Monday, April 13, 2015

Back from Princeton


This past Saturday, I gave the Princeton Anscombe Society’s 10th Anniversary Lecture, on the subject “Natural Law and the Foundations of Sexual Ethics.”  Prof. Robert George was the moderator.  The Daily Princetonian covered the event, and the Anscombe Society has posted some pictures.  Video of the lecture has also been posted at YouTube.

I suppose I ought to warn the scrupulous that parts of the talk are explicit, albeit tastefully so.  This is unavoidable when addressing this topic in any depth, though I suppose some would prefer I gave those portions of the talk in Latin!

74 comments:

Kiel said...

Hi there Dr Pheeeeeeeser.

JohnD said...

Great lecture Dr. Feser. Thanks for coming to NJ. Where can we go to find out some concrete differences between you and Professor George? You seemed to agree on so much that night.

Daniel said...

I admit I find it hard to see how the unitive end should really be an end as opposed to a further means of facilitating the procreative end. Perhaps I should get hold off that Michael Cronin ethics volume Ed recommended a long time ago.

These two natural ends of sex — the procreative and unitive — are inseparable from each other, Feser said, because human beings perceive reality in both a sensorial and conceptual way. The ability to conceptualize is a critical distinction between rational human beings and non-rational animals, he said.

“[There] is no such thing as a sexual act which of its nature is merely unitive and in no way procreative, any more than there is such a thing as a human perceptual experience which of its nature is merely conceptual and in no way sensory,” he said.


Maybe I'm ripping these two out of context but the NL accounts of sexual morality seems stronger than the analogy given. Even if we did have non-sensory intellectual intuition it wouldn't alter the moral conclusions for sexual acts which of their nature have to be sensory.

Dennis said...

Dr. Feser, would you ever consider writing on Morphic Resonance worth your time?

Daniel D. D. said...

@Daniel

I think it's just about making the distinction. The procreative and unitary parts are not separated, but they are distinct, just as form and matter are not (normally) separate, but are still distinct. I would argue that the unitary aspect is greater than the procreative aspect (on natural and sacramental grounds), but cannot be separated from the act in reality. The two abstractions can be seen, but they concretely are one.

The unitary aspect builds a rational animal's part of intercourse onto the mere animal aspect, like a multilayered cake :yum: It's like that for much of human nature: the rational nature builds on the animal nature, the animal nature builds on the vegetable nature, which builds on the inorganic nature, and so forth. However, although we can make a distinction between the plant powers and animal powers of a rational soul, it doesn't mean they are separated in reality. Cake decorating, baking, organized feasts, and socializing are all rational aspects that build on the animal aspect of eating (and that animal part actually builds on the plant part, since metabolism is probably THE power of the plant soul).

There is an African tribe which has a saying to describe the difference between how a rational animal and mere animal go about eating: animals feed alone, while humans feast together. Animals eat to maintain themselves, while humans eat to maintain themselves and enjoy the food (often by cooking it), enjoy the socialization, enjoy the food's aesthetic appearance, etc. In the same way, it might be said that animals have intercourse to procreate, while humans have intercourse to procreate and become physically integrated with his wife, or her husband.

There are those who refuse both the procreative aspect and the unitary aspect: they engaged in the act for the pleasure from the means to these ends, but avoid the end. These are womanizers and pornography addicts: and (as I can tell from personal experience) they are deeply unhappy people.

There are those who refuse the procreative, but not the unitary aspect: I think these people are more dangerous, as it's harder for them to see the wrongness of their actions, but, in the end, the unitary function actually is left unfulfilled, because the sexual aspect is not fully integrated with the rest of the persons. The husband who uses contraception is telling his wife, "I love everything (maybe :smirk:) about you except your procreative aspect" which is a specific hatred of womanhood, as contraception is in it very essence anti-woman, as women are separated from men by their passivity (here comes the feminist inquisition to execute me!) and "internal" fertility. To dislike a woman's fertility is to hate her womanhood, and thus a essential aspect of herself.

Just my thoughts. Since I never found Catholic sexual teachings as an issue in conversion (in theory. Putting them into practice is another story :-) ), I'm not overly familiar in Natural Law theory.

Christi pax.

Irenist said...

@Daniel:

The best way to see how the unitive and procreative should be ends is to imagine either without the other.

The unitive without the procreative is the typical contemporary mentality of contraception, abortion, pornography, and sodomy: its folly is presumably obvious to you given the nature of your question and of this forum.

The procreative without the unitive is exemplified by IVF, surrogacy, and the donation of gametes (sperm and eggs). Procreation by these methods is the result of technological manipulation rather than of the unitive embrace of a father and mother, and so deprives the child so conceived of the human dignity of being able to reflect upon an origination in an act of unitive love. Also, these technologies lead to a crass commercialization and instrumentalization of procreation, as in the case of the Australian gay couple who rejected an IVF-conceived baby with mental disabilities, and abandoned the child to be raised by his Thai surrogate mother.

In brief, we may say that just as a whore prostitutes the unitive aspect absent the procreative, so many of these commercial arrangements prostitute the procreative without the unitive.

In a chaste marriage, the unitive and procreative aspects of the marital act are more separable in thought than in actuality. But distinguishing them helps us to see the need for the presence of both if human sexuality is to be rightly ordered.

Gene Callahan said...

"There is an African tribe which has a saying to describe the difference between how a rational animal and mere animal go about eating: animals feed alone, while humans feast together. Animals eat to maintain themselves, while humans eat to maintain themselves and enjoy the food (often by cooking it), enjoy the socialization, enjoy the food's aesthetic appearance, etc. In the same way, it might be said that animals have intercourse to procreate, while humans have intercourse to procreate and become physically integrated with his wife, or her husband."

But, monkeys practice techniques to enhance the taste of their food (http://alfre.dk/monkeys-washing-potatoes/) and those techniques spread throughout their territory by imitation, and many animals mate for life, and seem to have very close bonds with their mates.

rank sophist said...

"Thank you, Professor Feezer."

Ouch. This is an excellent defense of the perverted faculty argument, though--better and more thorough than any I've heard. It definitely lays to rest certain doubts I've had about it over the years.

I'm not sure whether those who disagree with the argument's fundamental premises, however, will be very much swayed by this talk. It's a great explication of where those principles must lead, but people who deny Aristotelian teleology or essentialism (or the theory that nature never acts in vain) will see it as little more than that. Given the topic and time restrictions, the preambulatory discussion of Thomistic metaphysics obviously had to be short. And perhaps the Anscombe Society is already more-or-less in agreement with the background ideas involved, which would make it a waste of time to rehash them in detail. Either way, it's a really (!) strong talk that will be too easy for disbelievers to ignore.

Thursday said...

". . . a much richer . . . set of features"

Fortunately, Christians have just such an account of those richer features to offer. Here is a very fine article on gender essentialism.

Thursday said...

I would also like to heartily recommend J. Budziszewski's book On the Meaning of Sex.

Thursday said...

On the intersex question, it is interesting to note that such individuals always have combinations of male or female traits, not traits of some other kind of sex.

Alan said...

“These two natural ends of sex — the procreative and unitive — are inseparable from each other, Feser said, …[There] is no such thing as a sexual act which of its nature is merely unitive and in no way procreative”

The implication in the OP that fertilization is not to be separated from copulation stands in stark contrast with the human experience. It is opposed by history and evolution.
Unique among animals, humans require more than a few years to mature from birth. Over a decade of parental care more!
Unique among the apes, human females do not show their fertility state, and remain sexually active year round. Proto human females who displayed their fertility status were unable to raise their children, going extinct. Only females who hid their fertility status and encouraged year round bonding and intimacy were successful.
Even this ‘naturally’ reduced fertility resulted often in children beyond the capacity of the family to care for. Per Wikipedia, anthropologists estimate infanticide rates between 15 and 50% for pre Neolithic societies, with lower rates continuing through virtually all societies.
Natural fertility rates among humans have a demonstrated capacity to recover population lost to war and plague. When not beset by this destruction, rational humans in virtually all human communities have resorted to infanticide to protect the integrity of their (remaining) family. There is no evidence of any human community remaining viable that has not actively controlled its population. Between plagues, the choice is war, infanticide, abortion or contraception. Abstention is another choice in theory, but that has never to my knowledge proven to be a viable remedy.

Curio said...

I'm sympathetic to this argument (PFA) - so don't get the wrong idea here - but I still lie awake at night struggling with it. Last night was one of those nights... Gosh I'm tired.

My problem is the counter objections. There are days when it seems like special pleading. Why isn't blindfolding oneself morally wrong? Feser specifically uses the organ of sight as an analogous case of a clear cut faculty.

Also, how many here think gastric bypass surgery is illicit given that it perverts the faculty of the digestive organs?

Scott said...

@Curio:

"Also, how many here think gastric bypass surgery is illicit given that it perverts the faculty of the digestive organs?"

My own example from a year or two ago was the consumption, by (e.g.) diabetics, of "low-carb" pasta that consists of perfectly ordinary pasta treated with a coating that renders its carbohydrates biologically unavailable as long as the pasta isn't cooked beyond a certain level.

Scott said...

(I'm sympathetic to the argument too, by the way. I just want to know its precise terms and limits.)

Daniel D. D. said...

@Gene Callaha

Yes, again, I just took a shot at it. I'm not too familiar.

That said, I meant that humans turn their food into art, with meaning and such. Humans bake wedding cakes, while cows don't distinguish the meaning this grass from that grass.

Regarding animal mates, if I recall correctly, Ravens mate for life. Animals might have social, physical, and emotional attachment to their mates, but they don't have rational attachment. They don't "love" in the strict sense, as they don't have will. They don't have concepts of their mates.

Again, I might just be wrong. You might just want to stop listening to me too. I would have to be more educated in the natural law before I can make sense of it.

I'll shut up for now.

Christi pax.

Brandon said...

Curio,

It's not a full answer, but one thing that often tends to be overlooked is that for the matter to be one of natural law (as opposed to just practical reason in general) it has to involve the right kind of good. In natural law theory, moral wrongness or illicitness is a sub-class of practical unreasonableness. At least some of the apparent counterexamples are cases where one can see that there's a definite practical unreasonableness there (e.g., trying to use your eyes while blindfolding yourself) or that the case is defeasibly unreasonable, so that it could be reasonable but we'd need to have some 'good reason' for it to 'make sense' (like blindfolding oneself in general, perhaps, or Scott's example of the coated pasta). The 'counter' part of the apparent counterexample often arises only from the fact that it doesn't seem morally wrong. And this is because not all practical unreasonableness is morally wrong: principles of practical reason only become precepts of natural law under conditions in which they begin to fit Aquinas's definition of law.

Curio said...

Brandon,

Thanks kindly. The connection between moral action and practical reason seems very clear, though I hadn't considered in detail the specific difference in moral action.

So in the case of sexual ethics, the "right kind of good" is that of sexual procreation and union correct? Could you perhaps spell out the criteria for a moral, as opposed to merely unreasonable act?

And, if you're feeling particularly patient, would you also help me in understanding where exactly we make the leap from perverted faculty to vice, or conversely from proper use of faculty to virtue?

Brandon said...

Curio,

The basic idea is found in Aquinas's definition of law (which could also be regarded as a definition of obligation): A law is a promulgated rational ordering to common good, by a caretaker for what is common. Natural law is possible because under certain conditions basic principles of practical reason (which are thus rational orderings that are promulgated, since they are available to rational beings) are concerned with good common to human beings (and thus naturally in the care of human beings, and ultimately God).

So for it to be the right kind of thing for a moral obligation, the good in question would have to in some way be, or reflect on, some good human beings have in common simply by being human beings. Any common good could potentially do it, although it is certainly the case that procreation is one that naturally and inevitably arises in the case of sex. (But procreation here means more than mere reproduction; it also includes things like raising children, which is linked to reproduction but different from it.) It's partly because the maintenance of the human race, physically, educationally, and otherwise, is a good common to the entire human race that so many moral questions arise when it comes to sex.

Tim Hsiao said...

Great talk! I think some more work needs to be done on cashing out the 'contrary to/other than' distinction in the perverted faculty argument.

However, I'm not sure this distinction is even necessary. I've written a paper (which I hope you don't mind me posting) defending a version of the PFA that doesn't appeal to this distinction. Here's the link for those who are interested:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/piq3cly84sepr7t/Hsiao-2014-The_Heythrop_Journal.pdf?dl=0

Not a Robot said...

The teleology of the female orgasm goesnt have an obvious reproductive fuction though does it? infact its extremely rare for a woman to orgasm through the action of the sexual organs alone and im not aware of it aiding conception or fertility.

Why does the most common teleology necessarily mean the same teleology for every human being? we're clearly not born equal, by virtue of our genes we have different potentials individually, so in that sense i dont see how we can say that someone who was born without legs (for instance) has the same teleology as someone who was born with legs (?)

Irenist said...

@Not a Robot:

A human being is defined as a "rational animal." Humans are animals because we are materially embodied, and because each human soul (which is the Aristotelian "form" of our body, not to be confused with its "form" in the modern sense of its shape) informs animal faculties like locomotion and appetite, as well as vegetative faculties like nutrition and growth. We are rational animals because the human soul, uniquely among the souls of animals on Earth, also possesses the faculty of abstract conceptual reasoning. (Apes and dolphins have emotions, desires, and the ability to signal each other about their shared environments and internal states, but they do not engage in formal logic or mathematical proof or anything like that).

Now, every rational animal is metaphysically a human. The only humans we know are H. sapiens, but there could be "humans" in this metaphysical sense on other planets, although in common English we'd probably call them something else, sense in modern English "human" means something more like "hominid" now rather than carrying its old metaphysical meaning.

Anyhow, all rational animals have the exact same telos: to enjoy the Beatific Vision--i.e., to be united with God in the afterlife. That's everyone's goal. No rational person (either rational animal or immaterial rational person like an angel) could reasonably have any other ultimate end than contemplation of the ultimate Good--as Aristotle argues in the Nichomachean Ethics. As Christians, we know by Revelation that Aristotle lacked that the God of Israel is the Summum Bonum to Whose contemplation Aristotle saw human flourishing being aimed at.

No bodily inequality (e.g., the leglessness you mention) has any bearing on this telos.

Likewise, neither does any mental inequality: a neurologically damaged person does not have a brain equipped to properly express the rationality of his or her soul, but the rational nature of that soul is the same as anyone else's. Incidentally, this is why a zygote, a fetus, or a "vegetable" (horrid slur) like the late Terri Schiavo is to be treated with full human dignity:
although they cannot express their rational human nature in their present bodily condition, these persons are as human--as much rational animals--as the rest of us.

The soul of a dead person in Heaven does not (because it obviously cannot) employ any sensory faculties that depend upon the body. So it's a rather "abstract" existence. But it's one in which those who died legless, fetal, or comatose will participate in as much as anyone.

At the general resurrection at the end of history, all such persons will ensoul glorified "resurrection bodies": still their own bodies, but radically healed and empowered. The legless will have legs, those with Down Syndrome will have brains as capable of expressing brilliant rationality as anyone else, etc.

Thus, all rational animals, be they Olympic athletes, mathematical prodigies, zygotes, comatose, or alien squid people from some other star system, have the same telos: union with God. Accidental deformities like leglessness are contingencies that will pass away in the fullness of God's time.

Irenist said...

@Brandon:

Your comments to Curio have been very helpful to me, since they address an area that I find confusing as well. That said, I'd like to pose Scott's hypo to you in modified form:

Material prosperity, including adequate provision of food, is one of the common goods toward which human law is ordered: thus we have property rights for farms and markets for produce, etc., all within frameworks provided by human law.

Now, eating seems to me (although this may be wrong) to have what may be called "social" and "nutritional" aspects by analogy with the example of the two aspects of sex (unitive and procreative).

Since eating is a matter concerning a common good (food), why is it not immoral to separate the two aspects, as in the case of eating no-carb indigestible noodles or olestra-fried chips/crisps, etc.?

Examples of possible perversions arising from separation of the faculties:
1. The (possibly apocryphal?) Roman practice of vomiting so they could eat another course, thereby decadently wasting food that ought better to have gone to the starving. (Here I'm thinking of the "universal destination of goods" and Chrysostom's jeremiads against the uncharitable wealthy).

The counterargument here would be perhaps the modern "it was the Romans' property, they could do what they liked with it," but this seems to miss the virtue/vice point entirely.

2. A group of slaves, ill-treated workers, concentration camp inmates, Oliver Twist in the workhouse, or whomever, are fed nutritionally inadequate slop with little time to eat it. The unfortunates are led to scramble for scraps and wolf down their food. They are no longer eating like men, but feeding like brutes.

In both 1 and 2, there seems to be sin. Not just in the overall socioeconomic injustices that inform these hypos, but in the intentional separation of feasting from feeding--the sundering of the two aspects of human eating.

But neither (3) guy eating no-carb noodles and olestra chips nor (4) the Silicon Valley slave to fashion downing some meal substitute drink like Soylent seem to me to be sinning, although both actions seem to me to be a bit "Brave New World"-ish and unsettling.

Am I wrong about 1&2, about 3&4, both, or neither?

Thanks very much in advance for answering, should you find the time! (Answers from others welcome, too!)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser, excellent job as always. I'd very much like to hear you formulate a more detailed response to Dr. George's question regarding the logical possibility of there arising a human who truly is neither male nor female. I agree with your response, but I think it would be helpful to have a more robust argument as to why exactly it is the case that humans just are metaphysically either male or female.

Curio said...

Irenist:

There is something disordered about gluttony - and throwing up one's food to eat another course fits neatly within that category. Naturally today we're inclined to look at medical (see: psychiatric) causes, and so culpability in the cases of actual bulimia nervosa are taken on a case-by-case basis.

As for the slaves scarfing down food, remember that the intention and the circumstance play a part in any moral consideration. The circumstances may drastically reduce culpability here.

I actually have problems with Soylent. Eating ought to be, when possible, a social occasion and should reflect our humanity. Carefully preparing food for others with regard to taste, nutritional value, and aesthetic appeal is optimal. Scarfing down a supplement drink seems awfully utilitarian. Still, there are worse things. Here we ought to apply Aristotle's golden mean rule and find the middle way between lack and excess.

Josh said...

Dr. F,
Some time ago you said you had written a soon-to-be-released defense of the "perveted faculty" argument against homosexual activity. Is this going to be coming out soon and where should I look for it?

Brandon said...

Since eating is a matter concerning a common good (food), why is it not immoral to separate the two aspects, as in the case of eating no-carb indigestible noodles or olestra-fried chips/crisps, etc.?

I don't see how there is a separation here in a matter connected to the common good. Not all of even ordinary food is always digestible, for instance; the oddity here is the deliberate addition of it.

But I'm also not convinced that eating is perfectly analogous to sexuality in this regard; unitive and procreative end are related somewhat like genus and species for the same act, which is why marriage, i.e., friendship that is family-building in character, is the natural expression of sexual desire. I don't think this is how the social and nutritional aspects of eating are related to each other; rather the social end is actually the end of reason itself, capable of taking any number of other things as a subordinate end, so the ends are, in fact, separable. Your (2) seems to me to be not a sin at all on the part of the slaves, and to be clearly a sin against the good of reason on the part of those putting them in that position, and while there's a 'nutritional' perversion in (1), of the kind Curio notes, the way you frame it also seems to me to make it primarily a matter of a sin against reason; they would sin in much the same way simply by burning the food.

I think we have to be quite careful -- more careful, perhaps than natural law theorists often are -- to distinguish different kinds and levels of arguments in natural law cases. Unlike utilitarianism or Kantianism, natural law theory is committed to saying that there is not just one way we can go wrong (or right, for that matter), but many different ones. We often talk about 'natural law arguments', but when we do we are usually only talking about a small subset of the actual moral arguments that are acceptable on practically any natural law theory (namely, the subset which involves explicit higher-order reflection on natural law). Many more arguments can be considered. Perverted faculty arguments focus almost entirely on the internal consistency of the act; they are powerful arguments, although somewhat difficult to build properly, and they reach very strong conclusions. But most moral questions on most matters are not concerned with perversion, i.e., internal incoherence of act, but with the act's inappropriateness (to the agent, to the end, or to the circumstances). Whether or not they are perversions, (1) and (2) are surely inappropriate, and (3) and (4) could be inappropriate sometimes. The standard of inappropriateness here might well be social.

Irenist said...

Curio and Brandon:

Thanks very much to you both for illuminating responses.

Not a Robot said...

@ Irenist

Im not sure how any of that has a bearing on sexual orientations relation to the end point that you mention though. I dont see why one route to the end point cannot be through an incarnation that entails a homosexual course by reason of a bological determination that is exclusively homosexual, for instance. In the same way that we can say the boy born without legs was never destined to experience having legs (that was never part of his teleology in a natural sense), we could say that a person whose biology determines a homosexual orientation was never destined to have heterosexuality as part of his/her teleology, but rather homosexuality. If sexual intereaction has more than one function, then surely homosexual couples whose teleology doesnt include procreation, by reason of their biologically determined orientation, could be able to realise the other potentials?

Jeremy Taylor said...

I am pretty sure it is a myth that most women find it very hard to have a vaginal orgasm.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Not a Robot,

Surely the functions of sexual intercourse are connected in the Thomist view. That is, the bonding and romantic attachment concerned supports reproduction and child rearing, and reproduction and child rearing in turn support that attachment. And these all develop together, in the context of a heterosexual, monogamous relationship. These functions are therefore not discrete and separable. They are interconnected and fundamentally heterosexual when they are correctly ordered.

Irenist said...

@Not a Robot:

Nobody's "teleology" qua rational animal includes procreation. The human telos is union with God.

However, the telos of the sexual act is to fulfill the twofold unitive and procreative telos of the sexual faculty it expresses and embodies.

To separate these aspects by engaging in, e.g., gay sex, is to pervert the faculty. To pervert a faculty is an act of vice, a sin.

Sin steers our course farther from union with God. Thus, when people with innate urges to sin (i.e., all of us, depending on the sin in question) do sin, they regress from their telos, moving Hellward rather than Heavenward.

This is true of any sin and any habitual vice.

Now, what you seem to be trying to say is something like "gays are born with same-sex attraction, so for them its difficult if not impossible to express unitive love within the context of a heterosexual marital act, so for them the telos of the sexual act/faculty must be different, and expressing unitive love through sex, even non-procreative sex, leads them closer to God, just as the marriage vocation helps mold straights toward sainthood in its way."

Reformulated like that, you have an important question: can non-procreative sex bring us closer to God?

The Catholic answer is that it cannot, because it perverts the sexual faculty, and sinks us into vice. Similarly, someone with an inborn bad temper moves himself Hellward by indulging it. Just because something is innate in the genetic or epigenetic sense doesn't mean that it is praiseworthy within the natural law tradition, which tradition concerns our human "nature" as a metaphysical species ("a natural kind") defined as rational animals, not "nature" in the sense of "not artificial."

Now, it's true that the deep love gays can have for each other can bring them closer to God. But the proper expression for such purely unitive love would be chaste friendship, not sodomy. And even chaste friendship must of course guard against being a near occasion of sin--just as chaste friendships between unmarried straights must do.

The writings of gay celibate Catholics Eve Tushnet and Joshua Gonnerman are, IMHO, good guides to how what is valuable in the temperaments that often accompany same-sex attraction can best be harnessed for discipleship unto the Divine telos that all humans, gay or straight, share.

Anonymous said...

@Irenist
“Reformulated like that, you have an important question: can non-procreative sex bring us closer to God?”

Could we ask whether instead of God if it brings us close to the realization of our ends, of our good?

I’m Catholic and I believe that good is ultimately God and that an explanation full stop of the natural law is based in theology but I think making it clear to the secular crowd that natural law of itself is something that’s not exclusive to Catholic thought.

Irenist said...

@Anonymous:

Well, Aquinas synthesizes Aristotle an Augustine. Aristotle makes a secular natural law argument that our highest good is the contemplation of the divine--although his definition of the "divine" is thin enough to accommodate not just Catholics but yogis and perhaps even secular self-actualizers.

But Aquinas follows Augustine in noting that our heart is restless until it comes to rest in God, and that only the happiness of the saints in Heaven is truly assured against the outrages of Fortune that can make even the man of Aristotelian (or Stoic, or whatever) virtue quite miserable.

The secular argument against sodomy in the Aristotelian tradition is that perverting a faculty evinces enslavement to a passion: the virtuous man or woman would successfully resist any urge to sever the unitive from the procreative grounds of sex. And the vicious, enslaved to vice, are going to be unhappy.

This secularized natural law argument (or an equivalent Ciceronian natural law argument, should one be crafted) would be correct so far as it goes, but without the Augustinian addition of the wisdom of Revelation provided by Aquinas, it of course doesn't go far enough. It's fine to try to bring someone around to the amount of truth they're capable of hearing. But rather like convincing an atheist materialist that hylomorphism is the correct metaphysics and then having him discover what Aquinas does with that metaphysics in the Summa Contra Gentiles, the logical entailments are going to lead you to God (even if just the God of the Philosophers) eventually anyway.

Princeton 1967 said...

We all discriminate. Each of us in our own way. Every time we choose to walk on the opposite side of the street from a group of people because of their menacing appearance, that is an act of discrimination. I prefer the word "discernment".



Regarding proposed LGBT ordinances:

Why stop there? Why not encompass the entire spectrum of paraphilia? Why not include incest? polyamory? zoophilia? anthropophagy? pedophilia? necrophilia? Although the concept of mutual consent has relevance in some instances, I am not being flippant. The larger question: If there is no such thing as a magnetic field, of what value is a compass?

Sandy Kramer
PrincetonUniversity@Cox.net

Kiel said...

I have half watched the video. Really thought provoking. I have this question by way of a fairly detailed example. If a wife was to touch her husband erotically and arouse him intentionally (to be clear, she touched him once or twice well knowing that he would probably have an erection) without the further intention of a complete sexual encounter (perhaps, at least, yet), then would this count as a perversion of the sexual faculties? If not, then where do you draw the moral line and why?

Scott said...

@Kiel:

I think the answer will turn out to be that it's fine if she doesn't positively have the intention of going on to a complete sexual encounter (as long as she's open to it), but that it's not fine if she has a positive intention not to have such an encounter.

Alan Aversa said...

37:13 of the talk needs a correction/clarification: You say oral or manual stimulation is not a perversion of the natural end of sexual faculties, as long as it is directed toward vaginal intercourse. However, oral sex is never a necessary means to the completion of the marital act:

As mentioned here, St. Alphonsus di Liguori also treats oral sex in Theologia Moralis [PDF p. 325], n. 916 ("copulam in vase præpostero" or "copulating in a preposterous orifice") and says that most moralists agree it is always a mortal sin, even if the act finishes in v​a​g​i​n​a​l intercourse (in vase debito ["the due orifice]), because "est vera sodomia, quamvis non consummata" ["it is truly sodomy, even if incomplete].

Alan Aversa said...

Now, the husband could stimulate, orally or manually, the wife or the wife herself. St. Alphonsus discussed this (also mentioned here):

St. Alphonsus says that, because the female is generally not as warm (aroused) as the male, that the female can arouse herself (touch herself) even after insemination. St. Alphonsus's question is Theologia Moralis l. 6, n. 919 [PDF p. 328-329 of this]: "An autem, si vir se retrahat post seminationem, sed ante seminationem mulieris, possit ipsa statim tactibus se excitare, ut seminet?" ["Whether, if the man pulls out after insemination (ejaculation), but before the insemination of the woman, she can still excite herself with touches, that she inseminate?"]. In this context, "inseminate" means "ejaculate" (for a male) or "be wet" (for a female); it could, perhaps, also be translated as "orgasm." The moralists who thought she couldn't didn't realize the "semen mulieris" ["female seed"] "est necessarium ad generationem" ["is necessary for conception"]. But most moral theologians agree it is permissible. Here's a rough translation of St. Alphonsus's explanation:

The reason is that the woman's insemination pertains to the completion of the conjugal act, which consists in the insemination of both Spouses; thus, as the woman can touch herself in preparation for copulation, so also can she to perfect the act of copulation: … All [moral theologians] thus concede that women, who are naturally more frigid, can excite themselves with touches before copulation so that they inseminate while having marital intercourse.

Note: This only applies to the female!

So, certainly the husband can touch the wife so that she complete the act, but never can the wife orally or manually stimulate the husband's genitals.

Brandon said...

I can't at this computer download the PDF in question. But if St. Alphonsus does say that most moral theologians hold that it is always a mortal sin, it is illegitimate to treat this as a statement that it is always a mortal sin; this is because the weighting of the extrinsic authorities cannot be set aside in a casuistic situation -- it is an essential element. (If one assumes probabilism, for instance, the claim attributed to St. Alphonsus could have the implication that it may be permissible in unusual situations. This would require a casuistic position weaker than St. Alphonsus's own, but it's a possible position.)

Edward Feser said...

Alan,

You are aware, of course, that orthodox moral theology didn't end with St. Alphonsus, and that in the centuries since his time, orthodox Catholic moral theologians came to adopt a less severe view on this issue, in works of moral theology with the imprimatur and nihil obstat. Indeed, this less severe view -- that is to say, the view I defended in the talk -- came to be common before Vatican II. (For good reason, since in fact there are, I would say, no good arguments on the other side.)

So, if you want to disagree with that less severe position and defend St. Alphonsus' more conservative view, fine. But (a) actually to defend it (as opposed to merely asserting it) will require more than an appeal to authority, and (b) it is wrong to speak of what I said as needing "correction," as if I had said something that is either out of bounds in Catholic moral theology, or not defended by other traditional natural law theorists, or without strong arguments in its favor. None of those insinuations is correct.

Timocrates said...

I might have said morally rather than metaphysically impossible, Prof. Feser. In my mind metaphysically impossible ought to be the most of all impossible. It is definitely physically possible to make perverse use of natural faculties; and if physically, it's hard to see how metaphysically impossible too. At the same time, however, I can understand how it can be said to be impossible insofar as a perverse use is also a kind of non-use and, when actually contrary and to that extent also contradictory, not the thing at all by definition. In that respect, in this context, it's just not sex and so can't be called sex. From that POV, you might then speak of it as being metaphysically impossible to be Y, as this X is by definition not a Y.

But to be sure, speaking of moral impossibility also raises a lot of rash objections exactly because we tend to take any impossibility as being a simple, absolute or per se impossibility. Stealing is morally impossible but not physically impossible, of course.

Santi said...

Interesting.

In this talk, Prof. Feser argues that the ultimate end of sex entails a seamless connection between three things: the unitive, procreative, and prolific.

Regarding being prolific, Feser argues that the sex drive is so strong and urgent in us because Mother Nature wants us to have lots and lots of babies.

And large families bind one man to one woman for life. To raise a healthy, rational animal, lifelong monogamy is part of our evolutionary strategy (a phrase Feser did not use, but probably wouldn't object to in this context).

So on Feser's account, these three things--the unitive, procreative, and prolific--belong to our sexual natures prior to civilization. They are natural to us, inseparable from healthy sex, and only formalized socially in marriage.

Thus what we call "marriage" simply identifies what this seamless unity is. The seamless unity itself is not socially constructed, and therefore (Feser implies this, but does not say so explicitly) the definition of marriage can't be messed with.

As for what's permitted in sex, one can engage in all sorts of unitive pleasures with a spouse so long as one's sexual creativity ends with ejaculation in a vagina.

But any frustration of sex's unitive, procreative, and prolific ends--or any dividing up of this seamless unity--is wrong. No ejaculation without intimacy; intimacy without procreation; being prolific with more than one woman and abandoning responsibility for the children, etc. All of these pervert the ends of sex.

The prolific part of Feser's argument seems especially important, for it means that every sex act ought to be aimed at allowing for at least the possibility of pregnancy. No frustrating nature's "make many babies" ends.

And this is why Feser's argument is so problematic: if you can't decouple these three things, and if large numbers of people took it seriously, population would skyrocket and women's equality wouldn't just stall, it would go in fast reverse.

If, for no other reason, the consequences for global population and women's equality ought to give one serious pause here.

Scott said...

"…population would skyrocket…"

The entire human population of the world would fit comfortably in the state of Texas. We're not out of room just yet.

John West said...

If we're going to move everyone somewhere, I vote not America. If they all picked up American eating habits, we could only feed around 2.5 billion.

But I confess, don't think this type of argument works very well. Even if Catholics stopped birthing babies, some other group (like Muslims) would continue and would eventually outbreed them (not too many other selection pressures for the moment).

For any plan like this to work, one would have to simultaneously convince every single person, or group of people, capable of reproduction to stop reproducing. That's not likely to happen.

John West said...

You'll never stop the Catholic baby making machine (no, not you Ed).

Glenn said...

"…population would skyrocket…"

The entire human population of the world would fit comfortably in the state of Texas. We're not out of room just yet.


To tack on to that:

Were the entire human population of the world residing in the state of Texas, the population density of Texas would still be smaller than that of New York City.

(But, son, don't let Senator Claghorn find out about this; he'll be miiighty upset.)

Glenn said...

Nice logic. s/b "...the population density of Texas would still be smaller than that of New York City as it is now."

Santi said...

I’m surprised to see that, akin to global warming denialists, some of you balk at the notion that, if large numbers were to treat sex as a seamless whole of The Big Three (the unitive, procreative, and prolific), overpopulation and the reversal of women’s equality would be among the results.

In the contemporary world, the development of women's minds really is in tension with their reproductive imperatives, and the Earth's resources are in tension with people being too prolific. I like nonzero sum games, but these, unfortunately, are not two of them. We shouldn’t downplay the consequences to women and the environment of adopting a natural law view of sex. Before embracing Feser's arguments on metaphysical grounds alone, one should ask whether it’s wise for our sexual morality to float quite so free from the actual effects it would generate in the real world (if widely adopted).

Given the contemporary stresses on the biosphere--and that a lot of us want women's equality, the development of women’s minds, and gay and lesbian marriage--these factors (in my view) ought to override the seamless unity of the Big Three (the unitive, the procreative, and the prolific). Why shouldn’t we decouple them if we think we can manage the consequences of doing so--and think we can arrive at better real world outcomes for real human beings by doing so?

John West said...

Santi,

I’m surprised to see that, akin to global warming denialists, some of you balk at the notion that, if large numbers were to treat sex as a seamless whole of The Big Three (the unitive, procreative, and prolific), overpopulation and the reversal of women’s equality would be among the results.

Insofar as overpopulation is related to resource scarcity, I agree that we need to find some means of curbing it. I only wanted to say that I don't think this particular means of doing so can work, and some other strategy is needed.

I'm not a natural law advocate (I've just started reading about it recently), so I'll let natural law advocates defend the PFA if they desire. Natural Law does have a framework for taking into consideration good acts leading to bad consequences, but I simply don't know how they go about working out the details. Actually, I'm not terribly concerned about potential mass appeal for the PFA, but that's for reasons I discussed previously.

The woman's equality point, however, implicitly presumes the false notion that full-time motherhood is a matter kitchen sinks, scrubbing, and cleaning behind the fridge, which defames the vast task of nurturing, teaching, example, moral instruction, protection from danger, patience, constancy, trust and loving discipline, which in each home it takes place has more power to do good than any “real” job you can think of.

I think we need to resist the temptation to devalue the home economy, the main means for teaching children morals, patience, trust, manners, discipline, and responsibility.

Especially in an era when everyone is going to have to be more frugal.

Daniel said...

@Santi,

And this is why Feser's argument is so problematic: if you can't decouple these three things, and if large numbers of people took it seriously, population would skyrocket and women's equality wouldn't just stall, it would go in fast reverse.

I don't see that it should effect gender equality per say though practically it would mean a large number of women wouldn't have the free time to pursue other goals. There may well be a deeper issue here though in that the view outlined makes both partners in the marriage into means; the union is a means to the birth of another, which is in part a means to the same - the individuals involved are incorporated into the biological march of a concrete species collective: Nature, even moral nature as grasped by rational agents, is the Kingdom of Means.

John West said...

Daniel,

There may well be a deeper issue here though in that the view outlined makes both partners in the marriage into means; the union is a means to the birth of another, which is in part a means to the same - the individuals involved are incorporated into the biological march of a concrete species collective: Nature, even moral nature as grasped by rational agents, is the Kingdom of Means.

This is related to your biological reductionism complaint, yeah?

Daniel said...

@John,

Yes, in part. Despite people's best efforts to the contrary I have yet to be convinced that the unitive 'end' is not merely a means of facilitating the other 'ends' which in turn are means to fascinating the same process with the next generation. It reminds me of the passage in The Symposium where they speak of non-human animals unconsciously seeking the closest they can to immortality which is the immortality of the species (meant in the collective zoological sense) - for animals this may be true but if it's the case for humans then there is a far greater existential opposition between the Rational Soul and the bodily aspects than I think a lot of Catholics would be comfortable in admitting.

(On a wider scale I suspect I’m ultimately sceptical of Eudaimonism)

bmiller said...

The world is actually in more demographic danger from the lower fertility rate than from overpopulation. Europe and Japan are trying to figure out how to get women to have more babies.


http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/01/world_population_may_actually_start_declining_not_exploding.html

John West said...

Bmiller,

The world is actually in more demographic danger from the lower fertility rate than from overpopulation. Europe and Japan are trying to figure out how to get women to have more babies.

Greying population issues are local, not global. Globally, overpopulation is the problem (I suppose we could try and ignore the third world, though I'm unsure how well that would ultimately work.)

I'm also skeptical of the main reasons many such countries -- like my own -- claim for needing more people. In Canada, it's that we need people for the economy. The unemployment rate tells us around 6.8% of Canadians are out of work, but it factors out (for example) people hiding in retraining programs, in university, who have plain stopped looking. In contrast, the employment to population ratio is only around 62% (and cuts off around the age of retirement). It seems to me plausible we already have the people we need for the economy, and will continue to even if our national population shrinks quite severely.

John West said...

To repeat my statement from the toleration thread:

... where we’ve heard often and loudly that world population growth is a perilous and perhaps unavoidable threat to our future as a species.

The notion that there's some threat to our future as a species is overblown and absurd. People always rush from one extreme to the other for some reason.

John West said...

(Rather, the quote is from the article. I'm merely repeating my rejection of the apocalypse fantasy).

John West said...

Urgh. One more correction, with apologies: "... [and people] who have plain stopped looking" I meant it to be a list.

bmiller said...

@John West

I've been watching the TFR for some time now and it actually is a global trend according to UN statistics including third world countries. You should read the article.

This site has a nice graph showing the total TFR from 1800 to 2012.

bmiller said...

Oops.... you probably wanted the link huh?

http://ourworldindata.org/data/population-growth-vital-statistics/fertility-rates/

John West said...

Bmiller,

I've been watching the TFR for some time now and it actually is a global trend according to UN statistics including third world countries. You should read the article.

I'm not sure what you think I believe. UN projections have us at 9.6 billion by 2050. Insofar as it relates to natural resources, that's plenty enough.

John West said...

I wrote: I'm not sure what you think I believe.

I know, for instance, that you're probably used to alarmists waving their arms about overcrowding, or even more ludicrous, psuedo-apocalyptic notions. That's why I keep explicitly disavowing that kind of thinking. By comparisons, my claims here and in the previous thread have been rather reserved (still unwelcome by many).

bmiller said...

@John West

I don't know the population number you consider to be the maximum natural resources can support, but if TFR continues to trend this way and world stabilizes at the present EU number, by 2200 it will be half of what it is today. If it stays there humans will be be extinct.

But the immediate effect is that as baby boomers get older and sicker and therefore require more care, there are fewer able working younger people to pay the taxes or stay with them to provide the care.

Picture a very large percentage of the 9B people in 2050 old, disabled and expecting to be taken care of. Who is going to do that?




John West said...

Bmiller,

Could I get you to summarize your thesis statement? I just want to clarify what you're driving at before replying, to avoid wasting acres of forum space talking past each other.

bmiller said...

John West

My thesis is that the world is not now and will not be in danger of overpopulation. The surge of post WWII baby boomers was not sustained. All developed nations have a fertility rate below the 2.1 replacement level excluding immigration. All other nations are rapidly trending in the same direction.

The US is at the replacement level only because of Latin American immigration and the immigrants higher fertility rate. However, Latin American immigrant fertility rates are dropping also.

Since all nations are trending toward the same fertility rate as the EU, all nations are in danger of facing the same aging population issue that the EU is facing.

Anonymous said...

I haven't checked in here in a while, but I note some sleight of hand in the comments a while back by Santi. Feser does not argue that prolific is a seamless unity with procreative and unitive aspects of the marriage act (and if he did, he would run directly afoul of Humanae Vitae). He only notes that nature has evidently arranged things such that reproduction will happen quite a bit.

Santi said...

In trying to evaluate whether treating as seamless the Big Three (the unitive, the procreative, and the prolific) makes sense today, we should consider our limitations in time. So many factors are in play that we're not even thinking of because we live in 2015 and not 2115.

Children born in this year, for example, may well double the current average lifespan, perhaps living to 150. And children born a hundred years from now might well expect, barring accident, to live indefinitely.

Even the notion of lifelong monogamy is impacted by such considerations.

At the time that scholastic metaphysicians (all men, let us not forget) first formulated their arguments surrounding what women and sex are, and what they're "for," they lived in a largely illiterate and non-democratic age when roughly half of all children died before age five, most fifteen year olds were married, and most adults were dead before age forty (often leaving orphaned children).

It was the age of All-Hands-On-Deck.

We're now in the age of The Anthropocene.

We're no longer subject to the limits of Nature in the way we once were. A woman can choose mostly whatever a man can do--and frequently does. We can increasingly live, at whim, largely gnostic lives (lives devoted to the intellect and imagination rather than the prerogatives of reproduction and bare survival).

Virtual reality, robots, genetic tinkering, planet ecosystem management, cyborgs, 90% of humans living at the end of this century in super-high tech cities that we can only vaguely imagine now: these are the things that are in our near future.

The seamless unity that is coming won't be The Big Three devoted to Nature's imperatives, but the human-machine.

It seems odd then, that anyone would propose today that we tinker with everything but our sexual behavior and arrangements, and that we should put metaphysics in the vanguard of politics, restraining it (of, by, and for the metaphysician rather than of, by, and for the people).

Appeals to natural law seem a better fit for an ancient, static, and Platonic philosopher-king state than a 21st century democratic one. In a Lincoln-style democracy founded in individual rights, the separation of church and state, and the overthrow of a king, the lead question isn't, "What is?" but "What do we want to do?" It's experimental, not deferential.

John West said...

From the definition of baby, any new people coming into the population between now and 2100 are not baby boomers or of comparable age (there are around 2 billion people aged 45+ right now, which if anything is too low for a baby boomer). UN medium projections, which take into consideration mortalities and birth rate shifts, still put us at around 9.1 billion by 2100, to 8.5 billion by 2200, back to 9.1 billion 2300. So, it seems that even given baby boomer deaths, the global population will sit somewhere around 9 billion.

Picture a very large percentage of the 9B people in 2050 old, disabled and expecting to be taken care of. Who is going to do that?

It seems to me Canada's public health care will (and despite some groaning, does). Most countries in Europe have comparable health care systems. As far as I know, in Japan it's still the case that most people go to what we would consider absurd lengths to care for their elders, including letting them live with them. In short, I think you're either forgetting that most first world countries—and many non-first world countries—have far more robust health care than the US, or underestimating the resiliency of such systems.

My original statement to Santi, now torn incredibly out of context, was:

Probably the main difference in our views of the future is that I lack your faith in endless Progress (as implied by your supercomputer comment), because I lack your faith in endless resources or innovation. That doesn't mean there's going to be some “apocalypse”. That's equally nonsensical. It does mean there are hard limits on the current social model, which rests entirely on the back of huge amounts of natural resources, and that at some point future generations are going to have to gradually get used to having less. To use some ecology lingo, I think we're in overshoot still blindly drawing down on our resources.

Depending on what you mean by overpopulation, I've agreed with you forcefully already (ie. search the definition of overshoot), and I'm only concerned with large populations insofar as they relate to the problem of ever more scarce, limited resources. For instance, oil and top soil (we can improve on the latter situation but at the expense of smaller harvests) are used at a far more rapid rate than they replenish. Obviously, other resources like minerals don't replenish. So, it's not a matter of the population merely stabilizing, and then we go back to business as usual.

As for the maximum limit, it depends on how we people curb our appetites for energy and food. For instance, if every person tried to eat the current American diet we could support only around 2.5 billion people. In contrast, if every person became a vegetarian we could support around 10 billion people by freeing the farms we use to grow food for livestock, for people. I doubt, however, that (for example) North Americans will forego meat for the sake of people they don't know and may never see.

So, if we assume an ideal distribution of resources, with everyone practicing sufficient self-restraint and selflessness. No problems. But that would still mean people would have to get used to having less.

John West said...

(That was to bmiller. Santi posted while I was writing it).

Santi said...

Anon:

Multiple births across the 25 years that a woman is fertile is central to Feser's argument about marriage as a natural, not a human contrived, institution: Nature's prolific imperative serves to bind a man and woman together for life in an all-hands-on-deck task.

And I would note that, because half of children no longer die before age five, the average result of seamless unitary-procreative sex is a large family. In an age of antibiotics and sophisticated medical technology, the impact on women and the environment shouldn't be downplayed.

Calling it The Big Three is a way of not losing sight of this.

bmiller said...

John West

The UN future projections you mention assume the developing countries will increase their now low fertility rates to replacement levels along with developing nations. But of course that means that people in developing countries will actually want to have more babies. Sentiment doesn't seem to be trending in that direction to me. Santi is a good example of society's current opinion.

John West said...

bmiller,

Santi is a good example of society's current opinion.

Santi's not from the nations where the bulk of growth is currently happening.

The UN future projections you mention assume the developing countries will increase their now low fertility rates to replacement levels along with developing nations. But of course that means that people in developing countries will actually want to have more babies. Sentiment doesn't seem to be trending in that direction to me.

It sounds like we would have to start pulling apart the underlying work of UN statistical surveys to argue further, without descending into sheer arguments from authority. As a result, since this is a thread about Catholic sexual ethics and our subject is obviously but only related, I'll leave it here. Have a good afternoon.

bmiller said...

John West,

Good afternoon to you too.

I see now that I actually mis-worded my response. Sorry. I meant to say that the UN assumes that "developed" countries will increase their fertility rate to replacement levels, rather than "developing" countries. The first article I linked has the details.

John West said...

Daniel,

(On a wider scale I suspect I’m ultimately sceptical of Eudaimonism)

Out of curiosity, is there any specific reason?