Saturday, November 21, 2020

Tyranny of the sovereign individual

The individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole.  But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god.

Aristotle, Politics, Book I

At The American Conservative, Rod Dreher interviews theologian Carl Trueman about his new book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.  Trueman argues that the collapse of traditional sexual morality cannot be understood except as a consequence of a radically individualist conception of the self that has been working its way ever deeper into every nook and cranny of the Western mind through the course of the modern age – including the minds of many so-called conservatives.  Yet too few defenders of traditional sexual morality realize this.  Trueman says:

We assume that the sexual revolution was – is – about expanding the canon of acceptable sexual behavior.  It is not.  It is actually about a fundamental shift in how we understand our humanity.  Sex is now understood as central to identity, not simply an activity.  Unless we grasp that, we will see neither the depth of the problem we face nor be able to engage meaningfully with those who are the revolution’s victimsOur sexual ethics are directly related to our understanding of what it means to be a human person. 

End quote.  I haven’t yet read Trueman’s book, so I don’t know how he develops this point.  But the point itself is absolutely correct.  What follows is one way to elaborate upon it.

Actually, sex is identity

Here’s what everyone used to know about human nature.  It will sound like standard natural law boilerplate, but that’s because natural law systematizes and explains what once was common sense (and still is until people are indoctrinated out of it). 

Man is by nature a social animal, and sex is the fundamental way in which we are social animals.  For a human being is never just “a person.”  A human being is always either a man or a woman.  And men and women, like everything else in nature, each have a teleology – a purpose to which their nature directs them, the realization of which is necessary for their flourishing.  The purpose of a man is to be a father and husband, and the purpose of a woman is to be a mother and wife, with all that these roles entail.  Among other things, they entail having lots of children, and committing yourself for life to the family unit that results.  This unit is the cell from which larger social units are built, and the health of those larger units depends on the health of the cell, and thus on the commitment of men and women to fulfilling their roles as fathers and mothers, husbands and wives.

A man’s life’s work – his vocation or calling – reflects this social nature, and has a twofold purpose.  First and foremost, its point is to provide for his family; and secondly, it is to contribute to the needs of the larger community of which his family is a part (for example, as a butcher, a baker, a plumber, or whatever other role he is especially suited to).  In these ways, a man exists for the sake of others, and he does so no less than (as feminists complain) a wife and mother does on the traditional understanding of sex roles, even if the precise nature of his other-directed calling is different. 

Sexual desire pushes us out of ourselves, then, to bond with another human being, and with that human being to create new human beings and stick together for life for their sake and for each other’s sake.  And as families ally together to form larger social units, an entire political and economic order arises, which reflects the nature and needs of these families. 

Obviously, various qualifications and complications would enter into a complete account, but the point here is just to convey the general idea.  Yet even the exceptions reflect the rule.  Yes, some men forsake marriage and family for the priesthood.  But the priesthood is itself an essentially paternal role, raised to a higher, spiritual level.  Yes, some women never marry or have children.  But if this is for the sake of the religious life, it is to become a “bride of Christ,” and thereby to take on a spiritualized wifely role.  Whereas if it is a result of happenstance, the traditional attitude regarded such women as “old maids” – those who had, sadly, been unable to fulfill their main calling as women.

All of this is exactly what we should expect given basic biology.  Biologically speaking, the only reason there are two sexes in the first place is so that one of them will function as fathers and the other as mothers.  The paternal model of masculinity and maternal model of femininity aren’t contingent or arbitrary cultural accretions, but reflect the very point of there being men and women in the first place.

Now, Trueman notes that for modern people, sex is “understood as central to identity, not simply an activity.”  But that much is not modern.  That is precisely how people have always traditionally understood sex.  However, what it means to regard sex as central to identity has radically changed.  Traditionally, the idea was that your identity as either a man or a woman – with all that that entails regarding the sex role you should strive to fulfill, regarding what counts as normal sexual desires, what counts as the morally permissible use of your sexual faculties, and so on – is something that nature has determined.  If your desires happen not to line up with nature’s purposes, the problem is with you and not with nature.  Your identity is what nature says it is, not what you say it is.

That is, of course, the reverse of what modern people mean by understanding sex to be “central to identity” – which is Trueman’s point.  Sex is central to our identity, but it isn’t nature that determines that sexual identity, it is rather we who determine it.  For the traditional attitude, the aim is to conform our desires to nature and the will of its divine author.  For the moderns, the aim is to conform nature to our desires, and the divine author has nothing to say about the matter, if he exists at all. 

We are all Hobbesians now

Now, the deep reason why the modern liberal individualist conception of human beings rejects the traditional understanding of our natural teleology is that it rejects all natural teleology.  Its purest form is, perhaps, Hobbes’s account of the state of nature.  Hobbes held that in our natural condition, there is no fact of the matter about what we ought to desire, no ends toward which our nature directs us.  There are simply whatever desires we happen contingently to have, and none is better or worse than any other.  That is why the state of nature as he understands it is a condition of pure license that inevitably descends into a war of all against all (and thus why he takes his Leviathan state to be necessary to remedy this unhappy condition).

Of course, neither Hobbes nor the liberal tradition in general for most of the three centuries after his time pushed anything like the radical sexual liberationist agenda that has become so familiar in recent decades.  That agenda is simply too contrary to human nature for people to have taken it seriously for most of that time, or to try to implement even if it had occurred to them.  In order for it to become a realistic project – psychologically, politically, and practically speaking – the basic liberal individualist assumptions and their implications needed a long time thoroughly to permeate Western institutions, and the technological preconditions of making those implications practicable (such as the birth control pill, labor-saving devices that made it possible for women to work outside the home in large numbers, etc.) also needed to be realized. 

But the implications were indeed there from the beginning.  If there is nothing in our nature that directs us to any particular ends – if there are only whatever desires we happen contingently to have, and no fact of the matter about what desires we ought to have – then there is no particular identity that nature has given any of us.  Nature has not called us to be fathers rather than womanizers, mothers rather than career women, heterosexual rather than homosexual, etc. because nature doesn’t call us to be anything in particular.  What we are is whatever we happen to want to be.  We are sovereign over ourselves, subject to no demands other than those we choose to be subject to.

The implications are radically anti-social, at least as traditional morality and the natural law theory that systematizes it understand what it is to be “social.”  For the sovereign individual who is subject to no obligations he doesn’t consent to, that sex tends to produce children is morally incidental to it.  There is no natural obligation toward the children that result from one’s sexual activity, so that they might even be aborted if one wishes.  Nor is there any natural obligation to provide for the woman with whom one has sexual relations, so that she might be divorced, or never married in the first place, if one wishes.  In general, sexual and romantic relationships need not conform to any particular model, but may be fashioned and refashioned in whatever way sovereign individuals agree to.  Sex is no longer about getting out of one’s self and seeking union with others.  It is about using others as one means among many of gratifying the self.

Then there is work.  Work too, under the liberal individualist dispensation, is no longer seen as having a natural teleology – as a vocation by which one is meant to serve others, namely one’s family and the larger society.  That model has been replaced by the idea of the “career,” understood as a matter of self-expression and self-fulfillment – a way of making one’s mark in the world, of gaining its attention and adulation.  The degree to which one magnifies oneself by way of his career – in terms of the wealth, power, fame, or influence one attains – has become the new measure of success.  Hence, whereas on the traditional model, one succeeds as a man if he is able to provide for his family and contribute something of value to his community – something of which the vast majority of men are capable – on the liberal individualist “career” model of work, one has achieved “success” to the extent that one has attained wealth, power, fame, or influence. 

Since relatively few men are able to attain much in the way of wealth, power, fame, or influence, liberal individualist society is bound to create a kind of crisis of masculinity.  To fail to attain these things is to be seen as a “loser.”  Life becomes a mad careerist scramble to be one of the relative few who avoid this unhappy fate.  Men are naturally competitive, but whereas the older model of society moderated this competitiveness, the liberal individualist model exacerbates it.  And since relatively few are able to fulfill the careerist criteria of success, a sense of failure and aimlessness become the lot of an increasing number of men.

Feminism took this ugly, careerist model of masculinity and told women that they should aspire to it as well, and that into the bargain they should also ape the selfish sexual habits of liberal individualist man.  Thus has liberal individualism made of the human being an androgynous, appetitive thing that lives like an animal but worships itself like a god – thereby turning Aristotle’s “either-or” description of the non-social creature into a “both-and.” 

Though, as Trueman rightly says, it is really radical individualism rather than sexual desire per se that is the deep source of the sexual revolution and its ever more extreme manifestations, it is no accident that liberal individualist modernity has become absolutely obsessed with matters of sex, and with destroying all sexual boundaries and taboos.  For it is in our sexuality that the reality of natural teleology, and of our essentially social nature, are most striking and obvious.  Hence, for the sovereign individual to maintain the pretense that there are no norms in nature to which he is answerable nor obligations to others apart from those he consents to, he has to blind himself especially to the teleology of sex.

This, I submit, is the reason why liberals have become increasingly intolerant of any defense of the traditional understanding of the meaning of sex.  It is not because that understanding is obviously false, but rather precisely because it is obviously true.  It takes enormous psychological effort to convince oneself otherwise, so that, as the claims of sexual revolutionaries have gotten ever more extreme and preposterous, those claims have also been increasingly defended with a pseudo-moralistic fanaticism (in order to reinforce liberal self-confidence in the self-deception) and shrill intimidation (in order to convince others to go along with it).  And it helps that sexual depravity tends to damage the capacity to perceive objective truth or to want to perceive it.

Where Trueman goes wrong

Again, I haven’t yet read Trueman’s book, so I don’t know the extent to which he would elaborate his thesis the way I have.  I also don’t know how he might defend or qualify some of the remarks in the interview that seem to me mistaken.

For one thing, Trueman gives the impression that the shift to an individualist conception of human nature began with Romanticism.  As my remarks indicate, I think it goes back long before that – and not merely back to Hobbes, but to the rise of the early modern “mechanical world picture” that overthrew the teleological conception of the natural world.  Indeed, its deepest roots go back further still, to rise of nominalism in the later Middle Ages.  (These are, of course, themes I’ve been going on about for years.) 

Trueman also thinks that “moralism,” “martial rhetoric,” and the like are mistaken ways for Christians to approach the problem, and that they ought instead to focus on presenting a positive alternative.  Here, it seems to me, Trueman himself has perhaps partially bought into the liberal individualist narrative, just like some of the conservatives he rightly criticizes.  For the stereotype of the Christian who is always going on about sex is itself part of that narrative.  It serves the rhetorical function of painting opponents of the sexual revolution as obsessive prigs, by contrast to whom proponents of sexual liberation can be made to seem levelheaded and tolerant.

The reality is that, these days, the most prominent Christians and conservatives keep their mouths shut about matters of sexual morality, precisely out of fear of being accused of living up to the stereotype.  Indeed, even many who claim to agree with traditional sexual morality nevertheless acquiesce to the conceit that sexual sins are relatively minor and that it is better to talk about matters of social justice rather than sexual morality.  In fact, from the point of view of natural law and Catholic moral theology, a sound sexual morality is the very foundation of true social justice, because the health of the family is the necessary precondition of the larger social orders of which families are the cells.  (As a priest friend of mine once put it, if you want justice, work for chastity.)

Trueman is of course right that modern people do not respond well to moral critiques of their sexual habits and excessive individualism, but that is precisely part of the problem, rather than something to cater to.  The prophets of the Old Testament didn’t think to themselves: “Hmm, the rich don’t respond well to moralizing about their obligations to the poor.  Better to try gently to persuade them by developing a positive vision.”  Nor should they have, because to fail to label greed, callousness toward the needy, and the idolatry of money for what they are is not some alternative way to address the problem – it is simply to fail to address the problem.

Similarly, with millions of children murdered in the womb, millions more left fatherless and consigned to poverty, millions of woman left unmarried and lonely after the men who use them have moved on to marry someone younger, millions of men addicted to pornography – to fail to put forward vigorous moral criticism of all this is simply to fail to tell the truth about it.  And to pander to the modern individualist self by refusing to level moral rebuke is precisely to reinforce it in its idolatrous self-regard rather than to help free it. 

Idolatry is, indeed, the deep problem here – and idolatry of an especially diabolical kind.  The pagan who worshipped Zeus or Odin at least aimed his devotion at something higher than himself, even if not at the true God.  By contrast, the modern self worships nothing nobler than the pathetic bundle of disordered desire it sees in the mirror.  It is like Lucifer, refusing to submit to any external authority and wanting to put itself on the divine throne.  The last thing it needs or deserves is pandering to its intense dislike of being criticized for the way it exercises its “right to choose.”

To be fair to Trueman, there are certainly unsubtle and shallow ways of moralizing about these matters.  But what is needed is a deeper and more intelligent moral critique, not a non-moral one.  Moreover, even the spelling out of a positive vision is going to entail such a moral critique by implication.  For no matter how pretty you paint the alternative picture, the individualist self is going to regard it as at most one further option it may or may not choose, as it sees fit.  If the individualist self asks: “That’s all very nice, but why must I choose it?” there is no way to answer other than frankly to affirm that to fail to do so is to remain lost in idolatrous self-regard and disordered desire. 

It is also only fair to Trueman to note that what I am responding to are some brief comments in an interview, which perhaps do not fully convey his meaning.  It may be that he would not disagree with anything I’ve said here.  I look forward to reading his book and finding out.

Further reading:

Love and sex roundup

Socialism versus the family

Continetti on post-liberal conservatism

Liberty, equality, fraternity?

Masculinity and the Marvel movies

118 comments:

  1. Thanks for the article Dr. Feser!
    While you condemn the idea of a "positive" approach, the idea that manhood and womanhood are both directed towards one's identity as "father" or "mother" was very helpful, even personally.

    As a student at a high-performing college, I am surrounded on all sides by the twin giants of careerism and promiscuity. I have not seen the "moralist" approach (Old Testament-style) as being particularly fruitful in my own experience. In answer to the question of "That's all very nice, but why must I chose it" I would hope mine is one not of words but of actions.

    Essentially, I think the "positive" approach may have more merit than you give it credence. At the same time however, I recognize that you have fought this battle far longer than I have. Do you have any examples of when a conversation on modernism and individualism has played out on a personal level?

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    1. Hi dkelley, just to be clear, I'm not at all condemning a positive approach. On the contrary, I agree that that's necessary. I'm merely arguing that it is a mistake to think that we shouldn't moralize about these matters. We have a duty to bear witness to the truth, whether or not anyone wants to listen. And I've acknowledged that there are better and worse ways of doing that.

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  2. "Thus has liberal individualism made of the human being an androgynous, appetitive thing that lives like an animal but worships itself like a god – thereby turning Aristotle’s “either-or” description of the non-social creature into a “both-and.” 

    Dammit Feser I just like the way you write. It hits the spot.

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  3. It's hard to feel part of a whole when that whole seems to largely consist of people who are intent on shouting that the color blue is actually the color yellow in so many ways and areas - this includes most real conservatives, not just "conservatives" - and who won't even listen to any suggestion that blue is actually blue.

    I suppose one could listen to Plato and his ideas on the two noble lies, one of them being that the people of a political entity should be made to believe that they are, in a sense, brothers. But how do I make myself believe the lie?

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  4. Great article, Dr.Feser. As you mentioned, our society's deeply mechanistic and anti-teleological grooves make it hard to discuss such issues as sex and family roles. Do you have any good resources that can help one defend objective teleology and convince others that it exists?

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    1. Good question. It depends on how philosophically adept the person you're arguing with is, and how many bullets he is willing to bite. With some people, you might approach it by noting the ways in which they already themselves presuppose a teleological conception of nature in other contexts (e.g. if they are inclined to advocate "organic" living, suspicious of the modern world's disenchantment of nature, etc.). With others, you may have to force them to see that if they are consistent, they will have to adopt a radically eliminativist position that denies the intentionality of thought, the semantic content of language, the rationality of human action, etc. -- and then show that such a position is incoherent and that the teleology they want to avoid inevitably always pops up somewhere, like the proverbial whack-a-mole.

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    2. Matthew Minerd's new translation of Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Order of Things: The Realism of the Principle of Finality (Emmaus Academic, 2020) could be helpful here.

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    3. Professor Feser,

      How do you deal with people who will call you a Neo-Nazi if you advocate for the traditional natural law position on (say) pornography censorship or same-sex unions? I doubt that the intellectual approach will convince them or anyone else.

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    4. Bryan Cross, are you blogging again?

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    5. A simple way to demonstrate the reality of teleology is to point out that biology is always looking for the purpose or function of body parts, cellular components, certain animal and human behaviors, etc. We always hear scientists saying things like "the purpose of eyebrows is to keep sweat from getting into your eyes. the purpose of kidneys is to clean and filter the blood, the purpose of a bear's hibernation is to keep it alive during a period when food is very difficult to find. The purpose of a beaver dam is to control the water level in a pond so the beaver's home is easier to construct and access.

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  5. I wonder if Ed thinks much progress can me made in his lifetime. Im 28 and its common amongst conservatives to stress how much work is to be done to challenge current thinking. But, times seem to change so quickly with social media and i see a portion in all age groups that have resisted much of the current thinking with regards to sex in a kind of rebellious way - traditional ways of looking at dating, family life etc are becoming edgy. I think this intuitive reaction can be given real strength when more classical conservatives put an explicit, thorough account for why current liberalism (at least) should be rejected and the positive case for its replacement.

    I'm under no illusion a change will take centuries. But I think we underestimate how much change can happen in so little time.

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    1. Callus, you sound like my kind of guy. You might be interested in my book The Sexual State, which is my analysis of the Sexual Revolution. https://thesexualstate.com/

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    2. I'm the same age as you, and I'd be cautiously -- very cautiously -- optimistic. As you say, social media means that big swings in public opinion can happen much more quickly than in previous eras, so if a sufficiently large backlash occurs against liberal individualism, society might end up re-embracing tradition much sooner than we might expect. The main caveat is that this will probably require some kind of great social crisis, enough to expose the flaws of liberalism in such a way that it's no longer possible for the majority of people to ignore them. In other words, things are probably going to have to get a lot worse before they start getting better.

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    3. Another thing to consider when we talk about change is if the individualist view also do not has a material/political/economical/whatever support.

      I mean, social bodies like the extended family, the church, clubs etc have way less presence on the average person life today that in most of human existance. Do you need anything you can't do on your own? Either pay someone to do it or go to the State. The normal interactions you have, would be with your circle of friends and close family, people you meet thanks to the market(on your work or when you want a thing or service) or a bunch of unknown people you see while you pass through the streets.

      On top of that, we have modern technology that gives us a lot of control of nature, some think of it as someday making us "gods". Another thing it creates is internet and social media, where you see only what you want, talk only with who you want and every interaction with people is normally with a bunch of text or videos, not some flesh and bone person in front of you.

      Our political organization also does not help. We live in places where a lot of people disagree with us in about almost everything, the only uniting thing is geography, and where who is "right" its the one who can convince more people.

      I can be exagerating a lot, but i don't think bad philosophy could change things so much if the average person where not a bit prepared by the social organization to embrace it.

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  6. Notice how Locke's Natural Man is described as full-grown and completely unaffiliated with anyone else.

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  7. “. . . on the liberal individualist “career” model of work, one has achieved “success” to the extent that one has attained wealth, power, fame, or influence.”

    It’s always seemed odd to me that feminists have this vision of men having all the power and freedom and women all the boredom and drudgery, when most men have spent their lives digging ditches, or pounding rivets into bridges, or getting shot at, or running from tigers.

    Now, there is some truth to the retort that men have had opportunities that women haven’t. But even in this case they act as if men have not faced the pain of tradeoffs (e.g. family vs. career); that anything that impedes the pursuit of career, power, etc. is an obstacle to be overcome; and that women should not face the same tradeoffs.

    “The feminists said, ‘I will not be dictated to!’, then they went and got jobs as secretaries.” G.K. Chesterton

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    1. It’s always seemed odd to me that feminists have this vision of men having all the power and freedom and women all the boredom and drudgery, when most men have spent their lives digging ditches, or pounding rivets into bridges, or getting shot at, or running from tigers.

      I suspect it's not a coincidence that feminism originated amongst the upper and upper-middle classes. It's much easier to feel aggrieved about staying at home while your father or husband works to support you if that work is physically untaxing and brings a good level of wealth and status than if the work involved hard, poorly-paid manual labour.

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    2. "It's much easier to feel aggrieved about staying at home while your father or husband works to support you if that work is physically untaxing and brings a good level of wealth and status than if the work involved hard, poorly-paid manual labour."

      Overall many husbands will be stronger physically than their wives and therefore more suited to physical labour, if that is the way the family is going to earn money and the contribution their family is going to make to their community. Natural law doesn't actually provide the justification for traditional family roles. We can rightly argue that our human nature entails that we care for our family and contribute to our community. In terms of male and female there will be differences in those contributions due to our physical differences. ie it's women who bear children and breast feed, and often men are physically stronger (but not always). It's not correct to assume that the main frustration of women is that we are excluded from gaining our own success, wealth etc. Have you considered that women are frustrated by having their God given talents denied and their calling to contribute to their community in ways that are congruent with the way God has created them constrained by contingent cultural structures. Men too, as you have touched on, are frustrated and harmed by their contribution to caring for the family being constrained by cultural norms. The fact is that limiting the ways that women and men care for their families and contribute to their community harms both them and the community as a whole. God gives gifts and talents for a reason, to glorify him and to build healthy communities. Work and societal structures that limit and frustrate our natural ends are evil. Obviously we have to work within the circumstances we find oursleves in, but we should not be accepting those structures, and definately not justifying them.

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    3. Thank you. Dismissing women’s paid work as some kind of Satanic plot is not going to attract many women to Christianity.

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    4. Gaius,
      I suspect it's not a coincidence that feminism originated amongst the upper and upper-middle classes. It's much easier to feel aggrieved about staying at home while your father or husband works to support you if that work is physically untaxing and brings a good level of wealth and status than if the work involved hard, poorly-paid manual labour.

      Not to mention that sizable percentage of lower-class women have always worked for outside-the-home income. Digging ditches has rarely provided the level of income most people desire for a family, so the wives would work as maids, barkeeps, etc.

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    5. Karen, for the edification of those of us who lack your amazing powers of interpretation, precisely who on this thread said, suggested, implied, or otherwise intimated that they were "dismissing women's paid work as some kind of Satanic plot?

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    6. Gaius,

      Nowadays one can command instant obedience by prefacing even the most absurd claims with “Natural Selection has made it so that . . .”. But merely suggest that millions of years of hunting, and gathering, and warring, and conquering has given males and females different preferences (and don’t ever call it teleology for crying out loud!), and you will quickly pay for your sacrilege (just ask James Damore).

      Now, I’m not saying that physical traits create hard categories of behavior, but merely that preferences are not unmoored from biology.

      Sorry, trigger warning.

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    7. T N,

      Acknowledging, of course, that unless prevented from doing so by the local culture, some of the women chose to hunt, and some of the men chose to gather.

      Sorry, trigger warning.

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    8. Such acknowledgement is implicit in what he read.

      Sorry, trigger warning.

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    9. Anonymous,

      Based on my understanding of T N's position on the biological innateness of preferences, I don't think it was. I'm glad you recognize it, though.

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    10. Is his 2nd paragraph not visible in on your computer? Perhaps refreshing the browser might help.

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    11. Anonymous,

      I do indeed see the second paragraph, which draws a distinction between behavior and preferences (a distinction I agree with), but still had preferences moored to biological sex. What about my response indicates otherwise?

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  8. A good and thought provoking article, Prof Feser. I appreciate how well you articulate the issue.

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  9. Great article Ed! You’re singing my song!

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    1. Jenny! I was just thinking of sending you a link to this. You're reading my mind.

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  10. Great post!

    John Paul II wrote the antidote: The Theology of the Body. The language of love, self-donation, is the cure for sexual license and the root of true freedom “fully revealing man to himself”.

    Some examples of people today waking up to the cultural lies about sex:

    Debra Soh, The End of Gender. Soh is an academic sexologist (yes, they do exist) who was excommunicated from the Church of Woke and had her career canceled for realizing that sex and gender are rooted in biology (GASP!).

    Abigail Shrier, Irreversible Damage. Shrier is an investigative journalist who chronicles the damage done by the current rush to affirm the self-diagnosis of every teenage girl who thinks they want to be male.

    Hopefully the list of apostates will continue to increase rapidly; there are countless teenage girls whose wellbeing depends on it.

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  11. Similar arguments are made with respect to taste and beauty.

    Beauty is a matter of objective fact. Taste is a reflection of one’s subjective disposition towards beauty. A person can have, as a matter of fact, vulgar tastes or refined tastes, depraved tastes or healthy tastes. No doubt the relegation of beauty to the subjective, therefore making it a matter of sovereign taste, has the same origins, or at least finds fertile ground and a dependable co-conspirator in liberalism. Beauty is, after all, is desirable.

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    1. Serious question - what constitutes the 'objectively beautiful' and how have you settled upon this list of criteria?

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    2. The more perfectly something realizes its nature, its end, the more perfect and good and therefore the more beautiful it is. This is why disproportionality, deficiency and deformity are said to be ugly. Indeed, you could not judge whether something is defective without recourse to the “ought” given to us by the end of a thing (otherwise, what is an illness?; in a mechanistic universe, it would have no objective reality). In the case of artifacts, human ends are a measure of their perfection and a way by which an artifact’s beauty is judged. However, the aesthetics of artifacts is a complex subject (something Feser has written about before: https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-metaphysics-and-aesthetics-of.html).

      (We may also speak of some kind of thing being more beautiful than another kind in terms of its proximity to the Highest Good. Thus human nature is more beautiful than the nature of earthworms even if we can say that a particular earthworm is perfect as earthworm and thus beautiful as earthworm and a particular human being is ugly as human being. One might say that human nature more fully expresses the divine nature than the nature of earthworms.)

      Needless to say, like desire, aesthetic judgements are incomprehensible in a mechanistic universe.

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    3. Correction: One might say that human nature more fully expresses the divine nature than the nature of earthworms does.

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    4. Each man experiences beauty in various ways in the world - in a seascape sunset arrayed in a palette of pastels, in a star-studded sky above a mountain range, etc. I use examples from nature to establish a point: few would deny that these are experienced as beautiful to them. And if so many - across different ages, backgrounds, and cultures, experience the same things AS beautiful, arguably there is something natural in saying those scenes are beautiful. On what criteria? Commonality: words acquire their meaning by being used the same way by everyone, and this "being used the same way" we think typically points to something real that underlies our common usage. (Nominalists and Humeans need not apply, I am not engaging these errors here.)

      In humans, there can easily be a very wide range of "the beautiful" without endangering this approach, and leaving in place at least some definite boundaries: a person who is physically damaged by injury or disease is, on that account, less physically beautiful, (though they may be beautiful in spirit and character, which can easily overwhelm any importance of the physical lack). Persons who are so overweight as to seriously limit their physical capacity to act, or so underweight, are physically unhealthy and are also physically less beautiful on account of the defect. These are objective causes of lack of wholeness, and we should not be surprised to find in them objective grounds for lesser degrees of (physical) beauty.

      There are also objective criteria for beauty of spirit and character, but that gets into morality and theology.

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    5. I would also like to throw a question into the ring for others to chew over - can there beauty which is unpleasant? A dung beetle rolling a ball of dung is surely unpleasant, but in its own way it has a kind of beauty, showing the perfection of God's design and demonstrating that even the smallest and most loathsome things have a vital purpose in life. I suppose there must be such a thing, otherwise we could not speak of such things as a "terrible beauty" or "hauntingly beautiful".

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  12. [i]Among other things, they entail having lots of children[/i]

    But the inevitable consequence of everyone following this edict is that there will come a time when the limited resources of the planet can't support it. This is just common sense.

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    1. If one can supply the common sense that unmitigated procreation would cause problems, perhaps it isn't too much of a stretch on Ed's part to hope that one could also apply the common sense qualifications to what he said.

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    2. Exactly, ccmnxc. People have in the past demonstrated the capacity to choose to limit family size.

      In support of Median Joe's bare comment (and not its tenor) and contrary to the anti-Malthusian comments below, I would point out that if every pair of parents (i.e. 2 people, a mother and father) had 4 children who all lived to reproduce similarly, it would take less than 80 generations for the mass of human bodies to encompass all of the mass of the solar system: forget "resources" like food, clothing, etc - I am talking about every molecule in the solar system, including the matter of the sun, residing in a human body.

      Of course, people don't reproduce like that without constraint. And nothing Feser said should be taken to suggest that parents should not reproduce responsibly.

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    3. So, what counts as 'common sense', then? If neither myself nor my wife want to have kids (for whatever reason), should we still have them because it's our duty? Seriously?

      If that means a bunch of people tell me I'm not fulfilling my purpose as man, well, I can live with that.

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    4. If that means a bunch of people tell me I'm not fulfilling my purpose as man, well, I can live with that.

      No, the point of Feser's argument is the rejoinder that of a bunch of people informing you that you won't be happy living contrary to your nature.

      But there is no absolute necessity for a married couple to have kids in order to fulfill human nature, and "not having kids" is not directly contrary to human nature. As Feser points out, part of the reason for our sexual basis is to get us OUT of ourselves and loving others. A married couple can, therefore, also fulfill human nature by, for example, dedicating themselves to the good of other children than their own, say saving children from illness, or from slavery, or from being captured by the porn industry. This would be a less direct method of satisfying nature, but could still work. I know a couple who, unable to have kids, dedicated themselves to educating children and spent 60 years at it, very successfully. I think that as the world fills up, more and more couples will quite reasonably choose to devote themselves to the improvement of children and families around them (such their own extended family) rather than to bearing and raising children themselves. But such cannot be the primary means of satisfying our sexual nature, for then the race would die out.

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    5. So, what counts as 'common sense', then?

      The particular thing I had in mind was simply that one *can and should* regulate the number of children they have w/r/t the ability of the family and broader community to support them. Or to put it another way, one can very sensibly interpret "having lots of children" in a way that doesn't equate to "having an overwhelming number of children with respect to necessary resources and parental care."

      If neither myself nor my wife want to have kids (for whatever reason), should we still have them because it's our duty? Seriously?

      That would pretty well depend on the reason; there are some legitimate reasons, under natural law, that one cannot or should not have children (or more children). These should not be seen as invalidating the norm, however, that manhood and womanhood are directed, as such, to the bringing about and raising of children.

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  13. MedianJoe

    Yes , it is insane isn't it, not even a nod to the circumstances in which prospective parents find themselves, and so the suitability of them having any - let alone 'lots of' children. And what counts as 'lots of' anyhow? Feser has six apparantly, but that's not many really - why hasn't he lots more to further know and glorrify his deity?

    Any permissible reliable 'family planning' that does go on in Feser's fantasy land will be via abstenance, with no masterbation allowed for the duration, which absolutely guarantees endless children born into dire economic circumstance. This is all quite insane and should be rejected in favour of proper contraceptive bases family planning, with a family size dictated by personal desire and material circumstances. And oh yes, masterbare uninhibitedly ( in private of course ) when needed!

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    1. Sigh... The same old, tired Malthusianism always seems to rear its head ad nauseam. We are always in danger of overpopulation (i.e., "The Population Bomb" of the 1970s), and it never materializes. If anything, depopulation is a much greater threat to the material well-being of most societies today.
      Also, this objection begs the question that personal satisfaction in sexual relations is the prime or only consideration and that sexual self-restraint is impossible.
      Finally, there is a straw man here in claiming that the natural law ethic demands a constant production of children regardless of circumstances. This is a caricature of the position (which, again, involves self-restraint and self-regulation in sexual matters, among others).

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    2. Robert,

      Malthusianism . . . yes. In 1930, one farmer could feed 4 people. Today, one farmer can feed over 100 people. We now produce far more from far fewer resources. The amount of land returning to nature that is not required to produce food has rapidly increased. Dense energy sourses have produced marvels like plastic (yes plastic) that has saved natural resources such as elephants (for ivory) and turtles (for their shells). The population has increased rapidly due to life expentancy and will top off about 10 billion.

      But, the Malthusians are still hard at it even though their doomsday projections are consistently wrong--and obviously so. Like fundamentalist preachers of hell fire, they never stop predicting the end of the world.

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    3. To be fair, the sustainability of modern corporate agribusiness and its extensive farming methods are hotly debated. Arguably it is terrible for the soil, which might have a devastating effect on long-term sustainability.

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    4. That said, intensive agriculture and horticulture have come on leaps and bounds as well, as I should know. Their yields can be amazing. It is just that this is not what the uninformed generally mean when they boast about modern farming. Intensive methods, such as biodynamic farming or agriculture as horticulture, actually yield more per acre on average than the usual methods of corporate agribusiness and use less resources. Intensive farming is more labor intensive though. The irony is that if the advocates of intensive agriculture are correct, we may have need farmers and farm laborers in the future, not less.

      So I agree the doomsayers are wrong, but just not for quiet the same reasons.

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    5. John Seymour,

      All I said was that we produce more from less, which is quite clearly true. If anyone wants to argue that none of our advancements are sustainable in any way, and that any progress we've made will vanish (not saying that's what you're saying), has a difficult burden.

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    6. Ask China how that worked out.

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    7. There certainly is a difference between industrialization and deindustrialization.

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  14. Apologies for the many typos in above - big fingers, cold weather, small iphone keys!

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    1. I can wish that Feser expressed himself differently, and JPII himself was extremely outspoken for the need of parents to act responsibly in procreating.

      That said, there is a sense in which Feser's comment is quite right: in the simple, unqualified aspect, a married couple's natural desire should be toward fecundity. Good is, per se, effusive, it yearns toward increasing and multiplying goodness, so that others can enjoy goodness. Parents, before we take into account limitations on resources, should have a natural inclination toward an effusion of the goodness of reproducing in the world. This primary "setting" on the nature of marital love is then constrained by circumstances, so that the reasoning parents employ that effusiveness with care and consideration for the whole of society.

      Any permissible reliable 'family planning' that does go on in Feser's fantasy land will be via abstenance, with no masterbation allowed for the duration, which absolutely guarantees endless children born into dire economic circumstance.

      I am sorry, but factual reality disproves this wild claim. Throughout history, the is ample evidence of people successfully limiting family size to account for resources, before effective contraceptives were available. And in times when masturbation was universally viewed as perverse and pollutive. The view you state comes from a culture that has already rejected a traditional understanding of sexual norms, and as a result views abstinence as inhumanly difficult. Prior societies did not view it as inhumanly difficult.

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  15. Another problem with this is that there appear to be cases in which a physically female individual has a male identity, not because this individual chooses to identify as a male, but because that person's "nature" is such that she identifies herself as male.

    I said "appear to be" because this may not be rock solid proof of this, but the point is, there is no rock solid proof that it isn't true either, and until such proof exists, I think it is premature to simply declare that "sex is identity".

    "Among other things, they entail having lots of children". If that's true, the exceptions do not reflect the rule. A man choosing to forsake marriage and family (for whatever reason) may in some way still have a paternal role, but he obviously does not have (lots of) children. So it is not true that the purpose of a man being husband and father entails having children, because you can apparently be a kind of husband and father (e.g. by being a priest) without having any children.
    In a homosexual relation, one man may take the male role and the other the female role, thus taking the "role of a husband and father" or of "a wife and mother".

    In short if sex truly is identity, then it follows from a consistent application of Natural law, that a man's purpose is to procreate and choosing not to (for whatever reasons) would be morally wrong.

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    1. Sigh. Why do people bother with making objections that misunderstand basic parts of Natural Law theory.

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    2. Do you mean a consistent application of Natural Law Theory or an ad hoc version of it that conveniently matches y our own preconceptions?

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    3. Define what you mean by consistent. You clearly mistake key aspects. This is why you start talking about priests. Natural Law does not suggest we have to use our faculties, just not subvert them. How are celibates doing that?

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    4. I don't "start talking about priests". Feser starts talking about them.
      Feser claims that the role of being a father and a husband entails having (lots of) children. A consistent application of that aspect of Natural Law would mean that somebody who chooses not to have children (for whatever reasons) is not fulfilling his purpose, which, according to (Feser's version of) Natural Law Theory is "to be a father and husband".

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    5. @Walter Van den Acker:

      "Feser claims that the role of being a father and a husband entails having (lots of) children."

      (Faithful) priests have lots of children: spiritual children.

      Your objection would have *some* bite (some, because it would still not entail what you think it does, as Anonymous intimates) if man's ultimate end was purely natural, that is, there was no supernatural end. This is the part where Feser says "Obviously, various qualifications and complications would enter into a complete account, but the point here is just to convey the general idea."

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    6. grodrigues

      If you allow for that reasoning, Feser's whole argument collapses, because, obviously, anyone can have lots of spiritual children. I have two natural children, but also lots of spiritual children, and , more importantly, having spiritual children or not is not related to
      being a man or a woman.
      Remember, we are talking about Natural Law here, not about Supernatural Law. Supernatural ends, if they exist, should not contradict Natural ones, because otherwise Natural Law theory doesn't make any sense.
      You just cannot say that Natural Law says you should be a husband and a father, while at the same time claiming there is some kind of Supernatural law that allows for an exception to that rule. If that were the case, anything would go, depending on what kind of Supernatural Law you choose to believe.
      Why could there not be a "Supernatural" Law that says people can have homosexual relations, e.g.?

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    7. @Walter Van den Acker:

      "If you allow for that reasoning, Feser's whole argument collapses, because, obviously, anyone can have lots of spiritual children."

      Don't be silly, spiritual children means a specific thing in Catholic tradition: priests have *always* been viewed as spiritual *fathers* and as fathering children in Christ.

      At any rate, my point was somewhat tongue in check since as a matter of undisputed fact, faithful priests do sire many spiritual children and even sometimes act as surrogate fathers the way an adoptive father would.

      "You just cannot say that Natural Law says you should be a husband and a father, while at the same time claiming there is some kind of Supernatural law that allows for an exception to that rule."

      The supernatural life does not contradict the natural life but perfects it, obviously so, since our ultimate end is the beatific vision and God. All other ends, including the natural end of fathering natural children is ordered to that end. It is not an "exception" neither does the "should" in there entails a "must". It is the normal course in the natural life of man; any "deviations" from it must be justified as achieving some end, as worthy or even worthier than the vocation of husband and father, and the vocation of spiritual father certainly meets that criteria.

      Maybe you are not in the least persuaded by what I said, but then again, neither does your argument have any force for those on my side for the reasons I stated. Whatever I could add is covered by: "Obviously, various qualifications and complications would enter into a complete account, but the point here is just to convey the general idea."

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    8. Grodrigues

      I don't care what exactly spiritual children means in Catholic tradition, because it is not just about priests but about everybody who, for whatever reasons, chooses celibacy. The point is that, in order to have spiritual children, it doesn't matter whether one is a man or a woman, so Feser's argument, which starts from the fact that one has male (or female) sexual organs and is therefore a man or a woman and goes from there to the claim that the purpose of being a man is to be a husband and a father, which entails (lots of) children, is clearly talking about biological children. There simply is no room in that argument for "worthier" ends than the vocation of husband and father.
      Feser's argument as it stands is simply a logical mess. And it shouldn't persuade anybody who hasn't already chosen sides, in fact, it shouldn't persuade anybody.

      It doesn't matter whether my analysis has any force for those on your side, because I have no intention of persuading you or anyone else who has already chosen sides. But for those who haven't, just look beyond Feser's eloquence and try to figure out for yourselves whether Feser's logic makes any sense.

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    9. Walter Van den Acker:

      "It doesn't matter whether my analysis has any force for those on your side, because I have no intention of persuading you or anyone else who has already chosen sides."

      Ah my bad then, as I thought the argument, being made out in the open in a public forum, was *also* directed to those who think natural law theory is essentially right. Apologies for the intrusion.

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    10. Feser claims that the role of being a father and a husband entails having (lots of) children. A consistent application of that aspect of Natural Law would mean that somebody who chooses not to have children (for whatever reasons) is not fulfilling his purpose

      Please explain the inference here. It isn't apparent. Natural Law entails that the marital love be always open to children. It doesn't entail anyone has to get married or have sex.

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    11. I should point out that Christ says there are three types of eunuchs: Those born so, those made so by human action, and those who have made themselves so for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. You are aware that chaste celibacy has always been regarded as an acceptable path for a Catholic to choose, even if not consecrated? The caveat would probably be that such should be the result of a positive choice to sacrifice something for God, not a merely selfish reason. The natural law may be one thing, but the Law of God supplements and supercedes it.

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    12. Anonymous

      I am working from Feser's argument here. And his argument says that

      1 a human being is never just “a person.” A human being is always either a man or a woman.

      (Now let's concentrate on 'a man' here)

      2 A man has a teleology or purpose which is necessary for his flourishing

      3 This purpose of a man is to be a husband and a father

      4 Being a husband and father entails having (lots of) children

      Conclusion: every man should marry and have lots of children.

      There is no room here for the conclusion that some men may choose another path.
      Maybe there are versions of Natural Law Theory that allow for another conclusion, but Feser's version (at least the one he presents here)is logically invalid if he wants to make room for celibacy.

      Cantus

      Yes I am aware that chaste celibacy has always been regarded as an acceptable path for a Catholic to choose, even if not consecrated, and that's exactly why Feser's argument here is a logical mess.
      The way Feser presents his argument leaves no room for anything to supersede it.
      It would be like saying that creating a square circle is logically impossible, but nevertheless god can do it.

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    13. Grodrigues

      My argument, made on a open forum, is directed to anyone who wants to read it, but it's my experience that it is virtually impossible to persuade somebody who has already chosen sides.
      And, for the record, this also holds for 'my' side.

      But, who knows, there might be exceptions.

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    14. @Walter Van sen Acker

      I think that what you are missing is that a person is not definited only by his sexuality, there are other natural ends that we have to put on the balance too to see what we must do on our own situation.

      Think of it like that: our eyes are made to see, it is good that they see and we should make sure they continue to see. But they are parts of a whole(us) and this seeing function of they is directed to the good of the whole, so if the seeing disrupts the whole it is not REALLY doing what it is suposed to do.

      This is why the eyes are good but if you got some sort of extreme eye cancer or something that can kill you, get rid of they. Same thing with sex, you usually have to be a father, but if you having lots of babies will suck a lot to everyone involved, them you should not do it. You can make something similar with celibacy: you will not have sex because by doing that you will get something better to the whole, so the sex is actually helping more by being not utilized.

      I don't think Ed would disagree with this. Could he just have writed a mess and ended up saying something he do not agree with? Maybe, i don't care enough to reread the text to find out.

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    15. Walter, your rendition is a strawman of the Natural Law position. It's more fine-gained than that. It says that if the sexual faculties are used, they should be so according to their end and shouldn't subvert this end. Being a father and husband isn't the same thing. It will contribute to most men's happiness, but there are other ways for a man to flourish. There's no discrete faculty involved though that is subverted by not being a husband or father.

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    16. Anonymous

      It's not my rendition. Every premise in what I wrote is taken directly from Feser.
      The point is that if Feser's claim that being a husband and a father is a teleology that is necessary for a man's flourishing (Feser's own words) it doesn't matter which other ways can contribute to a man's flourishing, because they can only do so if the necessary component in man's teleology is present.

      I think that also answers your objection, Talmid.

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    17. You can take the words from Feser and still construct a strawman from them, as you have here. You should also read his current remarks in terms of his entire body of work in there is anything unclear to you.

      Feser writes this in the current article:

      "Obviously, various qualifications and complications would enter into a complete account, but the point here is just to convey the general idea. Yet even the exceptions reflect the rule. Yes, some men forsake marriage and family for the priesthood. But the priesthood is itself an essentially paternal role, raised to a higher, spiritual level. Yes, some women never marry or have children. But if this is for the sake of the religious life, it is to become a “bride of Christ,” and thereby to take on a spiritualized wifely role. Whereas if it is a result of happenstance, the traditional attitude regarded such women as “old maids” – those who had, sadly, been unable to fulfill their main calling as women."

      In context, including the context of what else he written, it is clear he thinks the more discrete faculties make up and lead to the larger social roles, like father and son. But there is a difference here. Being a father is not a discrete faculty like our sexual organs and functions are. Not being a father doesn't subvert sexual faculties as sodomy does. If what you said was correct, then not using our sexual organs whenever possible would be wrong. There isn't necessarily a duty to use a faculty, though we should use it according to its ends if we do use it, or at least not against them. A priest does not subvert his sexual faculties, so he can be a spiritual rather than bodily father. Those using artificial contraception or homosexuals do subvert them, so they can appeal to higher ends.

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    18. Anonymous

      I don't care about assertions. If you think I built a straw man, then argue for it.

      Until you do, I have nothing more to say.

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    19. I literally did, at length, even quoting Feser.

      Should have gone to Specsavers?

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    20. @Walter Van den Acker

      Oh, you are only attacking Feser writing on this specific blogpost, not natural law in general. Them it is okay.

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    21. Talmid

      I think Feser's writing on this blogpost demonstrates a fundamental flaw in Natural Law Theory.

      Anonymous

      I don't care what Feser claims, but my argument shows he does not understand the implications of his claims.
      So if you want to refute me, you'll have to show why my argument is invalid.
      If what I say implies that using our sexual organs whenever possible would be wrong, then this simply shows the absurdity of taking Feser's radical approach to Natural Law, which is the very point I have been making.

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    22. Your argument is about Feser's claims. You even constructed a strawman based on snippets of this article.

      No, Feser's traditional approach to Natural Law does not imply that as Feser recognizes that being a father and husband does not name discrete faculties as our sexual faculties do. This is what leads you into this absurd position. What Feser seems to be saying is there is something in our social and psychological make-up that is geared to expressing the sorts of roles involved in being a father and husband. This is different to the specificity of our sexual faculties, which don't need to be used, but if they are have a specific end. The social and psychological father-ness and husband-ness have a somewhat wider domain in which they can be satisfied, such as a spiritual father.

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    23. Anonymous

      My argument is about the logical implication of Feser's claims and nothing you have said actually addresses anything relevant to my argument.

      Delete
  16. This is a grand slam.

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  17. Hence, for the sovereign individual to maintain the pretense that there are no norms in nature to which he is answerable nor obligations to others apart from those he consents to, he has to blind himself especially to the teleology of sex.

    This, I submit, is the reason why liberals have become increasingly intolerant of any defense of the traditional understanding of the meaning of sex. It is not because that understanding is obviously false, but rather precisely because it is obviously true. It takes enormous psychological effort to convince oneself otherwise, so that, as the claims of sexual revolutionaries have gotten ever more extreme and preposterous, those claims have also been increasingly defended with a pseudo-moralistic fanaticism (in order to reinforce liberal self-confidence in the self-deception) and shrill intimidation (in order to convince others to go along with it).


    I think this has never been more true with the current abomination of transgenderism and the mutilation of young children. The level of self deception required to maintain this clear case of child abuse has reached into our psychological, medical, and scientific institutions, even to the point that biologists are under attack for making the common sense claims that there is such a thing as biological sex.

    Interestingly enough, the Ben Shapiro show hosted Abigail Shrier today on his Sunday special.

    Abigail Shrier | The Ben Shapiro Show Sunday Special Ep. 108

    This is horrifying! How long should we stand by and let society trundle down this course without vigorous, active, and organized opposition!

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    1. I'm half way through Shrier's book. I'd also recommend Debra Soh's "The End of Gender". Thanks to this thread, I've also learned of Jennifer Roback Morse.

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  18. From the OP: "Indeed, its deepest roots go back further still, to rise of nominalism in the later Middle Ages."

    This is the most important statement that could ever be made about the last 500 years.

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  19. "And men and women, like everything else in nature, each have a teleology – a purpose to which their nature directs them, the realization of which is necessary for their flourishing. The purpose of a man is to be a father and husband, and the purpose of a woman is to be a mother and wife, with all that these roles entail."

    This is simply stated without any supportive argument whatsoever except that it was previously "obvious".

    Yes, you can argue against mechanistic and anti-teleological philosophies until the cows come home (and I will agree with you) but that doesn't entail that what you claim is the teleology actually is the teleology.

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    1. But who doubts it? Even evolutionary naturalists agree in a sense. They might reject the normative implications natural law theory draws from human nature, but they would affirm our basic biological and social ends.

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    2. Well lots of people doubt it, including some evolutionary naturalists. (But even were this not the case you would still be making an argumentum ad populum.) In fact virtually everyone doubts it in principle (even those bleating the most about transgenderism and men not being men, for no one is willing to admit a paternal authority superior to a maternal authority, which Ed's rigid gender roles demand.

      Let's unpack this.

      Male/female is not a "nature", but an accident. How can an accident have a teleology? There can be no "purpose of a man" fundamentally different from a "purpose of a woman".

      OK, so perhaps it will be argued that Ed misspoke and what he really meant is the basic teleology is the same for men and women, but differs in some accidental details depending on male or female, in the same way that while the virtue of patriotism is essentially the same for all, in practice it differs accidentally dependent on what country one is a citizen of.

      But then the question arises, is male/female an accident in the soul or only in the body? The Thomist is impaled on this dilemma, for if he chooses the first horn then it actually is possible (in theory, anyway) for a female soul to end up in a male body and vice versa and all the basic arguments against transgenderism disappear. If he chooses the second horn than indeed there are some things male bodies are in general better at (such as heavy physical labor) but there are plenty of things female bodies are just as good at, and thus men being the breadwinners was simply a matter of social necessity in former times and not due to male "nature".







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    3. Your point about accidental nature of the sexes is interesting and perhaps Feser can respond?

      As to the first paragraph, it isn't a argument ad populum as I was appealing to informed authority: anyone who thinks about these matter for more than a little while will see that procreation and child-rearing are clear ends of our sexual organs and put sexual-social roles. That the paternal authority must be "superior" to the maternal one in all respects for something like Feser's views to be valid seems like a non sequitur.

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    4. Well you say you are "appealing to informed authority" but then don't produce any such authority and instead resort to a bandwagon approach fallacy (anyone who thinks about it will come to the same conclusion as I).

      Meanwhile, as far as your actual argument goes: that procreation is an end of our sexual organs, admitted; that child-rearing and rigid sexual-social roles are ends of our sexual organs, denied. How do our sexual organs actually help us do that? How in fact do they have anything to with that?

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    5. You literally admitted most of what I was appealing to most of what I was referring to and yet you quibble about authority and show a fallacy fetish. What you seem to want to do is disconnect our sexual organs from our social existence. The use of the term rigid is a strawman. That's something you've introduced. The point is that our faculties are nested and not entirely cut off from each other: our social being reflects our sexual being. Does our nature not equip and prompt us to look after our children once they have been conceived and born? Of course. And in just about all previous societies this has led to differential roles for men and women in the process, roles that share marked similarities. This though is not necessarily "rigid", whatever that means.

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  20. You say it is tyrannical for someone to choose their own gender, but is it fair for someone to be assigned a gender by an external agency without their consent? Why are you cool when God assigns your male against your consent but were a centralized government agency assigns you a job without your consent you would cry "Hey! The government has no right to do that, that's against my consent!" That doesn't seem like universal justice, but pick-and-choose justice.

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    1. What? You might as well ask why are you cool when God assigns the boiling point of water as 100 degrees. God is not the state and sex is not something that can be changed by your own desires.

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    2. @Anonymous then there's nothing a priori unjust about being forced to work in a collectivist farm against your consent. After all, if it is just for one external authority to assign you something against your consent, then it is just for any external authority.

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    3. What are you talking about? God created you. He made you in a certain way. The state did not. It isn't even really a matter of external authority: you are a human with a particular sex and the moral duties that flow from that.

      By your logic, the fact we can't choose absolutely everything in life us a problem.

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    4. By your logic, the fact we can't choose absolutely everything in life us a problem.

      Maybe perfect = being able to choose everything in life but we live in a metaphysical universe where life will never be perfect.

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    5. Yes, that's clear from your posts. You're not making sense.

      For one thing, God "assigns" a sex by creating us as one of the two sexes. Neither the state nor the individual can assign a sex. I can't choose my sex. It's extremely hard to see what your argument is in this context. You seem to be saying that because God does ask us to consent to all about us, if that even makes sense, the state doesn't need to. The inference here is convoluted.

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    6. You seem to be saying that because God does ask us to consent to all about us, if that even makes sense, the state doesn't need to.

      No, I'm asking the question: when does it stop being O.K. for an external agent to make choices for you? It either is always O.K. (which means the state can plan your life from cradle to grave), or it's never O.K. (which means not even God can assign your gender), or there's a "sweet spot" where it's O.K. for some things to be chosen for you but not others.

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    7. But it isn't really an external agency. Your sex is a part of who you are. It doesn't make sense to treat it in the same way as being forced to work in a certain way.

      Anyway it is okay for an external agency to make choices for you when it is morally legitimate or necessary for it to do, and not okay when it isn't. For instance, a parent may choose the bed time or meal time of their child, but not to cut its leg off.

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    8. Your sex is identified, not assigned.

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    9. BalancedTryteOperators,

      "...there's nothing a priori unjust about being forced to work in a collectivist farm against your consent. After all, if it is just for one external authority to assign you something against your consent, then it is just for any external authority."

      Generally speaking, consent is irrelevant when it comes to natural law ethics. But lets grant that it does. Your inference still doesn't follow: Just because there is one or some cases in which it is morally permissible for some external authority to prescribe a duty or role to someone without active consent, it doesn't follow that it it's morally permissible for any and or every external authority to do so.

      Lastly, I think a natural lawyer like Feser can appeal a priori to the principle of subsidiarity -- that "nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization." In other words, the distribution of goods, services, and labor ought to occur at the level of individuals in something decentralized like a free market rather than be dictated by something as centralized and complex as the state, like those seen in socialist regimes. In those cases, the socio-political order is not just inefficient, but gravely evil and dehumanizing because it is in principle in violation of subsidiarity.

      So I don't think what you argue here presents much of a difficulty to the classical natural lawyer.

      https://www.acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-6-number-4/principle-subsidiarity

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    10. Just because there is one or some cases in which it is morally permissible for some external authority to prescribe a duty or role to someone without active consent, it doesn't follow that it it's morally permissible for any and or every external authority to do so.

      Yes it does because of the universal nature of justice: what's valid for one authority is valid for all. The negation is saying that God is special from all other authorities and he has a special right to determine your gender, which is nonuniversal.

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    11. Not all authority is the same. God, as First Being, as Creator of all that is, has absolute authority over all. Of course, He is never going to act "out of character" and become a tyrant or anything of the sort. So there are some logical limitations to what He as the absolute authority would will. Everyone and everything else that has authority, has it derived from God and will thus have limitations. Somewhat similar to how I have the most authority possible (morally speaking at least and excluding God as the creator of both myself and my materials) over a painting I make as an artist. I could delegate some authority over that painting perhaps to my housekeeper and he/she would have the authority to tell a visitor not to touch the painting -if I made part of her job to protect the painting. In that case she would have a limited authority, but she couldn't sell the painting, unlike the artist who made it. Her authority is derived, and has limitations. If we view authority as derived from God and delegated to various institutions (e.g. parents, government etc.) and not as "nested" in the various authorities then it is easier to see their limitations according to God's purposes revealed in nature (e.g. what is the purpose of the role of parent? or legislator?). The boundaries or limitations are going to be intelligibly defined by knowing the ends to which the person or institution has authority.

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    12. "nested" is the wrong word. Nested indicates "put from without" or derived. So I think authority is "nested" by God in various peoples and institutions. The word I was looking for is "originates".

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    13. "Yes it does because of the universal nature of justice: what's valid for one authority is valid for all."

      What? Where does this inference come from? You are just throwing bizarre claims around.

      If it isn't intrinsically wrong for there to be an external authority making decisions for others, then it may well be that some cases are legitimate and some not. I haven't seen you nor anyone else here make a case for the universal claim.

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    14. Anonymous, let me rephrase my statement about universal justice like this: if we were assigned a career for life, resisting which comes under penalty of being fired into the sun--like Phillip J. Fry from Futurama-- we would all say "that's not fair!" But why do we not say the same thing when someone wants a different gender? Like a job, it is a role we take for the rest of your life, so wouldn't it be fair if it--like our jobs--were something we had control over?

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    15. It may be legitimate in certain circumstances for us to be assigned a job. I don't know. But a job is something external to us, unlike sex. So there is not parity here. I also don't understand what you mean by letting us choose our gender (or sex). Do you mean before we are born? Because we can't choose it afterwards. A man who calls himself a woman isn't one. If you do mean before birth, it isn't clear why us not getting a choice is wrong. You seem to be asserting a principle that choice is the highest moral good , which is exactly what Thomists reject . That doesn't entail that we must reject all choice. It will depend on the choices and who is doing the choosing.

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    16. I also don't understand what you mean by letting us choose our gender (or sex). Do you mean before we are born? Because we can't choose it afterwards. A man who calls himself a woman isn't one.

      https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GenderBender

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    17. Huh? If a sex change were actually possible, I do not know if it would be morally licit. But they aren't anywhere near possible now. Taking cross-sex hormones and mutilating your body isn't a sex change.

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    18. Forget "gender" for just a moment. You don't get to select your own genes for height, or build. You don't get to select your inborn tendencies and dispositions. All these are formed for you by forces without your consent. But nobody considers them injustices that are foisted upon you merely because you get them without consent. It's a category mistake to consider these in reference to "justice".

      Why should your biological sex be any different? You get it the same way.

      The question of whether you "should" be allowed to "choose" your gender - and to the extent any choosing is even available, it cannot be surely cannot be disconnected from the "should" of moral consideration - surely this cannot be solved ENTIRELY absent the physical sex determination made by nature before you were born. A man "choosing" that he would "be" 6' 4", when his genes and environment have already made him a fully grown man at 5' 7", is not so much making an available choice as he is deciding to ignore reality for imagined fantasy. To the extent he expects others to play along with his fantasy (say, by having his tailor refer to him as 6' 4" and name his pants size as 32W 36L when it is not, and his doctor compute his BMI by reference to being 6' 4" instead of 5' 7"), we call that by the term "insanity".

      I have never yet seen a viable suggestion for an argument why gender should not be normatively regulated by a person's sex as specified by his body's inborn biology. The only thing I have ever seen is a presumption that biology should not determine, and question-begging after that.

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    19. Balanced appears to believe it is a moral principle that consent must be given for absolutely everything. He hasn't though argued for why this is the case nor allowed for the fact that Thomists don't believe this (it seems pure voluntaryism, which Thomistic ethics rejects). If we don't accept the principle that consent must be given to all things, then we can decide what there should be consent to and what doesn't require it, according to ethical beliefs.

      There is an interesting point here though about a true sex change. Imagine that we could change our biological sexes on a molecular level (which is decidedly not what a "sex change" is today), would that be immoral?

      Perhaps it would be in Natural Law because for the action to change would be subverting the natural ends of your current biological make-up? I don't know. But then would you be morally required to stay as your new sex, given that now this would be your biological make-up?

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  21. Prof Feser goes right at the heart of why conservatism failed. Sexual revolution and its attendant ills were promoted in America not for socialist reasons but on the grounds on self-ownership and individualism, the very foundations on which American conservatism stands.

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  22. Modus Pownens. The free market does not protect subsidiarity from "centralised and complex" organisations - government does. Large corporations are more of a threat to subsidiarity these days than government. The only thing that can protect small property, business and professions is society, through its political institutions. These ideally should support subsidiarity at the lowest level. However, given the socially anatomised wasteland that is the West today, a strong central political authority has to do the job.

    If the "free market" (the sovereign market as a pseudo sovereign entity invented after the Enlightenment) were allowed to function freely as conservatism postulates, children would still work down the mines. Economics is not merely science, but morality, and must be subject to politics and the civil order.

    There is a profession called soldiering. It involves knowledge and expertise. However, nobody seriously pretends that it is therefore a "science" independent of morality and political control, unless one is a warlord in Mogadishu in 1993.

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    1. Miguel Cervantes,

      To clarify, when I mentioned a free market, I did not mean a laissez faire capitalism. I wrote, "like a free market," not the libertarian, self-correcting "invisible hand" market that is a fetish. That's naive. I'm not a liberal. I was just positing a general state of affairs in which individuals have the freedom to chose their vocation and exchange goods and services because these people have to provide for themselves, families, and communities as per the natural law.

      I'm not a liberal. I don't share the philosophical anthropology for that. For me, man is a zoon politikon and not Hobbes' isolated individual living in a state of nature. I think law has a place to educate and gently promote a common good to increase our flourishing which is only intelligible within an Aristotelian teleological framework. My conservatism is founded in those considerations (I'm not a neo-liberal or a blind to crony capitalism). I get it's your thing to decry any hint of Enlightenment liberal influence here, but you're chasing phantasms.

      With that said, your comment strikes me as reactionary in that swings too far in the opposite direction in the vein of Adrian Vermuele.

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    2. OK, understood. I think the term free market has to be ditched because it will never cease causing confusion. As it exists today, without the regulation seen in all traditional societies, people are not really free to choose their profession or exchange goods and services in any meaningful way compared with the control exercised by big corporations.

      When I commented that the state needed to intervene to protect society from the "sovereign market", it was meant as a stop gap measure. Vermuele does err I think in taking up writers like de Maistre as the antidote to liberalism. De Maistre, like Burke, was there to defend the eighteenth-century and its ideals from liberalism. He was not defender of traditional society but a philosophical Traditionalist and a pachydermic heretic into the bargain. His ideas on the constitution of society reflected his conservative ideology. This makes civil society the expression of the divine in this world. The more "religious" the conservatism, the more it insists upon this error. The result on the Continent was divine right monarchy (rejected by Catholic teaching), extreme authoritarianism and national messianism.

      Before Vermuele can achieve his laudable goal of a bureaucracy populated by convinced Catholics, he needs to work out exactly what kind of political ideology and philosophy they hold. If it's all about returning to the eighteenth century, with an established Church recognised by a modern state holding the conservative ideology of that period, we will just be back in the situation which inevitably produced the revolution in the first place. I hope that answers your query concerning my views on Adrian Vermuele.

      It's disappointing that political debate doesn't seem to get beyond the eighteenth century and its left-right, liberal-conservative fixations. Never a word about the Christian world-wide hegemony which preceded the eighteenth century victory of conservatism (and which was not the Middle Ages.

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    3. I sympathize with both what Modus said and with what Miguel said: on the one hand, a general state of affairs in which individuals have the freedom to chose their vocation and exchange goods and services and on the other hand The only thing that can protect small property, business and professions is society, through its political institutions.

      I would ask Miguel what a traditionally Catholic society would look like that DID protect subsidiarity, and also allowed for an individual freely to choose his vocation and to exchange goods and services. It is my understanding that serfdom meant that a great many young men were NOT allowed to choose their own profession. Guilds, also, were heavy hitters in terms of constricting free trade, and in preventing some from pursuing a trade without permission.

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    4. Oh, and what would be a good term to replace "free market" so as not to carry the modern connotation of "unrestrained, laissez faire" market? Maybe, a "natural market"? This, unfortunately, would seem to exclude the post-natural restraints needed to protect small businessmen and small organizations. Maybe "qualified free market"?

      However we name it, it is unavoidable that by putting in restraints, the man whose ox is being gored by the restraint will see it as an UNnatural restraint, one contrary to nature.

      children would still work down the mines.

      I hate to mention this, but child labor started a very long time before Christ, and continued right up through the late 1800's. It wasn't a product of modernism or unrestrained capitalism. In medieval times, children were put to apprenticeships at 12, and worked for the family business before that. In the days before schools were common, children were kept busy with work.

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    5. Tony,
      there's no need to go back to the Middle Ages. In 1605, in Castile, Flanders, Lombardy or Portugal, serfdom is not an issue. They were all part of a global and modern civilisation that practiced subsidiarity. Its opponents already had Bodin's ideological framework which laid the basis for the modern state and the end of subsidiarity. In Milan, for example the market is highly regulated; there is no society of any kind without "regulation". Only modern economists would suggest that what Chesterton called the piratical spirit was science and good practice.

      Why hyphenate things? Just call it The Market. Like other activities (I mentioned warfare before) it has its skills, uses and goals which serve society (but it is not a society in itself - that fiction belongs to post-eighteenth-century). Above all, it is not pure science, but a human activity that must be governed by morality and the strictures that society decides upon. The market is a beneficial thing in itself. WHY make it an erroneous or immoral entity by hyphenating it with "free" or "sovereign?

      If my ox is gored by someone else's more efficient and productive ox, I will expect society the redress the problem.

      It's true that child labour was not an invention of the industrial revolution and the sovereign market. However, the new sovereign market after the eighteenth-century did dehumanise the labour of legally free people and, a fortiori, of children.

      I know people in their seventies who had to work in the fields with their father and siblings from the age of seven. School was when it rained (not very often). They don't seem any the worse other than calloused hands and a few nicks. They were happy as children and love their parents. However, they do express some regret that they didn't have the opportunities their children have had. But that was those days and few would suggest going back. It wasn't the children-down-the-mines culture of Dickensian England.

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    6. there's no need to go back to the Middle Ages. In 1605, in Castile, Flanders, Lombardy or Portugal, serfdom is not an issue.

      So, while there had been serfs in most of those places earlier on, their forms of social organization had changed by 1605? Perhaps under influences that recognized subsidiarity at its lowest layer: the individual, i.e. that individuals had a claim to be protected from certain kinds of encroachments, just like families, business enterprises, towns, barons, and so on had claims for protection from inroads being made on their rightful prerogatives?

      So, it is true that individual rights were making headway in wholesome Catholic social orders, independent from and before the EnDarkenment, is that what you were saying above?

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  23. Brilliant insights....I only read parts of it....

    This careerism is pernicious and thank you very much for calling it out as I have not read anyone else calling it out.

    I am going on a tangent...

    "Then there is work. Work too, under the liberal individualist dispensation, is no longer seen as having a natural teleology – as a vocation by which one is meant to serve others, namely one’s family and the larger society. That model has been replaced by the idea of the “career,” understood as a matter of self-expression and self-fulfillment – a way of making one’s mark in the world, of gaining its attention and adulation. The degree to which one magnifies oneself by way of his career – in terms of the wealth, power, fame, or influence one attains – has become the new measure of success. Hence, whereas on the traditional model, one succeeds as a man if he is able to provide for his family and contribute something of value to his community – something of which the vast majority of men are capable – on the liberal individualist “career” model of work, one has achieved “success” to the extent that one has attained wealth, power, fame, or influence."

    Although exploitation is not a new evil, it is also pernicious and all consuming.

    We need to cover all evils not just "liberal" evils.

    We need to deal ***adequately*** with how to deal with the ever income gap ----the stealing of vast monies of hard work every minute...nay every second by some in the financial elite who have made idolatry of their pursuit of power and monopoly and corruption.

    "The degree to which one magnifies oneself by way of his career"

    We also have to recognize that the corruption of the Trump Administration was unbelievably disgusting.

    When he said he was going to drain the swamp of corruption, he actually meant he was going to drown us in the swamp of corruption.

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    1. We need to deal ***adequately*** with how to deal with the ever income gap ----the stealing of vast monies of hard work every minute...nay every second by some in the financial elite who have made idolatry of their pursuit of power and monopoly and corruption.

      Grateful, I get why we need to deal with poverty. And we should always be on the lookout for stealing and try to stop it.

      But why, exactly, do we need to "deal with" income inequality? What is the evil of which it is constituted? Other than giving rise to envy, what is it that makes Joe earning 20 times as much as Bill an evil that we must "deal with"?

      Although there are aspects of "the facts" in dispute, let's accept for the sake of the argument that the top 1% are getting rich faster than the bottom 90%, so there is an increasing income gap. This still would not imply that "the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer". The evidence seems to say that the poor are getting richer too - just not as FAST. Over the past 40 years, the world's population has increased by 3 billion, but the number of the starving has gone DOWN by close to a billion: while we have been managing to feed the new people, we have also managed to begin to feed another B of those who we didn't used to manage to feed. While the life expectancy of the 1st world inched up a year or two, the life expectancy of those in the 3rd world has increased by leaps and bounds, and is clearly closing in on the same levels as that of the 1st world.

      It is indeed true that the rich have a duty to help the poor: it is wrong for rich people to spend their surplus wealth on frivolous and conspicuous consumption without a care for others. But this is a duty about how to use their wealth. It does not imply that it is inherently wrong for the rich to BECOME rich in the first place. God chose to make Solomon rich as a reward because he desired the good properly - it can't have been evil for God to desire for Solomon to be rich.

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