Thursday, March 12, 2015

Anscombe Society event


On April 11, I’ll be giving the Princeton Anscombe Society 10th Anniversary Lecture, on the subject “Natural Law and the Foundations of Sexual Ethics.”  Prof. Robert George will be the moderator.  Details here.

253 comments:

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JohnD said...

Dr. Feser,

Any chance we can get any more details on the content of the lecture? Also, any details about the length and/or if there will be a Q and A session?

I think I want to make the drive!

Santi Tafarella said...

In light of the fact that God appears to be hidden and silent, what could be the (non-question begging) foundations for proscribing sexual behavior?

Sex seeks to hijack the mind and body to a very particular agenda (reproduction), and patriarchal religious institutions seek to hijack the mind and body to a very particular agenda as well (the perpetuation of the power structures of the patriarchal religion itself).

So when somebody masturbates, or uses the pill or a condom, or engages in same sex acts, the hijacking of the body and mind by reproduction and religion gets subverted. It is no longer reproduction or religion that are in the driver's seat, but the free human mind. It governs its own body, hijacking sex and religion to purposes of its own.

This is healthy; it is in accordance with natural law (Whitman's, not Aquinas's). Sexual liberation is mental liberation; it makes all things new.

So there's a reason that rock music, psychedelics, dancing, and nudity accompanied the 1960s counter-culture. To shake off the shackles of the conformist mind, it is a good strategy to shake the body; to break out of the mental box of external agendas like reproduction and religious prohibition (Blake's "mind-forged manacles").

This is obviously not what Feser means by "natural law," but behold, it is good. If there ever was a natural law, this is it: imagination. Evolution has placed in humans a desire for self-determination and subversion of the given through imagination. It's our evolutionary superpower; our eagle's wings and claws. It's how we've come to dominate the planet. We don't do what our oppressors (natural or human) tell us to do. Our imaginations precede essence.

So natural law--evolution--inclines the individual to desire the free exercise of imagination--which means the separation of state and church from the independent mind and sex. Those with institutional power want to hold these together in a single vision because the independent mind and sex can be politically powerful tools for subverting the agendas of centralized power (think Aristophanes' Lysistrata--women who act up are dangerous).

So two lesbians are not just indulging in a "disordered" and private lust when they make love, but a political act--an act against patriarchy; against a historic injustice that has, for millennia, restrained the flourishing of women. They are saying no to the chains that men have placed on them.

There's a reason, in Orwell's 1984, that Winston seeks to subvert his oppressors, not just by keeping a diary, but by pursuing a sexual affair.

And so Blake says, "One law for the lion and ox is oppression." And, "As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys."

Sexual liberation is among the fairest of joys, and the foundation for natural law--the law of the free human mind and body. What is ethical and decent is to free mind and body; to leave these to the individual's conscience, not generic proscription.

Matthew said...

Santi, God isn't hidden and silent, though. He's knowable through nature and revelation.

If you want non-question-begging foundations for proscribing perverse sexual behaviour, Natural Law is what you've been looking for. The derivation of sexual ethics from a proper understanding of human nature is quite thoroughly explored elsewhere: Feser's Aquinas is a good place to start.

I think you beg some important questions. You speak of sex and ourselves as alienated from each other, to the extent that acting in accordance with the sexual (i.e., procreative) nature is a "hijacking" of body and mind. This seems very obviously untrue- if we're not naturally disembodied spirits, but are rather rational embodied animals, then there is nothing more natural and healthy in sexual action than acting in accordance with the procreative nature of sex.

The libertine denial that nature rightly understood rightly constrains the will is, ultimately, humanity-denying, since we are human via human nature. Mental "liberation," if it means ignoring the natural law, is merely willful ignorance of the good and the degeneration of the intellect. You want to be a bare particular, to deny nature- but in the end this is itself incoherent. To become formless in this manner is not to be anything at all, and hence merely to embrace non-being or death. (and of course even in this the libertine is a dilettante, compared with the serious pursuit of non-existence by the Buddhist).

Everything which is possibly valuable for humans is valuable as such given our nature. Not to have a nature is simply not to exist in any intelligible sense. Your fevered fantasies of unqualified self-determination are a monstrous abstraction from man as he is. As such, you have a merely deformed conception of the goods of intellect and imagination, and so cannot properly claim to advance intellect and imagination as such.

When we understand the nature of the human intellect and imagination, we find the perfection of these faculties bound up in the very bodily, social and theological goods the natural law recommends.

So it goes, as well, with liberty- in its fullest sense it is not the empowerment to be what we are apart from all constraint whatever. Rather, to be what we are entails understanding what we are, and acting in accordance with the goods so recommended by our "whatness," our nature. In your case, you are fettered in the pursuit of your own perfection precisely by your ignorance of the natural law.

Tom Larsen said...

This sounds excellent! Will the lecture be recorded?

Daniel said...

Ah I'm sorry to be negative but that Anscombe article on chastity someone posted a time ago disturbed me. The unpleasant underlying insinuation that most people would be promiscuous and incapable of commitment were there not a natural 'comeuppance' for sex reminds me of nothing so much as Glaucon's 'every would commit a crime if he knew he could get away with it unpunished'. Were this the best of all possible worlds then Wittgensteinians would remain silent.

@Matthew,

The libertine denial that nature rightly understood rightly constrains the will is, ultimately, humanity-denying, since we are human via human nature. Mental "liberation," if it means ignoring the natural law, is merely willful ignorance of the good and the degeneration of the intellect. You want to be a bare particular, to deny nature- but in the end this is itself incoherent. To become formless in this manner is not to be anything at all, and hence merely to embrace non-being or death

Everything which is possibly valuable for humans is valuable as such given our nature. Not to have a nature is simply not to exist in any intelligible sense. Your fevered fantasies of unqualified self-determination are a monstrous abstraction from man as he is.


I don't necessarily deny there being a form of sexual ethics and I'm certainly not inclined to preach 'libertinism' but I have some sympathy for the idea of the essence of Man, or more accurately a Person, as being self-determining. Unless it goes with an a priori denial of there being any innate good or evil, as opposed to just the details of a biological kind, I don't think it could be said to led to Bare Particularism; after all a person as an agent possessed of sentience (intellective consciousness) and freedom, and thus essentially different from a stone or a hydrogen atom for example (this is why Existentialist type arguments against essences end up glorifying the very thing they reject). The bodily form one has is irrelevant to the rationality of pursuing Truth and Good, which are of course ultimately one and the same in God.

Arthur said...

'In light of the fact that God appears to be hidden and silent...'

I don't see what you were hoping to achieve by typing this, Santi. I'm sure you realize that many people on this blog don't think that God is 'hidden and silent' and won't consider it a 'fact', so why begin with this premise? If you begin with a premise that most people here don't agree with, what you say after won't be interesting.

It'd be rather like going to an atheist blog and saying 'C'mon, now, you guys all know that God exists really, right? Well, in light of that...'

Daniel said...

There's a typical problem Santi runs into when criticising Natural Law. If he claims that Evolution predisposed us towards certain things as i.e. lesbianism and that these things are good then he is deriving a normative statement from a descriptive one. If he can do this based on natures (which is what's he's trying to in paragraph six at the moment he denies it) though then the conclusion is not that Natural Law is wrong only that the Thomist understanding of human nature is incorrect. Unfortunately virtually all the claims he makes to justify this position amount to a repetition of what he's trying to prove.

Santi Tafarella said...

Arthur,

Actually, I said something that I would think is non-controversial: God APPEARS hidden and silent. I didn't say "God IS hidden and silent," as if it were a fact, but rather an appearance.

You wouldn't have human spokesmen (curiously, nearly always men) for God--or books claiming to be the word of the Lord--were it not for the fact that God himself appears to be silent; you wouldn't have a visible Church were it not for the fact that the author of our being does not appear to reveal Herself as directly present to the senses (unless you're Moses).

You don't attend to and speak only to the monkey if the organ grinder is actually right there. The presence of the organ grinder for all to see eliminates the need (beyond entertainment purposes) of a monkey-emissary to disclose his will.

One might claim a religious experience--God speaks to you in a still small voice from within, akin to Horton Hears a Who; it is a grace given to you, but not to most others--but it's not subject to a public/empirical demonstration.

Like the person who claims to have been abducted by aliens, but provides no physical evidence, if you say God is not hidden from you, and speaks to you in a non-obvious, but real, way, then the rest of us just have to take your word for it--or wonder whether you're bonkers.

So the premise on sex that I'm starting with is that God APPEARS to be hidden and silent--in some sense, behind an Oz curtain in which miracle, mystery, and authority are SAID to reside.

That leaves only reason on which to really debate sex among a religiously diverse audience. And you can't reason about the "natural" use of the body and mind in the 21st century without reasoning about evolution, and what evolution has bequeathed us, which is the curious power to overthrow essences--natural and institutional--with imagination and cunning.

So you can't simply talk about the "purpose" of the human sex organs--what they are "for"--outside of the context of the evolved human brain. If we were unimaginative cats, the organs of reproduction alone could disclose what they're "for," but for big-brained humans, the organs of reproduction can be imaginatively re-purposed to all sorts of agendas (personal to political). We can photograph or paint them, for example (to convey a message of defiance or out of a desire for artistic expression). We can withhold sex to stop a war (Lysistrata), or we can use sex to lure a spy into a trap--not for reproduction. We have a second sex organ (the brain) that can veto and disrupt how the first sex organs typically get used--and we often do.

The issue surrounds contingency. If evolution is contingent, and exploits contingencies, how can one make blanket proscriptions as to the best recipe for the use of the sex organs? It's like saying, "Here's the recipe book for surviving on an island. Do this, then this, then this..." The book will often not fit the actual existential situation on the ground (when you find yourself having to choose an evolutionary strategy for survival). One law for the finch and the Galapagos turtle is oppression.

Likewise with regard to sex. If someone tells you that their nature and desire is to be in a same sex relationship, who are you to say, "But you've got to follow the general nature textbook on matters sexual--the Bible"? Maybe their contingency is to have a different life strategy from your own.

Matthew said...

Daniel, I was arguing against unfettered and unqualified self-determination, which, I think, really does lead to the absurdities I mention. I think you understand this as well. Santi writes as if he were just such a formless particular, an "imagination which precedes essence," though of course on a moment's reflection this is (for reasons you note- the intellect and imagination themselves have a nature) impossible.

Now certainly, there are certain goods which are more purely intellectual. There is the contemplation of truth and beauty in the abstract, which is ultimately the contemplation of God. There is a unique freedom to know and choose among the goods which does indeed lead to a form of self-determination. Far be it, then, for me to deny that we are, in respects prescribed by our nature, self-determining and original actors. But this rightful power of self-determination, regulated by human nature, is not the libertinism Santi imagines.

Matthew said...

Santi, I think you're confused on some pretty elementary points.

In the first place, it is impossible to "overthrow" essences- which you seem to mean replace one essence with another and have it be the same thing, when you talk of the essence of sex as being reinvented so as to legitimise perversion. One can destroy that which has an essence, or one can ignore that essence and focus on one's own conjured ends, but neither of these constitutes "overthrowing" essence.

Your argument is that, since it is possible to use the sexual faculties for various non-sexual ends, (i.e., political, social, artistic, etc.) that therefore it is natural (in the normative sense) for humans to use them for whatever we want.

But of course this is a non-sequitur: it does not follow from the possibility that we can use sex for non-sexual ends, that all such uses are morally licit.

Now the nature of sex doesn't go away when you use sex for some non-procreative motive. The very act of using sex for some end presupposes that what is used is, in fact, sex. If sex is anything at all, then it must have its own nature. If the sexual act is a human act, then in performing sexual acts we are conforming to some aspect of human nature- i.e., pursuing a human good, whether we subjectively intend it or not. This means that there are natural conditions of human perfection and perversion in every such act, grounded the nature of sex qua sex (and not qua political tool, artistic vehicle, etc), whether we subjectively intend it or not. Whether or not it helps accomplish some other good, then, the voluntary sexual act if perverse is still in itself an evil. You can choose to ignore this evil, but as long as it's sex you're perverting, evil you will be.

Though you cloak it in evolutionary terms, your argument has precious little to do with evolution. You seem to be saying that because natural selection is blind to universals, selecting only for what helps organisms reproduce, and we have been produced by such a process, therefore we ought to be just as blind to the dictates of our nature.

This is another huge non-sequitur. Evolution perhaps assembles our faculties in a historical sense, but it doesn't dictate our good. Our good is grounded in the conditions of our flourishing as the kinds of things we are, and is universal among us because we share a common nature. If someone tells me it is their nature and desire to enter a same-sex sexual relationship, I will tell them that they are simply incorrect about their nature, and their desire is perverse. This is not difficult to demonstrate, since it is baked into the very concept of homosexuality that the sexual, procreative faculty is being perverted from its characteristic ends.

JD Walters said...

My alma mater! I'll definitely be there!

Gene Callahan said...

"Likewise with regard to sex. If someone tells you that their nature and desire is to be in a same sex relationship, who are you to say, "But you've got to follow the general nature textbook on matters sexual--the Bible"? Maybe their contingency is to have a different life strategy from your own."

OK, Santi Tafarella, are you really consistent on this point? Genghis Khan raped and looted his was across Asia so "successfully" that several percent of the population of central Asia are his descendants. So, are you ready to say that Khan simply had "a different life strategy" than yours? He was just exercising his "free conscience" that told him "might is right"?

After all, who are you to force your non-raping lifestyle on Khan?

DNW said...

Santi Tafarella said...

In light of the fact that God appears to be hidden and silent, what could be the (non-question begging) foundations for proscribing sexual behavior?"


You mean for proscribing "a particular" sex-like behavior [among a circle of included persons]?

How about the fact that such a stipulated behavior has interpersonal consequences which render any such practitioner who claims a social solidarity relationship of any kind, intolerably annoying or fatiguing, or un-beautiful or ignoble?

How about when such a toleration becomes incoherent in relation to one's primary goals and aims?

How's that for an answer?

Then we can just forget all this foggy God-talk, and any related notion of objective values; and get down to the plain evolution rooted business of shaping our circle of human associations in a way that personally pleases both us and whatever like-minded or congenial persons we voluntarily choose to impart human value to.

Forget teleology ... too much trouble trying to reason teleologically with morally deconstructed appetite entities and values nihilists anyway.

Just will against will then: and the devil take the sniveling pet shop boys and auto-fellators and their whining toxic personas.


How's that strike you, "Santi"?

DNW said...

Sorry folks ... [Feser]

People reject natural rights and teleology, and then erect a comically unstable stage in order to start sawing on their hearts and flowers fiddles, and it just kind of exasperates me.

The evidence of this blog - insofar as the remarks of the commentators reveal their real mental states - show that we cannot possibly be one moral species if the materialist premise is accepted.

Yet the secular kumbayists just keep simpering away as if they are possessed or programmed in some way. Which they very well might be.

Astounding: an evolutionarily random itch becomes the highest "human" value for the avidly post-human. And then they insist on interpersonal "human" respect.

WTF?

Tanti Safarella said...

I was thinkinging that maybe Santi would have something new to offer this time....

but then I read this, "patriarchal religious institutions".


"So when somebody masturbates, or uses the pill or a condom, or engages in same sex acts, the hijacking of the body and mind by reproduction and religion gets subverted."
Funniest thing I've read right there.
Wonder if I should check the Online database for sexual predators with Santi's name.

Tanti Safarella said...

"Sexual liberation is among the fairest of joys"


in other words,
"Lock up your children when I'm in town".

Edward Feser said...

Santi Tafarella

art a nasti fella

Son of Ya'Kov said...

The Gnus are getting more twisted and evil everyday.


HaShem have mercy!

Happy Lent from BenYachov!

Santi Tafarella said...

I decided to stay away from the two recent, sexually-themed, threads. But what led me to comment here was that the title of Feser's talk just seems so obviously wrong for the 21st century (or at least in need of fresh justification now that we are on the AD--"after Darwin"--side of history).

"Natural Law and the Foundations of Sexual Ethics" just comes across, after Darwin, as archaic--and very near to ridiculous. It's like talking about physics as if Einstein and Neils Bohr never existed. How can one reasonably set "shoulds" and "oughts" around what we now know is Nature's evolutionary gambit for the human creature?

"Natural law" of the Aquinas sort is much more obviously a fit with the notion of special creation--not evolution. Evolution is more naturally sympatico with human nature as conceived by, say, Whitman ("variety and freedom").

And what is evolution's gambit with us? To confront existence non-instinctually, hijacking, by imagination and cleverness, the inertia of the environment's "givens." It's Prometheus stealing fire from heaven--and Earth.

If the human animal is essentially anything, it's a shit disturber; it's a disrupter of the natural order. And it's an open question whether our hyper-cleverness and refusal to stay put is a stable adaptation.

But here we are. It's our evolutionary strategy to imaginatively re-purpose essences. Like it or not, that's what we do. Diverting a river and diverting semen are the same thing. They are equally disruptive of Nature's course--and a power that Nature has given us that is not available to any other creature. To presume that God made us with powers of disruption, but does not want us to deploy those powers, is a premise in need of an argument. It's certainly not obvious (especially when one is claiming that some of the things we're doing--masturbation, delaying pregnancy with contraceptives, lesbianism, etc.--are "not natural" and "disordered").

Neil said...

I hope the lecture is recorded. Would definitely watch that.

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi Gene:

I'm not sure religion has a good track record surrounding rape. Ask God for me, for instance, why he didn't include rape in the ten commandments--including spousal rape. How did spousal rape not make the top ten?

And spousal rape illustrates a danger for those who might advocate natural law and "real essentialism," for it could be argued (and perhaps it has been, historically) that, by definition, a woman's body in marriage belongs to the husband, and so spousal rape is impossible. Indeed, unthinkable.

I hope you don't believe that, Gene. You surely don't think that spousal rape should be put in quotation marks in the same way that Feser does with gay marriage, do you?

You can literally define things out of existence, so that you can't even see them--or think of them.

Maybe that's why spousal rape never made it into the ten commandments. The narrowness of definition--both of what rape is, essentially, and marriage is, essentially--rendered aspects of those things invisible.

When Feser puts gay marriage in quotation marks, I think he renders gay lives invisible in exactly the same way that spousal rape was invisible prior to feminist consciousness raising in the 20th century.

Gay marriage is a form of marriage and spousal rape is a form of rape.

Daniel said...

Santi, a quick question.

Let's grant what you say about the cat and man having the power to overthrow essences. So we can put out of action all the natural law prohibitions on whatever sexual act. Presumably though you do not hold that 'everything is permitted' though, that there are still immoral acts - you imply that it is wrong to hold others back from pursuing sexual fulfilment on arbitrary grounds for instance. Given the whole 'Imagination proceeds Essence' background then you must have an alternative way to ground your moral proscripts. Would you care to elaborate on this?

Daniel said...

But what led me to comment here was that the title of Feser's talk just seems so obviously wrong for the 21st century (or at least in need of fresh justification now that we are on the AD--"after Darwin"--side of history).

An aside: if your arguments are correct then Darwin is irrelevant. Even if species is always in a gradual flux there would be enough overlap to for Natural Law theorists to make their claims; if on the other hand NL claims fail because they don't take into account Man's radical powers of self-determination through imagination then that criticism holds however our capacity for these things came about.

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi DNW:

You said that if I "forget teleology," and don't even try to speculate as to God's purposes (which is what natural law theorizing amounts to), then it's "just will against will then."

Yes, that's right. If God is silent, hidden, or dead, that's what's left. I agree. There are not just hippie bonobos in the world, but sharks in the water (Genghis Khan, pedophiles, etc.). Evolution is amoral, and its range of strategies function along a continuum (from cooperation to competition; from totally instinctual behavior to conscious behavior, etc.)--and all of these survival strategies boil down to WHATEVER WORKS.

I'm sorry. I wish it were different. But if God exists, it's how (S)he set up the cosmos to function. God isn't talking, and evolution is true.

You and I have been flung into a contingent situation together (2015 on a tiny planet), and we are both "beings-toward-death." A crushing and inconceivably vast mathematical violence beats at the heart of the (perhaps infinite) multiverse.

And even if we can identify the "real essences" of particular things, they don't add up to anything in particular. 95% of the known cosmos consists of blobbing and amorphous dark matter and energy. What's the ultimate teleology behind a cosmos like that?

The evolutionary cosmos lets Auschwitz happen; it lets whole solar systems exist for billions of years without a flicker of life or consciousness to experience them. Think Macbeth: the cosmos is "full of sound and fury," but it gives every appearance of "signifying nothing."

Now what?

Ignoring evolution and pretending that God is talking isn't facing our existential situation head on.

Feser brackets evolution from his natural law theorizing, and when he needs a bolster, he appeals to religious authority. This behavior, to me, is straining out the gnat and ignoring the camel; it's acting out the role of Oedipus (plucking out one's eyes).

How does one talk about natural law and God's purposes for the human genitals--no masturbation; no alternative marital arrangements--after Darwin; after astronomy has revealed we're an island universe (a galaxy) in a sea of 100 billion island universes; after Auschwitz? Seriously.

dover_beach said...

I'm there!

BTW, please don't feed the troll.

Scott said...

I don't intend to feed the troll either, but I must credit him for one thing:

"How does one talk about natural law and God's purposes for the human genitals…after Darwin; after astronomy has revealed we're an island universe (a galaxy) in a sea of 100 billion island universes; after Auschwitz? Seriously."

That is in fact the correct answer to the question.

dover_beach said...

Scott, on what other matter will this broken clock be correct today?

Scott said...

@dover_beach:

"Scott, on what other matter will this broken clock be correct today?"

Hmm, I'm not sure. It's only a stopped clock that can be counted on to be right a second time on any given day; this one is just running erratically.

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi Daniel:

You wrote: "You must have an alternative way to ground your moral proscripts. Would you care to elaborate on this?"

I wish I could. I wish I had a formula. I know what I love and value, and I'm glad I wasn't born with a warped sense of empathy. I tend to feel the right emotions at the right time, and they usually spur me to conventionally acceptable behavior.

But any one of us could have been born as psychopaths. 1 in 100 males (apparently) are clinically psychopathic. Perhaps psychopathy survives as a human trait because of the persistent selective pressures surrounding war throughout history. People who are emotionally jaded are probably good to have around during conflicts with alien tribes.

People with blighted emotional lives might also survive because of the extent of natural tragedy in the world. You need people around who can hold it together and function after an earthquake or the death of a child, for instance. You don't need emotional wrecks.

And you know that I have a tragic view of existence. My mom died of leukemia when she was thirty and I was five, so I was imprinted with trauma from a young age. This may be the ultimate source of my religious pessimism as an adult--and perhaps why the Holocaust plays an out-sized role in my thinking. From kindertransports to emaciated bodies, I find it difficult not to think outside of the shadows of such things.

So I don't like glib "solutions" to the problem of suffering--or imaginatively contrived theories about what God is up to and wants--and why this means we have to treat (for example) gay people as "disordered." I don't like cruelty, most especially the cruelty of generalizations that render good individuals (and their pain and desires) invisible or not important.

I think it's cruel, for example, not to see gay individuals, and their suffering through history, as something in need of historic remedy. These are good people. They've contributed to humanity--from Whitman to Baldwin to Ginsberg to Turing. I think it's cruel to shrug and say, "They're disordered. We can't let them marry. No remedy for their desires for cultural assimilation and normalcy can be had going forward. The way they use their sex organs is contrary to nature. This behavior can't be accommodated, only proscribed." It's ridiculous. Gays are part of the good part of the human family.

So if pushed about general ethical guidance, I can point to my personal Bible: Camus' novel, "The Plague" (1947).

Camus, after WWII, basically digested, through "The Plague," the horror of human existence when the wounds of war were starkly present to his mind. It's a parable of that war and of French resistance to the Nazis--at least it can be read that way. The hero (Dr. Rieux) cannot say, when pressed, why he helps the afflicted, but he's courageous, and he feels solidarity with people in a similarly bad situation as himself--and that seems to be enough for him in the moment.

I wish there was more to my ethical proscriptions than that. Tell the truth about the world, don't pluck out your eyes, and respond to the empathy you feel for others--don't harden yourself to it.

Religion can support all three of these--but it too frequently does the opposite.

I would like to see Feser have a "come to Jesus" moment with regard to homosexuals. I'd like to see him use his considerable intellectual powers on behalf of gay marriage and equality, rather than in resisting them. Maybe he'll have a Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus experience at some point. Right now, he's pretty entrenched, obviously. But so was Paul. And remember Proteus.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

If you guys need to unleash the power of the Benyas'kov you know where to find me.

If only for the entertainment value.

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi Daniel:

You wrote: "Even if species is always in a gradual flux there would be enough overlap for Natural Law theorists to make their claims..."

Yes, but it weakens those claims considerably. Their force is dissipated. Evolution knows no species boundaries in terms of lineage. It knows only continuums. Each new organism may have a variant that moves it away from a generalization--and one way to know is to ASK. If someone declares their essence or inclination to be in the direction of homosexual desire, for example, and you keep insisting that generalizations about heterosexual proscription nevertheless apply, then YOU'RE NOT LISTENING.

Evolution does not know variation as a "disorder." That's a notion inherited by Thomists from special creation. Evolution knows contingency. With evolution, the variation, in the right environment, may prove beneficial in a way not obvious to the cursory observer or generalizer--but beneficial nonetheless.

The variation may be sufficient for generating a whole ALTERNATIVE LOGIC and dynamic for that particular organism.

DNW said...

Hi Santi,

You say:

"But here we are. It's our evolutionary strategy to imaginatively re-purpose essences. Like it or not, that's what we do. "


No "we" don't.

Because, in part, under your system of interpretation there is no objective, "we".

And for a couple of reasons, having to do with figurative language, as well as logical entailments from the above: there is no "evolutionary strategy" either. Just, warring outcomes and aims.

Resolves to what I am and want, versus your need to get me to accommodate or underwrite what I (or those more or less like me) neither need nor value.

Yet, in a stupefying act of brazen hypocrisy, you keep harping that smarmy social solidarity chord as if there were an objective "we" in the first place; and, as if 'Joe's' interpersonal sacrifice to the extent his own detriment, for the sake of enabling the ever annoying and antipathetic 'Sam', is somehow a bloody virtue.

Logically, it cannot be.

You probably are right about one thing though. "Sexual liberation", whatever that ultimately means in the minds of proponents, is projected as a revolutionary and subversive social act.

The difficulty of course, is that in your world, a world without an objective "we", or values, (no "essences" as you insist) one finds one's associations and self interests being subverted by those with whom we are in nominal alliance, but, who are nonetheless busily scheming to drag us onto the shoals of their private and cherished dysfunctions; to risk or wreck our own lives and our own cherished projects there as well.

Some ally. Some association. Some society. Some life.

Why should I prioritize the satisfaction of a coprophagous idiot in his insistent idiocy, or some sexually submissive male who gets off pretending he is a girl, to that of my own liberation from their tawdriness? I don't need them around in my life. The world is full of healthier and more fulfilling and rewarding associations.

Walt Whitman? Pfft. Get serious. Let the pocky armpit sniffing son of a bitch cruise military hospital wards in hell for excitement, if that is what he wants. And apparently he did. But that is not what I want for myself, or for social allies.

Why on earth then, would any mentally healthy and forward thinking person, who has two good legs to stand on, and a clear and untroubled mind, want to submit to that kind of sadomasochistic and nihilistic social arrangement?

They would not, obviously.

What kind of person would?

Well, I guess the popularity of that recent movie 50 Shades ... tells us what kind. Toxic and frivolous people with disordered appetites, people who are unfit for political peer-ship in a classically liberal polity. That is who: Shackles and life in a humid hellhole for everyone, their motto.

Now, most of us confronted with such types would ordinarily want to say: "Let them enjoy their squalid lives. Just as long as they don't expect anyone who knows better, or feels otherwise, to endorse, affirm, or support it."

But of course, that is precisely where the problem comes in. The squalid would rather die or kill, than be thrown back on their own resources alone and subject to the consequences of their own acts, and compulsions.

And that, Santi, is not evolution as you rhetorically deploy the term: that is evolution as war waged by moral aliens against one's best interests.

And finally, do remember please, that in the context assumed by this discussion, i.e., your metaphysical context: There is no "we".

I suppose I should admit that in accepting your scheme there is no "healthy", or "kind", or "generous" or "beneficial" either. How could there be, There are no objective kinds to be benefited, or whose "health" can be estimated against a standard.

Just impulses ... at war. And for now, rhetoric, rather than reason, is your weapon of choice.

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi DNW:

I'm hearing you say that you want out-of-the-closet gay people to stay away from your circle of associations (Church, circle of friends, etc.), and that if they must do whatever it is that they do together, you want them to bear the full consequences of their actions.

That's your right.

You also suggest that there are a lot of gay people--and their supporters--who are freeloaders on society. I agree that there are freeloaders on society, and I don't approve of them. But I don't agree with you that, on average, gays, and the supporters of gay rights, represent a disproportionate number of the world's freeloaders.

Gays, demographically, actually earn more money than the average person (at least in the United States). They're productive members of the community, and pay taxes. Same with liberals. The blue states in the United States tend to be the richer states--and the most gay-friendly states.

Gay equality therefore does not portend the decline of Enlightenment civilization, nor of a "classically liberal" polity. It is a logical extension of them. Reason magazine and the Orange County Register, two bastions of libertarianism in California (for example), support gay marriage and equality.

As for your view that gays are degenerate, and your expressions of contempt and disgust at their practices, I think these are unfortunate--but again, it's your right.

My interest surrounding the gay question in relation to Feser's blog is whether or not gay behavior can be incorporated positively into Thomistic philosophy--and if not, exactly why not.

The intersection of Thomism and homosexuality seems to me a test case of Thomism's 21st century relevance--because gay marriage, gay civil rights, and gay equality are clearly just causes, sharing the same premises as other just civil rights causes (from Mormon equality, to black equality, to women's equality, to Catholic, Jewish, Asian, and atheist equality). Gay people now constitute a discernible community. It's their (long-overdue) turn for public dignity.

If neo-Thomists cannot properly reason their way toward supporting so obviously a just cause, then perhaps what is disordered and confused is contemporary Thomism itself.

The genitals were made for man, not man for the genitals. (Let he who has ears, let him hear.)

Son of Ya'Kov said...

>Yes, but it weakens those claims considerably. Their force is dissipated. Evolution knows no species boundaries in terms of lineage.

Most of us here with one or two exceptions is at least nominally a Theistic Evolutionist or believe Evolution is compatible with Faith.

Why do you keep acting like this is the Uncommon decent blog?

Anonymous said...

Why do you keep acting like this is the Uncommon decent blog?

Because if you take this particular toy away from him, he has precious little left. So if he has to pretend we're all evolution-denying creationists, well then, that's what he'll do.

Atheists hate reason when it's not on their side, which is (un)surprisingly often.

Matthew said...

"the genitals were made for man, not man for the genitals"

Certainly true. But since man acts as man in the sexual respect insofar as he conforms to human sexual nature, his interests as man, when he chooses to act on his sexual desires, lie in their proper use. To act inhumanly does not make anyone more of a man-it merely makes him an evil man.

The intersection of Thomism and homosexuality seems to me a test case of Thomism's 21st century relevance--because gay marriage, gay civil rights, and gay equality are clearly just causes, sharing the same premises as other just civil rights causes (from Mormon equality, to black equality, to women's equality, to Catholic, Jewish, Asian, and atheist equality). Gay people now constitute a discernible community. It's their (long-overdue) turn for public dignity.

Hello, begged questions. The cause of homosexualism is evil, so why should a community formed around an intrinsic evil be accorded public dignity? Humans with same-sex attraction ought to be given every dignity due to them as human, but the mindless endorsement of inhuman and unnatural acts to which they are particularly vulnerable is not one of these dignities.

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi Matthew,

Masturbation, placing one's tongue on genitals, bringing a partner to orgasm by breathing into an ear, and lesbianism (to cite four behaviors) are not inhuman activities.

These are variations surrounding sex in which an animal endowed with imagination might naturally find, to pleasant surprise, meaning and pleasure.

It's not the obvious, essential, or most typical use of the lungs, the tongue, the ear, or the genitals--and it's not why these four organs evolved in the first place (it's not essential to them)--but, like the panda's thumb, these behaviors exploit contingencies. It just so happens, for example, that breath on the ear can be highly stimulating sexually--and how wonderful it is to discover this!

These behaviors constitute an imaginative hijacking of parts of the body to purposes other than those for which they first evolved.

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi Anonymous:

You wrote that I have "to pretend we're all evolution-denying creationists."

No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying that if you're evolutionists, don't bracket evolution from your reasoning about Thomism in relation to homosexuality.

Evolution (and God) gave humans imagination. It's our gambit adaptation. It means we're going to bring our imaginations to contingent situations--and then experiment. Like an eagle that takes pleasure from its wings, we take pleasure in imagination, curiosity, and exploration.

So to play with gender and know the body and sex inside and out, up and down, left and right, close and far, is the process by which we obtain knowledge.

Perhaps you think it should be forbidden knowledge, but we play with ideas without restraint; we play with chemistry without restraint; we play with physics without restraint; and we play with the body without restraint.

There's no off-button to our meaning, curiosity, and pleasure seeking because (and here's the essentialist punchline) THAT'S WHAT WE ARE. We are curious, imaginative, impatient-with-boredom experimentalists. Our whole system is goaded to novelty.

So where the neo-Thomist misuses essentialism surrounding sex (in my opinion) is by not going far enough in his essentialism--he doesn't identify what's most essential about the human being in the light of evolution's gambit for us: evolution has pieced together a Frankenstein monster. We are Prometheus. We steal fire from heaven and Earth. We don't stop at the given. We broach boundaries. We walk the Earth.

Imagination, curiosity, and experiment know no restraint in us. Evolution gave us, as it were, an open program. Roam, crash into things, learn, exploit, hijack. See what happens when your particular and contingent variation meets another contingent variation (either of culture, environment, or organism).

If we were instinctual animals, you would be right: the genitals, in an instinctual animal, are for reproduction. Period. But when you break off the genitals from Prometheus as a whole and say, "The function of this organ is reproduction, therefore this should be your sole use for it"--you've made a category mistake. You don't know who you're talking to. That's not what you say if evolution has made a Prometheus--which it has.

Matthew said...

Santi, I'm not sure what is gained by the language of "hijacking." I can only surmise that you think it constitutive of man's nature to do violence to his own nature, which is an absurdity. This affection for violence seems to be primarily responsible for your crude analysis of the proper relation of intellect and imagination to human nature.


Masturbation, placing one's tongue on genitals, bringing a partner to orgasm by breathing into an ear, and lesbianism (to cite four behaviors) are not inhuman activities.

Masturbation and lesbianism are inhuman, while the use of the tongue or breath to elicit erotic pleasure is not necessarily unnatural. The former are intrinsically inimical to the fulfilment of the sexual act qua sexual, while the latter may, depending on their use, be part of such an act (e.g. in foreplay). In the wider context of marriage- the permanent comprehensive union between a man and a woman, much of the latter sort of sexual trickery is permissible.

The presence of a faculty of intellect and imagination is not carte blanche to do what the intellect and imagination take to doing. These faculties are abused insofar as they are turned against the nature of that which has them. This is perfectly possible to do, since the human animal is prone to falsely reifying himself as a subject apart from nature, in order to indulge disordered desires.

The instrumentalizing power over nature which intellect and imagination confer- that is, the power to exapt existing powers for further ends grasped contingently in the intellect- is not necessarily inimical to properly human action. Where a faculty does not have a natural voluntary use which is perverted in the instrumentalised act (as would be the case in licking, blowing, etc), such an act is perfectly permissible. Of course, where a faculty is disordered in such an act, it becomes impermissible.

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi Daniel:

You write that "Darwin is irrelevant" because it really doesn't matter how we got our powers, but whether we have them or not. I disagree with this sort of bracketing off of evolution from Thomistic thought because it suggests that the next individual roll of the genetic dice is irrelevant to the logic of what is already in place--of what came before.

If evolution is true, the logic of the past "we" cannot confidently proscribe the logic of the present and variant "I".

My argument is that you and your Thomistic friends here, though you accept evolution, are not sufficiently absorbing what our most essential evolutionary gambit is: imagination brought to contingencies combined with curiosity, experiment, and play, as when Emily Dickinson writes:

"God is indeed a jealous God —
He cannot bear to see
That we had rather not with Him
But with each other play."

This is the Promethean impatience with boredom, proscription, and singularity. And that's how God--the dynamic and true God, not the static God of the static traditional religions--appears to have evolved humans. We roam, we play, we goof around, we have low attention spans.

God, through evolution, didn't make us to follow a singular syllogism to ULTIMATE TRUTH and plop down content. (S)he made us to take the long way around; to play with things that aren't God--with matter, energy, ideas, others.

No other animal has our amazing combination of free-roaming, playful, dancing traits. They are a game changer that shifts the logic around which things can be said to "naturally" function toward a singular and highest purpose or end.

So you've offered me no good reason (yet) to think that God, who created the diversity of life by variation exploiting contingency, hates sexual variation that exploits contingency.

Scott said...

"If evolution is true, the logic of the past 'we' cannot confidently proscribe the logic of the present and variant 'I'."

In other words, since we can't confidently assert that in a couple of million years our descendants won't reproduce via anal sex, we can't proscribe that practice for the current generation either.

It all seems so logical once it's spelled out.

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi Matthew:

You don't like the word hijacking, but that's what evolutionary variation does: it hijacks and reorders the logic of a thing by varying it a bit. A small rudder can move a whole ship.

Hijacking is another way of saying: "Make an old thing new--impart to its use a new essence, a new power, a new direction, a new logic." It's the panda's thumb. It's turning the radial sesamoid bone away from its previously evolved use and into a tool for the pleasure of eating bamboo. It's piercing the tongue and putting a silver stud in it for sexual and cultural signaling and play.

If you take evolution seriously--and don't appeal to the Bible or authority, which is question-begging--it's hard to make a plausible case for why a creature generated by variations exploiting contingencies mustn't experiment with alternative uses for the genitals, the tongue, the ear, etc.

It's like saying to a penguin, "Wings are made for flying, not for swimming! Do you see any other birds acting so contrary to their natures in the use of their wings?" Obviously, to say this is to misidentify the contingent INNER LOGIC of the penguin's unique variation as it encounters its contingent environment.

And if a singular penguin were to be born with, say, a mutation for red-colored wings, and began to use them for flamboyant sexual display rather than just swimming, you would be mistaken to say, "This penguin is immodest and not following the inner logic of its penguin nature. It should stop this behavior. That's not what it most essentially is."

But that is what it most essentially is: a variation exploiting a contingency. A SINGLE VARIATION CAN CHANGE THE FUNDAMENTAL LOGIC OF A THING--whether it's a red wing on a penguin or lesbian desire in a woman.

Thomism, in my view, doesn't survive untouched by this conceptual shift in how things come to be what they are. You can't just bracket Thomistic reasoning off from the consequences of Darwin's discovery.

The very premise of Thomism is that you can define a category of similar things securely and essentially--even permanently--and make that definition normative for all time. Thus there are individuals who conform properly to their inherited class, and individuals who don't.

But if, Matthew, a single variation--or imaginative variant use--can (and does) upend the logic of what came before--and you know that evolution works on variation--how can you proscribe behavior on any single and contingent individual in the blanket manner that you propose?

Obviously, if you take evolution seriously, you can't. Does this amount to situation ethics of some sort? Yes. How can it not? Again, evolution is variation acting in a contingent situation.

If human beings are a product of evolution, then each individual is a new and contingent variation confronting a new and contingent situation. How can the outcome of that encounter be proscribed in advance from a generalization about an older class of contingent things?

Santi Tafarella said...

No, Scott, in other words, if a professional woman in Southern California in her late 30s experiences lesbian desire and marries another professional woman in her late 30s, and they decide to both get pregnant via artificial insemination (donated by two gay scientist friends of theirs in West Hollywood who also work, say, at Cal Tech), there's nothing about this alternative life gambit and child-rearing arrangement that is in need of proscription and disapproval in advance.

The experiment, after all, might produce happy, well-adjusted children who go on to become tolerant, creative, open-to-diversity adults (because they came from a family that provided them with a good example of risk taking and inventiveness).

Such a family experiment is unusual. It's imaginative. It's contingent. It's motivated by love. The experience of it could provide competitive benefits to offspring. It's not at all obvious why God would or should hate it.

And if God made evolution, and evolution is true (variations putting forward gambits in the presence of contingencies), then a lesbian family is not unnatural, nor does it violate any natural laws.

After Darwin (AD), evolution is the overriding consideration for thinking about what's natural--and the answer is: whatever works. Variety is the spice of life--and the engine of evolution. Evolution also made the aardvark.

So Gays and lesbians who form a community together, and donate eggs and sperm among themselves when they want to start alternative families--are engaging in a new evolutionary experiment. This experiment is in the now: they are an identifiable community that sometimes mixes genes amongst themselves for purposes of reproduction.

And reproduction is not just biological, but cultural and intellectual.

So gays and lesbians should also be thought about in terms of their contributions to civilization as a whole. Just as it has been a disadvantage to the flourishing of civilization to limit women's opportunities, so it has been a collective disadvantage to oppress homosexuals.

When gays and lesbians are out of the closet and free to exercise their talents, imaginations, and brain power, the whole community benefits. Think of a world where Alan Turing wasn't hounded to suicide.

And the CEO of Apple is gay, and his talents benefit many. Imagine if he could not exercise those talents because of his sexual orientation. What a waste of human talent based on the groundless and archaic pre-Darwinian premise that his sexual orientation is "disordered," and not merely a human variant.

There are evolutionary advantages for any culture that assimilates gay people into its society in the here and now. Simply contrast California with Russia.

Scott said...

"No, Scott…"

The farrago that follows those two words has nothing to do with evolution or essences and is neither a recapitulation nor a consequence of the claim I was paraphrasing.

It's also a mystery to me why anyone would think Thomism would forbid the CEO of Apple to exercise his talents because he's gay.

But I mustn't be tempted to engage the unreasoning troll. As Thoreau remarked, it is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi Son of Ya'Kov:

You have a curious name. What's up with that? What's it mean? Is it Russian--or perhaps Georgian?

In any event, you wrote: "Most of us here with one or two exceptions is at least nominally a Theistic Evolutionist or believe Evolution is compatible with Faith."

Great! I, of course, am premising what I say on this--that we're all evolutionists here--and so I'm asking you to reconsider whether Thomism's characterization of things like contraception, masturbation, and homosexuality as "contrary to natural law" and "disordered" is really coherent with what we've discovered about how evolution actually makes a new essence, a new INNER LOGIC (a variation hijacks a contingency).

JohnD said...

Dr. Feser,

Any chance we can get any more details on the content of the lecture? Also, any details about the length and/or if there will be a Q and A session?

I think I want to make the drive!

Anonymous said...

As far as I know Robert George is either a member of Opus Dei or deeply sympathetic with its philosophy and aims. As far as I know the Anscombe Society is an Opus Dei front organization.

It is a well known fact that senior and serious members of Opus Dei practice bodily mortification or self-inflicted pain on a daily basis.
What does this tell us about their attitude to the body and thus sexuality. And about their emotional, mental and psychic health? Is it indicative of a deep seated neurosis, or even psychosis?

Bodily mortification is a method. It is another way of asserting ones presumed superiority, of denying love, of attaining the ecstasy of self-pity. Its goal seems to be truth, love, God, etc, but it is a manifestation, itself a signature of a certain quality of life. And it only perpetuates itself. It is a false mode of life. It is a demonstration which is itself a refusal to live in world where there is God, a world of radiant love, openness and happiness. It embraces guilt and the incapability for love, self-pity and hardhearted superiority of self. It seeks to to win through effort. This instead of freely available Grace and the labors of love. Wherever I mortify myself, it is an indication that I am seeking and asserting a false superiority through the emblem of suffering. But its only fruit is self-pity and darkness and the incapacity to love. It is the active refusal to live in a world in which love is the essential medium of reality, and freedom the essential force of being. it seems or pretends to seek a condition of light, love, and freedom, but in fact it manifests and enforces a condition of depression, ignorance, bondage, and separation.

By contrast in a state of spontaneous Graceful surrender or perfect participation in what IS there is no separation, no hindrance, no despair, no ignorance, no question. There is a quality of union, of uncaused bliss, of prior freedom, and all energy is operative as love, as real union with objects and persons. There is union with the essential force in all things, and because the absolute is thus freely contemplated, there is also an end to the separation and reflexive tendency in all relations. All things and persons, then, are objects freely and wonderfully embraced, at last openly contemplated and enjoyed in the single medium of God or the Force of Reality.

The question arises as to whether disturbed people who practice bodily mortification are in any sense qualified to pontificate about sexual morality or ethics.

And would you send your children to a school where some or all of the teachers practice, or at least advocate and approve of this essentially psychotic practice?

Santi Tafarella said...

Anonymous:

I have a different take on Opus Dei-style bodily mortification from you. Yes, it could be neurotic behavior for some, but I would liken it to the sublime in art--and to contemporary performance art as practiced by Marina Abramovic (locate at YouTube clips from the documentary, "The Artist is Present," if you don't know who she is).

The sublime in art--as opposed to depictions of non-threatening beauty--implies awe and fear, but from a vantage of safety (as when one might meditate upon an artist's representation of Pompeii in 70 CE).

Likewise, the Catholic seeks closeness to Christ's crucifixion through imitative suffering that does not actually lead to death or permanent injury, but heightens contemplation. It is akin to what happens when an audience comes under the spell of a tragic play, but brought up a notch (as if one were taken onto the stage to participate in the enactment).

So the repugnance you direct at conservative Catholic behavior mirrors the repugnance that conservative Catholics direct at homosexual behavior. Both are failures of imagination; failures to see variation as the functioning of an internal logic that is valuable to those who engage with it.

Most Opus Dei Catholics who practice mortification are not sick or disordered, nor are homosexuals.

And existence is suffused with sadomasochism. Art has long enacted and represented this--as has religious and sexual practice (as when you pay, for example, a dominatrix to tie you up).

So your sunny characterization of easy unity with Dionysian frenzy, the universe, or God--as if such a thing is entirely positive and non-threatening--is innocent and naive. It is Romanticism not sobered or tempered by decadent Romanticism.

Opus Dei Catholics are trying to contemplate existence from the vantage of the depths of experience, not innocence.

For an alternative view of what it means to encounter Dionysus frenzy and Nature, Euripides' The Bacchae might be worth your time to read--if you don't already know the play.

DNW said...

Blogger Santi Tafarella said...

" Hi DNW:"


Hi Santi.


" I'm hearing you say that ..."


" You also suggest ... "



From this side I am clearly hearing you say that you wish to evade the central logical problem with your position. That:

" ... under your system of interpretation there is no objective, "we"."


It would have been nice if you could have addressed that issue - since the matter of natural kinds and the status of essential natures are critical to the Thomistic, or any non-absurd system of ethics at all.

But, apparently and despite your repeated references to the issue, you are in fact unwilling to face the logical consequences of your own metaphysical positions; and to provide others with good reasons for acquiescing to the sado-mascohistic world you gleefully wish to drag everyone into.

If I didn't know better, I'd think you were a Satanist and possessed.

Are you Santi? Despite your atheism, are you somehow nonetheless a Luciferian nihilist; one of Lewis's entropy embracing Unmen?

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi DNW:

Regarding the "we" issue, I think you can make generalizations about classes of things so long as those generalizations do not function to marginalize--or render invisible or unimportant--differences.

If a variant--say, a person who declares himself to have homosexual desire--declares that his variant is central to his identity, and you say, "No, it's not. You should not make your homosexual desire important to your happiness because it is contrary to your highest nature and the best use of your genitals"--then what we have is a power struggle. One person is being called by the siren of his variation--regarding it as transformative to the logic of his being--and the other is calling for conformity--regarding the variant behavior as degenerate.

Evolution, playing Solomon, splits the difference here. Evolution says, Yes, of course there are things humans can say about a species generally AND IN RETROSPECT, after the fact, but don't forget that lineages rest on continuums--and are ongoing today.

That means that the variations among people of today should not be described as disorders or accidents, but as GAMBITS that stand to transform the essential logic of the variant person, driving biological and cultural diversity and evolution.

Evolution changes the essential logic of a thing by variation--and even a small variation can reorder and hijack the logic and direction of an organism (as a small rudder can transform the direction of a large boat).

Putting a rudder on what was once a rudderless boat transforms the powers and inner logic of the boat--and how one proscribes the boat's use.

A simple and recent example: the sensible prohibition--"Don't make a home of the driest place on Earth, for it is filled with arsenic and not the sort of place that God made for humans to thrive in"--cannot be directed at the Atacama Indians of South America, who, over the past several thousand years, have adapted to and now thrive in arsenic-laden environments that other humans would find poisonous.

There is no step-by-step cookbook for what to do to survive on an island or in an arsenic-laden desert because evolution is driven by variants encountering contingencies, and laying down a bet--a gambit.

This is why Thomistic essentialism directed toward gay culture and practice is evolutionarily dubious. It's too proscriptive. It's also hubristic, presuming to know in advance what the outcome of a variant's behavior must come to. It's not taking into proper account the role and power of a "marginal" variation to overturn the inner logic of thing (as with the Panda's thumb), and how history is full of contingent surprises.

What I'm saying is not opposed to essentialism, rightly considered, but grounded upon it. One person's essential or important feature is another person's marginal or unimportant feature because everyone, in their contingency, is laying down contingent gambits surrounding the future--which is, of course, unknown.

Another quick example: bestiality is wrong--don't you agree? But the reality is that if Homo sapiens in Europe and Asia had not crossed the species boundary, bedding down with Neanderthals--a very different species--they might not have acquired certain adaptations for living in northern climates that make Europeans and Asians the sorts of creatures that they are today. (1-2% of European and Asian DNA can be traced to Neanderthals--and one can presume that 1-2% was conserved to the present because it confers at least some evolutionary advantages.)

Scott said...

"It's also hubristic, presuming to know in advance what the outcome of a variant's behavior must come to."

Yes, how dare anyone claim to know in advance that anal sex isn't reproductive? Maybe in a million years it will be!

Of course, those anal-sex-reproducers obviously won't be the evolved descendants of those who exclusively practice anal sex now, but that doesn't matter because hijacking. (Which just means making an old thing new; ask any Federal Air Marshal.)

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi Scott:

Ironic that Thoreau, a variant if there ever was one, is deployed by you.

Thoreau was no fan of conventional religion and religious morality, and scholars have surmised that he may have been homosexual. The prominent Thoreau scholar Walter Harding wrote in 1991 that his "actions and words...indicate a specific sexual interest in members of his own sex" (from "The Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage," p. 701, ed. C. Summers, pub. Holt).

And here's Thoreau in Walden repenting, not of his sins, but of his conformity to convention: "The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my bad behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well? You may say the wisest thing you can, old man,...I hear an irresistible voice which invites me away from all that."

That voice calling one away from conformity is what every deviant (variant) hears. It is the siren within that urges one to tell the essential truth about oneself for oneself--and to act on that truth, come what may.

Thoreau called his year in the woods an experiment--just as Gandhi called nonviolent resistance an experiment--and it's hard to imagine Thoreau worrying in the least about whether he was achieving the best possible use of his sex organs or properly orienting his mind to the highest object of contemplation: God.

Thoreau was diverted, disordered, at play. In answer to the question--"Are you going to goof around, or follow the playbook?"--Thoreau chose to goof around. He was fulfilling the inner logic of himself, not the logic of those who would place upon him their natural law agendas and generalizations.

Same as Emily Dickinson.

Acting variant is what a woman who has been pigeonholed into a steretyped role does when she seeks liberation; it's what a gay person coming out of the closet does; it's how evolution--biological and cultural--advances.

It's the gambit of the variant that refreshes existence and moves history, and Thoreau is among its patron saints.

Scott said...

"Ironic that Thoreau, a variant if there ever was one, is deployed by you."

Looks like we'll have to add "irony" to the long list of words that don't mean what Santi thinks they mean.

Glenn said...

Why is someone stuck in a rut going on about the virtues of being a variant?

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi Scott,

Your million year critique is not taking into account gay culture now, in the 21st century. For example, gay culture may be highly adaptive in this contingent and historical moment precisely because of the very popularity (thanks to the Enlightenment) of the idea of equality.

That's just one contingency that might make gay culture a successful variant in the 21st century--and beyond.

Other contingencies include mass urbanization; 20th century feminist critiques of masculinity and patriarchy; democracy; and reproductive technology.

Lots of contingent things might be making this moment propitious for gay culture flourishing.

And with regard to contemporary technology, it should be recalled that is was developed and made possible in part from the brains of gay scientists like Alan Turing.

And there are theories as to why evolution has preserved homosexuality in the human population. One may be that the the trait is entangled with other highly adaptive (and therefore evolutionarily conserved) traits.

But even if an individual gay, lesbian, or transgender person never has children, the logic of his or her life variation may be regarded as fundamentally transforming of the logic of that person--as essential to him or her--and not anybody else in particular.

If, by analogy, only one panda made use of its sesamoid bone as a "thumb" for the pleasure of eating bamboo, and that panda loved bamboo, but died without leaving offspring, the logic of that sesamoid bone's existence for that panda would have been transformed by the hijacking adaptation applied to it.

The same applies to the individual who discovers in herself lesbian desire. It's a variant that changes the logic of everything for her.

And two gay married men or lesbian married women can raise their own biological children via the use of surrogates and sperm donors that they don't actually sleep with. And some gays and lesbians have had children when they were "trying on" a heterosexual identity, and now find themselves preferring a homosexual lifestyle later in life.

And gays and lesbians can contribute in ways that indirectly benefit--biologically and culturally--civilization as a whole.

So there are lots of ways that evolution can work with gay variants.

Evolution, whose engine is the contingent variant that can hijack and transform the inner logic of an existing whole--shifting its essential identity, powers, and effects to fresh purposes--is not sympatico to the static "one size fits all" natural law theology proscriptions of Thomism directed at the human genitals--or anything else.

What are women for? What are people with gay desire for? Ask them. If they're evolutionary variants, maybe they'll tell you what's central to their being. They know. You don't.

Evolution is natural law's Waterloo.

Scott said...

"Your million year critique is not taking into account gay culture now, in the 21st century.…[E]ven if an individual gay, lesbian, or transgender person never has children…"

…he/she/it can still contribute to evolution by genetic natural selection? Nope, didn't think so. And in that case my remarks about such a person's role in evolution (and, really, about the role of "evolution" in Santi's sophomoric tripe) are entirely apt.

"And with regard to contemporary technology, it should be recalled that [it] was developed and made possible in part from the brains of gay scientists like Alan Turing."

Which is relevant only if Turing made such developments possible by having anal sex. Did he? Nope, didn't think so. So yet again, Santi leaves us wondering which Thomists would suppress Turing's genuine intellectual achievements on the grounds that he was gay.

"The same applies to the individual who discovers in herself lesbian desire. It's a variant that changes the logic of everything for her."

Well, sure. When someone has a lesbian desire, two plus two cease to make four, contradictions become possible, and affirming the consequent is no longer a fallacy. It changes the logic of everything! Because hijacking!

"Evolution is natural law's Waterloo."

If "evolution" is the Duke of Wellington.

Scott said...

(Or rather, "If natural law is the Duke of Wellington.")

DNW said...

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi DNW:

Regarding the "we" issue, I think you can make generalizations about classes of things so long as those generalizations do not function to marginalize--or render invisible or unimportant--differences."


Hi Santi,

That is an evasion and not directly responsive of you, is it.

You still have not stated exactly what, if anything other than your wishful thinking, you have based your "we" category on.

Nor have you said just how you have selected or justify whatever attributes you have in mind as the class defining or conditioning attributes for the "we" you posit.

Nor have you finally explained how you logically derive - apparent Humean that you are - your inclusivist moral imperatives from mere declarative statements.

And please save the Neanderthal babble. I keep pretty well on top of the physical anthropology literature, and you are just squirting ink here.

As you call Neanderthals a different "species" as if you have a real definition of species in mind, in what sense are they a different species, exactly?

The question which naturally arises over your use of the term (since species have been defined Darwinistically as separate breeding populations incapable of producing fertile offspring) is as to what the grounds are upon which you stake this different species claim: Morphology?

Australian aborigines or New Guineans or pygmies might qualify on that basis. And as Sub-Saharan Africans have - for the most part - no "Neanderthal" genes, that would seem to make them a species apart from the rest of hybrid humanity by your own standards.

In fact, according to reports in the literature, Sub-Saharan Africans may well have their own and even more primitive and archaic hominid introgression, dating back only some tens of thousands of years. A mixing, which according to the hypothesis, is not shared by non-African populations.

You might have a marginally better "different species" bet for yourself if it is ever proven that the number of Sapiens Sapiens and Neanderthal chromosomes differed; or to a much lesser extent, if it's proven that only certain sexual combinations did in fact produce any viable offspring; of which say, only one sex was fertile. For example as a hypothesis, posit that: only Neanderthal males and homo sapiens females produced any viable offspring; and further, that only the females of this kind of union were - at least in some cases - fertile themselves.

Still, I am not sure where that would get you, since you would have yet to explain how your inclusivist moral imperatives are logically developed and derived from your classification system in any event.

Your ostensible system of moral obligation really does seem to be based on just what happens to please you, and others like you, rather than on a moral imperative that can be deduced for all of humankind.

In that case, we don't even have to concern ourselves with "species", as you talk of them, at all.

Your reference to species becomes completely otiose.

Don't you agree?

DNW said...

Scott said,

'Evolution is natural law's Waterloo.'

If "evolution" is the Duke of Wellington.

March 16, 2015 at 11:55 AM"



Yes, what's with Santi's shameless anthropomorphizing?

Of course ... I could have it backwards as it applies to Santi. If, say, he is a mystery monist of a pantheist or pansychic or Hylozoism living universe kind.

But he tends to talk of evolution as if it is a blind material outcome; when, that is, he is not talking of it as a person in the God role.

DNW said...

'And with regard to contemporary technology, it should be recalled that [it] was developed and made possible in part from the brains of gay scientists like Alan Turing.'

"Which is relevant only if Turing made such developments possible by having anal sex. Did he? Nope, didn't think so. So yet again, Santi leaves us wondering which Thomists would suppress Turing's genuine intellectual achievements on the grounds that he was gay.


The same ones who would prohibit an architect from building because he had a violent streak he had to keep under control; or would stop a composer writing music because he had an impulse that tempted him to get drunk.

His problem was not that he ran with the Polish crypographers' and logicians' developments, but lay elsewhere.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2215003/Secrets-Enigma-code-cracked-Polish-Brits-MPs-claim.html

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi Glenn:

I like the word "variant" because it has a sci-fi/Logan's Run feel to it, as in, "Are you with the plodding, derivative, static, and conformist Pod People, or are you on swift run with The Variants?"

It also dislodges and exposes the presumptuousness of deploying the terms "disordered" and "degenerate" at gays and lesbians. If we're all variants, on what basis do you know the essence of, and right life orientation for, the variant sitting next to you, except to ask?

If evolution is about contingent variations hijacking existing structures and essences to new and contingent purposes, transforming the inner logic and agenda of the organism as a whole (as with the Panda's thumb)--then we can immediately apprehend that we are all Variants, for all offspring are variations from their parents.

This kills natural law proscription. It's checkmate.

Once you absorb the roll that even a very small and contingent variation can have on an organism's identity--and the variation's power to transform the logic of the organism's entire menu of functions, powers, and purposes--you can't reasonably predict and proscribe best behavior going forward (the variant's next existential chess move), only describe what most organisms like it have done in similar situations in the past.

And notice that belief in essentialism--"real essentialism"--doesn't save natural law proscription from evolution--but undermines it, for each variant human may discover in him or herself a contingent internal logic--his or her own siren essence, that, as Thoreau says, "invites" the variant to fulfill its call. This "calling" may seem conventionally freakish to others, but not to the variant who hears it.

So ironically, the notion of essence itself, and the call of one's contingent and variant essence--combined with evolution as gambling (putting forward a gambit)--dislodges the static generalizations that accompany natural law proscription.

Variant essences + evolution = situation ethics.

Glenn said...

This "calling" may seem conventionally freakish to others, but not to the variant who hears it.

So, you don't yet have a "calling", thus are not yet a 'variant', i.e., you're not ready to buck the trend of your ilk.

dover_beach said...

What po-mo twaddle. Variant essences? Variant humans? If they are still 'human' then they are still subject to the natural law.

Scott said...

@dover_beach:

"What po-mo twaddle."

Sshhh. We're not supposed to notice that.

"If they are still 'human' then they are still subject to the natural law."

But…hijacked! Evolution gambit contingency transformed panda's thumb INNER LOGIC! Weren't you even listening?

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi Matthew:

You said: "Our good is grounded in the conditions of our flourishing as the kinds of things we are,..."

Exactly, which is why you must correctly identify what a human variant is, and how his or her variation impacts the organism as a whole, and what the variant TELLS YOU is his or her inner siren--the essential nature that calls to him or her, and organizes his or her orientation and agenda. In evolution, no contingent variant gets exactly the same inner and essential call.

You also wrote that "the kinds of things we are" are "universal among us because we share a common nature."

That's where I say that you have fallen off the rails in relation to evolution. Evolution knows among a population of organisms Wittgensteinian "family resemblances," but the next generation of variants may not all share the same Thoreau-like siren call, and we should respect that, realizing that variation is the engine of evolution (contingent variation as the dicing gambit).

Here's Thoreau in Walden putting forward the Variant's Declaration of Essentialist Independence: "The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my bad behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well? You may say the wisest thing you can, old man,...I hear an irresistible voice which invites me away from all that."

You also say this, Michael: "If someone tells me it is their nature and desire to enter a same-sex sexual relationship, I will tell them that they are simply incorrect about their nature, and their desire is perverse."

This is the power clash: an evolutionary variant tells you what's important to them--who they are--and you don't respect that. You insist on conformity grounded in the inertia of past patterns of behavior among a type, which is a denial of the way contingent essences enter existence in the present (by the variant gambit).

Feser is right perhaps that everything has an essence, but if so, evolution tells us that no living thing is an exact replica of another living thing (either as to time or space). And some variants are sufficiently different from you (as in sexual orientation, or, say, introversion) that we can say with Blake, "One law for the lion and ox is oppression." Every living thing is a contingent variant. Evolution can lay down no "universal natural law" for a contingent variant.

That only happens when a person mistakes an evolutionary variant for another thing. It displays too tight a grip on family resemblances and gives insufficient attention to difference, and how a single difference can reorient the logic and end of the whole organism (as with the Panda's thumb).

If one day, one of my kids says to me, "Dad, this is who I am!" (whatever that declaration is about), I will think of the contingent evolutionary variant, and listen very, very closely.

Santi Tafarella said...

I notice that some of you are unhappy with the word "variant" as a replacement for "disordered."

Might I recommend therefore, that, as Thomists, you theorize about the word "transitional"?

What does it mean to be a transition?

A variant, after all, is just the first step in a potential transition to a new species--a new essential thing; the first of its kind.

And so my question is: does a transitional organism--say, for example, Tiktaalik roseae--the famous fish-to-land animal transition--have its own essence--its own internal logic and powers--on its way from water to land?

If you say--"No, until Tiktaalik is fully a land creature, its nature is to be a fish. On its way to land, it's a monster; something monstrous. It's essentially disordered from the vantage of its true fish nature"--then I say, "That explains how you can call a woman who departs from her traditional role 'disordered,' or a man who is attracted to other men 'disordered.'"

But if you say, "Yes, Tiktaalik, on it's way to the land, had it's own unique essence at every stage along the way; it's own internal logic and powers, unique to its essential nature"--then I say, "Bingo! How can you confine a human variant--which is always a potential TRANSITION to another species (the first in a new series), to the proscriptions of a universal natural law? 'One law for the lion and ox is oppression.' This would be like evaluating Tiktaalik's behavior in light of what came before, and not as the thing it is."

Santi Tafarella said...

Does a transitional organism have an essence, and if so, is that essence derived from its past, its present, or its future?

Scott said...

"Exactly, which is why you must correctly identify what a human variant is, and how his or her variation impacts the organism as a whole, and what the variant TELLS YOU is his or her inner siren--the essential nature that calls to him or her, and organizes his or her orientation and agenda."

If a "variant" TELLS ME that as a genetically male human being he's able to reproduce sexually with other genetically male human beings by penetrating them anally, then he's wrong and his "inner siren" has proven untrustworthy. (And there's nothing "transitional" at issue; it's not as though he can partly reproduce in that manner and future generations of his offspring might do it better.)

Anything short of that is irrelevant to Santi's fundamentally confused non-argument.

DNW said...

Santi says,

And so my question is: does a transitional organism--say ..."


So when the rubber actually meets the road, I guess you are no longer interested in discussing Neanderthals; nor how you claim know they are a "species" apart. Which as you recall was critical to your ... eh ... "argument".

No more, say, than you are willing to say how you claim to know that there is an objective "we" in existence, and against which you might - if you ever explained just how it is justified - lay your interpersonal claims against others for their forbearance and support and sacrifice.

DNW said...

Regarding "gays" and "degenerate" Santi asserts,


" As for your view that gays are degenerate, and ..."

and Santi further says

"One person is being called by the siren of his variation--regarding it as transformative to the logic of his being--and the other is calling for conformity--regarding the variant behavior as degenerate."

and then Santi claims

"It also dislodges and exposes the presumptuousness of deploying the terms "disordered" and "degenerate" at gays and lesbians. " [quotes in the original]


Therefore, I would appreciate it if you Santi, would, (especially since you are an apparent academic and as such well aware of punctuation conventions) provide examples of commenters on this board saying that "gays are degenerate".

A quick check of several posts shows that the one use of the word "degenerate" recently was applied by myself in general to Pre-Christian Irish practices; and specifically and only in response to the accusation that it was Christian values and doctrines which had introduced disordered behaviors into the world.

Contrary to your framing Santi, it seems to me that so-called "gayness", insofar as it is considered a unitary or discrete phenomenon of some kind, and further, where hypothesized as possibly due to some genetic contribution, has most often been compared (by myself) to the condition of Type 1 Diabetes, or Pica; and/or by numerous others to such conditions as cleft palate, club foot, agoraphobia or various other potentially inheritance linked conditions or abnormalities such as Turner's syndrome or PKU.

But then Santi, I would guess that under your system of interpretation, one could not justifiably or coherently say that a felt compulsion to eat broken glass, or wire clippings, even was a disorder; any more than a desire to cut off one's genitalia and fricassee it for supper with a cannibal sex partner. After all, those impulses are just variations too.

Further it must mean that there is no such thing as "health" either. After all, using Santi's "variations" schema, how would one recognize health if one saw it? What's to say that gnawing on electrical insulation and driving pins into one's fingertips is anything other than a variation?

Or Santi, do you feel you could say that a felt compulsion to eat electrical insulation, asbestos, or hair balls was a disorder?

But even then Santi, assuming we do go on to shrug at the happy thrashing of these variants, on what grounds do you Santi, demand that others, indifferent to such practices, enable, support, and underwrite their continuance?

Scott said...

@DNW:

"I would guess that under your system of interpretation, one could not justifiably or coherently say that a felt compulsion to eat broken glass, or wire clippings, even was a disorder[.]"

And your guess would be right. On Santi's "logic," we couldn't say that those compulsions were "disordered" unless we could rule out that a person with those compulsions was a "transitional" form (a "variant") whose evolved descendants might thrive on those sorts of nutrition—even if we could rule out that people who have such compulsions today derived any nutritional benefits from such "foods."

See the Encyclopædia Santiaca entry for "anal sex."

DNW said...

Scott said...

@DNW:

'I would guess that under your system of interpretation, one could not justifiably or coherently say that a felt compulsion to eat broken glass, or wire clippings, even was a disorder[.]'

And your guess would be right. On Santi's "logic," we couldn't say that those compulsions were "disordered" unless we could rule out that a person with those compulsions was a "transitional" form (a "variant") whose evolved descendants might thrive on those sorts of nutrition—even if we could rule out that people who have such compulsions today derived any nutritional benefits from such "foods."

See the Encyclopædia Santiaca entry for "anal sex."
March 17, 2015 at 1:55 PM



Yes you are right of course.

But even here we are giving him too much credit. A "transitional form" as he says? Regarding the consumption of hairballs and glass shards we ask: 1, a transitional form of what to a variant form of what, and 2, how does he know his categories?

Why bother to talk of "transition?" Why should Santi's form even have to "function" (as in "thriving", that intellectually despicable weasel word) at all?

If Santi speaks of transitional forms from a present standpoint, he clearly introduces Aristotelian-like conceptual elements into his system which defeat his ideological purposes.

If not he is just blabbing: and deploying words that now mean nothing and have no longer any distinct meanings, for emotive purposes

His only alternative is the (to borrow a term used here quite a bit) brute fact "existence is its own justification" move.

However, if he tries to make that move:

1. He has not established that reproductive success or transitioning has any part in the existential justification he previously posits when he demands respect for his particular behavioral pets.

If he does posit the reproductive success fact as posing a "real value" which it is somehow incumbent upon us to respect, he has again edged toward an Aristotelian-ism (of some sort) which will eventually undermine and devour his own argument.

2. Nor has he shown:

a, Why his hypothetical transitional form is actually anything like a real transition to another form rather than just another ultimately pointless differentiation. For to try (as alluded to earlier) and do so would be to reverse the efficient cause or random mutation impulsion(for lack of a more convenient word) behind the "evolutionary chain" and make it, if covertly, quasi-Aristotelian: justification by a kind of final cause or at least draw.

b. How "variants" which are uncongenial to other variants [variants of what, exactly, we never find out] deserve social support.

Under Santi's system of interpretation, there is not only no meaningful concept of "We" there is to repeat, no objective concept of "health".

Now, rather than talk of variants in terms of murderous or sniveling bum-f**king devotees, why does he not consider the ability to digest lactose, which is demonstrably a variation?

Ah, because it does not take him in the political direction he wishes to go, since it is away from Bonobos and toward herdsmen and nuclear families.

DNW said...




Santi,

You still have not answered the Neanderthal species questions.

1. How do you know Neanderthals were a different species?

2. How do you identify a "species"? This is important so we can know what a "variant" means in your use; and what your concept of a transition really entails.


Thanks so much for your future cooperation and expected lack of evasion.

DNW

Scott said...

@DNW:

"You still have not answered the Neanderthal species questions."

That, I'm afraid, is merely a special case of his not having answered any questions.

Santi Tafarella said...

I referred to "we" as Wittgensteinian "family resemblances."

As for what a species is...

A species is a discernible Darwinian branching on the tree of life.

If a population of organisms gets isolated geographically, and, after, say, 500,000 years, they've built up markedly different traits from the parent population, biologists may be ready to declare a new species.

With regard to Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, 500,000-1,000,000 years ago a population of Homos separated, became isolated from one another geographically, acquired different characteristics over time, then encountered one another again as two separate species. There was still enough similarity between the divergent groups that they could generate some viable offspring, which Europeans and Asians now carry today in their genes.

I'd point out that it's important to distinguish a LINEAGE from a BRANCHING. How you chop up a lineage is arbitrary because it's along a CONTINUUM, but how you distinguish isolated branches from one another is capable of more objective comparison because, the longer they are apart, the more divergent and noticeable their variations become.

So who was the first Homo sapien? There was no first Homo sapien. Who was the first Neanderthal? There was no first Neanderthal.

For the rationale behind why biologists say that evolutionary lineage along a continuum means there was no first human or first Neanderthal (or first Tiktaalik, for that matter), go to the below YouTube video link produced by PBS.

The PBS video (about four minutes long) also nicely illustrates why a variant is another word for a transition--because it's all transition. Our lineage, as long as it continues, is transitioning through time (as a polliwog is transitioning through time).

And, by the way, you're straw-manning me about essences, assuming I reject the idea entirely. I don't. I liken essences to structures. Each contingent and variant organic structure generated by evolution will have its own contingent and variant inner logic. That inner logic may be quite different from the logic of its parent structures.

This is why I'm interested in hearing Thomists' response to this question: Does a transitional organism have an essence, and if so, is that essence derived from its past, its present, or its future?

How one theorizes about WHAT A TRANSITION IS tells you the scope to which it's reasonable to proscribe action by an appeal to natural law (or whether the concept of natural law even makes sense after Darwin).

I understand that Thomists are concerned with preserving the essence/accident distinction, but Darwin calls that into question because accident drives change, and the accident is often substantial enough that it gets preserved by natural selection. An accident can quickly hijack the whole system's orientation and direction (as with the Panda's thumb or lesbian desire).

So with a transition or variant, when does the accident (the difference; the variant; the transition) move from the margins of the logic of an organic structure's being and take center stage--and who decides?

If, for example, bonobo female chimps rub their clitorises on one another, enhancing social bonding--and perhaps evolutionarily benefiting the fitness of the group by making it more tightly knit--is this lesbian behavior unnatural and disordered, demonstrating the wrong use of the genitals?

Or is the variant sexual behavior now part of the natural logic of the bonobos' evolutionary strategy and being?

Here's the YouTube titled, "There Was No First Human."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdWLhXi24Mo

Matt Sheean said...

just a wee comment...

I've been trying to imagine just what Santi's argument is (and was before, the last time when he was around here). I thought I might try, as an exercise, to play Santi's advocate and extract an (very brief) argument from his thought. It seems that novelty, new ways of being, creation of new forms is at the apex of Santi's list of goods. The natural law tradition, as he sees it, is an attempt to preserve old forms, not just traditions and such, but to preserve a species against change, newness, creation and so on. Now that I'm writing it out, it strikes me as plain Nietzsche. At any rate, on this account the "old" natural law isn't just wrong, it's evil, since it subverts the natural end of living things which is, I guess, to make more and 'differenter' kinds of things. This, as I understand it, follows from Santi's account of essences, which treats every species as a nominal member of "things that are alive". Things that are alive are governed ultimately by Evolution (with a capital-E!), ergo etc.

Otherwise, as an argument against natural law, it seems like it's just an argument from ignorance, e.g. we don't know what goods will be produced down the line by our actions now, so we can't really say what's good for us and what's not. Or, in the big picture, epochal view of things, some action that seems repugnant to us here might have been necessary for the emergence of sentient elephant people later on and that is awesome. This would be a strange argument, since the natural lawyer is not prohibited to agree that some undesirable action now might lead to something good later, and that, indeed, some undesirable actions might be permitted just for this reason.

Santi Tafarella said...

Matt (or anybody else here, including Feser):

Thanks for making an attempt to summarize and respond to my perspective.

Could you please take a Thomistic crack at answering this question:

Does a transitional organism have an essence, and if so, is the logic of that essence derived from its past, its present, or its future?

And given how you answer that question, how then does natural law legitimately generalize and proscribe the proper behavior and inner logic of that transition (what should be most important to it, etc.)?

If you are in need of an example to work with as illustration, how about the clitoris? From bonobos to humans, all primate females have one. And it's OUTSIDE of the primate mammal's vagina. So what's the clitoris for--and what natural law generalizations about it ought to proscribe its use?

If two highly social animals--two bonobo females or two human females--discover that rubbing off on each other is highly pleasurable, and it enhances thereby their social bonding, is that nevertheless contrary to natural law?

Does the evolutionary history of how and why female primates have come to have clitorises in the first place have any bearing upon their proper use today?

Bonobo females, for example, use them primarily to rub off on each other, enhancing female solidarity and bonding.

If feminist women discover, by similar lesbian behavior, a way to enhance female human solidarity (akin to the bonobos), is that politicized use of their bodies contrary to natural law--or is that just a social animal discovering and experimenting with a new form of collective affirmation and empowerment?

There's a one-to-one inner logic to male orgasm: orgasm can equal pregnancy. But what's the essential logic of the orgasm brought on by fingers on a clitoris--or rubbing a clitoris off on another person's thigh?

Intercourse doesn't tend to stimulate the clitoris in the right way (and in a lot of sexual positions, not even at all). It can be used for male/female foreplay (or not), but it's not linked directly to pregnancy.

So what's its proper use in natural law terms? Does it exist only to be made contact with in the run-up to male orgasm during intercourse? Why didn't evolutionary selection move the clitoris into the vagina then?

And so does a transitional organism have an essence, and if so, is the logic of that essence derived from its past, its present, or its future?

DNW said...

Santi Tafarella said...

I referred to "we" as Wittgensteinian "family resemblances."

Why don't you quote the passage you have in mind on "family resemblances". I have the book too, and used it in class ... If you are referring to "The Philosophical Investigations".

As you recall, the paragraphs are numbered. Perhaps you mean numbers 66 and 67?

Then, once you have actually cited your conceptual basis, rather than merely waved your hand in its direction, we can ourselves investigate just how " Wittgensteinian 'family resemblances.' " operate to produce your concept of an objective "We"; and, then analyze the question of exactly upon what basis, and by what inferences you derive the moral entailments or interpersonal obligations you suggest.

Of course, I am left wondering why someone who is seen on the one hand, adverting to species based (apparently) on cladistics when challenged on the separate status of Neanderthals, would then refer to a philosophical concept of "family resemblances" in order to try and establish membership in an anthropological grouping; much less the subsequent social solidarity claims which you presume this membership entails.

If you recall, it was natural human families that provided Wittgenstein the supposed basis for calling games, "games". Now however, you presumably wish to use that same paradigm in order to establish the existence of natural human "families". More on this below.

In the meantime I have some games for you.

Is there a family resemblance between an old F101 Starfighter, and a dimensionally precise papier-mâché mockup sprayed with metallic paint?

If so, what's it worth; and under what circumstances?

Also: in what year was "The Philsophical Investigations" published?

In what year did Wittgenstein die?

In what year did Watson and Crick publish their DNA helix findings?

Finally, as promised: What does one call the process of referring to resemblances based on what we already take to be human families, in order to establish the legitimacy of using "family resemblances" to establish the very category brought into question?

DNW said...

And last but not least, I have a gift for you and Wittgenstein. It is a personal definition of a game.

A game, is a challenge artificially constructed, in order to mimic or reproduce some aspect of natural life and its challenges, no matter how abstractly; for proportionately lesser stakes.

In this case, you have been provided a series of baseline questions to which it was apparent you did not know the answers, despite your otherwise knowing pose.

The fact that you could not really answer these questions however, does not in this "game" context involve the ramifications for your livelihood that a like kind of blithe ignorance and imposture would, otherwise.

You get to pretend; and in losing the basis of your pretense your losses are limited to a mere loss of face, rather than family income.

Nice game, eh?

Scott said...

"Does a transitional organism have an essence[?]…If you are in need of an example to work with as illustration, how about the clitoris?…And so does a transitional organism have an essence[?]"

Ah, yes, the clitoris, that well-known example of an organism.

Santi Tafarella said...

Scott,

Sorry for the imprecision. I thought the context was sufficiently clear:

In terms of a concrete example, what's the clitoris for in relation to a transitional organism like an individual human female--and what natural law generalizations about it ought to proscribe its use?

Does a transitional organism have an essence, and if so, is the logic of that essence derived from its past, its present, or its future?

Santi Tafarella said...

DNW:

You want from me the basis for "an objective 'We'", but in terms of biological lineage, there is no such thing. Where you start and stop your species designations along a lineage is a judgment call. Evolution is not special creation, sorry.

The late Harvard evolutionary biologist and paleontologist Stephen Gould puts it well in his essay, "Of Wasps and WASPs": taxonomy's "one cardinal principle" is "the primacy and irreducibility of variation."

Gould, in the same essay, goes on to say this: "Taxonomists...developed a radically different attitude to variation....Variation is the raw material of evolutionary change. It represents the fundamental reality of nature, not an accident about a created norm....Species must be defined as ranges of irreducible variation" (p. 160 from The Flamingo's Smile).

As for Wittgenstein, everything for him is context. What language game is being played? Talking about a king in chess is different from talking about a king in ancient Israel. There are family resemblances in the way the term "king" is used in different contexts and language games, but there is no neutral referent outside of the constellation of language games to which all their uses point in more than a nontrivial way.

Wittgenstein, by positing family resemblances, is trying to clarify definition, not obfuscate it, so that variations, contexts, and language games are not lost sight of, not buried. (Thus he goes well with evolutionary contingency, variation, taxonomy, and biology.)

So your singular definition of "game," hovering as it were above all language games, is an impoverishment of the word's rich contextual usages within actual language games themselves. Language games have their own inner logics (just like variant people do). What you offer as triumph over Wittgenstein is simply an instance of diminishment, like fishing a mudskipper out of a fish tank, letting it flop on a table outside of the environment it was functioning in, and saying, "Behold, a true mudskipper! What it most essentially is!"

But Wittgenstein is saying: "Put the mudskipper back in the tank." Don't forget the language game the word you're using is functioning in. You can't just leap out of history and language games to get (as Nagel puts it) "a view from nowhere."

I've written about Wittgenstein at the link below, and if you want to critique what I have to say about him, feel free to do so at the thread in the link--or come back here to say something.

https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/ludwig-wittgenstein-for-beginners/

DNW said...

Santi Tafarella said...

DNW:

You want from me the basis for "an objective 'We'", but in terms of biological lineage, there is no such thing. "



I didn't ask you to mine diversionary quotes from your favorite evolutionary biologist.

I have instead, and repeatedly, and in various ways, and at various places, asked you what the hell you meant by "we"; and how you knew there was a "we"; and how you identified the members of the "we" class; and how anyone else was to know WTF you thought you goddamn meant, or why they should take it seriously. LOL

After all, pal, you are the one who has been trying to leverage the effen "WE" term into a moral withdrawal slip on a social savings account.

Now however, as you paraphrase a paleontologist (apparently), whom you revere, you admit that on your own understanding there actually is no such an anthropological (or other) thing or class as "we", and as you deploy the term, which is explicable in objective terms.

Therefore, if we go on to do you the great favor of taking you seriously on this point, then, when we see you persist in referring to a "we", and to subsequently go about staking moral-sounding claims on behalf of members of this "we" against other supposed members of this supposed "we" class; it becomes shockingly plain that you are actually adverting to nothing objectively definable, or even describable, at all.

Oh wait. "Family resemblances", maybe? But, appealing to the principle of family resemblances in order to justify the principle of family resemblances, is, how shall we say this politely ... rather circular?

Maybe we should just say instead that this "family resemblances" business is not actually a principle for sorting out or identifying anything, but rather and merely, a description of how sometimes a loose or ignorant or analogical or equivocal use of once precisely applied words, results in loose or analogical, or metaphorical or equivocal or stupid results.

You know, the way a child might call all small animals "doggies"?

Which is of course, exactly the way we should like to arrange our world, our lives, our affairs, and our obligations: just as if a small child who cannot tell a squirrel from a cat from an iguana, and who has never produced one jot of material value or expended one joule of work effort during his entire blithe existence, were running and apportioning all aspects of our lives and relations according to his foggy notions and childish sentiments and whims.

Because, Evolution! and LOVE!

And, Stephen Jay Gould too ... by which you mean the "The Mismeasure of Man" fraudster Gould?

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-folly-fools/201210/fraud-in-the-imputation-fraud


You quoted Mayr earlier.
You were perhaps not aware of this? ( See the matter of the first footnote)

http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Debate/CEP_Gould.html



Actually I think you were aware, but thought it would go unmentioned.

So Santi, some advice.

You really need to check your sources better. Or, to stop and look before you try and polemically leverage material you have not thought through, in aid of your wish fulfillment projects.

This stuff is blowing up in your face.

By the way, you are an academic of some kind?

Santi Tafarella said...

In this thread, two things are coming into focus for me:

(1) "Natural law" is wrongly named.
(2) Evolution inverts essence-accident.

(1) As to natural law being wrongly named, it should be called definitional law. "Natural law" actually can have nothing to do with contingent organisms interacting with contingent environments. It can have nothing to do with the internal and complex logic of actual ecosystems (which is what Nature consists of, and which cannot be proscribed in advance).

Instead, "natural law" extracts the organism from its environment to define it in such a way that it is an impoverished and decontextualized shadow of its actual self in an actual environment (like a fish drawn from its aquarium and left to flop about on a table). It turns a unique, dynamic, and complex entity interacting contingently with a real ecological, cultural, or language system into something largely proscribed by its differentia (the penis is an organ for reproduction, and that's basically it; a fin is for swimming). From definition, a thing's essence--with its proper powers and properties--is declared. The rest is accident.

The natural law theorist then throws the fish back into the aquarium to swim according to its proscribed definition. We now know--by definition--not from interaction with the ecological, cultural, or language system itself--what a thing of its sort ought to be doing--and what would constitute a violation of definitional ("natural") law. There should be no experimentation contrary to definitional law.

To violate the definition is to do something "unnatural," exhibiting disorder, degeneracy, not a thing's "best use," etc.

(2) As to evolution inverting essence-accident, this exposes the poverty of the above definitional law proscription game: accidents are the engines of adaptation--including behavioral accidents.

Stephen Gould, in the lead essay of his book, The Flamingo's Smile, writing of the contemporary flamingo's upturned "smile"--and proto-Cassiopea turning itself over in a manner contrary to its biology--writes the following:

"Change of behavior must precede alteration of form. An organism enters a new environment with its old form suited to other styles of life. The behavioral innovation establishes a discordance between new function and inherited form--an impetus to change....The protoflamingo first inverts its normal bill--and it doesn't work very well. The proto-Cassiopea turns over, but its convex umbrella doesn't clutch the substrate" (page 37).

In other words, to proscribe behavior in advance, based on a narrow definition of organ function, is to not understand how evolution works.

So definitional ("natural") law is a mistake in the light of Darwin. Gould writes in the same book: "Ever since Plato," we've been encouraged "to neglect continua and to divide reality into a set of correct and unchanging categories. Essentialism establishes criteria for judgment and worth: individual objects that lie close to their essence are good; those that depart are bad, if not unreal" (161).

In other words, evolution exposes essentialism as taxonomically uninformed. Gould explains: "Taxonomists...developed a radically different attitude to variation....Variation is the raw material of evolutionary change. It represents the fundamental reality of nature, not an accident about a created norm....Species must be defined as ranges of irreducible variation" (160).

DNW said...

Santi,

Something is coming into ever starker relief for many of the rest of us too, no doubt.

And that is that you are attacking a mirage of your own projection in order to try and establish the reasonableness of a regime of interpersonal toleration and sacrifice which would not logically follow from your victory, even were you to conquer the imaginary kingdom against which you presently wage war.

If you posit, as you are anxious to do, the existence of a homosexual male as a variety, you imply the existence of non-homosexual males as another variety.

The question instantly arises as to "A variety of what?"

In a number of places you have suggested that there arise - say de novo - a phenomenon akin to a true homosexual nature.

Elsewhere you seem only to suggest that some people like sweet and some people like sour and that these "variations" are endless and go all the way down.

But, if you assert that there is to be a kind at all, and especially if you attempt to stake a social claim based upon a kind or real class status of some sort, then you have conceded to some degree the very position you are laboring to overthrow with your endless variation-all-the-way-down argument.

Are homosexually inclined men, men first, and homosexual copulators second? Or, are they equally to anything else acts of homosexual copulation, loci of attention seeking and borderline behavior, to precisely the same degree and existential attribute status as they are anything that could be essentially called a "man" in the old days?

It is a question of your construction of identifying categories in that instance. And if you wish to make yourself, say, part of an ontologically primary category of blue things (or no particular thing at all) then you are welcome to. Just don't come around later whining about how you as a blue thing or as a no-thing, are not being treated as a like-thing or natural kind ... you know, as "family".

So much for arbitrarily bundled attribute classes.

On the other hand if you wish, as you sometimes seem to, to argue that by their very manifestation in the world homosexual males have by virtue of their very existence established a genuine homosexual nature rather than a defective normal male nature, then, you leave open the possibility for genuinely non-homosexual males whose own real nature is such that it is in their best interest to be free of the presence of chimeric types cluttering their environment.

As it is, you seem to wish to have it both ways: to advert to the genes to save an identification when it suits your social redistribution purposes, and to then claim that no particular arrangement of genes is typical or normative in any sense when proportionality and reciprocity raise their menacing heads.

But as we have already seen, the underlying variety premise actually leaves you without a coherent concept of even personal health. Childhood diabetes is according to your standard of interpretation, just a variation. Who am I to judge the condition of your status? And who are you to plead to me for help as a result of it?

Being "fucked-up" then, is just part of your, or their nature; not a defect, dysfunction, or degeneration. Why cry to me about the shortness or painfulness of it all, if it is what you "properly" are as a free-standing existentially self-justifying (essentially sui generis) variant?

He ain't heavy ... heck he ain't even my brother.

Now, obviously, none of this would be a problem if it were not for those solidarity claims your variety is always laying against other "varieties'" best interests in aid of your own nihilistic satisfactions.

But your variety always does. And therefore, it always is.

Santi Tafarella said...

DNW:

The variation is not reducible to a mean. If you read closely the Gould quotes I shared, he's saying (and I agree) that taxonomists understand variation along a continuum. THINK CONTINUUM.

Just as your lineage is a continuum in time (with you being its most recent variant iteration, with your own internal logic in relation to your contingent environment), so there is a continuum of traits among the species categories that scientists identify.

If a subgroup gets too far outside the range of a continuum, scientists might start debating whether we're talking about a new species.

Continuums span behaviors, bodies, space, time. IT'S ALL CONTINUUM. IT'S WHAT CONTINGENT EVOLUTION SELECTS FROM.

Thus, for example, what we call "primates" span a range of walking behaviors (from knuckle walking to upright walking).

And Human sexual behavior (to narrow the identifiable "we" group from primates to Homo sapiens) spans a vast, vast range of behaviors--a continuum of behaviors. They are characteristic of the species, not reducible to a mean (heterosexual missionary style engaged in in private, for example).

Likewise, adult human variation in height spans two feet to nine feet and is not reducible to the mean. We don't call a person who is six feet in height "normal" or "ideal." Both the two foot person and the nine foot person are human--but their unique variations become part of the internal logic of those persons--evolution's gambit for those persons. "One law for the two foot person and the nine foot person is oppression."

Think of Leonardo's Vitruvian Man. An ideal specimen? Taxonomists would say no. Human? Yes. But just one gambit among the continuum of gambits that evolution might make with each new population of humans.

Imagine, for example, a nuclear war in which the only surviving members of humanity are on an island. Suddenly, the four foot tall, fat person with the highest IQ in the group might be ideally suited to leaving viable offspring, whereas the athletic Vitruvian Man with an IQ of 100 may prove less well adapted (islands tend to put pigmy-style pressures on large mammals).

Evolution does not recognize an ideal type, only the internal logic of a variant contingency encountering environmental contingencies.

So when you say gay people are disordered, or one shouldn't use contraceptives or masturbate because these are contrary to nature, you're not thinking about human beings as possessing wide variations across a continuum, but of an ideal mean to which all should conform. And you've arrived at this ideal, not by observing humans in actual cultures and ecosystems, but by definition. Nature and culture is more playful, complicated, and subtle than what Thomas Aquinas might have abstracted about human beings while sitting at his writing table.

NO MAN IS AN ISLAND. Each human is an irreducible variant embedded in a contingent history. Just as Wittgenstein insisted that no word floats free of a language game, so no human floats free from a culture and ecosystem. If you abstract out "man" from the actual existential situation that an irreducible variant human is in, you'll get the wrong answer as to what that variant should be and do.

You'll have misidentified that variant's real essence.

And remember that homosexuality itself has a continuum. Some people are exclusively gay, others are bisexual, and still others may have only had a few gay experiences (say, in the military). There's a continuum from someone who is exclusively homosexual to someone who is exclusively heterosexual. There's middle ground all along the way. Again, think CONTINUUM, not mean, and you've got a grasp on the conflict between Thomistic definitional ("natural") law and Darwin.

Santi Tafarella said...

DNW:

As for diabetes, again, think continuum. Blood sugar sensitivity spans a range. I'm not saying there's no such thing as disease, but we need to be cautious here. People prone to diabetes and obesity in our ease-of-access food culture evolved out of situations where their ancestors did well with high blood sugar sensitivity in scarce food environments. Think contingency and continuum.

Santi Tafarella said...

One more quick thought: there may be other very good reasons a community might proscribe a behavior or call something a disease, but "violation of natural law" (definitional law) is not one of them. It's an artifical contrivance that actually has nothing to do with how nature functions. And it's a dubious construct (essence/accident; staying close to the mean) in light of how taxonomists conceptualize evolution as variations selected along a continuum.

"Natural law" (definitional law) is very near to being a crank theory after Darwin. I wouldn't say scrap it completely (it is itself a curious little variant intellectual animal), but I certainly wouldn't use it as an argument against gay equality and marriage. It's not taxonomically, anthropologically, or biologically informed.

Matt Sheean said...

Making a promise you don't intend to keep, to use a classic example, is wrong. Human behavior, with respect to promising, is a sort of continuum - with folks who make good on their promises on the one end and folks who promise everything and deliver nothing on the other. Kant's argument to the effect that making a promise you don't intend to keep undermines the very act of promising just doesn't take into account the incredible variation and richness across cultures and contexts of promising-behavior. Since it doesn't take into account this cornucopia of promising-behavior, Kant's argument fails to demonstrate that intentionally making a false promise is contrary to reason.

Matt Sheean said...

eesh

...fails to demonstrate that intentionally making a false promise is contrary to reason and therefore wrong

DNW said...

DNW:

"As for diabetes, again, think continuum. Blood sugar sensitivity spans a range. I'm not saying there's no such thing as disease, but we need to be cautious here. People prone to diabetes and obesity in our ease-of-access food culture evolved out of situations where their ancestors did well with high blood sugar sensitivity in scarce food environments. Think contingency and continuum.

March 19, 2015 at 8:05 PM "



Can't you effen read, Santi?

Now, I'm used to encountering perseverating idologues who are deliberately obtuse, but you just about take the cake for obvious combox autism.

"Childhood diabetes ..." "Type 1 diabetes" Get it? Know what that is? I was quite obviously not referring to Pima Indian maidens gone bad, or steatopygous couch jockeys with a bucket of Churches Chicken balanced on their adipose inflated bellies.

"Cleft palates", "club foot", "Turners Syndrome". Not to mention marfan syndrome or scleroderma or Tay-Sachs or ... None of them, a disorder under your principles.

Ok then. I think it's obvious we have reached the end of any effort within reason, or without it for that matter, to get you to explain any of your claims in a coherent and consistent and intellectually respectable manner.

We ask you regarding your logic of moral categories, and we instead we get you spouting second-hand twaddle from one of the most notorious fraunds and self-promoters in recent academic history.

We ask you about known and widely recognized syndromes and disorders and how these fit in with your theory of I'm ok you're ok variation - such as for example childhood onset diabetes, or cleft palate - and we get blather about the effects of fast food on the human continuum.

There seems to be no possible way of getting you to face up to the implications of your own premisses. Confronted with the intellectual absurdities embedded within your own ideas and principles, you just tack off in a different direction, on a different topic, and begin jabbering to the same effect.

It's not even funny anymore, Santi. At least the Jesuits who counseled that 'When a student asks a question you cannot answer, give him an answer to a question you know', betrayed a sense of humorous self-awareness.

You however, are as infatuated with that clown Gould as he was with his own agenda driven "science popularizing"; and probably for the same politically based reasons.

But the worst thing again, is your monomaniacal imperviousness to self-auditing and reason. You come off like one of those schizophrenics one sees waving their arms around and shouting on a street corner. It doesn't matter who is there if anyone, or what is said in response, if anything: although the sound continues to blare out from his mouth, the attention indicating register always points relentlessly inward.


No wonder God had to invent hell, eh? Some "variations" absolutely insist on going there.

Well, buddy, you'll have to make the rest of the journey on your own from here on in.

And, Prof Feser: Thanks for the use of the band waste ... I mean space.

I guess I proved your point by ignoring it. Again.

Scott said...

"The variation is not reducible to a mean.…THINK CONTINUUM.…Continuums span behaviors, bodies, space, time. IT'S ALL CONTINUUM. IT'S WHAT CONTINGENT EVOLUTION SELECTS FROM."

Right, it's only on the average that anal penetration isn't "suited to leaving viable offspring."

The homosexual couples for whom anal sex does produce viable offspring will enjoy greater reproductive success than those for whom it doesn't; eventually their descendants will all be reproducing that way. That's how evolution works!

No doubt contingent evolution will also be busy selecting among the variant gambits along that continuum. For example, think of all the homosexual couples for whom anal sex produces parts of offspring—a head, perhaps, or a pair of stubby little legs. Or maybe, just maybe, even a rectum with a uterus in it!

Whose offspring (full or partial) will succeed? Whose will fail? Ah, these are heady days indeed. Thank goodness Science™ has relieved us of the foolish Platonic misconception that the biological organs of a biological organism have biological functions!

Santi Tafarella = A saint, after all!

Scott said...

I wrote:

"…the foolish Platonic misconception that the biological organs of a biological organism have biological functions!"

More precisely, of course, I mean the misconception that they have such functions when viewed in the actual context of an organism's life and environment.

When we abstract from that context and just look at an "organ" in splendid isolation like a mudskipper flopping around on a table, we can easily persuade ourselves that it has some function or other. But that merely definitional approach is the Thomistic one*. Once we view that organ in context (or, as Wittgenstein says, "Put it back in the tank,"), we can see that it has no nature at all. Think contingency. Think continuum.

So evolution teaches us (think Gould) that if we want to know what this or that individual "penis" (think penis) is for in the context of the actual life of this or that irreducible variant, we should ignore whatever we think (think think) we know about the nature of a "penis" and ask the variant whose "penis" it is. And we should LISTEN CAREFULLY TO WHAT HE TELLS US. He knows; we don't.

If he says it's his "essence" to reproduce by ejaculating into an anus, we should take his word for it. That's how we expand the circle of love. That's what Jesus commands us to do.

----

* Thomism, as we all surely know, regards an organ as an "organ" only when it's separated from its context as part of an organism and that organism's life; an organ within a living organism is an "organ in name only." (Or maybe it's the other way around; I always get that mixed up. But the details don't matter, because we can always hijack. That's why our big brains are such a game-changer.)

Matt Sheean said...

"Or maybe, just maybe, even a rectum with a uterus in it!"

The funny thing about this idea is the fact that it wouldn't be a rectum anymore.

I'm sure anyone here who has children has seen a young child commit this sort of error, mistaking one thing for another in this particular way. DNW used this as an example (@March 19, 9:19). My own daughter, when she was between 2 and 3, learned the name for the make of our car (an old Mercedes diesel) and would excitedly declare "Mercedes" in the presence of most sedans.

It's cute when a kid does this, but it's perfectly natural that a new language user would fail to understand that "Mercedes" refers to one kind of German vehicle, and that a sporty SL coupe, say, is a Mercedes just as the 300D is, whereas that Toyota Camry over there is not a Mercedes.

Considering the relation between the SL and the D as a "family resemblance" would be a little strange, too. It seems, clearly to me, to be a historical relation. Both vehicles are made by the same company. Of course the manufacture of the vehicles is complicated, but we just don't call them "mercedes" because they resemble each other.

Similarly, with humans, the idea that "human" refers to a resemblance within the language game of evolutionary biology is just strange. It seems to me to be a complete misunderstanding of the whole notion of a language game. Wittgenstein's idea might collapse into a kind of mushy relativism, but I'd wager he would have seen that as a defect. If his understanding of language can be shown to support this shallow "I'm ok, you're ok" theorizing, we should see it as a defect as well.

*As an aside: Santi seems to me to be Descartes-ifying Wittgenstein a bit, yes? I must admit to not being well read on either author so I am musing about this so that I might find some help in understanding them better. As I do understand Wittgenstein (thinking of the 'diary' here), he's interested in giving an account of meaning in which words actually do refer to things. Santi's interpretation would seem to make him into some kind of linguistic dualist, where there are these games on the one hand and reality on the other. Of course Santi seems to think that the apparent openness of the idea of language games (as he presents it) better represents the messiness of the Real. I think this reinforces my suspicion here, though, that he's treating language like a contextual bubble that can only, in the end, refer back to itself.

Santi Tafarella said...

Matt:

You're being cynical about it, but you're right to put lying and truth-telling along a continuum for natural and cultural selection. In nature generally, and among Homo sapiens as well, deception is not a bug, it's a feature.

God larded our living Earth with deception. Even some of God's plants and insects have deceptive evolutionary strategies. Deception goes deep in nature. And it's something that accompanies the evolution of cooperation (deception is a freeloader on cooperation).

Strategic deception and detecting deception have been in an evolutionary arms race for a long time--and may account in part for how we evolved such big brains in the first place.

And let's not forget self-deception. It may have evolutionary advantages, as in a bias to optimism and believing things that aren't true--like religious claims that bind groups together.

So deception is not unnatural. It's no more unnatural than predation or meat eating. It's not a disease, disorder, or defect of the human organism to deceive.

In contemporary human society, there may be good reasons to be truthful most of the time (or even all of the time, though I doubt it)--but one of those reasons is not because it accords with our highest nature as rational animals (orienting to the truth).

There are contexts--many, many, many contexts--in which other goods may trump one's urgency to orient to the truth.

And it's presumptuous to believe that, by always choosing the good, you'll actually increase the amount of good in the world. That's to forget Dostoevsky's tragic character, Myshkin, in The Idiot.

So your reference to Kant in relation to deception is ironic because Kant, late in life, actually linked truth telling and deception to CONTINGENCY. He argued that one may as well tell the truth in all situations since you don't really know what contingencies will play out from your behavior.

But Kant's logic can be reversed on him: one may just as well lay down the gambit of lying all the time--for your control over the consequences of lying, the longer time passes, rapidly runs to zero as well.

A rational animal therefore, exercising her highest rationality, and understanding that God made the world in part via the evolution of deception, is arguably driven to quietism, surrender, irony, pragmatism, play, or humor--not "definitional law" and generalizing moral proscription.

Who knows, in a contingent cosmos, what will be the ultimate results of one's actions?

Kant's example: a murderer comes looking for a friend at your house, intending to kill him. He knocks, asks if your friend is there, and you tell him the truth: yes.

The consequence? Who knows? Maybe your friend has already climbed out the bathroom window, and the murdererer, by fussing around your house looking for him, will lose valuable time in tracking him down.

Or maybe, if you lie, the murderer will walk away--then notice your friend going out the window, and catch him that way.

So the proscription of natural law--always tell the truth, for to not do so is evil--may not save the life of your hunted friend, and may even lead to his death. And since you would never do anything with the intent of harming your friend, the natural law surrounding truth-telling amounts to: tell the truth--except when you think it's probably best not to.

Which means, after the blue pipe smoke of definitional law (natural law) proscription has been brushed away, that one can't escape situational ethics, nor the irony of contingency to undo one's choices--moral or not.

Scott said...

"So deception is not unnatural."

Anybody who can't tell the difference between this meaning of "(un)natural" and the one at issue in "natural law" has no business whatsoever expressing any opinions on the latter. Nor do natural law ethics forbid deception, as anyone presuming to criticize them should also know.

"And it's presumptuous to believe that, by always choosing the good, you'll actually increase the amount of good in the world. That's to forget Dostoevsky's tragic character, Myshkin, in The Idiot."

No one who reads Santi's posts is likely to forget the tragic character of the idiot. At any rate, though, natural-law ethics are not consequentialist and do not make the claim he describes.

"So the proscription of natural law--always tell the truth, for to not do so is evil…"

I'm not sure in what world "always tell the truth" is a proscription rather than a prescription, but in any case it's not what natural law says even on the strictest understanding of the proscription on lying. "Telling the truth" is pretty obviously not the only alternative to lying.

One might, for example, just shut up. Then again, I wouldn't expect that option to occur to Santi.

Santi Tafarella said...

Suarez in fact uses the term "natural" in "natural law" in the sense of what's natural for people to do, and the reason Thomists (in my view) should switch the term to "definitional law" is because its actual emphasis on reason and definition--not attention to nature (the organism in a contingent ecosystem)--is what characterizes what they're calling "natural law."

So imagine two women, both in their 40s, their kids grown, and their husbands dead. They decide to live together and share a bed, enjoying lesbian sexual relations four times a month.

In natural law terms, and knowing the continuum upon which human sexuality has evolved, what's unreasonable about this arrangement?

Scott said...

"Suarez in fact uses the term 'natural' in 'natural law' in the sense of what's natural for people to do[.]"

Citation, please, if you expect us to believe that you're suddenly familiar with Suárez (at least more familiar than you are with Aquinas, which sets the bar pretty low). Or is this on the same page where Wittgenstein says to put the mudskipper back in the tank?

Matt Sheean said...

Here's a possible citation, I figure Santi needs all the help he can get (unfortunately this particular source does not prove to be helpful to him).

Santi Tafarella said...

Suarez source: Robert George of Princeton, in his essay on natural law in the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy and Religion, discusses Suarez's use of the term "natural law" on page 462. Suarez emphasizes "what is 'natural' for human beings," and Aquinas emphasizes what is reasonable. George states that the contrast between Suarez and Aquinas's use of the term has generated both confusion and division.

Having answered your question, I would appreciate your reciprocation on the two recent questions I directed your way--the one on the lesbian example above, and this one:

Does a transitional organism have an essence, and if so, is the logic of that essence derived from its past, its present, or its future?

Santi Tafarella said...

Matt:

Thanks for the link. It's an interesting pre-Darwinian reflection on the natural.

I think I've been conscientious about replying to questions directed my way--answering the bulk of them--but you never did respond to a question I'm interested in, and Suarez does say, "what you wish humans to do for you, you also do for them."

Does a transitional organism have an essence, and if so, is the logic of that essence derived from its past, its present, or its future?

Matt Sheean said...

Santi,

I should be consistent with what I've said here in the past. In this case, I have apologized for facilitating your persistent and persistently ill-informed commentary after a previous post.

I do wish that, rather than posing questions that we all here agree are ill-informed and based on wild misrepresentations of the relevant philosophy, you would attempt to make your case in the form of a more concise argument (preferably one that involves much less name-dropping as that might at least prevent more of these odd interpretations that cause so much frustration here). Until such time as you take to making your case clearly and in your own words, rather than clusters of the badly appropriated thoughts of others, I would rather refrain from encouraging your ramblings. I think that, if you try this, you will find more charity from the other commenters. Otherwise, it is far too tempting, and fun as well, to wax sarcastic in response to you.

I should add that, as harsh as this may sound, I mean it with good will. I hope you will try to learn from your interlocutors here, and that this might eventually be seen in your behavior.

Santi Tafarella said...

Matt,

I'll make a confession here in the relative uneventful quiet of this thread, but first I'll ask again:

Does a transitional organism have an essence, and if so, is the logic of that essence derived from its past, its present, or its future?

That question is important. Natural law, if it's to take into account evolution, hinges on it. It won't do to hide behind the Oz curtain when someone asks it. St. Paul says to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks of you what it is that you believe.

In place of making a positive claim, it's easier to shun, be hateful--even demonize--the questioner. (I've been asked if I'm possessed of the devil. I've been called evil and all manner of insult directed at me without any decent restraint; I've had in threads back in December homophobic slurs directed my way without any Christians registering the least dissent.)

The harder gesture is patient and sympathetic engagement; to step forward from a bunker and actually support a positive claim to an outsider--"the Other."

In the next comment, I'll make the confession.

Glenn said...

1. From above:

a) Santi: "Suarez in fact uses the term 'natural' in 'natural law' in the sense of what's natural for people to do[.]"

b) Scott: "Citation, please, if you expect us to believe that you're suddenly familiar with Suárez (at least more familiar than you are with Aquinas, which sets the bar pretty low)."

c) Santi: "Suarez source: Robert George of Princeton, in his essay on natural law in the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy and Religion, discusses Suarez's use of the term "natural law" on page 462. Suarez emphasizes "what is 'natural' for human beings," and Aquinas emphasizes what is reasonable. George states that the contrast between Suárez and Aquinas's use of the term has generated both confusion and division."

2. From Robert P. Geroge's essay on Natural Law Ethics (in the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion, page 595):

"The term 'natural' in 'natural law' has been a source not only of confusion but also of division. According to the scholastic tradition of thought about natural law founded by Francisco Suárez (1548 – 1617), knowledge of the reasonable, the good, and the right is derived from prior knowledge of human nature or what is 'natural' for human beings. This tradition reverses the understanding of Aquinas, according to whom something in the moral domain is 'natural' for human beings and in accord with human nature precisely insofar as it can be judged to be reasonable; and something in this realm of discourse is 'unnatural' and morally wrong just insofar as it is unreasonable."

That's it from George on Suárez in that essay; no references, notes or citations are given.

(cont)

Glenn said...

3. From John P. Doyle's Collected Studies on Francisco Suárez, S.J. (1548-1617):

"For Suárez law is best described as 'an act of a just and right will, by which a superior wills to oblige an inferior being to doing this or that.' [32] Every other law stems from the 'eternal law,' which is described as a 'free decree of the will of God establishing the order to be observed either generally by all parts of the universe in relation to the common good ... or especially to be observed by intellectual creatures in their free operations.' [33] Suárez, in focusing upon the will, has decidedly distanced himself from Aquinas who had defended law as 'an ordnance of reason' (rationis ordinatio) [34] and had identified the eternal law with the Divine reason as it governs the whole created universe. [35]

"Immediately following upon the eternal law, for both Suárez and Aquinas, is the natural law. As Aquinas viewed it, the natural law is a participation of the eternal law in a rational creature. [36] Suárez accepts this and interprets it to mean that the natural law resides in the human mind and enables it to discern what is morally good and what is evil. [37] He further agrees with Aquinas that natural law is proportionately in human beings what natural instinct is in brute animals. [38] Although men do not follow it necessarily in the way brutes follow their natural inclinations, wherever human nature is found natural law is necessarily present like an essential property placed in it by God. [39] In the wake of Aquinas (Summa theologiae I-II, q. 94, a.6) citing St. Augustine, Suárez regards it as God's law which is written in the hearts of men. [40]

"Consonant with this, natural law, says Suárez, obliges all men, in all conditions, in all times, and in all places, in one and the same way. [41] Elaborating, he states that no one in any way can be invincibly ignorant about the first principles of the natural law. [42] He allows that its more particular precepts can be unknown -- but not for very long without fault. [43] For nature itself, as well as conscience, so urges these precepts (which would include the commands of the Decalogue) that men cannot without fault remain ignorant of them." [44]

For Doyle's references, notes, and/or citations see pp 319-20 here.

Santi Tafarella said...

The confession.

Please recall that Feser wrote a book attacking atheism and secularism--including gay equality. We live in the Internet Age. He used aggressive rhetoric, and it would be surprising if actual secular people like myself wouldn't find his blog and (try to) enter into dialogue here.

Feser's behavior made me--or rather, invited me. In other words, I'm a dissenter interested in tussling with the issues raised by someone who publicly postures as a confident and worthy opponent of secular assumptions. It's not your role to chase off someone like me. Feser can't have his cake (casting insults in books and over the web at seculars and gays) and eat it too (not expect response along a continuum, high, middle, and low).

Had Feser never written his popular atheism book (it's not a book for specialists); gotten into highly charged tussles with Jerry Coyne; and hadn't written in his atheism book harsh language against gay equality (the civil rights issue of our time), he would have never come onto the radar of someone like me.

But what impressed me with Feser was his brilliance. It still impresses me. As a secular person, I could see that Coyne struggled to answer Feser--and so resorted to insults.

That told me Feser had hit a nerve--not that Feser was uninformed. Feser is a Christian who can articulate a Christian defense better than anybody I've read.

Maybe, I thought, by interacting with his books and talking with people at his blog threads--pressing them on things that seem dubious to me--I could clarify points. Perhaps I've missed something in Christian apologetics, and might be persuaded to at least adopt a liberal Christian worldview (as opposed to being an agnostic).

But alas. When I actually start to peel back the layers of the Feser onion, to see if there's anything really there, I don't find as much as I had hoped. His defense of a literal Adam and Eve, for example, is really strained.

And the sheer ugliness and vitriol of Christians in these threads shocked me when I first encountered it, truthfully. I did not expect it. It still shocks me. It's so persistent. There's so much rage. Perhaps Christians feel besieged by secularism, and when a confident and articulate person like Feser comes along, they want to protect him. He's their immortality symbol or totem, or something. If he's right, we're right; if he's confident, we're confident, etc.

And the parallels between atheist thread behavior at atheist sites and thread behavior at Feser's site were another surprise. As an agnostic, I've often pressed atheists on points, and I get the same sorts of rage. I'm stupid, I'm a faitheist, I haven't made the proper distinctions, which I would recognize if I only read so-and-so, etc.

I suppose it's a human thing to hate on anybody who says, as an outsider, "The boat you've built doesn't appear as water-tight as you imagine."

The response: "What do you know? You're not on the boat! Get on the boat, stay on the boat, don't doubt the boat. It floats. Look, we're floating."

The sole difference between Coyne's and Dawkins' threads and Feser's threads is profanity. The maliciousness directed at dissent is exactly the same. Exactly.

And I've learned something apart from the intellectual issues functioning between atheists and Thomists. Thomism doesn't make you a better person than average. Apart from wishing God existed, and suspecting that God doesn't, that's the saddest part for me. The lack of human kindness is across the board.

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi Glenn:

I've got the paperback first edition reprint from 2002 of the 1997 first edition. It's on page 462 of that edition.

Would you answer this question, please:

Does a transitional organism have an essence, and if so, is the logic of that essence derived from its past, its present, or its future?

Scott said...

"Having answered your question…"

Oh, I wouldn't go that far.

At any rate, the reasons your latest "questions" haven't been answered is that, as Matt gently puts it, they "are ill-informed and based on wild misrepresentations of the relevant philosophy." I will add, a bit less gently, that to the extent (not great) that they contain genuine questions rather than gobbledygook of your own devising, they've already been answered in the previous threads you've evolutionarily hijacked.

For example, you should already know that (at least according to Thomism) every organism has an "essence" (and so do quite a lot of other things). You should also already know that this answer is quite independent of whatever it is you fancy you mean by "transitional," and in particular the subject of "evolution" is quite irrelevant; it appears otherwise only because you have posed your question sloppily and carelessly.

But as to whether the "logic" of a particular essence was "derived from its past, its present, or its future"—well, that's mere word salad. If you think you find it meaningful, then you need to go back to basics and take up the subject of "essence" again from scratch.

As for "the one on the lesbian example above," you've already been given enough information (in Ed's posts alone, never mind the replies you've received in earlier threads) to work out what Thomism has to say on the subject. You simply haven't understood it; if you had, you wouldn't be dragging in irrelevancies and then re-asking the question.

That's not to say that you would necessarily agree with the answer if you did understand it, but the fact is that your continued questioning makes eminently clear that you haven't even grasped the basics of the view you think you're criticizing and you're attacking instead a Moloch of your own manufacture.

Your "questions" have, in short, done little but undermine any remaining confidence we might have had in your bona fides. The charitable interpretation is that you just can't read.

"And the sheer ugliness and vitriol of Christians in these threads shocked me when I first encountered it, truthfully."

Completely aside from the wild exaggeration, why in the world would you assume everyone who has replied to you is a Christian? You've certainly received replies about Thomism from people who aren't themselves 100% Thomists; they just understand Thomism better than you do. This is very far from a Catholics-only blog; anybody willing to address the relevant issues in good faith is treated well. But you do have to meet that basic qualification, which among other things means doing a little homework before you start announcing that you've discovered everything that's wrong with Thomism.

You haven't done so. The responses you've received reflect that reality, not your rejection from some imaginary private club.

Matt Sheean said...

"In place of making a positive claim, it's easier to shun, be hateful--even demonize--the questioner. (I've been asked if I'm possessed of the devil. I've been called evil and all manner of insult directed at me without any decent restraint; I've had in threads back in December homophobic slurs directed my way without any Christians registering the least dissent.) "

For what it's worth, I'll offer some dissent. All of these things you mention are superfluous to the actual discussion, cruel, and unbecoming of folks who identify as Christians. Reading back through the comments I see someone parodied your name and suggested you suffered from pedophilia. It should be noted that the most charitable interpretation of this is not that they think that you are a pedophile, but that a gross libertinism follows from the apparently nihilistic view that you advocated. Still, I would agree with you that, even then, the manner in which it was presented is vicious hyperbole. It's a bit hypocritical of you, however, to, now that your back is against the wall over your own intolerable pretension, change the subject to the behavior of the others here.

Now, Neither Scott nor DNW nor myself have failed to temper our invective with some real and frankly devastating responses to your commentary. Until you can come around to acknowledging that you haven't rightly understood the material you are engaging with here, and that your verbosity is a smoke-screen for what is plainly bad faith, you will likely continue to suffer all the slings and arrows that can be summoned from the dark corners of the internet to this blog.

Also, you say, "The sole difference between Coyne's and Dawkins' threads and Feser's threads is profanity." This, of course, is just a low blow, and one you know is not true. Just about any blog that you'll find allows comments has plenty of pockets of heated discussion. You can ignore the haters here, Santi, there's plenty of others that have given substantive responses to you, however bristling those responses may be.

Finally, "And the parallels between atheist thread behavior at atheist sites and thread behavior at Feser's site were another surprise."

The common denominator in this case, Santi, is you.

Matt Sheean said...

Goodness, one more thing.

If you want to see what real dissent looks like, and how it's treated, find some old threads with dguller. I don't know where that guy went, but when I was a noob lurking around here a few years ago I learned quite a bit from discussions between he and Scott, Glenn, Brandon and others. Recently John West and Glenn have had some interesting exchanges about phil of math. Hell, that Chad Handley really got on my (and plenty of others) damn nerves a few posts back, but that ended amicably (and I learned a few things about Aquinas political philosophy whilst researching my own responses to Chad, so thanks, Chad, wherever you are).

Santi, you just aren't appreciating the continuum of behavior that exists at this site. If you want to promote the evolution of the comments in a more polite direction, just interact with the classier commenters* and be ready to show deference when it is required. We're long past due for some real confession on your part, not this, "I'm sorry, I must confess that I am such a real dude and everyone else here is an total tool."

*This is actually something you've done successfully, and I think you'll note that the nastiest responses to you happened early on, and ceased then as well. So, good on you for avoiding the trolls.

Glenn said...

Santi,

I've got the paperback first edition reprint from 2002 of the 1997 first edition. It's on page 462 of that edition.

It does sometimes happen that page numbers differ from one edition to another.

So, I'm curious:

On what page in your copy of Doyle's Collected Studies on Francisco Suárez might we find, "[N]atural law, says Suárez, obliges all men, in all conditions, in all times, and in all places, in one and the same way."

John West said...

[...] And the sheer ugliness and vitriol of Christians in these threads shocked me when I first encountered it, truthfully.

When boxers enter a ring, they try to knock each other out (hopefully without eye-gouging). They don't hold it against each other afterwards. It usually doesn't even occur to them to do so. But don't walk into the ring without knowing how to box, and then complain when you get beaten up.

Even if you think Aristotelianism is twaddle and a waste of time, you have to become fluent in it to be able to interact with it. And if you're not fluent in it, at least hold the microaggressions, emotional appeals, and low blows for a while.

John West said...

I recommend starting with this book. it's going to feel a little like adding 1's and 2's for a while to an academic, but it's the best book of its kind I've found.

Santi Tafarella said...

Scott,

Obviously, I know that, on Thomism, everything has an essence, and I know what a transition is.

Do you?

That's why I'm asking the question. The reason I believe you're not attempting a sustained and direct answer to the question is because the answer doesn't please you. It renders essence/accident problematic.

Easier for you to pretend that the question makes no sense, or that I don't understand what I'm asking, and that I need to go back to square one to discover that no sane person would even think it coherent to ask the question.

But I know exactly what I'm asking, and so do you. I'm asking why you don't think the transitional organism puts natural law in checkmate.

So define a transitional organism and tell me why transitions don't pose a problem for natural law.

That's all I'm asking. I think it's obvious that they do, but I want to hear a flesh-and-blood advocate of natural law tell me exactly why that's not the case.

If I answer the question first, then you and your friends will just keep dancing around and make it about me--and how "stupid" my answer is.

I want you to pull back the Oz curtain. I want the positive case for natural law applied to transitions--because humans are transitions to something else. They haven't stopped evolving. They're on the way.

I want to see how a Thomist--preferably more than one--answers the question. I want to see if I agree with them that the question is not checkmate.

DNW said...

In response to Santi's attempt to defelect attention away from his own non-responses through an abused guest diversion, Scott said, in part ...

"Having answered your question…"

Oh, I wouldn't go that far.

At any rate, the reasons your latest "questions" haven't been answered is that, as Matt gently puts it, they "are ill-informed and based on wild misrepresentations ...

Your "questions" have, in short, done little but undermine any remaining confidence we might have had in your bona fides. ...

... The charitable interpretation is that you just can't read. ...


[and]

... why in the world would you assume everyone who has replied to you is a Christian? "


Yeah, so Santi would have the world believe that impelled by the great civil rights issue of our time (same sex bum-fu**ing and the "fair delights" of sadomasochism), he arrived here to challenge, but also give a fair hearing to, that Dark Genius and Pugnacious Proponent of Scholastic Obscurantism and Patriarchy, Edward Feser.

Instead however of receiving welcome and enlightenment concerning this obscure science, Santi was instantly surrounded by a robed coven of abusive acolytes - thin young men with soft narrow hands and tapering fingers, crucifixes branded on their shrouded foreheads - who drowned out Santi's honest and even sympathetic inquiries with shrieks of: "The principle of dormancy brings sleep! Kneel!"

Perhaps we should look at it through his eyes ...

Poor Santi the truth-seeker, whose modest ulterior aim was only to impart the wisdom of evolution to these benighted retrogrades, was harangued for his efforts in the most unfeeling and rude manner.

Some of the more malicious (secret Xians, no doubt), recognizing that Santi's primary aim was in the redefining of fundamental categories for political and redistributive purposes, had the effrontery to inquire of him about how exactly the new classes of mandated solidarity and obligation were founded.

(These are no doubt the kind of ill-informed people who imagine that laws are written so as to be taken "literally".)

And even worse, they asked as to how on his own Humean terms, sociopolitical obligations of fellowship and self-sacrifice were to be deduced from these categories.

"One law for the Lion and one law for the Ox is unjust!" or something to that effect, Santi had approvingly proclaimed.

Was this then, not enough? How dare they ask regarding, "Justice, under what rule, and how founded"?

The impertinence of these Feserites (and they must be, everyone of them) to inquire as to just why on Santi's own terms, the Lion should care, or be compelled to sacrifice for - the fate of the Ox.

And, for them to carp at Good Santi's anthropomorphizing of "Evolution" on the petty grounds of philosophical consistency; well, do they not understand the power of poetry and metaphor in orgasmic subversion and actualization? Do they not appreciate the joys of nothing? Have they never read Rorty explaining how as children and products of chance, Chance deserves our fealty?

What gives with these plodding logic choppers, with their persistent throwing of questions back, every time Santi asks them one?

Yes, poor Santi: so misunderstood and reviled.

If only you Feserites had the courage to abandon logic and intellectual consistency and fling yourselves back into the joyous embrace of the wave ... then all would be well with the world.

You are just hiding your Cross behind logic and reason. The progressives of the world know it. It is their penetrating knowledge of your ultimate allegiances that has you upset and demanding reasons back from them.

What you don't understand is that Progressivism is all about not needing reasons, and yours won't save you.

Don't say that Santi didn't try.

Santi Tafarella said...

DNW:

Ah, yes. Another round by you of conflating Santi with redistributive communism. The new red scare. Me. You're funny.

Santi Tafarella said...

Scott:

As for you not answering the lesbian question, it's a luxury you don't get. When women's nature comes up, you go silent as a sphinx. You wouldn't answer the clitoris question, the lesbian question, or why women shouldn't be in the priesthood. When the result is taking dignity and rights away from real women, you cannot expect to get a pass. The questions will hound you.

You think it's okay to hound me for the outrage of not comprehending Thomism to your satisfaction, and therefore wasting your precious time, but the real outrage here in these threads has always been the main: intellectual justification for denying an identifiable group of decent and historically shit-upon human beings their civil rights, equality, normalcy, and dignity. And not just gays, but women.

You want it all kept in the abstract with plausible deniability, never addressing the concrete situations that real men and women find themselves in.

That's why the lesbian scenario questions aren't just going to go away. You pretend that I'm too obtuse to get the answer on the first go so as to distract from the fact that, should you dare to open your mouth on a specific and concrete situation, you'll expose yourself as arrogant, presumptuous, and indifferent to the consequences of your ideas on the lives of actual women--and you know it.

Matt Sheean said...

Santi,

If your goal here is to reform Scott into your vision of a more just human being, to cause him to show concern for the concrete experience of women as you think he should show it, mightn't you just maybe be prescribing something, y'know, objectively binding on Scott, without maybe considering whether or not he's a Lion or an Ox, or something?

Does that make it any more clear what the problem with your monumentally confused manner of argument is?

Matt Sheean said...

Of course, it's not just Scott you're concerned with here, but...

"... all men, in all conditions, in all times, and in all places, in one and the same way."

Scott said...

"The reason I believe you're not attempting a sustained and direct answer to the question is because the answer doesn't please you."

I think I can safely say that I'm not at all bothered about what you do or don't believe.

At any rate, as I said, your question, insofar as it genuinely involves a question at all, has already been answered, repeatedly and at some length, in the previous threads you've evolutionarily hijacked—including (but far from only) by me. Everyone, everyone who has responded to it has initially done so in good faith. Those days are gone, so if you can't be bothered to do the homework this time, you can go pound sand.

"I want the positive case for natural law applied to transitions--because humans are transitions to something else."

So what? A cat is a "transition" to its kittens in exactly the same irrelevant sense. Any two cats have numerically distinct "essences" even though they belong to the same species (in both the metaphysical and biological senses). Nothing relevant in this scenario changes even if, in ten, a hundred, a thousand, or a million years some of the cat's descendants wind up belonging to a different biological species, or using their tails as outboard propellers, or something. None of that has any bearing on the "essence" of this cat right here today, and it has no effect whatsoever on the goodness or otherwise of this cat qua cat. Likewise (mutatis mutandis) squirrels. And oak trees.

…and humans. The only relevant difference for humans is that we can actually have a natural-law ethic, because we can use our intellect and reason to discover and understand that in which our goods consist and to grasp that, because we are of the same nature or kind as other humans, there is a good common to all of us that includes and is included in our individual goods. That, too, is unchanged on the hypothesis that some among our distant descendants might have sexual organs that differ from ours. We have these, and the ways in which they contribute to our lives and the well-being of our community are exactly the same no matter how many of our descendants may have organs that work otherwise.

In short, there is absolutely no extra work to do in order "for natural law [to be] applied to transitions." Even if evolution never occurred, every organism would be "transitional" in the only sense relevant to natural law (each of its descendants would have an essence of its own), and the introduction of evolution adds nothing. Nuhh-thing. If you want to take issue with the Thomistic objection to homosexual activity, you'll have to do so on grounds other than evolution.

That you keep eliding/avoiding/evading this very simple point, even though it's been made to you many, many times, is exactly what makes your "question" ill-posed. (The blather about whether the essence derives its logic, etc., is another matter.) And this is the last time I'm going to bother pointing it out to you directly, although I do reserve the right to make uproarious fun of you the next time you ignore it.

Santi Tafarella said...

John West:

Do you think of yourself as a Christian? Perhaps you're just an Aristotelian--and not a Christian--but I don't think there are any passages in the Sermon on the Mount about taking up boxing gloves or pummeling outsiders with cruel, evil, and humiliating speech.

Arguments I understand. Patience and dialogue I get. Kindness. Yes. Invective, not so much. There is one passage at the end of Matthew, I believe, about laying down one's swords.

When does that one get talked about?

Feser, with his enthusiasm as a Christian for the death penalty (!), apparently missed the Matthew passage, and wants to charge up the electrocution cables. By their tone, ye shall know them.

Scott said...

"You pretend that I'm too obtuse to get the answer on the first go so as to distract from the fact that, should you dare to open your mouth on a specific and concrete situation, you'll expose yourself as arrogant, presumptuous, and indifferent to the consequences of your ideas on the lives of actual women--and you know it."

Funny how your pretense of reasoned argumentation disappears when your back is against the wall. As it happens, I have other things to do today than reply to the rants of trolls, so you'll have to excuse me while I go oppress some lesbians.

In fact, of course, I could not possibly care less what they do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, and I've long ago stated my view that I don't find same-sex civil unions any more problematic than opposite-sex ones that are also not sacramental marriages. But thank you for confirming my previous view that engaging you directly is a waste of time. I'll return to that practice now.

DNW said...

John West said...

[...] And the sheer ugliness and vitriol of Christians in these threads shocked me when I first encountered it, truthfully.

When boxers enter a ring, they try to knock each other out (hopefully without eye-gouging). They don't hold it against each other afterwards. It usually doesn't even occur to them to do so. But don't walk into the ring without knowing how to box, and then complain when you get beaten up.

Even if you think Aristotelianism is twaddle and a waste of time, you have to become fluent in it to be able to interact with it. And if you're not fluent in it, at least hold the microaggressions, emotional appeals, and low blows for a while.

March 21, 2015 at 10:51 AM



You Catholic Thomists are not the ones abusing him. I, to the extent he has been humorously treated with derision or mocked for his obvious reluctance to stake the logic his claims openly, am the one mostly doing it.

This is not about Christian dogma, nor Scholastic philosophy, ultimately.

Santi doesn't care about Thomism per se, nor about Aristiotle.

It just so happens that a realism about universals sufficient to maintain the existence of natural kinds, leads to conclusions and options his sociopolitical preferences cannot abide.

Conceptually, boundaries resist "transgressions", especially if the boundaries are intellectually accepted and metaphysically buttressed.

As well as defining (and presumably confining) they are liberating, because in defining a congenial circle of interest, presumably voluntarily and rationally, they allow one to set limits as to what claims against yourself you will recognize or tolerate, and also set the manner in which claims if they are to be entertained as serious, must be posited: as rational, and end directed.

The moment then, that you see you, as if you are entitled to yourself [we are speaking godlessly here for the sake of argument], is the moment that the claim of the other upon your existence and conscience bumps up against some serious obstacles.

Now, the Santian claim is that oppressed or intermediate forms have a right of some kind to be recognized as entitled to their self-determination and expression.

However, if this is true for the class of all existents of X category (however defined) including the transitionals, then, it follows, that it applies to the non-intermediate or non-transitional types as well. They have a right to their self-expression per definition or class membership.

And as their expression needs no underwriting or enabling by the so-called "transitionals" - the reciprocity problem - the political and social progressive must find some way of rhetorically or politically capturing a claim to a share of their obligations and social energies. Otherwise, it is all just a matter of everyone going their own way - or making their own alliances as best pleases them - and the devil take the hindmost; or war.

This point of distributive logic then, is the fact that must not be pointed out or allowed into any discussion of the principles of Santiism. Nor must any questions concerning the implications of this fact for Santiism, be asked.

Instead ... fair joys ... and shut up ... and pay up. Because "Evolution! LOVE! and my rice bowl being filled, depends on your tax payments.

Santi Tafarella said...

Matt:

Thank you for acknowledging that there is a problem with invective in these threads.

And no, I don't feel myself backed against the wall by the compelling arguments on display at Feser's blog. If they were compelling, I'd be delighted. I want God to exist. I'm just not convinced at this point in my life. I find the hyper-confidence of believers at these threads, given what I know, baffling.

I don't know who said it first, but "I wish I was as sure of anything as so many here appear to be of everything." (Scott says he's 100% certain God exists, for example. Seventy years after Auschwitz, and all I can say is, "Wow.")

And I don't appreciate, Matt, that you don't answer the direct question that I've posed to you. It's disrespectful. If you want to turn a new leaf in tone, answer the question I've posed to you about transitions. I might be satisfied with the answer, I might not, but to blow off the question is not even in keeping with treating me with basic dignity.

John West said...

Santi,

I said “hopefully without eye-gouging.” But I mean, you purposefully try to get under people's skin with your “(S)he” garbage and its like. You're a professional at writing. You know how to piece together sentences. Don't tell me you don't do it on purpose. You don't get to complain when you succeed at baiting people.

Do you think of yourself as a Christian? Perhaps you're just an Aristotelian--and not a Christian--but I don't think there are any passages in the Sermon on the Mount about taking up boxing gloves or pummeling outsiders with cruel, evil, and humiliating speech.

Also, this quote evinces a very protestant understanding of Christianity. By Catholicism, Christ is the message and the Bible is merely one way we learn about that message. His Church and her tradition are another. Traditionally, Catholics aren't exactly pushovers, and have a fine tradition of heated argument (ie. Scholasticism).

Anyway, having made my earlier recommendation, I won't be commenting further in this thread. Have a good afternoon.

Santi Tafarella said...

Matt,

As for universals, I think it's also good to address particulars without rushing to conclusions about them. A person who can wall himself off in questionable abstractions, far away from concrete particulars, will find himself lacking in caution and proportion: "I believe in God 100%, and Auschwitz doesn't change that in the slightest for me."

So one of the problems with natural law as an idea is when it collides with the lives of flesh-and-blood human beings. If history has taught us anything, it's to be cautious about abstracting groups of people into the categories of unnatural; defective; disordered; degenerate; engaged in monstrous or "unnatural" practices.

Adorno, as you know, philosophized after WWII with the Holocaust always present to him, and Brian O'Connor, in his work on Adorno, writes this: "Adorno's standing philosophical commitments to history and particularity took on a new significance for him as he attempted to orient philosophy towards engagement with the catastrophe of the Holocaust. The neglect of particularity, which concerned him ever since his reading of Benjamin, was not simply a methodological problem: it was a truly normative one. When a system declares some feature of reality to be inessential or irrelevant it is an act of violence against that feature; it is an attempt to exclude it from reality by excluding it from significance" (page 12).

Natural law is always in danger of institutionalizing evils; making them impossible to eradicate because the intellectual traditions backing them won't budge. It makes the evils inaccessible to correction because "the laws of reason cannot be changed, sorry." It's a way of not looking at particulars--and to justify not looking.

Matt Sheean said...

Frankly, Santi, your question doesn't make sense insofar as it is directed at Thomism. the essence of the organism is not derived from a consideration of its past, present or future. Rather, what we can say of the organism's past or future as we regard it's present state is said according to our apprehension of what the organism before us is. I can say, apprehending your humanity, that you are closely related to the great apes, that you have parents, that you once could not digest solid foods, that being male you might father or have fathered children, and that at some later point that you will die. I can also be frustrated by those ways in which you choose to fail to or subvert the actualization of your powers as the kind of thing you are. For instance, your refusal to act rationally in these comment threads.

Santi Tafarella said...
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Matt Sheean said...

"Natural law is always in danger of institutionalizing evils; making them impossible to eradicate because the intellectual traditions backing them won't budge. It makes the evils inaccessible to correction because "the laws of reason cannot be changed, sorry." It's a way of not looking at particulars--and to justify not looking."

Now I shall grow a bit poetic...

The good reverend MLK, jr disagrees with you, sir. Natural Law was, for him, a good reason to refuse to obey unjust laws. Natural Law gave us the basis for refusing to give credence to institutionalized evils - that if we should perish in the course of our fight against such institutions, we would find ourselves rewarded by a higher authority, one that is eternal and unchanging. The eternal law is that first principle by which unjust situations might be rectified, the unchanging changer, the measure of all measures.

Santi Tafarella said...

Matt:

Your King observations function as a corrective to what I said. I agree that natural law can be used rhetorically for good, and not just for ill.

But also notice that, throughout history, the powerless and the powerful have tended to discover in natural law radically different things. One has found in it justification for liberation; the other justification for oppression.

Which is another way of saying that the advocates of natural law somehow always seem to find what they're looking for.

Like quoting the Bible, you can discover in natural law exactly the conclusion and weight of emphasis you want. It's a form of confirmation bias; of rationalizing what you desire to believe.

Which is why appealing to the continuum of human sexual behavior and evolution can't touch the natural law "fact" that a penis is for reproduction, period. Thomas and Feser have worked out the metaphysical implications of this like a math problem. The gates are shut.

But Aquinas's view of women under natural law--that's different. For some curious reason, contemporary Thomists have discovered an error in the metaphysical calculations. The same charitable looking again at the metaphysical math is not extended to gays and lesbians. Thomas, ignorant of biology, turns out to have always been wrong about women's nature--but always right about the nature of penises, gays, and lesbians.

Does that really sound right to you?

Santi Tafarella said...

Matt:

Notice the effect of believing some aspect of natural law: it digs you in. If you're a rebel, you're ready to die; if you're a ruler, you cannot budge. Both think the very order of the cosmos is at stake if they don't prevail; both believe the other is in violation of natural law; and both are hunkered down in a death grip until one side or the other buckles.

It's like Sophocles' King Creon and Antigone. In the play, both think the warrant of the gods is on their side, and the result is, of course, a locking in--and tragedy.

To echo Rorty, perhaps Creon and Antigone should have worked something out.

Maybe the path to breaking the impasse of contending ideas about what the natural law dictates is: dialogue; moral imagination; walking in the shoes of others; empathy.

Maybe empathy should trump natural law.

King's spine was stiffened by natural law beliefs, but he won by increasing the imaginative sympathy of whites (their circle of empathy grew to include African Americans).

Maybe we don't need to read Aquinas and Feser to know how to treat gay and lesbian people, but Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952).

Gays and lesbians will win their full equality not just by thinking of themselves as being in accord with natural law (which I believe they obviously are--the continuum of evolutionarily generated behavior in our species is, like Whitman, large, it contains multitudes). They'll win by appeals to empathy and simple justice.

After millennia of murderous bigotry and hysteria directed at them, gays and lesbians will win their equality exactly like Jews and blacks won theirs. The arguments are exactly the same--and the emotions that will drive caring about them are exactly the same.

Sympathy trumps abstract and dubious appeals to natural law--and we can all be thankful for that. Our sense of empathy and solidarity with others--increasing the circle of love--brings us to better, more humane, and more decent conclusions.

Santi Tafarella said...

Natural law also has a fundamentalism problem. Rigid appeal to natural law is a conversation stopper. It can fanatically lock people in to extreme positions. It can be akin to fundamentalism.

When natural law vetoes all other considerations (love, empathy, evolutionary diversity, etc.), and it is embraced by powerful people, it gives them an excuse to be impervious to change. They can say to those seeking justice, "I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do."

It gives too much power over to The Machine That Makes Metaphysics (theologians and right-wing philosophers--hardly disinterested parties).

With regard to gay and lesbian equality, the sin of the resisters in power is pride (inflexibility). Martin Luther King wrote this (in Strength to Love, Fortress Edition, 1981, p. 17):

"What is more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the disciplined heights of toughmindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of hardheartedness?"

That's Creon--and rigidity; what Robert Kennedy, echoing Sophocles, called the sin of pride.

Here's RFK, a Catholic, sharing what he learned from Sophocles--which is not to be rigid: "Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom....Now, as ever, we do ourselves the best justice when we measure ourselves against ancient texts, as in Sophocles: ‘All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and he repairs the evil.’ The only sin, he said, is pride.”

This is why I was serious when I said that Feser could reverse himself on gay marriage and equality. He can find a charitable interpretation of natural law, shifting emphasis, so as to give greater weight to empathy and historic injustice in his thinking. It's been done by Thomists for women--and it can be done for gays and lesbians.

Scott said...

"Scott says he's 100% certain God exists, for example. Seventy years after Auschwitz, and all I can say is, 'Wow.'…A person who can wall himself off in questionable abstractions, far away from concrete particulars, will find himself lacking in caution and proportion: 'I believe in God 100%, and Auschwitz doesn't change that in the slightest for me.'"

Auschwitz didn't "change that in the slightest" for quite a lot of Jews at Auschwitz, many of whom went to their deaths with their faith in God utterly unshaken and certain that justice would ultimately prevail. Those are the people who were actually killed there, who actually suffered the evils at issue.

The fools who, seventy years on, think they know better than the people who died with their faith intact, they are the ones walled off in questionable abstractions—for example, "justice" and "evil" abstracted from their foundation in the God of classical theism, in Whose existence we are rationally entitled to believe with 100% confidence, in part because some things are genuinely evil.

Scott said...

Incidentally, and more or less on the subject of questionable abstractions, there's a sort of insanely consequentialist aspect to the view that Auschwitz poses a particularly strong "problem of evil." Nobody at Auschwitz died more than once. Yet somehow some people seem to think we can just add up their deaths to get some sort of cumulative total, a big giant "pot."

Yes, it's more evil to murder millions of people than to murder just one, but that isn't why. And if the murder of millions poses a problem of evil, the murder of one poses exactly the same problem.

Georgy Mancz said...

@ Scott

Incidentally, I think me not having a nice villa in the countryside (me desiring it, God not granting me this modest request) is a legitimate example of "evil" in the "problem of evil".
I use this example to reveal the question-begging (among other things) nature of prescribing duties to the Lord. Most people I've talked to don't think God really owes me a dacha (Russian country house).
Some see that He doesn't owe me or anyone else anything at all (apart from things He owes Himself, as it were, like promises, of course).

Daniel said...

If the Auschwitz POE thing has returned certain persons are well and truly scraping the bottom of the barrel again. Two things come to mind:

1. 'questionable abstractions... concrete particulars...' I guess metaphysics has shown our naive folk intuitions to be unreliable.

2. I repeat my example of the Nazi intellectual who claims the cessation of genocide is an example of gratuitous evil impossible to square with the existence of a benevolent God.

Daniel said...

A thought:

The statement 'God is Good' is bad grammar since it appears to be a Predicate-Attribution statement when in fact it's closer to a Kind-Statement; instead we should say 'God is Goodness' (this brings the oddity of most POEs into relief: to attribute duties to a Good 'Person' makes sense to do the same with Goodness is a categorical confusion). Plantinga and co may whine that this initially seems makes God into a property, an abstract object, a complaint that stems from presumptions of modern ontology, but still I hold thinking of God as something all other beings participate in for their Goodness and existence is a better way to start understanding Classical Theism than the idea of a perfectly Good 'Person'.

Santi Tafarella said...

Hi Scott,

Do you know how fortunate you are to hold God to be, not just a person, but all good, all loving, all powerful--and the source of all beauty?

And you know it. Nothing shakes that, not even Auschwitz.

It's like having a near-death experience. If I had 100% confidence that God existed after an NDE, I'd be utterly serene, kind, full of love and joy, patient to a fault, generous and compassionate with those who couldn't see what I know, perceiving beauty everywhere.

And you've got that.

As a kid, I used to drag my Catholic father to mass, went to Protestant churches with friends as a teen, and even, for an unwobbly six months at around the age of 15, professed to be certain--certain!--that God existed.

Then I started having doubts. And they never left.

I sometimes ask religious proselytizers who come to the door this question: "When you doubt, what do you doubt, and why do you doubt it--and what do you say to yourself to make the doubt go away?"

The vast majority of the time, I get a blank stare, like the question is barely comprehended, and then they recover and say: "I never doubt."

I believe them. But I don't understand. Whether it's a gift or self-deception, they've got it and I don't. And, Scott, you've got it, and I wish I had it.

But you're unkind about it--and that feels to me like another disconnect. When I'm talking to you, I feel like I'm at the piano with John Cage. Are you sure those two notes go together?

Most people would think that, of all the things in the world that might make one doubt that God exists, Auschwitz could do it. But not you. I'm a callous "fool" for just entertaining it. It's not a problem at all. It wasn't even a problem for some of the victims.

I'm such an asshole.

But even Jesus doubted at the extremities of his suffering ("My God, why have you forsaken me?").

Why call it faith when you've actually got it all locked down? Where's the defense for believing absent evidence, absent good reasons--that is, when you don't in fact know?

What do you doubt about God, Scott, and why do you doubt it--and what do you say to yourself to make the doubt go away?

Santi Tafarella said...

As for the (few) Holocaust victims who may have managed to hold firm and not waver in the least in their God belief--exactly like Scott manages to do--one should remember that humans are imaginative animals, and a simple narrative--even just a sentence--can keep beliefs locked in place.

Example: it's not at all hard to imagine an Orthodox Jew surmising that God was punishing his people for not perfectly obeying the Torah. And being in the midst of the Holocaust, he'd have no idea of the full magnitude of the horror, just his little corner of it. Doubts about God's existence could be deflected in this way. It's how the Jews explained Babylonian exile, for example.

And anti-Semites (most Europeans at the time) could deflect doubt about God's existence after the war by surmising that "the Jews had it coming to them." People have all sorts of idiotic things they can say to themselves to deflect doubt, and it can be deployed staccato--followed by silence.

Santi Tafarella said...

As for one death posing the same problem as 6,000,000 deaths, well, yes, okay.

In the Brother's Karamazov, a little before the Grand Inquisitor section, Dostoevsky describes the death of an eight year-old, and this is sufficient to cause Ivan to reject the whole notion that a good God made the world. If I recall, the child accidentally hurt the paw of the dog of a rich man, was hunted down for it, and lifted onto a bayonet in the presence of his mother.

That sort of torture and death-by-degrees of ever compounding horror, is too much for Ivan to hold together with the idea that a good God exists--and now multiply that by 6,000,000.

I have a question for anyone who wants to answer it: if humanity goes on for another 10,000 years, and in each century there is a Holocaust-level horror (death by torturous degrees for a whole mass of people--akin to Dostoevsky's eight year-old with his mother, multiplied by 6,000,000) would you still say the God's creation is good--you wouldn't have done it differently?

Could you will such a playing out of history--the Holocaust in reruns--or would you switch off the cosmic television set?

DNW said...

Most people would think that, of all the things in the world that might make one doubt that God exists, Auschwitz could do it. But not you. I'm a callous "fool" for just entertaining it. It's not a problem at all. It wasn't even a problem for some of the victims."


What is it that to Santi's mind makes Auschwitz the landmark case for all theodicies? Especially, since there is so much more in the way of evil oppression and murderous life appropriating injustice to consider: The Diaspora; The Armenian slaughter; the war of Islam on Christianity; the planned destruction of the Kulaks; the Great Leap Forward; ... ObamaCare.

Why does he continue in the face of all that to trouble himself about God's existence? Especially since the only role the God concept actually plays in his understanding of reality is to set-up what are for him undesirable conceptual limits on his ability to socially appropriate the life energies of others under some rubric of justifiability.

Which leads me to reassert, as I have asserted before, that that is in fact the only actual interest Santi does have in the God concept: i.e., the role of an Ultimate Reality in providing an intellectual footing for those who don't wish to sacrifice their legitimate life projects in order to underwrite the whimseys or compulsions of antipathetic others.

Of course Santi might merely be a male whose emotional gain adjustment is set too high, and who could benefit from getting outdoors more, or learning to use a hammer and a saw.

That way he might avoid winding up looking like that piece of shit Rorty.

DNW said...

Santi, regarding himself says: "I'm such an asshole."


More like a neurotic I'd say. But I could say that because unlike Santi, I see the concepts of healthy and unhealthy as having an objective status relative to the notion of a natural human-kind.

Santi, and this gets much worse, cannot even say on his understanding, how spinal bifada, or a cleft palate, would be anything more than a variant or "transitional" expression about which there is nothing further to say in the realm of that particular organism's health or "values".

Which at least absolves me of the obligation of pity or the bother of identification. Evolution's got it covered, mate!

Santi Tafarella said...

Think about the Holocaust in relation to natural law.

Even if the Holocaust doesn't give you pause in relation to God's existence, it nevertheless functions as an impasse to comprehension. What was God up to in letting the Holocaust happen? What is God up to in creating the penis?

It will not do to say that the first question is uncertain, but the second certain. If the first question is uncertain, it's all uncertain.

The Holocaust casts a shadow over reason itself--and therefore natural law.

Who knows what God ultimately made anything for?

There appears to be nothing rational about a good God using the Holocaust to achieve his ends. So the Holocaust ought to set all of natural law theorizing into a tailspin.

God's rational purposes are what are in question with the Holocaust--which means that they're up for grabs everywhere.

After the Holocaust, it borders on dark comedy to assert that you know what God is up to in other domain of existence--such as what the penis should be used for (reproduction only).

DNW said...

"The Holocaust casts a shadow over reason itself--"

That has certainly not been demonstrated.

Even in a Godless universe, purely instrumental reason could well be said to exist. It is just that that sort of proportioning and method analysis would have nothing - or nothing very clear to say about any ultimate ordering or hierarchy of ends.

In Santi's own reality then, the rationalizing of the process whereby some actively exterminated others so as to fashion as the progressives say "the world we dream", would be an example of reasoning.

Santi really needs to have the courage of his own convictions. Otherwise he's just whining and not reasoning.

Why does he whine so much?

He really should quit flogging God, and move on. Then clear-eyed we can get to the business of bringing the War Of The Wills out into the open.

No excuses, eh Santi?

Scott said...

1. I have rational grounds for believing that the principle of non-contradiction holds.

2. But Auschwitz—before which, since it's the only bad thing that ever happened in all of human history, we didn't know people could be murderously evil.

3. Therefore reason itself is in question and my supposedly rational grounds aren't sufficient after all. Penises can be "for" anything we please! We can't know otherwise! Anything goes!

Boy oh boy. You couldn't make this stuff up.

DNW said...

Has it ever occurred to Santi that he might just be "mentally ill", and that his talk of variation all the way down, is just a means of avoiding that question?

What is the point of denying that there are objectively ascertainable natural kinds and that something called "evil" enters into the picture of reality; and then going on to complain about outcomes within this state of affairs, as if unpleasant outcomes are unjust according to some standard, the existence of which (a standard), one denies in the first place?

Why is misery and suffering even a problem?

Or, if we are sensitive and feeling types, we could for example anesthetize all of the miserable; and they would then no longer be miserable. Problem solved in a non-teleological world. And this is precisely because there is nothing (no real potential) to properly actualize - or entitled by some objective rule to be actualized.

As long as the organism is in no pain ... what's the difference whether it is emotionally fulfilled? If we can short circuit its (the disturbed organism's) emotional drives chemically, and produce feelings of satisfaction, and rid it of any sense of discomfort as it does nothing and goes nowhere, then: so what?.

After all, natures are unreal. What's the difference, in any sense men are obligated by right reason to recognize?

It is not as if emotional impulsions, are directed toward objective outcomes which we are directed by reason to respect.

Scott said...

I'm going to regret this, but here goes one more round.

"I believe them. But I don't understand. Whether it's a gift or self-deception, they've got it and I don't. And, Scott, you've got it, and I wish I had it."

It's called "reasoned argument." Check it out sometime. You'd probably benefit from a good dose of it.

"But you're unkind about it--and that feels to me like another disconnect."

That's not what I'm "unkind" to you about, and the "disconnect" is all on your side.

"I'm a callous 'fool' for just entertaining it."

I didn't say you were callous. As for "fool," you'll find the word used in the relevant sense in Psalm 14:1.

"Why call it faith[?]"

I didn't. The existence of God isn't a matter of faith.

(Ultimately, that is. Special revelation is another matter, but even that's grounded in what can be known by unaided natural reason. You seem to be working with a thoroughly Protestant notion of "faith." (I should perhaps add, in case you've missed it all the other times I've said so, that I'm not (yet, anyway) Catholic. As a matter of marginally relevant fact, I happen to be nominally Jewish—and for the record, you do not speak for us.))

"…when you've actually got it all locked down?"

I didn't claim that either.

"What do you doubt about God, Scott, and why do you doubt it--and what do you say to yourself to make the doubt go away?"

Huh?

Scott said...

@DNW:

"What is the point of denying that there are objectively ascertainable natural kinds and that something called 'evil' enters into the picture of reality; and then going on to complain about outcomes within this state of affairs, as if unpleasant outcomes are unjust according to some standard, the existence of which (a standard), one denies in the first place?"

That's the basic question, all right. It's a little like using the existence of lengths shorter than three feet as a foundation for doubting the existence of yardsticks.

Scott said...

I've shared this link before, but to whatever extent Santi is serious in saying "I wish I had it," this may help. There are points I could nitpick, but it's pretty danged good on the whole.

DNW said...

An article concerning the outcome of some apparent transitional forms' current hijacking activities.

http://nypost.com/2015/03/24/mystery-behind-rising-syphilis-rates-in-city/

The question is: why is this a problem really? Why should public health get involved? Why should non-transitional forms care to their detriment and cost? How is it in their interest to contribute to the enabling process, rather than letting holy Mother "Evolution" work its experiment out?

Isn't the demand by transitional forms and their apologists that non-transitional forms contribute to the enabling of what is an apparent maladaptation, a form of covert warfare on the non-transitionals?

So glad we finally got rid of essences, and are now able to bloodlessly and clearly look at a thing for in order to see what it really is ... or, is not.

Santi Tafarella said...

Apply the law of non-contradiction to the Holocaust: God is said to be all good and powerful--but the Holocaust happened; therefore if God is good, he's not all powerful, and if all powerful, not good, for an all good and powerful God would have stopped the Holocaust--unless he had supremely good, overriding, and unavoidable reasons for not doing so.

What might those supremely good, overriding, and unavoidable reasons be?

If one can't come up with plausible, non-cringe inducing, metaphysical justifications for the Holocaust, there's good reason to think that God's existence as both good and all powerful is incoherent--and should be abandoned altogether. As in: this idea must die.

And merely plausible justifications really aren't enough. As a matter of logic--compelling logic--God cannot be all good and powerful if God had no truly overriding and compelling reasons for allowing--or (gasp) willing!--the Holocaust.

So what are these intellectually and emotionally irresistible, captivating, and spell-binding reasons? What greater good (or goods) was God shooting for that required the Holocaust to happen--and that he simply could not have reached without bringing six million European Jews to collective crucifixion?

(I do hope among those goods was not simply his pleasure and those of his saints in heaven. As flies to wanton boys are we to this god?)

God is either pregnant with supreme goodness and power, or he's not pregnant. He can't sort-of be pregnant, or be both pregnant and not pregnant at the same time--and the Holocaust is his pregnancy test.

Scott said...

"God is said to be all good and powerful--but the Holocaust happened; therefore if God is good, he's not all powerful, and if all powerful, not good[.]"

Right, this question certainly never came up before the Holocaust, which is of course the only evil in all of human history, so until then there just wasn't a problem. No wonder even Ed himself has never so much as addressed it.

It's also worth noting that the goalposts have moved again. The argument now isn't about whether God exists, but in what sense(s) (if any) He can be said to be both omnipotent and good. And of course no one has ever addressed that question before either.

DNW said...

If I didn't know better from having read dozens of his previous postings, I would swear that Santi imagines that he has an objective and independent standard of "good" by which to judge the reality or unreality of a "good" God.

Or, maybe he merely imagines that he understands the Biblical idea of "holy" well enough so that he can accuse this God of inconsistency.

Without delving further into Santi's delusions, I suppose it is here where we paraphrase C.S. Lewis's remark regarding the typical modern man's conception of God as The Kindly Senility in the Sky, who ensures by the end of the day that a good time was had by all.


Santi, says: " ... there's good reason to think that God's existence as both good and all powerful is incoherent--and should be abandoned altogether. As in: this idea must die."


There is also good reason to think that what Santi is really after is getting others demoralized enough to value him and haul his water; by convincing them that it is the only game left in town.

But even if there is no God, it isn't. It simply leaves Santi with even less leverage when he comes begging for interpersonal consideration and tolerance.

Scott said...

"What might those supremely good, overriding, and unavoidable reasons be?"

I surely do not know. But I do know (100%) that the suggestion that unless we can "come up with" such reasons ourselves, belief in God "must die" is profoundly ignorant and just plain silly.

If the existence of God were inconsistent with the occurrence of evil, it would be inconsistent with the occurrence of any amount of evil. In this sense there's nothing special about the Holocaust. The moment Cain slew Abel would constitute just as sound a disproof of the pseudo-god of Santi's perfervid imaginings.

"…six million European Jews…"

…and five million non-Jews. Jews generally remember these other victims (many of whom were "righteous gentiles"), but it's funny how they tend to be forgotten by people with an axe to grind.

Perhaps Santi thinks he's punishing God for His "sins" by not being certain of His existence?

Santi Tafarella said...

Focus here, Scott.

You brought up the law of noncontradiction, I didn't.

And you've said all along that it is metaphysical argumentation that brings you to 100% certainty that God exists.

And so I made a metaphysical argument that is clear as a bell, and by Aristotle's laws of logic cannot be wriggled out from under: God is either pregnant with supreme goodness and power, or he's not pregnant. He can't sort-of be pregnant, or be both pregnant and not pregnant at the same time--and the Holocaust is his pregnancy test.

If you can't come up with plausible reasons for why God would allow the Holocaust, and you've said that you can't, it follows that your confidence that God exists should come down--it shouldn't be 100%. Your metaphysical argumentation is not complete.

Only if you set the Holocaust's metaphysical importance at 0%--a grotesque move, if anyone could sanely do this--can you reasonably set your confidence in a supremely good and all-powerful deity at 100% for other metaphysical reasons.

The Holocaust is in need of metaphysical explanation. Something is wrong somewhere in your metaphysical equations until it gets a plausible and satisfying answer.

If a plausible and satisfying explanation for the Holocaust goes wanting, one's confidence in God's existence ought to be moved into the realm of the uncertain. It becomes an open question.

If a mathematician says she's solved a heretofore unsolved equation, but there's a loose end at some segment in the equation, then she hasn't solved the equation.

And you don't really have a full and persuasive metaphysical demonstration of God's existence until the Holocaust is reasonably accounted for.

It's not just something you can bracket, ignore, abstract, eliminate, or send up in smoke with general philosophizing ("classify the Holocaust under the general and greater 'problem of evil,' and bury it there--out of sight, out of mind").

The Holocaust focuses the mind. If it resists sane metaphysical explanation--indeed, if one feels somehow indecent even to speak of God's purposes in letting or willing it to happen--then God as usually conceived is cast into doubt.

Santi Tafarella said...

The Holocaust has bearing upon natural law. You can't fathom what God wants or is ultimately up to in creating anything if the Holocaust resists all plausible reason.

Scott said...

"Focus here, Scott."

Your usual fatuous condescension has been, as always, noted and ignored. I'm not having any focus problems.

"You brought up the law of noncontradiction, I didn't."

Of course you did. Or was it someone else who said, "The Holocaust casts a shadow over reason itself"? What's the very heart of "reason itself"? If you didn't say "the principle of non-contradiction," you're wrong. Again.

"If you can't come up with plausible reasons for why God would allow the Holocaust, and you've said that you can't, it follows that your confidence that God exists should come down--it shouldn't be 100%."

Of course it should; it's every bit as well-founded as my confidence in the law of non-contradiction. Again, what you're questioning now is His "goodness," not His existence.

I'm done replying to you now; I'm reverting to my prior policy of treating you as the troll that you are. The last word is yours if you want it.

Daniel said...

Provocative thought on the POE II:

So the conclusion the POEr wants to force through is that at the very least is either:

1. God is not morally good

OR

2. God is not omnipotent

Rather than put our boots in Plantigna's footprints once more I'm going to suggest a simpler resolution for point 1, namely, that I agree. However I never claimed that God was 'morally good', the Goodness we attribute to God is ontological Goodness - indeed God's Perfection positively excludes Moral Goodness if Moral Goodness is taken to imply that God is a moral agent, a 'person' like us, indeed we must positively deny God many of the contingent, not-sufficent aspects we understand by the term 'person'.

Santi Tafarella said...

I read the comic you linked to. It was good. I agree that the cosmological argument is pretty tight. It's not math, by any means; not a demonstration (Feser's favored term). I'm still an empiricist, but the argument is the best intellectual thing theism has going for it.

Unfortunately, it only gets you to this impersonal Being, akin perhaps to the Tao, and thus it's not at all clear that it could think, or would have consciousness, personality, goodness, etc.

If the cosmological argument makes you 100% certain God exists, and this is what you mean by God, then you don't believe in God with 100% certainty (a person; all good; all loving; all knowing; all powerful). You believe in the Tao with 100% certainty.

And so you've basically conceded that the Holocaust renders questionable the actual God of the monotheisms--a God you could pray to--and that's my point. It's always been my point, and you were just kicking up diversions to avoid this conclusion.

An all good and powerful God may not exist.

What you write here is the crux of the matter surrounding the Holocaust: "Again, what you're questioning now is His 'goodness,' not His existence."

But God's goodness, as conceived by the traditional monotheisms, is wrapped up with his goodness, so I'm questioning God's existence (not the Tao's). There is no God of any sort useful to us as humans, or relatable to us as humans, absent such characteristics as goodness. No goodness, no God.

Lacking a metaphysical explanation for the Holocaust consistent with God's goodness ought to provide a strong signal to you that something is wrong with the good and all powerful God thesis; that God may not exist.

Why you would call the Tao "God" and genuflect to it is beyond me. It sounds like the worshipers in the film Zardoz. Something might exist at the bottom of things, but (paradoxically) there's nothing there; nothing responsive to you.

Just as well worship a stone idol or the monolith in Kubrick's 2001 as genuflect to the God of classical theism or the Tao. No person or goodness, no God. Not really.

Aristotle didn't make of the ground of being a person, and didn't worship this ground of being; that's a later accretion picked up by Thomas. The Holocaust suggests that the accretion has always been baseless, unfortunately; little more than wishful thinking.

You certainly offered no argument for removing the Holocaust as a problem for the traditional monotheisms. Indeed, you confessed to having no explanation at all.

Santi Tafarella said...

Daniel:

What's the difference between "ontological Goodness" and simply saying that existing maximally is "good"?

Why not take the loaded term good out of God altogether and just say that the Tao (or the Kubrick Monolith, or Ginsberg's Old Nobodaddy, or whatever you want to call it) is the "ontological Maximum"?

What's good about existing in the way that "God" or the Tao exists, or participating in that form of existence? There's no evidence it feels good, has moral impulses, thinks--or does much of anything.

Why would we want to participate in such an existence, or conform to the derivative existence given to us by our created form via this amoral ontological Maximum?

Why would an amoral being care if we don't play to type?

Doesn't your thesis upend the whole point of following natural law? (Use the penis solely in accord with what can be inferred the Tao made it for--reproduction.)

If God or the Tao doesn't answer the Jews' cries at the Holocaust, why not be existentially open, not looking to conform to anything given? God (the Tao) obviously doesn't care.

Gottfried said...

Santi,

I have no intention of starting a conversation with you, for much the same reason that, were I a spaceman, I would avoid falling into the event horizon of a black hole. But I do have a couple of comments:

1. Your method of "arguing" seems to be to unleash torrents of superfluous rhetoric in the general direction of what you imagine your opponents position to be, with the intent of overwhelming whatever points they might make. Now, this might be the custom in whatever dark corners of academia you allegedly haunt, but in philosophy the custom is, ideally, to attempt to understand an opposing argument as closely as possible, and then to respond with as much precision as one can muster. Since this is a philosophy blog, and you are a guest here, etiquette would seem to demand that you conform to the latter custom.

2. Insofar as any coherent objections can be salvaged from your ranting (Problem of Evil*, why should we think the God of the Cosmological Argument is the God of traditional monotheism?,etc.), they are objections that have occurred to approximately one hundred percent of everyone who has ever studied Classical Theism. Voluminous works have been written in answer to them, and you will find extensive discussions of them on this very blog. Yet, again, you seem to be asking these questions rhetorically, as though by merely asking them you are leaving the theists astounded and helpless. In my experience, if I want to be received politely by those I'm arguing with, it's best to keep my presumptions of their idiocy to myself.

As I said, I intend this to be my only post. I hope it is helpful.

* As Scott pointed out quite clearly, your Holocaust objection is really just an instance of the ancient Problem of Evil. Since you made no response, I assume you agree.

DNW said...

So, in a reality which is not only Godless, but wherein species are mere conventions ... or alternatively, where natural kinds may be said in some manner to exist but with the proviso that the unity of mankind [which these Thomists are trying to preserve] is itself nonetheless dubious, why is the Holocaust an intellectual problem?

Because something "feels"? How do rights follow from "feelings"?

Let's suppose that Santi is right in some respects regarding natures and essences. Are there under that regime of interpretation any grounds for him to object to a pharmaceutical company offering an abortifacient targeted at foeti which (we hypothesize) bear a genetic disposition toward eventual same sex attractions?

Wouldn't a father who wishes for sons, be entitled to do his best to ensure that his life efforts are not - as he sees it - wasted?

Let's suppose that genetic medicine reaches the point wherein prospective parents can have their "germ line" all "cleaned up" in such a way that along with eliminating baldness, and cleft palate and low IQ, the production of same sex attracted offspring can be eliminated as well.

Any "moral" problem there?

DNW said...

Gottfried said...

Santi,

I have no intention of starting a conversation with you... But I do have a couple of comments:

1. Your method of "arguing" seems to be to unleash torrents of superfluous rhetoric in the general direction of what you imagine your opponents position to be, with the intent of overwhelming ..."


That is of course true. And surprisingly, or maybe unsurprisingly, Santi would probably be among the first to admit it. In fact, he pretty much has.

The problem is that the place he chooses to do it in, is a place where forensic logic obsessives like myself and probably almost everyone else here, cannot resist trying to force him into making an argument rather than rhetorically displaying his feelings.

That this deployment and display in an attempt to frame the discussion is his aim, and that he consciously sees and adopts this emotive method as a replacement strategy for point-counterpoint argument, is obvious both from his approving quoting of Rorty, and from his allusions to the bankruptcy and futility of traditional moral reasoning. In fact, he seems to feel, of almost all reasoning.

Many of us, in the study of rhetoric or debate decades ago, were advised by our instructors that arguments are won and the mass persuaded to follow and adapt, not through sound and valid syllogisms, but by emotional tugs and connections.

We nonetheless see it as intellectually despicable, and as a kind of fraud: Addicted as we are to the idea of facts, and truth.

The Rortian takes the warning of our rhetoric instructors a step further, and advises as doctrine that not only are people not generally persuaded by sound argument, but that there are no sound arguments or fixed facts in the first place. And that all there is, when it comes to morals, is rhetoric, pleading, and emotion.

Santi is therefore, self-consistent in his manner. He aims not to triumph through syllogistic, but to derail that patriarchal project and replace it with a community sensibility managed in a certain direction.

The Feserian (so-called) is not to be proven wrong, so much as declared outre and unfeeling and "unwelcome" in enlightened circles of discourse.

Feser knows this. He has quoted that miscreant son-of-a-bitch (I call Rorty this, not Feser) Rorty at length, as to just this point. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/03/how-some-of-your-professors-see-you.html

And now he, Feser, sees us attempting to joust with one of Rorty's disciples.

You can see where this has gotten us so far.

The thing to do is to talk about them, not with them, I suppose. Since talking with them does no more good than listening to a neurotic complain. They never tire of it, and you gain nothing from it, even if you agree.

Santi Tafarella said...

Translation: in place of making arguments in a fresh manner (which you know aren't that good, and don't hold up well to scrutiny), act put-upon, display impatience, outsource your thinking to others, point to what they've said, and make it about the person who raises the doubts. Got it.

Scott said...

"Translation…"

One would have supposed that someone holding himself out to the public as a teacher of writing would have taken more care when professing to serve as a translator.

One would have been wrong.

Mr. Green said...

Scott: One would have been wrong.

What are you talking about? As a description of Santi's intellectually dishonest, passive-aggressive, logorrhoeic rhetoric, surely that "translation" was spot-on.

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"What are you talking about? As a description of Santi's intellectually dishonest, passive-aggressive, logorrhoeic rhetoric, surely that 'translation' was spot-on."

Heh. I stand corrected.

Scott said...

I suppose that for the record I may as well address a point or two for the benefit of anyone who might otherwise be left wondering.

"You certainly offered no argument for removing the Holocaust as a problem for the traditional monotheisms."

Actually I did. I've pointed out several times that the Holocaust is no more of a "problem" for classical theism than the occurrence of any single isolated evil, and I haven't seen any disagreement on this point. I regard the "problem" as having been addressed adequately well before the Holocaust: God is not a moral agent (or indeed a "person" of any kind, although He is in a sense "personal"); He has no duties or obligations that He must fulfill in order to qualify as "good"; since there is no "best possible world" God isn't "obliged" to create one; and anyway the entire concept of "evil" is parasitic on the concept of "good," a concept that ultimately makes no sense without God even though we can understand it to a degree without being theists.

"Indeed, you confessed to having no explanation at all."

Actually I didn't. I said I didn't know what God's reasons might be in this particular case (as I do not in many, many other particular cases as well). But that is of course very different from having "no explanation at all." The general explanation is that God permits evil because He's powerful enough to bring good from it—indeed, sufficient good that the even very persons who suffered the evil will in the end agree that it was worth it.

I post these short responses not, heaven forfend, as an invitation to further replies from Santi (although I know I'm risking them), but for the sake of any lurkers who might otherwise suspect that his ripostes were in any way difficult to answer.

Daniel said...

@Scott,

Out of interest did you ever check out David Alexander's Goodness, God and Evil? I know the author himself mentioned it on here once.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

I haven't, but now I will. Thanks for the recommendation.

DNW said...


Some ruminations … on Santiism

Santi is playing a bait and switch game here; calling out classical theists to defend the providential God of Christianity.

Santi has previously stated that God is hidden and does not speak. In saying this, he rules out of court any Christian commentary or perspective on the whys,ways, and wherefores relating to his concern over the problem of evil in “innocent” lives. Such as for example, Christ's Gospel observation that the rain falls on the wicked and good alike, or his Tower of Siloam commentary.

Whatever one might make of the ultimate status of Jesus, if these sayings are reported accurately, then, the Christian understanding of life itself is very different and in some ways more brutally realistic, than the normative framework Santi posits in order to indict the Christian God, and, to impeach by imagined extension, the notion of natural kinds, law, and ultimately, rights.

These Bible verses may not be commentaries Santi likes, or framings which conform to his idea of just deserts; but then, the entire Christian message is not about mankind's just deserts in the here and now, but about a shocking and fearful transcendence.

I do not say that the vision described in Scripture is true; but I say that if you trouble yourself to read the Scriptures, that it is what is represented as being the case.

So, the martyrdom of the saints, the destruction of Jerusalem, earthquakes, wars, rumors of wars and even the rise of anti-Christs are posited as the fate and lot of natural – and ex hypothesi partly depraved - man.

And what of natural man, considered as natural man?

Here, we have a different set of considerations both as to the understanding of “natural” and as to the actual aim of Santi's critique.

Feser isn't going to bother rehashing these points, so we, might as well

For an Aristotelian, and you don't have to be one to grasp this, it is obvious that Santi's animadversion to Auschwitz, has no effect whatsoever on the argument that man has a nature which tends in certain directions and manifests certain functions.

God or no-God, the issue of Auschwitz is simply irrelevant to the concept of “natures” per se. You might as well argue that since Auschwitz, one can no longer believe in the digestive system, or that the union of human gametes produce new humans, or the fact that healthy and undamaged human organisms reach sexual maturity after some years of childhood.

Advancing that line of argument would get you laughed out of the room. So the taken tack is to say that these facts about natural kinds cannot be construed as normative, or if as descriptively normative, then not injunctive in any way.

The problem for Santi is that this line of argument redounds negatively on his argument that homosexuals have an evolutionarily granted essential nature which somehow enjoins physical fulfillment along with social recognition, respect, and affirmation.

Yet, if heterosexual natures, so obviously critical to the existence of humanity itself are not taken to be normative and morally injunctive, then why should homosexual natures - whether viewed as variants or discrete kinds - be socially privileged as a result of their existence, even if there were such a nature?

cont.

DNW said...

So, I guess we could in fact talk as Santi sometimes does, (but as Christian Thomists are loathe to do) as if different natures or essences exist for what we have previously conceived of as like kinds, but which Santi prefers to call, “variants”. (Which he obviously does in order to preserve the species label under limited circumstances, for his future rhetorical convenience.) But following his moves, rather than his pleading, we might just as well narrow as broaden the species essence to better suit our own unique natures and say that yes of course, “man” as we draw the circle does have a nature: but Sentinelese Islanders, for example, or Irish homosexuals for another, are not to be included within it.

No problem of logic there, unless you are worried that such an intellectual move might tend to produce future Auschwitzes.

But before worrying about that, you would want to know if such a result is “wrong” or “bad” in some objective manner, as opposed to just not to your taste, or offensive to your particular sensibilities.

Feser, for example, could and with intellectual consistency claim that Auschwitz was objectively wrong and evil, as well as personally offensive. Santi, we fear, could not with intellectual consistency do so.

Regardless, what Santi really wants to do, is to define and scale “Good” for the God concept, in a manner relational to Santi's ends; rather than in a way that would represent what Good as a concept could plausibly mean if applied to a Classical Theist conception of God.

The striking fact is that in Santi's version of reality, the concept of “Good” simply collapses into incoherence. In a Santian reality without natures, or one with natures so multiplied and diverse (a “true” “homosexual nature”, a supposed “pederast nature”, an imagined “bestialist nature”) that historical species become arbitrary sortings, what could “good” even refer to in terms of broad social and life consequences? Are we sure that mere toleration, much less enabling solidarity and sacrifice has no odious costs?

On the contrary: Even a cursory attempt to work out how the "good" of homosexuals' enjoyment of social claims staked out and leveled on their own terms of self-expression, against heterosexuals, then supposedly translates into the good of heterosexuals as well, reveals that: either the concept of good becomes frivolous or incoherent, or, that the very classifications used must be subverted in order that previous nature-classes' claims of interests, are sociopolitically neutered, marginalized or abolished. “There is no legitimate heterosexualist interest anymore … it's all a continuum …. ommmmmm”

Santi understands all this. And that is why he proposes this latter route of redefining or re-essentializing man himself, as something along the lines of pansexual hippie bonobos. He needs to abolish the category of “heterosexual” as an obvious interest and alliance class, so that his examples of “goods” cited in his new order of things, don't crash up against persistent class or group interests held to be natural and appear trivial or frivolous or not worth the associative price paid.

This of course, is nothing new. Every collectivist in modern history has come up against the “problem” (for their schemes) of the private family, heterosexuality, and sexual exclusivity. You natural lawyers need, we are told, to learn that, “Sexual liberation is the fairest of joys”, better than low taxes and your own house …

And so it goes, as Vonnegut used to say

Santi Tafarella said...

Notice that Scott is justifying the ways of God to men in relation to the Holocaust. The Holocaust. This is not the evil of a lost finger in a woodworking accident. This is a degree of evil not in keeping with the thesis that the created order is good.

Auschwitz isn't three degrees short of the best possible world, it's very nearly the mirror opposite of the best possible world.

So if the Holocaust goes without specific metaphysical explanation in relation to God, a word like "good" can only be attached to God in the most strained, Orwellian manner.

But Scott, right on-cue, shows himself to be most proficient in the language of INGSOC. He writes this of the beloved One Who Answers To Nobody: "He has no duties or obligations that He must fulfill in order to qualify as 'good'", and "since there is no 'best possible world' God isn't 'obliged' to create one...".

In other words, no reality testing need apply. God can do whatever he wants and still be "good." Definition is open. Evil is good, good evil. And these terms don't make any sense anyway except in relation to the Beloved One; the One Who Can Do Whatever He Wants.

Because metaphysics.

So there is no standard of measurement for gauging the reasonableness of God's will in relation to what actually happens in the world. No amount of evil in the world ought to unsettle the believer's confidence in God's existence and "goodness" (whatever that means).

Here's more of what Scott has to say. Dr. Pangloss meets Hegel in this one. And it's a catch-all. It's supposed to apply to everything from stubbed toes to Auschwitz: "The general explanation [of the Holocaust] is that God permits evil because He's powerful enough to bring good from it—indeed, sufficient good that the even very persons who suffered the evil will in the end agree that it was worth it."

Yes, of course, that's it. Mow down the lives of millions for some greater good--and if the victims knew why you did it, they would thank you--thank you!

I don't blame Scott for making such arguments. He's got a bad hand to play. Once God is implicated in the Holocaust--and make no mistake, God is implicated in the Holocaust--you've got to deploy the same arguments that any good Hegelian would use to defend mass slaughter.

Whether such arguments are deployed to justify a utopian project (The Great Leap Forward), or are used in defense of God in relation to the Holocaust, it's the hand one has to play.

And Scott played it.

Glenn said...

Were debating an Olympic event, Santi would win the Gold Medal in Yellow Journalism.

Glenn said...

And were he a pitcher, he'd be underhanded. Which, of course, is to say that he would be a "submariner".

Glenn said...

As has happened on prior occasions in other ways, Santi's self-serving distortion of Scott's response re God's permission belies his claim that he, Santi, is an agnostic. God does exist on Santi's account -- it's constantly leaking out of his harangues; it's just that Santi is not happy with his malformed understanding, and seeks to console himself by sharing his misery with others. Whether he is capable of ever realizing that his sloppy critiques of own misunderstandings do not qualify as a critique of that which he understands not, is an open question.

DNW said...

Glenn said...

Were debating an Olympic event, Santi would win the Gold Medal in Yellow Journalism.
March 26, 2015 at 2:01 AM "


We are merely witnessing what happens when Rorty-ian views and values are internalized by someone, and then implemented programmatically.

There is no communicating with them ... all they do is get in your face and emit rhetoric. They feel no shame in this since they dogmatically hold that that is all that there is to "truth" ultimately.

They jabber on about "we", about "LOVE" about "fulfillment", yet it is impossible to get a clear sense of what they are saying or what it is really in aid of ultimately, other than that they have an urge of some kind and that they think that your behavior can be modified more to their liking if they keep emitting.

Imagine this: a guy who has been blathering on for days about language games, demanding a definition and application of "good" to a God concept which satisfies him.

What he is really pissed about is how metaphysics in the intellectual realm, like constitutionalism in the political, can sometimes function as a leverage point for resisting the incoherent and obnoxious demands of the other. Which one must not do: Because, "EMPATHY!", "Bonobos!" and RAM EFFEN DASS!

Santi Tafarella said...

DNW:

I like Ram-effen-Das. What's wrong with Ram-effen-Das?

DNW said...

" There is no God of any sort useful to us as humans ..."

A God useful to us humans ...

Nicely stated. One of the few times he has framed one of his implicit standards of evaluation so clearly.

Makes me regret that I did not post a remark yesterday concerning how Santi's likely God concept looked more to me like a magical favor dispensing marionette managed by the created, than a Sovereign Creator.

Now if he would explain why he presumes to speak on behalf of the class of humans, or why he tacitly assumes - especially given his own views of variation - that they would share his needs or ideas of utility, then we might get somewhere ... eventually.

But alas, so much indignant rhetoric emitted, in proportion to so few real explanations delivered.

DNW said...




Santi Tafarella said...

DNW:

I like Ram-effen-Das. What's wrong with Ram-effen-Das?

March 26, 2015 at 7:53 AM



On your own theory of variations, no explanation of preferences is required or even relevant. It just is.

If some group of young males decides to use his head as a soccer ball, you might find that upsetting personally, but it would make no sense for you to inquire into the rightness or wrongness of their choices. Just, variation at play.

Ommmm.

Glenn said...

If you like the guy so much, why not show some respect for his advice?

"To hear ... requires much calming of the mind. The quieter you become, the more you can hear."

Glenn said...

(That, of course, was to Santi. (Just to keep the record formally clear and unambiguous.))

Chris said...

The argument from evil atheodicy has always struck me as self-refuting. But having a personal relationship with "someone" who is not a moral agent also seems difficult to sustain.

Scott said...

@Chris:

"[H]aving a personal relationship with 'someone' who is not a moral agent also seems difficult to sustain."

Some posts on this blog that may be helpful if you haven't read them already: this, this, and this.

Chris said...

Thank you.

Santi Tafarella said...

What this thread demonstrates is that the lived and historical world is always far more complicated than the essence-accident definer imagines.

God's will and moral ends cannot be read off of Nature and definition, then played upon like a pipe: "God and Nature dictate that you should do this with a penis, but not that."

After Darwin and Auschwitz, it's all hubris. Hubris. Natural law is an artificial game of hubris. After Darwin and Auschwitz, you don't know what the rational, moral, or ultimate ends of God are for humans (if there are any). You don't know what women are for. You don't know what the penis is for.

"Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me"; and "My God, do you think I'm easier to manipulate than a pipe?"; and "You would seem to know my stops. You would pluck out the heart of my mystery" (Hamlet Act III.ii.).

Natural law is hubris and presumption (knowing what God is up to and what contingent others ought to be doing). Auschwitz and Darwin tell us that we don't have a clue. They instruct us in humility.

Santi Tafarella said...

With regard to Feser's upcoming talk, gay or lesbian marriage--or any marriage, for that matter--is a transition from one state to another; a rite of passage and ritual which needn't consist of drama for those possessed of the inner logic of their own love--UNLESS SOMEONE OBJECTS. "Speak now, or forever hold your peace."

If someone objects, then the Greek drama starts; the contention and the tragedy ensues. Creon has to stop the eccentric love of Antigone because it is contrary to (as he imagines) the will of the gods and good order.

So with regard to gay marriage, Feser objects.

But that objection necessarily invites resistance, for America is in transition. Tea Party conservatives, for instance, have been thwarting the celebration of the first black president for six years. They're not holding their peace. They hate that marriage of Obama to America. But they're belated. It's done. It's happened. Obama is a liminal figure.

And like the Tea Partiers with Obama, so it is with Feser and gay marriage: he's belated. His timing is atrocious. It's not the 1990s, it's 2015. Timing matters. Gay marriage is in its liminal stage.

If (as I imagine) Feser's speech to the Anscombe Society is going to amount to "No gay marriage then, now, or in the future!"--then he's going to place himself in the role of Creon against the inner logic of contingent and eccentric love.

He'll be in the role of the rigid and angry father--as in the last five minutes of The Graduate (when Dustin Hoffman carries off Katharine Ross, and they escape by bus to Simon and Garfunkle's "The Sounds of Silence").

Love and empathy are stronger than externally imposed constraints on individuals marrying. Great tragic drama everywhere instructs us in this. The black civil rights movement also won by appeals to love and empathy--as will gay and lesbian marriage equality in our day. Time waits for no (definition of) marriage or man.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahFARm2j38c

Santi Tafarella said...

What's coming into focus from this thread is how belated contemporary Thomists are. They're behind the ball as to what to do with transitions--most especially transitions that entail the logic of imagination, the liminal, love, evolution, contingency, continuums (not averages), and historic horror and tragedy (such as God allowing or willing Auschwitz).

Things are different after historical transitions like Darwin and Auschwitz enter one's consciousness. You can't bracket these experiences from what was once your innocence.

After Darwin and Auschwitz, you can't have the confidence Aquinas had surrounding what God wants, and what's ultimately a good created order that is rational, natural, and essential. You don't know.

As Alpha and Omega, God is himself liminal. And after Auschwitz, he (she, it?) is opaque and silent (if a moral God exists at all). Now what?

Evolution and tragedy do not know averages, only the liminal. Contemporary Thomists need a theory of the liminal.

Glenn said...

Santi,

Contemporary Thomists need a theory of the liminal.

Actually, contemporary Thomists do have a theory of the liminal.

Your mind, however, is in such a state of discombonoboulation, the sense of it escapes you.

To put it crudely -- on the off-chance that it might make a slight dent on your apparent imperviousness -- contemporary Thomists hold that if you think with the head between your shoulders rather than the head between your legs, then you too can transition from being a person whose will is an appendage of the lower appetite, to a person in whom the lower appetite is properly subordinate to higher order loves.

Santi said...

Glenn,

If evolution bequeaths to our species a continuum of sexual temperaments, personas, behaviors, type-attractions, and inclinations, then why wouldn't the discovery of love and compatibility between, say, two women, be the most natural flourishing of their love--the highest sort of love FOR THEM?

Not every human needs to reproduce for our species to go forward (there's already 7 billion of us; we're in no want of homo sapiens on planet Earth). And perhaps these two women have already had their children, and meet one another in their 40s. The evolutionary continuum of human behavior is vast, and it is being ignored if you oversimplify human sexuality.

You can't just pretend that God hasn't made our species by evolution, or that variation is not the natural way that God brings change about in species--or that diversity isn't healthy in a species.

If you nip variation in the bud, how do you know--what gives you the hubris and presumption to know--that you're not standing in the way of God's ultimate purposes?

Aquinas had a very confined, pre-Darwinian view of women and sexuality, reducing women to their reproductive function, and men's penises to reproduction.

Thomists need fresh argumentation in the light of knowledge of evolutionary continuums within species, as well as transitional forms, variation, and contemporary taxonomy (which knows no golden mean or average, but only irreducible variation along a characteristic continuum for that species).

If you cannot see--or will not see--the characteristic continuum of primate sexual behavior prior to making prescriptions and proscriptions--then you're really not reading the book of Nature as God actually wrote it. You're making up a contrary sex game for other purposes that you're not acknowledging (nostalgia for a medieval philosopher, protection of a dubious but comforting tradition, etc.).

Santi said...

And please notice that pointing to links, rather than articulating and defending one's position directly, in one's own words, right here in this thread, makes of that pointing an enemy of transparency.

If you cannot, in your own sentences, articulate your position with clarity--or will not--it suggests that you're confused or realize that to state your position directly exposes its weakness in the very presenting of it.

In what sense, exactly, is God moral in the light of Auschwitz? Hand-waving, pointing, and making it about the person who asks the question is essentially an admission that one's argumentation is weak, incoherent, confused, or non-existent.

Scott said...

"If you cannot, in your own sentences, articulate your position with clarity…"

…then see Santi's posts for helpful examples of how to do so.

Santi said...

The reality is that, whenever Scott moves beyond three sentences, his positions get wobbly in the knees--and he knows it. Easier to hide or write one sentence of sarcasm. Or, if push comes to shove, play the politician's game where, if a constituent asks a question, you change the subject, pointing to a website "where my views on veteran's benefits are dealt with at length," etc.

That's why the pointing is an enemy of transparency. One is expected to guess as to how Scott MIGHT apply something in the more dense text to the specific context of this thread.

It's smoke and mirrors, Wizard-of-Oz stuff.

Let's hear Scott pull back the curtain and reveal HIS thought.

But that would risk scrutiny and doubt directed his way--and Scott wants to keep it all clean (nothing really gets in, nothing really gets out).

Because metaphysics. Because God doesn't have to answer to anybody.

Glenn said...

Santi,

Scott, and at least several others here as well, can say more of value in three sentences (or less), than you can hope to say in more than three hundred paragraphs.

That that value is found at a level of comprehension which exceeds the highest level of comprehension FOR YOU, is -- possibly -- evidence of:

a) (your concept of) evolution having varied the upper limit of comprehension from individual to individual; and,

b) your having been short-changed by (your concept of) evolution.

That may be bad news for you.

If it is... oh well.

DNW said...

Santi's technique is the typical postmodernist one of incessant haranguing, and attempted desensitization; taken to the point wherein the opponent is not so much convinced, as too exhausted by the nihilistic onslaught to further resist.

As Santi has cut out from under himself any possibility of referencing objective truth, his only available tactic (for now) is to harangue and try to get you at least used to his being in-your-face with illogical demands.

It is essentially the gay social desensitization strategy.

Rorty, the author of one of Santi's sacred texts had this to say regarding claims of truth in the very text Santi cited: "The very idea that the world or the self has an intrinsic nature … is a remnant of the idea that the world is a divine creation, the work of someone who had something in mind, who Himself spoke some language in which He described His own project … [then later] On the view I am suggesting, the claim that an adequate ‘philosophical’ doctrine must make room for our intuitions [meaning immediate apprehensions of reality] is a reactionary slogan …"

Now of course we reactionaries, who are too dull to be easily intimidated, or whose livings are not dependent on the dole-out of progressive controlled sinecures are likely to persist in asking Rorty-ites: "Progress, to what? In aid of what? And, why should I?"

Of course, both we and Rorty know that it [a little pronoun subversion here] has no answer to the question.

The Rortian only knows - or feels - what it wants: not why it wants, nor whether its wants are respect-worthy, nor why any other wanting-thing should care what the Rortian thing wants.

The Rortian self is held by the Rortian uhhh 'locus of pronouncement' let us say, to only be an illusion of anything more, anyway.

So when Santi the Rortian, uhhh ... voice ... appears here, and says what it wants: then who and what are we to understand that it is - as an admitted illusion - that is supposedly doing the wanting?

Is it a pure locus - and only temporary and pointless at that - of want? A "desiring machine"? Is it then really just no more than an existent appetition, with no nature beyond its existence as an appetite?

What, on its own terms, is this demanding thing to be understood as the voice of, exactly?


This thing that must admit that there is no objective "we", and that natures either don't exist or are so multifarious as to make men radically different and potentially life incompatible kinds; is what, and wants what, in the name of what, exactly?

Santi said...

Glenn:

Like Scott, you're hiding behind the Oz curtain. I articulated my position on evolution in relation to Thomism. I put myself out there. And I asked you quite specific questions in my last post addressed to you.

I actually don't have any evidence that you can articulate your views on evolution in relation to Thomism because you haven't yet really said anything sustained about it.

What, for example, is your take on the fact that contemporary evolutionary taxonomy recognizes no average behavior, or golden mean of behavior, as "normal" in a species, but only irreducible variation along a continuum? That seems to me problematic to the Thomistic idea of essence/accident. If you're going to take evolution seriously, that suggests that you've got to give wide latitude to the range of sexual behaviors characteristic of humans as we've actually evolved. The logic of variations matters in evolution--and therefore it ought to matter for Thomist theorizing. If you disagree, why think ye not?

Sex isn't just for reproduction in primates--it has all sorts of evolutionary functions. And the continuum along which sexual behaviors vary among humans is extraordinary. Why the narrow cut-off (for reproduction only) based solely on a two-dimensional, over-simplified, and attenuated notion of "form"? Why not incorporate a broader, nuanced, and more complex evolutionary perspective into your analysis after Darwin?

Thomists have done it for women (what women are "for")--so why not for lesbians?

Santi said...

DNW:

Your syncretism of Ayn Rand and Thomism is wearing thin. Gays actually make more money on average than other Americans. They're hardly spongers on the system. And they don't need your permission to have equal rights or to marry. They need the permission of the courts--and rightfully, they're getting that. They're taxpaying citizens. You're not better than them; you're not in a privileged position in relation to them.

As for your notion that I'm a postmodern relativist, that's not accurate. I think there are a lot of things that we can say with confidence are objectively true--such as evolution, wide sexual variation in primates, species defined by irreducible variations along continuums, and that Auschwitz occurred.

I'm actually bringing these forward and saying that one's theories about what's natural and reasonable; what sex is for; and whether God is moral, ought to be responsive to actual reality testing in relation to these.

Glenn said...

Santi,

I asked you quite specific questions in my last post addressed to you.

Many questions have been asked of you over these past weeks/months, and the vast majority of them remain unanswered. One might infer from that that you like questions to remain unanswered. Although, one might also infer that you like questions asked of you to remain unanswered, while liking questions you ask of others to be answered.

Glenn said...

Re your first question: If it is true -- as you have said it is -- that "contemporary evolutionary taxonomy recognizes no average behavior, or golden mean of behavior, as 'normal' in a species", then it is also true that, if it is consistent, CET must not recognize the two individuals as 'normal'.

Glenn said...

Re your second question: To borrow your words, "How do you know--what gives you the hubris and presumption to know--that" a variation is not -- either itself or a precusor to -- a deviation from "God's ultimate purposes?"

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