Thursday, June 18, 2015

Love and sex roundup


Current events in the Catholic Church and in U.S. politics being as they are, it seems worthwhile to put together a roundup of blog posts and other readings on sex, romantic love, and sexual morality as they are understood from a traditional natural law perspective. 

First and foremost: My essay “In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument” appears in my new anthology Neo-Scholastic Essays.  It is the lengthiest and most detailed and systematic treatment of sexual morality I have written to date.  Other things I have written on sex, romantic love, and sexual morality are best read in light of what I have to say in this essay.

A brief summary of its contents might be useful.  The essay has five sections.  After the first, which is the introduction, the second section provides an overview of traditional natural law theory and its metaphysical foundations.  The third section spells out the general approach that traditional natural law theory takes toward sex and romantic love, and shows how the key claims of traditional sexual morality vis-à-vis adultery, fornication, homosexuality, etc. follow from that approach.  As I also explain there, however, understanding certain specific aspects of traditional sexual morality (such as the absolute prohibition of contraception) requires an additional thesis, which is where the perverted faculty argument -- which is (contrary to the usual caricatures) not the whole of the traditional natural law approach to sex, but rather merely one element of it -- comes into play.  Section four provides a detailed exposition and defense of that argument, answering all of the usual objections.  Along the way, there is substantive discussion of questions about what is permitted within marital sexual relations, and it is shown that the perverted faculty argument is not as restrictive here as liberals and more rigorist moralists alike often suppose.  Finally, in the fifth section, I argue that purported alternative Catholic defenses of traditional sexual morality -- personalist arguments, and “new natural law” arguments -- are not genuine alternatives at all.  Invariably they implicitly presuppose exactly the traditional natural law “perverted faculty” reasoning that they claim to eschew.  Moreover, the “new natural law” arguments have grave deficiencies of their own.

An excerpt from this essay appeared under the title “The Role of Nature in Sexual Ethics” in The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly in 2013.  A longer excerpt was presented under the title “Natural Law and the Foundations of Sexual Ethics” in the talk I gave at the Princeton Anscombe Society in April of this year.  But those interested in seeing the complete essay should get hold of Neo-Scholastic Essays.  (I also presented some of the relevant ideas in The Last Superstition, at pp. 132-53.  But the new essay goes well beyond what I had to say there.) 

Over the years I’ve addressed various aspects of these issues here at the blog.  Here are the main posts:

The metaphysics of romantic love [A discussion of sexual desire and romantic longing from the point of view of natural law and Catholic theology]

The metaphysics of Vertigo [A philosophical and theological reflection on the nature of romantic obsession, with Hitchcock’s Vertigo as a case study]

What’s the deal with sex? Part I [On three aspects of sex which clearly give it special moral significance, contra contemporary “ethicists” like Peter Singer]

What’s the deal with sex? Part II [A discussion of the effects of sexual vice on one’s character, whether the disorder be one of excess -- which results in what Aquinas calls the “daughters of lust” -- or one of deficiency, which involves what Aquinas calls a “vice of insensibility”]

Sexual cant from the asexual Kant [On the trouble with Kantian and personalist approaches to sex and sexual morality]

Alfred Kinsey: The American Lysenko [A 2005 article from the online edition of City Journal]

I’ve also written several posts over the years about controversies over sexual morality as they have arisen in the U.S. political context, and in the Catholic context:

Some thoughts on the Prop 8 decision [On the “same-sex marriage” controversy, its unavoidable connection to deeper disagreements about sexual morality, and the phoniness of liberal neutrality]

Contraception, subsidiarity, and the Catholic bishops [On the way in which the failure of Catholic bishops to uphold Catholic teaching on contraception and subsidiarity facilitated the U.S. federal government’s attempted contraceptive mandate]

Hitting Bottum [On the incoherence of conservative Catholic writer Joseph Bottum’s attempt to justify capitulating on “same-sex marriage”]

Nudge nudge, wink wink [How some churchmen’s ambiguous statements on homosexuality, divorce, etc. inevitably “send the message” that Catholic teaching on these matters can and will change, whether or not these churchmen intend to send that message]

The two faces of tolerance [On “same-sex marriage,” the sexual revolution more generally, and the totalitarian tendencies of egalitarianism]

Marriage and the Matrix [On the radically skeptical implications of arguments for “same-sex marriage,” and how they give its advocates a rhetorical advantage despite the incoherence of their position]

Marriage inflation [How expanding the application of the term “marriage” strips it of its value as an honorific, thereby undermining one of the purported goals of the “marriage equality” movement]

Though the natural law defense of traditional sexual morality is the most fundamental defense, there are other approaches to defending it.  One of these is the appeal to the wisdom embodied in tradition in general, as that idea has been spelled out by writers like Edmund Burke and F. A. Hayek.  In my 2003 Journal of Libertarian Studies article “Hayek on Tradition,” I expound and defend this approach to tradition and discuss how it applies to questions about sexual morality.

Finally, for you completists out there, some additional golden oldies.  Ten years ago, at the long defunct Right Reason group blog, I wrote up a series of posts on natural law and sexual morality, which can still be accessed via archive.org:

Natural ends and natural law, Part I                                 


The posts got a fair amount of attention.  Andrew Sullivan politely and critically responded to them in his book The Conservative Soul, and I offered a reply to Sullivan here:


I wouldn’t now formulate some of the key metaphysical points exactly the way I did in those decade-old posts, however, so -- again -- see “In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument” in Neo-Scholastic Essays for an up-to-date treatment.

52 comments:

Daniel said...

Ed, You were interested in Natural Law theory before you became a Catholic or even a theist - out of interest what were your views on homosexuality during that period?

Edward Feser said...

Same as now.

Daniel said...

Okay, well that shows admirable consistency at least. There was a conversation with Scott in one combox about whether Naturalistic Natural Law Theorists like Foot were entirely open about the conclusions NL lead to in this area.

Edward Feser said...

There is a brief, panicky remark in the introduction to Foot's book Natural Goodness to the effect that she is "emphatically" not talking about the goodness or lack thereof of this or that sexual practice -- though she gives no explanation whatsoever of why what she says wouldn't have implications for sex.

So, there is certainly inconsistency in some contemporary discussions of NL and other neo-Aristotelian approaches to ethics, and it is not on the side of traditional moralists.

Mike said...

Do you think you will possibly do a post on natural law and gender theory, in light of the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner media attention?

Kiel said...

Ed, since you announced Neo-Scholastic Essays, every time I load your blog, a small slice of my sanity erodes because said book isn't in your "Books by Edward Feser" column. It's like walking into a room with a picture hanging on the wall and it isn't quite horizontal.

Don't get me wrong, I will quite happily walk into the room / load your blog again and again. I'm just a doofus making a big deal out of a tiny detail :-)

PS: Hope you have set up the Amazon affiliate program so you can make a bit of pocket money from links to Amazon.

Anonymous said...

Nice summary, Ed. Are you aware of any other contemporary defenses of the perverted faculty argument?

Edward Feser said...

Egad, Kiel, you're right! -- just corrected it.

Edward Feser said...

Anon, yes, Timothy Hsiao had an article on it in The Heythrop Journal last year. And Michael Levin has in a couple of places over the years defended something like it, but reformulated in terms of Darwinian sociobiology rather than Aristotelian metaphysics.

Edward Feser said...

Mike, probably not any time soon, but at some point you can expect a book-length treatment of sexual morality which will cover that along with everything else.

Jumbo Jim said...

Ed, have you and Robert George ever discussed/debated (in print or in person) your positions on Natural Law theory?

Joe said...

I wish you would make a book length treatment of sexual morAlity a top priority. It seems to be an area of profound confusion even within the Church. In the mean time do you have any recommendations?

C said...

Not a joke - not a troll

Why is walking or running on a treadmill not morally illicit? The faculty of walking exists for the sake of ambulation, we'e clearly frustrating it when we do this at the gym.

Thanks in advance!

Mr. Green said...

C: The faculty of walking exists for the sake of ambulation, we'e clearly frustrating it when we do this at the gym.

Well, it's quite possible to amble along a treadmill (just set it to a low speed), so clearly it doesn't actually frustrate ambulation. What made you think it did?

Wash212 said...

C,

I think my following response echoes what Dr. Feser would say:

At worst the use of a treadmill would be only the use of a faculty for something other than its natural end, and the use of of a faculty for something other than its end is something Dr. Feser has taken pains to explain is not contrary to natural law. Rather, it is the use of faculty in a manner that positively frustrates its natural end which is contrary to natural law and using a treadmill simply doesn't do that. In fact, it arguably enhances our ability to realize our natural capacity for locomotion by strengthening our leg muscles, heart, etc.

His essay "In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument" in Neo Scholastic Essays is worth the price of the whole book. Definitely give it a look.

C said...

Mr. Green,

I was taking ambulate to mean move *from place to place*

If that is the reason for the sake of which walking exists, isn't walking *in place* on a treadmill frustrating that end?

The supposed counter-examples related to the PFA still trip me up.

Thanks Wash212. How do we distinguish between contrary to vs. other than a natural end?

Scott said...

@C:

If that is the reason for the sake of which walking exists, isn't walking *in place* on a treadmill frustrating that end?

Surely no more than simply not walking at all does. Are you suggesting that because we can walk, we should always be doing so? Or that we should never use our legs for anything other than walking from place to place?

Scott said...

Or, if your point/question is specific to the "faculty" of walking and therefore limited to the activity on the treadmill, what was wrong with Wash212's reply that walking on a treadmill can actually enhance our ability to locomote?

Greg said...

@ Ed

There is a brief, panicky remark in the introduction to Foot's book Natural Goodness to the effect that she is "emphatically" not talking about the goodness or lack thereof of this or that sexual practice -- though she gives no explanation whatsoever of why what she says wouldn't have implications for sex.

There's also a line like that about contraception somewhere toward the end of Anthony Lisska's book. Also lacking any accompanying argument.

C said...

Scott - Well, not walking seems more like not having sex. And the treadmill appears analogous to contraception, but I'm fairly certain this is wrong and just trying to figure out what distinctions I'm missing.

As to Wash212's reply, that could be like saying contraceptive sex enhances our ability to potentially conceive by building up the unitive aspect of the relationship and "practicing" the marital act.

Since a treadmill positively frustrates our ability to move from one place to another, while using precisely the faculty ordered to this purpose, it seems contrary to the end and not just *other than* which is what Wash212 suggested.

I always feel like I'm being pedantic with these PFA objections but I'm serious - I must not understand something essential to the argument

Scott said...

@C:

Since a treadmill positively frustrates our ability to move from one place to another…

But how? When you use a treadmill, you're not trying to move from one place to another. You're just getting some exercise, which is another end of the very same faculty and one that dovetails nicely with the first.

Now, supposing you wanted to walk somewhere and decided to travel by treadmill, I can see the problem.

C said...

@Scott

Starting to make more sense, thanks! What do you mean when you say "trying"? Psychological intention? Because the contraceptive couple is not trying to conceive.

Greg said...

I am also not quite sure why we should understand the treadmill as preventing you from moving. The earth rotates a lot faster than I can walk, and I might walk contrary to the direction it's spinning. I am ambulating forwards but am in the absolute (well, relatively absolute) sense moving backwards. Why can't I ambulate forwards but in the absolute sense be immobile? The objection just seems to misunderstand what is required for consistency with the 'locomotive faculty'.

Scott said...

@C:

What do you mean when you say "trying"?

A better question, I think, is what I mean when I say "trying to move from one place to another" [emphasis changed this time]. Greg is quite right that when you're on the treadmill, you are moving and your "locomotive faculty" is not being in any way frustrated or perverted. You are, in short, walking. You just don't happen to be doing so in any attempt to reach a destination.

Scott said...

To put it another way, I don't see that walking on a treadmill frustrates the end(s) of your locomotive faculty any more than pacing in circles.

C said...

@Greg

The treadmill prevents you from moving from one place to another, which is the final cause of the "walking faculty". That the Earth (and galaxies, etc.) moves is true enough, but that seems like a different sort of motion than the one that the locomotive faculty is ordered to.

@Scott

So in this case you would deny that walking exists for the sake of moving from place to place? If that premise is denied, I can surely see no problem.

But it still seems to me that our lower extremities exist for the sake of walking and walking for the sake of locomotion/ambulation just as the sexual organs exist for the sake of the sexual act which exists for the sake of procreation (and union)

If someone has legs that move, but for whatever reason (stroke, muscle atrophy) cannot ambulate from the kitchen to the bathroom, we'd all agree there is something wrong that requires rehabilitative therapy and medical treatment.

The failure to reach a destination appears analogous to the failure to achieve the possibility of conception in the marital act. Destination is a thoroughly teleological term.

C said...

@Scott

Heh, maybe "pacing in circles" is the NFP of the locomotive faculty.

Scott said...

@C:

Destination is a thoroughly teleological term.

Well, of course it is! But that doesn't mean each of our faculties is aimed at one specific destination. The reproductive faculty is pretty clearly ordered toward reproduction, but walking has no such specific end. And we needn't have a specific destination in mind in order to walk.

John West said...

Ed,

You should do a "roundup" roundup some time. There are all sorts of roundups on here now.

ccmnxc said...

A question that's been bugging me for awhile:
Can you ever directly violate then end of some organ (let's just go with reproductive organs, here) and have it still be okay given the principle of totality? And if so, can't one argue that gay sex, contraception, etc, while having some drawbacks in terms of violating the end of said reproductive organs, can bring about better unity or some other good between the couples that would have a net benefit for them as persons?
Thanks.

Craig Payne said...

Dear ccmnxc:

Violating the teleological end of reproductive organs would only be "okay given the principle of totality" if such a violation contributed directly to the overall good of the entity containing the organs. If someone, say, wanted to have the pleasure of sex without any of the accompanying factors, such as the possibility of reproduction, I don't see how the lack of total commitment involved would bring about "better unity" for the couple involved. It would seem to imply something like, "I will commit myself to you enough to bring us pleasure, but no further." So my answer to your opening question would be "I don't think so." (I would be open to correction, however.) If they want better unity, let them go shopping, or play chess, or something.

Daniel said...

For a very good overview regarding Perverted Faculty arguments and parody examples it's worth checking out the Reply to Sullivan and the combox conversations which follow wherein Ed discusses a number of such objections. For what it's worth I think NL might lead to a few things humans do for recreation e.g. smoking Tabaco being classified as immoral in a (probably venal) sort of way.

As far as I can gather on NL ethics the extent to which the misuse of a faculty is considered immoral is also gauged by the importance and consequences of that action to man's flourishing (including social flourishing) as a whole. So while consequentialist concerns aren’t enough to make an action which is wrong right they can be taken into account in a secondary way to ascertain the degree of wrongness involved. Scott can no doubt correct me here if that last sentence is infelicitously phrased.

Hence sexual reproduction - tied as it is in human beings (but not in other animals) to a set of desires possessing a highly complex interpersonal intentional structure (as described in books like Roger Scruton’s Sexual Desire), associated with an intricate network of social and cultural norms and attitudes, and crucial to the well-being of society and the human race as a whole - has overwhelming moral significance. By contrast, earwax production and urination have no such similarly crucial links to our rational and social nature, and thus are of far less moral significance, if any. It is plausible, then, that even on a traditional natural law approach to morality, a failure to use these latter capacities in accordance with nature’s intentions does not necessarily constitute a serious moral failing, or even (at least in trivial cases) a moral failing at all. (Yes, the theory no doubt would have the implication that someone who for some odd reason refuses ever to urinate, and thus either bursts his bladder or in some other way ruins his health, is guilty of a serious moral failing insofar as this threatens his own well-being or that of people who depend on him. But common sense would agree with this specific judgment, so this is hardly a problem for traditional natural law theory.)

I’m not saying I agree with what will follow but I think we all know that a certain type of Ethicist will try to argue that sex need not have that degree of over-arching significance; that humans are now free to modify their sexual customs to better suite our wants. This of course would not be enough to render certain actions moral but it would reduce the extent of their immorality.

Daniel said...

1. A question. Imagine our old friend the mad neurologist (doubtless the Cartesian demon's under-study) were to fit a small device into a person's brain which would allow them to experience the qualia associated with orgasm at the touch of a button. There would be no corresponding stimulation or action in the sex organs just the phenomenal experience. Would the use of this device be considered immoral?

2. Someone brought up the point that the telos of the sex organs, at least in males, is strictly speaking reproduction with as many different partners as possible. Now in theory as long as said male could take care of his wives and off-spring there would be immoral actions involved. I take in then that NL doesn't consider polygamy (which should carry over to both genders) intrinsically immoral, only immoral given the usual nature of human society on a wider scale?

3. Why is it good to have children in the first place? If it's because it's completive/ fulfilling the final end of the human organism then we seem confronted with potentially infinite chain stretching out into the future. The Eudaemonist approach would seem to literally make another person a pure means to an end (the relational being of the child is a means). To be born on a Catholic, or perhaps broadly Christian anthropology, is to be born naturally destined for darkness and eternal separation from God. Of course maybe it’s not good to have children really; only better to have children if one cannot help but engage in the sexual act in the first place. This has certain Pauline resonances but again I really doubt it would fit well with the earthy ‘anti-gnostic’ life enhancing byline of modern Catholicism.

4. That Blackburn on Anscombe article says a lot about state of contemporary philosophy actually. Why for heaven's sake is that man considered a philosopher at all? Even the random combox lurkers could come up with more plausible parodies than him. Of course the extent of this man’s crimes against philosophy at large are well documented elsewhere.

Daniel said...

One last thing:

I would interested to hear what people think of Quentin Smith's proposed Ethical Theory which takes the Good as the realization of a being's nature, a standard which applies in analogues ways to non-living things as well. A couple of WLC's responses to this theory as raised in the context of their debate might help illustrate things (including the extent to which Theist Personalists will go to ignore Scholasticism)

www.reasonablefaith.org/does-god-exist-the-craig-smith-debate-2003#ixzz3dkAqzSsq

Now Quentin realizes this, and so to avoid specie-ism he claims that the Good is the actualization of anything's nature. But this identification of the Good is not only arbitrary but, I think, preposterous. On Quentin's view--he says this explicitly -- a big rock has greater moral value than a little rock, because its nature is more fully realized!8 Or when a slime mold increases in size, it increases in moral value. Now, I take this to be self-evidently ridiculous. And even if you think it's not self-evidently ridiculous, you have to agree that scarcely anybody else believes such a thing, so that Quentin's identification of the Good is, I think, at best idiosyncratic and hardly a foundation for a compelling argument for atheism.

Fifth, and finally, Quentin’s ethics degrades other people's moral worth. He says, and I quote, “A person who develops her theoretical reason is a better and more valuable kind of person than other kinds of people. The best possible person is someone who discovers why the universe exists.”13 Well, isn’t that convenient? This self-congratulatory analysis is so morally repugnant that I think it’s unacceptable as a moral theory. So for all of these reasons, I think that Quentin's atheistic moral theory is inadequate.

He (Smith) sets out the theory properly in his Ethical and Religious Thought in Analytic Philosophy of Language. I have the book though have yet to read through it properly. From the looks of it his elaboration on Lingustic Essentialism appears elegant andworth reading (plus opening sections on Logical Positivism and Plain Language along with a later throw-away jibe about the Churchlands are entertaining - translate as 'Ouch, yes, well that was a bit embarrassing wasn't it: not all naturalists display that sort of behavior though, certainly John Post and myself don't)

David T said...

For what it's worth, given that locomotion is the end (but possibly not the only end) of legs, walking on a treadmill at least perfects the ability of legs to perform their end. It's hard to see how training an organ to do better what it is supposed to do could be a perversion. This isn't the case with respect to things that are usually the subject of the perverted faculty argument - e.g. contraception. Using a rubber doesn't train you to be more effective at getting a woman pregnant.

Mr. Green said...

C: I was taking ambulate to mean move *from place to place*
If that is the reason for the sake of which walking exists,


Well, that's the question I wanted to prompt. Isn't that just one particular possible end of walking? "Not falling over when you're on a treadmill" sure seems like an equally valid end. And in turn, this should prompt us to ask, "Is 'walking' really the end of having legs? Or just one possible end?" We have the faculty of sight, but surely not a faculty of "seeing Mount Vesuvius erupt" — in fact, most people have no power to see that. Our faculty of seeing-in-general gives us the facility to see this or that in particular, but we're talking about something proper to human nature, which can't be seeing this particular thing, or walking to that particular destination. As Scott and David et al. have noted, our legs' general acrobatic functions are not being hampered or impaired. The Latin ”frustra” doesn’t merely mean “prevented” but “in vain” — something is in the process of trying to happen, but is being thwarted (not merely not happening because something else happens instead).

Mr. Green said...

Ccmnxc: Can you ever directly violate then end of some organ

Nope.


(Frustrating an organ means you’re using your body the wrong way, which is irrational — that’s what makes it intrinsically immoral — and trying to play that off against some supposed benefit is a classic case of the ends justifying the means or two wrongs making a right.)

C said...

@Daniel

some people with knowledge in the relevant fields suggest that good sex does increase the chances of conception, so you could make the same "practice" argument for contraceptive sex.

@Mr. Green

How are we certain that procreation/reproduction is *the* end of the sexual faculty and not one of many?

The most common objection from people who are somewhat familiar with the PFA is this - what about pleasure? Pleasure is another, equally valid, use of the sexual faculty

Not falling over is important, but it seems like it is important because it exists in the service of ambulation. Interestingly, I once heard a physical therapist describe walking as "controlled falling"

No one would think that their legs are working properly if they keep them from falling over but prevent them from moving from place to place.

It seems to me that one needn't have any particular destination in mind, just as one needn't have any particular sexual act in mind as the one that ends in pregnancy or any particular idea of what their child will be. Just an openness insofar as they are not deliberately frustrating the end of that faculty.

Daniel said...

John West wrote,

You should do a "roundup" roundup some time. There are all sorts of roundups on here now.

Ahh I missed this first time around. How about a round-up of all posts not included in a round-up?

Anonymous said...

I think Micah Newman's "A realist sexual ethics" is also relevant here. It apeared in Ratio some weeks ago. In it Newman says that only after he finished his essay people told him that his line of reasoning is similar to Aquinas's in the Summa contra Gentiles: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rati.12063/abstract

Johannes G. said...

Hi Ed,

First and foremost thank you for your lively und stimulating blog. I am a reader from Germany and follow your blog for several years.

This is the first time I comment and I have one remark and one question:

1.) Besides the article from Tim Hsiao there is another interesting paper from Micah Newman, a Catholic Philosopher from Tarleton State University, with the title "A Realist Sexual Ethics" in the 2015 May issue of the journal Ratio.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rati.12063/abstract

2.) A few weeks ago I had an interesting e-mail discussion with Alex Pruss about the perverted faculty argument. Hi criticises it in his book "One Body" under the label "the perverted function argument" and I think he is one of the best critics I have read so far. Have you read his book and do you grapple with his objections in your essay?

Brandon said...

It's perhaps worth reminding everyone of the fact that in order for an end of a faculty to be a matter of natural law rather than mere practical reasonableness, it has to be, in some way, a common good rather than an individual one; this is always at least implicit in the way the perverted faculty argument is structured, but some of the points that have been raised require, I think, that it be made explicit.

I take in then that NL doesn't consider polygamy (which should carry over to both genders) intrinsically immoral, only immoral given the usual nature of human society on a wider scale?

It depends on which natural law theorist you are considering. Aquinas himself explicitly rejects the idea that polygamy is intrinsically immoral; it is just such that the conditions under which it could be moral are usually very rare. And Cajetan, during the whole Henry VIII affair, suggested that polygamy might be a solution to the problem. I'm pretty sure, however, that you would not find everyone taking this position if you just randomly started asking natural law theorists the question.

The most common objection from people who are somewhat familiar with the PFA is this - what about pleasure? Pleasure is another, equally valid, use of the sexual faculty.

Pleasure is a peculiar case, since pleasure is intrinsically a byproduct of fulfilling other ends, like the bloom on youth, in Aristotle's famous phrase. Thus it can never be considered without considering what other ends are being fulfilled. And it's also perhaps worth pointing out that in the case of no other faculty does anyone consider it reasonable to do things just in order to get pleasure -- even classical utilitarianism, which (unlike most ethical positions) makes pleasure an end in itself, requires that you be aiming at something more than merely getting pleasure (in utilitarianism, for instance, you have to be aiming at an appropriate distribution of it).

Daniel said...

It's perhaps worth reminding everyone of the fact that in order for an end of a faculty to be a matter of natural law rather than mere practical reasonableness, it has to be, in some way, a common good rather than an individual one...

Care to elaborate on that point Brandon?

Brandon said...

Daniel,

Nothing can be a matter of law unless its end is common good; and natural law is a form of law. Thus it's only insofar as an end pertains to common good that natural law enters into the question at all. This is one reason why the having and raising of children always comes up in sexual matters; anything that concerns procreation inevitably concerns the common good of the entire human race. Thus if we're looking at moral parallels with other faculties, we need to be careful that we know what human common good is involved in these other actions we are talking about.

C said...

@Brandon

It's perhaps worth reminding everyone of the fact that in order for an end of a faculty to be a matter of natural law rather than mere practical reasonableness, it has to be, in some way, a common good rather than an individual one

I will be carrying this to my grave. My heart pours out gratitude for this answer, which to my mind suddenly renders the whole argument intelligible.

I'd still like to see this point elaborated, and would love any relevant texts from Aquinas or contemporary Thomists where the natural law is discussed with reference to the common good.

Timocrates said...

@ Professor Feser,

Considering how gender theory and SSM are extremely live issues, I hope you might perhaps write a book about the issue or compile already written material and release it with the title directly addressing the issue. What the New Atheists were are what the modern gender theorists are today except that they have a much, much broader reach. The LGBQT lobby really does put old Cold War Marxist propagandists to shame for their scope of popular influence. They really did their homework and research on theories of mass psychology and its fruit, public relations theories.

Frankly the West desperately needs a The Superstitions of Sex on this.

Scott W. said...

I just heard a whopper on another blog: "What seems to be happening is your failure to grasp the esoteric teleology of the anus."

Esoteric teleology, eh? Well, that's certainly convenient!

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Brandon

It's perhaps worth reminding everyone of the fact that in order for an end of a faculty to be a matter of natural law rather than mere practical reasonableness, it has to be, in some way, a common good rather than an individual one[.]

I'm not positive that I entirely understand the distinction that you're drawing. I'll try to spell out what I take your point to be, but I look forward to any corrections. Here is my attempted paraphrase:

One of the ends of the faculty of walking (i.e., the ability to move one's legs in a walking motion) is to change one's location relative to one's environment. Hence, to walk on a treadmill is to use this faculty while frustrating one of its ends.

Similarly, one of the ends of the faculty of engaging in sexual intercourse is to reproduce. Hence, to use contraception is to use this faculty while frustrating one of its ends.

Thus, both treadmills and contraception frustrate faculties.

Nevertheless, treadmills are not a moral issue, because changing one's location is not always a community-relevant action. It is possible to change one's location in a way that has no significant impact on anyone else. In contrast, to reproduce is always a community-relevant action. It is impossible to reproduce in a way that has no significant impact on anyone else. For, at the very least, reproducing has a significant impact on the person generated.

Hence, while treadmills do frustrate a faculty, they do not do so in a morally relevant way.

Is there anything important that is missing or wrong in this attempt at paraphrasing your point?

Brandon said...

C,

If you are talking about general discussions, Aquinas discusses common good explicitly at ST 2-1.90.2 and 2-1.94.2. But given the basic point, pretty much any discussion of natural law is a discussion about common good, even if it is not explicitly flagged as such.

Tyrrell McAllister,

The distinction between common good and individual good is a standard distinction in this context. Since the rest of your comment goes well beyond anything I said, it's not really a paraphrase of any argument I am making, but a remark in hope that it helps to clarify the point:

Treadmills manifestly do not frustrate any faculty of walking at all because you walk on them, and therefore they are one way of exercising the faculty of walking for precisely what it is a faculty of. Having read all the comments on the example, I still don't understand why anyone would think this example to involve any kind of inconsistency, which is necessary for frustration of faculty. But if one were to assume that it did, it is true that it would not be immoral -- as opposed to just practically silly or stupid or weird or pointless -- except insofar as one could take walking to be a good shared in common by the human race. Frustration of a faculty by its nature is unreasonable, at least so far as it goes; deliberate unreasonableness with regard to human common good is violation of natural law in one way or another. This all just follows by the standard definition of natural law.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the Supreme Court made its decision. IIRC, a while back, wasn't the Supreme Court hearing arguments (regarding same-sex marriage) from conservatives? If so, I wonder what arguments were presented.

Mike said...

Can anybody refer me to good reading on gender theory under natural law? Like, regarding trans-genderism, and what constitutes gender?

manofbusiness91 said...

Brandon,

I am a bit new to natural law and definitely new to the understanding of anything pertaining to natural law having to fall under a common good.

Question: If a person, who lives a solitary life with no contact with society, masturbates in the jungle, is it immoral under the natural law? If so then why? As detailed a response as you can would be greatly appreciated! God Bless!