Thursday, December 27, 2018

The sexual revolution devours its children

In two recent posts, we looked at philosopher Alex Byrne’s criticisms of claims made by some transgender activists to the effect that sex is not binary and that it is socially constructed.  Byrne is by no means the only philosopher alarmed at the increasingly bizarre claims being made by such activists – and the shrillness with which they are making them.  Kathleen Stock worries that such ideas will cause harm to women.  Daniel A. Kaufman warns that they threaten nothing less than the end of civil rights.  Nor are these philosophers conservatives who are hostile to the sexual revolution.  They are progressives concerned about extremism and anti-intellectualism in their own ranks.  And as if to prove the critics’ point, some of the activists have in response tried to get the critics fired and otherwise to silence them.

[Correction: Dan Kaufman kindly responds to this post in the combox below, and offers the following clarification: "I do believe in both the rightness and the viability of the modern liberal project, a la Locke and Mill [but] I do not consider myself a progressive of any sort."]

The identificationist extreme

Kaufman gives the label “identificationism” to the thesis that a person is whatever he takes himself to be, which underlies claims like the ones criticized by Byrne.  To understand the absurd implications Kaufman takes this thesis to have, consider the following example.  (The details of the example are mine, not Kaufman’s.)  Suppose Pat is biologically male, having male chromosomes, male sex organs, and so forth.  The traditional or commonsense view of sex would be that Pat is a man, full stop.  Suppose that Chris, meanwhile, is biologically female, having female chromosomes and female sex organs.  The traditional or commonsense view would be that Chris is a woman, full stop.  And suppose also that Chris is sexually attracted only to other women.  Then common sense would say that Chris is a lesbian – since, as Kaufman writes, “until about five minutes ago, everyone knew what a lesbian is, namely a homosexual woman.

But now suppose that Pat “self-identifies” as a woman, but also as a woman who is sexually attracted only to other women.  Then Pat too, despite being what common sense would regard as a man, is also a lesbian!  Suppose also that Chris is in no way sexually attracted to “lesbians” like Pat, and indeed finds distasteful the idea of being romantically or sexually involved with them (given that they have male sexual organs, etc.).  Then, according to the identificationist transgender activists criticized by Kaufman, Chris is guilty of “bigotry” against Pat.  On the activists’ view, for Chris to refuse to treat people like Pat the way she would treat any other lesbian is a kind of unjust discrimination.

In effect, these activists are claiming that it is wrong for Chris (who, common sense says, is a woman) not to be sexually and romantically attracted to people like Pat (who, common sense says, is a man).  But this sort of claim, Kaufman points out, “used to be the exclusive province of religious fundamentalists and other assorted social conservatives and reactionaries”!  In short, the identificationist transgender activists are in Kaufman’s view undermining the whole point of the gay liberation movement, which was to validate preferences like Chris’s.

Moreover, Kaufman says, identificationists never explain why there is something “bigoted” about Chris’s set of preferences but not about Pat’s set of preferences.  They simply arbitrarily insist that Pat’s are unobjectionable and must be affirmed and that Chris’s are bad and must be condemned.

Stock worries that identificationism threatens to strip concepts like “woman” and “female” of any clear meaning, and that this will undermine efforts to deal with the unique problems faced by women.  She writes:

[Women] face… a heightened vulnerability to rape, sexual assault, voyeurism and exhibitionism; to sexual harassment; to domestic violence; to certain cancers; to anorexia and self-harm; and so on. If self-declared trans women are included in statistics, understanding will be hampered. A male’s self-identification into the category of “female” or “women” doesn’t automatically bring on susceptibility to these harms; nor does a female’s self-identification out of those categories lessen it. In a sexist world which often disadvantages females, as such, we need good data.

Furthermore, Stock argues, allowing anyone who self-identifies as a woman into areas traditionally reserved for women (changing rooms, women’s prisons, etc.) is bound to increase the incidence of violence against women.  Like Kaufman, Stock is also concerned that identificationism makes the concept “lesbian” so fluid that the self-understanding of those traditionally classified as lesbians, as well as their “special protections as a discriminated-against minority” and their “access to special sources of charity funding,” will be threatened.

In short, just as Kaufman worries that identificationism threatens the gay rights movement, Stock worries that it threatens feminism.  Kaufman argues that it also threatens racial equality.  For racial and ethnic differences are, he argues, no less plausibly socially constructed than sex differences.  Hence if identificationism entails that a person can make himself a man or a woman simply by self-identifying as such, then it no less plausibly entails that he can make himself a member of a certain race or ethnic group simply by self-identifying as such.

Philosopher Rebecca Tuvel made a similar claim last year – and faced a storm of outrage from some of her fellow left-wingers – and, of course, Rachel Dolezal famously faced similar outrage for claiming to be a black woman.  But Kaufman argues that if one grants the identificationist premises, there can be no rational justification for the outrage.  He writes:

Dolezal’s efforts to “self-identify” as black may have backfired, but I would suggest that this is only because she came to the identificationist party a bit too early.  Another such effort, five or ten years from now, done offensively, rather than defensively, in the manner of contemporary gender activism (i.e. by way of accusing critics of bigotry and “violence” and demanding their silencing and worse), might very well succeed.

If it does, he says, this will be “the last nail in the coffin of the traditional conception of civil rights,” because the notions of race and ethnicity, like the notion of sex, will have been evacuated of any clear meaning.

The liberal middle ground

Like Byrne, Kaufman and Stock do not challenge the claim that gender (as opposed to sex) is socially constructed, and thus do not object to a more moderate transgender position.  Again, they also want to uphold the standard liberal positions on feminism, gay liberation, and the sexual revolution in general.  The difference between their moderate liberal position and the identificationist extremism they reject, Kaufman says, is that identificationism rests on a “hubristic deformation of the modern conception of the self.”  He writes:

The reasonable version of this conception entails a rejection of the pre-modern idea that a person is defined entirely in terms of his or her position in a social framework that is governed by a normatively thick conception of natural law, in favor of the notion that (to a substantial degree) who we are is a matter of our internal consciousness and thus, is determined by us.  It was an idea whose ultimate aim was to ground the moral and political autonomy of the individual necessary for life in a modern, democratic polis.

But identificationism goes beyond this to:

a complete rejection of material or social reality… maintaining that the individual is entirely self-made; that who and what I am is a matter of my own consciousness and will alone, irrespective of nature or social consensus. The result is an incoherent, unstable ground.

Kaufman sees in this extreme position an echo of Descartes’ substance dualism, Locke’s “continuity of consciousness” account of personhood, and Kant’s “noumenal self” – all of which essentially make the body, and materiality in general, something external to the self.  If you take yourself to be only contingently related to your body and to materiality in general, then it can seem plausible to hold that your genitalia, chromosomes, etc. are irrelevant to making you what you are, and that you can define yourself entirely independently of them.

The moderate position Kaufman favors, by contrast, “[does] not deny that the relevant material realities exist, but rather, that they have any legitimate moral or political valence in a modern, democratic society.”  Kaufman, Stock, and other critics of identificationism want to affirm that biology is partially constitutive of a person in a way that rules out the extreme thesis that you can make yourself male or female simply by self-identifying as such, but without abandoning gay liberation, feminism, moderate transgender activism, and the sexual revolution in general.

Now, the 64 dollar question is whether this middle ground liberal position between identificationism on the one hand, and “a normatively thick conception of natural law” on the other, is stable.  And the fuzziness in Kaufman’s characterization of it does not lend confidence.  Kaufman says that a person should not be “defined entirely” in terms of his position within a social framework governed by natural law, that what we are is determined by our consciousness of ourselves only “to a substantial degree,” that we should be wary of a “complete rejection” of our material nature, and that we are therefore not “entirely self-made.”  

That indicates that what a person is is at least partially determined by what Kaufman calls “material realities” – by biological facts of the kind the natural law tradition puts heavy emphasis on and the identificationist position ignores entirely.  Kaufman wants to let in enough biology to rule out the latter position but not enough to let in the former.  But exactly where do we draw the line, and why there?  Kaufman does not tell us.

Of course, no one can do everything in one article.  But the question is not some quibble over details.  It is a challenge to the very possibility of a middle ground liberal position.  If there is no principled or non-arbitrary way to draw the line, then either we have to go the whole hog for identificationism or we have to reconsider the possibility that the natural law position was right all along.

Can the center hold?

Here’s one way to see the problem.  It is notoriously difficult to characterize biological features except in functional terms.  You cannot adequately characterize the eye without making reference to the function of seeing, or the heart without making reference to the function of pumping blood.  This is as true of sexual features as of any others.  For example, male genitalia serve the function of getting male gametes together with female gametes.  It is also true of some psychological features no less than of physiological ones.  For example, hunger and thirst have the function of getting us to eat and drink, so that we will have the nutrients and hydration needed to sustain ourselves.

Claims about biological function are not undermined by examples of organisms that fail to perform the function well or at all.  The existence of blind people doesn’t undermine the claim that the function of eyes is to allow us to see.  Nor does it show that the eyes of blind people have a different function than those of people with sight.  The eyes of blind people and of people with sight have exactly the same function.  It’s just that blind people can’t perform that function, for whatever reason (e.g. damage to the eye or to the optic nerve).  Similarly, the existence of people who suffer from pica – the compulsion to eat things that have no nutritional value (dirt, stones, metal, etc.) – does not cast any doubt on the claim that hunger has the function of getting us to take in nutrients by eating.  Nor does it show that hunger has a different function in people who suffer from pica than it does in other people.  Hunger has exactly the same biological function in everyone.  It’s just that, because of a psychological abnormality, people who suffer from pica do not perform that function as well.

Now, according to the natural law tradition associated with thinkers like Aquinas (and which Kaufman rejects as the opposite extreme from identificationism), intersexuality, homosexuality, and the like are analogous to blindness, pica, and other dysfunctions.  For example, on the natural law view, having physiological sex characteristics that are not unambiguously male or female is like having eyes or optic nerves that are damaged.  It in no way shows that sexual organs do not have the biological function of getting the gametes of the opposite sexes together, and neither does it show that the sexual organs of intersex people have a different function from those of other people.  Rather, their sexual organs have exactly the same function as that of everyone else.  It’s just that, due to genetic defect, physiological abnormality, etc., they are not capable of performing that function well or at all.

Similarly, on the natural law view, sexual desire has the biological function of getting us to mate with people of the opposite sex, and the existence of people with sexual desires that are partly or wholly homosexual does not show otherwise.  Nor does it show that the function of sexual desire in people with same-sex attraction is different from the function it has in other people.  Rather, the function of sexual desire is the same in everyone.  It’s just that in people with desires that are partly or wholly homosexual, that function is not performed as well.  According to the natural law view, same-sex attraction is comparable to pica.  

Thus does Aristotle explicitly draw this comparison in his discussion of disordered pleasures in the Nicomachean Ethics (at 1148b 15 – 19a 20).  Thus does Plato – his own homosexual inclinations notwithstanding – argue in The Laws that sexual relations are natural only when procreation is possible (at 839a), so that sexual pleasure is natural when indulged between men and women but unnatural in the context of same-sex sexual activity (636c).  Despite the prevalence of homosexuality in Greek culture, the Greeks didn’t see homosexuality as a kind of identity or basic orientation, any more than blindness or pica entails a kind of identity or orientation.  They saw it merely as the having of certain desires, the goodness or badness of which needed to be evaluated the way any other desire is evaluated.  Some of them judged such desires acceptable, whereas others (like Aristotle and the later Plato) did not.  The medieval natural law tradition that built on Plato and Aristotle inherited both this approach to understanding same-sex desire, and the negative evaluation of it.  Like the Greeks, they didn’t see the question of homosexuality as a matter of either affirming or condemning a class of people, but merely of affirming or condemning a certain kind of desire.

The implication of this view is that no one is really homosexual if being homosexual is interpreted as a kind of natural state or basic orientation.  According to the natural law analysis, being attracted to people of the same sex is not like being sighted or having a natural inclination to eat and drink, but more like being blind or suffering from pica.  The blind person no less than everyone else is naturally oriented toward seeing, the person suffering from pica no less than everyone else is naturally oriented toward eating what will provide nutrition, and people with homosexual desires no less than everyone else are naturally oriented toward having sexual relations with people of the opposite sex.  It’s just that physiological dysfunction frustrates the realization of the natural end in the case of blind people, and psychological dysfunction frustrates the realization of the natural end in the case of people exhibiting pica and in people with homosexual desires.  On the natural law analysis, everyone is naturally oriented toward sight, eating nutritional food, and heterosexual sexual relations.

Now, the point of this exposition is to make concrete the difficulty facing the middle ground liberal position of Kaufman, Stock, et al.  They would, of course, disagree with the natural law analysis of homosexuality.  The problem is that it is hard to see how they can do so in a principled way given their rejection of identificationism.  Again, Kaufman rejects identificationism on the grounds that it entirely divorces our “material” or biological attributes from the self.  In Kaufman’s view, one’s biological features can make it the case that one simply is, as a matter of objective fact, a male, and that’s that.  The fact that one might not feel like a male is in Kaufman’s view irrelevant to the biological facts.  Hence he rejects talk of “’girl-penises,’ sex not being bimodal and the like.”  

But in that case, why should we not also say that every person is naturally heterosexual, whether all people feel that way or not?  Why does biology trump one’s self-conception in the case of a male who thinks of himself as really being female, but not in the case of a male who thinks of himself as really being homosexual?  If we say that the former is as a matter of fact male, even if he thinks of himself as female, why shouldn’t we say that the latter is as a matter of fact made for sex with females, even if he thinks of himself as made for sex with males?  Or, if we say that the latter is correct to take his natural orientation to be toward sex with other males, biology notwithstanding, then why shouldn’t we say that the former is correct to hold that he is really a female, biology notwithstanding?

It seems, then, that the identificationist is on to something.  The movement for gay rights effectively severed a person’s self-identified sexual orientation from biology, and the identificationist is pointing out that if we are going to do that, then to be consistent we will have to sever one’s self-identified sex from biology.  If appeals to biological function cut no ice in the one case, neither do they cut any ice in the other.

There are three ways that Kaufman, Stock, et al. might try to respond to this, though none seems very promising.  The first would be to dismiss talk of biological function as a mere teleological façon de parler that has no deep philosophical implications.  Now, just on general philosophy of biology grounds, I don’t think this sort of move can work.  I would argue that the notion of biological function is both ineliminable and irreducible.  That is to say, we can’t make sense of the biological facts without it, and we can’t analyze it in non-teleological terms.  

But put that to one side for present purposes.  The trouble for defenders of the liberal middle ground position is that to make this strategy work, they not only need to get rid of the notion of biological function, but to do so in a way that doesn’t give the game away to identificationism.  And I don’t think that is possible.  As I noted in my posts on Byrne, it is very difficult to spell out the biological difference between male and female in non-teleological terms.  Hence, if Kaufman, Stock, et al. were to chuck out function talk altogether so as to avoid having to accept the natural law view that homosexual desire is dysfunctional, then they would also undermine the case for saying that there is an objective biological difference between male and female.

A second strategy would be to accept the notion of biological function but deny that consistency requires treating claims about sex and sexual orientation as on a par.  On this strategy, we could say that there is an objective matter of biological fact about whether someone is male or female, but no objective matter of fact about whether sexual desire has the function of getting us to mate with people of the opposite sex.  The trouble with this move is that it seems both ad hoc and biologically implausible.  What criteria for biological function could one draw up that would make it plausible to say that eyes are for seeing and hunger for getting us to eat, but that sexual desire is not for getting us to mate with the opposite sex?  Why would one even try to look for such gerrymandered criteria if it weren’t for the ad hoc purpose of trying to avoid both identificationism and natural law theory?

A third strategy for the middle ground liberal position would be to argue that sexual orientation is more like gender than it is like sex.  Again, Kaufman, Stock, et al. have no beef with the transgender activist who says that gender is self-made.  Like Byrne, they object only to the claim that sex is self-made.  With sex, biology determines that you are either male or female, but with gender things are more fluid.  Someone who is biologically male might well identify as a woman.  Now, Kaufman, Stock, et al. might argue that a similar distinction might be made where sexual orientation is concerned.  They might allow that as a matter of biological fact sexual desire is naturally heterosexual, but then argue that sexual orientation is like gender in being fluid and socially constructed.  

But this strategy won’t work either, because to allow that sexual desire has, as a matter of biological fact, a heterosexual function, would be to imply that homosexual desire is biologically dysfunctional.  And if you are going to say that, then it is hard to see why you wouldn’t also have to say that for a biological male to think of himself as a woman is also dysfunctional.  But once you do that, then it is hard to see how you can maintain a sharp distinction between the biology of sex on the one hand, and gender and sexual orientation on the other, without lapsing into the precisely the radical Cartesian/Lockean/Kantian divide between persons and their biology that Kaufman wants to avoid.  

As I suggested in my posts on Byrne, the reason that identificationists take the extreme position they do is that they perceive that the distinction between sex and gender is not in fact a sharp one.  The more robust the biological distinction between the sexes is, the less plausibly fluid gender is.  The more fluid the distinction between the genders is, the less plausibly robust the biological distinction between the sexes.  Hence if you are going to insist on fluid gender differences, you are going to have to deny robust biological sex differences.  The identificationist transgender activists can plausibly say to Kaufman: “We are not the ones positing a radical Cartesian divide between persons and their biology; you are!  It is precisely because we see persons and their biology as continuous that we conclude that, since gender is socially constructed, so too must the biology of sex be socially constructed.”  

If this is right, then the identificationist is not, after all, committed to a kind of Cartesian divide in human nature, but rather to a kind of biological anti-realism or social constructivism.  The natural law tradition, meanwhile, is committed to a robust realism about human biology.  So, who are the ones positing a radical Cartesian/Lockean/Kantian divide in human nature, then?  Defenders of the middle ground liberal position like Kaufman, Stock, and Byrne, that’s who!

The natural law diagnosis

So, again, it is hard to see how to find a principled or non-arbitrary middle ground between identificationism on the one hand and the natural law position on the other.  If one rejects the identificationist position as incoherent or biologically unsound, then it seems that one will have to reconsider the possibility that the natural law tradition was correct after all.  Or, if in the name of the sexual revolution one rejects the natural law position, then it seems that one will have to go the whole hog for identificationism.  If this is correct, then in one respect the identificationists are being perfectly logical.

In another respect, of course, they are not – namely, insofar as they present their position in a shrill and ad hominem way that is destructive of fruitful philosophical debate and free speech.  Kaufman is right to complain and worry about that, and to his credit he has repeatedly insisted that tactics like flinging epithets and shouting down opposition have no place in philosophy.

What is the explanation of the shrillness and illiberalism of many identificationists?  The natural law tradition suggests an answer.

In Books VIII and IX of The Republic, Plato was famously critical of democracy, which he took to be the worst form of polity next to tyranny.  Indeed, he thought it had a tendency to degenerate into tyranny.  What he objected to in democracy was not primarily its procedural elements, but rather the egalitarian character type that it fostered.  On Plato’s account, the egalitarian tendency is to give every desire and way of life equal respect, and this entails a leveling down of standards.  The egalitarian becomes increasingly unwilling even to consider the possibility that some desires or ways of life are worse than others.  The very idea becomes intolerable to him.  Since he is unwilling to subject his appetites to the evaluation of dispassionate reason, he gradually comes to be ruled by them.  And sexual desire, because it is uniquely unruly and concerns the most intense of pleasures, tends especially to dominate him.

As each citizen becomes less and less willing to allow social norms or legal restraints to limit the indulgence of his desires, an egalitarian society tends to degenerate into a war of competing subjectivities.  What happens eventually is that the more ruthless and cunning of these appetitive personalities figure out ways to impose their wills on the others, and that is when democracy starts to give way to tyranny.  The tyrannical character type is, on Plato’s account, essentially an extreme version of the lawless and appetite-driven character type produced by egalitarian societies, and he is especially prone to be dominated by lust.

Plato’s analysis suggests, then, that the more someone of an egalitarian personality type is dominated by his sexual desires, the less capable he is going to be of a dispassionate and objective evaluation of those desires, and the more ruthlessly willful he is likely to be in pursuing them.  An egalitarian society given to the indulgence of ever more exotic sexual tastes is, if Plato is right, also bound to be a society in which those tastes are championed in an increasingly intolerant way.

Aquinas makes some complementary points in his account of what he calls the “daughters of lust” in Summa Theologiae II-II.153.5 (of which I offered an exposition in an earlier post).  Sexual indulgence that is excessive or involves acts that are unnatural or that is disordered in some other way has a tendency in Aquinas’s view to lead to what he calls “blindness of mind.”  The intensity of sexual pleasure can make it difficult to think logically and dispassionately about matters of sex even in the best circumstances.  And when repeated indulgence has habituated a person to sexual activity that is disordered, he is likely not to want to think dispassionately about it, and to be increasingly incapable of doing so.  The very idea of there being an objective standard by reference to which his indulgence is disordered becomes intolerable to him, and he becomes increasingly willful in his indulgence and hostile to anything that might block it.

Aquinas’s account, like Plato’s, would thus lead us to expect that the more indiscriminate people become about matters of sex, the less willing they will be to discuss such matters in a calm and rational way, and the less capable they will be of doing so.  

No doubt some would be inclined to respond by simply shouting “Bigot!” at Plato and Aquinas and ignoring their arguments.  Which, of course, only confirms their diagnosis. 


  1. Personally, I self-identify as 'being always right'. This has certainly made my life a lot easier.

    At first, I was planning on self-identifying as God. But then I figured, 'being always right' is good enough for now. (You know, baby-steps.)

  2. It seems, then, that the identificationist is on to something. The movement for gay rights effectively severed a person’s self-identified sexual orientation from biology, and the identificationist is pointing out that if we are going to do that, then to be consistent we will have to sever one’s self-identified sex from biology. If appeals to biological function cut no ice in the one case, neither do they cut any ice in the other.

    The wonderful thing about identificationism is the vast new panorama of possibilities it insists upon. Not only is sex no longer to be considered binary (i.e. persons falling into an "either - or", either male or female), you can now forget about sex being on a single dimensional scale (with "continuity" of variation): now you can indulge your whimsy and decide that sex is a multi-polar attribute. You can be oriented toward red-haired women as your desired partner, or (still better) toward RICH men. There is an infinity of options here, why limit yourself to physical partnership in describing your sexuality: maybe your "sex" is in being aligned toward art-loving, rich women who life in Oregon, and physical congress is irrelevant to that orientation. Why does "sex" have to be limited to that messy physical stuff, anyway?

    But it doesn't stop there, oh no. Once you allow the gates open, there is no limits to what a person can decide by will as their identity. Perhaps I will decide that I am Bill Gates' oldest child. Remember: biology has nothing to do with it. I don't care if you run a DNA test or whatever, if I know in my deepest heard that I am Bill Gates' son, nothing anyone else can say can deny me my rights to live that way.

    Same with a person claiming to be Mr. Trump, or to have a $10 million bank account: mere PHYSICAL criteria have nothing to say of the matter. If I "identify" as having a $10 million bank account, then the bank is the one in error, not me. My identity trumps the bank's records - after all, those records are mere social constructs. (Money is a mere social construct too, you know.) My identity is not constrained by those social categories.

  3. " At first, I was planning on self-identifying as God. But ..."

    You're years too late. Shirley MacLaine already called dibs on that.

    The one good thing I can think of that will come from identification-ism, is that the practice will redoundingly function to undercut all interpersonal claims the De Novo one wishes to make which are based on mutual types and categories; as the potential target of the annoying claimant can himself simply define himself away from that "vulnerable" and "at risk" nuisance organism, and float free of any notion of objective moral obligation. If and when necessary.

    Of course it should not be necessary in the first place: because the entity originally redefining itself, should, by that very act, generate enough moral distance between it and its formerly "like-kinds" to justify - insofar as any justification is needed in an anti-essentialist context - their indifference to its well-being.

    Of course "well-being" itself becomes a problematical concept in such a world as well. You have yours, I have mine and never the twain shall meet. Except perhaps on a battlefield of some type.

    Quite a conundrum.

    Maybe one day, one of these progressives will read Feser's blog, and take the time to explain why in a non-teleological universe, anyone else not it, should be concerned with its fate at all; apart from a limited case wherein it demonstrates some unique utility to the other.

    Yeah, forget the turtles. It looks like Nietzsches all the way down.

    1. Maybe one day, one of these progressives will read
      Oh my poor misguided son.

  4. What about when the physiological structures are mixed or pointing in different directions?

    For example, it seems that gay men have biological structures in the brain which are oriented towards, point towards engaging in genital activity with men. So, the question is, what makes the physiological structure of the genitals normative while the physiological structure of the brain is not.

    I also mentioned in a previous thread, there are instances where, due to events in the womb, some people have a mixture of XX and XY chromosomes in different parts of their body. So, arm might be XX even though the rest of you is XY. What makes the one normative and not the other.

    Now, I do think that the physiological structure of one’s genitals is normative for genital activity as well as for whether one is male or female, and may reveal what I think later, but I’m interested in what other people here have to say.

    What makes engaging in genital activity with someone of the same sex wrong?

    What makes physiological structure of one’s genitals normative for whether one is male or female?

    1. Our bodies adjust to accommodate the usages to which they are put. Even the neural networks of our brains adjust to facilitate habituated behavior. So it's not surprising that active homosexuals would have the biological structures to which you refer. I would say they have them, in large part, as a result of repeatedly engaging in that particular perverse behavior.
      If human beings are to deduce moral behavior from nature, it's going to have to be based on facts that are obvious to everyone. The rights and wrongs of sexual behavior start off with observing that the reason that sexual intercourse is a possible behavior, and even one that the vast majority of humans are naturally inclined to engage in, is to procreate the species. How could there have been close to three millenia, now, of moral discourse among humanity, if the truth were only attainable after the discovery of high-powered microscopes and gene-manipulation techniques?

    2. Gay men tend to start out with feminine traits in early childhood. These are traits that have nothing directly to do with sexual desire. So, it looks like the arrow of causation is pointing strongly in the other direction.

      Furthermore, attraction to people of the same sex is well attested in people who are not at all pleased with the fact that they are attracted to people of the same sex, and fight it all the way.

      So, while there is some truth to the fact that our neural physiology is accomodated to the uses to which they are put, this is not the major driver here.

    3. Thursday, do you have support for the claim about the brains of homosexuals, preferably not from a pop science magazine (which are terrible for misreporting and distortions on these kind of things)?

      The same kind of claims are made about the brains of transgendered people. But when you look into it, the evidence is patchy and only, at best, supports the position that a minority of transgendered have some brain features more like the opposite bodily sex than those borman for their bodily sex. This says nothing about causation either.

      Philosophically, it also isn't clear what the relevance is of what you bring up. What difference would it make if persistent, exclusive homosexual attractions has a biological cause or partial cause. Plenty of disorders, mental and, obviously, physical, have biological causes or partial causes. It seems some are biologically predisposed to alcoholism and other addictive behaviors, but that doesn't the desire for excessive drink isn't disordered.

    4. Anonymous 7:33:

      If even only some people have brain features like the opposite sex, particularly features that are oriented towards genital activity with the same sex, that's enough.

      The point is that these people have physiological structures pointing towards genital activity with people with the same genitals as them. Why don't the physiological structures in the brain, and the end towards which they point, have priority?

      I have an answer, but, apparently, you don't.

    5. " well attested in people who are not at all pleased with the fact that they are attracted to people of the same sex, and fight it all the way."

      So? That's also true for many porn addicts, people who cheat on their spouses against their better judgement, and those who engage in risky sexual acts of all types.

      Given the obvious, Pavlovian malleability of sex to many, many different types of fetishes and it's inherently addictive nature, it should come as no surprise that many people find sexual habits hard to break.

      Do you think there's some sort of natural part of some people's minds directed towards BDSM, or furries, or foot-fetishes, or copraphagic acts or any of an every growing list of paraphilias? If not, why then is it so hard for people to break out of these extremely embarrassing/potentially life damaging habits?

      Why this is even a discussion when so many fetishes are splashed across the internet for all to see I don't know. It is glaringly obvious that sexual desires can develop in odd ways from a very young age, triggered by some apparently innocuous images and other images associated with softcore porn, and that this can lead to extremely difficult to break sexual associations that can forever influence how a person responds to sexual stimuli.

      In fact, inability to become aroused by actual people because of over-saturated exposure to pornography or some fetish is a fast growing problem among the young. Why consider homosexual behavior an exception to the norm?

      I just don't see how someone could justify having one hypothesis (genetic and innate) for ALL homosexual attraction while positing another hypothesis (acquired and adaptive) for all of these sexual paraphilias that people become addicted to.

    6. Note: This response and the anonymous response starting with "So?..." were posted by the same person. The original anonymous response was posted by a different individual. My apologies for the confusion.

      ~ Anonymous 2

    7. Thursday,

      "So, the question is, what makes the physiological structure of the genitals normative while the physiological structure of the brain is not."

      Err, they are normative. There is no is-ought gap in AT metaphysics.

      "What about when the physiological structures are mixed or pointing in different directions?"

      That would make any talk of biological defects entirely arbitrary. Biology goes out the window entirely.

    8. Thursday, I gave you an answer, at least implicitly at least: it's like any other disorder, physical or mental, which often have biological factors amongst their causes. I don't see why what you are talking about is any different. You really need to be clearer and more explicit before deciding who has an explanation for what.

      Reading between the lines, perhaps what you are saying is that sexual attraction, as a discrete process (if we may speak of it as such) seems functional, it's function is just out of sync with the rest of the body. It is something like one department in an organization doing its function very well, though that function is detrimental to the rest of the organization. This is different to blindness, where the eye, or part of it, just doesn't function. I would think the Thomist response would be that this doesn't seem that different to at least some other disorders. Perhaps the analogy here is wrong, but in alcoholism desire is functioning, just in a way not in line needs of the rest of the body. The Thomist would also no doubt argue that the function of an organ always fits into the nature and telos of the larger organism.

      - Battlestar Galactica, the fall of the Twelve Colonies episode

  5. Ed, I greatly appreciate the charitable, fair exegesis of my basic thesis and arguments. You are correct that I do believe in both the rightness and the viability of the modern liberal project, a la Locke and Mill. (I do not consider myself a progressive of any sort.) And you are also, of course, right that it is possible that I am wrong about this -- at least in intellectual, conceptual terms -- for the reasons that you identify in your post.

    But I really don't see us returning to a pre-modern system of government or conception of the individual's place in the polis. You may, of course, be right in suggesting that beyond the conceptual question, as a practical matter, modern liberal politics will always, inevitably slide into the progressive disaster we find ourselves in now.

    All that I can say is that I earnestly hope not! But I greatly appreciate your fair and thoughtful remarks on my piece.

    Best, --Dan K.

  6. Ed, as a separate matter, in light of your discussion here of biology and teleology, you may be interested in a dialogue I did with Massimo Pigliucci, of the City University of New York, who is both a biologist and a philosopher, on the subject, on my philosophy program, Sophia, over at BloggingHeads.TV.

    Best, --Dan K.

  7. Hello Dan, thanks for your comments. Re: the reference to you as a "progressive," I am sorry to have misunderstood and incorrectly described your position, and I will add a clarifying note to the main post.

  8. Thank you, Ed. Though, of course, it does nothing to mitigate your critique, which is well taken.

    I used to be more conservative myself and took very much of a MacIntyrian/Anscombian line, and intellectually, in many ways, I still do. I simply don't think that it is practical/viable/desirable in the modern era, in the context of large, pluralistic societies, so I see modern liberalism as the best sort of "compromise" we can make. That is, my liberalism is, in many ways, a pragmatic one. I did a short piece on this not too long ago, which you might find interesting. (I hope my somewhat harsh words about Romanus Cessario's essay in First Things on the Mortara case are not too abrasive. If so, feel free to delete the link.)

    1. Thanks for the article link, Dan, I will read it with interest.

    2. Glad to see this civil exchange.

    3. It is the brave few who defend a city from ruin, Mr. Kaufman. I wish I were one of them.

  9. One could acknowledge sexual teleology while arguing that modern society can afford to tolerate certain types of sexual deviance. However this position makes "gay rights" nothing more than an indulgence that might be withdrawn at any time.
    For homosexuality to become "natural" in the common use of the word, the teleology of male sexuality must be rejected. Once that is done phrases such as "the girl-penis" cease to be contradictions. They're just references to ornaments and erotic aesthetics.
    I respect your interlocutors for trying to hold the center, but I agree that they are unlikely to be successful.

    1. It seems like an outdated view that rights are indulgences that might be withdrawn at any time.
      What you call "the center" is in fact the (liberal) view that society should only interfere in people's affairs if those affairs pose a threat to society.
      Basically, it means that you have the right to be X and I have the right to be Y and this right cannot be withdrawn unless there are very good reasons to do so. And an ambiguous notion
      like "teleology" is not a good enough reason.

    2. David,

      Well I do know that in Thomistic political philosophy, not all sinful acts should be illegal. So while masturbation would be considered sinful, the impracticality of enforcing laws to make it illegal would justify keeping it legal. Of course, just because something is legal does not mean it is a right.

      One could make a similar argument about homosexuality. Although the effect of homosexuality on society, since it is typically expressed publicly (unlike masturbation) is arguably more significant. Therefore one would have to make a judgement on the data to determine if and what legal restrictions should be applied.

      Furthermore, people have a right to some level of autonomy, so it could be that illegalizing sinful actions (if too restrictive) can have a more begative consequence than preventing them. So I would say it is a very case by case basis. But I think that you are right that sinful behavior (as determined by natural law, not revelation) can never be considered a right.

    3. Walter, but the center is unstable today. Increasingly 'progressives' don't believe in liberal notions of autonomy. They don't think people should be able to say and do what they want if it doesn't harm others directly. However, it is true they often like to have their cake and eat it, so in some areas they do affirm nearly absolute autonomy, especially sexuality (ezcexc perhaps heterosexual male sexuality, which many find increasing problematic). It is the 'progressives' who are the dynamic forces in our society, with everyone else holding a defensive position. It is an open question whether the center will hold. Already important sections have gone over, including large segments of the media and academia. Liberalism is becoming passe.

    4. To add a relevant point, it isn't clear at all that the trans-gender activists are fighting for autonomy in the (classical) liberal sense. It actually seems that it is those who aren't fully on-board with the trans-activists (let's we call them trans-skeptics) who arguing for the more liberal position. In the West at least, most trans-skeptics aren't wishing to see trans-gender people locked up or confined to asylums. Their first objective is a liberal one. It is to prevent legal sanctions against speech, thought, and association that dissents from the trans-activist positions, positions the skeptics, with some justification, see as largely unproven and often vague and illogical. It is the trans-activists who often wish to use the blunt force of the law to neuter opposing views.

      Beyond that, it is a matter of being able to express one's opinions and arguments (and here quite sensible and plausible opinions and claims) in a socially acceptable way. This isn't strictly a matter of the letter of classical liberal autonomy. Liberalism says people can say (almost) what they want, but not that they can't be vilified and hated for what they say, as long as there are no legal repercussions. But the spirit of the older liberalism was certainly one of live and let live. There's always limits. Nazis and the like are always going to be despised, but the older liberalism generally wished for a wide area of tolerance for dissent and different views, not just in legal terms, but also in social and cultural ones. Given that the sensible trans-skeptical arguments and claims are eminently reasonable, even if finally incorrect, it seems much more in line with the spirit of liberalism that moderate, sensible trans-skeptics not be exiled from polite society for their views, even if they aren't legally threatened. The trans-activists, or many of them, are extremely vociferous and censorial, and relish trying to drive out even the mildest dissent from acceptable discourse.

      Finally, trans-skeptics and trans-activists clash over the state's recognition of trans-activist positions, beyond legal threats to dissenters. That is, they clash over issues like whether the state should give recognition to gender identity on official documents, whether it should fund gender transitions, etc. The sides in these areas aren't easily translatable to more or less autonomy in the liberal sense. The trans-activists could say that they are advocating greater autonomy because they are campaigning to get the state to recognize individuals' choices about gender identity. But it isn't clear that liberal autonomy requires the state to officially sanction this part of the trans-activist ideology. It might be different if or when we can be (nearly) certain that trans-gender people are trapped in the wrong body, or something similar. But as long as it isn't clear this actually is the case, and trans-genderism can be just as easily explained as a mental disorder similar to other dysmorphias (although there actually seem to be different kinds of trans-genderism, with possibly different causes. Childhood gender identity disorder is not necessarily the same as that in middle-aged men, for example), it doesn't seem the state should have to recognize gender identity in this way. The trans-skeptics can say they are fighting for autonomy, because tax-payer money shouldn't be used to fund medical procedures that are based upon a dubious understanding of what is going on in trans-gender cases, and which also have an unclear record in improving the long-term mental and physical of those who undergo them. But arguments about autonomy when it comes to taxation and the government use of it are a lot more complicated than issues surrounding personal belief, speech, and association.

    5. Anonymus

      It may well be that liberalism is becoming passe, but that doesn't mean liberalism is all wrong. It isn't all right either.
      That's why the center is not the same as liberalism.
      On pure a liberal view, tax-payer money goes to the things (the majority of) tax-payers want it to go to, but that means that if the majority of tax-payers are immoral, there will be state-funded immorality.
      The center, however, is an ideal middle ground between the extremes of radical liberalism and the opposite. Of course ideal situations are very rare if not impossible, but that doesn't mean society shouldn't strive for this middle ground.

    6. Walter, but what do you mean by liberalism? It is hard to see which meaning you are attributing to this term from the several brought up here or current in popular discourse (orogrsssivpro, classical liberalism, or a broader liberal tradition).

      I'm also not sure that it is a pure liberal principle that the state should spend tax-payers' money on what the majority wish, if we mean liberal in the older sense. I don't think one would have to be a classical liberal purist to think liberalism is generally about the state leaving people alone to make their own choices. It seems more in tune with this that the state exercise restraint in using tax-payer money, especially in controversial and divisive areas. One doesn't have to be a strict minarchist to think it more liberal for the state to limit its interference in such cases.

    7. Anonymus

      On a strict (pure) liberal view, the state should interfere as little as possible.
      But of course, a state should make it possible for people to make their own choices and for that reason the state should not put choice X above choice Y unless there is very good reason to reject choice Y.
      But the center position I am advocating here implies that the state (or thje community) also has a responsibility to make it easier for people to really choose. And that means that a percentage of tax-payers money goes to things that some tax-payers do not want.
      So, in short, if P's choice is to "become" a woman, then the community should provide opportunities for P to do so, unless there are very good reasons not to.
      I say "community" because a state is too abstract a concept.

    8. Walter, I think you are getting at the distinction between negative and positive liberty. It's true that, except for some hardcore classical liberals or libertarians, most liberals today make room for both. But the classical liberals are correct that we need to be causation about positive liberty. As it requires more state action it can bring danger to negative liberty, the freedom to be left alone, which is still the core liberal freedom. This is why liberals, as opposed to socialists, social democrats, and the like, have always limited positive liberties to a few things, like giving everyone access to a decent education.

      If it were proven thst trans-genders are stuck in the wrong body and/or transition was shown to have signofsigni long term success on the physical and mental health of those who undergo it, the state paying for such things might fall under necessary healthcare expenses, which are liberal. But isn't clear either are true.

      One could say that the state can just allow its citizens to medically mutilate themselves as they wish, in the name of choice, at the state's expense. But that doesn't sound like a liberal position. Liberalism has never been about the state granting every whim of its citizens. That sounds more like some kind of socialism.

      And the state doesn't just tend to say mutilate yourself at will, we'll pick up the bill. It endorses the notions of the trans-activists about what trans-genderism is, or increasingly does. Given it is far from proven the activists are right, this seems illiberal. It would be one thing if the proof were behind the activists, but the issue is very much unsettled. It is illiberal for the state to officially give support to one view over the other(s).

    9. Anonymus

      I agree that the center position I am advocating is not liberal., indeed it is more like some kind of socialism.
      The community has and should have more responsibily than providing only limited positive liberties. It should provide all liberties with two restrictions. It must be practically possible and it shouldn't be at the expense of other people's liberties.
      It's not about giving support to one view over the others, it's abvout giving (positive) support to every view unless there are very good reasons not to support it.

      In my country, e.g. Catholic Priests are paid by the state, although it is far from proven the Catholic church is right. And I, as an atheist, agree that the state should do such things.

    10. The community has and should have more responsibily than providing only limited positive liberties. It should provide all liberties with two restrictions. It must be practically possible and it shouldn't be at the expense of other people's liberties.

      In reality, those two restrictions are ENORMOUS, and properly laid out would generally end up restricting most possible state intervention. Subsidiarity is a positive human good, and it implies and requires state non-intervention in most things. And further, if one tries to work out a stable, long-term picture of what is "possible" given human nature, human foibles, human weakness, etc, subsidiarity and the community providing for non-intervention in most things IS what is most possible. But recognizing this requires recognizing that human nature requires a degree of self-governance, which implies a degree of ability to try choosing things and fail, to one's temporal detriment - without the state thoroughly insulating you from the consequences of that failure.

      It's not about giving support to one view over the others, it's abvout giving (positive) support to every view unless there are very good reasons not to support it.

      What about giving support to A's view that giving support to B's view is intrinsically immoral? When A pays for the state to support B, A is in violation of his conscience. Does that support A?

    11. Tony

      Yes, those restrictions are big, and I don't think the government should interfere in everything.
      I have no problem with subsidiarity as a principle, but the govenment has a duty to interfere when subsidiarity doesn't work. And there are lots of cases in which it doesn't work, so I think community-intervention is required as well as possible in many cases.

      As far as giving support to A's view that B's view is intrinsically immoral, that depends on how strong A's case is. If there are good reasons to think A is right, then the state should support A. In other cases it depends on how important B is. Is it important enough to outweigh A?
      Those decisions are not easy, of course, but i think with a minimum of good will on both sides, lots can be accomplished.

  10. "No doubt some would be inclined to respond by simply shouting “Bigot!” at Plato and Aquinas and ignoring their arguments."

    Or they'd spout some gibberish about the "esoteric teleology of the anus." (actual combox quote from here.)

    1. the "esoteric teleology of the anus." (actual combox quote from here.)

      Holy crap really? Oh I'm laughing!

    2. I'll have to keep my eyes open for that one...
      If whoever wrote that wasn't another Anonymouse, then maybe I'll start following him for a few kicks.

  11. Normally [pun intended] I would laugh my backside off at the left eating their own or self distructing. But if they cease more political power and take away my rights because I am a CIS white male then I don't think I will find that amusing.

    Well I have a trump card. My DNA test says I am 2% Black so you all can call me Brother Jim. WORD!!

    Peace out my Nizzels!*

    *Still too white to use the N'word like a regular black dude might so I use a substitute.

    1. In so many ways black people are actually the worst victims of all of this.

  12. "Pica" is an especially good example of a dysfunctional or disordered impulse, and one which is on many points more adequately analogous to sexual misdirection or perversion than others employed in the "born-that-way" dispute, such as cleft-palate, or Tay-Sachs.

    Can you really metabolize thumb tacks and your cat's furballs? If so, then one man's meat is truly another man's poison. Though what compelling reason we should have to ultimately call both such creatures "men", and imperatively include them in the same system of moral association and exchange, is a question that needs resolving rather than assuming.

    Nonetheless, on the way to that resolution, one of the biggest amusements for anyone interested in logic is the mad scramble by the progressive mind to save the old and comforting mutual morality based universal conclusions, while simultaneously rejecting the categorical premises which entail or allow such conclusions.

    Frankly, and as others have pointed out, even the use or granting of terms such as "harm" are exercises in question begging, since harm is only inter-subjectively meaningful, relative to some mutually recognized and accepted standard.

    Maybe under the new jury-rigged happen to be born-that-way "natural law", some, have not only a tendency to want to be or have brain - "features that are oriented towards " being buggered by genitally similar types, but have a tendency toward self-destruction. And who are we to say that this pathway should be interfered with under the new understanding of natural law in the multiverse of Sui Generis kinds?

    So, either real and mind-independent like-kinds some of which are recognized as objectively dysfunctional, or critically unlike, and sometimes fundamentally antipathetic or even antithetical kinds. In which latter case we might just as well say ... "Don't expect me to make allowances for your "depression", who, or whatever, you are. Since, it not a sympathy deserving depression which you as a like kind "suffer" that is so intolerably annoying ... but rather you, yourself, in your alien, and antagonistic, essence.

    Yeah and just because there is a "social surplus" (meaning that some in the circle of associations have generated enough "social capital" to keep all going for a time) doesn't mean that it should be pissed away on enabling behavioral dysfunctions that cannot even be coherently labeled as dysfunctions. Hell, you have redefined yourself right out of the victim-hood privilege, which is based on like-kinds being cheated by social injustice; not on moral aliens failing to milk a system of the resources they wish to appropriate for themselves.

    On what basis is this forbearance to be proffered, then? The assumption that we all ultimately have the same, or alike, or even compatible interests? Or that accommodating such interests is distributively beneficial?

    I hate to quote a troll phrase here, but "Bwahhhhhahaha!"

  13. No doubt some would be inclined to respond by simply shouting “Bigot!”

    Not to mention the use of some embarrassing cheap rhetoric about "love" and "Equality" which characterize the whole Pro-LGBT propaganda.

    1. I have a serious question. Why does it "seem" as if anti-LGBT has been "disproven"? I bring up natural law arguments to myself and get a voice saying "self, you know that it's been conclusively proven that LGBT is good. Stop lying to yourself."

    2. Can't really tell because it doesn't seem that way to me. Maybe you should try asking "self" more deeply for that or maybe you implicitly acknowledge that all "anti" arguments have some unassailable difficulties.

    3. Also note that this isn't the only time a certain "seeming" leads to some implausible conclusion.
      some philosophers also think mereological nihilism is prima facie more plausible than alternatives because its hard to fathom how there could be one material object which fills the exact region of space that is occupied by some disjoint collection of particles, it sound spooky how a certain non-fundamental material object distinct from all those particles suddenly pops into existence when they are arranged in some way, the exact same reasons which leads to rejecting existence of Cartesian souls might also lead one to reject composition .

    4. @Cogniblog
      I sometimes have an inner voice that boisterously raises these kinds of doubts. It's natural, and ties into our condition as social animals.
      Suppose you had no information on the topic. In that case, which would seem more likely: that the majority is right, or that they're wrong?
      Moreover, we tend to internalize the things we're exposed to, and today, an absurd overconfidence in the goodness and future success of LGBT ideology is in vogue, as is the assumed dishonesty hatred and dishonesty of the opponents. At least, that's what my experience as a college student shows me. (Thank goodness this will be my last semester!)
      But in fact, there's a great deal of information on why this ideology is not only false, but also extremely destructive. So you should just remember that the voice is failing you.

  14. Ed Feser: "Now, the 64 dollar question is whether this middle ground liberal position between identificationism on the one hand, and “a normatively thick conception of natural law” on the other, is stable. And the fuzziness in Kaufman’s characterization of it does not lend confidence."

    He who says 'A' must say 'B'.

    In the above "law", 'B' is a proposition logically entailed by the proposition 'A'. If one affirms the proposition 'A', then one has already affirmed, implicity, the proposition 'B', and absent rejection of the proposition 'A', one will eventually explicitly affirm the proposition 'B'.

    There is no getting around this fact. "But, I don't *like* 'B' (much less 'C')" cannot stand up to "'A' demands 'B'"

  15. To comment briefly on discussions above, I don't see how an anti-masturbatory law would have anything but positive effects. Practically it is impossible to stop people from doing it, but if such a law were to be passed a stigma would form at least around open public approval and workplace/sitcom discussion. Not to mention the active marketing of softcore masturbarion porn.

    So I'm all for it.

    1. Amos,

      I'm sure you're already aware of the objection Thomas Aquinas would raise; namely, that it is unwise to implement and attempt to enforce an anti-masturbation law, and unwise for different reasons to implement it without enforcement.

      It seems to me that you're responding that implementation without enforcement is not, after all, unwise (for the reasons you've given). I think Thomas would respond that unenforced laws tend to make the law itself a subject of derision, and if they are only largely unenforced then the rare instances of enforcement can produce eruptions of outrage. Such things are corrosive to the ethos of lawfulness in a society.

      However, there is another thing to consider. The government of the United States was formed and empowered by an act of delegation-of-powers from the states respectively, and from the people. (All authority comes from God. The documents of the American founding claim that the authority comes from God, to those who exercise it to form a government, and thence to the government they form...presuming of course that it successfully exercises minimal territorial control, without which it isn't valid matter to qualify as a "government.")

      It therefore does not properly possess any powers not delegated to it; nor can it even in principle justly exercise a power that the states and the people didn't first have in themselves. (After all, one can't delegate a power one doesn't have.)

      So the question is: What just authority do I have, in myself, to point guns at other adult men (who are of normal mental competence and are not otherwise under my authority) to prevent them from masturbating?

      The Catholic Church teaches that, in the gravest extreme, it is not immoral (and may sometimes be morally obligatory) to exercise force, even lethal force, to defend myself or another person against wrongful assaults on life, liberty, property, basic human dignity, etc. So, it's clear that We The People can, in principle, shoot a home invader. And it's correspondingly clear that We The People can hire employees to do so on our behalf more regularly. And when we do that kind of thing in concert as a formation of a political union, it's called creating a government.

      But my guess is that the Catholic Church holds that we ought not oppose private acts of masturbation forcibly, certainly not as a normal practice.

      If so, then we lack just authority to do so. But in that case we can't delegate that authority to our employees, the government.

      And in that case, even if such a law were prudent in its consequences, it would be invalid because it involved We The People attempting to delegate an authority we don't, in fact, have.

    2. I agree with everything you said (and would fight to the death for your right to say it); but I quibble with one thing. You spoke of the government as "our employees." This they are not. Even if, perchance, God gave me the choice to pick who my father in earth was, it would not change the fact that he as my father had lawful authority over me, whether he paid me or I paid him. It is true that authority exists as a service: as parents spend far more time serving their children than children ever do their parents. I argue we are a republic and not a democracy: once we have granted authority, they have it; however, an employer can fire as he pleases (contractual agreements being qualified). Public servants have never been our slaves and never our employees, either. I have no right to go to Afghanistan and begin barking orders at the soldiers serving over there. I would if they were my employees. I can't go to the police station and bark orders at them, either. The point is this: we need lawful authority more than the other way around: it's easier to be a civ than a soldier; the one protected over the one protecting. But the old saying is this: it is still better to give than receive (meaning, that even if your country or its citizens refuse to pay or honor you for your efforts, it is better to go unpaid or unappreciated than be the one who refuses to pay or appreciate).

    3. R.C.,

      This is well argued. Would you agree, though, thst the sale of artificial contraception should be illegal?

      I suspect the difference is that selling something is a public act.

    4. Amos:

      I think there is, as you suggest, a difference between the public sale and advertisement of a product, and its usage behind closed doors, or transfer in a private sale to a person whose relationship to the seller pre-dates their intention to buy the product from that seller.

      This is because, at minimum, enforcement of prohibitions against very behind-closed-doors evils requires a kind of power-of-intrusiveness which it is unwise to normatively exercise.

      However, the question of whether one may use force against a person who publicly advertises or sells a product, the morally-licit use of which is rare or non-existent, and the morally-illicit use of which is normally expected, is a difficult question.

      It is difficult because it rests entirely on the deeper question of what (a.) Just War and (b.) Licit Use of The Power of the State have in common; namely, "What distinguishes between the morally-licit and morally-illicit uses of force?"

      If we picture a moral judgment on the use of force as a computer function, which returns values ranging from -100 (entirely morally horrid) to 100 (entirely morally obligatory), then I think there are many arguments/parameters required to be passed into that function, to allow it to calculate.

      One of the parameters required is the question, "What is the nature of the evil being opposed?" and in particular "How forcible, and how directly forcible, is that evil?"

      For, as a general rule, I believe that forcible opposition to an evil is (all other things being equal) less-easily justified the less-forcible the evil is (or, the less-directly it imposes force).

      Now, publicly encouraging persons to purchase artificial contraceptives, from oneself or another, that they might be used to render coitus sterile, is an evil. But, it seems a very non-forcible one.

      Consequently, I cannot picture myself being morally justified in pointing my gun at my neighbor to prevent him doing so, nor in hiring another to point it for me.

      Writ large, this judgment would seem to merit a very low-grade, low-force kind of prohibition by the government: A low fine, perhaps, but not imprisonment.

      That's a first pass at a response; if others poke holes in my logic, I'm happy to reconsider.

    5. Timocrates:

      Thanks for your reply.

      I understand what you are saying re: my use of the word "employees," and sympathize with it, but I still think it is the correct word, provided we narrowly construe what is meant by it.

      First, I notice you included the term "slaves": "Public servants have never been our slaves and never our employees, either." To me, that is like saying, "They have never been worthless chattel whom we crush without a thought, and never friends and neighbors whom we invite to Christmas dinner, either, and who might also be saints of God whose intercession we'll seek should they precede us into eternity." What I mean is this: An employee is a man who is our equal in human dignity before God. Now, you don't explicitly say so, but it seems part of your objection to the word "employees" comes from an assumption of a scowling, stingy, contemptuous attitude of the employer towards the employee. But my use of the word "employee" is not intended to have such connotations, at all.

      On the contrary, a better analogy (from the perspective of attitude and dignity) might be the relationship between a patient who needs surgery, and a surgeon whom he has selected for the operation because of his skill. The patient employs the surgeon and pays him. But he also knows that he will deliver himself, for a time, into the power of this surgeon, for a task. He hopes the surgeon will do his task well. But he'd be a fool to treat him badly.

      Just so, with an elected official in a republic. (We are, as you correctly note, a republic not a democracy; indeed I like to emphasize that we are -- or should be -- a Natural-Law Based Constitutional Federal Democratic Republic.) The elected official is hired, for a time, to have power over us to perform a task. We pay them, we hope they'll do it well; but they are our fellow citizens and neighbors and for that reason alone we ought not treat them with contempt. Moreover, they perform a role involving the exercise of power over us, so that only a fool treats them as peons.

      Now, there's another objection towards treating the relationship between citizen and government as the relationship between a special class of employer and a special class of employee. This other objection usually takes the form that:
      1. The government has authority over us;
      2. All authority comes from God;
      3. Therefore, God is over the government, and the government over us, in a three-tiered linear relationship, ontologically.

      I believe this argument is mistaken, and the objection fails. It would be true, had God instituted a government of angels over men. But God is both a classicist and a romanticist: He creates a hierarchical order of being, and then sets things topsy-turvy by unexpectedly making the leader the servant and the least-qualified individual the greater display of His glory.

      In this case, government is a good and noble pursuit, and a necessary one, like that of the surgeon. But it just is not historically factual that God sent a prophet to anoint George Washington as the first president of the American Republic. The elected officials of the United States are hired and sometimes fired by the voters, and authority is delegated to them only during their term in office.

      So all authority comes from God, not from the voters. But God grants authority to voters as He does to all human persons, in His Moral Law. Among the kinds of just authority He grants is the authority to use force licitly to repel certain kinds of evils. They delegate that authority, for a time, to the "surgeons" whom they select for the purpose.

      And during that time, the patient agrees to do what the surgeon says, because in the operating room, the surgeon is in charge. But he is only in charge because the patient selected him for the job.

      That's my view, Timocrates. I'm interested to hear what you think of it.

    6. Oh, one other thing, Timocrates:

      You also objected to the word "employees" by suggesting that, if you were the employer of the government, and thus of a unit of soldiers in Afghanistan, this would entitle you to show up in an FOB and start "barking orders."

      But I hope my analogy of the surgeon shows one reason why that doesn't follow: Does the patient bark orders at the nurses? Not if he isn't a fool. Does the nurse follow the patient's orders if they contradict the surgeon's orders? Let's hope not! Yet the patient still hired the surgeon, for a time, to do a particular job.

      Also, let's remember that the voters collectively, an organism known as "We The People," have "hired" the government. It is that employer which delegates authority, isn't it? And shouldn't there be some sense in which the soldiers in Afghanistan would respond to orders if the Entire Population Of The United States showed up and issued those orders? Indeed they would, and they do: For that, in some sense, is the meaning of the fact that our military chain-of-command is topped by an elected Commander-in-Chief who is a civilian, one of "the people."

      So I think the image of you, personally, as an individual, showing up and giving orders just isn't applicable to my use of the word "employee." The soldier could reply, "Yes, in a certain sense I am your employee, sir; but, what do the other three hundred forty-five million, nine-hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine-hundred ninety-nine of my employers have to say?"

      Finally, I think that the analogy of the surgeon helps us better understand the nature of what is happening when the government usurps power beyond Constitutional scope. If we have hired a surgeon to do a surgery, we don't want to wake up a few hours later to find that he has repainted my house, taken over administering my investment accounts, and has been conducting the religious education of my children. Such things are beyond the scope of the authority I delegated to him. They aren't part of the job. We have a right to be outraged when an employee leverages the authority we did delegate to him to assume roles and powers we never delegated.

    7. That's my view, Timocrates. I'm interested to hear what you think of it.

      And thank you for your interest. My thinking of what you said was best said, I believe, by an Apostle and prophet of God:
      Philippians 2:2 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
      A belated Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you, sir.

    8. And a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, also!

      I suppose "Merry Christmas" is "belated" if one is only counting Christmas Day. But I'm going to take your greeting as referencing Christmastide (a.k.a. "the twelve days of Christmas). Which makes it perfectly timely!

  16. Considering this "sexual revolution" madness goes hand in hand with the abortion industry, I want to wish you all (even if belated) a blessed Feast of the Holy Innocents! May these little holy souls pray for us, and may the little holy souls produced by the abortion industry also pray for us apud Deum Dominum nostrum.

  17. I think there's value here in the notion of "psychological truth". That is, I may believe something to be true, and whether that belief is objectively verifiable (or even demonstrably untrue), it will still have undeniable effects on my thoughts and behaviors. I may insist (and unquestioningly believe) that I was abducted by aliens at one point in my life, identify as an abductee, and live my life accordingly-seeking to be interviewed about the experience, writing books, etc. Though I would be living out a fantasy, that very much real psychological truth would still be in play.

    1. may insist (and unquestioningly believe) that I was abducted by aliens at one point in my life
      Oh but you were! ;)

  18. What Randolph Crane said, times a million.

    Isaiah described how Jesus looked: no sightliness or comeliness in him ... and all we know about how the Virgin Mary the Mother of God looked is this - she probably was not red-headed, or crippled or stooped, or else it would have been mentioned.

    With the ubiquity of the abortion conglomerates on every human continent (the penguins of Antarctica have, to date, been spared, and the good scientists who winter over in Antarctica probably don't need abortions - contraception, on the other hand, is probably a big thing there, so I may be wrong) we can be sure, given the odds inherent in large numbers, that at least once some poor young woman was coerced into aborting a baby boy who would have grown up to look exactly like Jesus or a baby girl who grew up to look exactly like the Mother of God.

    As for the argument Thursday made ----
    In the Garden of Eden, we were not built to feel attraction in order to have children.

    There are so many categorical mistakes we make by believing that we still are the same creatures we were in the Garden of Eden.

    Adam and Eve were created to be paternal and maternal, we, their children, were created to be better than children of God, we were created to be friends of God, to expiate the sins of others, by suffering (although with joy in our hearts, as Jesus said, my burden is light).

    There are people with transgender tendencies who rejoice that they were born in the wrong body with regard to sex, because it helps them understand and pray for others, and hence to bring others to Heaven. They may not be all that visible, but such people - many of whom are intensely loved by someone of the opposite sex - are not necessarily "deformed" in any way.

    (Of course, if they give in to the sins of lust, they experience a sad deformation, but so do all the Casanovas and nymphomaniacs about whom all good writers, from the ancient times through Shakespeare to today...) (Sin is the ugly thing)

    The current transgender controversies, like the controversies in the old days about whether it was ok to kill people who were not careful enough to hide the gift God gave them of understanding too well the other sex, is not a philosophical question, at heart, it is a moral question.

    1. There are people with transgender tendencies who rejoice that they were born in the wrong body with regard to sex, because it helps them understand and pray for others, and hence to bring others to Heaven. They may not be all that visible, but such people - many of whom are intensely loved by someone of the opposite sex - are not necessarily "deformed" in any way.

      Whether or not they can produce some good out of their deformity, it is still a deformity to have one sex and perceive yourself to belong to the other sex. When they come to the resurrection of the body in eternal life, they will no longer have that mis-perception, their body and their perception will be unified, whole. THAT is the properly formed state.

      They may well rejoice that God has given them a burden to suffer so that they can assist in the salvation of others: to do so, though, is to ACCEPT that their condition is a burden because it is a deformity. That God has willed to allow that deformity for a time (until the resurrection) does not alter its condition as a deformity; God permits evils of the natural order in order to bring goods out of them.

      But yes, I agree that there can be people who accept their trans state as a condition in which they can work for the salvation of others. What they cannot do (well, properly) is to voice a thesis that God wants them to have that condition because it is per se a good state. It is only a "good" insofar as it can be used for some other good, which is not per se but per accidens.

  19. Matthew 3:9 teaches us that God can make sons of Abraham from the rocks on the side of the road.

    1. Hi Stephen

      Mined semiconductor materials are part of the rocks, so a.i. may end up being the equivalent.

      In fact, artifactual agents freak out the elites precisely because they're not going to put up with all the glib self-referential contradictoriness. That's why from year to year billionaires like Gates show themselves to be so love-me/love-me-not conflicted about a.i.

      But blockchain is the clincher for the new neo-Luddite paranoiac elites. The a.i.-powered war is coming, and the determinists/reductionists sense it. Let the heart attacks begin.

  20. @Amos

    Softcore masturbation porn? What exactly would that be? Game of Thrones and the like? If the idea is that there are scenes in it that shouldn’t be there, I suppose I could be convinced of that. But I don’t remember ever masturbating to it, lol.

  21. P.S.: At the risk of giving TMI, I’m more likely to be aroused by pictures of women that are completely clothed. But maybe I’m just weird.

    1. Ah. Clothing fetish. I've heard of you people.

    2. We are rational animals. It's actually quite befitting to find something uniquely attractive (and beautiful) about a well-dressed woman. Similarly to appreciating a well-dressed man, qua well-dressed. An actually weird fetish would be to be aroused by strictly animal mating or "nudity" (which is virtually bestiality, of course). Nature adorned with a rational expression - not just clothing to stay warm, but as a compliment to a woman's natural beauty - is, I think, eminently human.

    3. @
      Matjaž Horvat

      Pictures only though? Otherwise it must be so uncomfortable for you in work, serious abnormality man.

  22. 1/2
    I think the sexual liberation movement can be argued to have been not only one of the worst things to happen to Western civ and culture in the 20th century but to be radically irresponsible.

    The ancient pagan civilizations all had a common belief that procreating was at least a political and social obligation, even regardless of class, with possibly only slaves being excepted. The Christian civilizations would even add a religious obligation to this (by reference to the blessing in Gen 1); and it was not only enough to procreate, the obligation required procreation in marriage, and there is damn good reason for this.

    Now we know that the very ancient world (e.g. before the Greek Dark Ages/Trojan War) that people were a prized commodity, especially for developing civilizations: it was common to raid neighboring cities and ever whole nations to literally loot people in order to put them to work farming and building up cities. So having children and lots of them was perceived as being good for the country and by Roman times it was still considered a kind of patriotic duty, especially for citizens.

    But why was it important that the obligation be fulfilled in wedlock? The reason for this is more subtle but also more profound: marriage maximizes one's relatives. It allows children to not only known their fathers, but of course the whole paternal side of their family. Indeed, marriage does even more than this benefit for primarily just the children: it maximizes the number of interrelations by blood and law, which is why forbidden marriages by incest tended to expand and still does, because this way families are more broadly united or reunited, both in law and (when children arrive) literally by a blood connection. This has huge social implications because an enormous number of people can be affected by a marriage and the connection that is generated also even in blood by offspring connects to who ought not marry as a consequence (in order to again to maximize connections between families via a marriage). Hence marriage is a deeply profound act that has enormous social implications and the reason why the state has always taken interest in it and, indeed, the earliest kingships seem to have justified themselves partly in reference just to defending, promoting and maintaining these practices as families of course increased in size and number, their connection becoming looser and thus endangering the feeling of kinship.

  23. 2/2
    Now it is not hard to see why a people might become concerned about whole segments of a country's population becoming increasingly estranged from one another: the loss of social or national identity might threaten to split a country or cause civil wars, beyond the problem of dynastic feuds over the throne/crown. Republican societies can of course augment that part; but not loss of a sense of kinship among a people, which is why republics like the Romans maintained all the usual marital laws and customs that they shared as common practices with different government forms and types.

    Now a problem for gay marriages that we can anticipate is at least twofold: one is the problem of realizing any such union in blood, which would require for some dangerously playing God with science but also the fact that no offspring may be forthcoming, meaning unlike traditional marriages (for the most and greater part) the union does not generate a connection that augments one's blood relatives, which is of course the primary concern in reference to things like incest. Notwithstanding, you would still be connected to others at least by law, meaning some persons would still be socially forbidden from marrying or making doing so possibly awkward and embarrassing. So gay marriage immediately generates two potential sources of social problems; whereas, traditionally, the whole idea of marriage was to effect the exact opposite: that is, to unite a society and not divide it. As time goes on no doubt these issues will start to become more problematic.

    Finally, because of the controversy over gay marriage morally in regards to homosexuality but also the above mentioned ethical debate about generating actual blood offspring (which then means some heterosexual potential matches would be made forbidden, which might generate problems or tensions) we can anticipate pressure even to get government out of the business of marriage, which means many of the legal benefits associated with marriage would collapse and lead increasingly to a kind of marriage anarchy, which would threaten the recognition of marriage more generally (possibly affecting things like insurance, wills and inheritances). Our shortsightedness here may lead to even more serious divisions and conflicts in society in the days and generations to come.

    1. I should add that our considerations thus far can also be extended to the practice of divorce and remarriage. If divorce and remarriage becomes to chronic a practice, you increase the danger or chance that some such unions may not even end up generating children, which is probably fine if the pair is quite elderly and the children are all moved out; but you will have the problem of children and relatives who are legally in-laws being socially forbidden for marriage even if only just the chance remains that their parents might have a child together, which would at least be embarassing for all those involved. It could also create tension in cases where children are unlikely, because a potential match (even a homosexual one now with gay marriage) is still socially and possibly even legally forbidden.

      Again, all such problems create the very thing marriage is primarily meant, socially at least, to prevent and even turn around; namely, division and disunity in society and between peoples and families. Exactly so, if such issues proliferate, we can anticipate pressure to basically make marriage all but meaningless, with the consequence that the establishment of kinship be radically limited by marriage and even the danger of a large increase in traditionally incestuous unions, which would also generate health concerns on top of it all.

  24. Ed, what are your requirements for someone to repost your work within their own? Do you even permit it? Curious. I wanted to repost this in my own blog.

    1. Hey Charles

      You should be fine just quoting Ed's post in part or in full, and then either encapsulating the URL for it within something like "In a recent post . . ." at the top, or else just putting the link itself at the bottom, saying something like, "See the original post at: . . ." with the URL either pasted in or else embedded in the reference as mentioned above.

  25. Since most people in today's society do not follow a natural law approach to ethics, it would be difficult to persuade them that transgenderism is a problem. Since Utilitarianism is the most popular ethical theory in current society, I wonder if it might be possible to show the immorality in purely utilitarian terms. If good means the maximum happiness for the maximum number of people, then being transgendered could be very bad. Transgendered people have one of the highest suicide rates of any group. Obviously there is great unhappiness within the transgender community.

  26. I agree with Ben Shapiro, all of this, mental illness.

  27. When someone tells me that x is a social construct, I point out that 'social construct' is a social construct. So how does one know there's reality behind the concept? The answer from the extreme left seems to be that everything is a social construct. One can't get much more irrational or political than that.

    But even in fantasy-land there's a problem. Only groups can define social constructs. If “identificationism” is allowed to rule, then 'social' is deleted. Cultures no longer construct. Brutes construct. And we're back to square one.

    1. It's like Marx's materialistic dialectic: he taught that all social norms are a product of the capitalist system. But he was too poorly trained in logic to follow this to its conclusion: it meant that leftist radicalism and Communism per necessity were products of capitalism and hence perpetuated the status quo, which he pretended he was revolting against. Hundreds of millions died pointlessly from a simple application of logic to one man's ideas.

  28. Yes, the "Daughters of Lust." But that is no problem for a Catholic. Simply go to confession and you will automatically receive absolution. Yes, one can resolve to sin no more, but if one does well, one can always go to confession again. And again.

  29. A mouth has many uses, more than we think given the anthropological designation of the mouth as the "third hand". It can be used to effect to kiss, to signal, to speak, to eat, to drink, to sing. Like a hand, there is an unknown but vast number of uses a mouth can be put to. So how can the mouth be said to have any particular function under natural law? How can any function it might have be ruled out by said law?

    If a land animal, which possesses legs with the natural function of walking, goes swimming, those legs will naturally be repurposed into attempting to swim. Given enough amphibian evolution and the legs may become adapted solely for swimming and become useless for walking. But in the in-between state, how can the natural use of legs be said to be exclusively walking or swimming?

    So with sexuality. Sex has one purpose (reproduction) but it also has another (binding couples), and another (pleasure for pleasure's sake), and another (stress relief), and perhaps others yet to be defined. How do we know that homosexuality, for instance, is not merely an example of evolution whereby sexuality is in an "in-between" state like that of a half-leg, half-fin? How can we be scientifically certain of this, such to admit the social suppression and theological damnation of homosexuals?

    1. The natural law theory does not say that each part of the body has only one function. And Dr. Feser's In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument acknowledges exactly that. The paper also goes to length to observe that there is nothing wrong per se in using a faculty for some purpose other than its natural ends, or even refraining from using said faculty altogether; the problem is using it in a way which actively frustrates these ends.
      You try to get around this by suggesting that homosexuality could be consistent with at least some of these ends. Even if this is so,* you need more than that. You implicitly assume that the different functions are on a par and independent. In reality, we know that all of the other functions are finally subordinated to reproduction. This is why sex exists in the first place, and those other hypothetical functions would either serve no purpose, or would be coopted into other systems, if we did not reproduce sexually.

      * Your hypothetical fails.
      1. Sodomy doesn't promote well-being (a strike against 'stress relief'):
      2. Sex is pleasurable to encourage us to reproduce, and binds couples together so they will cooperate to raise their children.