Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Byrne on why sex is binary


At Arc Digital, philosopher Alex Byrne defends the proposition that there are only two sexes, while suggesting that this has no implications one way or the other for transsexuality, gender dysphoria, and related issues.  Let’s consider both claims.

Byrne argues that it is a mistake to suppose that one’s sex is fundamentally a matter of what chromosomes one has or even what sorts of genitals one has.  Hence it is also a mistake to point to examples such as individuals who have male chromosomes but female external genitalia, or people who have only an X chromosome or XXY chromosomes, as evidence against the thesis that sex is binary.  In fact, Byrne suggests, chromosomes and genitalia are reflections of a deeper distinction, and the nature of that distinction is not captured by a mere description of the chromosomes and genitalia:

To be chromosomally female is to have the sex chromosomes typical of (human) females; to be genitally female is to have the genitalia typical of (human) females, and so on.  But what is it to be, simply, female or male?

Byrne’s answer is that the sexes are defined in terms of the gametes they produce:

Specifically, females produce large gametes (reproductive cells), and males produce small ones. (Since there are no species with a third intermediate gamete size, there are only two sexes.) A glance at the huge variety of females and males across the animal and vegetable kingdoms will confirm that there is nothing else the sexes can be. For instance, the equation female=XX is confused for a fundamental reason having nothing to do with human chromosomal variation: females of numerous species either have different sex chromosomes (as in birds) or else no sex chromosomes at all (as in some reptiles). The XX/XY system is merely the mechanism by which placental mammals like humans typically become female and male; other animals and plants use different means to achieve the same end result.

End quote.  Byrne does not make use of Aristotelian-Scholastic metaphysical notions in order to make his point, but it is illuminating to do so.  Scholastics distinguish between the essence of a thing and its properties (or “proper accidents”).  A thing’s properties flow or follow from its essence, but are not to be identified with its essence.  For example, the essence of a human being is to be a rational animal, and a capacity for language is a property that flows or follows from this essence.  It is a kind of byproduct of being a rational animal insofar as it will always manifest in a mature and healthy specimen. 

Of course, some individual human beings are deficient in or lacking this capacity, but that is because the “flow” is, as it were, being blocked (by immaturity, brain damage, dementia, etc.).  It does not follow from such cases that the capacity for language is not a true property of human beings, but rather merely that an immature or damaged human being will not manifest all of his properties.  Similarly, the exercise even of rationality itself can be impaired or blocked by genetic defect, brain damage, aging, etc.  For the Scholastic, this does not mean that some human beings are not rational animals, but rather that they are rational animals whose actual exercise of their rationality is being frustrated.

Now, what Byrne is proposing can be interpreted as the thesis that the essence of being either male or female involves having the capacity to produce either smaller or larger gametes, respectively.  And having certain chromosomes and having genitalia of a certain type are properties which flow or follow from having one or the other essence.  In particular, having XY chromosomes, a penis, testicles, etc. are properties of human males, and having XX chromosomes, a vagina, ovaries, etc. are properties of human females.  As with other properties, the manifestation of these can be distorted or blocked due to immaturity, defect, damage, etc.

Again, Byrne doesn’t use such language, but he at least implicitly gestures at something like the essence/properties distinction insofar as he notes that:

There is a complication. Females and males might not produce gametes for a variety of reasons. A baby boy is male, despite the fact that sperm production is far in his future (or even if he dies in infancy), and a post-menopausal woman does not cease to be female simply because she no longer produces viable eggs.

In other words, immaturity prevents the manifestation of the relevant properties in a baby boy, whereas aged organs being worn out prevents the manifestation in a post-menopausal woman. 

This brings us to another Aristotelian notion that illuminates Byrne’s point, viz. that of intrinsic teleology.  As longtime readers of this blog know, intrinsic teleology is the kind that a thing manifests naturally, just by virtue of being the kind of thing it is.  A stock example would be an acorn’s tendency to grow into an oak, a tendency it has simply qua acorn.  This contrasts with extrinsic teleology, which is the kind a thing possesses only insofar as some end or purpose has been imposed on it from outside.  A stock example would be the time-telling function of a watch, which is not intrinsic to the bits of metal that make up a watch, but has to be imposed by the maker and users of the watch.  (Again, see Scholastic Metaphysics for detailed exposition and defense of this distinction.) 

To have an essence involves having certain intrinsic teleological properties.  For example, having the essence of a rational animal entails having faculties that are directed toward or aim at ends such as acquiring knowledge.

Now, Byrne speaks of “the mechanism by which… humans typically become female and male” and says that “other animals and plants use different means to achieve the same end result.”  That is teleological language, and since he is talking about natural kinds rather than artifacts, it is the language of intrinsic teleology, specifically. 

Similarly, when Byrne says that “a baby boy is male, despite the fact that sperm production is far in his future (or even if he dies in infancy),” it is natural to read this in teleological terms.  In particular, it is natural to read it as implying that a baby boy’s physiology is naturally directed toward the eventual production of sperm, and is so directed even if this end is never realized (because of the death of the baby).  Furthermore, the claim that “a post-menopausal woman does not cease to be female simply because she no longer produces viable eggs” can also be read in teleological terms.  The idea would be that a woman’s ovaries are directed toward the production of viable eggs, and remain so directed even if age leaves them no longer capable of realizing that end.  (Something similar is true of organs in general.  For example, the eye is for seeing, and it retains that function even if genetic defect, injury, or old age leave it incapable of fulfilling that function well or at all.)

This reading is especially natural in light of these follow-up remarks from Byrne:

In the light of these examples, it is more accurate (albeit not completely accurate) to say that females are the ones who have advanced some distance down the developmental pathway that results in the production of large gametes — ovarian differentiation has occurred, at least to some extent. Similarly, males are the ones who have advanced some distance down the developmental pathway that results in the production of small gametes.

End quote.  Talk of “developmental pathways” is naturally read as teleological.  The development in question is not just in any old direction, after all, but is a development toward the production of the gametes.  The “pathway” has a specific natural destination.

All the same, I presume that Byrne would not want to commit himself to anything like Aristotelian essentialism and teleology.  He may hold, as contemporary philosophers often do, that teleological-sounding talk is a mere façon de parler which can be replaced with a purely efficient-causal description.  But even the hint of an essentialist and teleological metaphysics accounts for why many with “progressive” views about sex are, as Byrne complains, reluctant to acknowledge that sex is binary.

After all, if anything has teleology, gametes do, and it has to do with getting together with the gametes of the opposite sex.  And if, as Byrne’s account suggests, chromosomes and genitalia play a secondary role relative to gametes, it isn’t hard to figure out their teleology too.  It has to do with facilitating the getting together of the gametes of the opposite sexes.  Hence the extremely well-known suitability of penises to get male gametes into the vicinity of female gametes, etc.

Before you know it, the evolutionary psychologists will show up and start pointing out that psychological drives (like sexual arousal, romantic attraction, and the like) are no less plausibly described in functional terms than genitalia are, and that the psychological functions in question have to do with facilitating the physiological processes by which male gametes get together with female gametes.  Add Aristotelian essentialism and teleology to the mix, and the function talk takes on normative significance.  Deviations from the physiological and psychological functions in question take on the status of malfunctions and deformations, no less bad for the organism than other malfunctions and deformations are.  All that’s left at that point is for the natural law theorists to come along and draw out the implications for sexual morality – though the progressive will by that time already have started hyperventilating, in a most unsexy way.

So, the skittishness of some progressives about acknowledging that sex is binary is understandable.  The messier sex can be made naturally to seem, the easier it will be to resist natural law conclusions.  But again, Byrne holds that to acknowledge that sex is binary should give the progressive nothing to worry about.  Is he right?

Well, if essentialism and intrinsic teleology are rejected, then the moral conclusions the progressive dislikes won’t follow.  (Though only because no moral conclusions about anything at all can survive the abandonment of essentialism and teleology, or so I would argue – but that is a topic for another time.)  And as I have said, I presume that Byrne would reject them, though this is not a topic he addresses.

The trouble is that it is very difficult at best to reduce or eliminate essentialist and teleological notions in the context of biology.  To be sure, the assertion that they can be reduced or eliminated is extremely common.  But actually pulling this job off is something no one has really done.  For example, attempts to reduce the notion of biological function (e.g. in causal terms or in terms of natural selection) are famously problematic.  Furthermore, as writers like Marjorie Grene, Andre Ariew, and J. Scott Turner have argued, natural selection in any event at most casts doubt on teleology where questions about adaptation are concerned, but leaves untouched the need for teleological descriptions of developmental processes.  It is often thought that resort to computational notions (such as characterizations of the genome as a kind of software or program) provides a handy replacement for teleology.  But as I argued in another recent paper, the computational descriptions in fact implicitly presuppose something like Aristotelian essentialism and teleology.

Again, Byrne himself describes the phenomena with which he is concerned in terms that suggest teleology.  Even if (as, again, I presume) he would hold that such talk can be cashed out in non-teleological terms, it is another thing actually to show exactly how this could be done.  In particular, one would need to capture everything we know about gametes, chromosomes, genitalia, etc. in a way that makes no implicit reference at all to teleological features.  For example, one would have to be able to give a complete description of male gametes without saying anything that implies that they have the end or telos of getting together with female gametes; one would have to be able to give a complete description of genitalia without saying anything that implies that they have the function of getting gametes together with those of the opposite sex; one would have to give a complete description of immature testicles without implying that they aim or are directed toward sperm production years down the line; and so on.

Since, again, it’s very hard to pull off such a consistently non-teleological re-description (where any aspect of biology is concerned, not just sex), it is no surprise that some progressives prefer to muddy the waters where the biological facts are concerned.  If sex is not binary, then the teleology is messier, and if the teleology is messier, then the dreaded conservative moral conclusions are easier to resist.

So, Byrne’s remarks about the biology are plausible, but his remarks about the implications or lack thereof for progressive views about sex, not so much. 

Related reading:

103 comments:

  1. Always a pleasure to read Dr Feser’s extremely insightful and well-written blog posts. Helps me keep my liberal argumentative toolkit in shape.

    As much as I respect teleology as a natural principle, I believe that drawing strict moral arguments from teleology can be erroneous. The main reason is that, just because something has an evident primary natural purpose, doesn’t mean that, all things considered, that purpose is the only good purpose it can be put to.

    That’s like saying that it would be improper to use my tennis racket to pound in tent pegs, or to use as a dance partner at a party. The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic teleology makes no difference here.

    Consider the male gamete. Its evident primary natural function is to unite with and fertilise the female gamete in the process of species reproduction. But what if some medical researcher wanted to do medical research on male ejaculate? OK, perhaps if that research was directed at fertility studies we could say that the standard process of obtaining a specimen was still directed towards the primary natural purpose of the reproduction of the species, and we might allow it on this basis. But what if the medical researcher was investigating the potential for semen to contribute to a cure for, let’s say…a specific form of blindness.

    A strictly teleological morality would prohibit this, as it would be considered a perversion of the natural function of the gamete. Similarly, the process by which samples of said gamete were produced for purposes of medical research would be considered a perversion of the natural function of that process.

    Now it just so happens that the process of producing males gametes produces a range of other goods, quite spontaneously, particularly when done in cooperation with someone else. Pleasure being the most obvious one. If it would be OK to produce male gametes for purposes of medical research, why is it then intrinsically not OK to produce them for pleasure, if this doesn’t interfere with the realisation of other goods over the span of one’s lifetime? To bowdlerise Monty Python, every sperm should indeed be seen as sacred, but not necessarily for the same purpose.

    Aristotle was a pretty wise dude who had had well rounded view of how we need to balance human goods to achieve happiness. But human flourishing - and human rationality - can take many forms, far more than imagined by Aristotle and Aquinas. Just because something has a primary natural purpose doesn’t mean it must be expressed in just that way to count as human flourishing. It can also be expressed to realise other, equally natural purposes. Or indeed, sometimes not expressed at all.

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    1. If it would be OK to produce male gametes for purposes of medical research, why is it then intrinsically not OK to produce them for pleasure, if this doesn’t interfere with the realisation of other goods over the span of one’s lifetime?

      On a natural law reading, it's not OK to pervert any faculty, sexual or not - ie by using it contrary to its natural end. Now the primary natural end of the sexual faculty is the production of children. So the faculty cannot be used in any way contrary to this, masturbation being an obvious example. Children do not even possibly result from it. Your question is answered, easily because it doesn't even escape the conditional.

      One should speak also about the hierarchy of goods. Some goods are more important than others, as life is more important than pleasure.

      "Just because something has a primary natural purpose doesn’t mean it must be expressed in just that way to count as human flourishing.

      On an essentialist-teleological account, where the ends of a thing are normatively fixed by its essence (ie what it is), it does. Which you beg the question against in merely asserting the contrary.

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    2. Thanks for your response. I’m afraid it seems circular to me.

      The natural law reading that it’s not OK to pervert the function of a faculty is precisely what I’m challenging, insofar as I’m making a distinction between an evident ‘primary’ function and properties (or secondary functions) that may contribute to a genuine human good. In short: insofar as they contribute to a genuine human good (and do not prevent the realisation, over a well-lived lifetime, of other genuine human goods), what reason is there to consider them unnatural?

      Simply to assert that they have a singular essence/telos and that any purpose inconsistent with that telos is not a genuine human good is either beg the question of their actual essence/telos (e.g. one thing can serve many legitimate functions or purposes, as my tennis racket; or a function may serve a different purpose, as mymedical research examples tried to show); or to deny that the properties (rather than the essence/telos) of a human being can have a legitimate role in constituting a genuine human good.

      With respect to this latter argument, the physical sensations associated with the production of male gametes in a manner that is contrary to the ‘primary’ function of procreation may serve other genuine human goods. For example, non-procreative sex in a monogamous marriage that strengthens intimacy between the partners, creates occasions of happiness, and fosters loving bonds that in turn foster a stable, happy, loving environment for their existing and future children.

      My argument, if it succeeds, thus has implications for the hierarchy of human goods as well. As the married couple in my example might well believe, just because life is a most fundamental good, it doesn’t mean that more life is always and necessarily better. Just as more sexual pleasure isn’t always and necessarily better. These things have to be balanced against one another.

      If single-telos essentialism is invalid, or if properties can have a legitimate role in creating genuine human goods, the hierarchy is not as strict as it might seem. We have greater freedom to find, over our lifetimes, ways of living well. And I think this is in fact good news for an Aristotelian, insofar as it provides wider scope for the exercising our free, rational natures.

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    3. "But what if some medical researcher wanted to do medical research on male ejaculate?"

      This begs the question. If masturbation is intrinsically wrong, then such research is immoral, regardless of the consequences.

      "why is it then intrinsically not OK to produce them for pleasure"

      Because of the way the pleasure is induced. If pleasure is induced through the perversion of a faculty, then it's immoral to induce such pleasure.

      "Just because something has a primary natural purpose doesn’t mean it must be expressed in just that way to count as human flourishing."

      On the natural law view, it's permissible to use a faculty in ways other than its natural purpose. It's only wrong to use a faculty in a way that deliberately frustrates that faculty. It's OK to use one's mouth to whistle, even if whistling isn't the mouth's natural purpose, because whistling doesn't involve deliberately frustrating the natural purposes of the mouth.

      All these objections have been addressed by Dr. Feser, one simply has to read his material on the topic. :)

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    4. "But what if some medical researcher wanted to do medical research on male ejaculate? OK, perhaps if that research was directed at fertility studies we could say that the standard process of obtaining a specimen was still directed towards the primary natural purpose of the reproduction of the species, and we might allow it on this basis. But what if the medical researcher was investigating the potential for semen to contribute to a cure for, let’s say…a specific form of blindness."

      On that reading, you would conclude that natural law theory would be against most medical intervention.

      Let's say that you had to stop someone's heart to perform surgery. On your reading of natural law theory, this would not be allowed because this would pervert the natural function of the heart.

      Given that natural law theorists avail of medical intervention - at least the ones that I know - you could probably conclude that this argument is fallacious and start again.

      Another thought. Natural law Catholics are famously against IVF because it destroys viable foetuses. But you do not hear them complaining about medical research gleaned from fluids obtained in a 'perverted' manner. Is this because the natural law theories are 'silly' Or is it because you have misunderstood them? Probably best to err on the side of the latter.

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    5. That’s like saying that it would be improper to use my tennis racket to pound in tent pegs, or to use as a dance partner at a party. The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic teleology makes no difference here.

      But a tennis racquet has no intrinsic telos. Its Main Basic Function (as engineers would say) is imagined onto the plastic, wood, and/or gut by humans. The arrangement of strings and handle could just as easily be used as a spaghetti strainer.

      Hammering tent pegs is likely to damage the racquet beyond repair, so it may not be the best example for your point. And no matter how dervishly you whirl, it will never be your dancing partner, since the racquet is incapable of dance.

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    6. "Children do not even possibly result from it."

      The way you've put this is problematic, because sex between a couple who are definitely infertile also cannot possibly result in a child.

      The end of a complete reproductive system with male and female elements is reproduction, but individual men and women do not have a complete reproductive system, only a part of one. Therefore, individual men and women only have the goals of parts and the moral obligations that go with those parts as parts. The goal of the male part of a reproductive system is deposit seed in the female part of a reproductive system and the goal of a female reproductive system is to receive seed, allow it to unite with an egg and nurture the resulting child inside the womb until it is ready to come out. So, a man, for example, really only has the obligation, as the part he is, to deposit his seed in the female part of a reproductive system and a woman, as the part she is, only has the obligation to receive the seed of a man that she has stimulated to the point of ejaculation in the proper place. There are no other obligations to further the goal of reproduction, which is the goal of the whole system and which individual men and women do not and can not control.

      Now, this is all complicated by the fact that you shouldn't induce someone else to frustrate the purpose of their body, so a man shouldn't encourage a woman to use birth control or vice versa. And there are further obligations to be prepared to take care of any resulting child etc. But as for the sex act itself, playing your proper part is the only obligation you have.

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    7. Also, while one must not use a faculty in a way that is contrary to its ends or frustrates its natural function, it is morally permissible to use a faculty for a purpose "other" than its natural end, so long as there is no frustrating the faculty in the process.

      To give an example.

      The primary ends of the mouth is to give voice, breathe, and eat food/drink liquids, be that as it may, that doesn't mean one can't chew gum, so long as in chewing gum you aren't perilously putting yourself at risk for asphyxiation, or starvation etc. as that would frustrate the ends of the mouth (assuming you had a congested nose of course :) ).


      To discuss your example about doing medical research on semen, I think the moral dilemma is not in the use of the semen for medical research per se, but in how the semen is procured.


      To procure via masturbation would be to frustrate the sexual faculty, however to procure during sexual intercourse (to collect the semen that drains from the vagina after intercourse) would be morally licit.

      So on the natural law view it is ok to use semen for something other than its natural purpose, such as medical research, but the sexual faculty as a whole can't be frustrated in the process.

      I hope that helps.

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    8. While the distinction between male and female across the animal kingdom (smaller or larger gametes) is a valuable one, you really can't tell much about what men and women are from that.

      Other animals may have two distinct sexes, as is often the case, or at least have two different sexual functions. However, it strikes me that "male" and "female" among other kinds of sexually reproducing organisms are often only very rough analogies to what we find among humans. Use of those terms to describe the wide variety of sex differences among animals can be highly misleading. Even if there are some _very_ broad tendencies that go along with the distinction between larger and smaller gametes, it doesn't really tell you much about how sex differences manifest themselves in a particular species.

      Male and female among other mammals are often quite similar in many ways to male and female in humans, though there are some significant differences too, so it is often worthwhile to make comparisons there. And there are similarities to be noted even among other, more radically different, animals. But, on the whole, it seems to me wise to regard the reproductive behaviour of most animals as significantly other from ourselves.

      And don't even get me started on plants

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    9. "Given that natural law theorists avail of medical intervention - at least the ones that I know - you could probably conclude that this argument is fallacious and start again."


      No, I could equally conclude that Natural Law theorists see a difference between medical intervention and medical research. And I’d be interested to understand how they saw that difference.


      "This begs the question. If masturbation is intrinsically wrong, then such research is immoral, regardless of the consequences."

      The assertion that masturbation is intrinsically wrong is precisely what I’m challenging. The idea that medical research on male ejaculate (even if we qualify this by specifying “for purposes other than fertility studies”) is wrong because it’s instrinsically wrong to masturbate seems to me to be a bizarre outcome of the theory, and hence evidence that the theory needs to be modified.

      Now anyone wants to continue to assert the opposite because they want to continue to assert the theory – or the other consequences of the theory, such as a proscription of non-procreational sex - that’s fine. But it would seem to me to be a betrayal of practical reason.

      If the theory needs to be modified, I’ve suggested two ways to do it: either abandon the idea of a single essence/telos (i.e. acknowledge that things can have more than one legitimate natural function); or acknowledge that properties can have a legitimate role in constituting human goods.

      Simply restating the Natural Law theory is not a philosophical argument. Nor is stating that I don’t understand it. I’ve been reading Natural Law theory for going 30 years (I’m getting old!), and Dr Feser’s excellent interpretation of it for around 5. At very least, I'd appreciate it if anyone could please point me to resources in the theory that show that my otherwise reasonable suggestion (that medical research can be done on male ejaculate not produced during male-female intercourse) can be accommodated by Natural Law theory; or that the alterations I propose won’t work. I’d hate to lose confidence in the quality of debate on this site. ;-)

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    10. "No, I could equally conclude that Natural Law theorists see a difference between medical intervention and medical research. And I’d be interested to understand how they saw that difference."


      Surely you're kidding. Surely.

      Why on earth would you assume this?

      Come now. You didn't think it through. Take a step back. You're tussling with a strawman.

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    11. Anonymous,

      "If the theory needs to be modified, I’ve suggested two ways to do it: either abandon the idea of a single essence/telos (i.e. acknowledge that things can have more than one legitimate natural function); or acknowledge that properties can have a legitimate role in constituting human goods."

      My assessment of the theory in question is negative in general, but here I'd just like to add two cents with regard to the single essence/telos idea, with a couple of examples (I will talk of function instead of telos, but the key issues are similar):

      a. Gametes:

      We know that:

      1. There are many species in which both fertilization and parthenogenesis are normal and frequent means in which female gametes grow into embryos.

      2. While rare, there are species with no males. All individuals are female. In some of those species, males of other species have mate with the females for reproduction to happen, though their sperm cells do not fertilize the eggs. But in other species, no males are needed or used at all.

      Maybe the function of gametes "has to do with getting together with the gametes of the opposite sex in humans and most species" as Prof. Feser says (I'm not sure he was talking about humans only, or all species), but it's species-variable, and in many species (1. above), there are two main proper functions of the female gamete, namely to get together with gametes of the opposite sex, and to undergo parthenogenesis. These two main proper functions are mutually exclusive; if one is realized, the other is not, so it seems that an act that blocks a proper function permanently might still be an instance of an exercise of a proper function. This seems to spell trouble for a number of views.

      Alternatively, maybe the primary (or only, if we assume there is only one) proper function of male gametes in all species (with males) is to fertilize female gametes, whereas the primary (or only, if we assume there is only one) proper function of female gametes is to (eventually) grow into an embryo, a function for which they need an assortment of resources, including in most but not all species, a male gamete.

      There are a number of alternatives, but the claim that there is a single proper function would not seem warranted on the basis of the available evidence.

      b. Genitalia:

      Prof. Feser says "And if, as Byrne’s account suggests, chromosomes and genitalia play a secondary role relative to gametes, it isn’t hard to figure out their teleology too. It has to do with facilitating the getting together of the gametes of the opposite sexes. Hence the extremely well-known suitability of penises to get male gametes into the vicinity of female gametes, etc."

      But we have serious difficulties here as well (leaving aside chromosomes to simplify). In addition to your point about masturbation (which I'd say might have the functions of providing pleasure, reducing distress, and/or - in males - keeping the reproductive function in good health), one could mention same-sex sexual attraction and relations. On that note, it would seem that nearly all bonobox are bisexual, and use sex as an important part of their social structure. I'd say there is a reasonable chance that if a bonobo fails to be bisexual, something is not working properly - though we do not know that for sure, either.

      Now, humans are not bonobos, and bisexuality is much less common. But then again, it seems to me that for all we know, homosexual relations also might have a proper function, and the genitals also have the function of facilitating some social role or roles under some circumstances. This would not imply that a lack of opposite-sex attraction is not also a form of malfunctioning (though I don't think the moral arguments based on that would hold, but that aside), but here too, a claim of a single proper function seems at least unwarranted on the basis of the available evidence.

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    12. Typo: after "Maybe the function of gametes" it should say "in the case of humans".

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    13. No, TheIlusionist, I’m not. I thought a moment’s reflection might make the distinction apparent, but I was mistaken.

      Medical intervention is generally designed to restore or enhance a particular function (e.g. heart surgery), and is therefore consistent with the ‘telos’ of the function. Medical research, in contrast may have its focus the restoration or enhancement a different biological function (e.g. using male ejaculate to restore the nascent blindness of adolescent males who spend too much time on the internet).

      I say generally, because medical intervention may in fact destroy a particular function to save a more critical one. (e.g. amputation of a gangrenous leg). Or, medical intervention may interrupt a natural function temporarily (e.g. induce temporary blindness, immobilisation) to restore that or another function.

      This just points to the obvious fact that when dealing with teleology, one must reason from the right level. The challenge is to establish the hierarchy of goods. Which is why the concept of a single essence/telos is so critical. Now, I’ve put forward an argument as to why the notion of a single telos for the reproductive organs is fallacious. Angra Mainyu has provided evidence and argument in support. One of them points to a useful distinction between the heart and the reproductive organs, in that the latter are directly implicated in social relationships in ways the heart isn’t, and that these relational properties have potential significance for constituting human goods in a manner that suggest that the idea of a single telos is fallacious.

      Do you have any actual arguments in response? “You’re kidding” is not an argument.

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    14. @Anon 1:44 PM,


      Quote: "The assertion that masturbation is intrinsically wrong is precisely what I’m challenging. The idea that medical research on male ejaculate (even if we qualify this by specifying “for purposes other than fertility studies”) is wrong because it’s instrinsically wrong to masturbate seems to me to be a bizarre outcome of the theory..."


      It's not that the medical research itself is wrong here per se, it's that the means whereby the medical research got it's sperm is wrong. The distinction is important.

      If the medical research got it's sperm from masturbation, then it would have gotten it through illicit acts. But if the medical research got it's sperm from acts that were not intrinsically wrong, then the sperm was taken from acts that were morally unproblematic.

      In both cases the end, which is studying sperm, is not intrinsically wrong. It's just a matter of the means one uses to get the sperm one wants to study.

      I suppose one could say that medical research that obtained it's sperm via masturbation is morally wrong in the sense medical research on what happens to humans under torture is morally wrong if the torture was actually done to humans directly in order to procure the necessary information.

      But if one isn't aware the sperm was acquired via masturbation, or one is aware of it but wasn't able to define the conditions on how the donor ought to acquire his own sperm, or simply had to accept sperm without regard of how people obtained their own sperm because the conditions of research simply didn't care what method people used to obtain it themselves, then it seems to me at least that wouldn't necessarily be morally problematic on the part of the researcher.

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    15. Thanks for helping to clarify, JoeD.

      But... your example seem to me to illustrate precisely the bizarre nature of the conclusion. Masturbation is (clearly!) not torture. Suggesting the two have a similar status in a chain of moral reasoning would to me seem to be a bizarre outcome of the theory. It suggest to me that there may be something wrong with the theory.

      However...this also highlights that the two examples are dissimilar in a crucial respect. One can distinguish the coercive nature of torture from the (presumably) uncoerced nature of masturbation for medical research. Harm in the first instance is obvious. The issue lies (in part) with the nature of the harm in the second.

      Natural Law theory seeks to establish the harm of masturbation in relation to the essence/telos of the reproductive function. It privileges this telos of this function over all other possible purposes of masturbation always and necessarily.

      My examples questions this privilege by providing an example of other possible purposes of masturbation that contribute to the realisation of other genuine human goods, without decisively harming the telos of reproduction. It would seem to me that you would need to demonstrates that these are either not genuine human goods, or show that the telos of reproduction is decisively harmed by masturbation for these purposes. Thus, while the telos of reproduction it may be harmed in a single act of masturbation, I would take it as given that it does not decisively harm it always and necessarily.

      To use an economics analogy, masturbation is an example of opportunity cost. But all decisions in life have an opportunity cost. This is intrinsic to the nature of choice. The question always is: how do we weigh up our choices?

      Moral reasoning is not a science. It relies to a large degree degree of what might be called 'common sense', Aristotle's called "Prudence". Common sense can be informed and illuminated by metaphysical categories (e.g. the notion of essence/telos) but when the metaphysical categories conflict with common sense, surely one has a rational duty to question them.

      Delete
    16. Anonymous,
      Reading your language in this original comment, it strikes me that you perhaps have not read Dr. Feser's essay on the Perverted Faculty argument. But hey, maybe I'm mistaken. Maybe you just consciously chose to ignore crucial parts of that argument. Anyways, if you really haven't read it yet, perhaps you should go do that first. Might help with that toolkit of yours.

      Delete
    17. The legend of the bonobo continues:
      https://www.skepticink.com/incredulous/2017/10/09/bonobo-myth-demolished/

      Delete
    18. First, I said nothing about the bonobos' alleged peacefulness. I was talking about its bisexuality, which is well documented. So, I stand by what I said before.

      Second, that was not crucial to my point, which is that homosexual attraction may well have social functions in different species: were it not well documented that nearly all bonobos are bisexual, the conclusion that homosexual attraction and sex has no proper functions in bonobos would still not be warranted. It might or might not have it - the fact that it's so clear and widespread only makes it more probable.

      Generally speaking, one of the problems I'm pointing at is that organs, behaviors, traits, etc., can have multiple functions, and the claims that such-and-such is the function of an organ, trait or whatever are often unwarranted.

      Delete
    19. Apparently, these studies were done in captivity, not the wild. Take a bunch of humans and put them in a cage with all their creature comforts taken care of, and you might expect to see them engage in bouts of sexual behavior, too.

      Delete
    20. I would not expect that most humans in those circumstances would become bisexual, given that opposite-sex options are also available. In general, the evidence from studies in captivity should not be dismissed, even if it's weaker than similar studies in the wild would be.

      Still, for the sake of the argument, we may restrict the evidence about bonobos to bonobos in the wild. Then, while there is a lot less evidence of course (fewer and smaller studies), and the evidence there is indicates that in the wild, bonobos have less sex than they do in captivity, homosexual sex is still common, and it seems a high proportion of all sex.

      Some sources (all about wild bonobos).

      https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324598086_Adaptive_functions_of_GG_rubbing_among_female_bonobos_Pan_paniscus_at_Lomako_DRC
      https://www.researchgate.net/publication/288653675_Social_grease_for_females_Same-sex_genital_contacts_in_wild_bonobos
      https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1026384922066
      https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347200914519

      Still, we may also leave aside all studies about bonobos for the sake of the argument, and I would still argue that the evidence does not warrant the claim that homosexual attraction does not have a function in any species of primate (or mammal, if you prefer). After all, it exists in many, and while it might be that in all of them, it's the result of some defect, illness, etc., it might not be so. At least, I have not seen any conclusive evidence. A similar point can be made about humans.

      Similarly, masturbation is one example in which there might be a function, even if there might not. I do not know, and I do not see conclusive evidence either way.

      But my general point here is that it's very difficult to tell which things have which functions. In many cases, we can tell what their primary function is, but they might have others.

      All that said, in my view, this is not important morally, because I hold that 'perverted faculty' arguments fail. I know proponents of those arguments usually reject claims that they lead to clearly false conclusions when it comes to, say, earplugs, or threadmills. However, I'd say they lead to clearly false conclusions in the case of, say, chewing sugar-free gum, which is not nutritious (it may have very few calories, but they're not usable as far as I know, and in any case, that is not the point: chewing on a chew toy is also not immoral), and even sexual activity itself (i.e., rather than conclude from those arguments that such-and-such sexual activity is immoral, I conclude that if they do imply that, then that's a way of falsifying the theory on which they are based, though not the only way).

      Side note: If we do not restrict our evidence to mammals, there are all-female species in which some individuals exhibit male-like mounting behavior (i.e., they have homosexual sex). The behavior in question increases fertility in a species ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC387177/ ). Why would it not have a function? Obviously, humans are very different from lizards, but the point is that different sexual behaviors can have functions in different species and situations.

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    21. Moral reasoning is not a science. It relies to a large degree degree of what might be called 'common sense', Aristotle's called "Prudence". Common sense can be informed and illuminated by metaphysical categories (e.g. the notion of essence/telos) but when the metaphysical categories conflict with common sense, surely one has a rational duty to question them.

      This is precisely what is wrong about your argumentative strategy. And this is precisely the point on which disagreement is about.

      Just like all our knowledge , moral principles should be based on sound metaphysics. What you call common sense itself entails contradictory principles, hence why Philosophical problems like problem of many seem so intractable as no solution seem to be quite common sensical.

      So contrary to your claim morality is infact a science and we are infact obliged to correct our intuitions if they turn out to be mistaken. You'll more than assertion of absurdity to refute natural law here.

      This is why your reply to Joe doesn't defeat his point. that given that we know how moral principles can constraint scientific research, it can't be used to produce reductio of Natural law.
      And this is true for other kinds of genuine human goods you mention, they can be achieved by all kinds of immoral acts.

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    22. Angra MainyuNovember 23, 2018 at 5:24 PM

      "chewing on a chew toy is also not immoral"

      Why would it be under natural law?

      Delete
    23. I would not expect that most humans in those circumstances would become bisexual, given that opposite-sex options are also available.

      Men in prisons do not become homosexual. Physical acts do not carry inner meanings. All we know is that men enjoy jollying their nether regions and will in a pinch use shoes or sheep in order to achieve enjoyment. This has nothing to do with becoming "bisexual" [whatever that means] and everything to do with pursuing vegetative pleasure.

      In general, the evidence from studies in captivity should not be dismissed, even if it's weaker than similar studies in the wild would be.

      But when it runs contrary to observations in nature, we might wonder if the behaviors are caused by the conditions.

      In either case, we must beware of the Margaret Mead Effect, seeing what you want to see. This sometimes occurs even in the real sciences let alone the social 'sciences.'

      I hold that 'perverted faculty' arguments fail. I know proponents of those arguments usually reject claims that they lead to clearly false conclusions when it comes to, say, earplugs, or threadmills. However, I'd say they lead to clearly false conclusions in the case of, say, chewing sugar-free gum, which is not nutritious

      What faculty has been perverted by chewing gum? Or by earplugs? I don't know what a threadmill is (a mill for spinning thread?), but I would be hard-pressed to come up with a faculty being per-verted.

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    24. Archstanton

      Yes, you are mistaken.

      “Where some faculty F is natural to a rational agent A and by nature exists for the sake of some end E (and exists in A precisely so that A might pursue E), then it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for A to use F in a manner contrary to E.”

      My argument is directed at the view that a faculty is “perverted” in each and every instance of its use in a manner contrary to its (supposedly singular) end E. This is supposed to be “metaphysical impossible”. Well, it’s only “metaphysically impossible” if it’s defined that way. It’s circular.

      My argument rests in part on the idea that the achievement of an end of a faculty should be considered over its lifetime, not in every single instance of its employment. I say “an end” rather than “the end” because the idea of a singular end is a metaphysical assumption that seems to rest in part on (what I argue is) the erroneous notion that every single instance of functioning (rather than the lifetime of function) is the proper context for defining whether a faculty’s function has been realised. As far as I can tell, Dr Feser does not address this in his paper.

      Red

      "So contrary to your claim morality is infact a science and we are infact obliged to correct our intuitions if they turn out to be mistaken. You'll more than assertion of absurdity to refute natural law here."

      My mistake, I should have said ‘strict’ science. I meant that morality is not ‘scientia’ in Aristotle’s sense. Just as we use reason (theoretical and practical) to correct our intuitions, we must also use our intuitions to correct our reasoning.

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    25. My mistake, I should have said ‘strict’ science. I meant that morality is not ‘scientia’ in Aristotle’s sense. Just as we use reason (theoretical and practical) to correct our intuitions, we must also use our intuitions to correct our reasoning.

      Right, but point is that it needs to be treated in quite the same way because just like any knowledge it has some metaphysical background and once we have that background in place then we must correct any intuition that entails contrary moral principle to it.

      And while you're making such substantial argumentation please pick a name.

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    26. Thanks, Red. I should register, shouldn't I? While I work out how to do that, call me Peter.

      I agree. But what I'm doing is challenging (aspects of) that established metaphysical background of Natural Law Theory (motivated by a practical 'common sense' intuition). I'll consider the challenge successful if I can identify those aspects of the metaphysical background that, on balance, appear unreasonable in light of possible alternatives.

      The trouble is, I think, once you start fiddling around with the assumptions underpinning a system of thought, the ramifications can snow-ball. And picking out problems is a lot easier than coming up with coherent alternative solutions. But that's life, I guess. :-)

      Peter

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    27. AnonymousNovember 24, 2018 at 7:13 AM

      "Angra MainyuNovember 23, 2018 at 5:24 PM

      "chewing on a chew toy is also not immoral"

      Why would it be under natural law?"

      I do not know it would, but my point is that one can mirror the perverted faculty argument in a way that avoids the usual replies from its defenders. To give you a concrete example, I will quote from the argument linked to in the OP:

      Feser: "Rather, sexual pleasure has as its own natural end the getting of animals to engage in sexual relations, so that they will procreate. This parallels the situation with eating: Even though eating is pleasurable, the biological point of eating is not to give pleasure, but rather to provide an organism with the nutrients it needs to survive. The pleasure of eating is just nature’s way of getting animals to do what is needed to fulfill this end. When analyzing the biological significance of either eating or sex, to emphasize pleasure would be to put the cart before the horse. Pleasure has its place, but it is secondary."

      One might similarly say the biological point of masticating is not to give pleasure, or anything else, but rather, to assist in the further function of providing an organism with the nutrients it needs to survive.

      "Let’s turn now momentarily to the small picture, focusing on the sexual act itself. If we consider the structure of the sexual organs and the sexual act as a process beginning with arousal and ending in orgasm, it is clear that its biological function, its final cause, is to get semen into the vagina. That is why the penis and vagina are shaped the way they are, why the vagina secretes lubrication during sexual arousal, and so forth. The organs fit together like lock and key. The point of the process is not just to get semen out of the male, but also into the female, and into one place in the female in particular."

      Similarly, one might say that if we consider the structure of the eating organs ('organs' broadly speaking here) and the eating process as a process beginning with meastication and ending in swallowing, etc., it is clear that its biological function, its final cause, its to get food into the stomach, just the biological function of the sex act is to get semen into the vagina (side note: I do not actually endorse these claims, but I'm mirroring them; I will do the same below).

      Feser:

      "Where some faculty F is natural to a rational agent A and by nature exists for the sake of some end E (and exists in A precisely so that A might pursue E), then it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for A to use F in a manner contrary to E."; "For example, use of the birth control pill, or of condoms, or of any other contraceptive devices, would obviously involve using the sexual faculties while actively frustrating the realization of their procreative end.", and "Masturbatory acts involve a twofold frustration of the natural ends of sex. For one thing, they frustrate the procreative end insofar as the natural end of the physiological process in the male leading from arousal to ejaculation is not only to get semen out of the male but into the vagina, while the natural end of the physiological process of arousal in the female is to prepare the vagina for reception of semen."

      Similarly, one might say that sugar-free gum chewing acts involve a frustration of the natural ends of mastication: They frustrate the nourishing end insofar as the natural end of the process is to put food in the stomach.

      Now, I do not think the claims about the purpose of the sexual act, etc., are warranted. Different sexual acts may well have their own functions (or 'purposes' in this sense), as I've said before. But the sugar-free gum or chew toy analogy do not require that one challenges the claims about the function (or purpose) of the sexual act, or of sex, etc. Rather, the point is that similar claims about chewing appear no less plausible.

      Delete
    28. Peter,

      But this precisely is why your challenge can't be considered successful because then your challenge turn out to be circular for example your reply to Joe's comment turn on dismissing his claim because you think one act isn't immoral as the other based on its un-coerced nature .( it doesn't need to be as immoral, just immoral in general for the conclusion to follow) but not being coerced isn't a sufficient condition for being morally permissible. In this way claims of those aspects being bizarre simply don't work.

      And secondly this is said by proponents of a lot of views in metaphysics and I think this applies here too, you shouldn't dismiss a view as absurd without checking out alternatives.

      And about common sense moral intuitions, they can be highly varied , I would have considered these perverted acts as immoral even if I had never seen these particular sorts of argument for it.

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    29. Angra, I don't quite get the parallel. In cases you mention the relevant faculty is either not used at all or used to limited fruition. None of which is quite contrary to natural end. of course it might well be immoral to eat large amount of chewing gums only and damage the health.

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    30. Anonymus

      But in that case, the immorality would follow from the fact that you deliberately do something that damages your health.
      Masturbation, e.g. would only be immoral if it damages ones health.
      Angra's point, i think, is that in chewing sugar-free gum, a faculty is "frustrated" because it is used in a way contrary to its "telos".

      Delete
    31. I do not know it would, but my point is that one can mirror the perverted faculty argument in a way that avoids the usual replies from its defenders.

      You are not, in fact, mirroring the perverted faculty argument. If you are going to try to run a parity argument, take the trouble to do it competently after having properly analyzed the argument with which you are trying to run a parallel.

      (1) Masticating, unlike the multi-part process of eating, has no pleasure associated directly with it; it is literally just a series of grinding, crushing, slicing actions with teeth. You are confusing this imaginary pleasure of chomping with teeth with the direct pleasure of exercising the jaw muscles or the indirect pleasure of reducing aridity in the mouth and throat; this in itself breaks the supposed parallel, since it means that your parallel is fatally incomplete at precisely the point you are trying to make it.

      (2) You keep going back and forth between mastication and eating. This contrasts with the argument you are trying to mirror, which explicitly makes a distinction between the larger-scale and the smaller-scale (""Let’s turn now momentarily to the small picture") in order to make a specific point; you not do this.

      What is more, your 'mirroring' at this point commits a standard error with amateur attempts at parity argument. What needs to be mirrored is not bare word-forms but cogency of argument -- that is, someone building a parity argument needs to establish that if an argument of type A works it would require that an argument of type B works. Not only do you not do this, you explicitly jump over it ("it is clear that") and do not provide any parallel to the actual argument given, despite that this is a crucial step in your parity argument. "One might say" does not suffice; you need "one would have to say". Otherwise you have established nothing at all.

      (3) You don't even bother to try to run a proper parallel in your third part. 'Putting food in the stomach' is neither the end of masticating (which is getting things chewed-up) nor the end of eating (the process of which is not completed by putting things in the stomach), so you've put a third thing on the table without establishing that it is relevant to the parallel. It's very much as if somebody said that the operation of the corpus spongiosum was to put semen into the vagina; it confuses what the corpus spongiosum does with what it makes possible for something else. Here we see again both your failure to be consistent about the faculty and your consistent sloppiness about what is involved in mastication itself.

      But more seriously even than that, you have failed to establish frustration. Let us suppose (even though it's stupid analysis) that the purpose of chewing things with the teeth was to put things in the stomach. Chewing gum is not inconsistent with this end, as anyone who has dealt with children and gum knows. Since frustration requires an inconsistency (as Ed explicitly notes), there is no frustration even under your stupid analysis. Further, your emphasis on the further end of nutrition means that you would actually be committed in the parity to 'the end of mastication is to put things in the stomach so as to make nutrition possible'. But this means that the end of chewing is not frustrated by failing to put things in the stomach that do not make nutrition possible. So, again, no frustration.

      So your "mirroring" is not a competent mirroring; parity fails at practically every essential point. It's as if you did not even bother to analyze the argument you were trying to mirror, and instead tried to wing it on the basis of a handful of verbal similarities and arbitrary assumptions.

      Delete

    32. Anonymous,

      I think I made the parallel in a considerably detailed manner, so I'm not sure why you don't think it's similar.

      Delete

    33. Brandon,

      "(1) Masticating, unlike the multi-part process of eating, has no pleasure associated directly with it; it is literally just a series of grinding, crushing, slicing actions with teeth."
      Normally, masticating does cause pleasure, even if it is due to the taste of the food that is being chewed (or the sugar-free gum for that matter).

      "(2) You keep going back and forth between mastication and eating. This contrasts with the argument you are trying to mirror, which explicitly makes a distinction between the larger-scale and the smaller-scale (""Let’s turn now momentarily to the small picture") in order to make a specific point; you not do this."
      I do not go "back and forth". I point out that what is said that eating (in terms of the process) in the perverted faculty argument (namely, that its biological point is to "provide an organism with the nutrients it needs to survive", the "biological point of masticating is not to give pleasure, or anything else, but rather, to assist in the further function of providing an organism with the nutrients it needs to survive.".

      "Not only do you not do this, you explicitly jump over it ("it is clear that") and do not provide any parallel to the actual argument given, despite that this is a crucial step in your parity argument. "One might say" does not suffice; you need "one would have to say". Otherwise you have established nothing at all."

      I simply do not find the claims in the original argument any more plausible than those in the "one might say" parallel. If you do, well, you will not be persuaded by it, but clearly, it's a parallel, not a perfect match (else, it would be the same argument), and my claim is not that it logically follows from the perverted faculty argument against masturbation, homosexual sex, etc., that chewing sugar-free gum is immoral, but rather, that perverted faculty argument against chewing sugar-free gum is no less plausible than the other perverted faculty argument (i.e., their premises are no less plausible). If you do not find it like that, sure, you will not be persuaded. did not intend to persuade you.

      "(3) You don't even bother to try to run a proper parallel in your third part. 'Putting food in the stomach' is neither the end of masticating (which is getting things chewed-up) nor the end of eating (the process of which is not completed by putting things in the stomach), so you've put a third thing on the table without establishing that it is relevant to the parallel."
      I did not say it was the end, but rather, than one might similarly say that. It's not less plausible than saying tha "If we consider the structure of the sexual organs and the sexual act as a process beginning with arousal and ending in orgasm, it is clear that its biological function, its final cause, is to get semen into the vagina." One might more plausibly say that the process begining with arousal and ending in orgasm has the biological function (in males) of causing an ejaculation, regardless of where it goes, and surely the process beginning with arousal and ending in orgasm did not fail if the semen does not go into a vagina. Or something else.

      "So your "mirroring" is not a competent mirroring; parity fails at practically every essential point. It's as if you did not even bother to analyze the argument you were trying to mirror, and instead tried to wing it on the basis of a handful of verbal similarities and arbitrary assumptions."
      Well, instead of mirroring, in that case I would have to say at every turn "There is no good reason to think that that is in fact the function. One might as well say it's X1, X2, etc., and none of those is less plausible". Then, we disagree, and that's that.

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    34. "I think I made the parallel in a considerably detailed manner, so I'm not sure why you don't think it's similar."

      Because of the very same reasons I mentioned in the very comment.

      "In cases you mention the relevant faculty is either not used at all or used to limited fruition. None of which is quite contrary to natural end."

      @Walter

      My point is that aspect of it that are obviously immoral are clearly consistent with natural law account of impermissibility while those that aren't are not.

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    35. pace the argument presented by Angra of course.

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    36. Angra Mainyu,

      Since your arguments repeatedly show your inability to analyze arguments even at the basic level, and have preferred to jibber-jabber rather than rectify your incompetence, I will simply point out some of the obvious evidences of this for bystanders who have less experience than I do with attempts to pass off intellectual incompetence as informed opinion.

      Normally, masticating does cause pleasure, even if it is due to the taste of the food that is being chewed (or the sugar-free gum for that matter).

      This is explicitly addressed in the very argument from which you are explicitly quoting. I had pointed out that you were confusing something being a direct pleasure of masticating with other pleasures (like the direct pleasure of using your muscles or the indirect pleasure of moistening the mouth), and here you are repeating the same elementary error, as if you were an idiot of the highest order. Thus either you did not read the criticism to which you are responding, or you failed to recognize the very point it was making, which since it is a point that is essential to the argument you are criticizing, shows that you lack some of the most basic intellectual equipment required for criticizing that argument. You have also failed to address the point: that your "mirroring" requires that you actually mirror the argument you are addressing.

      I do not go "back and forth".

      You do in fact go back and forth. The part of the original argument that was supposed to be mirrored was explicitly a subargument addressing one small point; you have failed to treat it as such, thus flattening the distinction made by the original argument between the larger case and the smaller. And the further response you make here simply shows you repeating the elementary error -- a pattern with you, it seems.

      I simply do not find the claims in the original argument any more plausible than those in the "one might say" parallel.

      Only stupid people and sophists think that their own sense of plausibility is in itself relevant to the logical structure of an argument. To put it simply:

      If you have two arguments that are purportedly in parallel, A and B, such that the parallel with B is supposed to be a reason for doubting the cogency of A, then (1) B actually has to be in structural parallel with A, in such a way that (2) there are no extraneous elements of B's structure that could be the real source of its absurdity, implausibility, or whatever, and (3) the parallel does not arise from a tendentious interpretation of A. By the claims you make in the paragraph beginning with the above sentence, you by your own mouth establish the failure of your argument to prove anything about A; you have no grounds for saying that the problems you allege in the parallel B are anything other than a byproduct of your own stupidity.

      I did not say it was the end, but rather, than one might similarly say that.

      What you said is irrelevant; as I explicitly stated it is what you are committed to within the parity. That you don't understand what this means is not surprising given the rest of your comments.

      As I said before, this reference of things entirely to your own sense of plausibility is a form of logical assessment used only by stupid people and sophists. Either you so badly misunderstand the concept of logical structure that you are botching one of the most elementary kinds of argument (parity argument), on which all of logic depends, which is stupidity, or you are deliberately trying to deceive those without a logical background into thinking you have an argument that is stronger than the sloppy and incompetent argument that you actually give -- which is deliberately making the lesser argument seem the stronger, and is the very definition of sophistry. There is no third route here; either your 'mirroring' is something you are doing cargo-cult-style, going through motions whose purpose you don't understand, or you are deliberately being dishonest and manipulative.

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    37. Mr.Brandon can you please be more polite and respectful?

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    38. Brandon, I'm digging the content of your comments, but I will second that I'm wincing a bit reading them through.
      I think Angra Mainyu is wrong, but especially to guys who aren't as experienced in this as you (into which category AM - an I myself for sure - might very well fall), it doesn't seem so obviously wrong as to merit the scorn.

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    39. Well based on his writings. AM certainly isn't inexperienced in philosophical argumentation.

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    40. Brandon,

      As it happened in our previous exchange ( http://www.philosophyetc.net/2015/11/self-undermining-skepticisms.html ), you not only are wrong about my arguments, but make claims against me that are both unwarranted and false. However, I have considerably less available time than I had then, and I'm not planning to spend it on long posts written in self-defense. Instead, I will leave this place, and when I have more time, I will write a detailed reply to Feser's perverted faculty argument - something that I was not trying to do in these comboxes, of course, and that I was not planning to do - and post it on my blog. Not many people will read that, sure, but at least, anyone interested who reads this will be able to do so, and that's good enough for me.

      Readers can assess your claims about me and about my posts on the basis of what is written in this exchange, and - if they are interested - take a look at the previous exchange I just provided a link to as well, in order to assess more of your accusations against me - in that case, with detailed replies.

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    41. So yeah what's the deal Brandon? Do you know anything about this Angra guy that we don't that would warrant the intolerance? His personal blog seems like it smacks of contrarian gnu cringe, but, other than that, like other here, I really don't see the need for the hostility.

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    42. To be fair to Brandon, whilst AM seems polite enough and isn't too arrogant, he clearly doesn't have a good handle on these issues, nor argument structures, and is too confident by half, considering that.

      Delete
  2. Dr. Feser, what's your position on the position that claims that concepts like "man" and "woman" should be revised to promote greater justice? In order words, even if "man" and "woman" refer to biological realities, these concepts should nevertheless be revised because they perpetuate injustice against women and the LGBT community.

    Sally Haslanger has argued this in the following chapter, available on her website:

    http://sallyhaslanger.weebly.com/uploads/1/8/2/7/18272031/haslanger_going_on_not_in_the_same_way_-_final.pdf

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    Replies
    1. In order words, even if "man" and "woman" refer to biological realities, these concepts should nevertheless be revised because they perpetuate injustice against women and the LGBT community.

      Who is doing the defining of that "injustice", and on what grounds? Are the grounds in the least valid, or are they the liberal/progressive nonsense we see in modern academia?

      If "man" and "woman" reflect reality, then the concepts should not be "revised" at all, behavior should be revised to be subjected to moral norms of justice that account for the reality. For example, the behavior of a man having sex with a man as if with a woman would be in violation of a moral norm, whether it satisfies the desires and proclivities of the two men or not.

      Oh, and by the way, the term "LGBT community" is absolute pure hogwash. There is no such thing. The presumption that bisexuals have the same purposes and intentions as Ls and Gs is silly. And the idiotic presumption that those who feel stymied in the gender expression have of necessity the same common causes as those who are lesbian and gay is so ridiculous as to be beyond belief. In point of fact, there are plenty of gays who are very upset at various trans-folk getting away with their effort at folding, spindling, and mutilating the social framework to suit their whims. And of course the fact that post-post-modernist take on all this is that the whole set of pretend categories are make-believe, because there is no such thing as biological sex, gender, gender orientation, gender expression, or any of that nonsense.

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  3. Some random observations.

    1. The fact that the term 'progressive' is now synonymous with justifying increasingly odd and counterfunctional human behaviour does lead one to question what exactly 'progress' consists of. Especially given the fact that the term 'progress' is innately teleological.

    2. When philosophers try to justify the bizarre fads of the day are they really philosophers at all? I think there's a strong case to make that they are not and instead they are just ideologues utilising philosophical language.

    3. The Darwinian process is manifestly the core instance of when "teleological-sounding talk is a mere façon de parler which can be replaced with a purely efficient-causal description". Why Feser insists on defending such a shabby theory, I have no idea. Feser writes "natural selection in any event at most casts doubt on teleology where questions about adaptation are concerned, but leaves untouched the need for teleological descriptions of developmental processes". It's either/or. Either Darwinism is true in which case all biological diversity is explained by the silly random generation and natural selection mechanism. Or Darwinism is false and biological diversity must be described in some different way. The EvoDevo crowd are figuring this out as we speak; the middle-of-the-road philosophers are running in the opposite direction. Any attempt to prove that this is not an either/or is besides-the-point hair-splitting by people who are terrified - TERRIFIED - of being accused by their peers as being 'creationists'.

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    1. Natural selection is inherently teleological, as survival and reproduction are end goals.

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    2. On your definition, sure. But not on a Darwinian definition.

      The Aristotlean crowd love to read their philosophy into other peoples' theories that have no interest.

      I think it makes them ineffectual and non-threatening. But that's just me.

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    3. Darwin thought natural selection was teleological, so it's weird to see others try to characterize that idea as some aberration. C'est la vie.

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    4. Darwin's bizarre 19th century Whig teleology was distinct from his theory. The phrase 'survival of the fittest', for example, is not of Darwin's coinage; rather it is from the liberal political theorist Herbert Spencer.

      The actual theory - the real theory - has no teleology embedded in it. It is definitively anti-teleological. Ask any contemporary Darwinian and they'll tell you the same.

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    5. Now you're just doing the no true scotsman thing.

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    6. The actual theory ... is definitively anti-teleological. Ask any contemporary Darwinian and they'll tell you the same.

      That because Late Moderns do not know what telos is. They think it must mean an external imposition of purpose. But they certainly believe natural selection entails the origin of species by ensuring greater fitness for a niche, and that any particular act of natural selection ends with removal of the lesser-fit organisms.

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  4. Something that have puzzled about final causality in the biological realm in evolution. Can’t evolution be given a purely efficient causality description. I think I would go like this: you have mutation... And that’s it! All that rest would be external factors that would impact who much each mutation affects an organism, and this would, over time, give you a complex and “purpose like” organism. Just to make things clear, i think there is something really wrong with this account of evolution (even though i don’t know well what it is), and English is not my first language so i may have not expressed the point very clearly. But anyway if someone could answer this question it would be great!

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    1. @ Thomist Guy

      The Darwinian mechanism is random variation (mutation) and natural selection. The idea is that a random process generates mutations randomly. Then these are 'selected' (or in computer language 'stored'). The selection process takes place through competition. Those that survive in their environment (natural selection) have more kids who also fare well in the environment and so the mutation is selected/stored.

      That's it. That's the whole thing. It's a ridiculous theory on just about every level. If you look at it hard enough it appears almost tautological ("That which survives, survives").

      It's a decent description of microevolution. It explains antibiotic resistance and Galapagos finch beaks. But that's about it.

      Anyway, even the biologists are waking up to how silly the theory is. Stephen Jay Gould dissented decades ago. And now a bunch of biologists are trying to formulate the 'Extended Evolutionary Synthesis' that recognises non-Darwinian mechanisms as being important.

      But for some bizarre reason the entire philosophical community is still acting like it is 1975 and Dawkins' stupid Selfish Gene book is cutting edge. I think that this is due to the fact that the Darwinists have a very well-organised propaganda lobby. But how smart people don't see through someone like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett due to the fact that they are manifestly third-rate intellects, is beyond me.

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    2. That is a good answer, thanks! But if the evolutionary theory do indeed rule out teleology and is absurd because of that, should not classical theist like Feser attack it more? Anyway, thinking about the topic it seems to me that, even if evolution is true, to say that because the process is ramdom it rule out teleology would be a genetic fallacy. It could still be the case that if a thing develop in such and such way it will be easier for it to satisfy its natural ends (survival), so it could be that mutations which would be objectively good for an organism(that would help it to flourish) would be through survival (which would be an effect of the flourishing of an organism) “stored”. So, as different substances have different final causes, different mutations also would have and would therefore impact an organism in a positive or negative way. Then mutations which would have as final causes (i don’t know how to call the final cause of the part of a thing since the whole is more foundamental, maybe virtual final causes?) final causes that would help an organism that satisfy its own final causes (this i thing would be real and absulute final causes) would as a result of being objectively good to the organism help it to survive and then would be stored. I don’t know if my point is very clear, but maybe, to summarize, the final causes of an organism would relate to the final causes of its parts(virtual final causes) in evolution in avoid or bad way, bad (virtual?) final causes “go to trash”, good ones are “stored”. So even though the mutation are random and efficient, they are to theological since different mutations have good effects on an organism and bad ones doesn’t. Simple final causes would then with time be selected and you will have complex final causes in the end like the human pennis for the topic. This may be wrong but it would make evolution to pressuponde teleology instead is rule it out. Any thoughts?

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    3. "That is a good answer, thanks! But if the evolutionary theory do indeed rule out teleology and is absurd because of that, should not classical theist like Feser attack it more?"

      I think so! Michael Denton's latest book ('Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis') argues that we have to go back to the Aristotlean theories of the pre-Darwinian Richard Owen. These are biological theories that actually integrate teleology and form. But they're ignored by people who claim to want to re-Aristotelean the sciences. Why? I think because they don't know that much about evolutionary biology and they're scared about being called creationists.

      "It could still be the case that if a thing develop in such and such way it will be easier for it to satisfy its natural ends (survival), so it could be that mutations which would be objectively good for an organism(that would help it to flourish) would be through survival (which would be an effect of the flourishing of an organism) “stored”."

      That's the argument of the BioLogos crowd. They claim that divine intervention takes place through the evolutionary mechanism.

      That's fine theologically and philosophically. My gripe is with (a) how dumb the theory is when weighed against the evidence and (b) how supposedly Aristotelian types support an outmoded version of evolutionary science that is definitively anti-Aristotelian; and they want scientists to take the seriously!?

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    4. Hey The Illusionist, having read your other comments on this post, it seems there is small problem on your reasoning (I may be wrong, if so please help me take this error from my reasoning)

      You seem to think the a scientific theory (such as natural selection), and concepts from philosophy of nature (forms, final causes, act, potency, etc) are basically the same thing in the sense that those concepts are just elements of some theory. This is especially evident when you say that “The Aristotlean crowd love to read there philosophy at other peoples’ theories that have no interest”.

      But there is a fundamental difference between natural science and natural philosophy, natural science make mathematical abstractions from things in such a way that it only have descriptive power. The question why is it the case that something works that way is just pressuposed by it. Natural philosophy is the one who tries to answer that question, this is true at least of physics but a similar point can be made for biology. Take the topic from our discussion. Biology shows (or, If you are right it, supposedly shows) that there are random mutations the are stored. Even though biology shows that there is not teleology in the sense of the mutations being aimed (by themselves, which would open the door for some possible outside intervention whether divine, matrix programmer or any thing for that mater) at survival.

      But does it shows that the mutations themselves are not teleological?

      (not in a interventionist sense as you seem above to have interpreted that is was proposing but rather that different mutations have in themselves different final causes, i will back to this later)

      -Not at all!!

      Philosophy of nature looks for deeper questions about things l, and because of that a same theory can be interpreted in different metaphysical back grounds (maybe not all the backgrounds, but at least most of them) science looks for how things happen to be, philosophy of nature looks for how things have to be in any possible theory.

      For a clearer, and infinitely more profound reflection on the topic read the post from Feser: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/05/natural-theology-natural-science-and.html?m=1

      As for my way of interpreting natural selection in teleological background, as I said, it is not an interventionist account, it would be something like this:

      1. Different things have different final causes
      2. There are different possible mutations
      3. So each different mutation will have a different final causes which will be either good or bad for an organism
      4. Good mutations in an organism help it survive
      5. If I certain mutation is stored because of the survival of the organism the mutates, as natural selection states, then mutations which have final causes that will help the organism the mutates will be stored.
      6. So mutations that are teleogically good for an organism will be stored and will accumulate in an organism
      7. So with time an organism will show complex teleology (heart, brain, eyes, etc)

      I develop this to answer to some atheist who say that since evolution does not points at survival then it rules out teleogy so:
      8. Conclusion: even though the natural selection does not point at survival, it pressuposes final causes

      I know you might respond saying that natural selection is not right, but this can be presented as an argument that says, even if evolution were correct it would not rule out final causes.

      Do you think the argument is sound?

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    5. I don't think that there is any inherent reason why Darwinian evolutionary theory cannot be read through an Aristotlean metaphysics. Pretty much any theory can. That's not my issue.

      My issue is that Aristotleans actually think that this is an effective method of dealing with the sciences. "Hey, you guys do your thing; we'll take you at your word; but then look at this cool Aristotlean metaphysical interpretation that I can do". Queue scientists yawning.

      The irony is that in many sciences right now there are problems arising that require a new formal language in the sciences themselves. Often this language is highly compatible not just with Aristotlean metaphysics but also with Aristotlean science. ('Emergent properties' and the turn away from atomism is one such recent turn).

      So my criticism is that the Aristotleans are basically ineffectual. Some of this is because they don't really understand sciences. Some of this is because they accord scientists - especially second rate ideologues posing as scientists - an esteem that is not deserved. But some of it is that they just don't want to rock the boat - and especially they want to come across as 'hip' and 'modern' and not be criticised for being a 'creationist'.

      More ambition is required. But for that, more courage is also required.

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    6. "Hey, you guys do your thing; we'll take you at your word; but then look at this cool Aristotlean metaphysical interpretation that I can do". Queue scientists yawning

      But the thing is that mataphysical Aristotleanism is not merely a way to interpret a scientific equation, or experiment. Once we have on independent grounds (logic) that there must be general concepts like causality, final causes, essences, then we can go on to apply those concepts on specific cases, that’s where the interpretation of some experiment or equations comes in.

      People like Feser are not so concerned with whether modern science or aristotlean science is the right one, they say the whatever is the right, an aristotlean interpretation can, on independent grounds (philosophy of nature) be proven to be the right one.

      My point is not that you are wrong but rather that if you are right it is not the case that Feser does not have ambition or courage, but rather that he is not so concerned with science at the first place, but with philodsophy of nature and metaphysics.

      I’m sorry that I don’t know almost anything about aristlean science and much less the problems modern science suffers, I only know the basic of aristlean metaphysics, so I cannot respond to your scientific arguments. 😥😥

      But i’m Sure you will find somebody on this blog who knows more on the topic so...

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    7. Having some experience in the sciences, I don't think that's how debate works. And I think that risks the Aristotlean movement degenerating into a silly subculture in an irrelevant corner of academic philosophy.

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  5. But, on the whole, it seems to me wise to regard the reproductive behaviour of most animals as significantly other from ourselves.

    And yet, it seems, there are generally two of them. One carries the egg or egg-analog and the other fertilizes it. Even maple trees do this. Certainly, there are bees and such, and many trees are genuinely bisexual, and the fungi are truly weird, but in general, natural selection has favored bisexuality over trisexuality on asexuality.

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    1. I didn't say that there were absolutely no similarities whatsoever, just that most animals and really all plants are quite radically different from us in this area.

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  6. ‘primary’ function and properties (or secondary functions)

    Properties are not functions.

    sex between a couple who are definitely infertile

    See comments in the OP regarding defective or impaired functions. E.g. an eye is "for" seeing even if one has gone blind.

    Can’t evolution be given a purely efficient causality description

    You cannot have an efficient cause without telos; otherwise, how can the cause have this effect rather than that effect. As I understand matters, natural selection is "for" the origin of species.

    these concepts (man/woman) should nevertheless be revised because they perpetuate injustice against women and the LGBT community.

    "Man" refers to a rational being, as in men-tal, wo-man, or were-man. How this knowledge "perpetuates injustice" is a great mystery.

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    1. Properties are not functions, but I'm suggesting they can be part of natural functions other than the apparent 'primary' function.

      In this case, 'sexual pleasure' might be seen as included in of the telos of a 'forming a loving relationship' as well as the telos of 'procreation', both of which characteristic forms of human flourishing. As far as I can tell, there is no good reason to always and in all circumstances prioritise the second (procreation).

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    2. As far as I can tell, there is no good reason to always and in all circumstances prioritise the second (procreation).

      a) Talk to Darwin.
      b) Sexual pleasure is not a telos. It may be a motivating "force," but the pleasure exists to ensure that higher animals engage in reproduction, not vice versa. To much emphasis on sexual pleasure is likely to lead to an epidemic of sexual harrasment and sexual assault.
      #
      You may as well say that a secondary function of the heart to make thumpadump noises in the chest. And it is indeed not likely that a pump could course the blood without making a noise. Doctors can use the noises as a diagnostic tool. But their purpose is not to improve the sound effects for the sound'd sake.

      PS. The doctors do not "prioritize" blood-pumping over noise-making. But they don't confuse a side-effect with the Main Basic Function, either. The same goes for confusing a motivation (personal pleasure) with a telos (reproduction).

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    3. "b) Sexual pleasure is not a telos. It may be a motivating "force," but the pleasure exists to ensure that higher animals engage in reproduction, not vice versa."

      Why "reproduction", rather than "mating behavior"? (leaving aside other issues).

      Adaptations were selected for because they increased (under some conditions) the chances of reproduction. But we would not say the eyes (or color vision, etc.) exist to ensure that some animals engage in reproduction.

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    4. TheOFloinn,

      Why do you think that pleasure is not the function of some organs, tissues, etc.?

      For example, why is the primary function of the clitoris not to provide pleasure?

      It seems to do just that, and if it failed to provide pleasure while stimulated (under some normal conditions, which would depend on the species), it would be malfunctioning.

      Granted, it might have been favored by natural selection because having one increased reproductive success, in the environments in which evolution took place. Or it might not, and it exists as a side effect. As far as I can tell, that is an open question at this point. But regardless, even if it was so favored, so were for that matter the eyes, or color vision, etc., or everything favored by natural selection, but that does not mean that their function is reproduction.

      Moreover, if the clitoris indeed evolved because it increased reproductive success, it did so because it provided pleasure, which encourage individuals to mate. This is not akin to the heart and the noises it makes: the heart does not increase reproductive success because it makes noises.

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  7. Then mutations which would have as final causes

    Mutations [noun] are the final causes of mutation [verb].

    "Random" is a term that means "I don't know why this happened." It does not mean unpredictable.

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    1. TheOFloinn, I know random does not man unpredictable, but I develop this argument in a quick way to respond to the argument of some atheist that natural selection does not points at survival but it’s just meaningless and porposeless mutations, they may be predictable but not by reference to survival. It just happens because of survival that some mutations are stored and others are not.

      So I basically propose that maybe different mutations have in themselves different final causes, which are stored by survival(which could be easily be read in the Aristotelian concept of fulfillment of ones final ends) and, after time would be accomulated in the complex instances of final causes we observe today. I made this argument, or interpretation of the evolutionary process within the Aristotelian view of the world, as a way to answer to this objection to final causes in biology, it may even be the case that evolution really points to survival and i’m wrong from the beginning in my response to this argument(but probably not since evolution is an event and final causes are really present only in substances)

      I help this may have made my point clear, so any thoughts about that would be great for me!

      Another objection that some atheist have used against final causes within biology and that have puzzled me even more is that:

      Since evolution is a continuous process, there really aren’t times at which there some espécies mutates into another.

      Of course this jus begs the question, but if we use it as an epistemological argument to the effect that we can never know when a substance have turned into another. (A good way to look at this objection is to compare water to the water the flows in river in a continuous process where divisions are mere human constructs)
      This objection even make me a little scare to be honest because, as any objection to universals, this would be destructive to natural law theory if it is right. It would at least it would make it epistemologicaly impossible for us to say what is objevtively good for a substance.

      Any thoughts?

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    2. Mutations are not a thing, but a class of events. Some are good for the substance, some are bad, some are neural. "Bad" means "impairs reproductive success" over against organisms free of the mutation. Darwin said that any trait that in the very least impaired reproductive success would be "ruthlessly destroyed" by nature.

      "Good" is more difficult to define. It may be sufficient that it is "not-bad." Then it lingers in the population until circumstances change one way or the other. Among circumstances are what the substance is trying to do. If it is trying to suck nectar from blooms, a long thing beak will help, but if by chance a chick is born with a blunter beak, the "struggle for existence" -- that is, the tendency of a living thing to strive to continue living -- will drive it to try other means of making a living, such as, pecking seeds. If the variation breeds true, the mother teaches the chicks and eventually their descendants seem different enough from their erstwhile conspecifics that humans will deem them a distinct species. [BTW, notice that they need not replace their cousins. They only need to survive.]

      This tendency of favorable mutations depending on "what the substance is trying to do" is where telos enters into the gears of natural selection. The organism itself can be a participant in its own evolution by exploiting new niches or altering behaviors. If it switches for any reason from doing A and seeks instead to do B, a different suite of traits will be favored or disfavored.

      Hence, the Neo-Aristotelian scheme:
      Material Cause: the tendency to variation due to constant small random mutations in the genetic code; i. e., a variety of differing individuals within a species capable of transmitting their differences
      Formal Cause: the tendency of interbreeding population to reproduce itself in a stable manner and increase in numbers; i. e., the maintenance of type
      Efficient Cause (Agent): natural selection by the environment which eliminates those variants which are less effective in reproducing their kind; i. e., the agent determining in which direction species-change will take place
      Final Cause (End): the flexibility of living things by which they are able to occupy new niches in the changing environment; i. e., a feed-back mechanism which guides the selective process toward a new type which can exploit new environmental possibilities

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    3. That’s very interesting. So teleology does not seem to exist so much on the effect that some mutation have of some substance, but rather that some variations are good and others are bad precisely because the substance has a final end to fulfill, which when fulfilled helps it survive and then it is “stored”.

      There is only one thing that is not so clear:
      If final causes follow what a thing is (formal cause) events, since they are not substances cannot have final causes.

      So you are not talking like natural selection has some final causes itself, but rather that it pressupose the final causes organisms have, so that the “selection event” takes place, right?
      (I just ask this to make sure I understand you)

      Since it is clear how brilliant you are this topic can you also put an end on the second objection i presented:

      That since evolution is fluid and continuous, any division (where an espécies mutates to another) is epistemologically impossible)

      And just so that you does not have to come back here to answer some other question:
      Is Real Essentialism, from David Oderberg a good book on the topic for a beginner like me?

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    4. ""Random" is a term that means "I don't know why this happened." It does not mean unpredictable."
      That is not what 'random' means in the expression 'random mutation', in the context of biology. There are different formulations, but roughly, that mutations are random means that whether they happen is not connected to their usefulness.

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    5. No, the telos of a thing is what it tends toward. In physics, a dynamic system governed by qa potential function will tend toward a locus in the state space called the equilibrium manifold M. The parameter space loci are called the attractor basin A. Those systems in A will be attracted to those states on M. Hence, planets subject to gravitational potentials eventually wind up in stable orbits (or collide with other bodies). A ball deep in the Earth's gravity well will tend toward the point of lowest gravitational potential: the center of the Earth. When prevented from reaching the center of gravity, the residual potential will be perceived as 'weight.'

      1. Termination. This is the first sort of telos: the end-point toward which the system tended. These "rest" points [or equlibria] can take the form of orbits and other alternations [like Belusov reaction in chemistry]. When a sodium and a chlorine atom combine to form a salt molecule, the reaction terminates.
      2. Perfection. When a thing becomes 'all that it can be.' The telos of an acorn is an oak; the telos of a tiger cub is a mature tiger. When a cub has become a tiger, growth and development cease.
      3. Intention. The thing may have a tendency because of its own internal drives. That is a TENdency becomes an inTENtion. When a lion chases a gazelle, it intends a meal. It will not accidentally befriend it. When a bird gathers twigs, it intends a nest. It will not accidentally built a siege tower.

      A gene has the end of producing a protein (and the proteins then have their further effects). A mutation to the gene will either prevent this natural end or it will produce the wrong protein. Whichever it is, that is the natural end of the malformed gene.

      Naturally, one finds nested hierarchies in nature, where the end of one thing then contributes (or not) to the end of the higher level of the hierarchy.

      "Evolution," is so general that its final cause must also be very general. When speaking of a particular substance, like a dog, ends may be expressed more specifically (pardon the pun). For a species in general, the end would be something like "greater fitness to a niche" inasmuch as nature [which includes the critter itself!] will have over time deleted those organisms less fit. What cannot be predicted is what traits will make the survivors better fit, or what behavior the critters may adopt to optimize their success. Longer beaks for nectar-sucking birds or shorter beaks employed by die-hards in pecking seeds.

      Not all evolutions are slow and incremental. Modern genetics have discovered copy-editing functions within the genes which, confronted with a mutation, can correct it or even alter other genes to accommodate it, so that genetic change can be "massive and swift."

      Shapiro's article is instructive:
      http://shapiro.bsd.uchicago.edu/Shapiro.2013.Rethinking_the_(Im)Possible_in_Evolution.html

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    6. Two things are not so clear to me about this:

      1. Since evolution is an event and not a substance does it makes sense of talking about it as having a final cause or should we instead look for the final causes the organisms which mutate have and how therefore natural selection pressupose those final ends that the things, and not the event itself of natural selection, have.

      2. Does the mutation of genes is random in the sense of no being directed toward survival or they really have such final cause and happen exactly so that an organism survives. What is the cause and what is the effect?

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    7. That is not what 'random' means in the expression 'random mutation', in the context of biology. There are different formulations, but roughly, that mutations are random means that whether they happen is not connected to their usefulness.

      "Random" is a term from statistical analysis and should not be misused by laymen.

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    8. While it is clear that it should not be misused (no term should be misused, for that matter), the point is that in the context of biology, the term 'random' does not mean "I don't know why this happened."
      It means roughly what I said. Here, 'random' mutations are opposed to 'directed' mutations; 'random' mutations does not mean 'mutations that we do not know why they happened', or anything along those lines.
      See, for example: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?cc=ptb;c=ptb;c=ptpbio;idno=6959004.0002.003;g=ptpbiog;rgn=main;view=text;xc=1

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    9. Every mutation is directed at something, except those that simply damage the gene, in which case it does not build a required protein. However, the cellular repair mechanisms probably upset the whole notion.

      also... Biologists are laymen, too, when it comes to statistics.

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    10. Even if they are all laymen and even if they are all misusing the words (let's say they are), the point remains that some of them use it, and do not mean that they do not know why it happened. If one intends to address the claims made by biologists, one needs to consider what the claims mean, regardless of what the words they use mean in different contexts, or whether they should pick different words.

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    11. I meant they use the word 'random' (and in particular, the expression 'random mutation').

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    12. Let’s not lose ourselves so much on a discussion about what the word “random” means at the context of biology.

      If we define it, at least for present porpuses, as: “Mutation that is only accidentally, or merely happens in some cases to be helpful and therefore does not “aim” (telos) at survival.

      Given such definition, is it the cases that evolution exhibits final cause? If so, how?

      But to give my personal opinion I think we could say that the teleology is to be found, at least especially if not totally in this context, in the organism where such mutations occur. The flexible relations of such organism to its invironment would determine what is good for survival and what is bad for survival. Here it seems to me that we already see teleology language since it is good or bad “for” survival, or, to be more precisely, since survival consists in the relation of an organism to its environment, the mutations even if random in the relevant sense will point beyond themselves to the effects the have in the relation: organism-environment. If they are good for such relation the mutations are stored and accumulated over time, if they are bad they go to trash, but either way each variation would point beyond itself to its effects on the survival of an organism (as described above as its relation to the environment in which it found itself)

      TheOFloinn, correct me if i’m wrong, but it seems to me that your position would be to deny that mutations are really random (not on the sense of being unpredictable but rather in the sense described above)?

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    13. If one intends to address the claims made by biologists, one needs to consider what the claims mean, regardless of what the words they use mean in different contexts

      If one intends to address the claims made by Thomists, one needs to consider what the claims mean, regardless of what the words they use mean in different contexts

      If we define [random], at least for present porpuses, as: “Mutation that is only accidentally, or merely happens in some cases to be helpful and therefore does not “aim” (telos) at survival...

      A mutation is not a thing and therefore has no telos. The thing with an end is the gene [maybe]. The original gene had a telos, which was the protein it had evolved to build. [It's rather more complex than that, but it will do.] The mutated gene has a perverted faculty, in that the gene may or may not assemble its required protein.

      It may, because the editing and repair processes within the cell my correct or bypass the corrupted code as when autocorrect changes "cta" to "cat". In that case, the mutated gene retains its original telos.

      It may build a different protein, as when "cat" is mutated to "cut". It has been perverted from its original end. [perverted (adj.) 1660s, "turned from the right way," from Latin pervertere "overthrow, overturn."] But it may now have another end, depending on whether the corrupted code spells out another sensible word.

      Or it may be corrupted entirely and do nothing or do harm, as when "cat" is corrupted to "dir". The organism with the transcription error may or may not survive.

      Mutation is not the process that entails greater fitness. Natural selection is. Evolution, at least many evolutions, are thought due to natural selection acting on variation in genetic information.

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    14. Now I think it makes sense. So could we say that now that the genes is different(after mutation) that it now possesses a different final cause than the one I had and should still had and that this new final cause will have some effect in the organism as whole. I will either help it, harm it or do nothing at all.

      Could we say then that those peversions would, with time, change the essential parts of the organism and then give way to different species??

      This may also answer that second objection that a was talking about, evolution is not a fluid or continuous precess after all. There really is, on the objective world, a time where the essential parts of an organism are changed by such perversions and there really is a new organism that arises, since it now possesses a new formal cause. Is this right??

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    15. TheOFloinn,

      You said:

      "If one intends to address the claims made by Thomists, one needs to consider what the claims mean, regardless of what the words they use mean in different contexts"

      Yes, that is clearly true. Let's consider the matter at hand:

      When The Thomist Guy used 'random' in an argument, you corrected him and told him that 'random' meant "I don't know why this happened."

      Now his argument was a reply to arguments made by some atheists, and 'random' was used in the sense of 'random mutations' in the biological sense. In fact, it does look like The Thomist Guy was at least close enough with his usage of 'random' to the usage in the arguments he intended to criticize, given that he said " I know random does not man unpredictable, but I develop this argument in a quick way to respond to the argument of some atheist that natural selection does not points at survival but it’s just meaningless and porposeless mutations, they may be predictable but not by reference to survival. It just happens because of survival that some mutations are stored and others are not."

      On the other hand, the meaning of 'random' in your attempted correction (i.e., that 'random' meant "I don't know why this happened.") was completely different from the meaning of the word 'random' in the relevant context.

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    16. @Angra Mainyu, your interpretation of my usage of the term random is right. What was specially making me confused is that in some places in the TLS Feser seemed to say that natural selection exibited final causes, but than it arrived to me the question, through the objection i stated above:
      “How can it be so if natural selection is an event and what possesses final causes are substances?”

      But than latter on another thought arrived:
      “Events are relation between substances so final causality may not be present in the event “natural selection” but in the substances that make such event happen in the first place.”

      So I also think I made a mistake saying that mutations have final causes, since, as was shown, they are themselves events.

      What seems to possess final causes after all are the genes. Mutations are events, and the substance of such events are the genes.

      With that said, I could make a summary of my point as follows:
      Genes have the final cause to make some protein. In some cases a perversion of this final cause happen and the genes start having a new final cause. This new final cause, depending on the way it will impact the organism and its relation to the environment in which it is living, may be stored or go to the trash can. In some cases those peversions are good for survival and are stored. With time and “accumulation of perversions” may happen. In such case you will probrably have two things:

      1-The essential properties of the original substance are now gone, this means a new substance have arrive(new formal cause, new species), this does not happen if such perversions affect only the acidental properties of the organism, but if they affect the essential properties, then you a brand new thing (new formal cause);

      2-The teleology found in such organisms will become more complex, since in various cases complexity will be good for survival. In these cases the telos of something will also be more apparent, the way the telos of the eye is not apparent than the telos of minerals say. So we could in such case, as Feser did, make an argument for final causes based on how to explain biological fenomena. Of course we could argue that telos is necessary any substance, living or non-living, but since I’m living thing telos is more apparent, we can use it specifically to argue for final causes in nature.

      This answers objection 1, that final causes do not exist in the biological realm, since natural selection, being an event, does not seek any goal like survival.

      And also objection 2, that natural selection is a fluid and continuous process and therefore we cannot really talk about when a species give way to another. Such objection begs the question even if made in a epistemological way, since Thomists would simply say we can look to the essential properties of a substance and compare it to the essential properties of another substances, if they are equal the substance is the same, if they are different, you have different substances. This applies to biology not less than to anything else, we really can compare substances and drawn real and objective distinction between a species and another.

      I think this is enough to summarize the discussion an my position at the present point.

      Any further contribution to it will be really appreciated by myself 👍👍

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    17. The Thomist Guy,

      I'm afraid I can't help you with that, since my view is very different from yours - even though I think there is such thing as proper function, I take different view of it -, and I think transitions between species are fuzzy, even if I believe there are objective differences between species (and probably have a different view about what it takes for a difference to be objective).

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  8. Jordan Peterson talks about this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=407&v=yZYQpge1W5s

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    1. Two things Edward Feser owes to us:
      1. A weekly podcast
      2. A talk with Jordan Peterson on YouTube

      He already payed being on the Ben Shapiro program, but that’s not enough!!!

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    2. It would be great to see Ed Feser with Peterson

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    3. The thing is that I think that Peterson and Feser somewhat compliment each other. Their views are close. Also they can bring evidence for their views from different directions.,

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  9. Properties are not functions, but I'm suggesting they can be part of natural functions other than the apparent 'primary' function.

    Properties are not 'part' of a function anymore that 'black' is part of my clarinet's music-making function.

    In this case, 'sexual pleasure' might be seen as included in of the telos of a 'forming a loving relationship' as well as the telos of 'procreation',

    The pleasure of activating sexual functions is no more a telos than the satiety of dining is a telos of digestion. Do not confuse efficien causes with final.

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    1. Black may not be a property that enables your clarinet's music making function, but I suggest other properties are. e.g. the fact that is has a mouthpiece and keyholes. Otherwise it wouldn't make music.

      A telos is realised through particular properties acting as efficient causes. If something had no properties, it would have no realisable telos. The issue is whether the same properties must be associated with a single telos.

      And I didn't say that sexual pleasure is a telos, either. I said it was included in the idea of a specific telos. That is, the property of sexual pleasure (associated with the activating the telos of sexual functions) can be also included in the telos of forming a loving relationship.



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    2. Sorry, perhaps I should have said: "That is, the property of sexual pleasure (associated with activating sexual functions) can be included in the telos of forming a loving relationship as well as the telos of reproduction".

      My point in the wider discussion is that, from an ethical point of view, both are genuine human goods, and that the telos of reproduction does not always and necessarily trump the telos of forming a loving relationship.

      This has implications for Darwinism, I suspect, insofar as questions about the quality of life (however experienced by the individual organism) must surely have some effect in reproductive choices and hence natural selection. It really comes down to a question of what constitutes 'fitness' for an organism in a given environment. In effect: fitness for what? OK, ability to survive and reproduce But attractiveness to an individual mate (from the point of view of future quality of life) would seem to be a potential factor in reproductive choice.

      I'd need to think that through. Interested in any thoughts you may have.

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    3. A property is not a "part" of a telos, even when it is crucial for achieving it. You're putting it on the wrong end. The reed is not a part of the telos of the clarinet, though it is essential to making music. It is part of the efficient causal chain.

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    4. Yes, OFloinn, I agree with you that my usage was sloppy. Tick. Any comment to make on the substantive points?

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    5. Anon,

      "My point in the wider discussion is that, from an ethical point of view, both are genuine human goods, and that the telos of reproduction does not always and necessarily trump the telos of forming a loving relationship."

      We form loving relationships precisely for the reproductive end. Loving/romantic relationships are only basic to humans, as rational animals. Reproduction is something that is basic at a much higher level, as it is basic to all living substances. For this reason, the unitive end of sex cannot trump the reproductive end but must act in unison with it.

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  10. It is more simple if you start with the Old Testament and then work backwards from there. That is what Aquinas does as far as I recall. He starts out that the laws of the Old Testament are binding in the areas of Natural Law. Only the rituals are not in his view. That leaves the sexual relations in Leviticus 18+20 in their place. This is somewhat similar to R. Shimon Ben Yochai that we go by the reason for a verse, not the letter of the Law. AIt is more simple if you start with the Old Testament and then work backwards from there. That is what Aquinas does as far as I recall. He starts out that the laws of the Old Testament are binding in the areas of Natural Law. Only the rituals are not in his view. That leaves the sexual relations in Leviticus 18+20 in their place. This is somewhat similar to R. Shimon Ben Yochai that we go by the reason for a verse, not the letter of the Law. And to the Rambam and all the Medieval Authorities we know the reasons for the verses and they are all natural law except for the Red Heifer.





    So if you would take the Rambam literally along with R. Shimon Ben Yochai, you do not end up all that different than Aquinas.--Though it is hard to imagine how this is possible, but it still is simple logic.



    The reason this is more or less like Aquinas is the Rambam says that most of the laws of sacrifices and rituals are certainly Divine, but rituals were given because the the tribe of people that he names that were in the Middle East at the time that did the opposite. And the sacrifices were given because of the weakness of human nature that people will sacrifice anyway so we might as well do it for God.

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  11. Anonymous is posing articulate challenges to the Perverted Faculty Argument. It solves no problem simply to tell Anonymous that s/he needs to read Feser on the PFA.

    As Aristotle and Xenophon point out, humans do not have a distinct breeding season as do many other animals. Humans have rational soul, as do no other animals - at least on A-T assumptions. None of the people replying to Anonymous, as far as I can see, has tried to consider all the work that Eros does in the lives of rational animals. A bodily part that performs a function of nutritive soul can perform another function of rational soul, for a rational end.

    I'll note in passing that in Aristotle, there is no such thing as "the sexual faculty." There is the reproductive faculty, τὸ γεννητικόν, and then there are other faculties of soul. More than one faculty can perform their functions via a given organ or system of organs.

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    1. None of the people replying to Anonymous, as far as I can see, has tried to consider all the work that Eros does in the lives of rational animals.

      Would you please elaborate what that means?

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    2. "Anonymous is posing articulate challenges to the Perverted Faculty Argument."

      I disagree. This is merely one of those situations where someone is so deeply mistaken that trying to explain their error requires writing 3-4x as much in response, and Anon is saying a lot.

      Here is one of the first things said:

      "perhaps if that research was directed at fertility studies we could say that the standard process of obtaining a specimen was still directed towards the primary natural purpose of the reproduction of the species, and we might allow it on this basis"

      There is so much incorrect about this, it shows a complete misunderstanding of purposes and almost every paragraph has these kinds of errors.

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  12. TheOFloinn "Random" is a term from statistical analysis and should not be misused by laymen.

    This is correct. And part of the problem with modern biology, particularly genetics, is that it's not done by biologists, but by statisticians. And they tend to be bad statisticians, those who seem to think that correlations are causes a la "looks very similar, therefore the same cause/origin".

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  13. I guess I missed where there is a single argument for anything in Sally's little meandering in the aftermath of her first statement claiming that she doesn't even know what concepts are.

    Just feel your lust to scold people, Sally, and don't worry about those justificatory hobgoblins, prior standards, etc. Critical thinking skills and the writing of essays are probably just a hangover from The Dark Ages of Modernism. To even think of the past is just buying into the patriarchy.

    Beware of Schopenhauer.

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  14. Throwing this in since no one is mentioning it...

    The perversion of "faculties" is only morally wrong (contrary to natural law) when they are directed to the common good and their "perversion" does harm to the common good.

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