Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Neo-Scholastic revival?

Neo-Scholasticism was a movement within philosophy and theology which sought to revive, develop, and defend Scholastic thought in general and Thomism in particular as an alternative to the various schools of modern thought. It flourished from the years just prior to Pope Leo XIII’s 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris to the close of Vatican II in 1965. As those temporal markers indicate, it was mostly a Catholic movement, but there were several prominent non-Catholic thinkers who sympathized with the Aristotelian themes emphasized by most Neo-Scholastics. Mortimer Adler, John Wild, and Henry Veatch would be three examples. (Adler did finally convert to Catholicism not long before his death.)

A great many silly things have been said about this tradition by its critics. For example, within Roman Catholic circles, Neo-Scholasticism is often disparaged as “manualist,” because of the way in which Neo-Scholastic thought was often transmitted through manuals or textbooks of philosophy, theology, and ethics, usually for use in seminary education. Yet why such “manualism” is objectionable is a question to which no one has ever given a satisfying answer. We are told, for instance, that the teaching of the manuals was too “constricting” and pre-packaged, that the systematic and rigorous character of Scholastic thought stifles “creativity.” But of course, you could say the same thing about textbooks of physics or chemistry, and no one would suggest that this shows that what is taught in such textbooks is wrong. Physics and chemistry are what they are, and if that makes it more difficult for would-be physicists or chemists to show their “creativity,” that’s just tough luck for them. Similarly, if the teaching of the Neo-Scholastic manuals is correct, then complaining that it cramps one’s style is simply juvenile and frivolous, and certainly beside the point.

To be sure, one might object that that teaching is not correct. But it is amazing how infrequently this charge is actually made. People do object, of course, to this or that specific doctrine, especially in moral theology, but by and large the critics do not allege that the central philosophical and theological claims of Neo-Scholasticism are false, much less bother to put forward arguments against them. Instead they say that the manualist tradition is “outdated” or “doesn’t speak to the concerns of modern man.” Given that no attempt is made to refute that tradition, such claims thus turn out to entail little more than that Neo-Scholasticism isn’t fashionable. Again, one wants to ask: So what?

One might object that the comparison to physics and chemistry is inapt, since philosophical and theological inquiry don’t give us anything close to the kind of settled results that those sciences do. But this would simply be to beg the question against the Neo-Scholastics, who took the view that the “classical realist” tradition of thought extending from Plato and Aristotle through Augustine to Aquinas and the other great Scholastics represents, in part, a body of known truths, whose precise significance and implications may be open to reasonable debate, but whose essential correctness is not (certainly not from a Catholic point of view). Hence, from the Neo-Scholastic perspective, philosophy and theology are capable of yielding settled results, at least concerning the “big picture” – realism about universals, rejection of any mechanistic conception of nature, affirmation that the existence of God can be demonstrated, defense of the distinction between sensation and intellect, and so forth – even if they also leave much room for debate. (And anyone who thinks the Neo-Scholastics just repeated each other without engaging in serious controversy – another standard charge – has obviously not bothered to read them.)

Thankfully, there have been signs recently of a renewed appreciation for the Neo-Scholastic tradition. Among theologians, R. R. Reno, writing in First Things, has noted how the successors of the Neo-Scholastics have failed to put anything in the place of the systematic body of thought represented by the manuals, leaving a gigantic gap in ordinary theological education. The new emphasis on novelty and “creativity” effectively destroyed any sense of a common theological tradition and replaced it with a bewildering variety of unsystematic and idiosyncratic theologies as numerous as the theologians themselves. The upshot has been a catastrophic failure of catechesis within the Catholic Church in the last four decades. As Reno notes, this is a failure not only of blatantly heterodox writers like Hans Küng and Edward Schillebeeckx, but also of those partisans of the nouvelle theologie who saw themselves as loyal to the Church’s magisterium, such as Balthasar and de Lubac. Reno recommends a new look at the great Neo-Scholastics, hinting that their critics would have been better advised to build on what they accomplished, even if modifying it somewhat in the process, rather than throwing it aside altogether.

Others have begun to take that second look. The greatest of the 20th century Neo-Scholastics – some of us dinosaurs would say the greatest Catholic theologian of the 20th century, period – was Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (pictured in the photo above), whose work went into near-oblivion in the post-Vatican II period. Recently, however, two sympathetic book-length studies of his thought have appeared. The first is Richard Peddicord’s The Sacred Monster of Thomism: An Introduction to the Life and Legacy of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., which was published in 2005. (The title is taken from an epithet once directed at Garrigou-Lagrange by one of his detractors.) And this year Aidan Nichols has published Reason with Piety: Garrigou-Lagrange in the Service of Catholic Thought, originally presented as a series of lectures at Oxford. (Incidentally, if you are interested in exploring Garrigou-Lagrange’s own work, you cannot do better than to begin with his Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, and continue with his great two-volume work God: His Existence and His Nature, both of which have recently been reprinted. See here, here, and here.)

Among moral theologians of the manualist era, John C. Ford stands out as particularly significant. Among his other accomplishments, he was instrumental in persuading Pope Paul VI that the Church’s traditional teaching against contraception could not be changed. (Ford’s book Contemporary Moral Theology, Volume 2: Marriage Questions, co-authored with Gerald Kelly, is the best book in English on sexual morality that I know of.) Though he has, like Garrigou-Lagrange, been neglected in the post-Vatican II period, he too has been made the subject of a recent book-length study, John Cuthbert Ford, SJ: Moral Theologian at the End of the Manualist Era, by Eric Marcelo O. Genilo. (Genilo is not entirely sympathetic to Ford’s traditional approach to moral theology, but tries to be fair-minded.)

Within philosophy, Ralph McInerny has for decades been carrying the Thomistic banner passed on by the Neo-Scholastics, and like them he interprets Aquinas in light of the Dominican tradition of commentary represented by Cajetan. His recent book Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers is a defense of that tradition against critics of Neo-Scholasticism like de Lubac and Gilson, who sought to disassociate Aquinas from the commentators and from Aristotelianism more generally. (See here for a review of McInerny’s book, from the same issue of First Things in which Reno’s article appeared.)

Some philosophers often identified as “analytical Thomists” have also shown an interest in the Neo-Scholastic tradition. John Haldane recently edited Modern Writings on Thomism, a series of volumes reprinting several important Neo-Scholastic philosophy manuals of the pre-Vatican period. David Oderberg’s work also evinces sympathy with Neo-Scholasticism. His brilliant recent book Real Essentialism is must reading for anyone interested in a rigorous and detailed contemporary defense of Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics. And of course, other analytic philosophers with an interest in medieval philosophy have sought to show how the ideas of the medieval Scholastics, when properly understood, are as powerful and challenging today as they were in their own time. Gyula Klima’s work has been exemplary in this regard.

None of this quite adds up to a “Neo-Scholastic revival,” but it does provide evidence that such a revival is not out of the question. It is in any event sorely needed (or so I would argue) if the rational foundations of morality and religious belief are once again to be widely understood – indeed, if the rational foundations of anything are to be understood. For modern philosophy is an incoherent mess, and its false assumptions make problematic, not only natural theology and ethics, but empirical science and any other form of rational inquiry as well. The Last Superstition is devoted in part to making the case for this claim – and to doing my own small part to further the revival of the great Scholastic tradition.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Some brief arguments for dualism, Part V

The next argument in our series is inspired by Karl Popper, and in particular by some ideas he first presented in his short article “Language and the Body-Mind Problem” (available in his collection Conjectures and Refutations) and repeated in The Self and Its Brain. As Popper originally formulated it, its immediate aim was to demonstrate the impossibility of a causal theory of linguistic meaning, but it is evident from some remarks he once made about F. A. Hayek’s book The Sensory Order that he also regarded it as a refutation of any causal theory of the mind. (See my essay “Hayek the Cognitive Scientist and Philosopher of Mind” in The Cambridge Companion to Hayek.) Hilary Putnam would later present a similar line of argument in his book Renewing Philosophy, though he does not seem to be aware of Popper’s version.

The argument as I will state it is somewhat different from anything either Popper or Putnam has said, though it is in the same spirit. Before stating the argument, it is worthwhile recalling the “mechanistic” conception of the natural world which, as I have emphasized in earlier posts in this series, implicitly or explicitly informs materialism. On this conception, the world is devoid of what Aristotelians call formal and final causes: there are in nature no substantial forms or inherent powers of the sort affirmed by the medieval Scholastics, and there is no meaning, purpose, or goal-directedness either. The physical world is instead composed entirely of inherently purposeless elements (atoms, corpuscles, quarks, or whatever) governed by inherently meaningless patterns of cause and effect. All the complex phenomena of our experience, from grapes to galaxy clusters, from mudslides to minds, must somehow be explicable in terms of these elements and the causal regularities they exhibit.

But in fact there can be no such explanation of the mind, not even in principle. In particular, there can be no such explanation of intentionality, the mind’s capacity to represent the world beyond itself – as it does, say, when your thought that the cat is on the mat represents the cat’s being on the mat.

The reason is this. As already indicated, any materialistic explanation of intentionality is bound to be a causal explanation. That is to say, it is going to be an attempt to show that the intentionality of a mental state somehow derives from its causal relations. The causal relations in question might be internal to the brain (as they are according to “internalist” theories of meaning); they might extend beyond the brain to objects and events in a person’s environment (as they do according to “externalist” theories); they may even extend backwards in time millions of years to the environment in which our ancestors evolved (as they do according to “biosemantic” theories). An adequate description of the relevant causal relations may require any number of technical qualifications (such as an appeal to Fodor’s notion of “asymmetric dependence”). In every case, though, a materialist is bound to appeal to some pattern of causal relations or other as the key to explaining intentionality. He’s got nothing else to appeal to, after all; the basic elements out of which everything in the physical world is made are by his own admission devoid of any meaning (“intentionality simply doesn’t go that deep,” as Fodor insists in Psychosemantics) and anything other than these elements exists only insofar as causal interactions between the elements generates it.

Now, specifying the relevant causal relation entails specifying a relevant beginning point to the series and a relevant end point. We have to identify some physical phenomenon as that which does the representing, and some other physical phenomenon as that which is represented; or in other words, we have to pick out one thing as the thought, and another thing as that which is thought about. To take a simple example, if we imagine that a certain brain process is associated with the thought that the cat is on the mat because it is caused in such-and-such a way by the presence of cats on mats, then we will have to take the cat’s presence on the mat as the beginning of the relevant causal chain (call it A) and the occurrence of the brain process in question (call it B) as the end. (Of course, specifying exactly what the “such-and-such a way” involves can get pretty complicated, as anyone familiar with the contemporary literature knows, but the complications are irrelevant for our purposes here.)

But what objective reason is there to identify A and B as “the beginning” and “the end” of a causal sequence? Consider what happens in a situation like the one in question. Someone flips on a light switch, which causes electrical current to flow through the wires in the wall up to a ceiling lamp. Light from the lamp travels to a cat sitting on a mat below, is reflected off of the cat, and travels to the retinas of a nearby observer. This in turn causes signals to be sent up the optic nerves to the brain, which results in the firing of a certain cluster of neurons, which in turn results in the firing of another cluster, which in turn results in the firing of yet another cluster, and so on and so forth. All this neural activity ultimately results in a behavioral response, such as walking over to the refrigerator to get the milk bottle out so as to give the cat a snack. And this is followed, say, by an accidental dropping of the milk bottle, which results in broken glass, a cut to the ankle, a yelp of pain, and the kicking of the cat.

Now, again, what is it about this complex chain of events that justifies picking out A and B specifically and labeling them “the beginning” and “the end” respectively? Why is it the cat’s presence on the mat that counts as “the beginning” – rather than, say, the flipping of the light switch, or the flow of the current to the ceiling lamp, or the arrival of such-and-such a photon at exactly the midpoint between the surface of the cat and the observer’s left retina? Why is it brain process B exactly that counts as “the end” of the causal chain – rather than, say, the brain process immediately before B or immediately after B, or the walk over to the refrigerator, or the motion of such-and-such a shard of glass from the broken milk bottle as it skips across the floor? Of course, we have an interest in picking out and identifying cats and not in picking out and identifying individual photons, and an interest in brain processes and their associated mental states that we don’t have in shards of glass. But that is a fact about us, not a fact about the physical world itself. Objectively, as far as the physical world itself is concerned, there is just the ongoing and incredibly complex sequence of causes and effects, which extends indefinitely forward and backward in time well beyond the events we have described. Objectively, that is to say, there is no such thing as “the beginning” or “the end,” and nothing inherently significant about any one event as compared to another.

Popper’s point, and Putnam’s, is that what count as the “beginning” and “end” points of such a causal sequence, and thus what counts as “the causal sequence” itself considered in isolation from the rest of the overall causal situation, are interest relative. These particular aspects of the overall causal situation have no special significance apart from a mind which interprets them as having it. But in that case they cannot coherently be appealed to in order to explain the mind. It is no good saying that the representational character of our mental states derives from their causal relations when the causal relations themselves cannot be specified except in terms of how they are represented by certain mental states. A vicious circularity afflicts any such “theory” of intentionality.

Now it is important to emphasize that the point is not that causation per se is interest relative or mind-dependent; the argument is not an exercise in idealism or anti-realism. The overall complex ongoing sequence of causes and effects is entirely mind-independent. The claim, again, is just that something’s counting as a “beginning” or “end” point within the series is interest-relative and mind-dependent. Still, even this much might seem to be too close to idealism or anti-realism for comfort. It might seem to make causal explanations somehow subjective and arbitrary. (Indeed, Putnam attributes something like this sort of objection to Noam Chomsky.) But to fear that the Popper/Putnam argument we’ve been considering might entail that causal explanations are somehow subjective or arbitrary doesn’t show that the argument is wrong.

Is there any way to reconcile the argument with the objectivity and non-arbitrariness of causal explanations? Absolutely. The way to do it is to show that certain physical phenomena really can objectively count as the beginning or end points of a causal sequence after all – that they can indeed be picked out in a way that is not mind-dependent or interest-relative. But how can that be done? By showing that natural objects and processes are by their natures inherently directed towards the generation of certain other natural objects and processes as an “end” or “goal.” That is to say, by showing that natural objects and processes have what Aristotelians call substantial forms and final causes. In short, the way to explain how causal explanations can be objective and non-arbitrary as opposed to subjective and interest-relative is to acknowledge that the mechanistic conception of the world is mistaken, and that the Aristotelian-Scholastic conception that it replaced is correct after all.

So, the Popper/Putnam argument shows that the mechanistic conception of nature to which materialists are explicitly or implicitly committed entails that there can be no materialistic explanation of the mind. (As we have seen in earlier posts in this series, other arguments tend to show the same thing.) And the only way to sidestep the argument is to abandon the mechanistic conception of nature, which entails rejecting materialism anyway. Either way, materialism is refuted.

What positive view results? That depends. If one holds on to the mechanistic conception of nature, the result would seem to be some broadly Cartesian form of dualism – either substance dualism or property dualism. (Popper himself opted for the former. Putnam does not consider what consequences his view might have for the dualism/materialism debate.) If instead on opts to return to an Aristotelian conception of nature – the right choice, in my view – then one is on the path toward hylemorphic or Thomistic dualism. (I examine these options in my book Philosophy of Mind and defend the latter at length in The Last Superstition.)

Hence, one way or the other dualism is vindicated. And as with the arguments presented in earlier posts in this series, it will not to do object to this one that it somehow “violates Ockham’s razor,” that materialism is the “simpler explanation,” and so forth. Such objections can only have force against attempts to present dualism as a “probable” “hypothesis” “postulated” as the “best explanation” of the “data.” That is not the sort of argument I have given. As I have already said, the argument just presented is an attempt to show that materialism fails in principle; it purports to be a metaphysical demonstration of the falsity of materialism, not a piece of quasi-empirical theorizing. If it fails (and obviously I don’t think it does), it does not fail for the sorts of reasons empirical hypotheses do.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gordon on TLS

The esteemed David Gordon, editor of the always-worth-reading Mises Review, reviews The Last Superstition in the latest issue of Conservative Battleline. (See here.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Goldstein's book

Reader Warren Donley writes in to say of The Last Superstition:

I don't know if you are a fan of Orwell's "1984", but if you are, I hope you will take it the right way (i.e. as a compliment) when I say that in my opinion you have written the equivalent of "Goldstein's book" - a book which diagnoses, explains, and exposes the Big Lie (or, more charitably, the Big Error) that underlies and has given rise to the world in which we find ourselves. Your book summed up and elucidated many issues that I have been chewing over myself for years, but which I was unable to articulate due to my lack of a formal education in philosophy, and for that I am grateful to you...

(On a cruder level, it was extremely rewarding to see Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins get bitch-slapped like that....)

Thanks again for revealing the "secret".

Thank you, Warren. As I note in the preface to the book, one of the things that led me to write it was the superficiality (as I see it) of most of the existing responses to the New Atheism, and indeed to "secular progressivism" in general. The falsehoods and unexamined assumptions that underlie these noxious movements go far, far deeper than most people imagine, including most religious believers and conservatives.

Fight Big Brother and discover the "secret" for yourself by picking up a copy of The Last Superstition. Or two. Or three. Or more... Christmas is coming, after all!

(It's been a busy week. Regular posts will resume shortly.)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Blog comments policy

Interested readers should take note that comments are now completely open. You no longer need a Blogger account to comment on any post on this blog. "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." So fire away. (But do keep in mind that I have my finger on the "delete" button at all times. To paraphrase Woody Guthrie, "this machine kills anonymous trolls.")

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Why allow abortion but not “same-sex marriage”?

In an election otherwise disastrous for conservatism, “same-sex marriage” was banned in three more states, including even fruits-and-nuts California. And yet pro-life measures failed across the country. What gives? Why are so many people who will not scruple the butchering of unborn children (including even their own unborn children) nevertheless unwilling to make a sacrament of sodomy?

At least three possible motives suggest themselves. I put them forward only as speculations.

1. Though every murder is a more grave offense against the natural law than is sodomy, sodomy is arguably more obviously contrary to the natural law than the specific kind of murder that occurs in most abortions. Hence, while centuries of bad moral theory and decades of marinating in a cultural cesspool have largely deadened most people’s intuitive sense that killing children in the womb is wicked, it has not quite entirely eliminated the intuitive sense that sodomy is contrary to nature, or at least that it would be indecent and impious to give to it the label “marriage.” Perhaps it is easier to deceive oneself into thinking that an embryo is “just a ball of cells” rather than a human being, or even that murdering a Down syndrome baby is an “act of mercy,” than it is to deceive oneself into believing that sodomy is an act of marital union, or indeed anything other than at least faintly indecent – titillating to some people, to be sure, but hardly the stuff of romance or tender wedding night fantasies.

In this connection, it is perhaps worth remembering that Aristotle, and even Plato, both condemned homosexual acts as contrary to nature, though they did not condemn infanticide when done for eugenic reasons. (One suspects they would have regarded abortion or infanticide for the purposes of securing “cost-free” sexual indulgence with nothing but contempt.) This would seem to provide at least some support for the thesis in question: Even in the context of ancient Greek aristocracy, thinkers like Plato and Aristotle could see that sodomy was contrary to nature, though they could not see that infanticide for any reason is too. Similarly, even in decadent 21st century America, people who would not even require a teenager to notify her parents before aborting her child are capable of perceiving that “same-sex marriage” is a contradiction in terms.

(BTW, hostile readers ignorant of what classical natural law theory actually says are asked to spare me stupid remarks along the lines of “Isn’t wearing glasses ‘unnatural’ too?” “How come sterile people can marry?” “If it’s ‘natural,’ shouldn’t everybody already agree about it?” etc. etc. I’m not going to get into a long exchange over sexual morality and natural law here, sorry. I’ve written on this topic at length elsewhere, most recently in chapter 4 of The Last Superstition.)

2. An otherwise healthy procedural conservatism is at play, but partly at the expense of substantive conservatism. By “procedural conservatism” I mean the generally salutary pragmatic principle of avoiding the upsetting of existing apple-carts. By “substantive conservatism” I mean the moral principle of ensuring that the apple-carts are really carrying apples, as it were, while the orange-carts are carrying the oranges and the refuse is in the trash cans where it belongs. Every conservative knows that justice should not always be done “though the heavens fall”; some evils ought to be tolerated, at least under certain circumstances, lest greater evils be brought about by the effort to extirpate the minor ones. But it is possible to make an idol of this pragmatic conservatism, and the procedural tail must never be allowed to wag the substantive dog. There are lines that must never be crossed under any circumstances, and existing apple-carts that must be upset so that the refuse they are carrying may be cleaned out and the apples restored. As I have argued elsewhere, the conservative who forgets this soon loses his moorings and becomes little more than the opposite bookend to the proverbial “liberal in a hurry,” namely a “slow-motion liberal” who is willing to accept virtually any social change, however intrinsically evil, so long as there is a consensus behind it and it is implemented gradually.

Procedural conservatism might be trumping substantive conservatism in the minds of at least some of those who have voted against the recent pro-life measures but also against “same-sex marriage.” Such people might realize that abortion is evil, or at least be willing to concede that it is seriously morally questionable in at least some cases. Yet because it has become so embedded in modern American life, they are wary of interfering with it. “Same-sex marriage,” by contrast, is still a novelty, and those who are pushing it are obnoxious and their methods lawless. Hence the misguided procedural conservatism that tolerates a very grave evil like abortion is still willing to resist the relatively milder evil of “same-sex marriage,” in both cases in the name of keeping the apple-cart stable.

3. Some heterosexuals who have at least a grudging respect for traditional sexual morality are more keen to see it respected by others than to practice it themselves. (Think e.g. of the secularized Beltway conservative think-tank or journalist type who heartily endorses pragmatic Burkean arguments for the social utility of stigmas against fornication and the like, but who nevertheless lives with his girlfriend.) Hence, while it costs such people little or nothing personally to vote against “same-sex marriage,” limitations on abortion might put a crimp on their own lifestyle should their less-than-conservative personal sexual behavior “punish them with a baby.”

Again, these are just speculations. And no doubt there are other factors too.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Antichrist Superstar

Here is a piece from Fr. George Rutler in today's National Review Online.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dewey defeats Truman?

Can John McCain pull victory from the jaws of defeat one last time? John Podhoretz thinks he can, and Roger Kimball, Bob Krumm, and Vox Day think he will. Perhaps what they have to say will help some readers to sleep more soundly tonight.

I, for one, pray they are right. Barack Obama is an evil man who will do great damage to our country if elected. There are many reasons to think so. By far the most significant (as I have noted previously) is his unspeakably wicked record and positions vis-a-vis abortion, cloning, euthanasia, and related matters. Others include: the active support he will give the cause of "same-sex marriage" (he claims to oppose it, but that he is lying is evident from, among other things, his support of the California Supreme Court decision imposing it, his opposition to Proposition 8, and his call for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act); his effective abandonment of the Iraqi people to the tender mercies of the jihadists; the incalculable harm this will do to American prestige abroad (not among the decadent European elites, to be sure, but among our enemies, whose perception of us is far more important); his imbecilic economic policies, which will worsen the current economic crisis and lead the United States further in the direction of a sclerotic social democracy; the threat to free speech posed by the Democrats' proposed revival of the "fairness doctrine" (which he claims to oppose, but if you believe he will fight Pelosi and Reid on this you are living in a Douglas Kmiec-style fantasy land); the repulsive Maoist cult of personality that has grown up around him; and so on and on.

If you find it difficult tomorrow to vote for McCain, just think of it instead as voting against Obama. It will be easy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Almost as stupid as “same-sex marriage”

A Japanese man is petitioning his government to allow marriage between human beings and… wait for it… cartoon characters. Moreover, he has so far convinced more than 1000 others to sign his petition. This is, apparently, not a joke. The man in question, who is thoroughly immersed in Japan’s thriving comic book subculture, explains that he feels more comfortable with “two-dimensional” people than with the “three-dimensional” kind.

This makes a twisted kind of sense when you consider the pathetic state of arrested adolescence in which so many contemporary men live their lives – obsessed well into their thirties and forties with the minutiae of fictional “universes” (as chronicled in comic books, movie franchises, role-playing games, and the like), often still living with their parents, deriving their sense of how men relate to women from pornography and sitcoms, etc. The women a fellow like this meets in fiction can come to seem infinitely more desirable than the real thing, which can hardly live up to the fantasized ideal – if only because no self-respecting real-life woman would give such a loser the time of day.

So, perhaps “inter-dimensional marriage” will soon overtake “same-sex marriage” as the burning “civil rights” issue of our time. After all, we don’t want to “discriminate” against those with a “two-dimensional orientation.” No doubt there’s a “loser gene” just waiting to be discovered, confirmation of which will prove that some people are just “born that way.” And we mustn’t in any event be “cartoonophobic.” It’s up to us to “define” what marriage is anyway, no? (Or at least, if you’re a modern “conservative,” it’s up to “the people,” though not the courts.) Inter-dimensional marriage opponents will surely come to seem to future generations like George Wallace – standing in the doorway of the local comic book store, keeping people from marrying the two-dimensional “person of their choice.”

Of course, I’m not trying to insinuate that “same-sex marriage” is as stupid as this – because in fact, it’s far more stupid. Consider: Who’s the bigger fool, the man who thinks two imaginary apples added to two real ones make four real apples, or the man who thinks two real apples and two further real ones make five apples? I’d say the latter – the former may be delusional, but at least he can add. Similarly, someone who wants to marry Lois Lane at least wants to do something that is logically possible – for Lois Lane might have existed, even though in fact she does not. But someone who wants to “marry” someone of the same sex wants to do something that is logically impossible, just as making two and two five is logically impossible.

Modern people, even many self-described conservatives, fail to see this, because they are often tacitly committed to a kind of nominalism or conceptualism on which words can ever only express what we decide they ought to as a matter of convention. All definitions become “nominal definitions” rather than “real definitions.” Of course, such people never follow out the implications of this nominalism thoroughly or consistently – or at least they haven’t yet – because the implications would be too preposterous, indeed grotesque. But occasionally they follow them out just a little bit further than previous generations have… with the result that, say, “same-sex marriage” suddenly comes to seems sane and even inevitable, rather than a Jonathan Swift-style joke. If “marrying” cartoon characters, or dogs, or a can of motor oil still seems beyond the pale, wait ten years. (This isn’t a slippery slope argument, by the way. The point isn’t that “same-sex marriage” will lead to absurd results; the point is that it is itself absurd.)

When the correct – (classical) realist and (Aristotelian) essentialist – understanding of language and reality is followed out consistently, one comes to see that marriage is necessarily heterosexual (and, yes, that it can exist only between two real people). If you’re interested in the reasons why, read The Last Superstition, especially chapters 2 and 4. Until then, leave Lois Lane alone. She is, apparently, already taken, and I for one wouldn’t want Superman ticked off at me. (Sure, he’s not real, but apparently that doesn’t matter.)

Oh, and if you’re a Californian, vote “Yes” on Proposition 8 this Tuesday.