Monday, February 21, 2022

Sex and metaphysics

My essay “The Metaphysical Foundations of Sexual Morality” appears in The Palgrave Handbook of Sexual Ethics, edited by David Boonin.  You can view the anthology’s table of contents and other information about it at the publisher’s website.  The book is, unfortunately, as expensive as academic books tend to be, and thus hard to get hold of for those without access to an academic library.  But you can at least read a big chunk of it via the preview at Google Books.


  1. I have recently been thinking how the metaphysical of sexual difference (i.e. make and female) is actually fairly challenging. I think it is because sexual difference is determined by matter (and accidental forms), not substantial form. The closer a thing is to matter, the less intelligible it is.

    I would love to read a post on Dr. Feser’s thoughts on that topic if he has not posted on it before. Perhaps it will come up in his book on philosophical anthropology?

    1. I don't think Feser (nor Aquinas) would agree that sex is accidental. Take a look at this:

    2. I read that article, but I don’t think it conflicts with the view that sex is a proper accident. It may not be a changeable accident like hair color, but I certainly do not think Dr. Feser would say that there are two different substantial forms (male and female). That would entail that men and women are different species.

      But that is why it would be a good subject for a post, it is tricky explaining exactly how sex flows from the substantial form without differentiating the sexes into different species.

    3. That is quite a interest theme that pluzzes me a lot, i would love to see a systematic treatment of it. Classical Theist would probably adress it but unfortunately he was draw to see how to deal with the current pontificate as more urgent*, so who knows when he will do it :(

      Because the idea that a person sex is a essencial atribute of her is intuitively obvious but i can't see exactly how. Obviously it is a necessary feature of the human soul that she has a sex, but how can a actual person sex be a necessary feature of her i don't know.

      What i was thinking is that any person form has a intrinsic relation with her particulsr matter, we are not rencarnationists, so perhaps my form not only has a relation with this matter but also a relation with a certain organization of the matter, on the level that when both get together for the first time the soul now has a disposition to the sex that the matter is directed at. Kinda like how a human soul can't inform a fish body(except perhaps if we put a human brain on a fish, but them perhaps the relation between soul and body would be more extrinsic).

      This is the limit of what i could get at. Do someone here knows the way?

      *not judging, it is important to adress that

    4. I would think that being sexed (that is, being either male or female) is part of the substantial human form, but which particular sex you are is not.

      This, I think, is because while sex is substantial, in any given person it is also incomplete. Maleness has no function or natural end apart from femaleness, and vice-versa.

      Because of this "incompleteness" of sex in any given individual and the need for a complementary individual of the opposite sex to "complete" it, the substantiality of sex does not render males and females distinct substances.

      What is substantial to the essence of individual humans is something like "having a sexual role that can only achieve its end with a human of the complementary sexual role," which is an essence shared by both males and females.

      The total substantial essence of sex is not held by individual humans, but by the "one flesh" that two become.

      At least that's my take.

    5. I agree with that take. Just as, having size (within a certain range of limits) is part of the substantial form of a human, but no particular size is (that is attributed to the matter), having a sex is part of the substantial form of a human, but having a particular sex is attributed to the matter.

      I like to think of a mathematical analogy with differential equations. Two differential equations with the same form will give very different results with different initial conditions. So if you think of the same substantial form acting on XX chromosomes or XY chromosomes (the initial matter, among other things), you will get different sexes despite two individuals having the same form, (i.e. being the same species).

    6. And yet, Deuce, in heaven we will still have sex differences, without any remaining definitive purpose to those functions. And we will have them forever. We will, in heaven, enjoy the blessed state AND enjoy perfect happiness as humans, without the sexual activity of begetting children. Or any other sexual activity. So we will, each of us (who gets there) be operating males and females, without operating with specifically male and with specifically female sexual actions.

      Here is my guess: in humans, God chose to engineer love of spouse and children as a specific pathway of imaging the love of God. He might have done it through a differently engineered being, such as making rational beings who reproduce by budding (single-sex), and who would then image God's love in a DIFFERENT way. Or with rational beings who reproduce via the cooperation of THREE sexes. Each of these would be importantly different species because they would instantiate different modes of love by which they model being "like" to God. And we retain that MODE of love in heaven, because it is human. We won't become uni-sexed or tri-sexed by having incorruptible bodies.

      I admit this still takes working out, it is far from solidly produced.

    7. Tony:

      I agree with that direction. Sex and marriage are, for humans, a type or reflection of God's relationship to us, hence why Scripture often refers to Israel/the Church as God's/Christ's bride.

      And on that note, I wonder if there is an analogy between us keeping our physical sexual characteristics for eternity, and Christ keeping his physical wounds from the cross for eternity. In both cases, they are no longer "operative," (We no longer reproduce and Christ no longer physically suffers) but they serve as an eternal reminder of what has been fulfilled and how our glory was obtained.

    8. "Just as, having size (within a certain range of limits) is part of the substantial form of a human, but no particular size is (that is attributed to the matter), having a sex is part of the substantial form of a human, but having a particular sex is attributed to the matter."

      Could not a certain person sex be changed them?

      Notice that a "yes" does not mean that we can do it now or that we will be capable of doing it someday. I'am asking because saying "yes" sounds so strange, sex seems more permanent that other acidents.

    9. Not necessarily. Although I do not know if you could rule it out on pure metaphysics. We know for example that no human can ever be one billion feet tall (no matter how far technology advances). It is a physical impossibility to change ones height by that amount even if it is possible to change one’s height by some amount. The metaphysics will not tell you that a person who is one billion feet tall is impossible, but the physics will.

      Sex may be the same way (and that is my view). I do not believe we will ever be able to genuinely change a human’s sex anymore than we will ever be able to transplant a human brain into a cow and thus have a human with a healthy functioning cow body. But again, these things will be decided by the physics, not the metaphysics.

    10. That is a good point, you are right that our material constitution gives us certain limits, even if they can not be deduced by someone on a arm-chair.

  2. Ed:

    Unfortunately, I don't think that "laying bare the nature and grounds of these metaphysical pictures" can facilitate rational debate between adherents of natural law and proponents of the sexual revolution regarding sexual morality.

    The reason is that, as you allude to at the end in the discussion of Alex Rosenberg, the so-called "scientific" picture has the same eliminativist implication regarding the function of our rational faculties themselves as it does for our sexual faculties.

    Hence there is no "right" and "wrong" way to think, and categories like rational, irrational, logical, illogical, true, and false are just as relative and just as merely conventional as sexual morality.

    Hence, shouting someone down for "hate speech," setting a mob after them, cutting them from the financial system, declaring that being against puberty blockers in children is "white supremacy" or whatever - all of these things are just as "rational," and as just as valid a pathway to establishing "truth," as actual rational debate. And perhaps more so, since it often gets the person doing them what they want where debate wouldn't.

    As the rise of "wokeness" demonstrates, liberals are very clearly moving in this direction of following their rejection of intrinsic teleology to its fullest implication of deconstructing reason itself, rather than seeing it as a reductio ad absurdum of their whole project. When someone has convinced themselves that even the categories of male and female THEMSELVES are merely conventions, a position now becoming hardened liberal dogma, good luck trying to reason them into absolutely anything at all.

    By their own lights, then, liberals don't "need" to see how challengeable their presuppositions are, nor do they "fail" to see that our side is reasonable, inasmuch as they are getting their own way and nobody is forcing them to stop, and they aren't trying to find out whether our side is reasonable in the first place, since they've rejected such categories implicitly or explicitly.

    It's also clear that liberals are not stopping with the "consenting adults" standard of sexuality, as the recent liberal crusade for "trans children" makes clear. And you wouldn't expect them to. After all, the idea that it's inherently wrong for children to engage in sexual relations is itself founded in the very natural law that liberals reject - namely the understanding that the sexual function of children has not yet matured or been realized, and therefore it violates the innate purpose of sex.

    1. @The Deuce

      Very good observations. The liberal mantra is the end justifies the means and reason be damned. I saw this on display when an two atheists were debating essentialism. One atheist was defending Thomism against the straw men that are common among atheists and the other was doing everything he could to deny universals. When the latter had run out of ammunition, the raison d'être of his arguments emerged. He blurted, "Why are you defending a system that oppresses gays and other people?" Well! So long as I can pretend that Thomism is intellectually discredited, I'll run with it as far as I can, but when my backside is handed to me in debate, I'll just call you homophobic!

    2. What debate are you refering to?

    3. @It is an informal blog debate on an atheist website.

  3. (Cont)

    And on the conservative natural law proponent side, our message is mixed, and there are things in the "scientific" picture of liberal side that many or most of us seem afraid to challenge clearly, rendering our philosophy confused or even partly incoherent as well.

    For instance, what is the basis of sex appearing to have a procreative function? The liberal will say that this is due to natural selection, meaning that aggregates of particles that result in sexual reproduction happened to come along in certain organisms, and were then preserved as a result of organisms surviving and reproducing with that trait.

    But as you say, this implies that sexual reproduction only *appears* to have innate purpose, but actually does not, and also conflicts with it having even an extrinsic purpose in the way that an artifact like a watch does.

    But what about the conservative? If the conservative grants the premise that natural selection is to be credited with the "function" of sex, it would appear to me that he has granted the liberal's premise that sex has no natural end, and has therefore given away the store on sexual morality as well.

    But I see a lot of moral conservatives, including Thomists, grant just that. A common move is to grant that natural selection and random variation produced the human body, but add the caveat that God must have infused the rational soul.

    While maybe not impossible in a strict logical sense, this position is deeply incongruent with itself. For one thing, you couldn't infuse a rational soul into a can opener or a lima bean, obviously. The existence of a body that could have a rational soul infused into it in the first place implies that God very tightly directed evolution towards an ultimate purpose. And for another, if God created our rational faculties with an innate natural end (which, as you and I believe, is rationally provable), then the most naturally parsimonious conclusion is that the rest of our faculties (such as our sexual faculties) likewise appear to have innate natural ends because they actually do.

    And the mechanistic view's approach to biological function is unworkable anyhow, since biological function/purpose cannot be denied without being an eliminativist about biological reality altogether, and all attempts to redefine function in mechanistic terms are unworkable and collapse into eliminativism as well (for reasons you've discussed elsewhere).

    But by taking this "minimalist" approach to teleology and substance in the human person (probably to avoid getting called "anti-science" for challenging Darwin), conservative philosophers give up the ability to meaningfully challenge liberals' moral nihilism on sex right from the start. And even where they do challenge the mechanistic view in regard to the rational soul, the minimalist approach results in a picture that is so awkward and internally incongruent that it's hard to imagine somebody who isn't already convinced of the falsehood of the mechanistic view taking it seriously.

    So to conclude, I don't think we're really "talking past" each other. I think on the "liberal" side, they've reached the final stages of a philosophy that tells them they don't need to understand us or to care about such things as objective truth, and on our side, I think many of us understand the liberal side fairly well, but are too timid, compromised, and non-confrontational to challenge it to its foundations.

    1. Deuce,

      The theory of evolution is not something that contradicts intrinsic teleology. The random evolution of Darwinian evolution does not allow for infinite variability, and the theory itself presupposes the existence of intrinsic teleology insofar as there is some outcome towards which the evolutionary process is pointed.

    2. Geocon:

      It's not clear that there is some outcome towards which the evolutionary process is intrinsically pointed according to Darwinian theory. Natural selection isn't an actual entity or thing. Rather, some living things survive and reproduce and others die in their environments, and this is supposed to produce something that *looks* to us intended or designed as human artifacts are (but actually isn't), with "natural selection" being a sort of metaphor or thinking aid to conceive of this substitute.

      Even if we reify "natural selection" into a real entity that really selects and could have an intrinsic teleology of its own (which Darwinists are regularly forced to do implicitly in order to coherently describe biology at all), it *still* wouldn't provide any basis for living things to have intrinsic teleology. After all, WE are actual agents with intrinsic teleology, and the artifacts we create through our actual selection are mere aggregates of parts that do not have substantial forms or intrinsic teleology.

      You are correct that Darwinian evolution does not allow for infinite variability. Or, rather, it's the physical universe itself that does not allow for infinite variability. But Darwinian evolution is perfectly compatible with nothing but microbes existing, or with radically different life that includes no rational agents or no conscious substances existing, etc.

      To the extent that evolution was guided towards arriving at any lifeforms with particular functions that Darwinism does not require (especially intrinsic or substantial functions), via providence or via hidden undiscovered laws of biology, then the purposiveness of those living things is real and irreducibly explained by God's actual purpose, rather than merely apparent and accounted for via natural selection.

      Remember, there's a difference between acknowledging that "natural selection" happens, and crediting it as the explanation for the appearance of biological function (After all, drop ten penguins and ten parakeets from the zoo off in the Artic and come back a week later, your penguins will likely be alive and your parakeets dead. But that doesn't account for their purposiveness in the first place). These are distinctions that Thomists have got to make and defend if they want to appeal to Natural Law as the basis of morality.

      Also, as mentioned previously, both Thomism and reason tell us that the rational soul (the intellect and will) is immaterial, and could not in principle have come about by ANY material process. But that implies that evolution was guided towards a future end (producing a body that has the intrinsic function of being conjoined with a rational soul) that could not possibly be accounted for within natural selection itself, even in principle. If we take that seriously, it has radical implications for all of evolutionary history.

      Ignoring that implication and crediting natural selection for all the purposiveness of living things up until the point of the infusion of the human soul might allow a timid Thomist to carve out a tiny personal space for himself that isn't strictly logically impossible, but the position it results in is an awkwardly forced shoehorning of Thomism into the mechanistic philosophy that really isn't plausible in its own right, and can't really be used to persuade anyone or make defensible moral claims.

    3. This is why evolution has to go, along with the atheism that it supports.
      Belief in God (for Christians) doesn't just require Faith in God's existence, but the traditional account of everything He has done; including direct creation of the world from nothing, and of life that maintains it's own kind as long as it lasts.
      Evolution as we know it, is a godless substitute for Revelation just as woke-ness is a Godless substitute for reason.
      Taking evolution as we know it today as fact cripples natural law to make it seem like phenomenology.
      Evolution is a Godless phenomenology, as well developed as communism and critical race theory, and used for the same ends.
      Both woke-ness and evolution lead into an irrational abyss by different routes.

      Anybody ever see the video on youtube:
      "Is Genesis History"

      I love that part where the guy takes the Triceratops fossil and soaks it in a chemical and it becomes flexible again with the visible cell structure under the microscope. How many billion years ago was that we supposed to believe?

    4. @The Deuce:

      If we are to dethrone philosophical materialists, we have to show how utterly incompatible their postulates are with science.

      To make any appeal to the findings of science (including evolution), any metaphysical position has first to show that its ontological commitments and epistemology do not block scientists from accessing the extra-mental world.

      Only the A-T metaphysics, with both its realist ontology and epistemology, grants human beings with not-mediated, not-filtered, direct access to the extra-mental world and therefore makes the extra-mental world knowable. Which avoids the unsolvable pitfalls of the "inner theater of the mind".

      Materialists have put forward a very successful (albeit fraudulent) marketing campaign where they have convinced the public that "science is on their side". Unless we sever that (false) connection, we are not going to advance even an inch.

    5. @The Deuce:

      After all, WE are actual agents with intrinsic teleology, and the artifacts we create through our actual selection are mere aggregates of parts that do not have substantial forms or intrinsic teleology.

      But they do reflect intrinsic teleology (our own as you mention). We can infer from certain artifacts we encounter that a human intellect was involved (from example, tools like axes in the fossil record).This is the strategy of the ID movement: there are certain levels of complexity in biological systems that reflect back on an intellect that had to be involved or they would not exist (inference to the best explanation).

      Of course, the strategy of the naturalist (thanks to fools like Dawkins) consists in (again) appealing to science to come to his rescue. Science has "shown" us that the combination of "random" mutations + natural "selection" + "deep time" (multiple iterations) "creates" artifacts (biological systems) that "appear" to have been designed by an intellect, but that in fact have not been.

      And again, and stressing this is CRUCIAL: the naturalist has no right to appeal to any scientific findings whatsoever, since as it has been demonstrated, the materialist concept of reality blocks access to the extra-mental world, making science IMPOSSIBLE (and silly assertions like: "we hope that we receive representations of the external world accurate enough so as to navigate it with success/survive") ALSO fail. Because no access to the external world means no access of any kind, so to even speak of any "accuracy" between something unknowable and our received internal "image" is incoherent.

      And no appeals to the same old: "well, it's paradoxical but it works. Look at how much progress we have achieved, your cell phone, the computer on which you are typing this message, all of medicine, blah blah blah...".

      Once we have diagnosed the problem, we have to also offer the solution: A-T hylemorphism. We have to make it mainstream (lots of materialists do not know it exists, they believe the only options are Cartesian dualism or idealism).

    6. While maybe not impossible in a strict logical sense, this position is deeply incongruent with itself. For one thing, you couldn't infuse a rational soul into a can opener or a lima bean, obviously. The existence of a body that could have a rational soul infused into it in the first place implies that God very tightly directed evolution towards an ultimate purpose.

      I have always asked myself why the naturalist makes the assertion that "evolution could have gone so many other ways" and that we are an "unintended" result of it.

      Before making such an assertion, should not the naturalist have an accurate description of how the first living cell was? Because only if we had an scientifically irrefutable characterization of that primitive cell from which all other organisms were derived, would then we be able to reach a sound conclusion.

      Maybe that first cell was constrained in such a manner that only a certain amount of mutations were possible. Maybe it could have only undergone a single mutation. Maybe the environment in which it started to "evolve" was such-and-such as to make impossible any other outcome.

      How can the naturalist "know" that the present outcome wasn't the only one possible without first having accuraterly characterized both the first living organism and its environmental conditions?

      It amounts to just speculation in my opinion. Isn't that information a secret forever buried in an unreachable past?

    7. @The Deuce:

      Regarding the "random" mutations approach:

      1. Evolution is True, but are Mutations Really Random?
      "However, an extra idea is often conflated with the foregoing: whereas natural selection is demonstrably not a random process, the mutations underlying the process are consistently assumed to be. The problem is that evidence for natural selection is not evidence for random mutations: nature will select for survival fitness whether the mutations themselves follow a trend or not."

      2. New Study in Nature Showing “Non-Random” Mutation Spells Trouble for Neo-Darwinism
       “Since the first half of the twentieth century, evolutionary theory has been dominated by the idea that mutations occur randomly with respect to their consequences. Here we test this assumption with large surveys of de novo mutations in the plant Arabidopsis thaliana.” They show that “epigenome-associated mutation bias reduces the occurrence of deleterious mutations in Arabidopsis, challenging the prevailing paradigm that mutation is a directionless force in evolution.”

    8. @The Deuce:

      The rise of "wokeness" is , paradoxically as it may sound, a return to the existence of universals. So, after all, they ARE real. There's something like "humanity", and there's something like "blackness", and there's something like "whiteness", universals that are instantiated by particular human beings.

      If only Wil' of Ockham had knew... That little s.o.b...

  4. Alan Dershowitz recently invited any listener to present him with a reasonable argument, moral or legal, against gay sexual activity.

    I think the offer was sincere, but biased, as the abstract puts it, against "the basic reasonableness and decency of the other". I wonder if he would be willing to read this...

    1. Was not John Rawls who said that any reasonable opinion could be tolerated and them defined these opinions as the ones that accepted most of his premisses?

      One would probably see a similar thing here.

  5. Prof. Feser
    You know the publishing industry well. Just why are academic books so highly expensive?

    1. My guess: mostly these are targeted at academic institutes, so low sale quantities and large numbers of people reading a single volume. No money in that.

    2. That's only part of the story. It is now possible to print small printings at far less than the offered price of $169. I believe that they charge that price because they predict that is their best profit window.

  6. Dear Professor Feser
    What would the classical natural law reasons be for the immorality of brother-sister marriage between siblings of the same age according to you ?
    It seems to be the one action that is held to be immoral by both conservatives and liberal minded people. I suppose most liberal minded people would point to the genetic defects in offspring argument against incest.
    But I would guess classical natural law wouldn't base it solely on genetic defects.
    Would it have to do something with the metaphysics of family and society ?
    Given our fallen nature, human beings have a strong tendency towards tribalism,(In his treatise on the I believe prayer, I think,Thomas Aquinas talks of people making idols of family members),legtimizing something like incest could compromise families by causing them to withdraw from society... And when the family gets compromised, civilisation gets compromised since the family is the fundamental unit of society.
    Taking all this into account even if in principle, suppose we are able to fix the genetics such that,there would be no offspring defects if an incestuous couple of the same age were to get married and procreate, And this particular couple were able to behave in a stable manner and not withdraw from society. It would still be immoral because since Marriage by nature has to be a public act,so even if this particular couple could be stable, by merely being public, the arrangement could encourage other families to give in to their tribalistic tendencies thus undermining society as a whole.
    If one were to try a different tact, And say what if that particular couple kept their marriage private, it would violate the grave obligation to make one's marriage public. It's an essential aspect of marriage. Society crucially depends on Married Couples publically declaring their love for each other and behaving as a couple so the ideal is constantly reinforced or replenished. Given all this Incest is immoral.

    1. @Norm

      St. Thomas do uses a similar argument here:

      Since human sociability is a very important part of natural law, it makes sense that something that can so easily lead to tribalism is wrong.

    2. Thank you for your kind response @Talmid :)
      Yes human sociability is indeed a very important part of natural law.

    3. I believe that St. Thomas also approved of one of the reasons St. Augustine gave: if brother-sister sex is theoretically licit, this would create nearly-overwhelming forces within families to require certain siblings to marry, whether one party was not really willing (or even both unwilling), for the sake of any number of family benefits. It would be virtually impossible to ever properly judge that both parties were acting freely.

      In a related sense, there would be horrific pressure to use "marriage" to hush-up incestuous pre-marital sex that was not actually consensual, by an after-the-fact marriage. (Heck, this was done even plenty outside of families, so imagine how much more intense it would be inside the family.) So, non-consensual premarital sex (i.e. rape) inside families would be nearly impossible to impede.

      That said, I have one issue that I tend to disagree with the Church about. From memory (of about 30 years ago, so, a very hazy memory) there was a brother and sister who were adopted out as infants, later met and got married. Then their bio-sibling status was discovered. And the Church declared their marriage was null. I dispute this: given ALL of the reasons (except the genetic issue) above, none of them arise when the bio sibs were raised apart in different families. I don't think it was necessary to declare their marriage null. On the same basis I think Adam and Eve's kids could be married to each other: mere GENETIC relationship does not, per se, invalidate a marriage. That's my 2 cents, but I could be wrong.

    4. @Tony

      Aquinas does argue in the Summa that there is a kinda of respect that must be given to parents that makes sex with they wrong, this would cover your case, i guess.

    5. Talmid, to my (hazy) recollection, the issue of parents is different. Suppose a father's wife dies, and he wants to marry his daughter. The problem is that the daughter already has (and will always have) a relationship of honor and respect that bears on non-equals: a daughter owes her existence to her father. Marriage, however, requires a relation of equality - which is incompatible with the already existing inequality of the father-daughter relation.

      As far as I can see, nothing about this bears on the problem case of two bio-siblings who were adopted out and raised in completely different (unrelated) families.

    6. "Parents" was the wrong word, but one of Aquinas arguments against incest seems to rule out something like brother-sister relation. Check out the article i linked, i think it is his first argument against incest.

    7. Hello there again
      I appreciate your willingness to engage in discourse on this subject :)
      Yes,Thomas Aquinas does talk about a "natural shame" that is always present in the marital act even when the act is performed in a way that isn't sinful. He then posits that this natural shame is not compatible with the respect that is owed towards family.It's an interesting line of thought thought but I have thought very deeply about this line of reasoning and it just seems unclear to me what exactly is the nature of the "natural shame" in question and how does it relate to the family. The best explanation I could come up with after examining the relevant moral and empirical aspects of sexual relations is that sex always involves a very high level of vulnerability (that means you are opening yourself up to the other person in a very deep way, perhaps the most profound way known to man). Given this, there is always a certain tension which exists between Husband and Wife. A tension that is defined by the fact that the other person "could" always choose to betray you even after you have opened yourself to them in that profound way, the possibility exists, but you "trust" them not to betray you. We need the "trust" precisely because of this tension or uncertainty. Now once we establish that, One could argue that sibling relationship shouldn't be mixed with this tension, because a sibling ought to be more light hearted and less serious then the romantic one. The sibling relationship is the one which we turn to inorder to lighten up or "chill out". So you could say that the sibling relationship has this end as one of its natural functions and we as human beings need this outlet. Hence to introduce the tension into it would be wrong.
      But this is a rather new sort of argument and it's open to objections. That's why infact I was hoping someone like Prof.Feser if he has the time of course could way in on the nature of this natural shame that Aquinas speaks off.

    8. Hello @Tony

      Thank You for your humble engagement with the topic. I appreciate it :)

      Yes, I agree with the point you made about a certain kind of equality that is required for Marriage. Aquinas also points to that and says that children are always subject to their parents so that excludes any incestous marriage between them. I would also add that this unequality always ought be present in the parent-child relationship. If a parent has never excersised their righteous authority as a parent over their child then that person has failed in that regard as a parent.

      With regards to your point about the brother and sister who were seperated during adoption, if you read my initial post on the subject, I specifically account for the scenario in which a particular brother- sister couple manages to be stable and not display tribalistic tendencies etc.The reason I give for it being wrong is that even if this particular incestous couple remain stable , by publically approving their relationship, which is what happens in marriage, you are signalling acceptance for incestous relationships and there is no guarantee that other families would be able to resist their tribalistic tendencies. Actually you could say that they definitely would not be able to resist given our fallen nature.

      A helpful analogy would be drug laws. It is a well known fact that not everyone would suffer adverse effects if they ingest a illegal substance like heroine or whatever. For some people it might not have any effect and may have just been a once in a lifetime thing. But it would still be wrong to consume or promote it because on a societal level it could have devastating effects even if it doesn't affect that particular person.

      The same basic reasoning applies to the case you described. Since it is now public knowledge and the Church knows that the couple are brother and sister. Allowing them to continue their marriage would signal public acceptance for incest and eventually families falling for their tribalistic tendencies.

      Apart from that,it might be worthwhile to note that if they were brother and sister, there was never any marriage in the first place. In order for close relatives like first cousins to marry, the church has to provide a dispensation. In the case you mentioned they were brother and sister, And with regards to that it's unclear if the Church can ever give a dispensation because there seems to have been debate as to whether the prohibition is based on natural law or positive law. I think that it is based on natural law so that dispensation doesn't exist and the Church has never been known to give such a dispensation.

    9. @Norm

      Hi again too! St. Thomas does explain what he means by natural shame here:

      It is a interesting argument that do seems to find some evidence on reality. Acts too "bodily" like sex or going at the bathroom do seems to have taboos on most cultures.

      Your argument is also interesting, very phenomenological. Ihad not thought of it before but i like it. I can see how a family relation, that so much involves trusting, bonding etc is not compatible with a type of relation that by itself leads to this tension between the participants.

      I can't trust myself to judge the argument but it is worth thinking about. At minimum it seems to make us think of interesting features of sex and of family.

    10. Apart from that,it might be worthwhile to note that if they were brother and sister, there was never any marriage in the first place. In order for close relatives like first cousins to marry, the church has to provide a dispensation. In the case you mentioned they were brother and sister, And with regards to that it's unclear if the Church can ever give a dispensation because there seems to have been debate as to whether the prohibition is based on natural law or positive law. I think that it is based on natural law so that dispensation doesn't exist

      Norm, I was arguing that it IS NOT based on natural law, for the reason that Adam and Eve's kids had to marry each other. Given that, there could not be something inherent to human nature itself that makes such marriage invalid, (or one would have to argue that God making all mankind originate in Adam and Eve forced them into intrinsically sinful acts). And if not invalid of itself, then there is room for the possibility of societal permission for it in certain situations.

      Since it is now public knowledge and the Church knows that the couple are brother and sister. Allowing them to continue their marriage would signal public acceptance for incest and eventually families falling for their tribalistic tendencies.

      Two problems with this approach. (1) The laws against brother-sister marriage are written for the context of brothers and sisters raised in the same household, the same family. For OTHER situations, the same context does not create the same disorder (if they marry), so there is absolutely no problem with having different laws for those different situations. The principle is that of similarly situated persons similarly under the law. It is quite obvious that if the social disorder being dealt with comes not from the biological relationship (of having the same bio-parents) but the SOCIAL difficulty from being raised together, then the adopted-out bio-siblings are not similarly situated with siblings raised together. Law can (easily) distinguish the cases. So can society.

      (2) And this last point (that society can tell the difference) is really significant: when adoptive parents take on a baby they did not procreate, out of love, in a very real sense they become the baby's parents. Parenthood is more properly found in the conscious act of permanent, unconditional love for offspring, than it is in the sexual act which conveys genes to the child. (God is called "Father" not because of a sexual act of procreation.) It is for this reason that social rules about adoptive parents are not merely in the sense of "treating them AS IF" they were "parents" (a legal fiction) but recognizing that they are parents through their act of permanent love of the child (yes, with some measure of qualification). Consequently, it is entirely reasonable to provide that the reprobation for, and even the meaning of the term "incest" applies to brother-sister where they were raised in the same family, and NOT when bio-siblings were raised in completely separate families.

      Also, if the two families were in fact completely separate, and the bio-sibs found each other accidentally and without knowledge of their bio-relationship, any "tribalistic" tendencies from such a situation would be precluded - there is simply no motivational basis for it to lead to inappropriate tribalism from that situation. They would retain their familial relationships to each of their (adoptive) families.

    11. Hello @Tony With respect to your first point,I tend to put less emphasis on them being raised together and the concerns of whether they might have been forced by the family etc.There are certain scenarios that might question that line of reasoning.Imagine a family (family 1) with two children, one boy and one girl who are of the same age,And their neighbouring family (family 2) with one daughter who is of the same age as the other two children,who live very close to them,in the adjacent apartment.Let's say,the three children grew up practically doing everything together,were in the same class,were there in each others house all the time,had lunch in each others house frequently spent the night in each others homes when their respective parents went on a holiday etc.All three children had a wonderful childhood close to each other.Let's say when they grow up,the boy of family 1 falls in love with the girl of family 2 and they get married.It would be a legitimate marriage.But when you look at their upbringing, you would find very little to distinguish the way they were raised together from the way he and his sister were raised together in fact,the only relevant marker distinguishing them would be the fact that he is related by blood to his sister.Now would you say that just because he and his neighbour had a very "sibling" upbringing,it would be wrong for them to get married? No right.But it would still be wrong to marry his sister.I think this illustrates,it's very hard to always say that there is abuse of power etc.With regards to your retort that "society can see the difference",Power and Wealth are great motivators,And families go to great lengths to sustain it.What if by allowing the bio siblings to be married because they were seperated at birth,familes deliberately start plotting to raise their children seperately so that they can eventually marry them in the future and consolidate their power.Allowing that sentiment to fester itself would be wrong by allowing for the provision of bio siblings.

    12. With regards to your second point,I think it significantly downplays how important biological components are to relationships.Adoptive parents do have a real "parental relationship" with their child.
      But I wouldn't grant that Parenthood is "more properly found in the conscious act of love".In fact the biological relationship is the very foundation of parental love.The fact that he or she is "your" son(this person is literally from you and your spouse) is what causes you to love them in the first place. We have the relevant responsibilities because of the biological relationship.This is different from adoption where parenthood is taken on in it's psychological sense.I would say that the adoption relationship is based on the template set by the biological relationship.The adoption relationship tries to approximate that relationship.And even in the adoption relationship,a general awareness of the fact that they are not biologically related seems key,Hence adopted parents will often say,"I know I am not your real dad etc".That's why finding out that one is adopted tends to be painful.If you never got to meet a biological parent it very often leave a hole in one's heart.And it's usually not because the adopted parent wasn't great but just because your biological parents are your "biological" parents. So biology is very significant.Having said that,I agree incest can apply to adopted siblings raised in the same family.I think being raised in the same family and biology are both relevant.And biology necessarily makes one your family.My point in the bio siblings case would be that at the end of the day,it is biological.And the fact that it is biological wouldn't escape society's eyes.Broader applications would be that biology entitles one to legal inheritance,that's why people go lengths to prove the biological relationship in many cases.In the bio sibling's case,an unusually significant portion of their biological parents inheritance would technically get concentrated within themselves,if there was any inheritance,just based on the biological relationship even though they were raised in different familes.Other families would take note of that or the possibility of that.With regards to your God analogy,Prof Feser himself stated some very biological reasons for why we use the male pronouns in a 2010 blog post titled God and Masculinity.Those are my thoughts for now:)

    13. In fact the biological relationship is the very foundation of parental love. The fact that he or she is "your" son(this person is literally from you and your spouse) is what causes you to love them in the first place.

      A soldier raping a young maiden and leaving her with a child (never to see either again) hardly illustrates a situation in which the bio reality engenders love. And in the act of making love properly rendered, it is the love of the child that comes first (or ought to), which gives rise to the will to procreate, and not the biological inheritance. The latter is meaningful for this life, but the former is meaningful forever. Thus the rightful act of procreation is, first, an act of cooperating with God to make a new future member of God's family, to be part of that family for all eternity. The wonder the parents have, at the birth of a child, is (in part) the wonder that God has produced a new one that is like them as well as one that is "in His image".

      But the desire to assist God in the creation of a new member of God's family is not present in rape - even if the rapist intends to reproduce his own bloodline (which sometimes has been the case in semi-wars of conquest.) And even that is clearly irrelevant to the rapist who simply doesn't care if a child is produced, and who might treat such child as either an irritant or as a furniture to be used, with no more regard for biologic connection than his regard for his toenails.

    14. What if by allowing the bio siblings to be married because they were seperated at birth,familes deliberately start plotting to raise their children seperately so that they can eventually marry them in the future and consolidate their power.

      In addition to that being an incredibly outlandish a social condition, the very fact of the family arranging it would provide the potential pathway to it being discovered and reprobated.

    15. @Tony
      I would say that the scenario of rape which you gave, represents a defective instance of reproduction from which one cannot conclude that the biological reality is not significant to loving the child.
      The fact that a man does not love the child that he conceived with his victim means that there is something lacking in the man. It doesn't undermine the biological reality.
      In fact one might say that it's a privation that he doesn't love his child precisely because of the fact that it is "his" child and he ought to love it.
      Now there might be other circumstances which one might have to account for like, even if the man comes to love his child, he won't be able to play a role in its upbringing cause of his abusive proclivities. Nevertheless he ought to love it and that dictate stems from the biological reality. If a particular couple decide to abort their child. What makes it especially grave is not that they are just killing a human being, they are killing their "own child". That's what makes it particularly gruesome.
      You say that "love of the child" gives rise to the will to procreate. It seems impossible for me to conceptualize how one can love a child that does not yet exist. I think it's more like "The desire to have a child" gives rise to the will to procreate and not just any child, one's "own" child. That's really significant. An infertile couple's immense pain and sadness is precisely because they couldn't have their "own" child. Adoption is usually done only after the infertile couple has tried to have their own child through all possible means (And hopefully moral, cause I don't see IVF etc as moral). If the biological reality wasn't significant, adoption wouldn't be looked upon as the last option or the lesser of the ways of having a child.
      I think in mentioning the wonders of reproduction you forgot to mention one key aspect, that couples also want "their own" child of their own flesh and blood. That's a very primary motivation for having a child.

      Given human history, I don't think it's outlandish, And it doesn't have to be in the way I mentioned. Brother-Sister couples themselves could come forward and demand that they be able to marry because the bio-siblings were allowed to. In fact there are already campaigns to legtimize it, that too without the motivation of any bio sibling scenario. If an actual biological brother and sister were granted an exemption that could further the cause of incest by a mile.

  7. Anonymous 2: The pricing of books is like that of many other products. To put it fairly crudely, the greater the demand for something, the more cheaply it can be sold. There are, of course, many constraints on this principle: for instance, it assumes that there's no problem with supplying the basic materials and labour for the product (that's where the 'law of supply and demand' cuts in). But as far as publishing is concerned, it means that a popular book will cost less than an academic one because the publishers will sell far more copies, and thus be reimbursed for their initial outlay (which may be considerable) by selling (say) 10,000 copies at $10 each rather than 1,000 copies at $100 each.

    There are other factors at play. For instance, an academic book is likely to go through a much more rigorous process of copy-editing, proof-reading, checking references, and so on, than the latest Dan Brown pot-boiler, and the publishers are also assuming that the majority of purchasers will be university libraries, who won't balk at steep prices. However, the basic point remains. There's an inverse correlation between popularity and price, and any publisher who doesn't use that as a guideline for price-setting will go out of business with some rapidity.

    1. What I do now is try to get an interlibrary loan and read the book that way. Works better at a college library but most public libraries, especially the bigger ones, can also do that.

    2. Sue
      I see you used the British spelling when you wrote"labour." I'm curious. Where are you from?

    3. From the UK, as you deduced - specifically, Bournemouth, on the south coast of England. Historically, of course, 'labour' (and most of the other spelling patterns where US differs from British English) are correct: Americans use the simplified spelling introduced by Noah Webster, who was an ardent proponent of American independence and decided that his dictionary would establish these spellings, partly as a conscious rejection of British rule.

    4. Thanks, Sue. I love the beauty of the English coast. You write very well. What do you do you in Bournemouth?

    5. It is true that an academic book needs more intense editing. But on the same basis, academics have OTHER sources of income (i.e. their teaching job) that suffices to put bread on the table, and honestly they are EXPECTED to publish and to use part of their work time for just this sort of effort. In effect they are (in part) already reimbursed for the editing work. As far as the materials goes: it is now easy to print a small printing for not a great deal more than a large printing, per copy. Certainly not 20 times the cost.

    6. Is it really true that academic books go through "a much more rigorous process of copy-editing, proof-reading, checking references, and so on" than others? I ask because I not long ago saw a comment that the authors of an academic work of naval history (in Britain, BTW) found they had to do their own editing as the publishers couldn't handle doing it right.

  8. Two additional salient points on the theme of the two sides “talking past each other” which I have not found natural law proponents addressing:

    1. The “who cares?” objection – even supposing that I accept the metaphysical arguments and the secondar “perverted faculty” argument, which proves that it is intrinsically evil to frustrate a natural end, I suspect that most people’s practical reasoning moves immediately to the question of “why does it matter?” (Including the majority of American Catholics don’t follow the teachings on contraception). Too many people are aware that engaging in contraception, at least, has no definitive downsides – it does not permanently destroy the ability to reproduce, and can be done without utilizing any chemicals which may be harmful and so on. It can be argued that engaging in contraception leads to an anti-life mindset – and I can agree with that – but this doesn’t render an objection to the very common practice of married couples contracepting for the purpose of responsibly planning for, limiting, and spacing out births. Similarly, the practical objections to homosexual conduct or masturbation are abstract and speculative, e.g., does masturbation function similar to self-indulgent drugs of abuse and tend to warp a person in a similar fashion? Maybe, but that’s a different concern than the bare metaphysics of frustrating the natural end, which no one cares about.

    2. Similarly (and perhaps this one should be first), natural law folks seem completely unwilling to concede that wealthy modern cultures do not have any of the constraints of nature that get brought in to support the claims of the “legibility” of the manifest image of the sexed human body. We always recite that of course females are ordered towards maternal things and males are ordered towards fatherly, protective, providing things, but I do not see any arguments from NL folks against the claims of feminists that these gendered essences are relative to social-historical circumstance. This is unfortunate, because the feminists are right about this. In modern cultures, women do not necessarily need the provider father (though they may need a second parent, and certainly will need help raising the children, though the form of that, too, is dependent on social-historical context), and men’s generally superior strength is not always needed to provide the flourishing of a family (see plenty of Catholic men in tech and finance – it’s not their masculinity and adherence to traditional, I mean “natural,” gender roles that are allowing their family’s flourishing – it’s their large incomes, which are dependent on current market conditions).

    1. We always recite that of course females are ordered towards maternal things and males are ordered towards fatherly, protective, providing things, but I do not see any arguments from NL folks against the claims of feminists that these gendered essences are relative to social-historical circumstance.

      This is not a natural law position, though; indeed none of the things you attribute to natural law theory seem to have much of a basis in what natural law theorists actually say.

    2. Huh? Are you contending that Ed's essay is misrepresenting the natural law position, or that it is not accurate to characterize Aquinas's views as being rooted in natural law theory? Perhaps the "new natural law theorists" would disagree, but seriously, here is what Ed wrote in the linked essay:

      Ed, in the essay linked here, says the following as an explication of the Aristotlean-Thomistic position:
      “In particular, the distinctive physiologt and psychology of male human beings exists for the sake of making them fathers, and the distinctive physiciology and psychology of female human beings exists for the sake of making them mothers….
      “Aquinas’s treatment of what it is to be a man or a woman goes well beyond having sex organs of a certain kind and using them in a certain way…”
      “For any children that result from such acts, and the woman too who becomes a mother as a result, will be left helpless by such a man. Aquinas emphasizes several respects in which this is so. First, mother and children are in need of material provision….Second, it is not only material provision children need, for they are rational animals and thus need education as well….Third, they need not only maternal nurturing but paternal discipline.
      “Providing all of these things is no less part of the role of father than emitting semen is, and thus it is towards the fulfillment of this whole paternal/husbandly function that a man’s sexual facilities point. A woman’s sexual faculties point toward the fulfillment of the whole maternal/wifely function that complements the paternal one. In this way, THERE IS FOR THE NATURAL LAW THEORIST a natural teleological connection between sex, marriage, and child-rearing, rather than a merely conventional one.”

    3. My previous reply is somewhat garbled by copy/paste errors, I apologize. I also wished to add that I have genuine interest in being persuaded that I am wrong, and genuinely interested in arguments against the two points I raise. I would LIKE for the natural law position to be true, because then Catholicism would be provable, I just don't think that it is.

    4. If the natural law position is true, this would not prove that Catholicism is true.

      On the original point, I am saying that your summary is not what Ed is saying. For instance, you, not Ed, conflate 'female' with 'mother' and 'male' with 'father'; indeed, your response in (2) requires that they be conflated, since you attempt to make the criticism as about 'gendered essences'. But Ed's argument doesn't depend on gendered essences but on what being a human mother and being a human father practically require; female and male sexual faculties are relevant to this only because they are how people become mothers and fathers (I am assuming that you were not trying to say that feminists deny that there is such a thing as human sexual reproduction). If you were assuming what Ed actually says, your criticism would be equivalent to saying that there is no reason to think that protecting or providing for children is practically or morally relevant to being or becoming a mother or a father. Similar issues seem found in other parts of your criticism: i.e., you seem to conflate what Ed is not conflating.

      A similar issue is seen with your 'why care' objection, which fails to recognize that 'natural law' is a name for certain principles of practical rationality that are concerned with morality, so the question is equivalent to saying, "Why should one care about being rational in moral matters?" It's true that someone might just not care; that, in fact, they are perfectly happy to be incoherent, stupid, and irrational whenever morality is involved. That's why they are evil people. But it's pointless to pretend that "Why should I care?" is an actual objection when the question is whether to be rational or not. Even asking 'why' is implicitly assuming that there are principles of practical rationality according to which that question would make sense. And any such principles, when they intersect with matters of common good, are what a natural law theorist is calling 'natural law'.

    5. But in the quotes I cite, there is the linkage between maleness and providing, and the reference to the sexes "complementing" each other not just for reproduction but for child rearing. I agree this conflates sex and gender; that is the basis for the feminist critique. I agree that sex organs have a clear teleology for reproduction; I do not agree that anything further about the roles each sex must play can be read from the sexed body for the reasons I cited above.
      Your response to "who cares" is a fair point - but I think it unfairly leaps from "frustrating a natural end with no negative consequences" to "irrational" and then (properly enough) from irrational to evil. I think I dont see why the mere fact that a natural end is frustrated should matter. When explaining why a sin is a mortal sin, eg, we evaluate whether the matter was grave or not. Lying is a frustration of the end of speech, but lying about my breakfast choice is of so little consequence, no one cares. Similarly with married couples using contraception to space out births. You can argue that that practice is more seriously harmful than I assert, but then you are dragging in factors beyond the pure metaphysics lf the teleology of the sex organs which can be weighed absent the metaphysical concerns.

    6. But in the quotes I cite, there is the linkage between maleness and providing, and the reference to the sexes "complementing" each other not just for reproduction but for child rearing. I agree this conflates sex and gender; that is the basis for the feminist critique. I agree that sex organs have a clear teleology for reproduction; I do not agree that anything further about the roles each sex must play can be read from the sexed body for the reasons I cited above.

      On the contrary: it has become better known in recent years that adult males and adult females have differently structured brain elements; and that (at least arguably) these arise through the actions of different genes and different hormonal arrangements during development. Science is far from solidity in this area, but there are (at least) interesting indicators that these different brain structures lead to different TENDENCIES for certain sorts of behaviors; not that males are, say, incapable of certain behaviors that are more typically seen in females, or that females are incapable of certain behaviors that are more typically seen in males, but that there are clear divergences in behavioral types. Think of a normal curve for males and a normal curve for females, and (on a specific behavior studied) the peak of each curve is clearly separated from the other by a noticeable margin.

      We may still be struggling to work out the best ways of identifying and classifying such behavioral differences, but there seems to be SOME consensus on certain preliminary classifications: young adult males have a higher trend for physical aggression, for example. (Yes, there can be aspects of this that are culturally conditioned, but this too can be studied and attempts made to account for it.)

      How these (seemingly) innate tendencies cash out into outward actions that are noted by a given culture may indeed be largely culturally driven, without being wholly culturally driven. So, maybe it is a "masculine trait" that men wear pants and "feminine trait" that women wear skirts, but obviously this is culturally conditioned: before pants were invented, this particular difference in behavior didn't exist. But the same cannot be said of work that involves a LOT of upper-body strength: it is clearly the case that men tend to develop greater upper-body strength with respect to moving large weights (e.g. putting a 200 lb. guy in a fireman's carry), and it cannot be claimed to be WHOLLY culturally conditioned if a society has job classifications which put more men into such activities regularly than women.

      It is possible, even probable, that so far our science about such differences between the sexes is still rudimentary and that we will make numerous mistakes before we correctly sort out just what behavioral traits are really due to the innate differences between men and women. But the current guesstimates of these are not any worse than the (many) just-so stories by which "scientists" claim to see in behavior trends an evolutionary development, without the least shred of direct evidence that these behaviors are reducible to genetic differences. Arguably, such attempts can be classified as hypotheses waiting for further evidence for or against. Even finding that one or several such hypotheses are wrong would not lead to the conclusion that there are no really innate behavioral differences between men and women.

    7. It is a DIFFERENT issue as to whether the physical and psychological differences between men and women, (and the different innate tendencies with regard to behavioral trends) ought to be reflected socially by certain behaviors being restricted for men or for women, distinctly. Referring back to the normal curves for men and for women: if on a given behavior the peak for men diverges widely from the peak for women, and if the bell curves trail toward 0 quickly, there can be (for that trait) very small overlap between the curves, indicating that only a few men and a few women have the same degree of that trait. The trait may regard some action or other in which it is, largely, morally irrelevant whether it is taken by men or by women, and maybe society has never developed any customs making it off-limits to the sex whose innate trend makes it that few would be good with it. But maybe the activity is too important for social function for society NOT to push for a high degree of sex-based divergence, a high degree of socially-enhanced sorting that implies a social constraint (a rule, either through custom or law) against the "other" sex taking on this activity. (Imagine: men becoming firemen, or women becoming mid-wives.) It is a philosophical, rather than a scientific, thesis that no society SHOULD EVER make such "arbitrary" rules putting the activity off limits for the other sex. If there are social gains from affixing a sex-based separation, putting that activity off limits for the other sex, the claim that such rule is "discriminatory" (in the moral negative sense) is making a moral judgment call that lies outside of the science. The science can only attest to the fact that there is a social benefit, not to the fact that society SHOULD NOT prefer that social benefit to the deficits entailed in the constraint placed on the other sex.

      Here is a possible example: Suppose that the "firefighter" job objectively needs a fireman who can put a 200-lb person into the "fireman's hold" and carry him down a flight of stairs, and (suppose) only 3% of women who would like to be fire fighters can achieve this, (while 25% of men who would like to can manage it). Suppose further that having mixed men and women fire fighters in a fire station leads to extra-marital sex and broken marriages and divorces - with the resulting poverty and psychological damage to children and ex-spouses. It is not manifestly obvious that the social gain from having male-only fire stations does not outweigh the social deficit of restricting the job to men and the loss to (a few) women of "equal opportunity". (Suppose, further, that other distinct social damage occurs when fire stations have 8 times as many men as women (as would be the case if men and women were hired in the same proportion as the 3% females to 25% males of those who WANTED to be fire fighters could meet the physical requirement. It would be a further moral/philosophical thesis as to whether it would be socially "right" to demand (force) equal representation of women and men on the force, when there are 8 times as many male as female physically qualified applicants.)

      There could be, obviously, just as many cases of restricting men from certain actions or professions.

    8. Finally, given a presumption that there SHOULD be at least some social structures that put men on one side and women on the other for some behavior in which their physical / psychological differences matter to an objective and direct social benefit, i.e. a good social rule putting that behavior off limits to one sex; there is nothing improbable about there being also perfectly wholesome and normative social customs that, in themselves, clearly DON'T matter in any objective sense to a social benefit, but are simply "tag-alongs" to other different rules that do have objective social benefits. Take, for example, social customs that brides wear white and black is worn for a funeral. Clearly a different society can have brides wearing red, and have white for the funerary color, with neither society coming to harm from it. But it would be naive and unscientific to assert that (a) because a society could have either black or white as its funerary color, it shouldn't have either as a custom; or (b) that because black or white as the funerary color is culturally driven, a person who chooses to ignore that social custom in that society by wearing the other color should have no social detriment for such choice. Well, there can be any number of similar customs around separation of behaviors for men and women, that while being culturally driven are still wholesome and normative constraints all the same. Societies construct gazillions of social norms that don't HAVE to be that way objectively, but have become customs. Rubbing against one of them merely because it is "culturally conditioned" rather than an objectively gainful constraint, and you don't LIKE that constraint, is unsocial behavior.

    9. Yes, I am in agreement with most of what you write, and my objection to Ed's article centers on the claim that more can be "read" from the sexed body than the bare teleology that the sexual organs are "for" sexual reproduction. When I read his article (and others in the natural law tradition), including the quotes I re-typed in some of my responses, I understand that Aquinas's claim, at least, goes beyond this minimalist claim to broader claims that the roles of mother/wife and father/husband can be grasped from the mere intellection of the sexed bodies (the way we can grasp that an acorn is "pointed towards" becoming an oak tree and so on). I think that claim is not defensible, and I think your commentary is in favor of my point rather than its contrary.

    10. Who cares? Good people. Maybe it’s a bit too abstract when considered as metaphysics, but let it sink in a bit and you’ll see that these concepts connect to the life you experience. So, again, it’ll be good people that care and hopelessly lost in vice who don’t. Aristotle begins his ethics by stating that you already need virtue to begin learning ethics. Sorry if it’s not immediately able to convert one away from specific actions, but one needs to be open to pursuing virtue in the first place and willing to consider arguments he’s listening to.

      Further, I find it quite disheartening how far from the truth is society’s notion that anyone can raise a boy and anyone can raise a girl. Men and women have unique characteristics bound up in their biological sexual differences that foster different desires and different roles. The boy looks to his father in a unique way that a mother can never fully mimic though some try. It, further, is the good of the father to raise his son. So to abandon ones son is evil. This cannot be so explicitly seen in our physical properties, but becomes evident in studies of psychology. It may be that purely mental facts of humanity point to something in human nature, rather than solely reference to organs.

    11. Yes, of course, good people care about the consequences of sin. I seem to not be making myself clear. I read Ed's article as making a claim that opponents on the issues of sexual sins are "talking past" each other due to incompatible metaphysics. I think he is right in part, but that he and other natural law ethicists fail to address two complaints from their opponents. One of those complaints is that proving the frustration of a natural end, BY ITSELF as a metaphysical principle, does not give people sufficient reason to change their minds regarding, e.g., monogamous homosexual acts, masturbation, contraception in an otherwise fruitful marriage, or whatever the specific act may be. Good people will of course be motivated to change their views IF it can be demonstrated that those sexual acts lead to evil consequences - and for many of those acts, I agree that it can! But then the "talking past each other on metaphysics" is less important than the genuine disputes regarding whether or not specific sex acts do in fact have evil consequences. To editorialize, I think natural law folks WISH it were merely a question of metaphysics, because then their argument is strong. When they have to prove out specific harms in concrete cases, their arguments suffer, and so the debates persist.
      And yes, I agree that there is sexual difference. However, I disagree that there are different "gendered psychologies." There is no way to study generalized "psychological" differences between men and women which could separate those men and women from their particular place in history and a culture. This would be like studying "black" psychology during reconstruction and making universal generalizations from that. The error would perhaps not be immediately apparent, but it is certainly apparent now, when historical and cultural circumstances have changed.

  9. To supplement to point #1 above, if there is no practical consequence to the "intrinsic evil" of perverting a faculty, then no one outside of a tradition where even inconsequential evil is assessed and punished could even potentially, rationally care - the evil has no practical consequences, just eternal ones, which makes the morality of the tradition seem arbitrary (God punishes for no good reason).

    1. then no one outside of a tradition where even inconsequential evil is assessed and punished could even potentially, rationally care

      This is obviously false, though; it could only be true if everyone who is not a natural law theorist is a hardcore consequentialist, which is not even remotely true. Now, it is the case that such a consequentialist might deny that something matters if it has no adverse consequences -- although there are widely different views among consequentialists about what counts as an adverse consequence -- but this could only be because they are assuming that being rational -- which is what the natural law theorist is concerned with -- doesn't matter at all unless it has bad consequences. This is not a common view. There are even a lot of consequentialists who don't accept it, since they think that even when being rational in this way or that way doesn't have consequences that matter, overall rationality (which depends on being rational in particular ways) may. You'll have to do a lot more to motivate the claim that no one "could even potentially, rationally care" about whether they were acting irrationally, particularly since 'They couldn't rationally care about whether they are acting irrationally' sounds paradoxical.

    2. Thanks for this point - I did have to mull how much I was drifting into consequentialism, which I certainly want to avoid, in my response above.

    3. 1. The “who cares?” objection

      To flesh out what Brandon said: a core aspect of the natural law position (at least as A-T philosophy has it) is that ultimately people are happiest when acting rationally, which entails consciously knowing they are acting rationally, and this implies that people who are, say, fully satisfied in physical ways but who are (knowingly) acting irrationally will NOT be happy, precisely because they know they are acting irrationally. The self-aware perspective of flouting a principal part of your own being impedes feeling fully satisfied.

      This can be seen in the concrete in this: if you take two people who are in all OTHER ways equal, except that A is acting in a way that best serves near-order goods in a way and to the extent that is consistent with enhancing overall long-term welfare; and B acts in a way that best serves near-order goods without regard to overall long-term welfare, and indeed knows that the acts so chosen will tend against long-term welfare. The natural law claim is that B will be, internally, at least partially, UNhappy in the clear knowledge that the acts chosen tend against long-term welfare. That is, part of full HUMAN happiness entails awareness of FUTURE welfare as well as present welfare, and full human happiness simply cannot exist in the presence of knowledge that your future happiness is being undermined. The kind of happiness left to B is, necessarily, a limited one that is at best an analogue of "happiness" simply speaking; and in at least one sense it partakes of "unhappiness" in respect of B's knowledge that not only is B's future happiness is being undermined, but it is by B's own actions that it is so. Nobody can be satisfied with such knowledge.

      (A corollary of the aspect of awareness of future happiness as an element of future happiness is that absolutely perfect human happiness can only be had in the state in which one sees, with undoubtable clarity, that one's current full happiness will certainly persist forever, with no possibility of loss - i.e. in the state of the Blessed in heaven. All lesser states are "happiness to the extent of...", i.e. happiness qualified. And in heaven the state of being blessed coheres essentially with the happy volition of being united wholly to Him who is Truth and Reason incarnate - it is a happiness possible only to those who have free will exercised in perfect conformity with intellect fully informed by the Good.)

    4. I can agree with this interpretation of natural law ethics - I find it appealing in its claims that the "good" is what is good for us given our natures, and that there is resultantly a link between pursuing the good and our happiness/flourishing.
      However, I think what you are outlining here speaks to my point. When we apply this principle to the specific conflicts over the morality of sexual acts, this is where the "who cares" objection comes in. We say, "when you engage in contraception, you are frustrating the natural end of your sex organs. This is bad because you are trading a lesser good for a higher good -- you're robbing yourself of happiness." At this point in the convo, we are sitting on the razor's edge between consequentialism and deontologism that natural law ethics straddles (as my and Brandon's exchanges above were alluding to). Our opponent will tip the discussion towards whether or not engaging in contraception ACTUALLY impacts his happiness - we will be evaluating consequences - rather than whether or not contraception frustrates a natural end (which is abstract, divorced from its practical, this-worldly consequences, unless you believe in a revealed faith which promises consequences beyond this life). Most people - liberals, conservatives, even Catholics - have first-hand experience with many of these acts, and so, if their experience has been that no harm has arisen from their particular practice, they are not likely to care. Even worse if they are familiar with the downsides of, e.g., not practicing contraception and can compare the two!
      Now, I agree that there are serious harms that can derive from many of the sexual sins, and our conversations with the larger political socius should center on proving those harms. Merely pointing to the metaphysics of final causality is not going to do it. Saying promiscuity is wrong due to metaphysics is not going to persuade, but pointing to the clear evidence that it is not good for humans given our nature could.
      Of course, I have by now made it clear that I think the natural law objections to certain sexual practices are without merit, and in those cases, we can't win against the truth.

    5. Correction: A corollary of the aspect of awareness of future happiness as an element of future happiness

      should have been: A corollary of the aspect of awareness of future happiness as an element of present happiness

    6. Given the amount of broken families, inceldom, and loneliness left in the wake of the sexual revolution, I think it's pretty clear that the "who cares" objection isn't that strong.

  10. Hey Ed,

    What do you make of the other articles in the book? Can I take it that because your article appears in the book that you endorse ... or maybe if not endorse, then at least think that the other articles have interesting perspective to share about the topics they cover?

    Could you point to articles in the book you think would be worth taking a closer look at, in addition to your own, of course.

  11. I hope I lay hands on it and get a copy for my library. I recommend anyone interested in philosophy to buy books written authored by Dr Feser he is a phenomenal professor and writer writes with clarity and precision

  12. If I may... Could you, Professor Feser, share the list of the books that according to you constitute the better philosophical defense of the unlawfulness of abortion? Thank you so much,