants is something else.  (I speak loosely, of course.  It is not really “tough luck” for the will; such submission is what is truly good for the will.) 

Now as every Thomist knows, there is some truth to be found in more or less any erroneous system of thought.  Hence there is, naturally, some truth in liberalism.  The free exercise of the will really is a good thing.  But it is a good that is subordinate to the higher end for which it exists, namely the pursuit of what is really true and good.  Furthermore, given the hegemony of liberalism in modern times and the consequent pressure to conform oneself to it, even those who do not see themselves as liberals are going to exaggerate the significance of whatever truth there is to be found in it.  Hence the tendency of modern churchmen relentlessly to emphasize the dignity of the individual and to pretend that an appeal to this dignity is somehow the master key to settling every moral and political controversy (when in fact what counts as a respect for human dignity is itself precisely what is at issue in disputes over sexual morality, abortion, capital punishment, etc. -- so that the appeal to human dignity by itself merely begs the question).

The tremendous pressure to conform to liberalism generates an eagerness to seek any way possible, rhetorically and substantively, to find common ground with it.  Now, punishment in general and capital punishment in particular all involve an obvious and unpleasant imposition on the will of the individual.  Hence the tendency of liberalism is to regard punishment, and capital punishment in particular, as an affront to the dignity of the individual.  Making an individual’s salvation contingent upon whether he accepts a certain religion is an even graver imposition on his will.  Hence the tendency of the liberal, if he is religious, is toward universalism.  Sexual desire is extremely powerful and the demands of sexual morality an especially irksome imposition on the will.  Hence the tendency of liberalism is to try as far as possible to eliminate or at least soften and minimize the importance of such demands.  And so forth. 

So, when churchmen find in Catholic tradition, alongside the persistent insistence on the legitimacy of (and in some cases need for) capital punishment, an inclination of some saints and theologians strongly to prefer leniency over resort to the punishment, the temptation is to take the more lenient tendency and run with it, while ignoring the other, balancing element in the tradition.  When they find in the tradition, alongside the doctrine that extra ecclesiam nulla salus, the idea that “invincible ignorance” can save those who are outside the visible structure of the Church, the temptation is strong to emphasize the latter and not worry too much about evangelization.  When they note that the Church has always taught forgiveness of sins and mercy toward sinners, the temptation is strong to talk a lot about that and not say too much about the actual sins themselves, especially if the sins are sexual.  And so forth.  Because the over-emphasized elements really are there in the tradition and the ignored elements are not explicitly denied, actual rupture with the past is avoided.  But because the resulting presentation of Catholic teaching is so one-sided, and one-sided in the direction of flattering liberalism, there is an appearance of a rupture with the past, an unintended implicature to the effect that liberal criticism of traditional Catholic teaching is correct.

This is not unprecedented in Church history.  The Arian heresy exerted enormous pressure on the Church.  It had political power, won the support of many bishops, and was difficult to combat because of the ambiguous language in which it was often formulated.  Even Pope Liberius, though he did not bind the Church to error, temporized.  The heresy took centuries to die out completely.  No doubt there were churchmen at the time keen to emphasize the “gifts and qualities” of Arians, to “accept and value” the depth and sincerity of their devotion to the Arian cause, and to affirm the “precious support” Arians provided one another. 

In light of what has happened at the Synod, some orthodox Catholics are inclined to channel Kevin Bacon in Animal House, while others are inclined to freak out.  Both tendencies are mistaken.  The truth is that things are pretty bad, and also that they are not that bad.  This kind of thing sometimes happens in the Church.  Liberalism will suffer the same fate as Arianism, but it may take a very long time for the Church entirely to flush it out of its system, and things may get a lot worse before they get better.  For the moment and no doubt for some time to come, too many churchmen will continue to respond to the liberal spirit of the age with a nudge and a wink and glad-handing bonhomie.  But in the end the Church will, as she always does, heed the words of her Master: Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ (Matthew 5:37).

897 comments:

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Georgy Mancz said...

Great post, Dr. Feser.

One cannot but salute your reservedness. In situations like this I'm inclined to freak out, especially given that so many people do shout "All is well".

I find it very hard to understand exactly what the discussion is supposed to be about, unless one is to allow for a morally schizophrenic situation where practice is in fact divorced (heh) from doctrine.
There are examples of just that: not all Eastern Orthodox will go so far as to state as a doctrine that sacramental marriages can end with both spouses still alive, but the practice of these churches implies precisely this (if one assumes coherence).
I've even heard a blatantly incoherent "there is remarriage, but no divorce" line, though this is not a popular one.
This ambiguity is reflected in the liturgy of remarriages - no Communion, penitential Psalms (the latter bit I find ridiculous, though it is not determinate as to what the participants are repenting).

For some reason I'm reminded of what Prof. Ralph McInerny noted: the connection between the conviction that capital punishment is immoral and refusing to accept the traditional teaching on hell, or rather, in his words, an "inclination toward a creative interpretation of eternal punishment".


P.S.
By the way, Dr. Feser, what's your take on the exact meaning of Pastor Aeternus?
I'm inclined to believe that a Pope pronouncing heresy from the Chaif of Peter is a practical impossibility, but I have been unable to find the right (old) books to ascertain that.

BB said...

As an Anglican, the recent synod in Rome seemed eerily familiar.

Firstly they smuggle themselves into the seminaries.

Secondly, they change the teaching at some of the seminaries, making small changes to remove the clear standards of before (in Catholicism, Thomism and other equally orthodox systems), and make it seem as though there are reasonable, more flexible, alternatives. The orthodox theologies are gradually pushed to one side, or taught in such a superficial way that nobody will understand them.

Thirdly, they gain control of the appointment process at the seminaries, maybe leaving a few token orthodox candidates. Thus you soon find yourself with a generation of priests not well enough schooled to convincingly defend orthodoxy or recognise the smiling face of a mild heresy.

Fourthly, they start to infiltrate the secretaries and bureaucracy of the churches. Most parishes are left untouched, and most of the people are unaware of the poison starting to infiltrate the system. But they start to gain control of who can be appointed Bishops, and ensure that, while orthodox bishops are still appointed, they are too imprecise in their understanding to rigorously defend their views: they are willing to accept some mild level of compromise.

Fifthly, they raise some issues at synods. They control and shape the agenda, and are responsible for implementing it. At first, it will just be a small step. Present a few hard cases where the orthodox teaching seems harsh. They just want a little more ambiguity in the rules -- no change of doctrine, of course -- so that priests and bishops can be a little more flexible when dealing with these difficult cases in their pastoral practice. If rejected, they try again in a few years time until they get the 'right' result. If accepted, and given that the more naive orthodox priests have been consecrated Bishops and the change is so slight they might be influenced by appeals to emotion which sideline reason they have a chance, then it gives them space to start creating facts on the ground at the parish level: ammunition for the next stage.

BB said...


Sixthly, they continue the process, one small step at a time. Being `orthodox' is not a crime, but being inflexibly orthodox (i.e. truly orthodox) is disfavoured, since the important thing is that we all learn how to work together, and recognise the work of the Holy Spirit in each other's ministry. In this way, the people who are capable of standing up to the novelties are gradually excluded from the decision-making process, even if the orthodox remain the majority in the church at large.

Seventhly, after numerous cycles of this process, heresy is admitted by the official decision making bodies as being a legitimate part of Church tradition. Orthodoxy is not yet proscribed, but they stand together as legitimate options. At this point, the people in the pews start to wake up, and wonder what is happening to their church. It is, by now, too late for them to do anything.

Then, finally, the open heretics gain control of the church. The situation becomes impossible for the orthodox, firstly the genuinely orthodox, and then, step by step, the various levels of the naive orthodox. Of course, as Anglicans, we are not as tied to the institution of one particular manifestation of the Church as you Roman Catholics are; there is a way out without betraying our beliefs. I would hate to be a Roman Catholic if this happens (although, obviously, it came close to happening once before with the Arians, and the Church survived that, so maybe there still would be some hope beyond the words of Christ concerning the gates of hell not prevailing).

Of course, this process starts with one particular deviation from doctrine which from a worldly perspective seems minor (divorce and remarriage, say, or contraception), then, once they have won that battle, they repeat the process with the next step (women's `ordination' maybe, or homosexual practice), and continue until they can start challenging the Trinity, Atonement, Christiology and other such things. It becomes easier each time.

You now seem to be at stage five. I'm glad that the Bishops defeated it this time, and pray that they continue to stand firm. But ultimately, the only way to beat it, of course, is to do what Prof. Feser continues to do: make sure that ordinary Catholics, the priests, and people in the pews and thus the next generation of priests, are well educated and understand that sound doctrine is ultimately both more reasonable and more in line with Christ's teaching than the heresies, and be able to recognise and demonstrate the the intellectual weaknesses of the heresies.

Greg said...

This is a great diagnosis, Professor Feser. I have had a lot of these thoughts in a more inchoate way recently.

One analogy that has been on my mind is this:

Blasphemers have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? … Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their inclination to blasphemy, without compromising Catholic doctrine on rendering God his due?...

This first sentence, at least, is true. But you'd never say it. And if someone did say it, you'd be puzzled. The fact that people tend to read the actual interim report and are not puzzled is indicative of the extent to which the "dominant narrative" plays into their understanding of such matters.

I do have a question, though. Almost all (if not all) of the contemporary books on marriage are written by new natural lawyers. What are you waiting for?

BenYachov said...

>light of what has happened at the Synod, some orthodox Catholics are inclined to channel Kevin Bacon in Animal House, while others are inclined to freak out. Both tendencies are mistaken. The truth is that things are pretty bad, and also that they are not that bad.

This is my view too (with my own personalized take on it via my own bias').

I have been put off by the freak out crowd(I liked Zmirak &that post is painful to read. Oy Vey!) largely because they are too similar to the freak out crowd that ran around the Church causing schism and radical pseudo-"traditionalist" nonsense during the reign of Pope St John Paul II. Still after reading sane Traditionalists like Kevin Tierney, Pete Vere and of course Prof Feser I have become much more positive towards the brand.

Then Benedict resigns & Pope Francis is elected the Freak out crowd re-imerges & then I remember why I hate Radtrads.

Still there is a problem in the Church & the liberals are clearly taking advantage of Pope Francis' call to charity & I think many of them are to him what Fr. Marcel was to Pope St John Paul II, deceivers who might even mislead the elect.

I have no tolerance for Pope bashing because I think that harms souls just as much as liberalism.

But liberalism is a disease that has been incubating in the Church for 150 years. All may not be well but all is not lost. There is great hope.

BTW I have thinking with the mind of the Church & came up with a sophisticated orthodox interpretation of the offending passages in the so called midterm report. Jujisu use the might of your opponent against himself.

Thought I should point out the re-write included in the final document that failed to pass is an order of magnitude better.

I agree with Prof Feser we need a strong return to scholastics. It is a weapon one of many to beat down the liberals & purge them from the Church.

I say Let's go!

David T said...

As Dr. Feser notes, this sort of thing has happened before in Church history.

The Church is either what it claims to be - an institution authorized by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit - or it is not. If it is, then the heterodox will not prevail as they have never prevailed in the past, no matter how desperate things might appear at any particular moment.

If it is not, then the Church deserves, and indeed should, deteriorate and disappear as all merely human institutions inevitably do. The sooner the better actually, since in this case the Church is founded on a lie.

The pattern in the past has been that great saints have arisen (sometimes as Popes, other times not) to renew the Church in times of crisis. We Catholics can only hope and pray, and trust in the promise of Christ, that God will again provide.

BenYachov said...

How might I read the offending passage cited above by Dr. Feser in his post in an orthodox manner?

Well first I will concede the statements are at best ambigious & a lot is left undefined so they are vulnerable to a heterodox interpretation.

OTOH Aquinas himself quoted Pseudo-Dionysius quite liberally and gave an orthodox interpretation to the citations. Many scholars are of the opinion Pseudo-Dionysius was a Syrian Monophysite heretic. Yet Aquinas never interpreted him in any manner inconsistent with the dogmas of Pope St Leo I or the Council of Chalcedon.

So let us get too it.

>Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? …

Well as human beings who happen to have a gay sexual orientation they do & the trials in life and unjust discrimination they face from having this orientation for most of them against their will makes them sympathetic figures and in some cases heroic. Especially if they embrace the Gospel & by grace chastity.

>Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?...

The homosexual orientation is objectively disordered according to the CCC. That means if given into it's final cause is evil & sin but morally in and of itself it is not morally evil. Thought clearly materially evil in the sense of having a privation of an ordered heterosexual orientation.

It could not be valued in essence since in essence it is a privation of an ordered heterosexual orientation & inverted in such a manner as which a person is moved to attractions that are meant to the opposite sex & a desire to form a romantic relationship with persons of the same sex. Gay sex acts are called intrinsically disordered by the CCC & thus are morally evil in essence.

But it could be valued accidentally I believe. Like referring to Adam's sin as a "happy fault". Since it is part of the goodness of God to bring good out of evil I submit as far as a person with a gay sexual orientation uses it for spiritual growth by resisting it's evil ends they have an opportunity for great holiness.

I like Michael Voris' idea God has given these people a calling to be victim souls & the potential to be great saints. I like that idea & in that sense I can value a homosexual orientation.

>Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.

Well IMHO a gay relationship would be quite positive and good if it wasn't for all the intrinsically evil gay sex acts. Of course if you take away the gay sex then practically it's not a gay relationship but two same sex friends living together who love each other in a chaste manner.

I can recognize what is good in the gay relationship & I might say it is everything about it sans the gay sex which is awful.

There an orthodox interpretation.

BenYachov said...

Part II

Of course I am sophisticated enough, enough of an amateur Thomist and knowledgable enough to read into these statements the whole of doctrinal tradition. I can read it with the Mind of the Church if I treated it as an authentic Church statement.

But this interpretation is not apparent. "I liked the restaurant" etc..

Thought the revised one is an order of magnitude better even thought it didn't pass.

55. Some families live the experience of having within them persons with a homosexual orientation. Regarding this, it was asked what pastoral attention is suitable concerning this situation, with reference to what the Church teaches: "There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family." Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and gentleness. "Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons, 4)] [This paragraph did not reach the required 2/3 of the Fathers: 118 in favor, 62 against]

56. It is absolutely unacceptable that the Pastors of the Church suffer pressure on this matter and that international organizations condition financial aid to poor Nations upon the introduction of laws that establish "marriage" between persons of the same sex.

(Of course I should note 56 was in the original bad report)

Cheers.

Kevin said...

The one redeeming feature of Pope Francis is that he was elected now rather than after VII. Had he been elected then, it would have been a catastrophe; but now (I hope) JPII and BXVI have had long enough to rebuild Catholicism to some extent and to install more orthodox popes. Francis almost surely will not be able to pull the JPII route of enacting his agenda over 20 years or whatever, he's a bit up there in years.

Besides this, an interesting claim about liberalism and autonomy is that the ideas about exaltation of the will and choice was actually based on canon lawyers of the 12th and 13th centuries and Ockham borrowed from them. (He cites juristic sources more than all other sources combined, I think). Brian Tierney is most associated with this claim, his book 'The Idea of Natural Rights' was a very good history of much of scholasticism.

Daniel said...

Acerbic post:

If Catholic intellectuals spent one tenth of the time they do going on about homosexuality responding to professional atheist philosophers of Religion then Oppy, Smith, Gale and co would have given up and went off to become fruit farmers or sail round the world long ago.

Irish Thomist said...

@Ed
On this rare occasion I will have to disagree in part (at least) of your analysis. While I share a lot of your views and hold to what the Church teaches I also take a charitable reading of what Pope Francis was trying to do i.e. listen rather than talk (and there is wider framework in which he is operating - he is sending a message to the Orthodox Churches about unity and the Pope). I also took note of what he said at the closing of the Synod.

Pope Francis is open to development of doctrine in a very Jesuit fashion but I doubt that includes embracing the immoral. I also totally believe he intended Cardinal Kasper to cause a bigger debate than would have happened otherwise - even though Cardinal Kasper is in error. he was trying to bring unity in the end but first a vigorous debate.

I reject both of the extremes Pope Francis rejects i.e. legalism and a false mercy that throws doctrine out the window.

My criticism of Francis is imprecision but then again it is part of his charm that he is very much reaching 'up' rather than down to people on a human level.

"Relax. God’s still in charge." Bishop Tobin

@BenYachov

You put my position well in some of what you said - so at least one person see's the problem here.

Neil Parille said...

Some of the writings of John Paul II were ambiguous, such as Redemptor Hominis. His attitude toward non-Christian religions was almost entirely positive (the notorious Assisi events and kissing the Koran).

Now we are at a point where von Balthasar's hopeful universalism is the de facto teaching of the Church.

Damien S said...

Outstanding post yet again, Ed.

You show that you are one of the top Christian thinkers around today.

Greg said...

@ Daniel

If Catholic intellectuals spent one tenth of the time they do going on about homosexuality responding to professional atheist philosophers of Religion then Oppy, Smith, Gale and co would have given up and went off to become fruit farmers or sail round the world long ago.

By Catholic intellectuals, do you mean professional Catholic philosophers, or just educated Catholics (like churchmen participating in or laymen commenting on the Synod)? In either case I don't think I understand. Catholic philosophers don't say very much about homosexuality, with the exception perhaps of some new natural lawyers. Educated Catholics in general are not really qualified to respond to professional philosophers of religion.

Christopher said...

'radical pseudo-"traditionalist" nonsense during the reign of Pope St John Paul II. Still after reading sane Traditionalists like Kevin Tierney, Pete Vere and of course Prof Feser I have become much more positive towards the brand.

Then Benedict resigns & Pope Francis is elected the Freak out crowd re-imerges & then I remember why I hate Radtrads.'

Then you do not understand the actual concerns of the Traditionalists in relation to the pronouncement of prior Popes on the issues that plague the Church today, such as notions of Religious Liberty, the Novus Ordo, and Collegiality as examples. And when Pope Francis himself starts to profess moral relativism, you seriously wonder why there is a sharp reaction?

Al said...

@BB

You may like this passage of C. P. Krauth (a Protestant), published 1872:

"When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three.

It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of others. The church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we ask only for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions.

Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are two balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the church. Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them.

From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating, it comes to be merely tolerated, and that only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their recommendation is that they repudiate that faith, and position is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skilful in combating it".

https://archive.org/stream/conservativer00krau#page/194/mode/2up

Jordan Monge said...

Though I think many conservatives have read this document as giving a wink, wink to permitting homosexuality, it actually struck me as being a fine balance between modifying the tone of the church's teaching without changing the substance.

It doesn't just say "are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation," but it adds "without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?" That struck me as not being implicature, but rather saying both "the restaurant was nice, and the date not so much." The problem is that most people don't seem to understand how the church could both be more welcoming to gays (or to prostitutes or to tax collectors) without also affirming their behavior as moral.

You might check out the website Spiritual Friendship, where a group of orthodox gay Christians blog about their experiences and relevant theology - spiritualfriendship.org. They definitely strike this balance of accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising the doctrine on family and matrimony. They are celibate (or married to people of the opposite gender) but they don't think they can change their orientation. They live in line with church teaching, but they are clearly reaching out in unique and welcoming ways to people who are gay.

Greg said...

@ Jordan

It doesn't just say "are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation," but it adds "without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?" That struck me as not being implicature, but rather saying both "the restaurant was nice, and the date not so much." The problem is that most people don't seem to understand how the church could both be more welcoming to gays (or to prostitutes or to tax collectors) without also affirming their behavior as moral.

I think one can respond that the line about doctrine is not sufficient to cancel the implicature, for a few reasons.

As I pointed out above, analogous statements about sinful inclinations would strike any listener as strange. One could ask, "Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their inclination to blasphemy, without compromising Catholic doctrine on rendering God his due?" Even if one wants to interpret the valuation of a sinful inclination in terms of "happy fault" (as Ben Yachov does), the statement is really odd. We all have our sins, but why pick out that one in particular to make that point, if you're trying to make that point. Why say it? Conservative Catholics are probably prone to downplay the language because they really believe that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and will not fall into grave error. They also know that "traditionalist" Catholics are prone to freaking out about small things. In this case I think there are dangers to insisting that the paragraph is unobjectionable. The entire world is looking at this document, and liberals look at it from the liberal axiom that, in due time, every institution liberalizes, and the utterances of such banalities as this is just a case of an institution under pressure caving a little before it's able to cave all the way.

On the most charitable reading, at its very best, that paragraph says nothing new, nothing that previous popes have not said more clearly. But on other plausible readings, including readings that anyone familiar with the Church in the modern world should have anticipated, it suggests that the Church is retreating into a corner, trying to affirm "sinful tendencies" without being too "rigid" and confrontational.

BenYachov said...

@Irish Thomist

>Pope Francis is open to development of doctrine in a very Jesuit fashion but I doubt that includes embracing the immoral. I also totally believe he intended Cardinal Kasper to cause a bigger debate than would have happened otherwise - even though Cardinal Kasper is in error. he was trying to bring unity in the end but first a vigorous debate.


A charitable reading of Kasper(sans his public faults) would have us conclude he seems to think some "development in doctrine" is possible which provides a pastoral exception to prove the rule.

I don't see one in his proposed solutions & I am content to let him hope in vain as long as he in his heart submits to the church.

>You put my position well in some of what you said - so at least one person see's the problem here.

Ah where would all these Anglo-American Catholics be without Scots and the Irish to think for them eh?;-)

BenYachov said...

@Greg

Well the Church has always put objectionable language in her doctrinal statements.

Nicea used the word homooúsios to describe the relationship between the Son and the Father being the same nature or same essence. About a century earlier Modalist heretics & Sabellians used it to indicate there is no real distinction at all between the Father and Son. That they where the same person in different modes.

That was condemned by the ordinary magesterium of the day but the extra-ordinary magesterium of Nicea redefined the word to refer only to nature not hypostasis.

Still in addition to the confusion of the Arians and Semi-Arians the orthodox Fathers where often subject to the accusation they championed Modalism for using that word.

I don't doubt some modalists took advantage.

Thing haven't changed in 1600 years I'm afraid but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be on guard.

@Chrisopher
>Then you do not understand the actual concerns of the Traditionalists in relation to the pronouncement of prior Popes on the issues that plague the Church today, such as notions of Religious Liberty, the Novus Ordo, and Collegiality as examples. And when Pope Francis himself starts to profess moral relativism, you seriously wonder why there is a sharp reaction?

Traditionalist concerns are interesting & important like Molinist views vs Banezing view on free will are important.

But I'll say it. You people seem to spend too much time fighting us NeoCath's/Conservatives etc or trying to pick a fight with us rather then wage bloody war on the stupid liberals.

At least that is my experience. You might have a different one so we ill have to agree to disagree.

Santi Tafarella said...

Edward Feser quotes Michael Levin as saying: "What homosexual rights activists really want [from anti-discrimination laws] is not [merely] access to jobs but legitimation of their homosexuality."

This is a distraction. The motive of activists is not what should be at issue, but what is right and true.

Perhaps Thomists should reevaluate the premises underlying their current opposition to homosexuality. Maybe the reasoning supporting the traditional view is wrong. And scientists increasingly inform these discussions, and need to be consulted.

Feser thinks the approval of gay marriage would require a revolution within Thomistic thought. But maybe that revolution is overdue.

In any case, the issue is far too serious to make it a face-off between liberal and conservative. Creative intellectual work needs to be done on whether a Thomistic case for same sex marriage is feasible and defensible.

Greg said...

@ Santi

The motive of activists is not what should be at issue, but what is right and true.

Do you repudiate your previous claim that you are approximately 99% sure that "nature is completely without purpose or value"?

Tom said...

One thing that has been thus far left out is that Catholic doctrine as previously taught was caricatured as "Catholics hate the gays and think being gay is a sin," neither of which is at all true. Therefore, if anyone is guilty of implicature or hinting that teaching might change to "homosexual acts aren't sinful and allowing gay marriage is morally mandatory," why are more traditionalist bishops, popes, and so on not guilty?

It's simply, and unfortunately, true that the Church's positions will be never be reported or understood with full accuracy by the general public, partially because of bias, of course, but also because complicated, specialized topics are never explained perfectly by the general public and the news.

Irish Thomist said...

@Ben Yachov

[H]e was trying to bring unity in the end but first a vigorous debate.

Here I meant the Pope not Cardinal Kasper.


A charitable reading of Kasper(sans his public faults) would have us conclude he seems to think some "development in doctrine" is possible which provides a pastoral exception to prove the rule.

I don't see one in his proposed solutions & I am content to let him hope in vain as long as he in his heart submits to the church.


The problem has been he has largely undermined the Church by turning again and again for the media to prop him up. All in order to create a power base to express his views and impute his authority in a way that is disproportionate to his office.

>You put my position well in some of what you said - so at least one person see's the problem here.

Ah where would all these Anglo-American Catholics be without Scots and the Irish to think for them eh?;-)


I meant in a sense that you 'read my mind' metaphorically speaking.

On another note I have uploaded a blog post on Ed's Scholastic Metaphysics.

BenYachov said...

@Irish Thomist

>Here I meant the Pope not Cardinal Kasper.

I know. Sorry I was being distracted while posting and failed to mention I was attempting charitable reading of Kasper(the merits of doing so I will not debate). I wasn’t saying you where giving a charitable reading of Kasper since it is clear you where talking about Francis.

>The problem has been he has largely undermined the Church by turning again and again for the media to prop him up. All in order to create a power base to express his views and impute his authority in a way that is disproportionate to his office.

Yes & it is a vain exercise. A resistible force cannot uproot and immovable object. The Church is not congress or parliament that can reverse it’s laws. He should be more of a Christian mindset and think “Well if there is any truth to my solutions I am content to let the Church protected by the Holy Spirit find them”. Plus what he said about African Bishops is tedious.


>I meant in a sense that you 'read my mind' metaphorically speaking.

Naturally I was just being cheeky & thought I would put in a little zing of celtic pride.
I don’t literally believe Celtic persons Scots and the Irish have anymore ability to think then
non-Celts. I am not Kasper with a Kilt.

>On another note I have uploaded a blog post on Ed's Scholastic Metaphysics.

I’ll give it a look.

Cheers.

Brandon said...

It has been ages since I'd read that article by Levin; I had forgotten that so much of it was Gricean in character.

I'm not sure it's an easy thing to determine how important a place these kinds of implicatures should have in our reasoning. Perhaps it varies -- in matters of justice, strict and proper, they may matter relatively little, whereas I think it's clear enough that in matters of temperance, which is concerned with the dishonorable and the beautiful in action, it is sometimes an overwhelmingly important concern. If that's the case, though, then there might well not be any rigorous account of when and how to take them into serious consideration.

Christopher said...

BenYachov

'Traditionalist concerns are interesting & important like Molinist views vs Banezing view on free will are important.'

Take the Novus Ordo for example, the Church forbid attending any Protestant servuces, and now with the Novus Ordo actually being a Protestantised Mass, suddenly then it is okay to attend Protestant services and the Council of Trent was wrong?

'NeoCath's/Conservatives etc or trying to pick a fight with us rather then wage bloody war on the stupid liberals.'

Except the NeoCaths/Conservatives are actually defending everything that Pope Francis (the liberal) is doing which runs contrary to the Tradition of the Church.

Crude said...

Do you repudiate your previous claim that you are approximately 99% sure that "nature is completely without purpose or value"?

Heh. "Nature is completely without purpose or value... oh but the people who believe it has purpose and value should totally value this and that, and we should value this and that anyway and regard this and that as true purposes, what a coincidence!"

Tony said...

Chris, you should know that Ben Y likes to bait people, especially rad-trads. It doesn't get under my skin the way it might if I were a rad-trad myself, but it is easier to take sitting down if you realize that.

Both Paul VI allowed significant harm to occur to the Church in (first) pretending that existing Church documents abrogated the right of priests to say the Trid mass, and then refusing to simply use his power to simply STATE OUTRIGHT "I hereby abrogate the right..." and settling the controversy definitively). But nothing in all that justifies leaving the Church, and the Church is always the Church led by the successor of Peter. Humble obedience is called for even when your superior is making a mistake.

But that's all a distraction: in this case, the worries about the document are raised by good faithful members of the Church, by people who are and will always remain faithful to the Church and everything handed down by Her as flowing from Divine Revelation. Even if others "freak out" about it, that doesn't mean that the problems with the document are not real problems.

Jordan, your thesis of "balance" misses the point entirely. The only way the passage you pointed to can be understood as reconcilable with Church teaching is using Ben Yachov's wholly accurate rendition: we can "value" the homosexual tendency only in the sense we can "value" the evils God permits, to test us and give us opportunity for meritorious suffering. For the tendency is itself an evil, a disorder simply. The so-called "value" is purely accidental.

But that sense of the passage is entirely ignorant of the implications of both the rest of the passage and of the entire context in which the topic is being discussed. Nobody can put THOSE words in THAT paragraph, and do so without including the clarification of Ben's that the "value" is a wholly accidental sense without intending to craft an ambiguity that makes room for an error, a heresy.

There ARE in fact ways to state the whole truth without being offensive to those who have the disordered inclination, if they are not already inclined to treat their disorder as if it were an orderly inclination. It takes more words to do so than merely stating that "we welcome you" and leaving it at that. The whole truth is large, sometimes it cannot be summarized without damage to the truth itself. Saying "Christ came to proclaim the Sermon on the Mount" is true. Saying that in a context that allows one to think this answers the question "what is the totality of the reason Christ became man" is an intentionally misleading omission. Putting the question the way the passage about "accepting and valuing" does, without FURTHER stating a good deal of what we already know is a false and deformed sort of welcoming and valuing is an intentionally misleading omission.

Christopher said...

Tony:

I don't know who BenYachov is, nor is characteristics. If it's just a bait, I'll avoid.

'But nothing in all that justifies leaving the Church, and the Church is always the Church led by the successor of Peter.'

No, it does not, and the SSPX, whom he has criticised has not left the Church, and still acknowledge Popes Paul VI, and Francis as successors of Peter.

Christopher said...

is = his

Christopher said...

Sorry, also to clarify, I acknowledge Pope Francis as the Successor of Saint Peter, in case any confusion occurs.

Anonymous said...

"Liberalism will suffer the same fate as Arianism, but it may take a very long time for the Church entirely to flush it out of its system, and things may get a lot worse before they get better."

I would love to see this remark elaborated upon, either by Dr. Feser (who made it) or any of the commentators here. Personally, I would not be surprised if liberalism continues to reign from now till the end of time. I just naturally see it as the ever-expanding terminus of cultural evolution. But I would be fascinated to hear from those who think it will eventually give way to something else (especially in the culture at large, rather than just in the Church).

Santi Tafarella said...

Professor Feser wrote the following: "Sexual desire is extremely powerful and the demands of sexual morality an especially irksome imposition on the will. Hence the tendency of liberalism is to try as far as possible to eliminate or at least soften and minimize the importance of such demands."

Who cares what liberals are trying to do in terms of eliminating or softening sexual moral demands?

The questions that should not be lost here are these:

(1) Are the sexual prohibitions placed on people justified (from masturbation, to contraception, to gay marriage)?

(2) Are Thomists begging the question when they essentialize marriage as centered in reproduction, raising children, and promoting family?

(3) Can marriage be redefined under Thomist assumptions in a way that is oriented toward love as the essential core of it? And if it can be, why shouldn't it be done?

The focus on liberalism and the Church's inside baseball in Feser's post distracts from a direct grappling with these questions.

Greg said...

@ Santi

The focus on liberalism and the Church's inside baseball in Feser's post distracts from a direct grappling with these questions.

Uh, no, it doesn't. People write blog posts for many reasons, and they are not always to answer the questions on your mind. He is writing this blog post from the perspective of a Catholic and there are obvious reasons, for the purpose of this post, to take the Church's teaching for granted. For example, faithful Catholics generally submit to the teaching authority of the Church. Also, he has given philosophical arguments about sexual morality elsewhere. In this post Feser is assessing trends in society and the Church using Gricean implicature; the questions you want to ask are simply not relevant.

malcolmthecynic said...

As for Pope Francis - I feel a little sorry for him. What it looks like to me is that Pope Francis does not believe he has the theological acumen to definitively settle debate on something that has ripped the Church apart like this. So he is trying to let both side duke it out with each other while remaining as neutral as possible (though he obviously has some leftist sympathies even if he doesn't necessarily count among them).

I don't think, though, it's necessarily a matter of the Pope being unorthodox - more like a matter of the Pope feeling unqualified. Unlike most liberals when he says he wants to see DEBATE he actually means DEBATE. This is laudable in isolation but unfortunately in this circumstance we really need a definitive orthodox statement shouted down from the rooftops, and this strategy does not lend itself to that sort of thing.

Matthew McCormack said...

"Even Pope Liberius, though he did not bind the Church to error, temporized. The heresy took centuries to die out completely. No doubt there were churchmen at the time keen to emphasize the “gifts and qualities” of Arians, to “accept and value” the depth and sincerity of their devotion to the Arian cause, and to affirm the “precious support” Arians provided one another. "
I think there is a lot more choice in being an Arian than a homosexual. Arianism is a collection of ideas one chooses to embrace. Homosexuality is an attraction one has. Arianism is wrong; homosexuality is disordered, but sexual attraction, even disordered sexual attraction, can encourage, as ordered sexual attraction does, and be present with genuine friendship and love. Can friendship and love be accepted and valued even if it is the result of disordered sexual attraction ?

Crude said...

Who cares what liberals are trying to do in terms of eliminating or softening sexual moral demands?

Lots and lots of people. If you're not one, that's tough. We're not honor-bound to talk about what you personally wish to discuss at the moment.

To everyone else...

I actually am not sure of what to make of Francis on this subject. There are days where I think what Francis wants isn't some inane leftward redefining of moral rules - the idea that liberal morality has a basis in anything more than 'But this is what I WANT!' doesn't stand up to intellectual scrutiny anyway.

Instead, I sometimes suspect that what the Pope wants is outreach to sinners. He wants us to approach them with compassion, and sincerity. That may mean seeing the good in some things without pretending not to see the bad. We're not supposed to say, 'anal sex is totally fine now, come to Church!' But we may be better off saying, 'The friendship and companionship you have with your lover has good aspects. The sexual aspects of your relationship may be wrong, but the relationship in its entirety may not be.'

It's a subtle distinction, and hard to enunciate when you have a self-conscious leftist culture trying to manipulate the communication. But if I'm correct, then this Pope may end up being a net boon to orthodox teaching and communication.

I suppose we'll see.

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

You asked whether I am still "99% sure that 'nature is completely without purpose or value'"?

As I've stated elsewhere, I see no evidence that the cosmos has an end to which it is tending. It's vast and old, violent and evolving. It appears to care not for us. (Auden captured this beautifully in "Musee des Beaux Arts.")

And gravity brings new stars into existence even as others die and explode. It doesn't seem to be tending toward any purpose. And we're late comers to the whole process. Even our star is a late comer. Others stars came and went long before ours even got here. So the cosmos' end, if it has one, certainly does not appear to be us. The Holocaust doesn't help the purpose thesis here. (I'm thinking of Camus' perspective after WWII.)

If God exists, there may be some inscrutable goal and value to which the cosmos is tending, but again, it doesn't appear to be focused on us, or anything we can understand. Why, for example, did God use 3 billion years of death and competition to generate life's current complexity on our planet? Why make such exquisite cellular machines only to have them EAT one another? Why bring into existence whole species and ecosystems, then wipe them out? (There have been numerous mass extinctions in Earth's history.) It just makes no sense.

If there was evidence that the cosmos was young, small, revolved around planet Earth, and suffused with miraculous events, one would reasonably conclude that something purposeful and supernatural was up, even with God not talking. And if each animal appeared to be specially created, that would be interesting. But none of this is the case. And God isn't talking.

Nevertheless, the fact that there is life and mind in the material cosmos at all is stunning, so maybe something purposeful is up after all. I don't know.

What evidence would you point to that ought to incline me to believe the cosmos tends to some supernatural purpose?

Crude said...

Actually, to zero in on something Ed said:

But such a reaffirmation seems unlikely given that it would conflict with the Pope’s aim of putting less emphasis on these matters and trying to find ways to attract those who disagree with the Church’s teaching about them.

Is that the best way to put it, though? Playing Papist Advocate for a moment - isn't one of Ed's own goals 'Finding way to attract those who disagree with Thomism'?

Taken the wrong way, that could mean 'Sacrificing parts of Thomism to make it more appealing', which Ed doesn't do.

But taken another way, it could mean 'Presenting Thomism in such a way that takes people who would normally be dismissive of it or hostile to it, and attracting people to what it actually says.'

Greg said...

@ Crude

I actually am not sure of what to make of Francis on this subject. There are days where I think what Francis wants isn't some inane leftward redefining of moral rules - the idea that liberal morality has a basis in anything more than 'But this is what I WANT!' doesn't stand up to intellectual scrutiny anyway.

I am not really sure either. He has recently praised Humanae vitae as "prophetic". Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia is in charge of the World Meeting of Families that will precede the next Synod. Yesterday he said this. I find it hard to believe that he is on the verge of liberalizing the Church. But the actions surrounding the Synod were also difficult to discern.

I hope you are right that he will hash out a good pastoral approach to these issues.

Greg said...

@ Santi

What evidence would you point to that ought to incline me to believe the cosmos tends to some supernatural purpose?

I was more referring to the appeal to the right and the true alongside disbelief in value.

Jeremy Tayloy said...

but sexual attraction, even disordered sexual attraction, can encourage, as ordered sexual attraction does, and be present with genuine friendship and love. Can friendship and love be accepted and valued even if it is the result of disordered sexual attraction ?

Well, firstly, although it is only an empirical point and one can question whether it must be so, but, especially amongst male homosexuals, long term fidelity is statistically negligible. Even long term homosexual relationships are quite different to the traditional ideal of monogamy.

Secondly, what you appear to be saying is that there are good sides to homosexual relationships, as well as bad; namely, love and friendship. This is true, but aren't they so bound up the rest of the relationship that they are coloured by it? There are many other, non-sexual, ways to build and express love and friendship. Is it not strange to give any legitimacy to homosexual relationships, simply on this score?

Crude said...

Greg,

I find it hard to believe that he is on the verge of liberalizing the Church. But the actions surrounding the Synod were also difficult to discern.

I agree. But then, the synod itself may have had an effect on Francis.

We shall see.

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

You wrote that the questions I'm raising surrounding justification "are simply not relevant."

When you say this, do recall that gay marriage is not just an abstract question. We're talking about the lives of real gay people, their equality and dignity, and their right to flourish openly as who they are.

Who they are ESSENTIALLY.

Are you in solidarity with gay people's assertions of equality, dignity, autonomy, and marriage equality or not? It's as much an existential question as a procedural and inside baseball question for this or that religious or political institution.

In the 1960s, it wouldn't have been reasonable to discuss the inside baseball of the black civil rights movement and the women's equality movement without expecting someone to raise the issue, if you opposed them, of your own justification for doing so. You wouldn't get the luxury to just game the state of play. By your very resistance to the full equality and dignity of others, you wouldn't have earned that. You couldn't have expected that.

It's the same today.

The very pressing of the issue of gay marriage by gay people insists on justification from those who oppose them and support the status quo.

Gays have experienced millenia of discrimination, violence, and closeting, and we are now living at a moment in history in which gays are asserting their equality and declaring that their essence and inclinations are neither evil nor disordered. If you say that they are, that needs justification.

Brandon said...

You wrote that the questions I'm raising surrounding justification "are simply not relevant."

He said specifically that they were not relevant to the subject of the post, "assessing trends in society and the Church using Gricean implicature". Nothing in your comment clarifies how your questions bear on pragmatic implicature or its application to social change.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: Personally, I would not be surprised if liberalism continues to reign from now till the end of time.

Well, that’s certainly a possibility, but I highly doubt the world is going to end within the next century. Liberalism, in the sense of our modern Western culture, is too self-centred to last very long — it’s too detached from reality to survive on its own. The only reason it’s doing as well as it is is because it’s coasting on a couple of millennia of Christian culture. If Western civilisation (such as it is) doesn’t get knocked down by Ebola or WWIII or something equally drastic, it will start to collapse from its own decrepitude. Building a civilisation is hard, it requires a lot of self-sacrifice; if people catch on in time, a resurgence of Christianity may buoy up society by pushing out the ‘liberal’ tendencies, and if they don’t, then something else will take its place — it won’t be pretty, but it won’t be liberalism.

Mr. Green said...

I see our latest troll has invaded yet another thread. We’ve all had ample opportunity to get it out of our systems in the previous hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of posts, so can we please try to ignore the off-topic, off-putting, and off-his-rocker comments? Anyone who thinks that the owner of a site is wrong to write about a subject of his choosing instead of about what the troll wants does not merit serious replies. Indeed, to respond seriously would by implicature condone his view; as furthermore to reply to poorly-formed arguments[sic] implies that they are in fact good, worthwhile arguments. It's not only a waste of time, it clogs up the thread for everyone else who is trying to have a genuine discussion.

Greg said...

@ Santi

You wrote that the questions I'm raising surrounding justification "are simply not relevant."

You wrote that this blog post's focus on liberalism "distracts from a direct grappling with these questions." The blog post is about liberalism and the Church. Its relation to homosexuality is tangential; a similar point could have been made in the context of the debate over divorce and 'remarriage.' If Professor Feser posted something about philosophy of mind, it would be inappropriate to bring up the suffering of Christians in the Middle East, even though that is an important issue of justice.

The very pressing of the issue of gay marriage by gay people insists on justification from those who oppose them and support the status quo.

Gays have experienced millenia of discrimination, violence, and closeting, and we are now living at a moment in history in which gays are asserting their equality and declaring that their essence and inclinations are neither evil nor disordered. If you say that they are, that needs justification.


This is all very noble and all, but as you know (even though you're writing as though this is the first time this topic has come up) tons of people, including Feser, have offered arguments.

Of course, people with homosexual inclinations are equal. Their essences are human essences--so their essences are not evil. Nor are inclinations evil, for people are not culpable for their inclinations. But that's probably not what you had in mind.

In any case, we have been over these issues quite a bit, and it would be really inappropriate to jack another thread. I am not going to respond.

Matthew McCormack said...

"... love and friendship. This is true, but aren't they so bound up the rest of the relationship that they are coloured by it?"

That is interesting. If love and friendship are so bound up with homosexual relationships, can they be all bad ?
What I was saying is that the sexual attraction can lead to love and friendship, as it does for heterosexuals. Maybe this is more the case for females, I don't know, but I think that is irrelevant. I would not bind up the sexual attraction with love and friendship for either homo- or heterosexuals. I think they are separate things.

"There are many other, non-sexual, ways to build and express love and friendship."

There are other ways, but that is also not relevant to the initial question.

"Is it not strange to give any legitimacy to homosexual relationships, simply on this score?"
I think love and friendship are things to be highly valued. They ennoble heterosexual relationships, so if homosexual attraction can also lead to genuine love and friendship then this should be considered with regard to them. This may not legitimize a disordered sexual attraction, but the relationship is more (in some cases) than sex.

Santi Tafarella said...

Jeremy,

When you use the word "strange" in your post above, are you suggesting that giving "any legitimacy to homosexual relationships" can have no rational justification under Thomism?

Is it simply impossible, in your view, for Thomism to even consider orienting itself toward an affirmation of gay marriage?

Why?

Brandon said...

So that the point will not get completely lost, I think Matthew McCormack is right that the last sentence of the penultimate paragraph of the post muddies the argument somewhat; the prior sentences and the paragraph afterward indicate that the parallel should be between Liberalism and Arianism, but this is obscured by that sentence.

Crude said...

Personally, I would not be surprised if liberalism continues to reign from now till the end of time.

Considering all signs point to liberalism being an aspect of cultural decay, which eventually collapses and gives way to a new culture, I'd say the odds dramatically swing against it reigning 'from now till the end of time'. Doubly so since, as Ed outlines it, there's really nothing substantial beneath liberalism other than whims of the age. It's very reactive.

To put it in perspective - right now liberalism demands same-sex marriage. But it likewise denigrates marriage itself in general. It's not uncommon to find in the same people who will scream from the rooftops that same-sex marriage is a RIGHT, the attitude that marriage itself is some outdated, binding concept that isn't necessary at all, nor does it deserve respect. The urgency of the right has more to do with the cultural enemies on the other side of the issue than any respect for or attachment to marriage itself. It's a concept they otherwise have little use for.

Besides, liberals tend to eat their own when they lack good conservative bogeymen to fight. I notice Leiter's the latest to succumb to that.

Jeremy Taylor said...

When I said bound up, I simply meant that a homosexual relationship may well include aspects of friendship and love.

I think it is very important to note that there are many other relationships, many non-sexual and many legitimate, that can include friendship and various kinds and degrees of love.
We can accept, certainly, that the friendship and love in these relationships is a good thing. But I would argue the context matters a lot and in this instance completely overshadows these good aspects. And the fact such relationships are not at all necessary for homosexuals to feel love and friendship matters a lot.

BenYachov said...

@Christopher

SSPX are not Catholic. Their Priests have no lawful authority to celebrate the Sacraments & until the day they might hopefully return to full communion they are not really Catholic.

Or to be charitable they are not fully Catholic.

They are like the gay couple who have a spiritual conversion experience to the person of Christ as their savior. They suspect deep down they should no longer be living together but have not yet found the Grace to move out. They will get there but not yet. Well the SSPX is still in the Not Yet category.

>No, it does not, and the SSPX, whom he has criticised has not left the Church..

Yeh Luther said he didn't leave the Church the Church left him.

Every Schismatic & heretic says that.

I can sympathize with idea Blessed Paul VI was heavy handed in suppressing the St Pius V Mass.

But communion with the Pope is more important.

Tony writesL
>Chris, you should know that Ben Y likes to bait people, especially rad-trads. It doesn't get under my skin the way it might if I were a rad-trad myself, but it is easier to take sitting down if you realize that.

Call it what you will I have a long history with Radtrads & I don't care for their right wing dissent anymore then I care for left wing dissent.

Traditionalists we need. Scholastic Traditionalism, Latin Mass all the Old devotions.

Good stuff.

Crude said...

We can accept, certainly, that the friendship and love in these relationships is a good thing. But I would argue the context matters a lot and in this instance completely overshadows these good aspects. And the fact such relationships are not at all necessary for homosexuals to feel love and friendship matters a lot.

I agree on all counts. But I still think it's intellectually correct, and helpful, to concede those good aspects.

In every discussion I get in over this topic, I find myself having to say, 'No, the problem here is not 'love'. It's the ****ing. Remove the sex and the sexual aspects, and there's nothing left that's objectionable.' It's true, and it keeps the focus where it needs to be.

BenYachov said...

>We can accept, certainly, that the friendship and love in these relationships is a good thing. But I would argue the context matters a lot and in this instance completely overshadows these good aspects. And the fact such relationships are not at all necessary for homosexuals to feel love and friendship matters a lot.

Indeed! But to repeat what I said before because I like hearing myself talk and a lot of people here agree with me.

A gay relationship would be quite positive and good if it wasn't for all the intrinsically evil gay sex acts. Of course if you take away the gay sex then practically it's not a "gay relationship" but two same sex friends living together who love each other in a chaste manner.

Granted thy might go antiquing together on weekends & buy a toy dog but that can't be helped.

Ok let's get serious. Enough levity.

I can recognize what is good in the gay relationship & I might say that everything about it is good sans the gay sex acts which is awful.

*I should note even though I postulate hypothetically a chaste same sex relationship is not evil. I don't in fact advocate persons of the same sex who both have same sex attraction live together as that would be an occasion of Temptation & sin.

BenYachov said...

Crude beat me to the punch.

Not that this is a competition.

Well said brother crude well said.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Crude,

Indeed, but are there not different kinds of love. As far as romantic love goes, is it not the archetype of this the marriage of a man and woman. I know one traditional Patristic expression is that eros, like all love, when properly ordered is capable of giving birth to agape - this is its highest purpose. Surely, it is only the love of a married man and woman that can achieve this highest end?

Or, to put it another way, are homosexual relationships capable of even the highest forms of romantic love?

Crude said...

Jeremy,

Or, to put it another way, are homosexual relationships capable of even the highest forms of romantic love?

No. But what I'm concerned about here is what actual, legitimate good there may be in some relationship. I am not going to pretend that evil is good, but I'm likewise not going to ignore good just because it's in the presence of evil. I worry that the latter is a real problem, if not nearly as much as the former is nowadays.

Edward said...

Superb post. I'm pleased to read your thoughts on internal Catholic matters, as well as on debates with atheists and unbelievers.

The abandonment of scholasticism was an utter catastrophe, and (in a certain limited way) I don't blame Protestants and atheists for not taking the modern Church seriously. I do wonder whether people aren't going to start waking up to the disastrous effects of V2 after this shower.

Funnily enough, reading TLS and Aquinas helped turn me from a neo-conservative Catholic into a traditionalist one. Perhaps that was part of Prof Feser's intention?

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg said: "If I start with a conclusion, then perhaps I can manufacture a theory (or modify an existing theory) to arrive at my desired conclusion, but that is hardly philosophy."

Exactly. And that's what Thomism does again and again, pretending to use the intellect to hit a target it already has drawn a circle around with Church doctrine. I'm starting to agree with Bertrand Russell's estimate of Aquinas, that in the end he is less of a philosopher and more an apologist.

In other words, when the use of philosophy suits the Thomist, the philosophy is emphasized. But when the philosophy fails of its own accord to reach the doctrines of the Church, it gets hijacked to those purposes. Thomism is a handmaiden of the Church.

Thus in the case of essentialism and gay marriage, the Thomist pretends that only the INTELLECT and not the WILL are engaged in appraising what marriage really is most essentially, when in reality the traditional and conservative WILL is driving the INTELLECT exactly in the way that Feser claims liberals are guilty of.

Gay people believe that they are born gay, that there is something sui generis and essential about their condition. Science supports this conclusion.

Gay marriage, therefore, could be oriented to Thomistic essentialism if Thomists wanted this to happen. But they don't. They're temperamentally conservative people using philosophy to arrive at temperamentally conservative (and in this case, Church oriented) conclusions.

Opposition to gay marriage is an expression of the conservative will, not the philosophical intellect.

But here is all a Thomist would have to do to approve gay marriage (in and outside of the Church):

(1) Admit that it's okay to change one's mind. One needn't be King Creon in Sophocles' Antigone, rigidly holding to a position out of fear of losing "authority." As RFK said, reflecting on the unbending Creon, "The only sin is pride."

(2) Define marriage, in its essential nature, more broadly than just surrounding reproduction, the rearing of children, and promoting the heterosexual family. This could be done by placing its essential aim at love between partners setting out to build a life together (with or without children). The light of love and human bonding could thus be treated as what is most essential to marriage.

(3) Acknowledge the fact that Thomas himself did not reason in a vacuum, and that history and culture influenced his premises and conclusions, one of which was putting reproduction front and center in family life at a time when maintaining population was a serious issue. This is no longer a problem.

(4) Acknowledge the fact that when God gave humans big brains, this changed the equations surrounding what organs are "essentially for."

(5) Affirm that the treatment of homosexuals throughout the millenia has been cruel, humiliating, murderous, and evil--a historic, inter-generational crime--and that humans now mean to remedy it by removing the stigma surrounding homosexuality. There is nothing disordered or otherwise wrong surrounding homosexual desire or commitment within gay marriage. Nothing. Society can incorporate a broader and essential definition of marriage.

dover_beach said...

"Exactly. And that's what Thomism does again and again, pretending to use the intellect to hit a target it already has drawn a circle around with Church doctrine. I'm starting to agree with Bertrand Russell's estimate of Aquinas, that in the end he is less of a philosopher and more an apologist."

For someone "drawing a circle around...Church doctrine", the condemnation of 1277 must have come as a surprise.

Crude said...

Ed's demonstrated the intellectual bankruptcy of modern liberalism, and I think we're seeing it on display here. The idea that 'all Thomism has to do to change is admit that it's wrong' is akin to saying 'all evolutionists have to do to change is admit that they're wrong'. It's presented as a simple, easy binary - 'Just change this one bit!' - and ignores all the evidence, reasoning and arguments that would have to be invalidated or denied to make that change.

But I think Santi knows this. So, while he tries to derail the conversation in one way, I'll try ... re-railing? it in a direction I think lines up with the OP.

Ed's talked about the intellectual bankruptcy of liberalism. But what I think is important to stress is that that intellectual bankruptcy isn't of the sort that forever enshrines, say... respect for gay marriage, sexual freedom, or this or that. So I think it's important to recognize the following.

Liberalism can become 'anti-gay' with far greater ease than Thomism could ever become even neutral, not to mention positive, about same-sex sexual relationships.

What would be needed?

1. Declare that they were wrong in the past. Keep in mind that, unlike with the case of Thomism, there are really no intellectual barriers here. They wouldn't need to demonstrate they were wrong, they'd not have any evidence they'd have to grapple with. All that would be necessary is a change of will, a shift in mood, and the absolute lion's share of the work would be done.

2. Recognize mental and physical downsides to active same-sex relationships. The spread of disease, the physical damage, the suicide rates (switch from saying 'that's due to cultural pressure' to saying 'that's due to the orientation'), the sexual promiscuity, and more. What matters here most is reframing. Further, point out the extremely minor population of people who are exclusively same-sex attracted - talk about it being 'deviancy', an ailment, in physical terms, akin to deafness or blindness.

3. Announce that biological imperatives give no license to sexual habits. Assert that, left unchecked, humanity's biological urges would lead to ruin and the fall of civilization as we know it, and thus it is simply obvious that there needs to be a greater justification to human behavior. If this leads to contradictory positions, remember: it does not matter. Intellect, evidence and argument aren't key here. They are, at best, situationally employed.

4. Connect same-sex sexual behavior with social ills. Talk about how it separates sex from reproduction, argue that declining birth rates are 'equivalent to global warming in terms of the way they threaten our world'. Announce that it's important to combat this - it's a public and societal health issue, what people do in their bedrooms. Certainly what they do in public. We must protect the children.

5. Assert that whatever negative experiences people of same-sex inclination existed in the past doesn't make an illness not an illness, rather like how people who were deaf or blind or who had other disabilities may have been treated with cruelty in the past, but our recognition of this did not suddenly make them healthy. Argue that it's no more merciful to celebrate the homosexuality of a homosexual man than it is to celebrate the blindness of a blind man.

6. Determine that the apparent biological nature of homosexuality means 'people should be allowed to choose, because now they can choose'. Permit and encourage research on finding a 'cure', whether therapeutic or otherwise.

To anyone who would scoff, I suggest you simply take a look at how many times throughout history liberal cultures have radically reversed themselves on a number of topics. It is not a unidirectional monoculture - it has very few fundamental orientations (ha) on issues that it is forever barred from crossing. As Ed said, it's about the will, and the will can be capricious.

Greg said...

Again, Santi, your arguments are completely unserious and lacking in good faith. You instrumentalize philosophy to the pursuit of antecedently held positions, so you fancy everyone else must also as well.

Nevermind that Thomas worked in an Aristotelian framework of which Christians of his time were skeptical, especially because of the medieval Islamic appropriation of that framework. Nevermind that many people on this website are not Catholics. Nevermind that Bertrand Russell was hardly capable of dispassionately and fairly assessing Thomism.

As far as your other assertions go, I need not add anything that has not been addressed in the last couple comment threads. The fact that you are making arguments like this is good reason to doubt we are going to have a fruitful discussion (if previous experience were not reason enough):

Acknowledge the fact that Thomas himself did not reason in a vacuum, and that history and culture influenced his premises and conclusions, one of which was putting reproduction front and center in family life at a time when maintaining population was a serious issue. This is no longer a problem.

dover_beach said...

Crude, you've just sketched the argument of 19th and 20th C liberals against homosexuality.

Crude said...

Dover,

Crude, you've just sketched the argument of 19th and 20th C liberals against homosexuality.

I suppose I did to a degree. Probably with some changes - I'd guess that the idea of it being biological wasn't so popular back then. Nor was there any concern about population rates at that time, I'm pretty sure. There's probably some other differences.

But I think it's important to stress the flexibility of liberalism, and in doing so I may even be running up against some of what Ed himself has said about it. There are very few guarantees about morality when the will is primary.

dover_beach said...

Crude, yes, there were those differences, but to your point about flexibility, look how quickly and effortlessly that opposition collapsed and reversed in the post-WW2 period.

Crude said...

dover,

Crude, yes, there were those differences, but to your point about flexibility, look how quickly and effortlessly that opposition collapsed and reversed in the post-WW2 period.

I agree, and thanks for backing that up. I can think of even more recent examples - from 'freedom of expression is supremely important!' and 'sex is natural, sexualization in media is harmless!' to 'freedom of expression must be responsible, hate speech is not to be tolerated' and 'sexualization of women promotes a rape-culture, it must be discouraged!' The examples could be multiplied.

Oddly, though, I don't hear so much about this. There's this tendency at times to paint liberalism as if it has a natural tendency towards the free, free, free. I think it's a lot more chaotic than that. There are in principle liberal "arguments" for out and out slavery - just a few dashes of "for their own good..." and the right will and mood of the era.

dover_beach said...

The problem for liberalism is its metaphysics. It's either the weird nominalism of Hobbes or Locke that includes elements of the natural law even though they have departed from realism, or its the thorough-going nominalism of Bentham and Mill and the ethical theory of utilitarianism. I suppose you could add the idealism of Kant but his ethical theory is still largely under the sway of Christian ethics. As soon as that went, Kantians are simply liberals of a different sort. I suppose you could say Kant and Mill are the two extremities of liberalism, and Hobbes/ Locke the center.

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

You told me explicitly what your premises are surrounding marriage and Thomism. They entail procreation, child-rearing, heterosexual bonding between a man and woman, and the social promotion of family, all of which are culturally conditioned ways of conceiving marriage. So let's not be coy here. It is all question begging in terms of what's essential about marriage, and where one begins reasoning about it. It's not just me, but you that are exercising your WILL in the leading of your INTELLECT. And so when you say that I "instrumentalize philosophy to the pursuit of antecedently held positions," you're doing exactly the same thing.

Crude said...

dover,

The problem for liberalism is its metaphysics. It's either the weird nominalism of Hobbes or Locke that includes elements of the natural law even though they have departed from realism, or its the thorough-going nominalism of Bentham and Mill and the ethical theory of utilitarianism.

Intellectually, I agree. In general, I'm a little more suspicious. Most people seem to not to have much in the way of even a basically defined metaphysics sketched out - they have what are 'metaphysical thoughts', but little in the way of a system. Even a share of people who say things like 'I endorse utilitarianism', at least in my experience, don't seem to know or care much about it other than having read something somewhere they kind of liked so now they're parroting a bit.

It's like science. I've run into too many people who will do the 'I ****ing love science!' dance, but their love of it doesn't really extend beyond 'liking' pictures or quotes on Facebook.

Still, insofar as liberalism of the sort Ed talks about is defined by will, I think it maps sufficiently - and it's not reliable. In fact, after I talked about the potential justifications of slavery with liberalism, I realized that that was yet another argument at the time.

Which just goes back to Ed's point. There's nothing new here, frantic insistence to the contrary. With liberalism, it's all been done before.

Crude said...

Actually, to keep on this topic, I see Santi is shoring up my points - or at least trying to.

Of course he's wrong. What he means is that there is a liberal formulation for which WILL is primary, and the WILL can justify and lead to a position akin to Thomism's, or even go further than it. That's what I'm pointing out as well, which would mean that intellectually liberals don't have a leg to stand on in their complaints about Thomism's views on same-sex sexual acts or gay marriage - it's just one will versus another. The difference is that Thomism deals with natures, purposes, ends and more - we discover, through various ways, the ends of this or that in nature, and by every measure sodomy, same-sex desire, etc are deviations from the final cause. Sophistry doesn't change that.

But at least we have ourselves a nice little concession from the liberal side: the Thomist position, insofar as it's taken as a prohibition and condemnation of same-sex sexual acts and an upholding of a certain set of societal and sexual values, is entirely compatible with modern metaphysics, modern science, and liberalism itself.

Because intellectual compatibility with such is entirely, dramatically easy. All that matters is the will.

And the will changes.

Santi Tafarella said...

Crude,

Nice way to present your reactionary views in the wink, wink, nudge, nudge fashion of presenting them as what LIBERALS might arrive at someday.

Of course, this is exactly the way you view gay people now (as essentially ill and disordered), and it's why your position is morally indefensible.

So I'll make a prediction to counter Feser's "liberalism as Arianism" prediction: within the next fifty years, Catholicism will basically come to embrace gay unions. Francis is making a new beginning for Catholic sexual ethics. This is going to be a revolution.

Crude said...

Santi,

Nice way to present your reactionary views in the wink, wink, nudge, nudge fashion of presenting them as what LIBERALS might arrive at someday.

Might arrive at someday? They already arrived at it in the past. I'm pointing out just what liberalism and primacy of the will entails. It's a bit more wild than what people think.

Of course, this is exactly the way you view gay people now (as essentially ill and disordered), and it's why your position is morally indefensible.

Hahaha. Say what?

Morally indefensible? According to what system? Yours of the 'nature has no purposes or values' schtick? Your will of the moment? Neither threatens the position that's being offered. It is intellectually compatible with it. You said so as much yourself - all it takes is a change of the will.

But further, no, it's not compatible with my view. See, I'm inclined towards Thomism, Natural Law and Catholicism. Which means there are limits to all of this. There's mercy, there's restraint, there's perspective, all of them things I can't just write off due to my will of the moment. I must subordinate my will to intellect.

The modernist and the liberal? They're under no such restraint. History shows the results. The future will too.

So I'll make a prediction to counter Feser's "liberalism as Arianism" prediction: within the next fifty years

Ah, the final refuge of the lost liberal. Let me make a few predictions of my own.

Within the next fifty years, gay marriage will be seen as a historical embarrassment by all sides. The liberals will wonder why they ever made a fuss over marriage at all. Non-liberals will see it all as a bit of first-world hysteria that was thankfully temporary. What same-sex attracted people who remain and embrace said identity will find the obsession with marriage and public acceptance a shameful low point in their own history.

As far as technology goes, it will advance to a point where the root biological causes of same-sex preference are discovered - and can be changed. Many will elect to do exactly that.

By the by - what's really funny here is that you read Ed's piece and end up spitting out 'But just you wait! Fifty years!' But the problems Ed spoke of were problems for -centuries-, Santi. This isn't a game where a temporary victory matters. What you need is a victory for all time.

And that's not in the cards. Not even if liberalism was, hilariously, 'forever triumphant'. Because liberal values are subservient to the will.

And the will changes.

Santi Tafarella said...

Crude:

You said regarding Thomism, "we discover, through various ways, the ends of this or that in nature," and the rub here, of course, is that "various ways" part. What you don't notice is that you have a target in mind (certain sexual mores), and you guide your reason ("through various ways") to that target.

You call it the use of INTELLECT to arrive at essence and truth, but it's actually WILL arriving at temperamentally and culturally conditioned conclusions that simply beg the questions.

There's no reason not to start the essence of marriage with love.

So you're just playing at philosophy as apologetics by locating it in reproduction, child-rearing, and family promotion. It's the apologetics that you're after. But the disillusioned can actually see hope in such behavior for gay marriage. If you can will yourself into an intellectual pretzel in terms of human sexual behavior, making even masturbation (ludicrously) a sin, and inhumanely condemning gay people to lifelong abstinence, you can will yourself right back out. Let those who have minds to rationalize, let them rationalize.

dover_beach said...

"They entail procreation, child-rearing, heterosexual bonding between a man and woman, and the social promotion of family, all of which are culturally conditioned ways of conceiving marriage."

It's no more "culturally conditioned" than saying that murder is the deliberate killing of the innocent". Furthermore, what gives the lie to the claim that our understanding of marriage is "culturally conditioned" is demonstrated by the fact that when you do encounter another culture and you find they also distinguish a relationship with procreative potential, that also involves child-rearing, etc., from other forms of human relationship, like friendship.

Crude said...

Santi,

You said regarding Thomism, "we discover, through various ways, the ends of this or that in nature," and the rub here, of course, is that "various ways" part. What you don't notice is that you have a target in mind (certain sexual mores), and you guide your reason ("through various ways") to that target.

I don't notice it, because it's not the case. You keep applying your way of thinking to everyone else, certain that just as you decide what conclusions you want to arrive at and then try to find a way to them, come hell or highwater, others do so as well. Alas, it is not the case.

The purpose and final cause of sex is wrapped up in marriage, and said purpose and final cause is inextricably linked to procreation - which weighs against same-sex sexual acts from the outset. Mind you, I have additional (religious and secular) reasons to criticize such, but insofar as we're talking about Thomism - a thing which is largely alien to you, and which you try to stay away from save to scream at it - that settles matters.

If you can will yourself into an intellectual pretzel

No need. See, I try to make my will subservient to my intellect. You struggle with all your might to resist that, and make your will primary.

And what does that mean? Well, it means that the only thing separating you from what you think right now is 'morally reprehensible' is a matter of taste and desire alone. In fact, what is and isn't morally reprehensible is a matter of taste and desire alone.

In fact, Santi, that leads me to another bit of prophecy.

Within fifty years, if you are so blessed to live that long, you will come to change your mind about gay marriage - particularly if you remain attached to your current philosophical leanings. You'll say 'I made a mistake, I now rationalize this way instead of that way', and you'll even regard your change as a mark of progress on your part. All that matters is your will, and as recent history shows, the will can change in an eyeblink, even if the intellect is more reliable.

Fifty years? Odds favor you blinking, Santi.

Crude said...

dover,

It's no more "culturally conditioned" than saying that murder is the deliberate killing of the innocent".

I think at this point Santi would insist that people only eat when hungry due to cultural conditioning and that the end result of hunger may as well be to play badminton as eat, if he thought it was necessary to insist such to rally a half-assed (aheh) defense of anal sex.

Seriously, this isn't a guy who's here for a conversation. He wants to derail and attack. But at least now we're having a bit of fun with him. I think he's fighting mightily to avoid realizing just what's at work with the modern liberal mindset he thought was the granter of all his desires. Turns out, it ain't that simple...

Santi Tafarella said...

Reconsidering my above prediction, I'm probably being flippant in estimating how difficult it will be for Catholicism to adjust to gay marriage. (I don't mean in terms of civil unions, but in terms of marriage within the Church itself.)

There are large factors that may well prevent it from ever allowing gay marriage. Most obviously, Catholicism relies for its energy on temperamental conservatives more than liberals. So follow the money (the contributions).

And this means that, intellectually, Thomism will probably plod along in medieval grooves, justifying medieval positions, without feeling any impetus to reevaluate premises to get at the REAL ESSENCES of things (as opposed to the FAKE ESSENCES it poses for so many things now).

Thomism, though wonderfully devoted to precision in reasoning, is basically the handmaid of conservatives, and if it ever goes in search of the complexities and nuances of REAL ESSENCES as opposed to the ones in keeping with traditional Church doctrine, conservatives will simply abandon it. They'll become fideists, or whatever. The key is not for most people what's true, it's what one wants to believe, what gives comfort. Thomism puts a veneer of objectivity and precision on things that strains out the gnat and swallows the willful camel that is actually driving its conclusions.

So the more I hear Thomists reason from starting points that beg questions, and wherever I see them taking things for granted that are utterly without foundation in empiricism or anything else (original sin and eternal hell, for example), the more it seems to me that Thomism is apologetics.

Crude said...

So the more I hear Thomists reason from starting points that beg questions

Translation: So long as Thomists' arguments inevitably lead to conclusions I'm emotionally dissatisfied with.

and wherever I see them taking things for granted that are utterly without foundation in empiricism or anything else (original sin and eternal hell, for example),

Further translation: If I haven't displayed yet that I actually have no idea what Thomists are even saying, hopefully this will do the trick. Seriously, I may as well think Thomism is just philosophy done by anyone named Thomas at this point.

the more it seems to me that Thomism is apologetics.

I've just said that when it's the will rather than the intellect that determines one's moral convictions, one is an apologist. I do not realize that I have branded myself, and most of my allies, as apologists upon the instant.

Brandon said...

Since Santi has repeatedly demonstrated a complete failure to grasp both standard Thomistic positions, and the distinction between holding those positions and having a Thomistic approach, and the distinction between Thomism and the other philosophical approaches represented in the comments here, it is indeed difficult not to be amused at the extraordinarily sweeping claims about the essence of Thomism into which Santi somehow has deep insight, an insight that seems to be based on no serious evidence at all but just mystical apprehension -- otherwise, we might have to say that the starting-points of Santi's reasoning are question-begging.

BenYachov said...

Santi in the 60's & 70's liberals where saying marriage was an outmoded primitive patriarchal & oppressive institution.

Now they are saying orthodox religious people are bigots unless they grant their assent to gay people to have access to it.

I once remember reading a gay opponent of same sex marriage wax eloquent on how gay proponents of gay marriage where implicitly conceding that straight people where in fact "Normal" & gays are abnormal unless they ape and imitate straights as closely as possible.

To me it's like watching an atheist woman campaign for so called women's ordination.

Weird.

Irish Thomist said...

@Crude

Further translation: If I haven't displayed yet that I actually have no idea what Thomists are even saying, hopefully this will do the trick. Seriously, I may as well think Thomism is just philosophy done by anyone named Thomas at this point.

I ROFLed at that.

It's so tempting to engage in these debates with Santi but so hard to reply to something just so way off. Better not starting because ones frustration in replying may erroneously come off as ad hominem.

Greg said...

@ Crude

I can think of even more recent examples - from 'freedom of expression is supremely important!' and 'sex is natural, sexualization in media is harmless!' to 'freedom of expression must be responsible, hate speech is not to be tolerated' and 'sexualization of women promotes a rape-culture, it must be discouraged!'

I think this is where a lot of the liberal aporiae crop up. We encourage people to, for instance, dress in sexually provocative ways. Part of what is liberating about this is supposed to be the sexual provocation, the fact that someone can freely wear what other generations have regarded as scandalous in public. Or, we normalize the production and consumption of pornography which, due to the nature of the market and the demand generated by men, will disproportionately turn women into sex objects. Then we are surprised when a rape culture crops up.

There is a liberal ideal that all negative consequences of the sexual revolution can be separated from the supposedly good consequences by the right legislation. All of the evil consequences, in fact, emerge from the fact that bad-natured conservatives block the legislation from being fully liberating. If we could just go all the way... (Though sometimes there is another line here, where liberals say, Yes, we are going too far, but it would be better if you came along with us, at least part of the way. Santi said something like this to me in the last comment thread regarding a "conservative" conception of 'gay marriage'.)

There are a lot of structurally similar issues. I saw an image online calling for people not to judge a Muslim woman in traditional dress as being a victim of misogyny or repression; her decision to wear traditional covering is an expression of her personal freedom. Nevermind that the latter assimilation of her traditional religious clothing to the only value that modern liberalism can understand undermines its purpose and makes it just an arbitrary manifestation of a contingent culture.

Because intellectual compatibility with such is entirely, dramatically easy. All that matters is the will.

One of the interesting features of liberalism is that it can't generate a consistent, constant category of rights. Look at Hobby Lobby. Twenty years ago RFRA was passed by a bipartisan Congress. Today liberals literally cannot understand freedom of religion, even though it is literally the foundational right of liberalism; liberalism because there was felt to be a need for religious toleration. Over time you can watch people conjuring up new "basic human rights" ("reproductive rights") that for some reason people didn't ever think of until the 20th century. To commit to liberalism is to commit to a set of principles which, if experience means anything, will not be the same in 2-3 decades. (A few years ago it was acceptable for a liberal to be "evolving" on the issue of 'gay marriage'. Now you can lose your job for no't supporting 'gay marriage'.)

Irish Thomist said...

@Santi

Thomism, though wonderfully devoted to precision in reasoning, is basically the handmaid of conservatives

Well it shouldn't and anyone who see's it this way is wrong, very wrong. In one sense Thomas Aquinas was very liberal and in another very conservative because he was neither, he was instead orthodox, as am I. These political labels make no sense within the Church or theology.

Thomas didn't just stick 'to the script' he instead helped develop the implicit truth already there.

Why is 'gay marriage' your (I might add random) hobby horse in Edwards combox posts? Catholic's genuinely care (at least in my case) for our/my homosexually inclined brothers and sisters. However like some homosexuals themselves would happen to think - 'gay' 'marriage' is a ridiculous and selfish concept - when all is carefully scrutinized considering civil partnerships are already legal in a lot of Western countries. It ends up becoming prejudiced and intolerant in and of itself in exactly the way it claims others are supposedly treating them. The question might be asked of how it uses children for the benefit of adults when adoption becomes an option - 'no your not allowed a mum AND a dad' because we want to play families - true I know other situations where this plays out in a different way but that might take time to get into. At least those that spoke out that were raised by such couples who are homosexually inclined themselves thought this when the debate came up in France. So if you have issue with these views they are largely from them.

I think this entire problem must be placed on the shoulders of heterosexuals and traced back to the 60's at least. People, straight people, are completely clueless as to what marriage 'is' directed towards and this attitude has permeated society for far too long. It is this presumed view of marriage which people are fighting for - since the other one, what marriage is, is completely foreign to them. They don't know of it.

Certainly I think we Catholics could do a Hell of a lot more to show our love and respect for those with a same sex attraction. That is a completely different debate as to whether we should embrace Orwellian redefinitions and oxymoronical assumptions. While being sensitive to genuine emotional needs and attachments we must nevertheless be honest about what something is or is not.

I might add that there are certainly valid situations for postulating a 'slippery slope' line of reasoning ( I have a nuanced view of logic) since the notion of when this redefinition should stop and how far we can push the envelop becomes arbitrary. In the end marriage becomes nothing precisely because it becomes everything. If you like we can reduce this claim to it's absurd conclusions.

BenYachov said...

Santi in the 60's & 70's liberals where saying marriage was an outmoded primitive patriarchal & oppressive institution.

Now they are saying orthodox religious people are bigots unless they grant their assent to gay people to have access to it.

I once remember reading a gay opponent of same sex marriage wax eloquent on how gay proponents of gay marriage where implicitly conceding that straight people where in fact "Normal" & gays are abnormal unless they ape and imitate straights as closely as possible.

To me it's like watching an atheist woman campaign for so called women's ordination.

Weird.


So true.

If I am in error I am open to correction, if I have been unwise and misspoke I can adjust where I have been inaccurate. However I know from my own upbringing a kid needs a mum and a dad.

Greg said...

@ Santi

There's no reason not to start the essence of marriage with love.

No one "start[s] the essence" of anything, Santi. Essences are picked out.

Pick it out by ostension, if you'd like. Marriage is that sort of union, the sort of union that is characterized--as a necessary condition--by consummation. The existence of such unions is dependent on cultures in the respect that it is constitutive of cultures. (In that respect, a common academic refrain, which is something of a joke but is sometimes uttered seriously, that something is a "social construction" is not in itself a criticism or an observation of subjectivity, for humans are social creatures.) But that such unions can be picked out cross-culturally is not at all contingent.

You could point to other unions lacking that feature (among other attendant features). You can even insist that those other unions are (or can be) marriage. But on that count you are wrong, for they lack a necessary condition.

If you can will yourself into an intellectual pretzel in terms of human sexual behavior, making even masturbation (ludicrously) a sin, and inhumanely condemning gay people to lifelong abstinence, you can will yourself right back out.

The reason I brought up masturbation before is that your attitude toward it is representative of the irrelevance of your "orientation to love." Masturbation is not generally "oriented to love", and your claim that it's "ludicrous" to regard it as a sin indicates that the orientation to love is not doing any work in the case of 'gay marriage'; sexual stimulation in service to pleasure does not appear, on your view, to require any justification. (Here I assume that you are not going to draw distinctions about cases where masturbation is and is not moral, since you proclaimed it "ludicrous" without qualification to regard it as a sin.)

Is the idea that sexual restraint--chastity--can be a virtue unintelligible to you? I am not insisting that you ought to accept the position. I acknowledge that the liberated conception of sexual morality is attractive in some ways, even though I believe it is incorrect. I am only asking if it is literally beyond your comprehension that someone could see something to criticize in masturbation.

Irish Thomist said...

@Greg

To commit to liberalism...
is to commit to marriage of the age. She always dies too young my friend.

Irish Thomist said...

@Greg

Satni's views and parallels with masturbation could be offensive to homosexuals if both are 'oriented to love' in the same way he is claiming. Would you say this is a correct observation - as I skim what he says now... very verbose for so little understanding of those he engages with.

Irish Thomist said...

@Crude

It's so tempting to engage in these debates with Santi but so hard to reply to something just so way off. Better not starting because ones frustration in replying may erroneously come off as ad hominem.

Oh, I seem to have fallen again in to the temptation myslef a few posts back. :(

Mr. Green said...

Crude: But I think it's important to stress the flexibility of liberalism

There’s only one system that can ever be wholly consistent, and that’s the truth. If will is paramount, then either there’s anarchy (which, alluding to my earlier comment, makes it impossible to build a society), or else some particular group takes charge. And as you note, different people will different things at different times, so the party-line is forever changing.

Further translation: Seriously, I may as well think Thomism is just philosophy done by anyone named Thomas at this point.

Oh, I’m going to have to steal that line!

Mr. Green said...

Brandon: If that's the case, though, then there might well not be any rigorous account of when and how to take them into serious consideration.

I suppose, as with any communication, the trick is to size up one’s audience; and it is tricky, because audiences are diverse; and changeable; and especially with modern media, one ultimately does not who will be engaging in that interpretation or how.

Of course there comes a point where it’s unreasonable to second-guess how an audience “might” interpret something and simply adopt a perspective that the audience could or should reasonably expect. (Pope Francis, for example, surely doesn’t bother much that a lot of people — on both sides! — will try to read anything he says as though it came from a Western/American politician instead of from a pope.)

Greg said...

@ Irish Thomist

Satni's views and parallels with masturbation could be offensive to homosexuals if both are 'oriented to love' in the same way he is claiming.

Maybe, but I don't think they would quibble. If masturbation is "oriented to love," I think it is more indicative of the emptiness of Santi's conception of love.

Brandon said...

Mr. Green,

Yes, I think it's very important to distinguish actual implicature, which is speaker-side and in the speaker's control and known solely by real evidence, with mere interpretability, which is none of the three.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Ben Yachov,

Interestingly, the former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard though an atheist refused to support gay marriage. After she fell from power, she admitted this was because she, as a feminist, thought marriage was an outdated, patriarchal institution and didn't want to give it any more legitimacy.

She wasn't criticised at all for this radical feminist stance, except by those who were in favour of gay marriage. On the other hand, the current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is a mild social conservative and is mercilessly attacked for it, called the mad monk, and the like.

I know America is slightly better than much of the rest of the West, but social conservatives really are losing. On gay marriage we are simply marginalised completely. You almost never see people in the British or Australian media making arguments against gay marriage, and when they occasionally do they tend to just be appeals to tradition (which in itself is not a bad thing, but is hardly going to sway many today).

Jeremy Taylor said...

Greg writes,

Or, we normalize the production and consumption of pornography which, due to the nature of the market and the demand generated by men, will disproportionately turn women into sex objects. Then we are surprised when a rape culture crops up.

There is truth in this, but in my experience rape culture is a term often used in foolishly by feminists in rather dubious contexts.

Feminists may have embraced female sexuality, but many seem to be suspicious of male sexuality.

In fact, much of modern feminism seems to be based on dubious nonsense, inconsistency, special pleading, and hypocrisy which has little to do with the central idea of equality between men and women.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Jezebel.Com is a good example of the idiocy associated with modern feminism.

Jeremy Taylor said...

My post in reply to Greg on feminism seems to have disappeared, so that last one doesn't make much sense in context.

Crude said...

I know America is slightly better than much of the rest of the West, but social conservatives really are losing. On gay marriage we are simply marginalised completely.

Part of that is our own doing, you know. We've got a deck stacked against us, but we've made our own mistakes and missteps. Nothing we can't turn around, though as Ed says, it may take a long time - though the first step is always going to be figuring out what has gone wrong and moving on from there.

rank sophist said...

It's a bit silly to put "remarriage" in quotation marks. It's perfectly valid under natural law to remarry while the estranged spouse is alive--just not for Catholics. A non-Catholic could remarry with a clean conscience. And even Catholics can remarry, as long as the spouse is dead. This certainly isn't an annulment-style situation where the previous marriage technically never existed in the first place.

Santi Tafarella said...

Irish Thomist:

I hear you wrestling with the issue of gay marriage in a vulnerable and thoughtful way. I don't agree with your conclusions, but I can tell that you're attempting in good faith to think it through.

You did write this, however: "'gay' 'marriage' is a ridiculous and selfish concept..."

This gets to the nub of the problem. I think that gay marriage is neither ridiculous nor selfish. Two big brained primates with same sex attraction pairing off sexually and making a life together, perhaps raising children together, is a way for gay people to plug into positive cultural practices that are good for everyone. Gay marriage could easily be conceived of as a conservative institution. It provides some Apollonian order to one's sexual Dionysian energies and channels them into positive civilizational outcomes.

If you think that gay people have desires that are essential to their nature, and if gay people can pair off in arrangements of love and stability, there doesn't seem to be any reason that I can discern that God would think this a bad thing.

Andrew Sullivan, a gay Catholic, has written eloquently on same sex marriage, and I recommend that you locate his book on the subject and his blog for his thoughts.

Agree or disagree with Sullivan, but he's a person from within your faith community who makes the case for gay marriage.

BenYachov said...

I am stealing from Crude.

I canna help it. My Clan historically where boarder Reavers (i.e. the Scotts). So I am stealing a post from his blog

He should count himself lucky I left his Sheep alone.

QUOTE"In an audience with members of an international Marian movement, Pope Francis warned that the sacrament of marriage has been reduced to a mere association, and urged participants to be witnesses in a secular world.
“The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the Pope told those in attendance at the Oct. 25 audience.
He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?”
“What is being proposed is not marriage, it's an association. But it's not marriage! It's necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed.
He lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”
Noting that there are many who cohabitate, or are separated or divorced, he explained that the “key” to helping is a pastoral care of “close combat” that assists and patiently accompanies the couple.
Pope Francis offered his words in a question-and-answer format during his audience with members of the Schoenstatt movement, held in celebration of the 100th anniversary of its founding in Germany.
Roughly 7,500 members of the international Marian and apostolic organization, both lay and clerics from dozens of nations around the world, were present in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for the audience.
In his answers to questions regarding marriage, Pope Francis explained that contemporary society has “devalued” the sacrament by turning it into a social rite, removing the most essential element, which is union with God."END QUOTE

Interesting.

PS Crude took this from EWTN.

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

You know and I know that even if essences are real, we must infer them from argumentation and evidence (where available). And we might well be wrong. We might take something to be essential to a thing when it actually is not (a FAKE ESSENCE, not a REAL ESSENCE).

And frequently we turn our culturally or temperamentally driven definitions of a thing into a claim about what is essential and normative about it.

Example: You take heterosexual consummation to be essential to what a marriage is, but then why not be more precise in your essentialism: there is GAY marriage and there is HETEROSEXUAL marriage. Why make one form of consummation necessarily normative for both forms of marriage?

And if you insist that essences are "discovered," not made up, then I think it is pretty obvious that (at least in our culture), people pair off because they believe they have found somebody they uniquely click with, cherish, and want to spend their life with. This may happen for infertile couples, elderly couples, couples in wheelchairs, etc. It doesn't have to be consummated with a penis entering a vagina.

There was a time when perhaps the majority of marriages were arranged by parents or social necessity without regard to love among the parties. Perhaps those marriages were not "essentially marriages" if love was not present.

In any case, I'm not prepared to go there with what's essential about marriage in God's eyes beyond saying that if two people want to spend their lives together, let them marry. Ask THEM what's essential about their union. Maybe it's sui generis. Maybe they'll tell you (rather than you telling them, giving them permission to call what they're doing marriage).

Feser above speaks in a very flippant and authoritarian manner about sex being subjected to intellect and Church doctrine, and there's good reason Western culture has moved on from Feser's brand of authoritarianism. If Feser is just a subcultural preference for a certain sort of conservative, fine. But don't get ahead of yourselves here in imagining a return to the old time religion. There are good reasons the most religious period in Western cultural history is called the Dark Ages.

So maybe God doesn't hate gay sex, and hasn't placed gays under his wrath. Isn't that within the realm of possibility? Or is that unthinkable?

If it's unthinkable, then all I can say is thank goodness for Locke and Jefferson and all the other liberals that have placed authoritarians on the defensive in terms of justifying the restrictions they would put on the individual will. It's almost never justified, and with gay marriage, the key question that needs to be always foregrounded is this: "You don't want it? Justify your position."

When you are going to say no to people actively fighting for their marriage equality, civil rights, and dignity, you better have some damn strong reasons. Catholics should revisit the way they've thought about and framed sex, in my opinion. Increase the circle of love.

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

As for masturbation, let me say that I think it is an insanely cruel and perverse prohibition, especially for teenagers. What it does is set up a young person for a war with their flesh that they'll constantly lose, driving them into despair and cycles of confession, repentance, failure, and grovelling for forgiveness. Or it will become a secret sin they never talk about, but that gnaws at them. Like teaching hell to children, it's a form of cruelty. It's an example of where religion lapses in common sense and decency, sacrificing the psyche's health and the body's normal tendencies to submission to an arbitrary institutional prohibition. Like not eating pork or any other religious prohibition, it demarcates the "in crowd" from the "out," but it's also brutal, emotionally warping, and perverse.

I prefer Blake: "The lust of the goat is the bounty of God....The nakedness of woman is the work of God."

And you raise the issue of porn and rape, but it may well be that porn access reduces rape rates. In any event, it's an open question. Here's a link discussing this if you're curious:

http://freakonomics.com/2011/08/04/porn-and-rape-the-debate-continues/

But going back to masturbation, essentialism that cannot reality check and look at the data of experience is an essentialism with its eyes closed. If you can reason your way to an absurd conclusion (you shouldn't masturbate), that's a good indication you should reconsider what you're syllogisms are driving you to.

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

One more aspect regarding masturbation and no gay marriage is to notice what cultural power centers benefit from these prohibitions. When we reason about these things, we might want to keep to the abstract, focusing on a debate over what are the "real essences" concerning these things, but no essence is an island. The essence is embedded in a systems where interests are being served. Whose interests are served by status quo prohibitions on masturbation and gay marriage?

Jeremy Taylor said...

I have no intention to actually discuss things with Santi, he is a troll and should change his ways or go away. But I do think Christianity has sometimes been overly puritanical and hostile to sexuality, especially in its Augustinian tendency. I prefer the Kabbalic perspective on sexuality, which is precisely Blake's perspective. However, to be open to the sacredness of human sexuality is in no sense to welcome pornography or any and all lust, and that was certainly not Blake's point.

Brandon said...

I find in general that attempts to pin down any serious sex-hatred to Augustine are overblown; almost all of it is mere rumor without evidential backing and much that is not is just standard Neoplatonist trope in his day, and thus not particularly Augustinian at all. But there certainly has been excess on occasion.

Brandon said...

I have to confess, though, that I find it amusing that, having read a few things on real essentialism, Santi now goes around trying to use the phrase 'real essences' in every comment, as if somehow everything Thomists do or say is directed at them, and as if much Thomism at all deals with them entirely in the abstract.

Irish Thomist said...

@Santi

You seem to have overlooked that my views are based on my personal family situation/upbringing and the opinions of some homosexuals themselves. I also pointed out your connecting homosexual inclinations and masturbation as rather offensive and quite odd for someone supposedly defending their position.

I am through with your poorly informed trolling.

@Greg I honestly think some would indeed take him to task for that. It reduces the inclination to a purely sexual thing (which they quite rightly can get erked at) which for someone who knows a little or is inclined that way themselves know this can, like for straight people, be true but certainly not always the case. That is very uncharitable coming from Santi.

Crude said...

That is very uncharitable coming from Santi.

Oh, the guy doesn't even know what he's saying - he's just raging, football helmet strapped on by his guardians, swinging his arms and stamping his feet in the direction of anything that doesn't sanctify anal sex, or worse, criticizes it.

See Brandon's most recent comment about 'real essences'. The word may as well be electrolytes to him.

Daniel said...

To give Santi his due, and I’ve been amongst the first individuals to bash a lot of his previous remarks, some of the comments about Real Essentialism do show an actual attempt to engage with the relevant issues. The remark to the effect that ‘an Essentialism that does not look to the data of experience is an Essentialism with its eyes closed’ is correct and basically the same point Oderberg spends the first couple of sections of Real Essentialism making.

Greg said...

@ Santi

You take heterosexual consummation to be essential to what a marriage is, but then why not be more precise in your essentialism: there is GAY marriage and there is HETEROSEXUAL marriage. Why make one form of consummation necessarily normative for both forms of marriage?

I didn't say I take "heterosexual consummation" to be essential to what a marriage is. I said I take consummation to be essential to what a marriage is. Consummation is not merely sexual stimulation involving two people, so there is no "gay consummation." Similarly there is no "hand sex."'

So maybe God doesn't hate gay sex, and hasn't placed gays under his wrath. Isn't that within the realm of possibility? Or is that unthinkable?

I don't think it is unthinkable. I said that I understand the intuition behind sexual liberation, even though I ultimately find it bankrupt. I said as much in my last comment.

Though note here that the connection with theological ethics is, on my most charitable interpretation of your post, a rhetorical device. You know very well that Thomists do not appeal to God when they are drawing general moral conclusions.

So many of your comments are of this sort. It would not be fair for me to treat them as arguments, for that would be ascribing really basic fallacies to you.

As for masturbation, let me say that I think it is an insanely cruel and perverse prohibition, especially for teenagers. What it does is set up a young person for a war with their flesh that they'll constantly lose, driving them into despair and cycles of confession, repentance, failure, and grovelling for forgiveness. Or it will become a secret sin they never talk about, but that gnaws at them.

This of course does not bear on the question of whether it is right. The point here is that the temptation is so great and guilt is oh-so-bad that it simply has to be permissible. But again: Consider the issue of lust, with or without masturbation. Is teaching that lust is bad "cruel and perverse"? Is holding the idea that one can deform oneself by treating others as sex objects itself immoral?

An analogous issue, which is perhaps more comprehensible, is of abortion, particularly in the case of rape and incest. Liberals often take a sympathetic line similar to your view on masturbation. There may be accute psychological trauma resulting from a teenage girl's carrying of a pregnancy, and they will probably feel depressed and despairing at some point. Furthermore that may continue into their motherhood. Liberals may accuse social conservatives of cruelty here, but I think it's clear that that of itself does not vindicate the position.

If your intuitions differ from mine, we can suppose that the rape victim decides to have the child but begins to despair of her situation after she gives birth. In this hypothetical scenario, Peter Singer's views on infanticide have also become more widespread and are now advocated by many liberals. So they insist that it would be cruel to deny her right to euthanize her no longer desired infant. Now perhaps Singer is correct here--but the claim of cruelty surely doesn't help us at all in resolving the issue of whether the pro-life claim is the same in any of these cases of masturbation, abortion, and infanticide.

I will also dispute that accuracy of your psychological account of the teenage masturbator, though I decline to specify.

Whose interests are served by status quo prohibitions on masturbation and gay marriage?

This is one of those things I mentioned above, viz. comments you've made that it would be really unfair of me, and insulting to you, to take as an argument.

What does the Church gain by counselling people against masturbation? By counselling faithful Catholic couples not to engage in natural family planning with contraceptive intentions? What sort of power grab is that? Seriously?

Brandon said...

I should say that as absurd a figure as he usually cuts, I don't think Santi is a troll; he's just intellectually irresponsible in argument, and refuses to 'reality check', as he likes to say, his own assessments and arguments against the actual evidence, despite the fact that this is the single most important critical thinking skill. It reminds me (right down to some of his vocabulary) of the Less Wrong crowd: sincere, which is something, but show them a hammer and they'll try to fix any and every problem with hammers, and give them some bit of jargon and they'll use it widely, without regard for its actual felicity conditions.

Crude said...

Daniel,

do show an actual attempt to engage with the relevant issues

Not really, no. Santi has been on a frantic, sloppy attack from the start. 'Engage the relevant issues' isn't even being attempted - instead he's, after everyone's been laughing about his poor understandings of the very thing he's talking about, quickly scanning sources, trying to figure out what the real important words are, then injecting that into the same sloppy attacks.

The best that can be said is that his performance has been so poor that he's been shamed into at least googling for some details on what he's talking about.

Greg,

What does the Church gain by counselling people against masturbation? By counselling faithful Catholic couples not to engage in natural family planning with contraceptive intentions? What sort of power grab is that? Seriously?

I think it's always possible, especially among the frantic, to frame any position as a power grab. Encouragement to eat healthy is a power grab by certain produce companies. Home cooking is an attack on restaurants by silverware manufacturers.

Brandon said...

Home cooking is an attack on restaurants by silverware manufacturers.

I laughed out loud at that one; I'll certainly be stealing it for future use.

Santi Tafarella said...

The issue of gay marriage is not just going to tip toe away, and it requires justification if you're going to oppose it because, when all is said and done, gay marriage and equality are not only just, they are life affirming, speaking to the deepest places of compassion, inclusion, and love in our being. Gay equality is a logical extension of racial equality and women's equality.

So when a person claims to love God, yet cannot see the essential goodness and dignity of their gay neighbor's loving partnership with another person, there's something wrong, not with the gay couple's orientation, but with the professed religious person's orientation to God. That person is not oriented to love.

But God, if God exists, is love (or not worth dealing with at all). It's not the will submitted to the intellect, but the will submitted to love that is the issue here.

In my view, Thomists too often use the intellect as an excuse to shield the submission of the will to love. It is the path of Creon in Antigone, pretending that God wants one oriented to tradition and institutions as opposed to love.

But reasoning from love changes the ballgame, and there are Thomists who simply don't want to do it. It's an issue of a stubborn will. They obviously love the pleasures, comforts, and clubbiness of conservatism far more than they really love God. (Who's in, who's out?)

But what it means in part to love God (again, in my humble opinion), is to be in repentance regarding the treatment of gay people throughout history, and to help right that wrong. This means admitting the historic religious tradition, for a variety of contingent cultural reasons, flubbed the subject of gay people's essence--and still has it wrong today.

It's okay to be wrong, and to change course. "The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you don't know where it comes from or where it is going. So is everyone born of the spirit" (John 3).

So here's the truth of the spirit: Jesus loves gay people. God loves gay people. God is not mad at gay people for having gay sex in their gay marriages. Thomistic real essentialism will find itself reasoning to this conclusion if it is oriented to love and submits the will to love. The hard work, the really hard work, is not avoiding touching your genitals or chastity, but love; orienting your life toward love.

Love creates an earthquake in the intellect, for the intellect often protects the will from love, justifying inequality and cruelty.

But what happens when you submit the will to love? Then you start hearing the music of the beatitudes and the distribution of loaves and fishes. The first shall be last, the last first. "You give them something to eat," says Jesus. "You give them gay marriage to assist gay people in the ordering of their sex lives. You give that to them. They have been wrongly treated and outcast through history. You help fix that. How you treat the least of these is how you're treating me."

In your heart, you know that's what Jesus is saying. Let those who have ears, let them hear.

Brandon said...

Apparently we've transitioned to Santi the preacher.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Again, I have no desire to actually discuss anything with Santi, but I have noticed that the pro-gay marriage side seem to reduce love simply to sentimental attachment. When we see remember that Dante could write of primal love creating hell and the love that moves the sun and the other stars, we can see that this is not the traditional understanding. It is simply not the case that some gay people feeling affection (the empirical evidence, again, seems to show homosexual relationships are not, in general, like traditional marriages) for their partners trumps all other considerations.

Georgy Mancz said...

@Santi

Here's a relevant passage from the Catechism, and it is somewhat Thomistic (it quotes Aquinas quoting Aristotle).
"Love is willing the good of the other" and all that. Obviously, on Thomism what is good for a thing is determined by what a thing is, it's essence.
I hope you are not claiming that homosexuals are not human
And no, your mantra of "sui generis, sui generis" is not helping you here, unless you're willing to insist that homosexuals are in fact, well, sui generis, or that the reproductive system of homosexuals (them being sui generis), the sexual act of a party, despite all appearances, is not essentially aimed at procreation, but rather sodomy.

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a5.htm

Yes, you can dispute whether Christ meant that when He called us to love our neighbour.

What you cannot do is simply maintain without argument that this understanding is wrong and your unspecified notion of love, the only concrete thing about it being that it morally mandates sodomy and masturbation, is one that Christ operates with, and it is in fact right.

That is if you'll continue to invoke God and His saints to support your view, which seems problematic given your other stated commitments, not to mention that, as has been repeatedly pointed out to you, these commitments seem to render you pontificating and preaching any kind of morality rationally impossible (objective morality being ruled out).

Crude said...

It is simply not the case that some gay people feeling affection (the empirical evidence, again, seems to show homosexual relationships are not, in general, like traditional marriages) for their partners trumps all other considerations.

Pretty much. Of course, there's an easy way to disarm this:

'Sure, there's no trouble with affection. Just the sex and sexual aspects.'

'Love, companionship? All good. The only problem is the sex and sexual aspects.'

In my experience, people will scream 'But LOVE!' over and over in this discussion. But when you say love is no problem, it's just the anal sex, then - what a surprise - love isn't the most important thing after all.

I brought up something similar with a progressive Christian. They insist that monogamous gay couples are entirely moral. I point out the stats showing a good 50% of gay couples are open relationships, and say I'll be waiting for him to condemn the lion's share of actual male gay relationships as a result.

Never happened. Can't think why!

Daniel said...

@Crude,

That may well be true - I haven't been following the argument post by post for some time now. Still the fact that he's grasped that Essences are grasped through experience (thus we have no need for Kantian obscurationist talk about the 'A Priori') is more than Allan Fox has yet managed to do in the couple of years he's been posting here.

@Jeremy,

Playing Devil's Advocate here but one could argue that the reason a number of homosexual relationships don't follow the same lines as the traditional notion of Romantic Love is more to do with the LGBT culture than anything else. If someone were to endorse a Pro-Same Sex Marriage Thomist position or similar they would still end up being against many of the things associated with contemporary gay sub-culture like promiscuity, polygamy and overt sexual objectification.

Jeremy Taylor said...

By the way, if it is only contingent cultural reasons that leads us to be against homosexual acts, these reasons seem to be near universal. Some tendentious modern revisionism aside, almost every pre-modern society considered male homosexual acts at least distateful and inferior, if not immoral(female ones were hardly ever mentioned).

Also, although I know it hasn't escaped the revisionist craze either, the Scriptures are clear about homosexual acts, so it seems strange one would try to use Christian beliefs to argue for their acceptance.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Daniel,

You are correct. When I mentioned it above I made sure to mention it can be questioned whether such empirical facts must hold universally. I should have included that in my later parenthetical comment.

Crude said...

Daniel,

If someone were to endorse a Pro-Same Sex Marriage Thomist position or similar they would still end up being against many of the things associated with contemporary gay sub-culture like promiscuity, polygamy and overt sexual objectification.

Of course, that cuts both ways: it also means that if someone sincerely held that Same Sex Marriage was right, but that promiscuity, polygamy, overt sexual objectification were wrong, that we'd see as much in their speaking and condemnations.

My experience is that when this is brought up, people mention that it's... difficult, to talk about such things right now. And to please never bring it up again.

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg:

You wrote: "You know very well that Thomists do not appeal to God when they are drawing general moral conclusions," and I must say that this is part of the bad faith in which the whole Thomistic project proceeds. One pretends that something objective is being achieved in the reasoning; something that is ultimately irrational to oppose because the precision and rigor of the logic (we are told) has proceeded so very, very carefully from carefully thought out premises, and it is folly to fuss or tamper with it, most especially if you have not mastered it and submitted your intellect to it. The law is the law.

So when I pointed to the real consequences to teens of prohibiting masturbation, you wrote, "This of course does not bear on the question of whether it is right."

But obviously it does. The law is made for man, not man for the law. If the law is impacting human beings in an absurd or unjust way, you reality test that and adjust the law.

But what you've done is erected a wall of specialized language over which no common person can gain access. You hunker down behind that wall and don't look at the persons effected by the law. This law strains out gnats and swallows camels. It's in the service of a very particular form of institutional power, and it protects itself by appealing to tradition. It is the sort of thing that Jesus spoke against. It's the old legalism and intellectualism that misses the bigger picture, which is love.

David T said...

What it does is set up a young person for a war with their flesh that they'll constantly lose, driving them into despair and cycles of confession, repentance, failure, and grovelling for forgiveness

This response is interesting because it reveals the despair and pride at the heart of Santi's worldview. His answer to the difficulty of disciplining the flesh to rational control is to surrender to the flesh (and that is certainly one way to end a war).

Santi is saying something much worse than merely that masturbation is a good thing to indulge in from time to time. In that case, it would still need to submit to rational governance in terms of human nature as a whole. No, he is saying that masturbation should be surrendered to because, good or bad, it is an impulse that is impossible for us to control. And that is a truly despairing view of human nature, for it holds that our natures are ultimately under the domination of animal urges that buffet us about, and about which we can ultimately do nothing. The contemporary prevalence of this view is responsible for much of the social carnage around us.

Ironically, Santi charges the church with driving teenagers to despair, even though it is the church that reassures them that they are ultimately in control of their own natures (even if that control is very difficult to exercise at times), and Santi who counsels them that attempting to control the animal urges that drive them is an exercise in futility.

Furthermore, the cycle of "confession, repentance, failure, and grovelling for forgiveness" is merely the expression of the merciful nature of Christ, who will never condemn anyone for his sins - including teenage boys - no matter how many times they commit them, as long as they repent of them and promise to try to avoid the sin in the future. The Church offers everyone the hope that they may be liberated from slavery to their animal nature, while Santi urges them to permanently accept their chains as unbreakable.

Confession, repentance, failure, grovelling for forgiveness... anyone who has been married a long time, as I have, is familiar with this cycle. The Church offers marriage to God and the same cycle. But for those whose pride prevents them from asking for forgiveness... I think I know why so many marriages fail today and why so many prefer their chains to liberation.

Crude said...

David,

Ironically, Santi charges the church with driving teenagers to despair, even though it is the church that reassures them that they are ultimately in control of their own natures (even if that control is very difficult to exercise at times), and Santi who counsels them that attempting to control the animal urges that drive them is an exercise in futility.

It's also just... sad.

'You're asking people to do something which may go against their instincts! You're demanding self-control, and when they fail you expect them to try again and ask forgiveness!'

Welcome to civilization.

And 'that they'll constantly lose'? No, some may lose. Even many. Some may have more difficulties with it than others. Others will have an easier time. And part of this depends on support.

I know your 'flesh' may tell you that you should fondle the attractive young thing in the elevator with you or maybe start masturbating, but society expects better of you, as does the Church. If you screw up, you can be forgiven, you can try to do better, and if you screw up again, so be it.

But this idea that it's cruel and harmful to urge people to strive for things that they may fail at is just absurd.

Irish Thomist said...

@Daniel

I certainly agree that he is trying but
1) He is not anywhere near the level to be arguing with us on these topics - since he hasn't yet grasped where we are coming from. Not say it wouldn't be easy.
2) His length of posts with mostly incorrect material is frustrating to try and reply to. It's like talking two languages.
3) He is way more self assured than currently warranted.

I did suggest he put in a little more effort in learning the topic. Maybe he has taken up the advice.

@Jeremy Taylor

I wouldn't just say that is unique to them. In fact they have inherited this from the over-all error prevalent at this time in history. Everyone seems to be getting it wrong.

Greg said...

@ Santi

You wrote: "You know very well that Thomists do not appeal to God when they are drawing general moral conclusions," and I must say that this is part of the bad faith in which the whole Thomistic project proceeds. One pretends that something objective is being achieved in the reasoning; something that is ultimately irrational to oppose because the precision and rigor of the logic (we are told) has proceeded so very, very carefully from carefully thought out premises, and it is folly to fuss or tamper with it, most especially if you have not mastered it and submitted your intellect to it. The law is the law.

What on earth are you talking about? In Thomistic ethics, no one waves "God's disapproval" in the face of those with whom they disagree. You keep bringing up God nevertheless.

God is ultimately "backing up" final causality, in which morality is rooted on the Thomistic view, to be sure. But appeal to that is not necessary. And it suggests that the relationship to God to morality is not one where God is a "big brother" who says, "Ah, you really want to do that. Go ahead."

So when I pointed to the real consequences to teens of prohibiting masturbation, you wrote, "This of course does not bear on the question of whether it is right."

But obviously it does. The law is made for man, not man for the law. If the law is impacting human beings in an absurd or unjust way, you reality test that and adjust the law.


I also gave an analogies that suggest it is invalid to infer the permissibility of masturbation from the psychological dimension of someone who really wants to do it. (It goes without saying, at least to most audiences familiar with Catholic moral theology, that the impermissibility of something does not on its own imply a particular subjective judgment about someone who does it.)

You ignored that argument and settled for a bizarre interpretation of Jesus's teaching that man is not made for the law. Nevermind that Jesus elsewhere condemns lust unequivocally. Nevermind that where he said that he was referring to positive law (the Sabbath).

It's the old legalism and intellectualism that misses the bigger picture, which is love.

Yeah, when Jesus says 'love,' he means affirming people in their difficult-to-resist sexual desires. To suggest otherwise is "legalism."

Greg said...

I don't think Santi is a troll. I do think he is sincere, although he oscillates between attempts to treat the opposing position fairly and decisions that he will just make a ton of assertions that elide every distinction at issue.

So there is a great temptation to keep replying to him. One the one hand, he sometimes goes from being ridiculous to attempting to represent your position accurately. On the other hand, he sometimes represents your view so inaccurately that you can't help but want to clarify.

Greg said...

@ David T

I agree. That consideration crossed my mind as well. Apparently "big brained primates" are wise enough to apply all of their body parts in novel, pleasurable ways. But when they desire to do so, there's something indignifying, on Santi's view, to their resisting that desire and regretting their failures.

Implicit in this understanding is probably something like Mill's harm principle: the actions of individuals should only be limited to prevent harm to other individuals. But this is surely insufficient. For consider two acts, one, A, which harms only oneself, and another, B, which harms others.

By the harm principle, B should be limited. Presumably the person doing B should also regret his doing it. But is his regret here--which will likely be augmented by some sort of social pressure--unjust and indignifying? When he seeks forgiveness, is he basely "grovelling"? Despair in the theological sense is a sin, and might result from a "cycle" of his attempt to correct his behavior and repent. But (a) the despair is not essential to that cycle and (b) his feeling the despair is not a justification of his action.

But then why should the case be any different from A, where the same sense of despair and cycle of sin might obtain for an act that only harms the person who performs it? What is required for an obstruction of A to be unjust is that A is not really harmful (perhaps in some relevant sense or to some relevant degree). And that cannot be justified by reference to the effects of obstructing A.

Greg said...

To make that argument more concrete, let A be masturbation and B be a pedophilic act. In both cases, someone who commits such acts may feel a sense of despair that accompanies his attempt to seek forgiveness and repent. They may go on, repeatedly, to fail.

But in the case of pedophilia, this clearly does not warrant sympathy toward the commission of the act.

Masturbation should not be punished in the way pedophilic acts are, but appeal to the feelings of guilt of those trying to rise above it is not sufficient to justify it. It would have to be genuinely harmless, and this cannot be justified non-circularly by appeal to the psychology of the person who does it. So the guilt that accompanies masturbation does not imply any imperative to encourage or normalize masturbation (though it does imply an imperative to counsel those who so struggle).

Greg said...

That sort of argument indicates some of the trouble liberalism has with two cases it wants to treat as entirely non-analogous: someone masturbating just to pleasure himself, and a rapist.

In the former case, his desires are treated as an uncompromising given. Those who want to masturbate are going to masturbate are going to masturbate. If you try to help them to stop, they will fail anyway, and then it'll be even worse, because they'll feel bad about it.

But liberals do not want to apply that attitude toward those who are inclined to sexually violate others. To treat their rapes as inevitable biological imperatives would undermine the liberal conception of the problems of the sexual revolution as in principle eliminable. These people are not even due sympathy; they should stop, and they should know better. The suggestion that other factors (immodest dress or alcohol) played a role is interpreted as an attempt to blame the victim or exonerate the rapist.

The justification of the former case is inconsistent with the condemnation of the latter. I grant that the justification of the former is probably based more on the feeling that all consensual sexual acts are permissible, and the talk about the helplessness of resisting sexual urges is more of a side-show and rhetorical move that philosophically does not bolster the position at all.

Clearly we should take a hard line in the latter case. We should discourage attitudes toward women (and men, for that matter) that lead to their oversexualization. We should discourage the taking of sexual experience as a given. We should not understand immodest dress and alcohol consumption as reducing a rapist's culpability, but we should acknowledge that counterfactually they do lead to the commission of more rapes; the rapist is culpable for raping another college student at a college party, but the school is also culpable for providing them with the circumstance, and we are all culpable for normalizing a callous, dispoable attitude toward sexual activity.

Greg said...

all consensual sexual acts are permissible

I know I am making a ton of posts but, just thinking of things.

Interestingly, one Santi's view, it is as though masturbation is not consensual. People can't help themselves!

Greg said...

One more: I would not be so quick to list Pope Francis on your side, Santi.

Crude said...

He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?”

“What is being proposed is not marriage, it's an association. But it's not marriage! It's necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed.

He lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”


Yep, I agree with Francis. Same-sex unions are totally destructive and limiting the greatness of marriage. Not everything is 'family'.

Thomas said...

Dr. Feser,

If we are to dismiss all liberalism (not just, as you pointed out, modern American liberalism,) how would you defend Capitalism? I would not really call myself a distributist, but it seems to me that they are a step in the right direction if we are to dismiss classical liberalism.

taylormweaver said...

If I am not mistaken, many of the recent Popes have generally been quite critical of capitalism, including Pope Emeritus Benedict (is that what his official title is now? Not really up on that) and Pope Francis. Catholic scholar Michael Budde was pretty critical of Caritas in Veritate, but many of the works I have read regarding it (including an edited work by Adrian Pabst that came out in 2011) have seen it as a great resource to critiquing capitalism.

Milbank and Pabst have been putting out some interesting articles and presentations regarding new ways to do markets from a Catholic perspective, but I don't have the time to summarize them right now.

David T said...

Interestingly, one Santi's view, it is as though masturbation is not consensual. People can't help themselves!

That's a fascinating point.

And another way of making the point that Santi's position depends on the impossibility of true human integrity. But then if my nature is fundamentally at war with itself, how can there be anything such as true "consensuality" with another person? My consent doesn't speak for my being as a whole, but only one of the warring factions that has temporarily gained dominance. What happens when another aspect of my being manages to gain the upper hand?

Anonymous said...

Suppose I view as problematic the very tendency of there even to be implicatures in matters of law. Suppose I believe that if I react to the possibility of an implicature when creating a law by desisting from creating the law that I would further entrench people in their infantile position of thinking that morality comes from the law.

Shouldn't I then explicitly, and purposively *ignore* (and, sure, cancel) any implicature, with the explicit intention of participating in the teaching of people that law and morality are two different things.

After all, we do allow for legal divorce, and do not make masturbation illegal.

Irish Thomist said...

@Anon

Is what you are looking to describe really to do with the difference between natural and positivist law?

Irish Thomist said...

@Anon


After all, we do allow for legal divorce, and do not make masturbation illegal.


Which is a very good thing. I think except where a sexual sin is worthy to be classed as a crime not just a sin that it should not have a law against it. My position on crime would take too long to get into here.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Thomas,

I agree. Distributism is simply traditionalism as applied to economics.

Of course, distributism, it must be remembered is a broad church and not just the theories of Chesterbelloc.

Anyway, I do love (and fear) how liberalism has become more and more of self-parody: here we have Santi speaking as if the battles of the teenage masturbator are some huge spiritual battle. It reminds me of Peter Simple's Bishop Spacely-Trellis, who went from a parody of an Anglican bishop to being somewhat tame compared to some real Anglican bishops.

Jeremy Taylor said...

- And it should be added that industrialism, capitalism, corporate-capitalism, and globalisation have been very important to some of the detrimental moral, social, and cultural issues we have been discussing.

Brandon said...

Suppose I view as problematic the very tendency of there even to be implicatures in matters of law.

I'm not sure what the point of making arbitrary assumptions is; in matters of law the basic reasons matter, since they affect what means are appropriate or even feasible, so the mere suppositions don't tell us enough to do much with them.

However, the supposition proposes an irrational position: implicature naturally follows from communication and the possibility of interpretation of it -- implicature is just the pragmatic counterpart of logical implication. Canceling an implicature just gets you a different kind of implicature -- in canceling an implicature, you are just ruling out implicatures you might be mistakenly taken to be making. Since how loosely or strictly something is to be understood is a matter of figuring out the implicatures, it's not possible to have laws that cancel out all implicature -- nobody would know how to interpret it, or even be able to distinguish it from a nonbinding resolution. (Most laws, for instance, do not say, "This statute is binding"; that is just their implicature.)

Anonymous said...

@Irish Thomist, natural vs positivist law? Possibly -- thanks for the labels, I'll go read.

Santi Tafarella said...

Daniel wrote: "If someone were to endorse a Pro-Same Sex Marriage Thomist position or similar they would still end up being against many of the things associated with contemporary gay sub-culture like promiscuity, polygamy and overt sexual objectification."

Yes. That is all I would expect of any Catholic. To come that far. That's all I've been arguing for. You can make a Thomistic case for this degree of working with managing same sex desire, something gay people are born with and that it is cruel to expect lifelong abstinence upon acquiring.

With regard to someone else's sui generis comment, I think every single individual is sui generis, meaning that their essence is something experienced by them and can be reported out to others. That can be respected by the Thomist Christian. One size needn't fit on this matter. Evolution has taught us that important variations occur in each generation, and that each new creature could be the beginning twig of a new species branch. This is what essentialism informed by science would attend to, not just the broad categories arrived at by generalizing about functions of organs and populations as a whole.

Tony said...

It's a bit silly to put "remarriage" in quotation marks. It's perfectly valid under natural law to remarry while the estranged spouse is alive--just not for Catholics. A non-Catholic could remarry with a clean conscience.

Rank, this is not at all simple or obvious or certainly true. When Christ said about divorce "In the beginning it was not so" he was speaking of marriage as it comes from natural law. And so there is ample room to argue, strictly from the natural law, that marriage even among non-Christians is of such a nature as to be permanent. The ordination of marriage to the well-being of offspring requires that the love that is manifested in the generation of those offspring be a permanent unconditional love between the spouses, because the child needs and deserves that permanent unconditional love as his "natural environment" of flourishing. [Reason # 342 that the "love" of marriage cannot be wholly understood apart from the ordination to children.]

To be sure, there is permanent and then there is "permanent of its own nature." Just as the state of mortal sin is permanent of its own nature (constituting a definitive rejection of God, such that the person by his _own_ powers can never recover the state of grace), but the state can be overcome by supernatural power, so also natural (non-Christian) marriage is permanent of its own nature but can be overcome by the supernatural power of the sacrament of matrimony.

Georgy Mancz said...

Someone else replying.

@Santi

No, this is not "essentialism informed by science", this is not essentialism at all, but nominalism.

Nothing in what "evolution has told us" ammounts to reasons for denying the existence of essences of living things, nor is there anything informing us that the sexual act is no longer essentially procreative.

Essences are known, not "experienced". Why use a general word when you seem to mean a very specific thing, that is, desire?
Desires do not change human teleology, no matter how strong they happen to be or how hard staying reasonable is.

What you should expect of any Catholic qua Catholic is the individual adhering to Catholicism, which includes the clear condemnation of homosexual acts.

As has been said to you already, it's not at all clear how you can make your suggested case and keep Thomism (otherwise it wouldn't really be a Thomistic case, would it?). Arguments have been made that it is in fact impossible.
What you seem to be doing is simply ordering people here to accommodate you preferred ethical conclusion no matter what.

I have to repeat my previous suggestion of a thoughtful reading of this blog, especially posts cited:
http://beatushomo.blogspot.ru/2013/01/the-good-bad-and-gay-overview.html
http://beatushomo.blogspot.ru/2013/01/the-good-bad-and-gay-part-one.html
http://beatushomo.blogspot.ru/2013/01/the-good-bad-and-homosexual-part-two.html
http://beatushomo.blogspot.ru/2013/01/the-good-bad-and-gay-part-three-morality.html

dover_beach said...

"Daniel wrote: "If someone were to endorse a Pro-Same Sex Marriage Thomist position or similar they would still end up being against many of the things associated with contemporary gay sub-culture like promiscuity, polygamy and overt sexual objectification."

Yes. That is all I would expect of any Catholic."

Except the grounds for opposing the former are the same as the latter.

Greg said...

@ Santi

That is all I would expect of any Catholic. To come that far.

Actually, you expect them to go further: masturbation and contraception.

dover_beach is also correct to point out that Thomists and Catholics argue against "promiscuity, polygamy, and overt sexual objectification" on bases similar to their arguments against homosexual behavior. Your argument that endorsing 'gay marriage' is consistent with Thomism has certainly not made any attempt to suggest that these other behaviors should be blocked, and whenever I have brought up other topics (masturbation and contraception) you have been able to squeeze them into Santi's ever-encompassing "orientation to love."

If one likes empirical evidence, your friend Andrew Sullivan is a good example of how the 'conservative' case for 'gay marriage' devolves into his 'spirituality of anonymous sex'.

But is that just a coincidence, or is there a logical connection between endorsing 'gay marriage' and these other behaviors? Well, I am really unsure how you are going to define "orientation to love" in a way that a) includes gay relationships, b) excludes polygamous relationships, and c) is not totally ad hoc. But if you would like to do so, I would be honored to watch.

The same problem comes up with "overt sexual objectification." Earlier I qualified one of the points I was making against you:

Here I assume that you are not going to draw distinctions about cases where masturbation is and is not moral, since you proclaimed it "ludicrous" without qualification to regard it as a sin.

You did not qualify the point so I assume you are conceding it. But in that case your support for masturbation tout court immediately entails the permissibility of "overt sexual objectification," since masturbation quite often is objectifying, and can be performed in service of passions that liberals and conservatives would agree are among the basest (i.e. pedophilic passions).

Add to the criteria for a definition of "orientation to love" an exclusion of promiscuity in, for instance, the case of "open relationships" or "open marriages" where both partners agree to the arrangement.

Of course, defining "orientation of love" sort of defeats the point of your favorite turn of phrase, does it not?

Evolution has taught us that important variations occur in each generation, and that each new creature could be the beginning twig of a new species branch. This is what essentialism informed by science would attend to, not just the broad categories arrived at by generalizing about functions of organs and populations as a whole.

Sorry, Santi, but the discovery that individuals among populations are not all identical is not a discovery of evolution.

Anonymous said...

In Germany, they have laws enforcing "church tax". If you register as a member of a church -- RC say -- then employers are bound to withhold an appropriate tax or "tithe" (although it's not, IIRC, 10%).

Suppose then that a tax reform was proposed so that the state did not get involved with such "tithing". The reformers may argue that in today's multi-ethnic societies, the state should enforce only a bare minimum required to keep order, preserve basic rights etc. Participation in church funding needs to stop, they'd argue, since it falls on the same side of a line as does dietary restrictions, Sabbath working, and so on. The state, they would argue, must simply remain silent on such issues, otherwise there's an uncontrollable can of sectarian worms unleashed.

Would such reformers fall foul of this implicature issue?

Crude said...

Sorry, Santi, but the discovery that individuals among populations are not all identical is not a discovery of evolution.

It's also covered well in Oderberg's book, which - what a shock - weighs against even the beginnings of Santi's would-be point rather than supporting it.

Though I'd get a kick out of Santi trying to argue that the exclusively homosexually active could 'be the beginning of a brand new population branch'. Evidence would indicate, even in the most wildly nominalist view... it's vastly more likely to be the end of that particular line of descent.

Crude said...

By the by...

I suppose, according to the anti-essentialist, this man's actions are on the same level as any other sexual act.

“I thought my dog had killed somebody because I saw a man underneath her,” Woodruff explained to WTNH. “I started to scream. I had a citronella candle and I threw it at him, screaming ‘get off my dog, you have to get out of here.’ He said, ‘No, today is the day we are going to spend the rest of our lives together.’”
Woodruff said the man appeared mentally ill as he was telling her that the terror group ISIS sent him.
“He pranced through the yard naked, yelling ‘this is our day and you have to prosper in it,’” Woodruff told WTNH.


How dare the Church condemn such an act!

Brandon said...

Anon,

Would such reformers fall foul of this implicature issue?

I'm not sure what you take 'this implicature issue' to be. Ed's post covers several different kinds of cases, all of them being treated as part of a family -- they are put forward as cases where people don't state an endorsement or accommodation of liberalism, or even of liberal positions, properly speaking, but where it conveys such an endorsement or accommodation by implicature. But it's unclear how the case you mention would be in this family.

Anonymous said...

@Brandon, by removing the church tax laws, the reformers could be seen -- via implicature -- to be be in support of the view that it's OK not to tithe, in the same way that removing laws preventing same-sex marriage could be seen to be support of same.

My point is that presumably we would *not* criticize such (tax) reforms, and so perhaps the objection to removal of same-sex marriage restrictions is problematic too.

Step2 said...

@dover beach
It's no more "culturally conditioned" than saying that murder is the deliberate killing of the innocent".

Murder is emphatically "not" the deliberate killing of the innocent. Murder is the unlawful deliberate killing of the innocent. The (arguably culturally conditioned) distinction was made clear in the debate about whether God could legitimately command killing of the innocent and I will insist upon some consistency.

Furthermore, what gives the lie to the claim that our understanding of marriage is "culturally conditioned" is demonstrated by the fact that when you do encounter another culture and you find they also distinguish a relationship with procreative potential, that also involves child-rearing, etc., from other forms of human relationship, like friendship.

Does the culture let older women get married after menopause? If so then they allow for marriage without “procreative potential”. It's no good to require a rule on "real essences" and then plead total blissful ignorance on whether or not that essence is real or actively thwarted merely because it has the appearance of being potential.

@Jeremy Taylor
I prefer the Kabbalic perspective on sexuality, which is precisely Blake's perspective. However, to be open to the sacredness of human sexuality is in no sense to welcome pornography or any and all lust, and that was certainly not Blake's point.

Wait, what? Blake is considered the godfather of the free love movement, perhaps unfairly as his anti-slavery views were often sublimated within sensual and intimate symbolism. In any event, he was an admirer of feminist trailblazer Mary Wollstonecraft and had some libertine views about his own marriage and radical opposition to religious orthodoxy in general.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Step2,

Blake views on sexuality are founded, as all his views were, in his Kabbalistic-Platonic-Hermetic viewpoint. Blake had some unorthodox sexual ideas (though these seem to have changed somewhat over his lifetime) - especially his ambiguous references to polygamy - but the idea he would have supported pornography or the debauchery that Santi seems to be excusing is not supported by the evidence, as even that Wikipedia article seems to confirm.

Blake had an intensely mystical mindset, and despised what he felt was moralism and artificiality. He thought men should act more spontaneously, as they did before the fall. This is a common mystical viewpoint, perhaps most strongly expressed in the Taoist doctrine of Wu Wei. Blake's emphasis on spontaneity should not be mistaken for support for debauchery, though, and certainly not that masturbating over internet pornography or having sex with cyborgs is some great spiritual experience.

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

You asked, "What does the Church gain by counselling people against masturbation?"

Obviously, power. It's a double-bind because it can't be consistently abstained from by the vast majority of people. Virtually every teenager, especially male, does it. Typically once a day, often a couple of times a day. It's healthy; it exercises not just the body, but the imagination; it relieves sexual tension so you can focus on other things; you hurt no one, and pleasure yourself.

In most contemporary cultures, people do not marry at puberty. They hold off marriage typically till around 27. So if you tell a person, "Masturbation is a sin," you've set them up for cycles of guilt and submission to clergy. These are not innocent prohibitions; they are deeply, deeply manipulative of people psychologically, especially if the terror of hell is combined with the prohibition. So they set up a dominance-submission relationship with a religious institution.

What do you propose as a sexual outlet for people between the ages of 13 and 27 while they're going to school and not married?

Santi Tafarella said...

Why are monogamous/married gay couples in sin? They're not ever going to be in a heterosexual relationship. Even on traditionalist assumptions, is what they're doing any worse than masturbation? And if they're in love and building a life together, perhaps raising some adopted kids, why can't they take communion if they're Catholics?

I see, for example, lots of things in the Bible that the average Catholic doesn't do, but they get to take communion. Most obviously, Jesus said sell all you have and follow me. Who does that but a very, very small minority? But God lets all those ignoring that command to take communion. Hmm.

Why are sexual sins so much more attended to than not selling all you have and giving it to the poor?

Santi Tafarella said...

Peter in the Book of Acts said, "Silver and gold have I none." So why are there so many contemporary, communion receiving Catholics driving nice cars, living in big houses, and wearing and possessing nice clothes, silver, and gold?

What's going on here? Gay marriage where two people are committed to one another is this huge problem in the Church, but materialism gets a shrug?

Jeremy Taylor said...

For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself…. And it is not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination.

The true exercise of imagination, in my view, is (a) To help us to understand other people (b) To respond to, and, some of us, to produce, art. But it has also a bad use: to provide for us, in shadowy form, a substitute for virtues, successes, distinctions etc. which ought to be sought outside in the real world—e.g. picturing all I’d do if I were rich instead of earning and saving. Masturbation involves this abuse of imagination in erotic matters (which I think bad in itself) and thereby encourages a similar abuse of it in all spheres. After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.

-C.S Lewis.

I think the idea that masturbation engages the imagination in a positive way is absurd. Indeed, it is one of those self-parodies modernist and liberals seem so fond of. Masturbation doesn't help us to imaginatively understand others and the world; it, indeed, lends itself to a counterfeit sort of imagination, reducing others to objects of our pleasure. This presumably one reason why most who can use pornography as an aid do so.



Jeremy Taylor said...

Sexual sins are only more accounted to because modernists and liberals focus on them.

You chose a stupid example. It has long been worked out in traditional Christian doctrines that not all Christians have to be ascetics, but greed and over attachment to material goods are sinful behaviour and have often and forcefully been condemned, including today. Yes, the modern world is extremely consumerist and perhaps more could be said against this by traditional Christians, but one could hardly say Christians focus more on sexuality than greed or avarice.

Santi Tafarella said...

If you want to talk about how the will should be submitted to the intellect, read the gospels and count the number of times Jesus counsels poverty and the cross to his followers, then start divesting yourself of your possessions. I know it's hard, but if gays can abstain from sex for the rest of their lives, you can abstain from materialism. That's only fair.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Do you just pull whatever point you can out of thin air?

If you read the gospel you will notice Jesus' doctrine is often aimed at the Saint. Ironically, considering his reputation amongst liberals today, it is Paul who adapted some of Christ's teaching for those who are not Saints (in the end God calls us all to perfection, of course).

As is made clear by the Christian tradition although even the average believer must guard against over attachment to material things, it is simply not part of traditional Christian doctrine that one must be an ascetic, your personal interpretation of Scripture notwithstanding.

Tom Larsen said...

Santi,

(2) Define marriage, in its essential nature, more broadly than just surrounding reproduction, the rearing of children, and promoting the heterosexual family. This could be done by placing its essential aim at love between partners setting out to build a life together (with or without children). The light of love and human bonding could thus be treated as what is most essential to marriage.

Out of curiosity, what is marriage on your view?

I ask because I don’t want to take cheap shots, yet it seems to me that defining marriage just as (say) “love between partners setting out to build a life together” won’t suffice. To kick off the conversation, here are a couple of initial considerations:

I have wonderful friends, both men and women, with whom I experience mutual refreshment and encouragement in the course of life, but I certainly I’m not “married” to any of them at this stage.

Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be anything in the preliminary definition of marriage you offered that would preclude more than two people from marrying, or call for sexual exclusivity, or for lifelong commitment. Just so we’re clear, can you clarify which of these norms you think should (not) be carried into a revised understanding of marriage?

Daniel said...

Random mid-morning points:

Aside from Santi's particular method of argumentation there are really three related but different questions at stake:

1. Is homosexuality, and in particular homosexual acts, actively immoral? I think Natural Law proponents tend to push this claim further than they have a right too (though if an instance of homosexuality means a person's lacking the capacity to reproduce naturally then that lack is certainly an evil). One could argue this quite compellingly.

2. Is homosexuality, or more particularly homosexual love, an active good? This I think is the best position someone pro-Same Sex couplings could take. I return neutral as to whether one can give good arguments on this score.

3. Can a homosexual partnership count as a marriage? If marriage is directed towards reproduction and family building then I don’t think it's possible to make a case for gay marriage - even if homosexual love is an active good it would still constitute a Category Mistake to call a homosexual partnership, no matter how sincere and noble, a marriage.

I think one of the criticisms that people could justly make against Natural Law ethics is that they are almost exclusively 'this-worldly' and focus on the fulfilment of the animal nature we share with other many other mammals. In other words it is orientated towards bodily successes. The ambiguity of our actions being both within the world and world-transcendent is not gone into. I also think there is a more disturbing question as to whether given the metaphysical underpinnings of human nature in Christian anthropology we should reproduce at all (because to be born is to be condemned until proven otherwise).

Daniel said...

Also for the sake of our feminist critics I think we should abstain from that misogynistic habit of talking of masturbation as if it were in some way a specifically masculine vice.

Irish Thomist said...

@Daniel

True but the natures of the two can and often vary due to endocrinology etc. I think prudishness is an extreme to which out culture offers its opposite most of the time.

There are issues which we should be open to talking about - that we aren't. On the other hand the hyper-exaggeration of some desires today is very negative - and its not good for kids growing up being influenced by such a culture.

Dylan said...

Daniel,

You wrote "to be born is to be condemned until proven otherwise." Are you referring to something like a Christian antinatalist position: that, given the truth of Christianity, it is better to not procreate, because one's offspring could face eternal damnation? I'd be interested to see a Christian adapt David Benatar's asymmetry argument (as laid out in his book Better Never to Have Been) to a Christian framework.

Matteo said...

This is a great post (in fact, a wonderful little essay).
It is kind of pathetic that some people in their comments complain about the topic and the perspective chosen by Prof. Feser. Start our own blog and write whatever you wish guys. Alternatively, grow up.

Matteo said...

your own blog *

Daniel said...

@Dylan,

Yes, I frequently worry that the Original Sin aspect of Christianity does logically give rise to Anti-Natalism (and a coherent Anti-Natalism since unlike normal atheist Anti-Natalism it still has objective moral values).

@Irish Thomist,

Apologies for being slow here but which post were you referring too?

@ Jeremy Taylor.

Yet again not to necessarily disagree but I think that Lewis quote does in a way showcase a certain cynicism towards masculine sexuality latent in Western culture. The underlying point in it is really about Desire in which case masturbation and the sexual theme itself are accidental.

It won’t help the case Santi is trying to make but contra the above masturbation may well be undertaken out of love but by its very nature it is a frustrated and unfulfilled love, one which is a course for sadness rather than joy. To grieve other the death of one’s spouse is an act of love but it is not one I would will for anyone.

Daniel said...

Err apologies for the spelling mistakes in that last post: 'course' should of course be 'cause' and 'grieve other' 'grieve over'.

@Matteo,

What are specifically referring to? The last few combox discussions have indeed been fatally derailed though even in the normal course of events the conversations change as different points are raised and went into.

Georgy Mancz said...

@ Daniel


1) Do you think there's a problem with the perverted faculty argument?
The only way to deny the immorality of homosexual acts I think to be feasible is to try to fit them into double-effect pattern, but that wouldn't work, for the frustration of the purpose of the sexual act is not a second, double effect, but it rather serves as means, and it's therefore morally disqualified regardless of whether the goal achieved by it is good.
A good discussion of this happened here:http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ru/2012/10/whose-nature-which-law.html
Please see Joe K.'s comments.

2) One would have to define homosexuality.

3) Agreed.

As to natural law being "this-worldly", well, naturally, natures are in this world. :)

Concerning your repeated worries about original sin - would you present a syllogism, please?

"Could" is somewhat weak: the same person could become a saint.
As God is just, none of the damned are punished unjustly, all the damned deserve it, and their damnation is due to actual sin.

I don't think a Catholic, say, can agree with the "condemned until proven otherwise" position.
Not being granted the Beatific Vision is not the same as damnation, strictly speaking, Limbo, anyone?

I do recall your disagreement with the Thomistic position regarding natural vs. supernatural happiness. One may be reluctant to maintain it (we've discussed appeals to transcendence), but I don't see why it is false.

Brandon said...

Anon,

That clarifies things quite a bit. Implicature requires more than that someone can be seen as meaning something, though; it concerns what one practically means. If there is a real, actual implicature that it's OK not to tithe, then it would obviously be reasonable for anyone who thought this position on tithing to oppose them, either tout court or at least so far as to criticize them for doing it without canceling the implicature in question; and this would be true even if they would support something like the reform under different conditions. It would not be much different from opposing people who said it explicitly. It's certainly the case that politicians have to deal with this kind of criticism all the time, so I suppose I don't know why you say people would presumably not criticize the reforms in the case in question.

I'm also not sure parity arguments work well in this context, given that implicatures can be sensitive to major differences in context. It does seem true, though, that there can sometimes be difficulties in understanding how meaning works in the context of law.

Brandon said...

It's no good to require a rule on "real essences" and then plead total blissful ignorance on whether or not that essence is real or actively thwarted merely because it has the appearance of being potential.

Apparently gibberish is contagious.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, Step2 was posting gibberish long before Santi came along.

dover_beach said...

"Does the culture let older women get married after menopause? If so then they allow for marriage without “procreative potential”."

Step2, the fact that particular men or women may suffer fertility problems in marriage doesn't undermine the procreative potential of marriage per se.

Daniel said...

Hi Georgy,

Many thanks for your reply and for the in-depth response you gave to my post about orthodoxy and Sin on the other combox thread. I’m afraid I can only provide a somewhat short reply at present:

Do you think there's a problem with the perverted faculty argument?

This would take a whole post of its own to hash out. One of concerns over the Perverted Faculty argument is that homosexual behaviour appears to serve a bonding and group making function amongst men and other of the higher mammals (this may be the evolutionary reason for it) in which case it would be a tertiary function of the sexual organs thereby making the homosexual act another end of them. Of course this end would be nowhere near as central as reproduction. Also I think such arguments alone are vulnerable to reductio ad absurdum challenges about non-natural human behaviors.

As to natural law being "this-worldly", well, naturally, natures are in this world. :)

Yes, but by the same token the world a collection of finite things ‘imperfectly’ mirroring the infinite perfect of God. Of course that this means ‘this-worldly nature’ is good, which I would never deny, but also that of its very being it points beyond itself. Man is tormented by the fact that he is not just like other animals; that he cannot rest satisfied with merely animal satisfaction. I should add I am not disagreeing with a lot of Natural Law statements in and off themselves.

Concerning your repeated worries about original sin - would you present a syllogism, please?

Hmm the below gives some idea of it though probably not perfectly (point 1 is too vague).

1. It is wrong to perform an action which will actively puts another person directly at risk of evil.

2. The greater the risk and the greater the evil the more wrong the action is.

2.5. To be shut from God for eternity is de facto the greatest evil.

3. The risk of Evil in being born is 100% with Original Sin

4. We should not actively participate in the birth of others.

As God is just, none of the damned are punished unjustly, all the damned deserve it, and their damnation is due to actual sin.

Not being granted the Beatific Vision is not the same as damnation, strictly speaking, Limbo, anyone?

Yes, I was thinking of about that consideration when I writing the post actually. It doesn’t detract from the existential aspect of my concern though. We will define the conditions for Limbo as an absence of evil or mortal sin - in this case it is a purely negative criterion; someone may have lived a life filled with good deeds or a one free of them yet equally free of ill deeds: the result is the same. Yet if this is so then it shows that a person is in themselves futile as their actions are so (said persons actions are transcendentally Good, and thus actively participate in the Goodness itself which is God, yet the person does not). Deliverance from Original sin by participation in the Sacraments of the Church provides a practical escape route from this but does not remove the problem i.e. that of ourselves, by our essence, the very core of our nature, humans are doomed to futility. There is nothing theophantic about Man save that which comes from without.

There has to be some kind of existential vindication for our being in the world; our striving and actions have to bring us closer to the Divine. If this were not the case then the piues and good natured youth who dies just after their first Communion should be the most envied of all.

Daniel said...

There are also other concerns about Original Sin and eternal damnation or exclusion resulting from finite crimes being incompatible with the Divine Goodness.

*I qualify this as eternal isolation from God, which is the essence of Hell, could result from a being's eternally rejecting God even if they know their action is wrong. This is of course the fundamental crime of the fallen angels in traditional theology.

Al said...

@Step2

From the estimable Mr. John C. Wright:

I did not address that argument in my essay because I thought it was self evidently silly.

It is not a serious argument to say that a sterile woman’s vagina is the same as the anus hole of a man on the grounds that poking a penis into both results in no children; because likewise poking one’s penis into the vagina of an ewe or a child or a corpse produces no children, as indeed does poking one’s penis into a lightbulb socket.

The argument is also a misstatement of the law. In Anglo-american common law, except where overruled by statute, infertility is grounds for divorce. This was true even before no-fault divorce was common. It was one of the faults for which divorce could be granted.

Likewise, a marriage can be annulled if it is never consummated: a man and a sterile woman can consummate their marriage by copulating, whereas a sodomite and his catamite cannot consummate anything since they cannot copulate.

The error in logic is called ‘Undistributed Middle’ or Non-Sequitur. From premise ‘marriage aims at begetting children’ and the statement ‘Sarah (or Elizabeth, or Sampson’s mother, or etc) is sterile and just so happens to be unable to beget children at this time’ the conclusion that follows is ‘HER marriage most likely will not achieve the aim for which the institution was created, nor make use of all the features of the institution’ whereas the conclusion ‘An owl may marry a pussycat, because the fact that these two organism cannot reproduce should not be a bar to their marriage’ does not follow.

It is the difference between an essential feature and a side feature. A woman is essentially female, that is, she is able to bear young unless she is unhealthy or maimed; a man with same sex attraction is essentially male, that is, he is able to father young unless he is unhealthy or maimed. A father cannot father a child on another man, but only on a woman, who can bear young. A woman cannot father a child on a woman, but only a man can. While it is true that a maimed woman and a man cannot bear young, the woman cannot bear because of a nonessential feature, a disease or damage to her sexual organs, whereas the concept of a male becoming pregnant and bearing young is a contradiction in terms.


http://www.scifiwright.com/2014/10/snap-out-of-it/

Matteo said...

@ Daniel,

I was referring to the comments of Santi Tafarella...

Greg said...

@ Santi

So if you tell a person, "Masturbation is a sin," you've set them up for cycles of guilt and submission to clergy. These are not innocent prohibitions; they are deeply, deeply manipulative of people psychologically, especially if the terror of hell is combined with the prohibition.

I have given a pretty extensive argument above against the sufficiency of this approach to justifying masturbation. You haven't responded, but have just repeated yourself.

I will say: Is a cycle of guilt eo ipso bad? Despair is bad; on that we can agree. But despair is not essential to feeling guilty for sinning, and the possibility of despair does not justify permitting sins. Furthermore, people should feel guilty when they do someone that harms someone else (i.e. rape). That may lead them into a cycle of guilt and despair; they should feel guilty, although no one should despair. The object of the Church is to meet any sinner where he is.

But whether a sin affects others or just oneself is not relevant to whether one should feel guilty for it. One should feel guilty for it if it is wrong. But in that case, when I ask about why you think masturbation is permissible, you cannot non-circularly appeal to the guilt that people feel when it is prohibited in order to justify it.

I've said all of this before, with no response.

So the point at issue is really what you merely assert: "you hurt no one, and pleasure yourself." What is at issue is whether chastity is a virtue and whether masturbation is a sin against chastity.

Also, I do not think people familiar with the Church's teaching on masturbation and culpability but who is struggling with it and has a good confessor is going to feel like he is on the cusp of hell. No priest counsels penitents, "You better repress your sexual urges immediately or else you're going to hell!" Most priests are probably a bit too lenient in ascribing it to habit and youth.

So they set up a dominance-submission relationship with a religious institution.

For this to be a criticism, the religious institution must be wrong and the fault cannot be genuine. The idea that there is an evil in submitting--freely--to a religious institution is a good example of Ed's point that the only value liberalism can understand is autnomy of will.

Even on traditionalist assumptions, is what they're doing any worse than masturbation?

Well, it is scandalous in that a) it brings another person to sin and b) publically normalizes a behavior that is wrong if it is granted that masturbation is wrong. Also, in the case of men, there is probably a sin against prudence since the risk of infection is so high, and pleasure is not worth one's life.

Greg said...

@ Santi

I see, for example, lots of things in the Bible that the average Catholic doesn't do, but they get to take communion.

There are specific canons on when denial of communion are permissible. Specifically, communion can be denied when people publically persist in sin. Part of the reason is scandal, as mentioned above. Because of the public nature of the sin, and the common knowledge that (the Church teaches) it is wrong, it is an act of public defiance of the Church's teaching authority. As such, regardless of whether one is culpable subjectively, one is in a state of sin, and that is something a pastor can know. But when the sin is not so public, the pastor cannot presume about someone's subjective culpability.

I do know a priest who feels terrible about the fact that most of his congregation receives communion without going to confession, even though many of them miss mass frequently. He cannot assume, though, that they did not have a reason for missing mass. So he is not permitted to deny them communion, but he is worried by the fact that their receiving in a state of mortal sin is itself a further sin.

There is this attitude about "getting" to receive communion. None of us deserve to receive communion. It isn't something that we engage in as an expression of community membership.

Why are sexual sins so much more attended to than not selling all you have and giving it to the poor?

Well, Pope Francis and many bishops certainly have spent a lot more time talking about economics than about sexual morality.

But there is also the nature of Catholic moral theology. There are certain acts that one cannot violate. Then there are acts that are perfective of oneself. The Ten Commandments constitute the latter, and the classical expression of this view is in Jesus's dialogue with the rich young man, who asks what he needs to do besides keep the commandments. Jesus tells him that, to be perfect, he should sell his possessions and give to the poor, and follow Christ.

That is to be perfect. And that is what, for example, priests and religious do. If someone has a family, though, then he obviously should not sell everything he has to the poor, because he has duties to those around him.

Greg said...

@ Daniel

Is homosexuality, or more particularly homosexual love, an active good? This I think is the best position someone pro-Same Sex couplings could take. I return neutral as to whether one can give good arguments on this score.

I agree that this would probably be the only plausible argument.

You mentioned promiscuity, polygamy, and overt sexual objectification earlier. I doubt that one could construct an argument that homosexual acts are good while those are bad.

As far as I can tell, the opinions most people have on sexual ethics are just not consistent. A position between a conservative natural law position and a permissive "all consensual sexual acts are permissible and good" position does not strike me as plausible. Perhaps it can be done, but I doubt it.

Greg said...

@ Daniel

1. It is wrong to perform an action which will actively puts another person directly at risk of evil.

You are right that this is vague and carries all of the weight. The question is of the sense of "directly". For it can be permissible that I foresee that an act with some good consequences will also have some bad consequences. But I cannot intend those bad consequences, and the good cannot be achieved by means of the bad.

Greg said...

The Ten Commandments constitute the latter,

Oops. The former.

msgrx said...

Another way of looking at the infertile marriages vs. SSM equivalence:

Say I'm part of a local football team in my town. A really, really bad football team. So bad, in fact, that we've never once won a single game in all my years of playing for them, and, barring a literal miracle, we're probably never ever going to win any games in the future. We win precisely zero football games. So too does the local cricket team; they win precisely zero football games. Nevertheless, my football team is fundamentally different to the cricket team, and is allowed to enter in local football competitions, because, although in practice we win no more football games than the cricket team does, we're nevertheless orientated towards winning football games in a way that the cricket team isn't.

Similarly, an infertile opposite-sex relationship may produce no more children than a same-sex relationship does, but nevertheless it's orientated towards the begetting of children in a way that same-sex relationships just aren't. Hence it's every bit as reasonable to treat infertile opposite-sex relationships differently to same-sex relationships as it is to treat bad football teams differently to cricket teams.

Santi Tafarella said...

Georgy Manzc said that evolution seen as generating sui generis manifestations of unique essences "is not 'essentialism informed by science', this is not essentialism at all, but nominalism."

But why not put nominalism and essentialism together with the term "sui generis," so that gay desire is not treated as disordered by Catholics?

Obviously, gay people feel the essence of their sexual longing to be oriented quite differently from the heterosexual "norm." They're telling you what's essential about them and you're not listening. On strict Thomistic essentialism, you make gay sex a disordered state, but if each individual's sexual inclinations and desires are sui generis, then it's not disordered, it's just the way evolution diced certain set points in them, and the way God made that particular person. Thus they can be themselves without guilt and shame.

But since you think introducing nominalism into the game under the term "sui generis" is a bad thing, you need to justify your broader assertion of essences, since they impact so directly on gay people and their equality.

So WHERE are these universal essences you insist upon? And how do you KNOW that they're even there in the first place?

And how do they manifest in more than one place at a time? Shouldn't a universal essence pervading a species be detectable by scientific instruments (given that it is supposedly manifest everywhere)? Are essences fields? Or are you claiming, for example, that the form of the penis, just by looking at it, tells you exactly where it's supposed to go and how it's supposed to be used?

So where are these essences located, exactly? Again, how do you know? If they're "discoverable," not just inferred from definitions, point to one related to sex.

Gay people's lives are being held hostage to essences that might not even exist. The more I think about this, the more I'm coming to realize that the power of defining a thing is power over individuals.

Nominalism serves individuals and democracy, essentialism authoritarian institutions and conformity.

So when Feser speaks of the will submitted to the intellect, he means your will submitted to his institution, not his institution submitted to the intellect. The institution asserts its will to power through fake (made-up) essences, not real essences.

Scott said...

I have no intention of engaging St. Taffy of the Borg any further, but I can't resist commenting on this:

"So WHERE are these universal essences you insist upon? And how do you KNOW that they're even there in the first place?"

What could possibly have been the point of his previous diatribes urging the adoption of "REAL ESSENCES" over "FAKE ESSENCES" (caps his) if he doesn't think there are any real essences anyway?

David T said...

Obviously, gay people feel the essence of their sexual longing to be oriented quite differently from the heterosexual "norm." They're telling you what's essential about them and you're not listening. On strict Thomistic essentialism, you make gay sex a disordered state, but if each individual's sexual inclinations and desires are sui generis, then it's not disordered, it's just the way evolution diced certain set points in them, and the way God made that particular person. Thus they can be themselves without guilt and shame.

Substitute "pederasts" for "gay people" and the same logic holds. Are you listening to the pederasts, Santi?

David T said...

Scott,

Real essences, fake essences, misunderstood evolutionary theory, self-contradiction... whatever it takes so long as sodomy is affirmed...

Scott said...

@David T:

But surely that can't be right! Doesn't he urge the submission of the will to the intellect and criticize his opponents for letting their preferred conclusions drive their arguments?

Scott said...

By the way, on the subject of cyborgs and Thomism's view of them and/or alleged need to take account of them, let me just add this:

People have been using weapons, tools, and other instruments for pretty much as long as there have been people, and we tend to come to feel them as extensions of ourselves. There are also lots of people with artificial limbs and organs and so forth.

All of these "extensions" are artifacts, and in each case the being whose "extensions" they are is unequivocally a human being. Regarding a human as a member of a new species just because of cybernetic extensions is as silly as calling a man with a wooden leg a "xylorg."

John West said...

Jeremy Taylor,

Is there much difference between what contemporary philosophers of mathematics mean when they refer to themselves as Platonists, and what you mean when you write of the Hermetic-Platonic tradition?

Greg said...

@ Scott

Regarding a human as a member of a new species just because of cybernetic extensions is as silly as calling a man with a wooden leg a "xylorg."

Well, Scott, I think you're forgetting that every individual is his/her/its own species, based on his/her/its inclinations and desires.

Greg said...

I should add otherwise that, to dispute this nominalist approach is authoritarian. Do you support democracy? Then you better renounce your purportedly human species membership.

Scott said...

@Greg:

"Well, Scott, I think you're forgetting that every individual is his/her/its own species, based on his/her/its inclinations and desires."

Oops, yes, that had slipped my mind. In that case, sure, if the wooden-legged man says his wooden leg is essential to him, then of course it's part of his REAL ESSENCE and his rational animality is a FAKE ESSENCE. It would be cruel to hold him hostage to a FAKE ESSENCE that might not even exist!

Just to be clear, though: if a different wooden-legged man doesn't regard his wooden-leggedness as part of his essence, then that's different. The first guy is a xylorg, but the second isn't.

dover_beach said...

"But why not put nominalism and essentialism together with the term "sui generis," so that gay desire is not treated as disordered by Catholics?"

Effectively: But why not ignore the PNC so that...

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