Thursday, February 23, 2017

How to be a pervert


We’ve been talking of late about “perverted faculty arguments,” which deploy the concept of perversion in a specific, technical sense.  The perversion of a human faculty essentially involves both using the faculty but doing so in a way that is positively contrary to its natural end.  As I’ve explained before, simply to refrain from using a faculty at all is not to pervert it.  Using a faculty for something that is merely other than its natural end is also not to pervert it.  Hence, suppose faculty F exists for the sake of end E.  There is nothing perverse about not using F at all, and there is nothing perverse about using F but for the sake of some other end G.  What is perverse is using F but in a way that actively prevents E from being realized.  It is this contrariness to the very point of the faculty, this outright frustration of its function, that is the heart of the perversity.  (See the paper linked to above for exposition, defense, and application of the idea.)

Perversion, in this sense, is arguably analogous to performative self-contradiction.  (I do not say that it is exactly the same thing as that, but only that there is an analogy.)  Consider first the general notion of a self-contradiction, before turning to the performative kind.  The idea of a round square is self-contradictory, because being round and being square mutually exclude one another.  It’s as if, in trying to make a round square, you would be putting something out with your right hand while at the same time taking it back with your left.  Or it’s as if you would be attempting to create something while at the very same time annihilating it.  A round square is a self-undermining kind of thing, its roundness and squareness mutually subverting or frustrating each other’s very existence.

This is loose talk, of course, since round squares, being non-existent, cannot do anything, including frustrating or subverting themselves.  But performative self-contradictions involve things that do exist, namely people.  Suppose you utter the words “I am not uttering any words.”  The very act of making the statement falsifies it.  The statement gives with one hand what the act takes back with the other.  Or, you might say that the statement points in one direction while the making of it points simultaneously in the opposite direction. 

Perverting a faculty is somewhat like this.  A faculty F is of its nature directed toward end E and in perverting it one directs the faculty instead away from E.  With one hand, as it were, one gives E – just by virtue of using F, which inherently points toward E – while with the other hand one takes E away.  The faculty’s natural function is at odds with your use of it, just as the act of speaking is in the example above at odds with the words being spoken, and just as being square is at odds with being round.

Now, a self-contradictory concept effectively nullifies the being of the thing the concept is a concept of.  Being round nullifies being square, so that a round square cannot even “get off the ground” ontologically, as it were. 

A performative self-contradiction effectively nullifies the truth of the statement made by a speaker.  In our example, the very act of speaking the sentence “I am not uttering any words” falsifies the words being spoken.

The perversion of a faculty effectively nullifies the goodness of the action being performed.  The good use of a faculty must be consistent with its natural end, and the perverse user of the faculty actively prevents that end.  Hence the good use of our communicative faculties is inconsistent with lying, which is contrary to their truth-conveying end; the good use of our sexual faculties must be consistent with their procreative and unitive ends; and so forth.

Being, truth, and goodness are, of course, transcendentals and thus convertible – the same thing looked at from different points of view.  We might expect, then, that just as there are self-defeating kinds of would-be entities (e.g. round squares) and self-defeating kinds of utterances (performative self-contradictions), there would also be self-defeating kinds of action.  That is, I propose, what the perversion of a faculty amounts to. 

The perversity of frustrating a faculty is arguably also analogous to the irrationality of self-contradictory thought.  Indeed, we could just as well switch the descriptions: There is a kind of perversity to self-contradictory thinking, and there is a kind of inherent irrationality to the perversion of a faculty.  Rational action is always and necessarily good action (again, see the natural law analysis in the paper linked to above) and the perversion of a faculty involves acting contrary to the good. 

Note that these (tentative and sketchy) remarks are not intended as an argument for the wrongness of perverting a faculty.  The argument for that conclusion is presented in the paper linked to above, and nothing in that paper depends on anything I say in this blog post.  But it does seem to me that the nature of perversity is illuminated by the analogy with self-contradiction. 

273 comments:

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Geremia said...

A related word: preposterous (etym.: pre- + posterior, in the sense of "having or placing last what should be first," as the OED puts it)

Geremia said...

By "faculty" do you mean "instrumental cause"?

I could use a stapler as a paperweight. Does this frustrate the "stapling faculty" of the stapler?

I haven't read your "In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument" chapter yet, but I would like to see instrumental causality discussed in relation to the PFA.

It seems very much related to Christopher A. Decaen's The Thomist 79 (2015): 213-63 article "The Notion of Equivocal Causality in St. Thomas", which spends much time discussing instrumental causality.

It would seem the stapler in my example might be, in addition to being an instrumental cause, also an equivocal cause.

The objection that sexual faculties are not for one purpose only would seem to need to be answered by discussing how sexual faculties cannot be equivocal causes.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

My father was a World War II veteran. He told me that during basic training,all soldiers were shown a training film and given instruction by a medic about how to put on a condom. This was done to prevent the spread of venereal disease. Using a condom obviously perverts the sexual faculty. Do you think that was wrong? Instead of that instruction, should the men should have been taught to be chaste and to abstain from sexual activity? I mean, really?

My cousin was a Navy fighter pilot during the Vietnam War. All pilots took a survival course at Fairchild AFB. If they were captured and held in captivity, they were instructed to practice masturbation to relieve the stress and loneliness of isolation. Masturbation is also a perversion of the sexual faculty. Was instructing them to masturbate wrong?

Anonymous said...

should the men should have been taught to be chaste and to abstain from sexual activity? I mean, really?

Yeah! I mean, what's next, telling soldiers not to kill civilians? We didn't trounce the Nazi war machine by playing by the rules. Sometimes you just gotta butcher a few hundred innocent bystanders if you want to get the job done efficiently. It's easy for philosophers to sit around in their armchairs saying "oh, you can't do evil, the ends don't justify the means, blah blah blah", but -- I mean, really?

Confitebor said...

"Instead of that instruction, should the men should have been taught to be chaste and to abstain from sexual activity? I mean, really?"

Yes, really -- and obviously so. It was a grievous sin to give them condoms and tell them to go out and commit mortal sin, defiling themselves and the women with whom they were fornicating. It was a grievous sin not to exhort the men to comport themselves honorably and virtuously.

"Was instructing them to masturbate wrong?"

Yes, and obviously so. Even if it were possible for the sin of masturbation to relieve loneliness (in fact it only increases loneliness and frustration), it would still be a sin to teach men to do evil that good may come of it.

JesseM said...

Suppose that after much practice, a person has learned to hold a pencil with their toes and write legibly with their feet. Is this perverse according to the above discussion, since it actively prevents them from walking while they're doing it, even if at other times they do use their feet to walk? (Note that similarly a person who uses contraception at one time in their life may do so with the intention of having children at another time.) If not, why not? And if this is perverse, is it similarly perverse when a monkey or ape that has a foot very well-suited to grasping objects uses it for this, assuming the primary natural end of their foot is still locomotion?

Anonymous said...

since it actively prevents them from walking while they're doing it

Doing chinups prevents you from walking at the same time too, so what?

when a monkey or ape that has a foot very well-suited to grasping objects uses it for this, assuming the primary natural end of their foot is still locomotion?

Since apes and humans are a different kinds of things, they obviously will have different ends. But where are you getting this "primary" stuff from anyway?

Mr Ecks said...



It is not too difficult to reach a belief that a God exists. Theism I believe that is called. I am not a philosopher so forgive me if I am wrong.

What the last 3 articles of Dr Feser show is how difficult it is for even the highly educated to get around or reconcile the mad malarkey that is "internal" to Christianity and stands as probably the biggest obstacle to belief in said Christianity of any sort.

A God who loves us SO much because we are made in his image but simultaneously hates our guts because of some original wrongdoing done by--nobody knows quite who. Or for that matter, quite what the original wrongdoing was although it might have something to do with sex--maybe. Although it seems highly unlikely that human beings equipped themselves with genitals and the desire to use them.

We have all done wrong certainly. But the vast majority of people's sins are pathetic never mind trivial. And many of those sins rebound as much if not more on the sinner than those sinned against. An eternity of torment for such wrongs as most people have done? From a God who professes to be the fount of all love?


But even a life of good works is of no use because no good actions done can free anyone from eternal torment. So despite an apparently Divine fetish for free will there are no actions I can take to redeem myself but lots that will drop me even lower. I can of course save myself by asking forgiveness for being the scum I am. God so loved the world that He sent his only son to save us from--the bizarre set up that God himself is (supposed at least)to have created.

For example contraception. Having 15 kids you can't afford to support and haven't time to be a good Father to because of numbers and the fact that you are working 100 hours a week to try and feed/look after them (not to mention the strain and overwork of your ruined and burned out wife) is A-Ok with the God of Love. But prudently limiting your family to a sane and affordable size puts you even further on the road to Hell? All this from a being of colossal grandeur and magnificence who combines talk of love with a maiden aunts prurient interest in what puny creatures are doing with various skin flaps and assorted desires which are clearly of His making not ours.

It really doesn't hold together very well as a basis for beliefs. I have no quarrel with many of the results of faith in Jesus etc. But as a structure it just makes no sense. Dr Feser and others do marvellous work twisting and turning with miracles of logic. But it just doesn't hold together.

I can only doubt that God is actually like many Christian claims about him.

BD Sixsmith said...

Mr Eck -

As someone who is neither a Christian nor a theist, you have to understand these "miracles of logic" before accepting or rejecting conclusions people like Professor Feser draw from them. This is like dismissing the theory of evolution by natural selection because you dislike its implications.

Jason said...

@Mr Ecks

Your concerns regarding Christianity are not uncommon. However, you have merely aired your concerns and cited aspects you find hard to believe, but have not actually offered any argument. This is actually an argument from incredulity.

And it seems you are caricaturing (perhaps non-intentionally) certain aspects of Christianity while doing so.

For instance, I doubt many Christian philosophers or theologians affirm that God "hates our guts"; nor that wrongdoing is done by "we don't know who". Much less does the Christian affirm that God sent his son "to save us from the bizarre set up that God himself is to have created".

These are no small questions, I grant you that. These are large questions which deserve deep reflection. And this reflection can only begin once caricatures are done away with. Don't project onto the subject your preconceived assumptions.

Brandon said...

JesseM,

Ed addressed issues relevant to these questions in the essay he had previously asked people to read before raising any objections.

Daniel Carriere said...

I suspect that this argument becomes a lot clearer when one applies it to the field of bioethics. For example:

1-Can scientists ethically tinker with genetic material in a fetus in order to enhance, alter, or even remove certain aspects of human nature?
2-Is it permissible for scientists to replace perfectly functioning organs with augmented organs or even cybernetic implants?

How far can we go in either of these directions before we come to the perverted (or even destroyed) faculty argument? Fundamentally, the question becomes, is there something intrinsic to human nature and the way it functions, that we should prevents its alteration to the point where it no longer resembles or functions as it does in normal human beings.

Cheers,
Daniel

Tim Finlay said...

Ceci n'est pas une pipe.

Bob Sacamano said...

I cringe almost every time I read the comments section (at least when it comes to the perverted faculty argument). I can't imagine how exasperated Dr. Feser must be to spend so much time on a blog post (when he could be doing sooooo many other things) only to read the same tired and tedious rants that either completely misconstrue his arguments or ignore them altogether.

Chris Lansdown said...

It is an interesting analogy, thank you.

Greg said...

As assertion and denial are to thought, so pursuit and avoidance are to desire. (Nicomachean Ethics, VI.2)

JesseM said...

@Brandon - He didn't ask people to read anything else before raising objections in this post (if you're referring to a previous blog post where he made such a request, can you say which one?), and although he did link to a paper on perverted faculties here, the last paragraph of this post seemed to indicate that the "tentative and sketchy" analogy to self-contradiction in the post was somewhat independent of the argument of the paper, so I assumed one could critique the analogy without having read the paper (I am not trying to make any broad argument that the notion of 'perverted faculties' is completely indefensible, only that the particular analogy used to defend it in this post seems too broad as it would lead us to view plenty of seemingly innocent and normal behaviors as perverted faculties, like the example of a monkey grabbing something with its foot). When you say I should have read an essay, is it the one linked here or a different one linked in another blog post? And is that essay specifically relevant to the aptness of the analogy between perverted faculties and self-contradictory statements, or does it give a different way of understanding the notion?

jmhenry said...

Feser: We might expect, then, that just as there are self-defeating kinds of would-be entities (e.g. round squares) and self-defeating kinds of utterances (performative self-contradictions), there would also be self-defeating kinds of action. That is, I propose, what the perversion of a faculty amounts to.

I also think that's the reason why appeals to "language of the body" could be helpful. As you say, the perversion of a faculty is analogous to self-defeating kinds of utterances, and that is what appeals to "language of the body" are trying to get at. In the paper, you criticize such talk of "language" and "meaning" of the body, and I believe those criticisms are certainly valid ones. But I still think such an analogy could be useful in explaining the argument you're making here, just so long as it is made clear that it is indeed just an analogy.

Brandon said...

JesseM,

He made the request in the immediately previous post, also on the perverted faculty argument (hence this one's beginning, "We've been talking of late about..."). The article that he asked to be read first is the same as the one linked in the first paragraph of this post, though.

It's not clear to me (and from the comments, apparently not to others) what your questions have to do with the analogy, since neither of them talk about any kind of contradiction at all, and seem to discuss only ends of faculties (and thus look like they are concerned only with the perverted faculty argument itself), so if you are asking about the analogy, you will almost certainly need to clarify. Also, the notion of perversion used in the post is explicitly that used in the perverted faculty argument, and neither of your cases are obviously perversions in the sense used by the perverted faculty argument, for reasons given in the article, so you would need to clarify that as well.

jmhenry said...

Although, I should say, "language of the body" would be an example of a metaphor.

Tony said...

JesseM Suppose that after much practice, a person has learned to hold a pencil with their toes and write legibly with their feet. Is this perverse according to the above discussion, since it actively prevents them from walking while they're doing it, even if at other times they do use their feet to walk?

Brandon: Also, the notion of perversion used in the post is explicitly that used in the perverted faculty argument, and neither of your cases are obviously perversions in the sense used by the perverted faculty argument, for reasons given in the article, so you would need to clarify that as well.

And for reasons given here, at least in summary form. He said:

Using a faculty for something that is merely other than its natural end is also not to pervert it. Hence, suppose faculty F exists for the sake of end E. There is nothing perverse about not using F at all, and there is nothing perverse about using F but for the sake of some other end G.

You haven't tried hard enough to understand the difference between using an organ for a diverse end, and using a faculty in a way that defeats its own proper end as such.

How about taking it slowly and carefully. Feet are for walking...sort of. They are for a LOT of things, including walking AND standing. Is using them for standing defeating their function of walking, because as long as you are standing you cannot be walking? To ask the question is to illuminate the error of the assumption that "feet are for walking".

Both the feet and the hands are "for" something that is broader than just one thing: the hands can throw, paint, cut, write caress, juggle, mime, emphasize, etc. The feet can walk, stand, kick, dance, juggle, tap, etc. That they are capable of many different sorts of things implies that we have not hit upon the formal purpose of the organ.

More importantly, the perverted faculty argument is not an argument solely about physical organs, but about a "faculty" which includes both physical organs AND powers they are organized by and for. The faculty of sight includes not only the eye but the vision center in the brain. The sexual faculty includes ALL of the organs that are involved in both the pleasure of sex and in the production of a baby. So: the locomotive faculty involves feet, ankles, legs, hips, spine, and brain (at a minimum). But obviously all those organs have many other uses, and it is nonsensical to posit that one can only use them in such a way that you could ALSO accomplish all those other uses at the very same time. Using the hand to sign prevents using the hand to write at the same moment, but it doesn't pervert the use of the hand of course.

In order for something like "writing with your feet" to succeed as a counterexample, you would have to identify correctly the formal end of the faculty (not just organ), and then have a behavior that actually contradicts the end, not just has some other end that the organs can be arranged to bring about. You haven't done that. It is difficult to see how "not going somewhere" could be structured formally into contradicting the faculty of locomotion rather than the person merely choosing not to move somewhere (i.e. not choosing to use the faculty).

Mister Jorge said...

To anonymous @ 9:38... regarding the Navy's view on masturbation I think it's safe to say that they were very wrong about the 'benefits' of masturbation.
There's been much sincere focus on that act and all of the mental/physical issues that surface with it. Depression and anxiety being two very important ones. I would write the Navy's view on it as being misguided and wrong.

Tony said...

The best non-sexual example I can come up with is the bulimic's plan of overeating to be followed by barfing. You can't reach the contradiction involved if you don't include both parts: the "eating" part doesn't entail a contradiction to the faculty of ingestion, and if you don't posit the induced vomiting as part of the behavior, it won't be a self-contradictory behavior. But if you correctly pose the two parts of the behavior as parts belonging to one unitary behavior, the self-contradiction is obvious.

And it is obvious that writing with the feet doesn't come close.

Anonymous said...

"I mean, what's next, telling soldiers not to kill civilians"

We killed lots of civilians. Ever heard of the fire bombing of Dresden? My father personally remembered a captured Japanese soldier who was tortured with bayonets by American soldiers to extract information out of him.


"Yes, really -- and obviously so. It was a grievous sin to give them condoms and tell them to go out and commit mortal sin, defiling themselves and the women with whom they were fornicating. It was a grievous sin not to exhort the men to comport themselves honorably and virtuously."

They were also issued New Testaments by the Chaplain Corps and given a morality lecture, but the Army was BEING REALISTIC AND TRYING TO PREVENT VENEREAL DISEASE SO THESE SOLDIERS COULD REMAIN HEALTHY AND FIGHT THE ENEMY!

E.Seigner said...

Anonymous, They were also issued New Testaments by the Chaplain Corps and given a morality lecture, but the Army was BEING REALISTIC AND TRYING TO PREVENT VENEREAL DISEASE SO THESE SOLDIERS COULD REMAIN HEALTHY AND FIGHT THE ENEMY!

Understood. They had worldly goals, hardly any concern about either their own souls or those of their fellow people. Point taken.

Hunt said...

Forget it anon; these are people who disagree with distributing condoms in Africa when the VD is HIV. You're not going to break through to them. Go hit your head on a different wall.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: We killed lots of civilians. Ever heard of the fire bombing of Dresden?

Of course, is your point that therefore that makes it OK?

the Army was BEING REALISTIC

Maybe your point is that putting it in capitals makes it OK.

Hunt: You're not going to break through to them.

Another vote for killing civilians!

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Edwar Feser,

”simply to refrain from using a faculty at all is not to pervert it.”

What about refraining from breathing, or refraining from eating, or refraining from using reason? In my understanding of the English language these might well count as examples of perversion. But I understand you wish to find a stronger sense for it. So you suggest:

”What is perverse is using [a faculty] but in a way that actively prevents [its natural end] from being realized.”

What about using our lungs to smoke which gradually prevents them from realizing their natural end to provide our body with oxygen? Would you say that according to your definition smokers are perverts?

By the way I am not criticizing your definition here. Perhaps we should consider smoking to be a kind of perversion. I am just pointing out what seems to me to be an implication of your definition.

Another example would be an educational system based on the uncritical memorization of facts and rules. Such a system forces children to use the minds in a way that will prevent them from thinking rationally, which is the mind's natural end. That too would be an example of perversion, actually an example of the state perverting children.

Anonymous said...

”simply to refrain from using a faculty at all is not to pervert it.”

What about refraining from breathing, or refraining from eating, or refraining from using reason?


It may be wrong and a sin to refrain from breathing or eating, if that damages or kills you. Yet refraining from breathing is not perverting the faculty of respiration. An evil omission is an evil choice, but it doesn't become an act of the faculty that you are not acting with.

Don Jindra said...

From "In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument": "It is of the essence or nature of a Euclidean triangle to be a closed plane figure with three straight sides, and anything with this essence must have a number of properties, such as having angles that add up to 180 degrees. These are objective facts that we discover rather than invent;"

This is not quite true. We did not discover Euclidean triangles. There are none in nature. The Euclidean triangle is an ideal geometric shape. We invented that concept along with perfect squares and circles, and, indeed, the concept of perfection itself. Using our invented concept of perfect triangles, we can then classify some as "better" than others. But better and worse are related to our concept of perfection. It's not a rule of nature. To say such a judgment is "objective" is trivially true. It's objective only in the sense that we are applying an arbitrary geometric standard -- our own invention -- to begin with. Yes, we *are* applying a personal preference for a shape on a shape that has no preference at all. The shape is perfectly happy with the shape that it is. It's not trying to execute the perfect a^2+b^2=c^2 function. We are.

Some of you might guess where I'm going with this: self-contradiction (and it's not an easy road for either you or me.)

It takes some fancy footwork to defend that physical processes or functions are *always* indeterminate in nature, and then, when a person's moral preferences are suddenly in jeopardy, to defend that they are determinate in the most cherished cases. A choice has to be made one way or the other. Either nature sometimes provides us with determinate physical processes or it does not. If it does not, there is no way we can construct an objective morality from a physical reality that provides no determinate physical function. It can always be objected that the "pure" process or ideal function in question, be it a geometric act, an addition act or a sex act, is imposed by us on the physics itself.

Matteo said...

Dr. Feser,


I don't understand how exactly the end of a specific faculty compares to the end of a human being as such. An example of an end of the human being as such could be the virtue of religion, or love for your neighbour, and I understand why no human being can licitly disregard his natural ends, however, I wonder how does it work when we come to the end of a specific faculty.
Is it something like "when you use a faculty you acquire that faculty's ends as yours" ? This would explain why it's not illicit to refrain from using a faculty (if you are not using the sexual faculty you don't have procreation as your end and so in turn you are not bound to use the sexual faculty) however, it would rise other problems.
For example, no human being can licitly hope to be irreligious or unjust or unloving; however you can hope not to procreate while using natural family planning or not to be understood while using mental reservation. So it cannot be that when you use a faculty you temporarily acquire that faculty's ends as yours, on a par with your natural ends as a human being. It seems to me that there must be another paradigm of how one faculty's ends become morally binding for the person who uses it, but I can't find any precise explanation on this particular issue nor in your essays nor in the work of other authors who defend the perverted faculty argument such as Timothy Hsiao and John Skalko.

Could you please suggest some readings on this point or explain this subject yourself?

Craig Payne said...

Dear Geremia and JesseM: Your initial objections were addressed in the first paragraph of this original post:

"Using a faculty for something that is merely other than its natural end is also not to pervert it. Hence, suppose faculty F exists for the sake of end E. There is nothing perverse about not using F at all, and there is nothing perverse about using F but for the sake of some other end G."

So go ahead and write with your feet, I suppose. This would only become a perverted faculty if you became so captivated by your new ability that you refused to use your feet to walk anymore.

One advantage of the perverted faculty argument is striking but perhaps a bit unkind to suggest: If I were misusing my rational faculties to justify a perverted-faculty behavior, it would be an easy next step to misunderstanding or mischaracterizing the perverted-faculty argument itself. As Jesus Himself points out in John's Gospel, sometimes a lack of understanding is intimately connected with the lack of will to understand.

Craig Payne said...

Dear Tony: Sorry, I didn't notice that you had already addressed this.

Staircaseghost said...

It is not at all clear to me what the argument for "the good use of a faculty must be consistent with its natural end" is supposed to be. It has the look of a stipulative definition rather than any kind of analysis of how the word "good" functions in our moral discourse.

Even someone who thinks the concept of a natural end is the greatest thing since sliced bread should be deeply skeptical of drawing any normative claims from it. Just knowing that someone is using an artifact in a way that perverts some other *person's* purposes for having created it doesn't, in and of itself, give me any normative guidance for whether this use is good or bad. Maybe the creator's purposes were neutral, or even wicked. The concept of purpose in and of itself isn't doing any theoretical work; to the extent we draw moral judgments about thwarting other people's purposes, we do it on the grounds that some concrete person's experiences have been diminished, and then weigh this against the value we place on others' rights to pursue their hopes and plans.

Whether or not some end is intrinsic or extrinsic seems neither here nor there with regard to the normative claim. If people's conscious aims can be either good or bad, nothing (other than bare stipulation) would seem to make natural ends inherently good or bad. If anything, the fact that violating a natural purpose does not involve interference in any *person's* desires would tend to make the connection to moral obligation even more remote.

The mere fact that someone wants someone else thrown in prison is not -- in and of itself -- a very good argument for legislation throwing that person in prison. A Fortiori, "no one in particular" wanting someone thrown in prison seems like even more of a nonstarter, even accepting the doctrine that there are such things as natural ends.

Edward Feser said...

It is not at all clear to me what the argument for "the good use of a faculty must be consistent with its natural end" is supposed to be... etc.

Here's a wacky idea: How about bothering actually to read the article linked to, where I answer all those objections, before commenting? Saves a lot of wasted pixels on your part and a lot of eye-rolling on everyone else's part.

Tony said...

"the good use of a faculty must be consistent with its natural end" is supposed to be. It has the look of a stipulative definition rather than any kind of analysis of how the word "good" functions in our moral discourse.

Only because you do not seem to have any notion of what "nature" means in this discussion.

Given what Aristotle and St. Thomas (and Feser, and all Thomists) mean by nature, it almost is a "stipulative definition". Almost. Because base, root concepts cannot be readily explained (defined) in terms of more basic things, you are not going to get a simple definition of things like "nature" or "good" to shove into ethical premises from which to draw conclusions. And thus at the bottom layer of such words, there is going to be a mutuality of dependence in meaning that cannot be resolved by defining "nature" in terms of "good" or "good" in terms of "nature" in any simplistic sense. Suffice it to say, then, that when one understands the meaning of "nature" in the Thomistic sense, it is self-evident that "the good use of a faculty must be consistent with its natural end".

Even someone who thinks the concept of a natural end is the greatest thing since sliced bread should be deeply skeptical of drawing any normative claims from it. Just knowing that someone is using an artifact in a way that perverts some other *person's* purposes for having created it doesn't, in and of itself, give me any normative guidance for whether this use is good or bad.

That's because an artifact doesn't have a nature, properly speaking. Because of that, it doesn't have a natural end. The difference between an artifact and a natural being like an animal or a human is precisely critical here, and therefore no such analogy with artifacts bridges over to natural beings.

Whether or not some end is intrinsic or extrinsic seems neither here nor there with regard to the normative claim. If people's conscious aims can be either good or bad, nothing (other than bare stipulation) would seem to make natural ends inherently good or bad.

This completely distorts what it means to have a nature.

But if you are unwilling to go there, then let me postulate it differently: God has such authority over his created beings that he can even imbue them with normative conditions, so that by his intention and decree, he MAKES it to be good for them to conform to their natures, and bad to defy their natures. Therefore, their natural ends ARE normative. You may think of it as God being the author of a fantasy story in which he not only gets to decide which natural laws work in the given universe, but he also gets to decide and insert into the story what kinds of behavior are good for the creatures he populates the story with. And so because he is the author, his decisions about what are good and bad behaviors determine norms for the creatures. But being a very good author, he (naturally) determines good and bad norms that are coherent with their natures, because otherwise the story wouldn't even make sense. (The Thomistic account adds to this that God's deciding the norms that determine good behavior is one and the same thing as his deciding what their natures will be, because the two are inextricable (intrinsic).)

Callum said...

DJ,

Is you point that there is an inconsistency between the indeterminacy argument of Ross too immaterial aspects of thought with the A-T theses of final causes? That for there to be actual final causes physical processes would have to be determinate which would contradict Ross' argument? That's an interesting idea. Do final causes have to presume that physical processes are determinate?

Craig Payne said...

"Do final causes have to presume that physical processes are determinate?"

Dear Callum: The idea that a purely physical process (digestion, let us say) is determinate is separate from the directedness we see in final causation. In other words, it doesn't matter whether the answer to your question is yes or no. Let's say I eat some food and the process of digestion begins in me. The process in question is directed toward digesting food, which means it is further directed toward keeping me alive as an integrated being. Now whether or not that process is "determinate" in the sense of being predetermined by all regularities of physical nature--well, I guess I just don't care. It doesn't matter. In fact, come to think of it, I might even PREFER that digestion be predetermined by the regularities of nature (no surprises, in other words).

But notice we are discussing events of a purely physical nature. What about events of a physical nature which are brought about by human choice? In that case, whether or not to go with the "directedness" of a faculty is not necessarily predetermined by the regularities of nature. Let's say, after eating the bit of food that begins the digestion process, I then continue to stuff myself with food until something ruptures and I actually die. I have certainly perverted the faculty of eating/digestion/staying alive as an integrated being. I have misused the directedness or final causality of eating and digestion. But what makes this a determinate event?

I know I did not understand DJ's post at all. It is possible I am not understanding yours either. Let me know.

Anonymous said...

Some of you might guess where I'm going with this

DJ, many of us wish you'd go a bit further, such as to post somewhere else...

Callum said...

Chris,

Thanks for the reply. When I said physically determinate I meant in the sense Feser and Ross use it in arguing for immaterial aspects of thought.

Callum said...

Actually, dont worry I was completely confused. When Feser and Ross talk of physical processes being indeterminate they are doing so specifically regarding semantic content or meaning, which is irrelevant to final causation, from basic interaction of particles up to the function of organs.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser, I have some questions and am afraid I am not understanding the argument correctly, particularly when it comes to cases of sexual morality. I'll run through my thought process:
I can see how the use of a condom during sex, or a woman taking the pill can be considered immoral, since they actively frustrate the procreative end of sex. It is clear as water to me, or at least I think, that the use of contraceptives and the pill actively frustrate the procreative end, since they actually impede either the man from ejaculating directly into the vagina or the woman being able to conceive even with sperm inside her.
However, I don't see how masturbation and homossexuality are immoral in this argument, from my flawed understanding. The act of masturbating isn't impeding conception, nor is homossexuality. Aren't these just cases of the faculty being used for a purpose other than its end? How are these acts directly contrary to the end of procreation?
I'll be glad for any help on clearing this matter. Thanks.

Craig Payne said...

Dear Anonymous: Because neither masturbation nor homosexual acts can be directed toward the end of procreation, by their intrinsic nature, they are directly contrary to the end of procreation, again by their nature. (The same is true of bestiality, if anyone was wondering.)

Anonymous said...

Of course, is your point that therefore that makes it OK?

the Army was BEING REALISTIC

Maybe your point is that putting it in capitals makes it OK.

Hunt: You're not going to break through to them.

Another vote for killing civilians!

Well....My Uber Moralizer, we won the war and we crushed the evil that was Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Thankfully, those of the Greatest Generation didn't have your scruples.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of perverts:

"Pope Francis has quietly reduced sanctions against a handful of pedophile priests, applying his vision of a merciful church even to its worst offenders in ways that survivors of abuse and the pope's own advisers question.

"One case has come back to haunt him: An Italian priest who received the pope's clemency was later convicted by an Italian criminal court for his sex crimes against children as young as 12. The Rev. Mauro Inzoli is now facing a second church trial after new evidence emerged against him, The Associated Press has learned.

"Francis scrapped the commission’s proposed tribunal for bishops who botch abuse cases following legal objections from the congregation. The commission’s other major initiative — a guideline template to help dioceses develop policies to fight abuse and safeguard children — is gathering dust. The Vatican never sent the template to bishops’ conferences, as the commission had sought, or even linked it to its main abuse-resource website." https://apnews.com/64e1fc2312764a24bf1b2d6ec3bf4caf

How long o Lord, how long will you tolerate this sick, evil, parasite of a religion?

Anonymous said...

Dianelos: Another example would be an educational system based on the uncritical memorization of facts and rules. Such a system forces children to use the minds in a way that will prevent them from thinking rationally

Yes, of course smoking could be immoral, depending on various details. But memorization could not. It is preposterous to say that it prevents rational thinking, indeed learning facts and rules IS rational thinking, and knowing them is a prerequisite for rational deduction. Without them, you end up spewing ill-informed nonsense -- now that's a perversion.

Don Jindra said...

Callum,

Yes, my point is that final cause is a form of determinacy. If all physical processes were indeterminate, they could not possibly point toward an end; they could not intend or *mean* anything. Therefore it's inconsistent to claim to be able to locate final cause, intent or meaning in nature while making the claim that all processes in nature are indeterminate. If we are to accept Ross, a moral standard based on physical processes is a subjective interpretation of the facts known to us. We'd always be imposing our meaning on systems which could not really be systems anyway. If a calculator might be doing quadition instead of addition, there's no telling what shenanigans a sex act is up to.

Don Jindra said...

Craig Payne,

"The idea that a purely physical process (digestion, let us say) is determinate is separate from the directedness we see in final causation."

If no physical process is determinate, you have no objective way to justify the claim that what occur in your gut is directed toward digestion.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...


@ Anonymous 9:08 AM

” Yet refraining from breathing is not perverting the faculty of respiration.”

I won't push this point. What about smoking? It actively prevents the lungs from their natural end of supplying the body with oxygen. According to Feser's definition then smoking is a perversion, don't you agree?

As, by the way, is eating sweets which destroys the liver's natural end of adjusting the levels of glucose. As is watching TV for many hours or taking the car to go to a store which is half a mile away - which destroy the muscles' natural end of producing movement. As is taking drugs (including drinking alcohol in great quantities) which prevents the brain's natural end of thinking clearly. Much of what we call the modern style of living in rich countries is rendered a perversion.

Incidentally, in the spirit of Feser's definition I'd like to suggest a distinction may be made: Actions which don't only temporarily prevent a natural end from obtaining but actually permanently destroy the means to produce that natural end are a qualitatively greater kind of perversion.

Tony said...

Another example would be an educational system based on the uncritical memorization of facts and rules. Such a system forces children to use the minds in a way that will prevent them from thinking rationally, which is the mind's natural end. That too would be an example of perversion,

As, by the way, is eating sweets which destroys the liver's natural end of adjusting the levels of glucose. As is watching TV for many hours or taking the car to go to a store which is half a mile away - which destroy the muscles' natural end of producing movement.

So what if smoking is a perverted faculty act? Suppose it is: so what? Your harping on the point is silly. Nothing in the present discussion hangs on it.

This has all the earmarks of a rant, not a reasoned argument or explanation, Dianelos. That an action is bad for a person does not itself imply that the action belongs to the species "perverted faculty acts", unless ALL bad acts are "perverted faculty" acts. Trying to make out that Feser is saying such a thing, or that his position amounts to saying it, or implies it, is ridiculous on the face of it. You are grasping at straws to make straw man arguments. And trying to reduce understanding of such perverse acts by analogizing them with eating sweets and watching TV for hours is just plain idiotic, since either of these can be done well or ill.

Incidentally, in the spirit of Feser's definition I'd like to suggest a distinction may be made: Actions which don't only temporarily prevent a natural end from obtaining but actually permanently destroy the means to produce that natural end are a qualitatively greater kind of perversion.

It is indeed possible for some perverted faculty acts to be more grave than others. Those with a permanent sort of damage will be worse than similar acts that only temporarily pervert the faculty. That the permanent sort are graver does not lead to a conclusion that a perverted act with a temporary disorder is not a perverted faculty act - as my example above with the bulimic illustrates. Though the distinction is valid, nothing critical to the perverted faculty argument hangs on it. Indeed, Feser pointed out that most white lies, though they are perverted faculty acts, are venial.

Anonymous said...

Don: Yes, my point is that final cause is a form of determinacy.

And our point is that you still have no clue what you're talking about, no matter how many times it's explained to you that there are two different things being discussed. The only fancy footwork going on is how you manage to stick both of them in your mouth over and over again.

Tony said...

Yes, my point is that final cause is a form of determinacy. If all physical processes were indeterminate, they could not possibly point toward an end; they could not intend or *mean* anything. Therefore it's inconsistent to claim to be able to locate final cause, intent or meaning in nature while making the claim that all processes in nature are indeterminate. If we are to accept Ross, a moral standard based on physical processes is a subjective interpretation of the facts known to us. We'd always be imposing our meaning on systems which could not really be systems anyway. If a calculator might be doing quadition instead of addition, there's no telling what shenanigans a sex act is up to.

Mr. Jindra, you seem to be using a deeply equivocal usage for "physical" as bearing on this discussion. On the one hand, if you are a modern physicist, you will describe what happens in the stomach of an animal all in terms of quantum states of electrons in orbital clouds, changes to them as other atoms approach or recede, and electromagnetic forces moving those atoms toward or away. The physicist does not observe any "digestion". It never happens from the "physical" point of view. If you are a chemist, describing the same will be all in terms of electrons being swapped and shared between atoms, bonds forming molecules. But he too cannot observe "digestion" anywhere. If you are a biochemist, you will observe and describe enzymes plugging into the "certain shape" niches for those enzymes, causing one molecule to break apart, or another to form...but he will have no biochemical rationale for calling this "digestion" - after all, much of this occurs in his test tube just fine. The biologist may come along and say that he observes that "digestion" occurs, but the physicist and chemist will declare he is just calling "physical events" by a fancy name.

If you want to use "physical" a certain way.

But if you want to use "physical" the way an Aristotelian or Thomist uses it, things are quite other: understanding the penchant for a body with mass to fall in a gravity well hangs on not only material causality but also formal causality: the "physical" explanation is not a "without 'form' explanation". But explaining formal causality can never be fully complete without dealing with its reference to final causality, because they are intimately intertwined. In A-T, then, every "physical" behavior of a natural body has causes that explain the behavior, and those causes include final causality at SOME level.

Nevertheless, the final causality involved in physical process of the ink in my inkjet landing on the paper, and in the chemical process of the ink drying on the paper and staying in one place rather than bleeding out, is utterly accidental to the intentional causality by which I determine the meaning of the ink's shapes.

If you think the determination of the meaning of the shapes of the ink is the same sort of determination as that of the natural body in carrying out the behaviors associated with its forms implying that it is heavy and wet and electrostatically charged, you are simply departing from sense. The one is accidental to the other. Do not equivocate on this.

Callum said...

Tony,

That was one distinction I could think. DJ's example of the whether a calculator is adding or qussing is using something which only had an accidental form rather than substantial. So, the calculator derives intentionality making the analogy suspect.

Interestingly, Feser addresses some objections to Ross' argument a few posts back where Dilliad(?) gave a biological example of mitosis. Feser replied "Rather, he is arguing that thought has a determinate semantic content and is therefore immaterial. So, the mitosis/schmitosis example is simply not relevantly parallel to Ross’s examples, because there is no semantic content involved in mitosis."

Brandon said...

As, by the way, is eating sweets which destroys the liver's natural end of adjusting the levels of glucose. As is watching TV for many hours or taking the car to go to a store which is half a mile away - which destroy the muscles' natural end of producing movement. As is taking drugs (including drinking alcohol in great quantities) which prevents the brain's natural end of thinking clearly.

Eating sweets does not 'destroy the liver's natural end'; this is why children do not need liver transplants after Halloween. And eating sweets is not something you do with your liver, which would be required for it to be a perverse use of your liver's faculty. This example on its own shows a complete failure to understand even the most basic elements of perverse faculty arguments. The argument is not that ends are 'destroyed', since destroying a faculty is a different kind of moral problem; it's that faculties are deliberately used in ways perverse with respect to their natural ends, and that the actions are themselves perverse because as uses of faculties, they have inconsistent ends (the natural end of the faculty and the end for which one chooses to use it).

To be even relevant, the case must involve:

(1) the deliberate use
(2) of a specific faculty
(3) whose natural end, constituting it as a faculty, is specified
(4) and in which the end of the use is specified
(5) such that the ends in question for that deliberate use of a faculty are actually inconsistent

Smoking is a far more interesting case, but there is room to question whether smoking meets condition (5). Smoking doesn't prevent the lungs from getting oxygen, which is why people don't suffocate to death when they smoke; nor is anyone smoking in the attempt not to get oxygen, or attempting to get smoke rather than oxygen. (Suicide by running the car in a closed garage might be a more plausible case in which people deliberately use their faculty of breathing in a way inconsistent with itself.)

As Tony and Anonymous@9:08 both noted, perversion is not even a general category of wrongdoing; it's one of several. Thus merely happening to make a faculty's attainment of its natural end less efficient may be wrong in some way, but would not be a perversion, specifically.

Brandon said...

On a different note entirely, and not in response to anyone, one of the things I have been thinking about lately is that there are analogues to perverted faculty arguments in politics, because you can think of a state as an artificial system of faculties for common good. Thus using the police to support lawlessenss is a perversion of police power; using the courts to foil justice is a perversion of judicial power; and so forth. Usually artificial faculties do not raise moral questions (in and of themselves), but in the case of political systems the end is common good, and inconsistency with common good does bring us directly into moral territory.

In any case, such arguments are distinct, but they are close cousins, and provide an interesting field in which people are often quite accepting of arguments that have a very similar rational structure. Most people accept at least some political analogues as good reasoning; those who do, owe an explanation of what principled reason there could be to accept this kind of argument as good in the social case and not the individual case, in the case of governance and not the case of self-governance.

Anonymous said...

@Craig Payne
I don't quite get how. They obviously aren't directed towards procreation, but that isn't enough of a criteria to say it is contrary. Feser himself said using a faculty for something OTHER than its end isn't necessarily bad, as long as it isn't directly contrary to it.
My question then is: how do these specific acts of masturbation, homossexuality, and bestiality are directly contrary to the end of procreation, rather than merely being other?

Edward Feser said...

Anon,

What's the big mystery? I address this in the article. On the natural law analysis, the teleology of the act is, at the physiological level, to achieve insemination within the woman's vagina (that's the procreative side), and at the psychological level, to bond emotionally with a person of the opposite sex (that's the unitive side). Both of the acts you're talking about frustrate those ends.

If you want to reject the whole analysis tout court, fine, but the objection that it works for contraception but not these other cases is pretty weird.

boz said...

If a construction worker wears ear plugs to protect his hearing from the pounding of his jackhammer, is he frustrating the natural end of his ears, namely, to hear, and therefore committing an immoral act?

Kiel said...

boz, the builder's intention to frustrate isn't to avoid hearing things per se but protect ears from damage or help him focus on the task. Try reading the essay -- this example was addressed.

Anonymous said...

For those who can read Spanish, the definitive manual on traditional Catholic moral theology is "Teologia Moral para Seglares," (Madrid: B.A.C. 1996, 7th ed., 2 Vols. by A. Royo Marin, O.P.

JoeD said...

Dr Feser,

Considering that we are talking about natural teleology of the human body and perverted uses of it, I wanted to ask you this:

What does A-T teleology say about eating food and gluttony?

I remember reading that one of the popes during the Middle Ages declared that eating food for pleasure when you are not hungry is sinful.

I want to know whether or not the perverted faculty argument supports this or not, because I really don't see how, for example, putting a piece of chocolate in your mouth and eating it for pleasure even though you don't feel any hunger at all could be sinful, or could pervert the faculty of eating and digestion.

I would really like to know your thoughts on this issue.

Don Jindra said...

Tony,

You beg the question and make my point at the same time. I'm saying the Aristotelian or Thomist has no objective way to claim there is objective final cause if final cause is merely the Aristotelian-Thomist interpretation of physical events. Like the physicist or chemist he becomes just one more observer with a subjective point of view. And that subjective point of view cannot be a foundation for moral absolutes. If you determine the meaning of the ink's shapes, the meaning of the chemistry or physics in the stomach or the meaning of sex, then you determine morality when it's based on your determination of meaning. Your determination is not objective.

I'm not equivocating on these terms. I don't claim meaning of the shapes is inherent in those shapes. But I surely don't claim digestion or reproduction or addition is merely meaning we assign to chaotic matter as physicists, chemists, computer scientists or moral philosophers. It's the A-T philosopher who will have difficulty explaining why his "semantic content" is objective in any of these cases. That includes his "accidental" assignment of accidental forms rather than substantial, etc. -- something I've always argued (that is, I've argued per se vs. per accidens is a subjective interpretation of the physics.)

Vincent Torley said...

OK. Here's a simple question. Perhaps someone can answer it. Does the question of whether an act frustrates an end depend on the intentions of the agent performing the act? Yes or no?

Tony said...

I'm saying the Aristotelian or Thomist has no objective way to claim there is objective final cause if final cause is merely the Aristotelian-Thomist interpretation of physical events.

Even on your OWN terms, your position is a load of codswallop if it is not true that "final cause is merely the Aristotelian-Thomist interpretation of physical events".

Since Aristotle doesn't simply posit it nor merely assert it, but argues for it, your position might hold water only if Aristotle's argument for it is unreasonable. Since I consider that his argument is indeed reasonable, your response here is inapposite.

I'm not equivocating on these terms...It's the A-T philosopher who will have difficulty explaining why his "semantic content" is objective in any of these cases

Wow. OK, I guess it's not an equivocation if you assert that "this chocolate santa clause figure in front of me is the same identical santa claus that comes down chimneys and was also the 4th century bishop of Myra". You're right, that's not equivocation, that's direct assertion of sameness. An error of a whole different stripe. Good to clear that up.

Since you reject the entirety of Aristotelian metaphysics, why do you imagine that it would be fruitful to interject that into this discussion, which - at about 4 levels of remove - assumes that metaphysical position? Why would you insert your disagreement here instead of taking yourself off to a dispute that actually is intended to discuss those foundational issues? As far as I can tell, it amounts to a kind of conversational autism: "No, your economic conclusions about the effects of TARP are unfounded because I don't agree with the act-potency distinction."

Boz said...

Kiel,

Dr. Feser does address it, but in a very passing way, where he says using ear plugs to "facilitate" sleep is licit.

We can agree that putting in ear plugs is an instance of actively frustrating a natural end. Intention is invoked to justify the act as licit.

Why can't intention be invoked to justify masturbation or homosexual sex?

One can say that he doesn't intend to frustrate the natural end of the sexual faculty through masturbation but simply to preserve his bodily and emotional calm, or as a sedative to "facilitate" sleep.

Craig Payne said...

Dear Vincent Torley: You wrote, "Does the question of whether an act frustrates an end depend on the intentions of the agent performing the act? Yes or no?"

Perhaps the Principle of Double Effect might be useful here. An action might "frustrate an end," but the intention of the agent in the act was not to do so, but rather to achieve a good that otherwise could not have been achieved. A standard example is removing a cancerous uterus to save a woman's life, even though she is pregnant. The intent of the agent/surgeon is not to perform an abortion and thus frustrate the normal process of gestation, but rather to save the woman's life in the only way possible. I would assume, however, that such cases are quite rare.

Brandon said...

Boz,

Ed, though, in the passage you are discussing, is not discussing it in a passing way; he is taking ear plugs along with a whole set of other objections and responds with four points:

(1) The issue is not the use of something artificial;
(2) They have to be actual cases of end-frustration;
(3) Ongoing and involuntary physiological processes are not related to their natural ends in the same way that individual episodic uses of faculties are.
(4) Things may be wrong while not gravely wrong, or even more than a minor lapse.

The first three are relevant here -- as noted in the article, (1) ear plugs are a good example of artificial devices that we typically use to facilitate natural ends. This is not a general justification; rather, it makes the point that artificiality is not a problem here.

The other three points are also relevant. Is putting in ear plugs an instance of using your hearing organs (which it would have to be, in order to be a case of actively frustrating the natural end), though? I'm not sure it is. Intent is, in any case, not invoked to 'justify the act as licit'; intent is relevant in perverted faculty cases because the two major (and overlapping) kinds of wrong with which it deals are:

(1) cases in which you are trying to frustrate the natural end
(2) cases in which your use of the faculty actually is inconsistent with the natural end of the faculty.

Determining that you are using ear plugs in order to facilitate sleep gives a reason to think that (1) is not involved. It still leaves the question of (2)-type cases where we choose a perverse action without deliberately intending to be perverse.

And the third point is also relevant -- hearing is an ongoing physiological process that is in itself involuntary, and thus the natural end involved is hearing in general, because there is no specific event by which we can initiate it, nor any specific event by which we can actually terminate it. Hearing is something automatic unless we pause it;

Boz said...

Brandon,

"It still leaves the question of (2)-type cases where we choose a perverse action without deliberately intending to be perverse."

Right. So back to the question about the exculpatory role of intention.

Why is it illicit to masturbate if the intention is not to frustrate the sexual faculty but to facilitate sleep through its sedative effects?

Craig Payne's remark regarding the principle of double effect seems to be relevant as well given that intention plays a key role in evaluating licitness.

Brandon said...

Boz,

Again, this misconstrues the role of intent. Intent doesn't exculpate. The only relevance is that your intent could culpate -- that is, you could be trying to be perverse, and that would be sufficient even if you were incompetent and didn't know how to. Beyond checking whether this is true, it has no role; you can intend to do things that are in fact perverse without intending the perversity, so intent cannot exculpate. All intent does is rule out that you aren't trying specifically to be perverted -- which would be perverse even if what you did was in fact fine.

What makes something a perverse use of faculty is that what you are willing is in fact inconsistent with the natural end of the faculty, and nothing more. Thus you can be using something perversely without intending to be. By definition, intent doesn't help you to determine whether this is true or not.

Boz said...

Brandon,

Scenario 1: An insomniac uses ear plugs to facilitate sleep. Sleep is an overall good. The use of ear plugs actively frustrates the natural end of his ears - to hear.

Scenario 2: An insomniac masturbates to facilitate sleep. Sleep is an overall good. Masturbation actively frustrates the natural end of the sexual faculty - procreation and union.

According to classical natural law theory, why is 1 licit but 2 illicit?

Brandon said...

I already previously mentioned one of the differences: hearing is an ongoing default physiological process; therefore its natural end is general, not specific. Masturbation is not an ongoing default physiological process, but a specific use of a faculty; therefore its natural end is not general, but specific.

Anonymous said...

Boz: According to classical natural law theory, why is 1 licit but 2 illicit?

According to classical natural law theory, 1 isn't -- because it isn't even possible. You cannot frustrate your hearing by wearing earplugs, because they don't actually do anything to your hearing. Look at it this way: if you go into a very soundproof room so you can get some sleep, you obviously are not impairing your sense of hearing in any way, right? It continues working as normal, in fact not registering anything when you are in a quiet room is exactly what your faculty of hearing is supposed to do. There's no frustration of the faculty, just normal operation. Well, wearing earplugs is the equivalent of putting your head in a very small soundproof room. It still does not tamper with your hearing in any way, it continues to work just as before. Masturbation by definition does not let your reproductive faculty operate as it's supposed to -- the natural process cannot be completed, i.e. it is frustrated (in vain).

Brandon said...

It's not the only difference, I should add. The first instance involves not using your ears. The second instance involves using your sexual faculty. This is a very significant asymmetry.

Likewise, 'frustrate' here requires an actual inconsistency. In the case of masturbation, there is at least an argument for actual inconsistency, even if one is not convinced by it. But ear plugs are usually not inconsistent with hearing -- they dampen sound, and you can usually hear some things with ear plugs. So where is the actual inconsistency?

Boz said...

Brandon,

The comparison is not between hearing as a faculty and masturbation; it's between two acts, self-imposed temporary deafness and masturbation.

I take you to be saying: The frustration of an ongoing physiological process is licit but the frustration of a periodic physiological process is illicit?

Why is the ongoing vs. periodic distinction relevant? What principle is being invoked? What's the justification of that principle?

This strikes me as incredibly ad hoc.

Brandon said...

Ah, I see Anonymous@10:41 already mentioned the frustration issue. The CAPTCHA is just fantastically slow on this machine.

Boz said...

Brandon,

So now you want to make a distinction between passive frustration of a natural end and active frustration?

Ok. Why is the difference salient?

Brandon said...

The comparison is not between hearing as a faculty and masturbation; it's between two acts, self-imposed temporary deafness and masturbation.

(1) Wearing ear plugs is not temporary deafness.

(2) But even if we were, we are dealing with acts that involve natural ends: the natural end of ears is an ongoing default process, the natural end of the sexual faculty is episodic.

The frustration of an ongoing physiological process is licit but the frustration of a periodic physiological process is illicit?

You haven't established that there is a frustration in the ear plug example; I already pointed this out in my very first comment. The difference between the two is with the nature of their ends: ears are for hearing in general, not for hearing in every specific case. The sexual faculty is for contributing to procreation when it operates; it's not a general end.

Brandon said...

So now you want to make a distinction between passive frustration of a natural end and active frustration?

I made no such distinction; I pointed out that 'frustration' has a specific meaning in the context of this argument.

Tony said...

Craig: The intent of the agent/surgeon is not to perform an abortion and thus frustrate the normal process of gestation, but rather to save the woman's life in the only way possible.

Boz: Craig Payne's remark regarding the principle of double effect seems to be relevant as well given that intention plays a key role in evaluating licitness.

Brandon: What makes something a perverse use of faculty is that what you are willing is in fact inconsistent with the natural end of the faculty, and nothing more. Thus you can be using something perversely without intending to be. By definition, intent doesn't help you to determine whether this is true or not.

I think Brandon has a better account than Craig on this point. In the case of the surgeon, his act is not "aborting a baby" but is "removing a diseased uterus that will otherwise kill the mother". This is the nature of the act, not the motivation for the act. It is necessary to grasp this point: in Catholic moral philosophy, dealing with the 3 fonts of rightness for a moral act, the object, the intention, and the circumstances, the "intention" is extrinsic to the nature of the act, which is specified by its object.

The reason confusion keeps arising here is that the "object of the act" is as known of the concrete possible choice, and will be chosen, in the mind of the voluntary actor, not the "objective physical facts that obtain" which the actor is not even aware of. (When he chooses on the basis of faulty information about the actual facts, he is not guilty of a sin, he is subject to a MISTAKE, a different category.) The "object of the act" is then what makes the act intelligible - it gives the act its intelligible species as such. "Stealing" is "taking what doesn't belong to me" whether I do it to live rich, to give to the poor, or to make the victim angry. The intelligible species characterized by "what doesn't belong to me" determines a distinct species of act from "taking what belongs to me". Because stating the object of the act also states the immediate state of affairs at the end of the act if the act succeeds, the object of the act also is described as the proximate end of the act. Summa, Ia IIae, Q1, A3:

One and the same act, in so far as it proceeds once from the agent, is ordained to but one proximate end, from which it has its species: but it can be ordained to several remote ends, of which one is the end of the other. It is possible, however, that an act which is one in respect of its natural species, be ordained to several ends of the will: thus this act "to kill a man," which is but one act in respect of its natural species, can be ordained, as to an end, to the safeguarding of justice, and to the satisfying of anger:

Hence the confusion arises from the fact that the object of the act is "proximate end" and is intrinsic to the act as determining its species, but the "intention of the act" is extrinsic to the nature of the act and does not determine its species. Both are apprehended by the intellect and willed in the choice, but in different ways.

The surgeon does not choose "an act of abortion but willed for a good intention." He chooses an act of uterus-ectomy, different in species than abortion. The act is good / neutral in its species, and then it depends on the circumstances and intention to know whether the act as a whole is good or bad.

Boz said...

Brandon,

"You haven't established that there is a frustration in the ear plug example."

Ears are for hearing. Blocking hearing frustrates what ears are for. If that's not seen as frustration of an end, then I don't know what is.

"The difference between the two is with the nature of their ends: ears are for hearing in general, not for hearing in every specific case. The sexual faculty is for contributing to procreation when it operates; it's not a general end."

I simply don't see "Hearing in general vs. hearing in a specific case" as meaningful distinction.

Your responses rest on two distinctions: a periodic physiological process vs. an ongoing physiological process; and, active frustration of an end versus passive frustration.

I still don't see how either are morally relevant or on what basis they can be defended as general principles instead of ad hoc qualifications.

Boz said...

Anonymous@10:41 am,

The natural process of hearing is in fact impaired by the ear plugs b/c the natural process of the hearing faculty involves the impingement of soundwaves on the ear drums which are then turned into electro-chemical signals. The ear plugs impede the first step of the natural process of the hearing faculty.

Brandon said...

Ears are for hearing. Blocking hearing frustrates what ears are for. If that's not seen as frustration of an end, then I don't know what is.

Again, 'frustration' has a technical meaning here; it requires that there be an actual inconsistency.

I simply don't see "Hearing in general vs. hearing in a specific case" as meaningful distinction.

I didn't make this distinction, either.

Your responses rest on two distinctions: a periodic physiological process vs. an ongoing physiological process; and, active frustration of an end versus passive frustration.

Again, I did not make any such distinction as the second one. The first is, as I already mentioned, made by Ed in the article.

Brandon said...

The ear plugs impede the first step of the natural process of the hearing faculty.

Establishing impairment or impediment is not sufficient to establish frustration, which requires an inconsistency.

Craig Payne said...

Tony: Good point.

Boz said...

Brandon,

Please kindly elaborate on your understanding of what qualifies as frustration of a faculty's natural end. What do you mean by inconsistency?

The hearing faculty's natural end is to hear through the natural process of hearing, which includes, as the initial step, the unobstructed impingement of air pressure against the ear drums.

How is blocking this initial step not inconsistent with the natural end and process of the hearing faculty?

Anonymous said...

Boz: If that's not seen as frustration of an end, then I don't know what is.

I think that's because you are stuck on focusing on the wrong level -- as Brandon has said, the terms have specific meanings here, we can't just rely on casual usage and then claim there's an inconsistency. (For one thing, "passive frustration" seems to be an oxymoron -- "frustrate" is an active verb, passive frustration sounds like "accidentally on purpose".) Blocking your ears is not blocking your faculty of hearing becuase "ears" and "faculty of hearing" are two different things, even if in casual speech we might sloppily use them interchangeably. Sound waves entering the ears is not the kind of natural process we're talking about, because the relevant nature is human nature, which does not include soundwaves coming from outside. We're concerned with what pertains to the nature of each individual human being. Otherwise going into a quiet room would "frustrate" your sense of hearing, which makes no sense.

Now if you were straining your ears to hear something and at the same time you put in earplugs, that would definitely be perverse -- trying to hear and to not hear simultaneously is obviously contradictory because those actions frustrate each other. But it wouldn't be a perverted faculty because "straining to hear something" is not a faculty. The attempts are opposed to each other, but you are not doing anything to your ability to hear -- again, your ears and nerve signals, etc. are all working correctly. The frustration lies at a different level, not at the level of breaking your sense of hearing itself. Masturbation interrupts a process by removing half the necessary biological requirements (i.e. the other person) which would be more like ripping out part of your ear. Blocking out soundwaves so that the internal process of hearing never gets started is completely different from activating your sense of hearing and then surgically removing your eardrum.

Brandon said...

Please kindly elaborate on your understanding of what qualifies as frustration of a faculty's natural end. What do you mean by inconsistency?

Inconsistency is not being used in any unusual sense here. The perversion in question involves an inconsistency (not just impairment but actual inconsistency) between what you are choosing to do with a faculty and what the faculty's end is. It's discussed in Ed's article, and the very post on which you are currently commenting is about the inconsistency.

The hearing faculty's natural end is to hear through the natural process of hearing, which includes, as the initial step, the unobstructed impingement of air pressure against the ear drums.

The 'unobstructed' is entirely gratuitous and unmotivated, and has no business whatsoever being there. Putting your hands over years does not prevent you from hearing. Jumping into a swimming pool does not prevent you from hearing. Even having a wall between you and what you are listening to you does not necessarily prevent you from hearing. And most people can still hear things with ear plugs. Nor is it correct to call this the 'initial step' of hearing; the initial step is the normal state of the ears, which then receive sound waves solely as they are available. And this is just common sense: your ears do not have to be constantly receiving noticeable sounds in order to be just fine.

Anonymous said...

@Dr. Feser

I apologize if I made it somehow seem like I'm trying to refute or object to your analysis and conclusions. I am not. I do not have nearly the same amount of training in philosophy or experience to be able to refute someone with your skills and knowledge.
My questions are that of someone trying to understand and learn; and I merely am having difficulty on understand this particular topic; but I do not assume my confusion and difficulty are due to you being wrong. I assume you are right, and I'm asking you help to aid me in seeing the right conclusion.

That out of the way, let me try to tackle my questions from another angle:
Our communicative faculties are to be used to convey truth, and lying is frustrating those faculties by perverting the truth and making it unknown or distorted.
However, we can use our communicative faculties, or even other tools to tell fictional stories. To communicate allegories. Those fictional stories and allegories aren't necessarily truths, even if they try to convey a true message. J. R. R. Tolkien didn't write The Lord of the Rings by intending to communicate true historical and archeological facts, but to tell a beautiful story. Is he frustrating his communicative faculties and tools by not telling the truth? No, because he is not lying, he isn't claiming at any point that The Lord of the Rings is a factual account of history.
He is using his communicative faculties for something other than to communicate truth, but he isn't frustrating them.

Now, how is masturbation, bestiality, homossexuality etc different? That is my question.
I do not at one moment question that they are immoral. I am not even trying to make a clever comeback and say "hah see, they aren't". I am merely asking why are they, to learn, because I trust that you know better than me.

Perphaphs in my analogy to The Lord of the Rings I missed something? Perphaps there is another better analogy that can explain my logical failures? I don't know.

I just want to understand. I am but a mere student of thomism and philosophy. I think it's natural to not get it at first try.

Brandon said...

Anonymous@1:00PM said,

Now if you were straining your ears to hear something and at the same time you put in earplugs, that would definitely be perverse -- trying to hear and to not hear simultaneously is obviously contradictory because those actions frustrate each other. But it wouldn't be a perverted faculty because "straining to hear something" is not a faculty.

This is a good distinction, and a very nice way of putting it.

And you're right as well that we should be more careful with the distinction between 'ears' in the physiological sense and 'ears' as a metonymy for 'faculty of hearing'; certainly I should have probably been more precise about that in my comment at 1:15.

boz said...

Anonymous and Brandon,

I appreciate your efforts, though I'm not convinced.

Our comparative definitions of what it is to "hear" are so shockingly incommensurate that disagreement about the related issues will remain intractable.

I think the basics of natural law are sound but attempts to deduce principles from natural ends always get mired in ad hoc reasoning that falls short of the initial goal.

Brandon said...

Our comparative definitions of what it is to "hear" are so shockingly incommensurate that disagreement about the related issues will remain intractable.

I do not know what this means; as far as I can see nobody has been talking about the definition of hearing. There's been talk about the definition of frustration, because you were using it colloquially when in context it is a technical term; there was talk about what ear plugs do, because your claims about them are empirically false (ear plugs generally dampen sound, they don't usually cut it all off); and certain principles have come up, which had already been discussed by Feser in some form or other, and none of which have to do with hearing exclusively. Your own specific claims about hearing seem to be empirical, not matters of definition (which is why they are so baffling -- surely, for instance, you have had the experience of putting your hands over your ears and finding that, while it muffles the sound you can still hear some sounds -- e.g., very loud ones?). So I don't know what definition issue you are referring to here.

I think the basics of natural law are sound but attempts to deduce principles from natural ends always get mired in ad hoc reasoning that falls short of the initial goal.

But none of the principles being discussed are ad hoc; they are standard principles across the board, which is why they are mentioned in Ed's article, in the posts he has made, and elsewhere. Nobody has introduced anything that you couldn't already have found in those places, used to cover a wide variety of cases. The real question is what makes your objections (e.g., your insistence on nonobstruction) not ad hoc.

Boz said...

Brandon,

"as far as I can see nobody has been talking about the definition of hearing"

The issue of whether scenario 1 qualifies as frustration of a natural end turns on the definition of the faculty of hearing.

jmhenry said...

Wouldn't the use of earplugs be more analogous to a device that temporarily prevented someone from using their sexual faculties at all, like a chastity belt or something? Aren't those two different things -- temporarily preventing oneself from using a faculty in the first place, and using that faculty contrary to its natural end? Maybe a better analogy to hearing would be if there was an activity called "anti-hearing" or a device called "anti-sound." Engaging in this activity or using this device would constitute actually using one's faculty of hearing, but contrary to its natural end.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Craig Payne,

In response to my question, "Does the question of whether an act frustrates an end depend on the intentions of the agent performing the act? Yes or no?", you wrote:

"Perhaps the Principle of Double Effect might be useful here. An action might 'frustrate an end,' but the intention of the agent in the act was not to do so, but rather to achieve a good that otherwise could not have been achieved. A standard example is removing a cancerous uterus to save a woman's life, even though she is pregnant."

You seem to be answering "No," but then you add that the presence of a noble intention (e.g. to save a patient's life) can render an act which frustrates an end morally licit. In other words, frustrating an end is not morally wrong per se: it is only prima facie wrong. I don't think that was what Ed was trying to say in his defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument.

Brandon writes:

"The perversion in question involves an inconsistency (not just impairment but actual inconsistency) between what you are choosing to do with a faculty and what the faculty's end is."

Please complete this sentence:

an act A is inconsistent with the end E of a faculty F is and only if ....

Boz said...

Anonymous,

Your point about putting in ear plugs but then straining to hear as an instance of "frustration" of an end is a good one. I take it that, similarly, frustration of the natural end of the sexual faculty is an instance of engaging in an activity that is essentially procreative and unitive while trying to be anti-procreative and anti-unitive (solitary masturbation, for example).

Craig Payne said...

Hi, Vincent Torley. Tony already kindly corrected me on this point. The surgeon is not intending to frustrate a natural end (gestation); the surgeon is intending to save the woman's life. The surgeon's action, in other words, is not an abortion; the surgeon's action is removing a cancerous uterus. Therefore, both the surgeon's action AND intention are good and licit. There is no licit intention justifying an illicit action. My example more or less added to the confusion, and I withdraw it. Best, Craig

Anonymous said...

Sex, Violence, and Justice: Contraception and the Catholic Church (Moral Traditions series)Apr 3, 2014
by Aline H. Kalbian

The perfect reply to this nonsense.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Anonymous 12:49 AM

” It is preposterous to say that it prevents rational thinking, indeed learning facts and rules IS rational thinking, and knowing them is a prerequisite for rational deduction.”

I spoke of “the uncritical memorization of facts and rules”, not about learning them. The natural process of learning entails understanding the rules and understanding the meaning of facts (how facts relate in a larger meaningful whole)

I don't know how the educational system in the US is, but here in Greece the public system of education (which even private schools are forced to implement) is horrible: For example children are taught history as a long list of facts to be memorized. They are taught math as a set rules to be applied when confronting particular problems – a kitchen recipe approach to math. Apparently only for the sake of looking impressive the whole system introduces knowledge long before the child's mind has matured enough to absorb it – with nefarious implications (for the child but also for the teacher). The educational system here is really a case of perverting the mind of children (and perverting the teacher's task). And since home-schooling is illegal the parent is reduced to trying to protect her child from the harm done at schools.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Tony,

”So what if smoking is a perverted faculty act? Suppose it is: so what? Your harping on the point is silly. Nothing in the present discussion hangs on it.”

Our present discussion is about Feser's definition of what perversion is. When analyzing a suggested definition it's always useful to consider its implications. According then to that definition smoking is a perversion. Indeed a deep perversion, since it doesn't only prevent a faculty from realizing its natural end (as arguably using a condom does) but also destroys that faculty.

As I said I think Feser's definition is close to capturing the gist of what we mean by “perversion”. One basic criticism I have is that I don't see why deciding to abstain from useing a faculty should not be considered a perversion. For example to take the decision to abstain from thinking rationally is a perversion, isn't it? Indeed kind of a huge perversion?

Actually I have another criticism. Actively preventing a faculty from realizing its natural end is a perversion as long as the conditions are such that the realization of that end is reasonably possible. But not if it isn't. To use an example mentioned above, a prisoner of war is not in the condition of realizing the natural end of his sexual nature, and in this condition I don't see how masturbation can be considered a perversion. (And a side-thought: What about wet dreams – should these be considered “natural perversions”? :- )

The talk about masturbation (and frankly the grave seriousness with which some churches discuss it) tends to trivialize and even ridicule these issues. But these are indeed important and deep issues. First of all one shouldn't confuse: sin, perversion, and producing moral evils. These are related but distinct concepts. Speaking of sin, which is the significant concept in the context of salvation, one must always take into account the conditions. Why conditions matter is explained both by Christianity's insight that sin *is* what diminishes charity in one's soul, and by the metaphysics of a soul transforming itself into the likeness of Christ. But, it seems to me, conditions also matter in the case of perversion.

” And trying to reduce understanding of such perverse acts by analogizing them with eating sweets and watching TV for hours is just plain idiotic, since either of these can be done well or ill.”

I think that eating sweets and watching TV for hours are always perversions for they do prevent natural faculties (the liver, the mind) from realizing their natural ends, and ultimately harm or destroy these faculties.

Perhaps here you are discussing quantity: Now eating sweets even in small quantities does put an unnatural load to the liver thus preventing and ultimately harming its capacity for realizing its natural end. But watching an educational program on TV, or, say, drinking a little red wine with meals, does not amount to perversion according to Feser's definition. Actually the latter may facilitate the realization of some ends, such as good digestion or mindfulness. Anyway the issue of “measure” (“metron”) is certainly relevant.

Which reminds me of the following observation Brandon made above:

And eating sweets is not something you do with your liver, which would be required for it to be a perverse use of your liver's faculty.

Actually the liver is part of our body's natural mechanism of digesting food.

Nevertheless this brings me to a third criticism of Feser's definition: Why count as perversion only those cases where one uses a faculty to prevent the same faculty from realizing its natural end? In the common case where nature has ordered faculties A and B to work in harmony, to use faculty A in a way that prevents faculty B from realizing its end is also a perversion. Perhaps using A to prevent A from realizing its end in an especially pervert king of perversion, but as it stands I think Feser's definition is incomplete.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

I was thinking about the relation between perversion and sin. It seems that sometimes sin is not a perversion, and that sometimes perversion is not a sin. I would like here to discuss a difficult case in point which is also close to sexual ethics (which lately appears to be all the rage in this blog).

I would like to discuss celibacy in the context of monasticism and of priesthood and argue that even though celibacy is a natural perversion (in the sense that it prevents the faculty of sexual procreation from realizing its natural end), it does not follow it is a sin. Indeed it can be an admirable thing. But in my judgment celibacy is a sin when exercised by the priest, and that the Catholic church is wrong in its decision to require priests to be celibate. It is with some trepidation I introduce this thought in a Catholic blog, but I think that first and foremost the theist loves the truth, I think this is issue greatly helps clarify the relationship between perversion and sin, and in any case I love the Catholic church and have great expectations of her role in the future of humanity so it's in this spirit I offer my criticism.

Now whether X is a sin or not and if so how big a sin it is should be straightforward to ascertain: just consider how X affects the charity of the soul of persons. Unfortunately the philosophy (or rather science) of the human condition is very underdeveloped, so we are basically blind as far as the facts of the matter goes. Therefore we must argue about sin.

Since one normally considers that a perversion is also a sin (because going against physical nature usually also harms the soul – a fact easily explained on theism) I'd like to start by explaining why celibacy in the case of monks and nuns is not a sin, but on the contrary increases the charity in their souls. Monastic life is the decision by a human to give up her life for the glory of God. The monk or nun (or hermit) in a way refuses the kingdom of this world and wishes to live in the kingdom of God in this world. Further monasticism is not so much about monks and nuns, but is about the well-being of the world. By giving themselves completely to Christ monks and nuns partake in Christ's special providence and thus help bring it into fruition. It's no accident that much of our tradition's greatest wisdom comes from the monastic order. That order is the most fertile ground for the revelation of truth. Furthermore, at least in the Orthodox tradition, monks and nuns believe that their intense prayer is actually spiritual work with real and significant effect to all of creation. But the realization of the very excellent and fruitful institution of monasticism celibacy is required. Not only because by its nature family requires much of one's attention which does not comports with monasticism's focus. In a significant sense the monk and nun's family is made with Christ and not with created persons, and the fruit of that union is the salvation of all the children of the world, and not the production of new children.

A similar argument as above can be made for the leaders of our churches – the bishops. One may consider them monks who while remaining in the world are entrusted with the special responsibility of the salvation of all. Which they do by guiding the church in the world. A more difficult task any way you look it.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

The argument can be pushed down to individual priests, but I think that is in error. The priest's responsibility is not catholic salvation, but the salvation of the immediate flock, of people the priest knows personally and with whom he interacts personally. For the realization of that task celibacy is not required, indeed is a hindrance. Why? Because, since it is not required for that task, the respective perversion of human nature comes to the forefront: It's not only that the priest is made to carry a heavy joke which is perhaps beyond his strength and may lead him into burning with passions. It is also detrimental to his responsibility because not having a family himself he is prevented from understanding by acquaintance a huge part of his flock's human condition and problems. The priest is the spiritual father of the flock, and as a natural father has direct knowledge of the condition of his children so should the priest.

The Protestant and Orthodox churches allow their priests to marry. I don't know when exactly and why the Catholic church decided on its current policy. I fear the false idea that sex is somehow sinful or at least morally dangerous and best to be avoided might have played a role. In any case I think it was a bad decision. Perhaps some people worry that for their Church to overturn an ancient tradition would be a demonstration of weakness, but I think it would on the contrary be a sign of strength and would earn much respect around the world.

Don Jindra said...

Tony,

"Since Aristotle doesn't simply posit it nor merely assert it, but argues for it, your position might hold water only if Aristotle's argument for it is unreasonable."

To my knowledge, Aristotle never argued that physical processes were always indeterminate. If he did so, please point me to the argument. My claim is that the philosophy presented on this site suffers from a fatal inconsistency. Ross's indeterminacy has been rigorously defended. But that defense means Aristotle *cannot* argue for an objective final cause.

You assert I'm comparing a chocolate santa clause figure to the 4th century bishop of Myra, but you're going to have to elaborate. Your assertion is too vague for a response. I'd like specifics on what you think is my equivocation.


"Since you reject the entirety of Aristotelian metaphysics, why do you imagine that it would be fruitful to interject that into this discussion, which - at about 4 levels of remove - assumes that metaphysical position? Why would you insert your disagreement here instead of taking yourself off to a dispute that actually is intended to discuss those foundational issues?"

I do reject A-T metaphysics. But again, I claim A-T metaphysics rejects itself. I'm pointing out an internal contradiction. It's fatal to the moral conclusions drawn here about perversion. There can be no objective meaning to 'perversion' if physical processes are indeterminate. Perversion of what? According to Mr. Hyde, the view argued by Ross against his Dr. Jekyll, it's perversion of our subjective interpretation of events, that's all. And that's nothing. This is certainly relevant. When people take a moral position claimed to be objective, it must be based on a foundation that's clearly objective. An examination of that foundation, especially on their own terms, is mandatory. That's what I'm doing.

Brandon said...

Vincent Torley said,

an act A is inconsistent with the end E of a faculty F is and only if ....

Acts can be inconsistent with things in a lot of different ways. A better sentence to complete, for this context, would be:

The object O of an act A is inconsistent with the end E of a faculty F if and only if...


(the object being the end that constitutes the act as the kind of act it is) and the answer is not in any way surprising:

O contradicts E

(or, if you prefer, the full and accurate description of O contradicts the full and accurate description of E). As I already noted, there is nothing unusual about the notion of inconsistency here. And, of course, it is the fact that perversion is a kind of inconsistency that makes possible the analogies Ed notes in the post.

This only gets you inconsistency; it is not enough to get you perversion, because perversion is not the bare inconsistency but when this inconsistency is part of your actual willing -- you, with O, are using F, which has E. That would contrast with objects that do not contradict ends, but simply impede them by making the attainment of them less effective or more limited; such things may or may not be wrong on other grounds, but are not perversions of faculties.

Brandon said...

The issue of whether scenario 1 qualifies as frustration of a natural end turns on the definition of the faculty of hearing.

Again, I don't see this at all; we are all using the same definition of hearing, or at least there is no obvious difference in our answers to the question 'What is hearing?'. What I questioned was whether you are right that you cannot hear at all when there are obstructions. Obstructions for your ears empirically don't guarantee that you cannot hear anything; you can literally put in ear plugs and still hear things, like sirens or piercing alarms (most quality ear plugs are in fact designed this way to prevent people from failing to hear precisely these kinds of things in an emergency). Of course, if you are defining hearing as requiring nonobstruction of the ears, that would be different -- but this gives you a weirdly gerrymandered notion. I can put my hands tightly over my ears and still just, even if only barely, make out a honking of a horn in the parking lot outside; the fact that my hands are over my ears does not mean I am not hearing it.

But there is indeed probably some confusion about what each side is trying to say about the subject.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Craig Payne,

Thank you for your last comment. You seem to have modified your position somewhat: you now maintain that there is no licit intention justifying an illicit action. But you continue to maintain that the question of whether an act frustrates an end does not depend on the intentions of the agent. Ed apparently maintains the same:

"...[S]omeone need not consciously think 'I hereby seek to frustrate the procreative and/or unitive ends!' in order for it to be illegitimate. An act can in fact actively frustrate the end whether or not one has such frustration consciously in view, just as an act can in fact be free of such active frustration whether or not avoiding such frustration is consciously in view."

(See http://edwardfeser.blogspot.jp/2017/02/foundations-of-sexual-morality.html?showComment=1486748423518#c3395987745987860749 )

So here's my question. Consider the following thought experiment. Imagine there are intelligent beings on Mars. They appear to be a fallen race, and they haven't heard the Gospel. Their knowledge of natural law is very imperfect. Imagine that after years of careful observation, a cultural anthropologist from Earth (who also happens to be a devout Catholic with a grounding in A-T philosophy) has compiled a fairly comprehensive (but by no means exhaustive) list of the kinds of acts these Martians perform, as well as a complete list of all their faculties and their respective ends. Here are some questions I'd like to put to readers:

(1) Armed with this knowledge, could the anthropologist deduce which acts performed by the Martians were morally licit (according to the natural law), and which acts were morally illicit perversions?

(2) Could the anthropologist program a computer to make the same deductions, given the relevant data about the Martians' acts, faculties and ends, and the relevant moral principles of natural law (expressed in abstract logical form)? If not, why not?

(3) Brandon has maintained that a perversion "involves an inconsistency (not just impairment but actual inconsistency) between what you are choosing to do with a faculty and what the faculty's end is." So my final question is: is it possible to define, in purely general terms (i.e. without mentioning any particular act, end or faculty), the circumstances under which an act A is inconsistent with the end E of a faculty, without reference to the agent's intentions? If not, why not?

Brandon said...

is it possible to define, in purely general terms (i.e. without mentioning any particular act, end or faculty), the circumstances under which an act A is inconsistent with the end E of a faculty, without reference to the agent's intentions?

We have to be careful with the word 'intentions'; it can mean several different things in this context.

(1) Intention can be a way of talking about willing in general. Thus if you choose O (your object, which makes the act the kind of act you are trying to do), we can say that you are intending O. In this sense, all willing is a matter of intending something, we do have to refer to the agent's intention, because otherwise we aren't talking about any kind of moral situation.

(2) Intention can be a way of referring to further ends or consequences that I hope to get out of my action. Because they already presuppose what the action is, they aren't relevant in this context.

(3) And sometimes intention can indicate what we prefer to focus on in our act; so, for instance, a vigilante murderer may prefer to focus on the fact that his action is a kind of punishment and not on the fact that he is actually choosing to murder someone. This is also not relevant.

So we need to know the agent's object, just as we need to know the faculty's end, to identify precisely what the perversion is.

If we abstract from any particular act, end, or faculty, we get a purely formal characterization of perversion of a faculty as use of a faculty inconsistent with the faculty's natural end, or in other words, in which the object of using a faculty makes it impossible for the faculty to attain its end. Or, in other words, something very like what Ed states in the article he links to.

In a sense, the question is like asking whether we can characterize the conditions for a contradictory statement independent of knowing anything about the meaning of the statement; the answer will start looking a lot like nothing other than the principle of noncontradiction.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Brandon,

I see that we've been cross-posting. You've attempted to answer my third question. Thanks very much for that. You write:

The object O of an act A is inconsistent with the end E of a faculty F if and only if O contradicts E, the object [O] being the end that constitutes the act as the kind of act it is.

In plain English, what you're saying is that the end of an act is inconsistent with the end of a faculty if and only if the end of the act contradicts the end of the faculty. Hmm. Still not very informative.

Now, I know perfectly well what it means for one proposition (P1) to contradict another (P2). However, I still have no idea what it means for one end (E1) to contradict another (E2). It must mean something more than: you cannot realize E1 while realizing E2. (That would rule out any use of my speech faculty in a way which even temporarily prevented me from talking, for instance.) But it must mean something less than: E1 permanently precludes the realization of E2. (That would rule out sterilization but not contraception - which Ed maintains is not only inconsistent with the procreative faculty, but also a perversion of that faculty.) Nor can one appeal to the intentions of the agent seeking the end, in order to define what constitutes an inconsistency, since as we have seen, Ed hold that the question of whether the object of an act A is inconsistent with the end E of a faculty F is to be decided without reference to the agent's intentions.

So I have to ask again: what do you mean?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Brandon,

Just looked at your latest response. You offer three definitions of "intention" and opt for the first one: what you directly choose, rather than any further long-term ends or some particular end achieved by the act which we may prefer to focus on, while performing it. Fair enough.

So my question boils down to this: when should we say that a choice contradicts the natural end of a faculty?

People have talked a lot about sexual acts, but there must be examples with other faculties. Could you please give me a list of (say) three non-sexual illicit acts which contradict the natural ends of their respective faculties, and explain how you are using "contradict" in the same sense, when you claim that (for example) homosexual or contraceptive acts contradict the end of the procreative faculty?

Craig Payne said...

Hi, Vincent Torley. I don't have time for a long response, but here's one example of a non-sexual illicit act: Oedipus stabs out his eyes in order that he no longer see. Since the general directedness or natural faculty of eyes is to see, his action contradicts that faculty and is thus wrongful, even though it is born out of his anger, pain, and guilt. Note that the action is irrevocable; it is not comparable, for example, to putting on eye covers in order to sleep well. It is more comparable to people who, based on some sort of desire to do so, amputate otherwise healthy limbs. To put it another way, no matter his reasons for stabbing out his eyes, when he does so, he is not thinking or acting rationally or morally.

The comparison to homosexual acts: The natural directedness or faculty of sex is unitive and procreative. The act is irrevocable (that is, once accomplished, it can't be "taken back"). Homosexual acts contradict the directedness or faculty of the sex act in its procreative sense, and probably in the unitive sense as well (if you believe, as I do, that there are real differences between males and females besides the physical).

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Craig,

Thanks for your response. One telling point you made about sexual acts: "The act is irrevocable (that is, once accomplished, it can't be 'taken back')." Good point.

Brandon said...

So I have to ask again: what do you mean?

As I previously said, you are asking for an answer that abstracts from all content and then asking what it means to say it is inconsistent, then complaining that you get the response that it violates the principle of noncontradiction. In any particular inconsistency, the specific contradiction will be of specific content with specific content; if you abstract from all specific content, all you are left with is the abstract form of contradiction.

It would be obviously false to hold that propositions are the only things that involve contradictions; this would require that, for instance, 'square circle' is not a contradiction, or that two descriptions cannot contradict each other (and note that I specifically gave an option involving descriptions). The post you are commenting on explicitly gives an example of something involving contradiction in which one of the contradictories is not a proposition -- performative self-contradiction -- and you haven't given any indication of why this is not actually self-contradiction. And it's not as if saying that one's means is inconsistent with one's ends is a weird or unusual thing to say, or as if anyone can't see immediately that taking large doses of poison is inconsistent with trying to be healthy. So I have no clue what the ground of your perplexity is supposed to be.

Could you please give me a list of (say) three non-sexual illicit acts which contradict the natural ends of their respective faculties, and explain how you are using "contradict" in the same sense, when you claim that (for example) homosexual or contraceptive acts contradict the end of the procreative faculty?

I can't really make sense of this request, either. There aren't any such things as different senses of contradiction; and it's not contradict-in-quotation-marks, but contradiction. Either they contradict each other or they don't. If they contradict at all, they contradict in the same sense.

I have not here at any point or in any way made the claim that homosexual or contraceptive acts contradict the end of the procreative faculty. But the latter, as usually understood, by definition do: if you are using a faculty whose natural end is procreative so as to avoid procreation, that is a contradiction of ends. If it didn't contradict the end of procreation, it would usually be dimwitted to call it contraceptive; usually the whole point of calling it 'contraceptive' is to say that it is inconsistent with the end of procreation, and if it weren't, in fact, inconsistent with that end, why would you call it 'contraceptive'?

The usual examples of perversions are quite easy to find, and I suspect you don't actually need me to identify them for you, since they are relatively common tropes in moral philosophy: lying is the most commonly discussed one; choosing to eat dirt (or something similar) rather than food is one that regularly comes up; self-cutting occasionally gets mentioned and so forth; I'm not sure if usury, which is historically considered a perversion, should be counted as a perversion in the strict sense (perhaps of reason as a social faculty in exchange) or if it gets its status by analogy. It actually does not, for any purpose here matter whether these classifications are right: if there is no contradiction, there is no sense in calling them perversions, and the only way to establish that they are perversions is that the object of the action is inconsistent with the end of the faculty that is used in the action, thus using the faculty perversely.

Tony said...

I think that eating sweets and watching TV for hours are always perversions

and argue that even though celibacy is a natural perversion (in the sense that it prevents the faculty of sexual procreation from realizing its natural end), it does not follow it is a sin...But in my judgment celibacy is a sin when exercised by the priest,

The Protestant and Orthodox churches allow their priests to marry. I don't know when exactly and why the Catholic church decided on its current policy. I fear the false idea that sex is somehow sinful or at least morally dangerous and best to be avoided might have played a role.

The talk about masturbation (and frankly the grave seriousness with which some churches discuss it) tends to trivialize and even ridicule these issues.


I think I located the perversion in the discussion.

Tony said...

People have talked a lot about sexual acts, but there must be examples with other faculties. Could you please give me a list of (say) three non-sexual illicit acts which contradict the natural ends of their respective faculties, and explain how you are using "contradict" in the same sense, when you claim that (for example) homosexual or contraceptive acts contradict the end of the procreative faculty?

In addition to what Brandon mentioned, I gave the example of the bulimic eating and vomiting. The object of her chosen act of eating-barfing is contrary to actual ingestion of the nutrition, which is the proper end of the faculty.

However, I would point out that it isn't necessarily the case that any and every faculty can have a ready-made perversion. In order to pervert a faculty, it must first be something subject to voluntary choice (so that cuts out the heart's beating), and it must be complex enough a faculty that one could employ the faculty in some sense and NOT automatically get the proper end. Some faculties are too simple or straightforward, they always produce the natural end when used. So, there really are not a huge number of kinds of perverted faculty examples running around.

Brandon, I wonder if we should distinguish between perverse actions and actions that are perverted faculty actions. In some sense, eating dirt and plucking out your eyes may be perverse actions, but surely plucking out your eyes is not a perverted use of the faculty of sight, is it? In the broader sense, I think that maiming yourself is perverse because it is manifestly contrary to the good of human person as a whole. But cutting your leg off with your hand (and a saw) is not a perverted use of the leg, nor an action contradictory to the natural use of the hand (a surgeon licitly uses his hands to cut off a leg infected with gangrene).

Anonymous said...

A question:

Suppose for some medical or psychological reason that vaginal intercourse is painful for a wife. Suppose the condition is permanent. According to natural law, it would be wrong for her husband to pleasure her with oral sex or masturbation. What do they do? Refrain from sex and practice life long chastity? Is that what a loving husband would do? Is that being considerate of her needs? Think about the practical applications of what you are saying about a rigid adherence to natural law.

Billy said...

"Refrain from sex and practice life long chastity?"

Yes.

"Is that being considerate of her needs?"

Yes, because it cannot be good for her to use her faculties contrary to their natural ends. However, its also the job to live without stress, and there are ways of managing sexual tension beyond just having sex.

"Think about the practical applications of what you are saying about a rigid adherence to natural law."

Practicality does not trump principle. If that were the case, we could just get rid of basic human rights whenever they are no longer practical.

Tony said...

Think about the practical applications of what you are saying about a rigid adherence to natural law.

Yes, think of the practical effects: moral behavior. Upright character. Virtue. Peace among men. Holiness & sanctity. Conformity with our nature. Happiness. Heaven. Union with God.

Those are the practical effects of a rigid adherence to natural law.

thefederalist said...

Wouldn't the perverse faculty argument place specifically perverse sexual behaviors as violations of the fifth commandment, rather than the sixth, which it seems is where they usually are discussed?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Brandon and Tony,

I asked for some examples of non-sexual acts that contradict the ends of their respective faculties. The answers you came up with were as follows: (i) stabbing out your eyes in order that you no longer see; (ii) bulimic eating and vomiting; (iii) lying; (iv) eating dirt; (v) cutting yourself; and (vi) usury(?)

Brandon himself wasn't too sure about the last one (vi). As for (ii), although it is a common theological opinion (supported by Augustine & Aquinas) that lying is intrinsically immoral, it is not Church teaching. St. John Chrysostom, for instance, thought lying was justifiable in case of necessity. In any case, most lies are not regarded as mortally sinful. Eating dirt (geophagy) is practiced in numerous cultures around the world, and it may even have health benefits: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Diet/story?id=1167623&page=1 . Perhaps eating cement would have been a more appropriate suggestion - but it would cause permanent damage to one's teeth and digestive system, making it much more radical than birth control. Bulimic eating, while gross, doesn't strike me as mortally sinful, and I don't know of anyone who says it is. Stabbing your eyes is not akin to contraception or even homosexuality - neither of which cause permanent damage to the procreative faculty. Cutting yourself isn't necessarily wrong, or circumcision and ear-piercing would be immoral. The only examples which are clearly seriously wrong are those which do permanent damage to a faculty.

I'm dismayed by the lack of good non-sexual parallels to contraception and homosexuality. Tony gave the example of Oedipus stabbing out his eyes, but I'd like to propose a better one. Imagine we travel to Mars and find intelligent beings there. One day, we see one of them reach into his eyeballs, and swivel them round 180 degrees, rendering him temporarily unable to see. Instantly, the Martian's body pulses with waves of pleasure for a short period. After that, the Martian reaches into his eyeballs again and returns them to their normal position. Does that action strike you as a perversion of a faculty, and would you say it's wrong? I can't see how we can be sure.

To be continued...

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Tony and Brandon,

Back again.

Re contradictions between means and ends, Brandon gives the following example: taking large doses of poison is inconsistent with trying to be healthy. That is indeed contradictory, but it presupposes an account of what one is trying to do, in order to obtain a long-term goal (health). But the perverted faculty argument makes no such assumption.

Brandon thinks it's patently obvious that homosexuality and contraception contradict the end of the procreative faculty: "if you are using a faculty whose natural end is procreative so as to avoid procreation, that is a contradiction of ends." Re contraception: some might argue that there's no contradiction between using a faculty whose natural end is procreative so as to avoid procreation here and now, while acknowledging that one's marriage must remain open to this good being realized on at least some occasions. (I'm not endorsing this view; I'm just putting it forward.) And as I've pointed out previously, the homosexual doesn't use the procreative faculty so as to avoid procreation. Ed was quite clear in his earlier post that it is not the agent's conscious goals which matter: "An act can in fact actively frustrate the end whether or not one has such frustration consciously in view, just as an act can in fact be free of such active frustration whether or not avoiding such frustration is consciously in view."

Finally, in the question posed by Anonymous above and answered by Billy, I'd be inclined to side with Anonymous, and say that the husband's duty is to satisfy the wife by whatever means necessary. I note in passing that Judaism takes a similarly lenient view of pleasuring the wife by other means, and has done so since the time of the Babylonian Talmud. What Orthodox Judaism condemns is the waste of a man's seed. In the wife's case, the argument doesn't apply.

David T said...

"Bulimic eating, while gross, doesn't strike me as mortally sinful, and I don't know of anyone who says it is."

Surely it falls under the deadly sin of gluttony, doesn't it? (Assuming the standard qualifiers. Clearly the individual who is suffering a clinical eating disorder is not sinning.)

It is difficult to come up with examples parallel to sexual disorder because sex is a unique act, by its nature ordered to others and even the human race itself. Everything else we do - like eating - has its end in ourselves. So if we get it wrong we are directly harming only ourselves (and indirectly others). When sex becomes disordered, its effects necessarily ramify beyond ourselves.

The lower classes here in America suffer from both disordered sex and disordered eating (one of Michelle Obama's pet projects was addressing obesity in the poorer classes.) But the disordered sex has far greater consequences than the disordered eating, leading to the destruction of the family and its myriad consequences in education, crime, etc. The obesity epidemic leads to... well, fat people and higher health care costs and not much else.

DNW said...

Suppose for the sake of argument that an electrical device is developed which, interfacing directly with the brain, "short-circuits" sexual tension, leaving the subject feeling calm, tranquil, lucid and quite able to go about other productive life-enhancing business in a homeostatic emotional state.

This of course is not to be understood as having anything to do with virtual porn, nor as entailing any physical effects of what we might think of as a directly sexual nature, at all. But, rather, as a technique for obviating that.

What if anything is the moral aspect of this? What are the clear consequences for the two main argument forms?

It becomes immediately obvious that objections from the traditional natural law thinker, along the lines say of Cicero, would be rather more visibly founded and straightforward; both in explication and resolution, than any that might be cooked up by more progressive thinkers still wishing for some reason to preserve an obsolete means of "satisfy[ing] the wife".

For, the traditionalist's axiom, is that it is a clear duty to reproduce one's kind. And, I suppose that if children could be artificially produced, with no ill effects, the reproductive imperative would remain, whereas the preferred means of effecting it might be seen as debatable or open to allowances.

But the more libertine or sensualist's line of reasoning must evolve along different lines, as it starts from a more ambiguous premise with a less clearly defined end. It only develops along the lines of those who wish to argue, and who have argued in the past, that it is the tribal, anti-individualizing, anti-egoistic (in some cases) aspect of physical copulation that makes it a social imperative for the realization of the progressive's social development vision.

The progressive has argued all along that sex is not properly justified as an imperative by the more primal necessity of human reproduction. Now however, it is not even an imperative for contributing to psychological balance, ego gratification, or personal productivity.

In both the traditionalist and the progressive cases, the usual physical means of gratification would become - potentially - otiose.

However, under the reasoning of the traditionalist the reproductive imperative remains, be it sexually accomplished or not; whereas the line of reasoning about any imperative regarding sexual copulation from the progressive point of view, leads nowhere in particular with any definiteness.

Thus for the traditionalist, even if the desire for sex could be short-circuited and the net effects on the individual be all positive, if the only sound means of reproducing the race was nonetheless through copulation, then copulation would remain an imperative.

As the reproduction function has for the progressive been divorced from sexual behaviors, it much less clear what if any argument they could drum up for preferring physical copulation to the electrical re-balancing device. Or any which would not recapitulate and thus tend to reinforce the traditionalists' framing of the matter

Brandon said...

That is indeed contradictory, but it presupposes an account of what one is trying to do, in order to obtain a long-term goal (health). But the perverted faculty argument makes no such assumption

This is entirely in error. What you are trying to do in an action is one of the things that determines the object; thus, if you are trying to kill yourself, your action is at least in part an act of killing yourself. It is also false that health is a "long-term goal" of the body; it is an end of its normal operation, and the contribution of an organ to the health of a body is precisely the major determinant in its natural ends. This is why trying to use your own organs, in their normal operation, to kill yourself has not uncommonly been regarded as a perversion of the ends of the organ in question. In any case, since you concede that it is contradictory, I take it that you no longer have any perplexities about how ends can contradict, and thus that ends that.

Brandon thinks it's patently obvious that homosexuality and contraception contradict the end of the procreative faculty

I explicitly said that I had not commented on either of these, and, lo and behold, I said nothing else about homosexuality at all. This is the second time you have simply made something up whole cloth in characterizing my position. And on contraception I only pointed out that 'contraceptive' means inconsistent with procreation, which is indeed not in any way controversial to people who know English. It's literally in most dictionaries.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Vincent Torley,

”Armed with this knowledge, could the anthropologist deduce which acts performed by the Martians were morally licit (according to the natural law), and which acts were morally illicit perversions?”

I was thinking that perhaps the scholastics have misguiede ethical reasoning. Their basic premise, namely that morally good choice is that which realizes the natural ends, is I think sound. The problem I see comes from applying this sound insight to the wrong levels of things: Morality applies to persons created in the image of God, and who called through repentance to transform themselves from an image to the likeness of God as revealed to us in Christ. This then is the natural end of *us*, and *we* are the subject matter of morality.

In short: Thought about morality should concern only our natural end as persons.

Now given the age-old understanding of Christianity (which as it happens I only recently realized when reading the Catholic catechism) sin is the personal desire or action which diminishes the charity in our soul, charity being the fountain of Christian love. This makes perfect sense since by weakening the charity in our soul we will move away from Christ's example, becoming less in His likeness. Conversely repentance comes with the personal desire or action which increases the charity in our soul, which then will love more the way Christ loves, and thus will transform our soul into His likeness.

If the Christian agrees with the above understanding (which I think goes all the way back to John's gospel) then all moral questions reduce to questions about what will increase or diminish the charity of a person's soul. As simple and as tangible as that. And I say tangible, because each person (at least any normal person who has not fallen very deep into the perdition of sin) is clearly and directly aware of the charity in her soul. As for what is moral for other people (let alone for Martians) I am not sure why it is for us to know. Does anybody here experience the charity in her soul grow when judging others? Doesn't Christ ask us to not judge? Perhaps in the context of a philosophical discussion and by using our capacity to empathize and thus to have some knowledge of other peoples' condition it may be useful to discuss moral questions in the abstract. But surely, to come back to your question, this would be rather difficult to apply to Martians. Rather we should try to find the theologians among them and see what they think.

So why do I suspect that scholastic thought has misguided ethical reasoning? Because natural law ethics applies by nature to the soul and not to the body, let alone to parts of the body. I can think of how a traditionalist may object, namely by pointing out that according to scientific knowledge all we mean by being a person supervenes on the body, and that given God´s wisdom in creation one would expect the deliverances of natural law when applies of the former never to contradict its deliverances when applied to the latter. I think that objection is rather weak, fist because one can suggest plausible counterexamples, and secondly because the realization that by its nature natural law ethics is not about the body weakens the whole thing. As Christ said, the Kingdom is not of this world.

Anonymous said...

Vincent Torley: Bulimic eating, while gross, doesn't strike me as mortally sinful, and I don't know of anyone who says it is.

So what? You didn't ask for a list of mortal sins, you asked for perverted faculties.

I'm dismayed by the lack of good non-sexual parallels to contraception and homosexuality.

"Good" sounds mighty subjective here. But how could that dismay you? Can't some things just be unique?

Does that action strike you as a perversion of a faculty, and would you say it's wrong? I can't see how we can be sure.

I'd want to know about Martian biology, but again, so what? Lots of things are unsure. And anyway, that's why we have the Church, to draw solid lines at certain places.

Brandon gives the following example: taking large doses of poison is inconsistent with trying to be healthy. That is indeed contradictory, but it presupposes an account of what one is trying to do, in order to obtain a long-term goal (health).

I don't think so, any more than eating normal food presupposes a long-term goal of health. The long-term is probably only an additional factor. Maybe eating concrete is a more obvious example, though.

Re contraception: some might argue that there's no contradiction between using a faculty whose natural end is procreative so as to avoid procreation here and now, while acknowledging that one's marriage must remain open to this good being realized on at least some occasions.

Yes, some might argue that an occasional contradiction is not a contradiction, but clearly they are wrong.

And as I've pointed out previously, the homosexual doesn't use the procreative faculty so as to avoid procreation.

I'm pretty sure anything involving two people of the same sex avoids procreation. I don't see how it can be considered anything else.

I'd be inclined to side with Anonymous, and say that the husband's duty is to satisfy the wife by whatever means necessary.

Sounds like we're back to the ends justifying the means.

Brandon said...

I had intended to say something about this -- the rest of your first comment was irrelevant, since your assessment of whether particular cases are to be classified as perversions is irrelevant to an account of perversion -- but this is worth commenting:

As for (ii), although it is a common theological opinion (supported by Augustine & Aquinas) that lying is intrinsically immoral, it is not Church teaching. St. John Chrysostom, for instance, thought lying was justifiable in case of necessity.

(1) We aren't talking about Church teaching; it would only be even remotely relevant to this subject if Church teaching denied that it was intrinsically immoral, which it certainly does not.

(2) It is in fact Church teaching that lying is intrinsically immoral; there is no other consistent way to read CCC 2482-2486.

(3) Chrysostom did not in fact discuss the question of whether lying, in the sense relevant here, was justifiable. The usual source cited for this urban legend, On the Priesthood, is about his failure to tell a friend the truth about the fact that he was going to wait to enter the priesthood, knowing that his friend thought he wasn't; the friend entered the priesthood and then accused him of deception. At no point was Chrysostom accused of lying; he was accused of deliberately withholding information, and he argues that this is sometimes justified. A similar confusion of deception in a very broad sense and lying in the strict sense that's relevant here is generally behind attempts to use Chrysostom's account of the teaching ruse of Peter and Paul, the other most commonly cited source, to get him to come out in support of pious lies.

Anonymous said...

Dianelos: So why do I suspect that scholastic thought has misguided ethical reasoning? Because natural law ethics applies by nature to the soul and not to the body, let alone to parts of the body.

Because you've reinvented Gnosticism in your own image, that's why, with some bizarre and totally unChristian divorce between body and soul.

Tony said...

Bulimic eating, while gross, doesn't strike me as mortally sinful, and I don't know of anyone who says it is.

You need to get out more and talk to people.

First, it is a form of gluttony, and gluttony has always been classed as a grave sin in its general nature (individual acts may not be). All classic authorities consider it so.

Second, it has fairly high potential for serious damage to the health (including risk of death in full-blown cases), so from the standpoint of what it does, it can be considered grave.

Third, as Brandon said, and as the Prof said: an act can be a perverted faculty act and be a venial sin. There is no requirement that it be grave to be perverse.

And as I've pointed out previously, the homosexual doesn't use the procreative faculty so as to avoid procreation.

The nature of his chosen act is "sex made sterile" simply because it is with the same sex partner. It needs nothing of his conscious, directed intent to make it so apart from merely willing to have sex with the same sex partner. The homosexual uses the procreative faculty in a way that is by design sterilized.

Tony said...

As for (ii), although it is a common theological opinion (supported by Augustine & Aquinas) that lying is intrinsically immoral, it is not Church teaching. St. John Chrysostom, for instance, thought lying was justifiable in case of necessity.

As I understand it, the position that lying might be licit in some cases was held, as a possible position, as a minority position among theologians for a long time. However, the opposite position was not only the majority position, it held pride of place as being the presumptively correct stance. When the first edition of the Catechism came out, it provided a text on lying that seemed to include the minority position as allowable. There was a rather strenuous outcry from theologians, and in the official version the text was changed to remove any apparent room for allowing the minority position. The relevant texts do not leave room for it any more:

2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. the deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. the culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray.

While the Catechism is not a dogmatic document in every single word, such texts like the above cannot be minimized as only probable or as incomplete in a fundamental way.

Tony said...

Suppose for the sake of argument that an electrical device is developed which, interfacing directly with the brain, "short-circuits" sexual tension, leaving the subject feeling calm, tranquil, lucid and quite able to go about other productive life-enhancing business in a homeostatic emotional state.

For, the traditionalist's axiom, is that it is a clear duty to reproduce one's kind. And, I suppose that if children could be artificially produced, with no ill effects, the reproductive imperative would remain, whereas the preferred means of effecting it might be seen as debatable or open to allowances.


DNW, The traditionalist view is that every child be conceived only in a sexual act of love, in which the reproductive faculty finds its operation combining reproduction with the unitive dimension, both at the service of permanent love of persons - and allowing to God his role in deciding whether this act does or does not produce a child. At least for the Catholic Church, there is nothing debatable about it.

I would allow, though, that in the hypothetical I can see nothing definitively disordered about using such a machine by priests and other celibates. However, I suspect that because the reproductive faculty is deeply written into human nature (and not merely genes), there cannot be any such technology that produces such results without harmful side-effects.

Tony said...

And I say tangible, because each person (at least any normal person who has not fallen very deep into the perdition of sin) is clearly and directly aware of the charity in her soul.

Just. Not. True.

And the saints have said so repeatedly.

St. Joan of Arc, upon being asked whether she was in a state of grace or not, (in order to trap her, either "yes" or "no" answer getting her burned at the stake), replied "If I am not, may God place me there; if I am, may God so keep me." She didn't know, and for her to say she did was for her to be held a heretic. It is for this and similar things she said, as much as for any other one reason, that she was recognized by the Church.

Vincent said...

Hi Tony, Brandon and Anonymous,

Thank you for your responses. I'll be as brief as I can.

Re St. John Chrysostom on lying: it appears that you are correct, Brandon. FYI, I obtained my information from the Catholic Encyclopedia, which one normally assumes to be a reliable source of information about Catholic teaching:
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09469a.htm

You are however wrong, Brandon, in claiming that the Catholic Church (or for that matter, the Catechism) teaches that lying is intrinsically immoral. The matter is not settled. Please see these articles by Jimmy Akin and Dr. Jeffrey Mirus:
http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/pope-francis-and-lying-to-save-life
https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/articles.cfm?id=242

Re the nature of the alleged contradiction involved in perverting a faculty: as far as I can make out, what Brandon (and, I think, Tony) are claiming is that it is contradictory to use a faculty which is designed for an end E, in order to avoid that end. I'm sorry, but that's not a contradiction.

Re Brandon's example, that taking large doses of poison is inconsistent with trying to be healthy: I am now persuaded that no appeal to long-term goals is required. But there is an explicit contradiction between the beliefs, "Large doses of poison are unhealthy," and "Nothing that I eat is unhealthy (since I am trying to be healthy)." This inconsistency can be expressed propositionally. There's also a contradiction between desiring something I know to be unhealthy and desiring to eat only healthy food.

Re the question of whether homosexuals are trying to avoid procreation: I apologize for mistakenly imputing this assertion to Brandon. Tony, however, argues that homosexuals, whatever they may consciously desire, choose to engage in "sex made sterile." That's an interesting phrasing, which I haven't seen before. But let's go with that. In that case, the contradiction would be between using a faculty which is designed for an end E, and rendering it incapable of achieving that end. Again, that's not a contradiction.

I'll stop there for now.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Anonymous 2:30 PM

”Because you've reinvented Gnosticism in your own image, that's why, with some bizarre and totally unChristian divorce between body and soul.”

Perhaps you understood that according to my view the body is the creation of a lesser divinity. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hold that both the body and soul are created by God and thus are both perfect according to God's purpose.

As for the divorce between body and soul I accept the premise that all we mean by “being a person” supervenes on the body. (Actually in my metaphysics I hold that all limited persons experience life having a physical body in a physical environment, in the sense that the limited factors in their condition represent the physical.)

What I meant is simple enough:

1) We humans are embodied souls.

2) Ethics applies to souls, whether embodied or not. The reason is that both sin and repentance refer to the transformation of the soul, namely on how the charity in the soul

3) Al is the case with all ethical theories, natural law ethics applies to our soul. Not to the body which is a substance of a different kind and irrelevant to salvation. All ethical teaching, including ethical teaching about the body or about any material thing, is grounded on how the charity of the soul grows or shrivels.

4) Any application of natural law ethics to the body is therefore unnatural.

5) Any application of natural law ethics to the body serves little useful purpose if at all.

Perhaps #5 requires some discussion. Ancient Greeks said that a healthy mind resides in a healthy body. And indeed (contra some perverted religious practices) one should always take good care of the body and never injure it. Our body, the same as all material creation, speaks of the glory of God and is given into our care. On the other hand it's clearly not the case that the weak body (whether because of accident, old age, or illness) limits the charity and thus the perfection of the soul. I think the religiously more helpful metaphor is that the body is the vessel of the soul – it holds the soul as a jar holds water. This metaphor expresses both the intimate relation between the two and the difference in kind. The jar may become brittle and be near the point of breaking, but this does not affect the water inside which stays pure all the same.

Anonymous said...


I made a comment yesterday about a husband sexually satisfying his wife orally or with manual stimulation and received cold, sterile, legalistic replies by Billy and Tony. I am a conservative evangelical protestant. While we evangelicals agree with our Catholic friends on a number of issues, we take a more humane approach to married couples and their right to sexual expression within marriage. This is from Dr. Ed Wheat and Gloria Perkis:




Conservative Christian marriage counselors Dr. Ed Wheat and Gloria Okes Perkins point out that… “…a biblical understanding of sex dispels false fears and inhibitions. …The Scriptures tell us clearly that the joyous sexual expression of love between husband and wife is God's plan. …Uninformed people have actually considered the Victorian view to be biblical because they think the Bible forbids all Earthly pleasures. Certainly not! In fact, the Bible is far more ‘liberated’ concerning sex than untaught people realize. In God's view there is a mutuality of experience between husband and wife. Each has an equal right to the other's body. Each has not only the freedom but also the responsibility to please the other and to be pleased in return.

…These basic principles concerning the enjoyment of sex in marriage are found in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5… The principle of need… a commandment, to meet our mate's sexual needs… The principle of authority… when we marry, we actually relinquish the right to our own body, and turn that authority over to our mate. …the wife's body now belongs to the husband. The husband's body now belongs to the wife. This means that we must love our mate's body and care for it as our own… The principle of habit… we must not cheat our partner by abstaining from the habit of sex, except by mutual consent for a brief time” [Love Life for Every Married Couple, pp. 70-73].

Read more at: http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/sex-oral.html

Anonymous said...

Don: I'd like specifics on what you think is my equivocation.

It's been explained already in this thread that you are confusing two different things, not to mention every time it's come up in the past. Why would repeating it again make any difference this time?

There can be no objective meaning to 'perversion' if physical processes are indeterminate.

The funny thing is, that does not logically follow even if we pretend the indeterminacy argument applied in this case. I'll let you figure out why for yourself.

Anonymous said...

So given that she is against such discriminations, she finds she has to re-think the concept of person since the one “originally evolved in philosophy” leads to directions she judges to be wrong for they go against humanity. Well, I say, this has all the signs of forming one's thought according to the result one wishes to achieve, of inventing rather than discovering truth.

Dianelos, what is wrong with you? Do you get half the stuff people say to you wrong because you don't understand English properly? Laura Palazzani is saying the exact OPPOSITE of what you accuse her of. She is showing that people like YOU are twisting the meaning of "person" to get the result you wish to achieve. Your nonsense about consciousness has been explained to you but you just ignore the facts that you don't like. I don't know what word you use in Greek, but in English "consciousness" is something you lose every time you fall asleep. It simply cannot be a requirement of personhood. Since you think the Church "would simply state what you state" if you are right, then please show us the exact wording where the Catholic Church says that an embryo is not a human person.

I spoke of “the uncritical memorization of facts and rules”, not about learning them.

What's critical memorization, and how do you do it without learning anything? If all you meant was that Greek schools do not do a good job of educating children, then why didn't you simply state so? Ineffective schooling hardly constitutes "perverting the minds of children" even given your new explanation for what you meant.

The priest's responsibility is not catholic salvation, but the salvation of the immediate flock
It is also detrimental to his responsibility because not having a family himself he is prevented from understanding by acquaintance a huge part of his flock's human condition and problems.
The Protestant and Orthodox churches allow their priests to marry.


This is a serious misunderstanding of human relationships and of priests' responsibilities, both Catholic and Orthodox. It's also just plain wrong about Orthodox priests: no, they are not allowed to get married.

I don't know when exactly and why the Catholic church decided on its current policy. I fear the false idea that sex is somehow sinful or at least morally dangerous and best to be avoided might have played a role.

You don't know, but you will spout off nonsense anyway, right? Allow me to calm your fears by letting you know that your ill-founded speculation on this topic is complete baloney.


4) Any application of natural law ethics to the body is therefore unnatural.

So nature is unnatural... of course it is. You know, some modern Greeks say mens sana in corpore sano too. But healthy = natural law, you can't have one without the other.

And indeed (contra some perverted religious practices)

And what exactly would be getting perverted if there is no natural (law) applied to bodies? Whether you are contradicting yourself, or just don't know what you're talking about, I can't say. I wouldn't rule out both.

Anonymous said...

I made a comment yesterday about a husband sexually satisfying his wife orally or with manual stimulation and received cold, sterile, legalistic replies by Billy and Tony.

Oh, no, not "cold" and "legalistic" and "inhumane"! I guess if some anonymous Internet poster can insult a position, then that proves it's wrong. Though I do find it a bit amusing that you object to "sterile" logic but don't mind sterile sex. Different strokes, I guess.

…the wife's body now belongs to the husband.

That doesn't mean he can abuse it, or vice versa. Your quotations are somewhat vague, but they don't explicitly defend debauchery either. I hope you're not really saying that if morality proves difficult or unappealing then we can just chuck it out. Being moral only when you feel like it isn't actual morality, it's just doing whatever you want.

Anonymous said...

DNW: and quite able to go about other productive life-enhancing business in a homeostatic emotional state.

Oh, homeostatic state. At first glance, I thought you said something else.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Tony,

”St. Joan of Arc, upon being asked whether she was in a state of grace or not, (in order to trap her, either "yes" or "no" answer getting her burned at the stake), replied "If I am not, may God place me there; if I am, may God so keep me." She didn't know”

Right, interesting. But I was talking about the existential fact that one is aware of whether the charity in one's soul grows or withers, not that one is aware of whether one is in a state of grace or not.

Now I am not completely certain what “state of grace” means in the context of the teaching of the Catholic church. From the discussions in this blog I had the impression that state of grace refers to whether should one die in this instant one's soul will go to heaven (perhaps via the purgatory) or not. I looked up in the Catechism and couldn't find a direct definition but I found this: ”1861 – Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. By speaking of *the loss* of charity and not just about the weakening of charity I suppose the meaning here is that mortal sin kind of wipes away all of charity. And thus the “state of grace” is lost. I am not sure I understand this right though.

Googling about the meaning of “state of grace” I found a document of the Catholic Church of Manchester which is specifically about the state of grace (it's not there anymore but I found it cached). There I read ”Many people define the “state of grace” as
the absence of mortal sin. Yes, grave sin is incompatible with the “state of grace,” but […] there’s much more to the “state of grace” than avoiding mortal sin.”


In a Catholic Dictionary I found the definition that state of grace is the ”Condition of a person who is free from mortal sin and pleasing to God. It is the state of being in God's friendship and the necessary condition of the soul at death in order to attain heaven.” What confuses me here is that it speaks only of a necessary and not a sufficient condition, so it looks like one can be free of mortal sin and also pleasing to God, and even so not attain heaven.

In a third source I read: ”State of grace has always been that state in which we are not in mortal sin and are in a good relationship with God. It is most defined in the sense that if I am in a State of Grace when I die, I go right to Heaven.”

Well, I find this confusing. If the concept of state of grace is so important then a more concise definition is needed. I have said it before, the Church should publish a “Catechism for Dummies”, which a lay person with no special studies can comprehend.

In any case it seems clear enough that being aware of the growth or withering of the charity in one's soul is not the same as knowing whether one is in a state of grace or not. Actually I doubt many people have a clear understanding what “state of grace” really means.

Now above I claimed that, unless one is in a particularly gravely sinful state and thus spiritually blind state, one is as a matter of existential fact clearly aware of whether charity in one's soul grows or withers. This is meant as a factual claim, not as a proposition that requires or admits justification. Epistemologically speaking existential facts are the only facts there are, and in this context the only thing I can do is to ask the reader to have a look and see whether she is or isn't aware of the movement of the charity in her soul. I've already mentioned an exercise: See how judging others moves the charity in your soul.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Vincent Torley wrote: ”I'm dismayed by the lack of good non-sexual parallels to contraception and homosexuality.”

Anonymous 2:26 PM responded: ”"Good" sounds mighty subjective here. But how could that dismay you? Can't some things just be unique?”

@ Anon: Well when a definition of a general concept is found to work well only in a particular subset of cases then it is a bad definition. And might look like a part of an ad hoc argument. In our case Vincent argues that Feser's definition appears to work well only in the context of sexual ethics.

@ Vincent Torley: I find that Feser's definition works pretty well in that it captures the gist of the meaning of “perverted faculty”. I propose the following non-sexual example: The natural end of the faculty of sight is to have clear vision. Suppose somebody, let's call him Trump, enjoys seeing everything in golden hues and therefore wears special glasses that make all colors appear as hues of gold. Trump would then be perverting his faculty of vision, because he would be using it in a way that prevents it from realizing its natural end. (Sorry for trolling, but I found the picture too funny to let go.)

How is that example parallel to contraception? Well when one uses a condom one covers one's penis with a piece of special plastic that prevents it from realizing its natural end, and so does Trump when putting on the special glasses.

On a more serious note these bright red glasses some people like to wear would be a case of perverting their faculty of vision. But surely not a sin. Perhaps that's a case of a perversion of a natural faculty which is not a sin.

Tony said...

This is meant as a factual claim, not as a proposition that requires or admits justification.

What you mean is that it is a matter of observation, not a matter of reasoning.

Epistemologically speaking existential facts are the only facts there are, and in this context the only thing I can do is to ask the reader to have a look and see whether she is or isn't aware of the movement of the charity in her soul.

The answer is: no.

There, is that simple enough? No. No. No. A thousand times, no.

State of grace has always been that state in which we are not in mortal sin and are in a good relationship with God. It is most defined in the sense that if I am in a State of Grace when I die, I go right to Heaven.

You are in a great deal of confusion. A person only has charity in their soul insofar as they have sanctifying grace in their soul - this is exactly what the Church means by "being in a state of grace". Being in the state of grace implies being in God's favor and having God's friendship, because ontologically it consists in an interior participation in God's own life, inasmuch as He "makes His abode with you". Which both St. Paul and St. John testify to.

You cannot go to heaven without being in a state of grace - this is a necessary but not sufficient condition. In addition to being in the state of grace, you must also be free of any attachments to other goods besides God that impede your love of God.

You can grow or diminish in grace / charity, with acts that increase or your love of God, or increase your attachment to other goods. However, any time a person commits a mortal sin, they lose the state of grace altogether because the ontological condition is wholly incompatible with a rejection of God as your last end, or any choice that entails choosing some other good as your last end. It is well understood by the Fathers and Doctors and the Church generally that persons commit mortal sins without being aware of the loss of that charity in the soul.

In any case it seems clear enough that being aware of the growth or withering of the charity in one's soul is not the same as knowing whether one is in a state of grace or not. Actually I doubt many people have a clear understanding what “state of grace” really means.

Like you, for example. It doesn't necessarily matter whether people know what being in the state of grace "really means", since a person can have charity without knowing that is due to God's gift of sanctifying grace. What matters is that they have that charity, and this implies acting in ways conformable to God's remaining within the soul. Acting contrary to that condition means losing the condition: God will not remain with a person who insists on His departing. But since the operation of grace is so deep in the soul that it's presence can only be known by effects - and therefore through reason and imperfectly - a person cannot directly observe its presence and can be mistaken about it. We have no faculty of direct observation of charity.

David T said...

Tony, that's an enlightening summary of the situation. It brings to mind Dante's description of the lost soul:

Midway upon the journey of life, I found myself in a dark wilderness... How I had entered, I can't bring to mind, I was so full of sleep just at that point, when I first left the way of truth behind.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Anonymous 11:32 PM

”Laura Palazzani is saying the exact OPPOSITE of what you accuse her of. She is showing that people like YOU are twisting the meaning of "person" to get the result you wish to achieve.”

(First a point of order: Anon is here responding to a comment of mine in the previous thread where the relevant links to the original texts can be found.)

No, she is explicitly saying that ”The concept of person originally evolved in philosophy to characterize the human being, is being used today "against" humankind itself.” So she accuses people (no doubt including myself) to use the concept of person originally evolved in philosophy to do things she disapproves. Then she argues that ”the philosophical definition which is best suited to making it possible to re-think the concept of person is [...]”. So clearly it's her who openly suggests the need to change the original philosophical concept. Actually she also describes her project: ”It is indispensable that the speculative effort of personalism should be directed at the redefinition of the subject within the context of philosophy of the person and of the human, which will be capable of providing justifications for the identity between human being and person (her emphases). So she plainly states both the means, namely the redefinition of the person, and the end, namely to justify that the human being is identical to [human] person. Which reminds me of the question in the Evangelium Vitae “How could a human individual not be a human person?” Well to produce an affirmative answer that can be justified Palazzani argues that a “re-thinking” and “redefinition” of the original philosophical concept of person is required. Now, if human person is identical to human being, then her goal in the abortion debate is reached: According to the science the fertilized human ovum is a complete biological organism possessing human life and is thus a human being, which moreover is identical to human person as she proved. And ergo: The fertilized human ovum is a human person, and all the philosophical and theological knowledge that refers to persons applies to the fertilized ovum too (albeit after the redefinition of the person). Incidentally the quotes are from pages 181 and 182 of “Pluralism and Law: Proceedings of the 20th IVR World Congress”, Amsterdam, 2001, Volume 1.

In my judgment the above is very bad philosophy indeed. After all, to redefine concepts to fit one's goal is a classical example of ad-hoc argumentation. Especially when suggesting the redefinition of personhood, a concept which plays an important role in philosophy and a fundamental one in theology.

Finally I'd like to suggest the following meta-philosophical argument: A philosopher may encounter and wish to resolve a problem of internal stress in her belief system. Such as beliefs that do not fit well with each other or even that push against each other or produce any other kind of cognitive dissonance, say with one's existential facts. When, despite one's efforts, one finds that the problem cannot be resolved unless one resorts to bad philosophy then the real problem probably lies elsewhere. One is attacking the wrong problem.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

”in English "consciousness" is something you lose every time you fall asleep.”

That's an ambiguity of the English language, since “consciousness” might refer 1) to the capacity of having experiences as in “people have consciousness but thermostats don't”, and also might refer 2) to actually having experiences as in “under general anesthesia people lose all consciousness”. In order to sidestep that linguistic ambiguity in a previous comment I used “capacity of consciousness” as in “personhood requires the capacity of consciousness”. But this confused some people who do not make my distinction between capacity with potential but tend to conflate them.

Let me try this argument: Angels are persons, right? But they have never been a fertilized ovum. So at least we can agree that a fertilized ovum is a requirement of personhood. According to traditional understanding angels are created by God complete and outside of any biological mechanisms. Now do you think it makes even sense to speculate that God might produce angels without consciousness – even though they are capable of doing all the other jobs we find mentioned in the Bible? Some kind of zombie angels? Surely not. But why not? Because we in fact cannot conceive of a personal being without consciousness.

“please show us the exact wording where the Catholic Church says that an embryo is not a human person”

That one does not teach X does not imply that one teaches not-X. And I have already shown a document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith specifically makes the point that Donum Vitae does *not* affirm that the embryo (never mind the fertilized ovum) is a person. Proving that in the preparation of Donum Vitae the suggestion has been considered and rejected, or at least not accepted as sufficiently grounded in reason or faith.

”What's critical memorization, and how do you do it without learning anything?”

When I spoke of “uncritical memorization” I meant memorization required outside of any critical thought process. I mentioned the example of teaching history by requiring children to only memorize a long series of facts. The proper teaching of history would focus on the meaning of it and how historical facts relate to each other, while requiring children to memorize only a very small set of such facts. Which children will probably memorize automatically anyway. I suppose children in the US would memorize the name of the first president without having to expend any effort, but perhaps will need a little effort to memorize say the date of the American Revolution.

”Ineffective schooling hardly constitutes "perverting the minds of children" even given your new explanation for what you meant.”

I think it fits Feser's definition: If a teacher forces children to actively uss their faculty of learning in a way that prevents them from actually learning (perhaps permanently), then this teacher is perverting the children.

”It's also just plain wrong about Orthodox priests: no, they are not allowed to get married.”

Well I happen to have direct knowledge that in Eastern Orthodoxy priests are allowed to marry and mostly do. You can ascertain the fact of the matter yourself just by googling for a few minutes. Priests here have families and thus can relate in a more personal level with their flock.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

”So nature is unnatural...”

I have no idea where you read that. I said that by its nature ethics refers to the soul of rational persons. You don't speak of ethics in the context of what dogs or thermostats should do. Therefore natural law ethics too refers to the soul. As I said this does not preclude applying natural law ethics to body parts and discuss how one should use them because of their own nature, but it is an unnatural application of natural law ethics. Why? Because, I argue, the grounding of any ethical truth outside its natural subject matter, is unnatural.

”And what exactly would be getting perverted if there is no natural (law) applied to bodies?”

I was thinking about the religious practice of self-flagellation. Feser's definition correctly shows that this is a perversion, since it prevents the skin from realizing its natural end. Se we agree this far.

Now on the ethical, level self-flagellation is also a sin. What makes it a sin is not a matter of the natural end of the body's skin. What makes it a sin is that it moves the soul in the false direction; it diminishes its charity. My guess is that it greatly diminishes the charity and thus is a great sin. There are other such false practices: I've heard that in my tradition some monks put ashes in their meal lest they enjoy its taste.

The ethical precept that we should become like Christ does not entail that we should make certain we physically suffer like Christ. If we do become like Christ by growing the charity in our soul and thus loving others with the universality and self-transcendent manner that Christ did, then it's quite probable that the world will make us suffer one way or the other. But it's not like we must ourselves make certain this happens. On the contrary Christians should try to build a world in which Christ is not re-crucified. And, incidentally, the very phrase “mortification of the flesh” is unfortunate. I read it is based on a few bits St Paul wrote, and I was thinking how in the Greek culture one likes to use dramatic and symbolic expressions sometimes to the point of excess. Which can lead to the perversion of the original meaning, less so when read in the flowery Greek mindset, but more so when read in the square Latin mindset. What is fruitful is not the mortification of the flesh but the exercise of the spirit - “asceticism” means “exercising”. The practice may be the same, but the mindset is different.

Don Jindra said...

Anonymous,

"It's been explained already in this thread that you are confusing two different things, not to mention every time it's come up in the past. Why would repeating it again make any difference this time?"

I can only assume you're speaking of Craig Payne's reply to Callum, not me. Or maybe you're referring to some other post in this thread that wasn't addressed to me.

Craig Payne's reply to Callum said, "The idea that a purely physical process (digestion, let us say) is determinate is separate from the directedness we see in final causation. In other words, it doesn't matter whether the answer to your question is yes or no. Let's say I eat some food and the process of digestion begins in me. The process in question is directed toward digesting food, which means it is further directed toward keeping me alive as an integrated being. Now whether or not that process is 'determinate' in the sense of being predetermined by all regularities of physical nature--well, I guess I just don't care."

But there are problems with that. Please explain how a process can be directed toward anything (final cause) if all physical processes are not directed toward anything. Craig Payne's 'explanation' was nonsense.

Furthermore, 'determinate' in the sense Ross uses it, and as it is defended here, means more than 'the sense of being predetermined by all regularities of physical nature.' Ross means that the regularities of physical nature have no inherent meaning. Our meaning is imposed on a calculator. Indeed, any meaning found in nature is imposed by us. That's the implication of Ross's paper. That's also the implication of Searle, also defended here. It follows that the end a man finds in sex is imposed by that man. It's not inherent in nature. It follows that there can be no objective meaning to 'perversion' if the meaning of physical processes are imposed by us. So I deny I'm equivocating. I deny I'm using these terms differently that they are typically used here. I'm if you think I am, please elaborate.


Craig Payne said...

"By its nature ethics refers to the soul of rational persons."

It is true that natural law ethics refers to HUMAN nature, not to the "wild kingdom" around us. However, a "rational person," in the case of humans, is a soul and body. Your restriction of the realm of ethics to the inner self is far too Cartesian.

Craig Payne said...

"Please explain how a process can be directed toward anything (final cause) if all physical processes are not directed toward anything. Craig Payne's 'explanation' was nonsense."

What I said was that not all physical processes are "determinate." That is not the same as saying that they are not "directed" toward an end, as numerous people have attempted to explain to you. For example, my typing on this computer is directed toward a final end and is a physical process, but it is not determined by anything. I could stop now if I wanted to. In fact.....

Craig Payne said...

And one more point--if there is no objective meaning to the "perversion" of a faculty, it seems you would also have to deny that faculties have any inherent directedness. For example, our faculty of sight is not really connected to the directedness of our physical eyes--that is just the meaning we "impose" on it, as we impose meaning on the artifacts we make. Am I reading you correctly?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Tony, Brandon and Anonymous,

I've had some more time to think about the perverted faculty argument, and I believe I've found a fatal flaw. I'd like to quote from Ed's OP:

"Hence, suppose faculty F exists for the sake of end E. There is nothing perverse about not using F at all, and there is nothing perverse about using F but for the sake of some other end G. What is perverse is using F but in a way that actively prevents E from being realized."

I contend that the scenario Ed is envisaging is not perverse, but flat out impossible. Here's why.

The first thing we need to ask is: what is a faculty? Since it's something that may or may not be exercised, it belongs in the category of potency rather than act. And since it's exercised by doing something, it must be an active potency rather than a passive one. A faculty is therefore an active power of the soul - whether it be vegetative, sensitive, appetitive, intellective or locomotive. Now, the end of a faculty is simply its proper object - which is realized whenever the faculty is exercised. Thus the end of the faculty of vision (or the power to see) is simply the vision of a colored object, which is what happens when we see.

That being the case, it is clearly impossible to exercise a faculty without realizing its end, let alone exercise it in a way that prevents its end from being realized.

So if a faculty cannot be perverted, then what can? The answer is: the bodily organ through which the faculty is exercised in a human being. If this bodily organ is used in a way that prevents it from being able to exercise its faculty, then we can speak of a perversion. For instance, if I were to use my eyeball as a pin cushion in some avant-garde art exhibition, after having it surgically removed, that would be a perverted use of the organ, as it would rob me of my power to see with that eye (which is what an eye is intrinsically designed for). Similarly, using my teeth to chew cement is a perversion of these bodily parts, since cement is likely to break my teeth and thus prevent me using them to chew food, which is what teeth are for.

Re bulimic eating: the grave sin here consists in the immoderate desire for food, rather than the act of regurgitating it. Additionally, using my stomach in such a way is liable to damage it in the long-term, so we can also speak of a (minor) perversion.

Finally, organs may be used in a perverted manner when the use of them prevents me from attaining an end of the whole person. Given the physical and psychological complementarity of the sexes, we can see that "the purpose of a man is to love of woman," as the pop song puts it. Homosexual acts (unlike the act of chewing cement) don't necessarily damage the organs involved; but since same-sex intimacy pulls an individual away from intimacy with a member of the opposite sex, we can legitimately speak of a perversion here. Whether using contraceptives to space births prevents a couple from attaining their personal ends is not so clear. (Let me add that I have no wish to justify contraception.)

This approach to perversion may sound somewhat imprecise, but I think it's the best we can do.

Finally, I'd like to close with a quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia (art. Faculties of the soul): "That the faculty theory has no essential connection with Catholic dogma is sufficiently evidenced by the fact that it has found, and still finds, opponents as well as advocates among Catholic theologians and philosophers." I'll sign off here.

Anonymous said...

Vincent,

Would it be the case that in sex we will primarily consider that the tactile faculty and the reproductive faculty are being realized such that during recreational sex the tactile faculty is being realized in a specific and intense manner while the reproductive faculty is being obstructed and perverted. The intoxication of the sexual act is thus being entirely imputed to the tactile faculty (and to other sense faculties to a lesser extent). It seems to me that going to the external sense organs is to go further from the area of importance. It seems to me that what is to be considered is a structuring of the faculties. However, my own views when I follow them through and thoroughly elaborate them, take me into Kantianism.

Brandon said...

Vincent,

You are however wrong, Brandon, in claiming that the Catholic Church (or for that matter, the Catechism) teaches that lying is intrinsically immoral.

This was a matter that came up in the Lila Rosa kerfuffle a couple of years back; neither Akin's nor Mirus's arguments are worth taking very seriously here. The Catechism explicitly says that lying is condemnable by its nature, which requires that it be intrinsically immoral, as well as saying multiple other things that can only be true if it is intrinsically immoral; and it is likewise required by nineteenth-century condemnations of strict mental reservation; and it is required by the consistent catechesis of the Ten Commandments throughout the centuries; and, as various moral theologians point out, there is no obvious way for it to be otherwise given how the Church has consistently understood the Scriptural claims that God is truth, that the Lord hates a liar, and that Satan is the father of lies. Akin's argument doesn't have any cogency; it is based on the draft version of the catechism that was originally sent out as a draft for the express purpose of getting feedback about any passages that might not be sufficiently clear for practical purposes. The section on truth-telling was one of the passages that was revised. It is also an error to say that the original draft did not indicate that it was intrinsically immoral; it still had the claims that require one to take it to be, and just also confusingly said at one point that a lie was telling a falsehood to someone with a right to know the truth, mixing together the themes of two different sections on truth-telling. That was removed. (It was not, however, necessarily incorrect; it is the standard position in moral theology that every rational being has the right to know the truth in the limited sense of not being directly lied to. There is only a conflict if one takes right to truth in a narrow sense, not as 'right not to be deliberately impeded' but as 'right to know'. It's just that since it did go on, after then talking about lying as if it were intrinsically immoral, and then to talk about right to truth in the narrow sense, that it was confusing. Which is why it was changed.) Mirus makes the same error in treating statements that, by the very nature of the context, are not equally clear as if they were. And infallible definition, of course, is irrelevant here; the Church teaches even when she does not strictly define, and it has been her consistent catechesis that lying is, as the Catechism says, condemnable by nature.

it is clearly impossible to exercise a faculty without realizing its end, let alone exercise it in a way that prevents its end from being realized.

Since reason is a faculty that can be prevented from attaining to truth, your claim would require that either truth is not the end for reason or that reason automatically achieves its truth and cannot be prevented from doing so. The latter is false, and the former has very odd consequences. The organ response doesn't seem to be usable here; properly speaking, reason, being discursive intellect, has no organ. Thus, while interfering with the organ of the faculty may be the most straightforward way of perverting the faculty, it seems false to treat this as a universal claim. Likewise, self-worshiping pride is often considered a perversion of will; if it is so, we again have a perversion of faculty that does not involve interference with an organ.

(to be continued)

Brandon said...

In addition, we are not talking about exercise of faculties in and of themselves; we are talking about use of them, in which part of the act of a faculty is received from another faculty: there are two faculties involved here, the lower faculty and the will, and the lower faculty is acting as instrument to the will. That one faculty can be instrumental in this way is not really controversial; it's how we are able as human beings to do things in the first place. Since the action itself is cooperative, nothing prevents the will's contribution from being inconsistent with the lower faculty's; and since the two are not equally but hierarchically related as use of an instrumental means, nothing prevents the person willing from using the lower faculty in a way inconsistent with the lower faculty's own end. There is no obvious impossibility here.

Finally, organs may be used in a perverted manner when the use of them prevents me from attaining an end of the whole person.

This is a different kind of wrongness. Perverse uses of faculties requires using the faculty in a way strictly inappropriate to the faculty in itself. Otherwise there's nothing particularly perverse about it; it's just not overall good. There may be cases of overlap -- suicidal uses of one's own faculties is perhaps an example. But all sins prevent you from attaining some end of the whole person in some way; that's what makes them sins. If homosexual sex, for instance, is not wrong by virtue of using some faculty perversely, i.e., in a way strictly inappropriate to it precisely as the particular faculty it is, then there is no obvious reason to call it a perversion, and the best thing to do is to stop trying to stuff it in that box. If it does use a faculty strictly inappropriately in this way, then it is using it perversely, and that is the entire reason for calling it perversion, and it is an entirely sufficient reason for calling it a perversion regardless of any other consideration of how it contributes to one's moral life or to the ends of the whole person.

Finally, I'd like to close with a quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia (art. Faculties of the soul): "That the faculty theory has no essential connection with Catholic dogma is sufficiently evidenced by the fact that it has found, and still finds, opponents as well as advocates among Catholic theologians and philosophers."

I'm not sure what your point in quoting this is, but as I noted before, we are not talking about Catholic doctrine, which would only be relevant here if it said that the position was wrong -- which it certainly does not.

Carolyn said...

I heard about this blog and the topic being discussed from a friend. I want to give everyone here a real world perspective on what has been shamefully called "perversion." My husband is Catholic. After I married him, I converted. We have two children. We wanted more, but then his National Guard unit was deployed to Iraq. Soon after he arrived there, the vehicle he was on struck an IED and he was severely and permanently injured.

Among his injuries was trauma to his genitals. He can longer obtain an erection and ejaculate. Nevertheless, I know from him and his urologists that he does feel some sexual pleasure when I touch and kiss his penis. I also know that he enjoys touching me sexually so that I can climax. It makes him happy that he can still please me sexually. He says it makes him feel he is still a man. Army Psychologists have told me that many men feel worthless when they can't be sexually close to their wives.

After my husband's injuries, I wasn't sure what the Church say about the sexual life my husband and I now had. I sought guidance from my parish priest. He was an elderly priest who said the Latin Mass and had studied in Rome. I started to go into explicit detail about my sex life with my husband, but he shook his and gently put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Love your husband with your soul, your heart and your body. Let him love you the same way. Go in the peace of God." With that he gave me his blessing and left

I have been doing that since 2010. And I will continue to do that as long as God blesses us both with life.

Vincent Torley said...

Well said, Carolyn.

Anonymous said...

Dianelos:Finally I'd like to.......

Who was hoping he was going to say, go away and never come back?

Edward Feser said...

I have not been following the more recent comments in this thread very closely, but some readers might find of interest Germain Grisez's discussion of sexual activity between elderly spouses who are physically incapable of completing sexual relations in the usual way, which seems relevant to some of the issues that have arisen here:

http://www.twotlj.org/G-3-29.html

A note on the format and structure of the article: Grisez starts out the article with a detailed description of the moral issues raised by this sort of scenario (and by a reader of his, I presume), and then in the second part of the article he goes on to offer an analysis and opinion.

(It is true that I was very critical of Grisez in the essay of mine linked to in the original post, but what I was critical of there was his general "new natural law" approach, and there is nothing in what he says in this particular article I'm linking to here that depends on that approach. His analysis here is, it seems to be, interesting and defensible.)

Tony said...

Now, the end of a faculty is simply its proper object - which is realized whenever the faculty is exercised. Thus the end of the faculty of vision (or the power to see) is simply the vision of a colored object, which is what happens when we see.

That being the case, it is clearly impossible to exercise a faculty without realizing its end, let alone exercise it in a way that prevents its end from being realized.


As I mentioned above, there are faculties that are too simple to have a use of the faculty perverted: if the use of it automatically means being fully directed to its proper object, then it cannot be used in a "perverted faculty" sense, though it can be used to sin.

But if a faculty is complex, it can have a kind of plurality to its operation, so that in use it achieves part of its object but not another part. For example, the faculty of eating in humans entails (and is directed toward) at least 3 separate kinds of good (though in an ordered manner): that which is satisfied in the chewing and swallowing and good feeling of a full stomach, which pertains to the good of sufficiency in the amount of food; that which is satisfied in the taste, which enjoys sweet and salty and spicy tastes in progression; and in the qualities of the ingested food, in that it successfully meets the body's distinct needs. No one of these is, alone, THE proper object of eating for man. It can readily happen that in a meal you pursue one good while defeating the others: you could eat "food" for the enjoyment of chewing and swallowing and feeling full, that is contrary to the other goods of eating: e.g. does not have any nutritious qualities at all, rather has toxicity, and tastes evil to boot.

Because man is a rational animal, and has an INTEGRATED nature rather than being merely having rationality added to animality simply, the rational aspect of his nature orders the goods of man into a hierarchy of relationships, in which the good is known both through the physical appetites and through the intellect, and by the intellect all are (or ought to be) organized toward man's ultimate goal. (This is completely different from animals, who are unable to recognize the whole order of their good and to organize their behavior according its proper hierarchy, and are thus driven to fulfillment through the appetites and instincts without direct choice to organize them.)

So for those faculties which are capable of (and designed for) delivering a complex set of goods, in man the faculty is subject to a moral obligation to order them properly so that the multiplicity of goods thus pursued in the operation all cohere, so that the coordination and coherent integrity of those ends together becomes the "proper object" of the faculty insofar as we can speak of one "proper object" (and insofar as it is a human faculty rather than one of a brute animal). (In this way, the "faculty of eating" in man is actually a DIFFERENT FACULTY than in animals - though analogous.) And thus it is possible to FAIL of such coordination of ends by a willed rejection of the coherent order for which the faculty is designed in man, via pursuing one of the goods of the faculty while defeating another. This is what the "perverted faculty" notion is.

Tony said...

I would add that man's acts need to be coordinated not only as to the goods of the individual faculty, but also with regard to all of the faculties and the whole person. For this reason it may be morally licit to defeat one of the ends of a faculty in order to serve the good of the whole person: to eat nasty-tasting food in charity to your host and for the sake of moral strengthening by humbly accepting whatever God sends your way. This is not called a "perverted faculty" act because the faculty is itself at the service of the person as a whole; just as cutting off the horribly damaged leg is not "maiming", it is preserving the life of the whole person. And in sin you may serve one of the ends of a faculty contrary to the due ends of the whole person, but NOT contrary to the other ends of the complex faculty. So, for instance, if a person eats too much food but it is neither bad tasting nor anti-nutritious, it will be a bad act but not a perverted faculty act.

Anonymous said...

Dr Feser,
Re your link to Grisez: From what I can gather, reader "Carolyn" is neither elderly nor physically impaired. Her husband is physically impaired. She sexually touches him and she allows him to sexually touch her. I am relieved you do not think she and her husband are perverts. Reader "Anonymous" (not me)brought up a hypothetical case about a husband trying to sexually satisfy his wife who found vaginal intercourse painful. "Anonymous" was told by two readers that both the husband and wife should simply abstain from sex. So, per Grisez, in that hypothetical case, is it moral for the husband to orally or manually stimulate his wife?

I WAS the "Anonymous" who said that during WW II American soldiers were taught to wear condoms if they were going to engage in sex. Some of your readers were horrified that the US military actually did that. This article goes into more detail:



"During World War II, Uncle Sam was providing condoms to men who could not control their libidos. As Vice Admiral Joel T. Boone of the United States Navy explained at the time: “We cannot stifle the instincts of man, we cannot legislate his appetite. We can only educate him to caution, watchfulness, and the perpetual hazards of promiscuous intercourse; and furnish him with adequate prevention measures.”

The military needed to protect its men. They needed to be on the battlefield, not in the infirmary getting treated for sexually transmitted diseases. So the armed forces furnished their men in uniform with condoms. “[A]s many as fifty million condoms were sold or freely distributed each month during the war,” Harvard historian Allan Brandt wrote in No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States Since 1880.

While the emphasis was on keeping the military fit to fight, rather than on preventing unwanted births, two facts stand out: the U.S. government supplied or subsidized condoms. And it did so because it knew that neither the best lectures on morality nor threats against those who contracted a disease could stop the male libido. (For a brief history of condoms, scroll down to the third video here.)

There was, pardon the term, hard evidence for this. While other nations’ militaries issued condoms to their forces in World War I, U.S. forces took a different approach to social hygiene: lectures and posters moralized about sex, screenings sought to identify those who were sick, and prophylaxis stations treated those who had been exposed to venereal infections. The military deemed women the villains in this public health crisis. And in a massive abridgement of civil rights, approximately 30,000 women living near medical encampments in the United States—many of them prostitutes, although they were never convicted—were forcibly detained in federal facilities for quarantine and medical treatment, with some held for as long as a year. The moralizing, the warnings, the education, and the incarceration of women didn’t do the job. Brandt reports that the military lost 7 million days of active duty during World War I and spent $50 million on treatment. Meanwhile, combatants from other nations had lower rates of venereal disease as a result of condom distribution.

And so, when the United States entered World War II, the government began supplying condoms."

I am glad that common sense prevailed in the United States Military. Are you?

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Craig Payne,

”It is true that natural law ethics refers to HUMAN nature, not to the "wild kingdom" around us. However, a "rational person," in the case of humans, is a soul and body. Your restriction of the realm of ethics to the inner self is far too Cartesian.”

Before commenting I'd like to clarify what I meant by “By its nature ethics refers to the soul of rational persons”:

Every truth is grounded on something real, that objectively exists, otherwise it would be arbitrary. So, for example, the truth about physical phenomena is grounded on the observations present in our experience of the physical world around us. The truth of scientific theories is grounded in the mathematical order present in physical phenomena. The truth of mathematical theorems is grounded in the order present in formal (rule-based) systems. So what grounds the truth of ethical propositions? Based on classical Christian understanding which goes back to the John's gospel, the truth of ethical propositions is grounded in an order of our soul, namely how the charity in it moves as a result of desire or action: Whatever increases the charity is good, whatever decreases it is evil. - Another way of putting what grounds truth is by introducing the concept of “nature”: It is in the nature of the universe we observe around us to provide us with factual truths about physical phenomena, such as that day follows night, or that apples fall. (This is not a necessary given: one can imagine a personal condition where the universe one observes around has the nature of looking like one would want it to look – a dream world.) The truth of scientific theories is grounded in the mechanical nature of physical phenomena. The truth of mathematical theorems is grounded in the nature of formal systems. And the truth of ethical precepts is grounded in the nature of our soul. Which soul is made in the image of God, by which ethical truths (like all truths) is ultimately grounded in the nature of God who is the metaphysical ground of reality. Thus perhaps a better wording for what I wrote above would be “Ethical truths related to human persons are grounded in the nature of their soul”. Incidentally the same ontological relation holds for God: “Ethical truths related to God are grounded in the nature of God” (which, incidentally, dissolves the Euthyphro paradox).

Now you suggest that the truth of ethics is grounded in the nature of both human soul and human body, probably implying that when trying to find ethical truth we should study the nature of both. And therefore it's reasonable to apply natural law ethics to the nature of our body and its parts, take into account their natural end, etc.

It would seem that according to your suggestion the classical teaching about sin (namely as what decreases the charity in our soul) is incomplete for it doesn't at all take into account the nature of the body. At least it implies that in order to find ethical truth, say about sin, it's not sufficient to study the nature of human soul but one must also study the nature of the human body. Indeed that's what natural law theorists do all the time. The only possible explanation of why the traditionalist natural law ethicist reasons about the nature of the body would be the claim (in agreement with Tony above) that we are completely blind to the charity of our soul and thus cannot use it to know ethical truth. But since the human person is both soul and body, and moreover the soul supervenes on the body (I understand on A-T one would say that the soul is the formal cause of the living body, and the human rational soul is the formal cause of the human body which possesses an intelligent brain), it follows that the nature of the body grounds ethical truth, at least in the epistemological sense that by studying the human body we can know ethical truths.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

I think the above defense of body-specific natural law ethics is consistent but implausible. I'd like to suggest the following reasons why it is probably false:

1. On the existential facts of the human condition alone. I have a pretty clear sense of how my desires and actions move the charity in my soul, and it's very hard for me to worry that I may be imagining things. Why? Because all awareness I have of that movement comports perfectly with all the ethical teaching of Christ in the gospels. For example when I am being judgmental (which is often the case even in family life) I clearly experience the charity in my soul wither a little, and with it a darkness. Conversely with every small self-transcending act of love – even if only speaking with kindness to a stranger or playing with children – I become immediately aware how the charity in my soul grows a little, and with it a brightness. I could give many more concrete examples, but these personal testimonies need not convince anybody else. But they are convincing to me. When I take the truth of Christ's ethics as given (not because they are written in the gospels, but because of the awareness of the divine I experienced when reading them in the gospels) and discover that they comport perfectly with my awareness of the movement of charity in my soul then I am warranted to have confidence, indeed great confidence, that my awareness of the movement of the charity in my soul is truth tracking. But then I am warranted to have confidence in the deliverances of that faculty of awareness for grounding ethical truths – without any need to go the roundabout way of studying the body. And should I find that the deliverances of body-specific natural law ethics in some cases contradict the deliverances of soul-specific natural law ethics (and thus my epistemology of grounding truths on the awareness of the movement of charity) then I say this evidences the misapplication of natural law ethics outside its natural subject matter. As for the claim that the human person is both soul and body, I'd answer that this irrelevant to the claim that the natural subject matter of natural law ethics is the soul alone.

2. People knew right from wrong and indeed knew ethical truths long before the appearance of A-T metaphysics and natural law ethics. My description of the human condition, namely having the faculty of awareness of the movement of charity, explains how we know right from wrong. I believe this is how everybody knows good from wrong, even if they do not know what how they're doing it, because given Occam's razor I see no reason to think otherwise. So for example, modern secular ethicists do this and that explains their proficiency. On the contrary natural law ethics applied to the body cannot explain the natural human capacity of knowing good from evil. For example, how did the ancient Hebrews know that one should respect one's parents? Some might suggest that sociobiology gives the explanation; but this only explains the behavioral or emotional aspects, not the grounding of ethical truth which is entirely invisible to sociobiology. Come to think of it, how does one explain the goodness of respect to one's parents based on body-specific natural law ethics? Another example: Plato knew that we should not return evil – a very high level of ethical knowledge – five centuries before Christ. How did he know that? Neither Abraham nor Plato ever considered the natural end of the body.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

3. The grounding of ethical truth to the body, reduces Christian ethics to an implication of biological truths, which strikes me as kind of absurd. Imagine Christian ethical philosophers studying biology as the epistemological foundation of ethics, or the Pope inviting specialists in biology to help him ascertain the foundational evidence he needs before writing the next encyclical on Christian ethics in response to the changes in the modern world. Or imagine for example biologists citing the mechanism of parthenogenesis and claiming that the unfertilized human ovum is scientifically speaking already a complete human organism and thus a human being – what then? I mean one can imagine any amount of possible absurdities. Never mind the metaphysical queerness of grounding Christian ethics on the physical mechanisms of biology, which (a bad argument follows) would give a big present to atheist philosophers who would have the Church supply them with a way of making ethical truth objective and thus solve one of metaphysical naturalism's more bothersome problems.

4. It is open to counterexamples, where our patent knowledge of good and evil – however we come to know of it – does not comport with the deliverances of body-specific natural law ethics. I don't think it's useful to repeat such counterexamples here since the usual response is that the deliverances of body-specific natural law ethics are true since they are based on reason, whereas the counterexamples proposed are based on mere “feelings” and thus do not count. Still, come to think of it, I wonder how body-specific natural law ethicists deal with Christ's teaching that if somebody wants to have your shirt you should offer her your coat too. My charity-centered view easily explains this, how does body-centered ethics explain it?

5. It's problematic on speculative ethics. Consider angels: They are also subject to ethical precepts; not having a body how can they possible reason about ethics? Perhaps angels have awareness of their charity, and only human person are created blind to it – but then why that difference, why would God choose to make it so? (Incidentally I am here only using the traditional understanding of angels, in my understanding all limited personal beings have a body.)

Or consider intelligent computers and assume that they are conscious and thus rational persons of ethical value and subject to ethical precepts. (As an aside: The philosophical literature on the ethical dimension of intelligent computers always considers key the question of whether they are conscious or not – another evidence for my previous argumentation that the concept of personhood entails consciousness.) Now computers have no bodies with God-given natural ends, they have bodies with ends the human creator defined. Assume that an evil human would construct an intelligent computer with the natural end to kill as many people as possible. According to natural law ethics it is ethically good for that computer being to kill as many people as possible, for that is the natural end of its body. (Don't ask how I would answer the same question if you don't want to read a few thousand words more.)

Finally I'd like to stress that above I am *not* arguing against natural law ethics since it strikes me that on theism natural law is evidently true, and moreover is the basis of the “charity-centered metaethics” I embrace. I am only attacking the application of natural law ethics on the body and its parts (which I've been calling body-specific natural law ethics). Which unfortunately is what natural law ethicists mostly do, to my knowledge exclusively so. If my criticism is right, then Aquinas moved Christian ethical thought in the wrong direction. Perhaps one could say that as the Gnostics excessively lowered the relevance of matter, Thomistic ethicists excessively raised it.

Billy said...

Anon,

"So, per Grisez, in that hypothetical case, is it moral for the husband to orally or manually stimulate his wife?"

From Grisez:
"All moralists faithful to the Church’s teaching agree that the intentional stimulation of either or both spouses to orgasm entirely apart from genital contact must be excluded as morally unacceptable. By involving orgasm, that behavior constitutes a sexual act complete in itself, yet one that cannot unite the couple in one flesh....Provided such activities are acts of marital love, in the sense already explained, and provided neither spouse intends or is likely to have an orgasm apart from intercourse, incomplete sexual acts, which lead to sexual arousal, are morally acceptable expressions of marital affection."

Sexually arousing behaviour is fine between married couples generally, but if the intent is to complete the sexual act (bring his wife to orgasm) outside of intercourse, then it is not okay. When I said "yes" to abstaining from sex, I should have clarified further. What I should have clarified was abstaining from completing the sexual act. However, it is prudential to abstain all together, in general, because sexual arousal that does not lead to orgasm is rather stress inducing, and adding unneeded stress to your spouse is not something a loving spouse should do. There are exceptions of course, since there is clearly behaviour that is somewhat sexually arousing that helps in other areas, such as building intimacy, opening communication, and even reducing stress, among other things. Giving some kinds of massages comes to mind. But clearly her husband is intending to provide sexual pleasure primarily.

Don Jindra said...

Craig Payne,

"What I said was that not all physical processes are "determinate." That is not the same as saying that they are not "directed" toward an end, as numerous people have attempted to explain to you. For example, my typing on this computer is directed toward a final end and is a physical process, but it is not determined by anything. I could stop now if I wanted to. In fact....."

As I suspected, we're talking about two different things. I'm using the words (indeterminate and determinate) in the sense used by Ross in “Immaterial Aspects of Thought”. That sense has nothing to do with your option to stop typing. Our gracious host explained Ross's meaning (using graphic symbols as an example) as follows: "Now, what exactly is it that ? is a symbol of? Does it symbolize triangles in general? Black triangles in particular? A slice of pizza? A triangular UFO? A pyramid? A dunce cap? ... There’s nothing in the physical properties of ? that entails any of these interpretations, or any other for that matter. The physical properties are 'indeterminate' in the sense that they don’t fix one particular meaning rather than another."

The sense of the words as I'm using them is the same. It's about meaning. In Ross's sense, it's about our ability to assign multiple meanings to a physical process. The one 'true' meaning cannot be discovered in the process itself. That does cover the concept of being directed toward one end. It definitely covers what we mean when we say physical acts are 'perverted' away from their natural end. Perversion is our meaning. It's not in the physical processes (or acts) themselves. We are free to interpret the physics in any manner we choose -- but it is always our choice, with none better than any other. This is exactly what Ross is talking about despite the likelihood it will be denied. I say an objective 'perversion' cannot be defended based on that free choice.


"And one more point--if there is no objective meaning to the "perversion" of a faculty, it seems you would also have to deny that faculties have any inherent directedness. For example, our faculty of sight is not really connected to the directedness of our physical eyes--that is just the meaning we "impose" on it, as we impose meaning on the artifacts we make. Am I reading you correctly?"

You are reading me correctly when I elaborate on what follows from Ross's indeterminacy. It cannot claim eyes are objectively for sight or sex is objectively for reproduction. If you wish to tell me how nonsensical that is, I will agree. But I don't defend Ross. Quite the contrary. My point is that the A-T philosopher cannot defend Ross and also claim a physical process or act is directed toward one objective end, whether it's addition or sight. Physics is subjectively interpreted by us, says Ross.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Brandon,

I'd like to respond to your remarks on lying. You write:

...[N]neither Akin's nor Mirus's arguments are worth taking very seriously here. The Catechism explicitly says that lying is condemnable by its nature, which requires that it be intrinsically immoral, as well as saying multiple other things that can only be true if it is intrinsically immoral; and it is likewise required by nineteenth-century condemnations of strict mental reservation; and it is required by the consistent catechesis of the Ten Commandments throughout the centuries; and, as various moral theologians point out, there is no obvious way for it to be otherwise given how the Church has consistently understood the Scriptural claims that God is truth, that the Lord hates a liar, and that Satan is the father of lies.

And infallible definition, of course, is irrelevant here; the Church teaches even when she does not strictly define, and it has been her consistent catechesis that lying is, as the Catechism says, condemnable by nature.

I don't know of any theologian who says that the immorality of lying, even in order to save a life, is infallibly taught by the Church's ordinary magisterium (let alone its extraordinary magisterium). Do you? Also, "consistent catechesis" doesn't make a proposition part of the deposit of faith; only if it is consistently taught as something Catholics are obliged to believe can it be said to belong to that deposit.

I might mention that Mirus and Akin are no slouches: Mirus was the co-founder of Christendom College in 1977, and the founder of CatholicCulture.org in 2003. Jimmy Akin is the Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers. And I might add that both authors, in their responses, discuss both the original and the revised versions of the Catechism.

Summing up, Akin explains why he thinks that the intrinsic immorality of lying is still an open question:

"Indeed, Cardinal Ratzinger was at pains to explain that the treatment of a subject in the Catechism does not change the weight the Magisterium assigns to a particular teaching.

"Whatever weight it had before the publication of the Catechism, that is the weight it had afterwards."

Mirus concurs:

"The Catechism, of course, is not an infallible text. In promulgating a catechism, the Pope does not intend to issue a series of definitive magisterial teachings on every topic it covers; rather, the book is intended as a convenient reference work, carefully assembled, reviewed and monitored by Church officials."

You mentioned previous papal condemnations of strict mental reservation. I'm not defending those, so they're not relevant here.

Finally, I might point out that in the passage in the Catechism which discusses lying, the phrase, "The Church teaches that..." is conspicuously absent.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Brandon,

I'd now like to address your remarks on faculties.

Regarding my claim that "it is clearly impossible to exercise a faculty without realizing its end, let alone exercise it in a way that prevents its end from being realized," you write:

Since reason is a faculty that can be prevented from attaining to truth, your claim would require that either truth is not the end for reason or that reason automatically achieves its truth and cannot be prevented from doing so. The latter is false, and the former has very odd consequences.

Even if you have a valid counter-example here, all it shows is that a faculty can be exercised without realizing its end. What it does not show is that a faculty can be exercised in a way that prevents its end from being realized, which is what perversion consists in. Reasoning in a way that prevents truth from being arrived at??? Doesn't make sense.

In any case, all I think your example proves is that we don't always reason when we think we do. Someone who says: "All men are rational, and an angel is rational, so an angel is a man," isn't really reasoning at all, since he isn't arranging his thoughts logically. He may think he is reasoning, but he isn't.

Likewise, self-worshiping pride is often considered a perversion of will; if it is so, we again have a perversion of faculty that does not involve interference with an organ.

In my opinion, the real problem here is not with something called "the will"; the problem is that the person in question puts himself before God. The will is exercised whenever a person makes a choice. Choosing in a way that prevents a choice from being made?? Doesn't make sense. A person can be perverted; his will cannot.

In addition, we are not talking about exercise of faculties in and of themselves; we are talking about use of them, in which part of the act of a faculty is received from another faculty: there are two faculties involved here, the lower faculty and the will, and the lower faculty is acting as instrument to the will... [N]othing prevents the person willing from using the lower faculty in a way inconsistent with the lower faculty's own end. There is no obvious impossibility here.

I'm lost. Exercise is not the same as use? Huh?

And please remember, a lower faculty is a power. A power to X cannot be used in order to not-X. That's nonsensical.

If homosexual sex... is not wrong by virtue of using some faculty perversely, ... then there is no obvious reason to call it a perversion...

As I explained above, if an organ is used in a way contrary to what it's designed for, then we can still speak of a perversion.

Next, I'll address Tony's remarks on faculties.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Tony,

My original argument was that "it is clearly impossible to exercise a faculty without realizing its end, let alone exercise it in a way that prevents its end from being realized." I defined a faculty as an active power of the soul.

In response, you write:

But if a faculty is complex, it can have a kind of plurality to its operation, so that in use it achieves part of its object but not another part...

So for those faculties which are capable of (and designed for) delivering a complex set of goods, in man the faculty is subject to a moral obligation to order them properly so that the multiplicity of goods thus pursued in the operation all cohere, so that the coordination and coherent integrity of those ends together becomes the "proper object" of the faculty insofar as we can speak of one "proper object" (and insofar as it is a human faculty rather than one of a brute animal)... And thus it is possible to FAIL of such coordination of ends by a willed rejection of the coherent order for which the faculty is designed in man, via pursuing one of the goods of the faculty while defeating another. This is what the "perverted faculty" notion is.


You seem to be defining a faculty as a (hierarchical) set of powers, so your argument (as I read it) is that it is possible to exercise a set of powers in a way that prevents one of its multiple ends from being realized. Hence perversion is possible.

I'd like to return to Ed's remark in his OP: "What is perverse is using [a faculty] F but in a way that actively prevents [its natural end] E from being realized." Here, Ed speaks of a faculty as having a single end, not multiple ends. So it seems to me that your argument is not the same as Ed's.

Be that as it may, your argument tacitly assumes that we are able to identify faculties correctly. I am reminded of Plato's remarks about the importance of carving Nature at the joints. Now, the identification of a power is straightforward enough; but how on earth does one identify a hierarchically ordered set of powers? And how does one figure out in the first place that power A is meant to cohere with power B, in such a way that the end of power A may never be sought in isolation from one's pursuit of the end of power B? If one already knew that, then there would be no need for a natural law argument against the pursuit of A apart from B.

It seems to me that your argument is very Grisezian, especially when you write that "the coordination and coherent integrity of those ends together becomes the 'proper object' of the faculty." All well and good; but as we've seen, Ed finds that style of argumentation philosophically problematic. I'm not saying Grisez is wrong: I have a lot of respect for him. What I'm saying is that natural law arguments are a work in progress. They're not as conclusive as their proponents think they are.

I'm a fallible and sinful human being, so I'm inclined not to place any trust in my own reasoning regarding sexual morality. But I can spot a hole in an argument when I see one. It seems to me that both the perverted faculty and new natural law arguments need further work.

Craig Payne said...

Don Jindra: Thank you for the clarification. I should have picked up on it earlier.

Brandon said...

Vincent,

I don't know of any theologian who says that the immorality of lying, even in order to save a life, is infallibly taught by the Church's ordinary magisterium (let alone its extraordinary magisterium). Do you? Also, "consistent catechesis" doesn't make a proposition part of the deposit of faith; only if it is consistently taught as something Catholics are obliged to believe can it be said to belong to that deposit.

(1) If it's implied by Scripture, it is thereby infallibly taught by the Church's ordinary magisterium. One cannot get around this unless one has ruled out the antecedent. That it is implied by Scripture has been the commonly held view of moral theologians in the Church for at least most of the history of the Church.

(2) The Church has explicitly and formally condemned certain kinds of mental reservation for being too like lying, as I already explicitly pointed out.

(3) We are not talking about the deposit of faith but about morals.

(4) It is a basic error, in any case, to assume that 'Church teaching' only covers things that are formally defined, especially in moral matters.

Even if you have a valid counter-example here, all it shows is that a faculty can be exercised without realizing its end. What it does not show is that a faculty can be exercised in a way that prevents its end from being realized, which is what perversion consists in. Reasoning in a way that prevents truth from being arrived at??? Doesn't make sense.

Not making sense is why it is a candidate for being classified as a perversion. And this argument is not a good one, anyway: if a faculty can be exercised without realizing its end, it can be used in such a way as to be prevented from attaining its end.

Someone who says: "All men are rational, and an angel is rational, so an angel is a man," isn't really reasoning at all, since he isn't arranging his thoughts logically. He may think he is reasoning, but he isn't.

The notion that the only possible way one can use one's reason to formulate valid arguments is obviously absurd, and is in any case not the way anyone but yourself uses the word.

The will is exercised whenever a person makes a choice. Choosing in a way that prevents a choice from being made??

The natural end of the will is not 'making choices' but good.

Exercise is not the same as use? Huh?

And please remember, a lower faculty is a power. A power to X cannot be used in order to not-X. That's nonsensical.


I don't know what your perplexity is about the exercise/use distinction. It is a standard one in both moral theology and many kinds of moral philosophy. 'Use' is a particular exercise of will, which can become the principal faculty for which other faculties are instrumental.

A power to X cannot be used in order to not-X.

Of course it can; that's what perverse use of it is. You can't simply assert without argument that it is impossible.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Tony,

”What you mean is that it is a matter of observation, not a matter of reasoning.”

Yes, but I prefer to speak of experience, or of existential facts, because “observation” is often used in the context of our experience of physical phenomena alone. How red looks like to me, that Halle Berry strikes me as more more beautiful than Winston Churchill, that the principle of Occam's razor strikes me as obvious, that I am aware of an interior movement I call “movement of the charity in my soul” – all of theses are existential facts too, elements present in my condition (and I guess pretty standard elements in the human condition in general).

So what I mean is that 1) experiences are existential facts, 2) beliefs are derived based on existential facts through some cognitive process, 3) our cognitive processes can lead to both true or false beliefs (so for example there are illusions: as a matter of fact a pencil in a glass of water looks broken, but it is an illusion to believe that should one take the pencil out of the glass of water it would still look broken; as a matter of fact the asphalt at a distance in a hot day looks wet, but it is an illusion to believe that should one reach that spot one could wet one's fingers; as a matter of fact I am aware of the movement of charity in my soul but perhaps it's an illusion to think that I can ascertain ethical truths by it. ), 4) epistemology is the philosophical field about the nature of truth tracking cognitive processes which warrant the truth of beliefs derived – how one goes from fact to knowledge. On theism there is knowledge by reason and knowledge by faith (some speak of “revealed truth” but that concept I think should be reserved for God's actions by special providence, cases of a special grace bestowed on saints, prophets, and the like). So theistic epistemology recognizes two natural cognitive faculties: reason and faith. For example when I first read the gospel it was not by the cognitive faculty of reason but by the cognitive faculty of faith that I arrived to the belief that the words of Christ in the gospel were the words of God. Of course these two cognitive faculties have different natures, and one might say that they are of a radically different kind. Also they are not on equal standing, since on the theistic worldview faith is primary in the sense that it makes space for reason to take hold. On the other hand the faculty of reason is structured and easier to learn or to teach or to develop.

Coming back to my condition, my awareness of the movement of charity in my soul depending on what I do (by my authority over my condition) is as eidetic as my awareness of the movement of a tree's branches depending on the wind. That's a fact. Where I could be in error is in my cognitive processing of this fact. Perhaps the movement I am aware of is not the movement of charity in my soul. And if it is, perhaps this awareness is not sufficient to justify ethical beliefs. In other words the epistemological beliefs I am using to derive ethical truths from these factual experience may in fact be false. But I have confidence that they are true, and in my comment to Craig above I explain why.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Tony,

”You are in a great deal of confusion.”

The words about the state of grace you refer to are not mine. An ordained priest of the Catholic church as well as published author wrote them (see the link). If you find that he is in a great deal of confusion then this evidences that there is indeed a great deal of confusion in the Church about what the state of grace is. My concern here is not the truth of what the Church teaches, but merely what it is the Church teaches in the first place. And I am finding this difficult to ascertain, even in the case of something as basic as “state of grace”.

I'll say it again. A “Catechism for Dummies” is solely needed. A concise text not weighted with quotes from scripture or saints, but one which in plain and consistent language a normal person can understand will explain what it is that the Catholic Church teaches. A person who already trusts the Church is interested to know what it is the Church teaches, not why the Church came to teach it. I was thinking that perhaps it would be best that a knowledgeable person of good will and passion for precision about the teaching of the Church should write such a book. Somebody like you and not some committee of high-ups in the Vatican whose mind is far removed from the common folk. But once written it should be sent to the Vatican to be checked for precision, for clearly things are not crystal clear. If done well the profit will be immense. There is more than one billion Catholics who could profit from such a text since it would remove confusion, not to mention that many non-Catholics might be interested in reading it too.

Anonymous said...

To Vincent Torley:

I admire your patience and persistence in posting here.

To Carolyn:

God bless you and your husband. Your priest was a wise and decent man. I thank your husband for his service to the country.

To Billy:

You have a lot of growing up to do.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Vencent Torley,

”My original argument was that "it is clearly impossible to exercise a faculty without realizing its end, let alone exercise it in a way that prevents its end from being realized." I defined a faculty as an active power of the soul.”

I think you are right in this point. Feser's definition only makes sense if applied to the use of body parts and their ends.

Anonymous said...

Don: I'm using the words (indeterminate and determinate) in the sense used by Ross in “Immaterial Aspects of Thought”.

No, you're not. Ross is talking about symbols that stand for something, e.g. two lines like + that might stand for addition or quaddition or for one end of a battery or whatever.

It follows that there can be no objective meaning to 'perversion' if the meaning of physical processes are imposed by us. So I deny I'm equivocating.

Great, then please tell us what digestion is a symbol for.

Anonymous said...

I am glad that common sense prevailed in the United States Military.

TL;DR: the ends justify the means. (But it sounds better if you call it common sense instead.)

Billy said...

Anon,

"To Billy: You have a lot of growing up to do."

Good counter-argument there.

Anonymous said...

Dianelos Georgoudis: So she accuses people (no doubt including myself) to use the concept of person originally evolved in philosophy to do things she disapproves.

No, this is wrong. She is explaining that the sense of "person" was "separated from its origins" as explicitly referring to the whole human being, but this meaning was taken over and started to be "misused and modified" in a different "ambiguous" way, which goes against its original meaning and philosophical context, and against the reality of human nature. She also considers whether it makes sense to use the concept of person, given how it has been taken off course, and how we need "rethink" the deviations and get back to the definition as "originally formulated". This is clear from what she actually says:

'3. From this brief critical review of the personist theories in bioethics and biolaw, it emerges that the notion of person, separated from its origins, is today taking on new roles which endanger its own specific, intuitive and original values. The concept of person originally evolved in philosophy to characterize the human being, is being used today "against" humankind itself. [...] as a result of an ambiguous use of the concept of person in bioethics, new discriminations are beginning to emerge[...] [But] we should not forget that the notion of person was actually devised in western philosophy for the precise purpose of characterizing the human being and of justifying humanity's centrality. This is a concept which forms part of our cultural tradition, and if used in its original meaning (often involuntarily or intentionally misunderstood and modified), it can be helpful [...] It should first be noted that the definition of person was originally devised to characterize the real human being.[...] It is the concept which is to be measured against reality, not, on the contrary reality which must conform to the concept [...] The philosophical definition which is best suited to making it possible to re-think the concept of person the overall and integral sense, identifying it empirically with the real human being, is the definition, originally formulated by Boethius ("rationalis naturae individua substantia"), reformulated in a more complete form by Thomas Aquinas ("individuo subsistens in rationali natura"), the person is the individual substance of rational nature. [...] On the basis of substantialist theory (of ontological personalism), we can affirm that the human being "is" a person by virtue of his rational nature, not that he "becomes" a person by virtue of the effective exrercise of certain functions'

In my judgment the above is very bad philosophy indeed. After all, to redefine concepts to fit one's goal is a classical example of ad-hoc argumentation.

You're right about very bad philosophy. Just not about where it's coming from. Even if you think she's wrong, which she isn't, your accusation against Laura Palazzani is patently unfounded and unjust.

When, despite one's efforts, one finds that the problem cannot be resolved unless one resorts to bad philosophy then the real problem probably lies elsewhere.

You wouldn't happen to know what psychological projection is, would you?

Anonymous said...

[continued] Well when a definition of a general concept is found to work well only in a particular subset of cases then it is a bad definition.

That wasn't a definiton and the parallel being looked for wasn't a general concept.

On a more serious note these bright red glasses some people like to wear would be a case of perverting their faculty of vision. But surely not a sin. Perhaps that's a case of a perversion of a natural faculty which is not a sin.

This is doubly incorrect: wearing rose-coloured glasses is not the perversion of a faculty, but if it were, it would necessarily be sinful.

That's an ambiguity of the English language

Not really, but use a word that does mean what you want to say. Bringing up angels is pointless, because angels don't have bodies, which is the whole issue. Human beings have minds regardless of what physical state their bodies happen to be in at any particular time.

If a teacher forces children to actively use their faculty of learning in a way that prevents them from actually learning (perhaps permanently), then this teacher is perverting the children.

Perhaps, whatever that could mean, but memorization doesn't qualify. It might be poor teaching, depending on the context, but perverting a faculty does not mean doing something poorly.

Well I happen to have direct knowledge that in Eastern Orthodoxy priests are allowed to marry and mostly do. You can ascertain the fact of the matter yourself just by googling for a few minutes.

You don't, because they aren't. You should have spent the few minutes yourself and you would have learned that in Orthodoxy married men can get ordained, but ordained men cannot get married. I actually expected you to offer the excuse that that was really what you meant, but considering your insult at Catholic priests, it's a pretty significant detail to overlook. But then you even pointed out that Orthodox monks and bishops are celibate, so any way you look at it, your ill-informed jab against the Catholic Church is outrageous.

Therefore natural law ethics too refers to the soul.

No, it refers to the soul and the body, because human NATURE is body and soul. To call this an unnatural application of natural law makes no sense. You are saying that apply natural law to human nature is unnatural. I don't even think you know what you mean.

Which unfortunately is what natural law ethicists mostly do, to my knowledge exclusively so.

Your knowledge is, as so often, very wrong. If you had even read the comments in this thread you would know that that is not "exclusively" what they do. But rather than even bothering to ask someone, you didn't know so you just made up some nonsense instead. Unfortunately, you make a habit of this.

Tony said...

The words about the state of grace you refer to are not mine. An ordained priest of the Catholic church as well as published author wrote them (see the link).

Dianelos, Fr. Robert Carr is wrong, flat wrong, to say "state of grace" means if I die I go "right to heaven". What he says completely contradicts the dogma of Purgatory, for everyone who dies and goes to Purgatory dies in the state of grace.

I don't know whether he had an off day when he wrote that line with inattention, or whether he is just a heretic. There are plenty of Catholic priests who are material heretics. In this country they probably number in the thousands.

It is radically impossible for a Church to produce a "Catechism for Dummies" like you demand and at the same time insist that living the faith is not a dry formula but something much richer. In any case, THIS Church cannot preclude the fact that not everything she teaches is taught with the same level of definitude from entering into her teaching documents, and this demands nuance.

Tony said...

You seem to be defining a faculty as a (hierarchical) set of powers,

Vincent, you have a plausible argument, but I don't quite think it succeeds. Let's take definite examples. Aristotle and Aquinas both refer to the intellect as a faculty.

On the contrary, The Philosopher assigns the intellectual faculty as a power of the soul (De Anima ii, 3).

I answer that, In accordance with what has been already shown (I:54:3; I:77:1) it is necessary to say that the intellect is a power of the soul, and not the very essence of the soul. For then alone the essence of that which operates is the immediate principle of operation, when operation itself is its being: for as power is to operation as its act, so is the essence to being. But in God alone His action of understanding is His very Being.


Nothing prevents a single faculty from having several distinct operations. And the intellect has several distinct operations. The intellectual operation of grasping essences and forming concepts thereby is one (“understanding”). It's operation of adjoining concepts in whole thoughts (i.e. in sentences) is another. It's operation of using logic on premises to derive conclusions is a third (reasoning). These three cannot be reduced to a single operation, they are distinct kinds of act.

So, if the intellect has basic to it three distinct operations, and each one results in a good, which one is the "proper object" of the intellect. I don't think you can exclude any of the three from its proper object. In which case, I would suggest that the right way to go about it is to re-express the three as comprising - all together - the one proper object of the faculty: the proper object of the intellect is "the intelligible". All the operations of the intellect are directed to knowing the intelligible.

One might well object that each distinct operation implies a distinct faculty, but Aristotle and Aquinas call the intellect one faculty, not three. More specifically, Aquinas insists that the reasoning power is not a distinct power from the power of understanding; they differ by being in motion versus at rest, which does not distinguish separate powers:

hence it is that human reasoning, by way of inquiry and discovery, advances from certain things simply understood--namely, the first principles; and, again, by way of judgment returns by analysis to first principles, in the light of which it examines what it has found. Now it is clear that rest and movement are not to be referred to different powers, but to one and the same, even in natural things: since by the same nature a thing is moved towards a certain place. Much more, therefore, by the same power do we understand and reason: and so it is clear that in man reason and intellect are the same power.

I think, that we can argue separately that the faculty of joining terms in a sentence, and the faculty of drawing logical conclusions, is one faculty and not two. For as Aristotle says, contraries pertain to the same faculty: the sight senses both light and dark, the touch senses hot and cold. Now, I would posit that error as to asserting a sentence and error as to a logical deduction are not equivocations of “error”, but univocal uses. Therefore, the faculty which pertains to them is one faculty, not two.

He also rejects intellective memory as being a different faculty , but is rather a different operation of the same faculty. And the intellectual faculty is the faculty of knowing what is intelligible. (There are other logical divisions of the intellectual operations, such as the “practical intellect” vs the “speculative intellect”, but these do not divide the intellect as a faculty because the objects are not divided according to distinct proper species, but accidentally. And so for other divisions; the “higher” and “lower” intellects are logical not real divisions also.)

Tony said...

Now, the identification of a power is straightforward enough; but how on earth does one identify a hierarchically ordered set of powers? And how does one figure out in the first place that power A is meant to cohere with power B, in such a way that the end of power A may never be sought in isolation from one's pursuit of the end of power B?

Come now, this runs down the path of the modernist skepticism. Let’s not be silly. How do we know that the heart is one organ, and not just a glop of separate tissues? How do we know that the purpose of the eye is to see, and that it is not just a fortuitous benefit of an accidental accretion of tissues that happen to work for seeing? In biology, scientists are completely comfortable identifying not only individual organs, but “organ systems” that work together for a complex good that is distinct from the generic “healthy body as a whole” but larger than the good that one organ works for. The digestive system, the skeleto-muscular system, the cardio-vascular system. There is no reason to dispute whether these systems are real organizational aspects of the body rather than merely convenient names for groups to make it easier to recall all the organs, just as there is no reason to doubt that individual organs have specified purposes. Nor whether the goods (plural) of food constitute a coherent body of goods more definite than "good for the person" as a whole.

Be that as it may, your argument tacitly assumes that we are able to identify faculties correctly.

There is of course a certain unavoidable uncertainty around the edges of specifying things, about which it is impossible to be absolutely definite and absolutely certain - a kind of Heisenberg uncertainty principle of definition/assignment of things at the boundaries. For example: if one assumes lions and tigers are distinct kinds of things, what then is a liger or a tigon (the result of mating a lion and a tiger - yes, they really exist)? Is it a third kind of thing, or one of the two? Are ligers distinct from tigons? It is...uncertain. There are ALWAYS edge conditions.

Nevertheless, not all such matters are doubtful. When we examine these, one standard we bring to bear is long-standing usage. In the perennial philosophy, by long-standing usage the intellect is understood as one faculty, I believe. (You will find the term "the intellectual faculties" in use, but it means the group of the intellect and the will, the two faculties whose objects are (a) the knowable; and (b) the lovable. Since the will is held to be the "intellectual appetitive faculty" insofar as its object is the (intellectually) known, not under the aspect the intelligible but under the aspect of the desirable), distinguishing it from the intellectual apprehensive faculty.

So far, then, I have provided two - intellectual faculty and that of eating. I haven’t taken the time to try to consider another “complex” faculty, but it seems to me that we are likely to find other faculties that have multiple operations. In any case, though, it would be sufficient that faculties be organized as a set of sub-faculties of a “meta-faculty” that regulates them and directs them to a proper object as a group, for the perverted faculty approach to work, and it is readily arguable that what I have called one faculty (that of eating) and Vincent has called “a set” of faculties, is indeed organized toward an object that comprehensively regards the goods of food for the person.

Billy said...

Vincent,

I do enjoy your comments, and the time you take on them.

"Now, the end of a faculty is simply its proper object - which is realized whenever the faculty is exercised....That being the case, it is clearly impossible to exercise a faculty without realizing its end."

Isn't this just straightforward question begging? You should be proving that faculties always realise their ends when exercised. You assumed what you should be proving.

This is the crux of your criticism. The communicative faculty's proper object is to convey the truth, but then the standard conclusion is that lying is a perversion of this faculty. As you said, you can't exercise a faculty without realising its end. If I understand you, you would say that when you lie, you are not actually communicating, because you are not conveying the truth which must occur for there is be communication. Whatever it is that you are doing when you lie, it is not communication. Am I getting that right?

Don Jindra said...

Anonymous,

"Ross is talking about symbols that stand for something, e.g. two lines like + that might stand for addition or quaddition or for one end of a battery or whatever."

You should revisit the issue. I again suggest our gracious host has explained the issue nicely in the past. It's about more than simple symbols (or glyphs). Rather, it's about behavior of systems, that is, physics: "Oerter supposes that when Ross says that the behavior of a machine is indeterminate vis-à-vis the function it is computing, it is the past behavior of the machine that is in question. ... But that is not the problem. For not only is any set of past behaviors consistent with incompatible functions, but any set of future behaviors is consistent with them, and indeed any set of possible behaviors is consistent with them. As Kripke points out, you might think that melting wires or slipping gears count as malfunctions, but relative to an eccentric program they might count as the machine doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing, whereas if the wires failed to melt or the gears failed to slip, that would be (relative to such a program) a malfunction."

That same reasoning applies to stomachs and sex organs. You might think that stomach cancer, homosexual behavior and hedonism count as malfunctions, but they might also count as eccentric biology doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing. In principle this was admitteded: "any program we conjecture natural selection has put into us, there is going to be an alternative program with equal survival value, and the biological facts will be indeterminate between them." That is a stake pounded into the chest of perversion.

Anonymous said...

Don: You should revisit the issue.

And you should answer the question I asked instead of trying to change the subject. Since you don't understand the basics, you are just confusing yourself more with these other issues. It should be simple to tell us what digestion stands for as a symbol, or else to admit that the meaning of a symbol like + is something different from a biological process. Which is it?

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Anonymous 3:48 AM

”She is explaining that the sense of "person" was "separated from its origins"”

Well, in the origins people thought the earth is flat. “Origins” is not necessarily a positive concept.

I am talking about the classical understanding of concept of person in all philosophy and theology, including in modern philosophy outside the abortion debate. In all of the history of thought personhood was defined as entailing rational conscious beings – above I quoted Augustine and Aquinas to this effect. Further, obviously, the concept of person is not limited to humans, given that also God, angels, and, in modern ethical thought, intelligent computers who are conscious are persons (and therefore are of special moral concern, have personal rights, and so on). In all of philosophy then it is not being human that makes one be a person.

In contrast here is what Palazzani writes: ”we should not forget that the notion of person was actually devised in western philosophy for the precise purpose of characterizing the human being and of justifying humanity's centrality”

As far as I can see she just made that up. It has always been the case that humans were recognized as persons, but surely long before the beginning of Christianity God was understood as a personal being, and I suppose since the very beginning of the Old Testament era people thought of angels as personal beings too. Not to mention the ancient Greeks who considered their gods to be personal beings too, and Greek philosophers spoke of them in personal terms. So in no way, shape, or form is it true that in western philosophy the notion of person was devised for the “precise purpose of characterizing the human being”. It seems it's not just that Palazzani wants to “re-think” and “redefine” the concept of personhood, she also wants to rewrite the history of philosophy and theology.

This is really not a personal criticism. If, like her, I had the goal to find a way to justify that the fertilized ovum already is a personal being then I can't see what I could do better than she. Still it's bad philosophy, and I think it boomerangs.

”wearing rose-coloured glasses is not the perversion of a faculty, but if it were, it would necessarily be sinful.”

Wearing rose-colored glasses prevents the faculty of vision from realizing its natural end (which is to provide us with an exact representation of our surrounding), so I thought this is a perversion. If on your definition of perversion this is not the case, then by the same measure wearing a condom is not a perversion of our sexual faculty, even though it prevents it from realizing its natural end (of procreation).

To my ”Therefore natural law ethics too refers to the soul.” you respond:

”No, it refers to the soul and the body, because human NATURE is body and soul.”

My argument was: Ethics refers to the soul, therefore natural law ethics refers to the soul. That human nature is body and soul is irrelevant. Human nature may be body and soul, and still it holds that ethics refers to the soul. For example the CC catechism defines sin as what diminishes charity in the soul. It doesn't mention the body at all.

”Your knowledge is, as so often, very wrong.”

: -) True enough. If my knowledge was always right I wouldn't need to think, let alone take part in discussions. And given that I am freethinker who often thinks outside of the norm, it's not improbable that I am often wrong. I find it all works beautifully though.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

”If you had even read the comments in this thread you would know that that is not "exclusively" what they do.”

Can you give one example?

I suggested that natural law ethics is usually applied to the body and body parts, and added that to my knowledge this is exclusively so. You say that's not the case. This has great epistemological interest and relevance, because my position is that ethical reasoning should be based on the existential facts we know about our soul, and the answer I got here is that no such knowledge is possible (or at least reliable), and that's why our ethical reasoning must be based on the knowledge of the body. I commented that this answer makes some sense because according to A-T the soul is the formal cause of the body. So I am rather confused about how things stand in practice, and would be thankful if you gave me one example of natural law ethical reasoning which is not based on our knowledge of material things.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Brandon,

Thank you for your comments. In relation to lying, you write:

(1) If it's implied by Scripture, it is thereby infallibly taught by the Church's ordinary magisterium...

Who is to decide what is implied by Scripture? Only the Church can do that. You should say: if the Church infallibly teaches that a doctrine is implied by Scripture, it is thereby infallibly taught by the Church's ordinary magisterium. But in this case, the antecedent is precisely what's in question.

(2) The Church has explicitly and formally condemned certain kinds of mental reservation for being too like lying...

That condemnation implies that lying is normally immoral, but not that it is immoral in all possible cases.

(3) We are not talking about the deposit of faith but about morals.

True.

(4) It is a basic error, in any case, to assume that 'Church teaching' only covers things that are formally defined, especially in moral matters.

But in order for a teaching to form part of the infallible deposit of faith OR morals, it must be taught as a doctrine which Catholics are obliged to believe. It is not enough that all Catholics happen to believe it.

In regard to the perverted faculty argument, you write:

if a faculty can be exercised without realizing its end, it can be used in such a way as to be prevented from attaining its end

I would reply that if a faculty can be exercised without realizing its end, it can also be prevented (by a third party) from attaining its end. It does not follow that the possessor of that faculty can use it in order to prevent it from attaining its end.

In reply to my argument that "A power to X cannot be used in order to not-X," you write:

Of course it can; that's what perverse use of it is.

I've invited you to give examples with sensory and vegetative powers and you've declined: it is patently obvious, for instance, that the power to see cannot be used in order not to see, and that the power to grow cannot be used in order to remain stunted.

Likewise, it seems clear that the power to understand cannot be used in order not to understand, and that the power to choose cannot be used in order not to choose.

You also write: The natural end of the will is not 'making choices' but good.

But it is impossible, when making a choice, not to choose some good. I might add that while God can be described as the Ultimate End of the will, He is not its proximate end.

You appear to hold that the ends of the powers of intellect and will are not their acts as such, but something attained only by their being exercised in the correct way - the truth and the morally good end, respectively.

Assuming purely for argument's sake that your proposal is correct, all it would establish is that the intellect and will are unique powers, insofar as they can be directed either at X or its polar opposite: the intellect can pursue truth or falsehood; the will can pursue good or evil. Most powers are not like that. There is no polar opposite to sight.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Anonymous 3:55 AM

I overlooked the following you wrote:

Bringing up angels is pointless, because angels don't have bodies, which is the whole issue.

My argument was precisely that ethics applies to angels and angels have knowledge of good and evil even though they are persons with no bodies. Therefore the fact that we are persons with bodies would appear to be irrelevant to personal ethics. If this isn't the case then it follows that ethics in the case of human persons is ontologically different than ethics in the case of angelic persons. Which may be the case, but introduces a complication which does not seem to serve any useful purpose. Except of shoring up the common practice of natural law ethics to base its reasoning on the natural ends of human body parts.

”Human beings have minds regardless of what physical state their bodies happen to be in at any particular time.”

Is what you write here correct on A-T metaphysics? Isn't the soul the formal cause of the body? Or perhaps you hold that soul and mind are metaphysically independent things? Can the mind move without the soul moving?

” in Orthodoxy married men can get ordained, but ordained men cannot get married”

Well, that's an irrelevant detail to the argument I was making, isn't it? My argument was that it is good that monks and bishops don't marry because having a family would be a hindrance to the realization of their very high spiritual end. On the contrary priests should be allowed to marry since in their case having to be celibate is a hindrance to the realization of their end, which is to personally guide their flock. It would be useful if you commented on the gist of my argument. I think it's a good argument and would like to know what you think about it. The argument concerns a matter of great importance since it affects how well the Church guides the flock. If I am right and the Catholic church is wrong in its policy of prohibiting priests from marrying since it hinders them from realizing their end, then the Church should change that policy.

”considering your insult at Catholic priests”

I have no idea where you read that. If I am right (and I believe I am) then the end of my argument will be to give the freedom to those priests who wish to both serve God as priests and to have a family to do so, and thus be more happy and also do their work more effectively. I am suggesting that the Catholic church in her care of both priesthood and laity should change her policy and give priests the freedom to marry.

I hope I don't give the impression of antagonizing the Catholic Church in any way. I have enormous respect for the her and hope and expect that she will play a crucial role in helping guide humanity safely in the very difficult times ahead.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Tony,

” Fr. Robert Carr is wrong, flat wrong, to say "state of grace" means if I die I go "right to heaven".”

When a Catholic priest can be so wrong about such a central concept, and publish his error with no kind of correction, then lay Catholics will often be wrong also. Not to mention non-Catholic Christians like me. So that's not a good state of affairs. Clarity is not an abstract quality that concerns the dogma, but refers to the practical issue of whether Catholics understand what the Church teaches. My criticism here is directed to the Church. The Catechism is full of quotes from scripture and saints but is not written in a way that would provide the reader with clarity; case in point: how the concept of “state of grace” should be understood.

When I searched around trying to find a concise definition I came to a few places where I got the impression that there are different kinds of being in the state of grace. Trying to be charitable with Carr, perhaps he was referring to a very high kind, namely the one that takes people right to heaven.

”There are plenty of Catholic priests who are material heretics. In this country they probably number in the thousands.”

If you are right in this, then the Church is doing something wrong. Surely these heretical priests didn't choose to be heretics but were misled. So perhaps even priests would profit from a more concise text.

It is radically impossible for a Church to produce a "Catechism for Dummies" like you demand and at the same time insist that living the faith is not a dry formula but something much richer.

I don't think how this follows. I fully agree that living in faith is much richer than only correctly understanding the dogma. Obviously. But from this it doesn't follow that correctly understanding the dogma is of little importance, especially when it concerns how what we do in this life affects the eternal destiny of our soul.

And, incidentally, I am not demanding anything. I am asking. And I am serious in my suggestion that you should consider making a start with this, since you seem to me to have all the right qualities.

jmhenry said...

Dianelos

Well, in the origins people thought the earth is flat. “Origins” is not necessarily a positive concept.

In all of the history of thought personhood was defined as entailing rational conscious beings...


Very strange, those two statements. When someone else claims that a particular conception of personhood is the classical one, we should be suspicious because "origins is not necessarily a positive concept." But when you claim that your conception of personhood is the classical one, we should just accept it as the sober, objective conclusion of reason. For the sake of argument, let's grant that your conception of personhood in the classical one. Given your first statement above, we can potentially reject it as out of date. Perhaps the view that personhood should be defined as "entailing rational conscious beings" is the equivalent of believing in a flat earth and should thus be abandoned.

As you say, "origins is not necessarily a positive concept." Perhaps you're a Flat-Earther, Dianelos, and don't even realize it.

Further, obviously, the concept of person is not limited to humans...

No one has claimed otherwise. The claim isn't that being human is a necessary condition for being a person, but that it is a sufficient condition for being a person. Call it the "spheroid world" hypothesis that personhood is a matter of essence or kind, as opposed to the flat-earth view that personhood is reduced to functions, capacities, and degrees.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Tony,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. You write:

Nothing prevents a single faculty from having several distinct operations. And the intellect has several distinct operations...

In the perennial philosophy, by long-standing usage the intellect is understood as one faculty, I believe...

...I would posit that error as to asserting a sentence and error as to a logical deduction are not equivocations of "error", but univocal uses. Therefore, the faculty which pertains to them is one faculty, not two.

So, if the intellect has basic to it three distinct operations, and each one results in a good, which one is the "proper object" of the intellect... I would suggest that the right way to go about it is to re-express the three as comprising - all together - the one proper object of the faculty: the proper object of the intellect is "the intelligible"...


Before I respond, I'd like to go back to my earlier comment: "You seem to be defining a faculty as a (hierarchical) set of powers, so your argument (as I read it) is that it is possible to exercise a set of powers in a way that prevents one of its multiple ends from being realized. Hence perversion is possible."

I'm willing to grant that the intellect may have several distinct operations, although I'm of two minds as to whether reasoning and understanding (grasping a concept) should be treated as a single faculty. Let's assume you're right. The question we need to address is: does it follow from all this that it's possible to exercise the intellect in a way that prevents one of its multiple ends, but not the others (e.g. reasoning, but not understanding), from being realized? No, it doesn't - and I can't even imagine how this would be possible, for an immaterial power. Hence the question of perversion does not arise.

You also write about eating:

In biology, scientists are completely comfortable identifying not only individual organs, but "organ systems" that work together for a complex good that is distinct from the generic "healthy body as a whole" but larger than the good that one organ works for.
...[T]here is no reason to doubt that ... the goods (plural) of food constitute a coherent body of goods more definite than "good for the person" as a whole.


There are indeed "organ systems" of the sort you describe. But a faculty is a (set of) powers. In order to identify a faculty, what we need is not a cluster of organs that mutually reinforce one another, but a cluster of powers that do so. Now, the mere fact that powers A and B usually do work together does not entail that they should. In order to justify that conclusion, what you need to show is that some identifiable harm to the individual results if they don't work together. I haven't seen Ed (or any other defenders of the perverted faculty argument) make such an attempt.

In any case, though, it would be sufficient that faculties be organized as a set of sub-faculties of a "meta-faculty" that regulates them and directs them to a proper object as a group, for the perverted faculty approach to work...

But the only eligible candidate for a meta-faculty that regulates ends as distinct as the procreative and unitive ends of sex is the intellect. And that still begs the question of how we know that these two ends should never be separated.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Dianelos Georgoudis and Anonymous,

Thank you for your kind comments.

Don Jindra said...

Anonymous,

Since your question is based on your mistaken understanding of Ross's paper, it's irrelevant how I answer it. Ross is talking about physical processes, not symbols.

Nevertheless...

Your question is, What is digestion a symbol for? You might as well ask what a triangle-shaped object is a symbol for. The individual things we call triangles are not symbols themselves. They are particulars. Similarly, what happens in my stomach and intestines is a particular for what we call digestion. We use 'digestion' as its symbol. So 'digestion' is a symbol for what happens in my stomach and your stomach. But the particular is not the symbol, either in the case of digestion, triangles or any other 'universal' we reference with symbols. I'll add that our ability to create and manipulate symbols is just as biological as digestion. This is bound to take us off topic.


Brandon said...

Who is to decide what is implied by Scripture? Only the Church can do that. You should say: if the Church infallibly teaches that a doctrine is implied by Scripture, it is thereby infallibly taught by the Church's ordinary magisterium.

This is literally a tautology, and does not have the substantive implications you seem to think. Scripture is consistently and regularly proclaimed by the Church as something all Catholics are obligated to believe, so the rest of your argument is useless.

All your discussion of lying is a red herring, as I've previously noted; I have already shown that it is not possible to say that 'lying is intrinsically wrong' is contrary to Church teaching, and thus, as I explicitly pointed out before, it is irrelevant.

I would reply that if a faculty can be exercised without realizing its end, it can also be prevented (by a third party) from attaining its end. It does not follow that the possessor of that faculty can use it in order to prevent it from attaining its end.

And what you need to establish, and have been repeatedly not establishing, is that one cannot do with one's own will what another could do with theirs in this context.

I've invited you to give examples with sensory and vegetative powers and you've declined: it is patently obvious, for instance, that the power to see cannot be used in order not to see, and that the power to grow cannot be used in order to remain stunted.

You did not do this. You invited examples without any such restriction. You've also noted that there are lots of faculties other than these, and it's obviously invalid to conclude from the particular to the universal. If there are any faculties of which this is true, your examples are simply badly chosen. You need to show that it is impossible for any kind of faculty.

The template has already been given here; we are talking about perverse use of faculty, not simply the normal exercise of a faculty, which means that it has to be something over which the will has some control, since the second has to be functioning as an instrument of will.

the power to see cannot be used in order not to see, and the power to grow cannot be used in order to remain stunted

Of course you could. You can deliberately look at bright lights in order to blind yourself; you are therefore ipso facto using sight in order not to see. That is quite obviously perverse, and no amount of Torley-tap-dancing can get around the fact that it is both possible and what everyone would call perverse. Likewise, whether you can do the latter depends on exactly how growth works, and what one means by growth, and given that it is something that we don't normally have any direct control over, it would require artificial intervention; but depending on the details, one might well be able to use the power to grow in order to grow in such a way that you destroy the means of growing, thus stunting oneself. Whether this is true is not something that can be determined a priori.

Likewise, it seems clear that the power to understand cannot be used in order not to understand, and that the power to choose cannot be used in order not to choose.

Neither of these are consistent with common interpretation of common experience, and we've already seen that this line of argument with reason commits you to the absurdity that it is impossible to reason invalidly.

But it is impossible, when making a choice, not to choose some good.

And this is precisely your problem: for this is true and yet it is also wrong to claim that you cannot use your power of choice to choose things inconsistent with good. Surely you're not going to move to the next absurdity of claiming that nobody chooses evils.

You repeatedly treat the end of a faculty as if it were to exercise the faculty; this is literally not possible. A faculty by definition is instrumental to something, and therefore its exercise cannot constitute its own end.

Anonymous said...

Don: what happens in my stomach and intestines is a particular for what we call digestion. We use 'digestion' as its symbol.

I'm not talking about the word "digestion", but I should have known better than to assume that was clear to you. Go eat something and tell me what that actual particular act of digestion itself symbolizes. I'll wait.

Tony said...

Vincent: I'm willing to grant that the intellect may have several distinct operations, although I'm of two minds as to whether reasoning and understanding (grasping a concept) should be treated as a single faculty. Let's assume you're right. The question we need to address is: does it follow from all this that it's possible to exercise the intellect in a way that prevents one of its multiple ends, but not the others (e.g. reasoning, but not understanding), from being realized? No, it doesn't - and I can't even imagine how this would be possible, for an immaterial power. Hence the question of perversion does not arise.

"Two minds" Nice word play! I too cannot off-hand propose a way that the operations could be used in a perversion of the faculty. However:

The intellect was offered as an example of a single power with multiple operations. That's all. It was not offered as an example of a perverse faculty action. But it stands to reason that it might be possible, for some faculty with multiple operations, for the faculty to be used in such a way as to activate one and defeat the other. But this (the intellect) was the second example of a multiple operation faculty- the faculty of eating was the first, where we do actually see the faculty (or faculties if you prefer) being used in such a way that one operation (and its immediate end) is pursued well while another is defeated by design.

There are indeed "organ systems" of the sort you describe. But a faculty is a (set of) powers. In order to identify a faculty, what we need is not a cluster of organs that mutually reinforce one another, but a cluster of powers that do so.

The point was an analogy. Just as we can be confident in assigning "a set" of organs to a single "system" that works coherently, so also might we do the same for "powers". There is no need for a hopeless skepticism about whether we can ascertain powers or clusters of them.

But the only eligible candidate for a meta-faculty that regulates ends as distinct as the procreative and unitive ends of sex is the intellect.

"as distinct as". Why do you carve out the food / eating / digestive example by so slippery and subjective an objection?

In order to identify a faculty, what we need is not a cluster of organs that mutually reinforce one another, but a cluster of powers that do so. Now, the mere fact that powers A and B usually do work together does not entail that they should.

This objection is more suited to materialism, and has difficulty holding up its head in the Aristotelian understanding of "nature". Saying "powers A and B usually do work together" just is evidence that that is how they are supposed to work: "nature acts always or for the most part" is a constant refrain in A-T philosophy. How do we know that dogs are 4-legged: some are born with only 3? How do we know that the pupil and the retina are "supposed to" work together, rather than merely being accidentally and fortuitously symbiotic? These questions plague materialists, but with Thomas the general answer applies to all of them: the nature of the thing is the organizing and integrating principle of the whole organism, and so what happens "always or for the most part" is, generally, an indicator of "what nature intends". Reason further refines those indicators to ascertain what things are the nature, what are properties, and what are mere accidents.

Don Jindra said...

Anonymous,

"I'm not talking about the word "digestion", but I should have known better than to assume that was clear to you. Go eat something and tell me what that actual particular act of digestion itself symbolizes. I'll wait."

I did not make that assumption. This evidently went right over your head. Particulars, such as the "actual particular act of digestion" are not symbols. This is true not only for particulars of digestion, but particulars of anything for which we have symbols.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Brandon,

I'll keep my responses brief.

All your discussion of lying is a red herring, as I've previously noted; I have already shown that it is not possible to say that 'lying is intrinsically wrong' is contrary to Church teaching, and thus, as I explicitly pointed out before, it is irrelevant.

A doubtful law does not bind conscience; and likewise, a doubtful case of an infallible teaching of the ordinary magisterium cannot command our assent. I'm not arguing that 'lying is intrinsically wrong' is contrary to Church teaching; I'm simply arguing that it is not part of Church teaching. I've cited prominent Catholics who hold that the Church's teaching is not settled, or who define "lying" in such a way as to allow the utterance of intentionally false statements in order to save a life. Would you like some more?

Professor Peter Kreeft: http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/apologetics/why-live-action-did-right-and-why-we-all-should-know-that.html

Professor Mark Latkovic: https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/Story/TabId/2672/ArtMID/13567/ArticleID/495/A-Legitimate-Way-to-Lie.aspx

Professor Hadley Arkes: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/02/2631/

Phil Lawler: http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?id=785

Are these men heretics?

To be continued...

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Brandon,

You write:

You repeatedly treat the end of a faculty as if it were to exercise the faculty; this is literally not possible. A faculty by definition is instrumental to something, and therefore its exercise cannot constitute its own end.

First, I don't know of any textbook definition of a faculty. I have argued above that a faculty can only be an active power of the soul. The end of any power to X is obviously X-ing. What else can it be? What is an acid's power of dissolving a metal for? Dissolving a metal. Of course, if the power belongs to a living organism, then its exercise (X-ing) will also contribute to the well-being of that organism. This does not mean X-ing is of instrumental value; what it means is that X-ing is part of the organism's good.

The template has already been given here; we are talking about perverse use of faculty, not simply the normal exercise of a faculty, which means that it has to be something over which the will has some control, since the second has to be functioning as an instrument of will.

If the will has control over some bodily power to X, then according to Ed's definition, perversion would be the will's using that power but in a way that actively prevents X from being realized. That makes no difference: a power to X cannot be used to not-X, because X-ing cannot be for not-X-ing.

You can deliberately look at bright lights in order to blind yourself; you are therefore ipso facto using sight in order not to see. That is quite obviously perverse, and no amount of Torley-tap-dancing can get around the fact that it is both possible and what everyone would call perverse.

It is indeed perverse, as it destroys the function of a bodily organ. But it is not a case of perversion in the sense required by Ed: using the power to see in order not to see. Rather, it's a case of using the power to see now in order not to see in the future, because the organ of sight will have been destroyed.

...[T]his line of argument with reason commits you to the absurdity that it is impossible to reason invalidly.

I have been thinking about your example. Suppose that someone reasons poorly, drawing a wrong inference from a long chain of premises. We would probably grant that he is still reasoning, insofar as he is trying to arrive at the truth through the use of logic. But what if I told you that the person in question was trying to evade the true conclusion of the argument? Would we still call that reasoning? I certainly wouldn't. Trying to use your reason in order to avoid the truth is not reasoning, but obfuscation.

Surely you're not going to move to the next absurdity of claiming that nobody chooses evils.

Augustine himself taught that the will can only choose good, because evil is a privation. Sometimes it chooses the lesser good. But we need to avoid committing the homunculus fallacy. There is no-one who uses "the will" when making a choice; rather, people simply make choices willingly. "The will" is not perverted when people choose to sin; people simply act perversely.

In any case, if (as you write), the perverse use of a faculty means that it has to be something over which the will has some control, then it follows that the will cannot be perverted, since the will does not control the will.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Tony,

I'd like to address your comments.

...[I]t stands to reason that it might be possible, for some faculty with multiple operations, for the faculty to be used in such a way as to activate one and defeat the other...

I think you have a valid point here. The intellect (and will) could use a set of powers in such a way as to activate some and defeat others. The critical question is therefore an epistemic one: how we identify sets of powers that should go together.

Just as we can be confident in assigning "a set" of organs to a single "system" that works coherently, so also might we do the same for "powers".

We might indeed do so; but before concluding that these powers are meant to work together, we would need to identify some harm to the organism that results if they don't, just as we do for systems of organs with mutually reinforcing functions.

... [T]he nature of the thing is the organizing and integrating principle of the whole organism, and so what happens "always or for the most part" is, generally, an indicator of "what nature intends".

This is generally a good (but not infallible) maxim, when identifying the proper function of an organ. But it is not sufficiently rigorous when one is trying to identify a set of functions that should go together. One needs to show how they work together, in a mutually reinforcing fashion; and one needs to show harm that results if one function is isolated from the rest.

How do we know that dogs are 4-legged: some are born with only 3?

Even if most dogs were born three-legged, we could still be sure that three-leggedness is a defect, because three-legged dogs are at a survival disadvantage, compared to four-legged ones.

To be continued...

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