Natural vs Normative

I appreciate the Christians weighing in on why they oppose gay marriage and trying to explain how they think people are harmed. One genre of response has turned up in thread and is fairly widespread, so I’ll try to address it. Anonymous wrote:

Many people are wondering why infertile heterosexual marriages are considered moral and praise worthy while homosexual “marriages” are not. The reason is that in an infertile heterosexual marriage the sexual organs are, at least, being used for the purpose for which they were created, or if you prefer the purpose for which they evolved. In homosexual sex the sexual organs are abused. Penises were not meant to be rammed in to an anus. Yes, this means oral and anal sodomy are considered immoral even in heterosexual relations. Societies lacking Divine revelation had to formulate moral laws based on what was available to them namely Nature. This is why there are still laws against these kinds of behaviors in some places.

…Animals are not rational creatures so are not expected to follow Natural moral law. Humans should be expected to act according to reason.

When I read this claim, it sounds like Anonymous is conflating two ideas: Natural Law and the Law of Nature. Before I go on, here comes the caveat: I’m not sure precisely how Christians use these terms, so don’t try and use this distinction in other contexts and don’t complain in the combox that I’ve used them incorrectly (but feel free to suggest better or clearer terms).

Natural Law is normative. It’s the moral law we see as binding on humans and tolerably accessible whether through intuitions or reason or what have you. This is the law written on the hearts of man — it is accessible to all (or practically all) people without revelation or belief in a particular god. A Christian wouldn’t hold me to account for missing Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation, since I don’t understand it’s a sin, but they would fault me for committing murder, since I can be assumed to know it is wrong.

Laws of Nature are biases, heuristics, instincts, adaptations and all manner of evolutionary cruft that has built up during the genesis of our species. Remember, evolution isn’t survival of the fittest, it’s the propagation of the just fit enough to work (refer back to “This is NOT How Evolution Works”).

The mechanics of sexual organs falls into the Laws of Nature category for me, so they don’t get a privileged spot in my moral calculus. It may be unnecessary for procreation to put some protuberances in certain orifices, but there’s no great evolutionary justification for enthusiastically bringing together the entrances to our alimentary canals and I don’t hear many people railing against kissing for pleasure.

To convince me that gay sex is morally indefensible (whether as part of a committed relationship or not), you’re going to have to bring the discussion back into the Natural Law side of the debate and tell me more about who it hurts and how.  Remember, I’ve got major transhumanist and gnostic sympathies, so you have a lot of heavy lifting to do to convince me that thwarting some of the inclinations or actions of the body is wrong.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00096273666451765269 Stephen Marsh

    The whole "homosexuality is unnatural!" argument has always rubbed me the wrong way for just about this reason. For it to make any sense, you have to accept a very strange — and contradictory — definition of "the natural." On an evolutionary scale, hands weren't evolved to be used in prayer, and circumcision gets really questionable if we're looking for evolutionary justifications. In order to be consistent, I think that you probably have to accept either a state of nature (and therefore reject anything built or human-made) or a definition that defines the natural for humans as "things that humans do," which is tautological and not worth talking about. My sympathies are with the latter.There's a book I looked over once for a paper I was thinking about writing (but didn't end up writing) about animal homosexuality that might be helpful here: http://www.amazon.com/Biological-Exuberance-Homosexuality-Diversity-Stonewall/dp/031225377X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s;=books&qid;=1309544681&sr;=8-1

  • Patrick

    Well, the idea isn't so much to convince you, Leah, as it is to convince them that you ought be convinced, and that any failure to be convinced is your fault.The problem with this sort of reasoning as practiced is that its a very surface level view of morality. Moral reasoning is axiomatic- it proceeds from things you accept towards other conclusions. But natural law theory is often an attempt at an end run around this process. Normal moral reasoning might be something like starting with a bedrock principle like compassion or loving your neighbor, and then reasoning up from there by combining those principles with real world information and knowledge about how our actions affect each other. So someone might start with those principles and conclude that voluntary euthanasia, or gay marriage, or birth control availability, is or is not morally acceptable.But natural law theorists are usually people who are deeply uncomfortable with this sort of thinking. Instead, they skip right to the end result of moral reasoning, and declare that it, itself, is the bedrock principle. So instead of beginning with compassion or love and reasoning about euthanasia, an assertion about euthanasia is simply declared to be natural law.Its a moral position that's almost completely incommunicable to others because the declarations of what is or is not natural law tend to be almost entirely founded on how one feels about a specific subject, rather than on any common ground between people. And its designed to conceal that from its adherents by insisting, strenuously but without any supporting reason, that its conclusions are self evident. This does an excellent job of convincing people who are accustomed to treating what "seems right" to them as if it were transcendent fact, but it is of little use to outsiders.

  • Dan Ewert

    I highly recommend John Boswell's treatment of this very subject in "Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality". It's available as a free online resource through Yale Library.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    Have you heard of Joan (b. Johnathan) Roughgarden? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_RoughgardenI've never read /Evolution's Rainbow/ and can't speak to it's empirical value, but it might interest you, especially as she's a recent Christian convert.

  • Anonymous

    Leah I think you did an excellent job describing the difference between the Natural law and the Law of Nature. Let me take a stab at convincing you that is homosexuals themselves that are harmed when the Natural Law is ignored. They are damaged psychologically as well as physically. I have heard that the suicide and alcoholism rates among homosexuals is quite high, while this is certainly amplified by bullying I have to say that when a man has to pull a kernel of corn from underneath his foreskin after sex there has got to be a part of him that says "Wow I can't believe Im doing this, this can't be right. When a grown man has to wear a diaper because he has been fisted so much his anus is stretched out at some point a little self loathing is bound to set in. Its an act of compassion to tell people with disordered inclinations they must stop and start acting according to there natural moral reason. Im sorry for being so graphic and I know that these are extreme examples my Im just trying to make a point.

  • Anonymous

    What about Lesbians you might ask?"Oh baby the strap broke!! I'll get the vibrator……Damn the batteries are dead. Come lay down over here I'll plug it in. Ah forget it just scissor me. Oh sweetheart staring in to your corns and bunions is sooo romantic."The Subconscious: Maybe if I keep telling myself this is authentic natural lovemaking I will eventually believe it……………..until then someone get me another crown and coke

  • Conor Crawford

    You, Mr. Anonymous, give Christians a bad name with your offensive talk.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Looks like we have another of those good and moral Christians who's so revolted and appalled by gay sex that he just can't stop thinking about it and dwelling on it, constantly picturing the evil acts that those wicked homosexuals engage in. Poor soul.Let me take a stab at convincing you that is homosexuals themselves that are harmed when the Natural Law is ignored. They are damaged psychologically as well as physically.This argument could even more easily be used to prove that childbirth is a deeply sinful and disordered act. After all, it frequently causes physical damage to women (look up "obstetric fistula") as well as psychological illness, such as post-partum depression and psychosis. But somehow I suspect that this is an area where this unpleasant fellow will be inclined to overlook the strict demands of Natural Law.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks anonymous #1 for illustrating the corrosiveness of religious belief

  • http://www.noaa.gov Kogo

    *…while this is certainly amplified by bullying I have to say that when a man has to pull a kernel of corn from underneath his foreskin after sex there has got to be a part of him that says "Wow I can't believe Im doing this, this can't be right.*The conclusion is inescapable: Since humans cannot digest cellulose, we should not eat corn.

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    *Let me take a stab at convincing you that is homosexuals themselves that are harmed when the Natural Law is ignored. They are damaged psychologically as well as physically. I have heard that the suicide and alcoholism rates among homosexuals is quite high…*So after a century-and-a-half and more of accusing liberals, secularists, socialists and so on of being would-be "social engineers" and/or of trying to make "utopias" on earth, the mask comes off: Religious people only really object to not being the ones to engineer. All those Chesterton and Lewis and Dostoyevsky quotes about "respecting the nature of man"? Essentially bullshit: You just want to be the ones who are doing the disrespecting.It's never actually worked, has it? Either it fails or else it only "comes true" with about 500 flavors of unexpected consequence: The socialist workers' paradise, Natural Law, the Great Society, Prohibition, the Great Chain of Being, the War on Drugs, 'transforming the Middle East', Pan-Arabism, the White Man's Burden, the Great Leap Forward, Sharia: It's just a million flavors of Messing With People. After maybe 2+ centuries or so of this endless, international forced-march detour through the transparently unworkable idea that The Government Should Try to Solve Social Problems, let's sock it in. Instead of trying to 'help' people on a mass scale–and notice that the people in question rarely want help and, in a vaguely quantum-mechanics sort of way, always seem to be damaged by being helped.Instead of trying to engineer people's lives–liberally or Christianly or Islamically or however–how about *removing* restrictions? How about leaving them alone? How about people make their choices, contracts, relationships and you, the churches and mosques and social workers all just go fuck yourselves?"They are damaged psychologically as well as physically."Yeah, so what if? It's not your problem. I loose you from all restriction. You may consider yourself at liberty: Teh Gayz aren't worried about it, so why should you be? No one is being involuntarily hurt here, so go worry about something else. Or better yet, DON'T. Instead of designing some NEW unsupportable trillion-dollar social program OR restriction on harmless human choice OR decade-long no-hope war, how about we all just drink some water, eat a vegetable and take a fucking nap, salright?Two quotes. I assume you all know the sources:"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin." "A year from now, ten? They'll swing back to the belief that they can make people… better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave."

  • http://neveryetmelted.com David Zincavage

    That homosexuality is equal to normalcy is a lie. That homosexual relations are the same thing as marriage is also a lie. A state-enforced lie imposed upon the majority of society by an arrogant elite minority is a form of tyranny.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Zincavage, I know you're an atheist, so I'd like to know from where you derive your universally binding theory of marriage.

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous #2,I don't see how Anonymous #1's comment demonstrated the "corrosiveness of religious belief". Get a sense of humor.–Anonymous #3

  • Anonymous

    Just so you know Ebonmuse. A womans body is made for child birth so there is no problem from the Natural law perspective. In fact giving birth to a child is the highest moral good a human can perform. It's unfortunate that it is brought about through pain. G.K. Chesterton would admire the parodox. And frankly sir I don't know witch is more disturbing what I discribed in my first few comments or the fact that you would be compare those actions to the beauty of giving birth. Only a Gnostics contempt for the flesh could make such a confused corelation.

  • Patrick

    Anonymous- assuming you're not just trolling, you're displaying a classic defense mechanism of the poorly organized mind. You're making one argument (X is bad because of A). Someone then responds by pointing out that A is true of Y and Z, which you do not regard as bad. This would undercut your claim that N shows that X is bad. In order to defend your position, you reply that Y and Z are good because of B. Well, even if that's true, it won't help you. You're not defending your original point, you're changing the subject from a discussion of A to a discussion of B. The worst part is that most people who do what you're doing don't realize they're doing it, meaning that in the future you'll feel as though you defended your initial argument (X is bad because of N), when in reality you either conceded or abandoned it.

  • Anonymous

    Patrick excellent point I'll have to think about this more deeply

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous #3 – if some weird rant about men having to wear diapers (extremely rare btw) is your idea of a joke, ok, but his attitude towards homosexuals is what causes self-loathing, not any sexual act they engage in and I consider that to be corrosive. Btw I should clarify, belief in Abrahamic religions is corrosive, not religious belief in general – sorry!-anonymous #2

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13239014526067001801 TooManyJens

    I'm just bummed out that I figured out my commenting problem long after everyone else had made the comments I wanted to. :)I will say that "Eww" is not a moral argument. Neither is "I don't find the caricature of your sex life that I hold in my head to be sufficiently dignified or romantic."(FYI, if anyone else is having trouble commenting, make sure your browser is accepting third-party cookies, at least from blogger.com.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    I definitely second Jen's point that "I don't find the caricature of your sex life that I hold in my head to be sufficiently dignified or romantic" is a ridiculous grounding for an argument. I'm awfully young and a terrible priss, so you all are lucky that everyone's sexual relations aren't limited to the set of things I care to picture.(Though if they were, more gavottes for everyone!)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00681934865643964687 JSA

    The amount of mirth I derive from anon #1's spastic outbursts of schizophrenia is probably indicative of a character flaw. Mea culpa; I do love the crazies.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18351198791720067176 Jess

    Anonymous 1's tirades against the physical harm of gay sex only provides further evidence to my theory that homophobes would be cured of their fear of gay sex if they just head some.(jk jk I know this is not how it works, but gosh wouldn't it be fun if it was?)

  • Joe Fischer

    This may be off subject, but what are some valid moral arguments against promiscuity?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13239014526067001801 TooManyJens

    Before I take a stab at that, would you mind defining what you mean by promiscuity?

  • Joe Fischer

    TooManyJensI guess I mean just a lot of random partners

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00681934865643964687 JSA

    Joe Fisher: Katja Grace had a very interesting twist on this question. Why does society value commitment and exclusivity in romantic relationships? What if it's the exclusive (non-promiscuous) who are in the wrong? Here it is

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13239014526067001801 TooManyJens

    I guess I'd just say that to the extent that having "a lot of random partners" is correlated with carelessness, lack of respect for those partners, or dishonesty, then that's a moral problem. Of course, people can be monogamous and still have all of those attributes, and people can be very respectful and thoughtful with multiple partners.

  • Patrick

    Can we just go with ye olde "who is it hurting and how" from the OP? Because if the answer is, "all of my partners who feel betrayed and wronged by my actions, and myself when I feel regret for what I've done," then there's your answer. And if the answer is, "no one, actually, we're all doing just fine" then that looks like a pretty good answer too.

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com/ Brian Green

    Just a few side-issues, avoiding anything terribly controversial… (I am not specifically addressing homosexuality here, this is a broad look at NL itself).Natural law vs. laws of nature – I would characterize these differently than does Leah. A law of nature is something which cannot be violated, like gravity. Some laws of nature are stochastic, like evolution, but they are still laws because once you get the right context evolution will occur.Natural law on the other hand has to do with the specific natures of beings. For example a rock's nature is to sit and be a rock. A Human's nature is to be social and seek truth, among other things. While most creatures cannot "violate" their natures, humans can because we have free will. However, if we are acting rationally we will align our will to follow our nature. To not do so only results in bad things happening (like what would happen is a cow decided to act like a bird? nothing good). To will that which is not aligned with one's nature means that you are not following your destiny. And this must be construed not individualistically but as a social group, because humans are intrinsically social animals.So I think the idea of will needs to be brought into this discussion. In the West, will (or choice or subjective rights) has become the trump card for morality. Rationality was formerly considered to have had trump card status. With will in the lead, nature is put on the run because it acts to constrain one's freedom. Hence the current environmental crisis: all of nature fails to match our will, so we crush it for obstructing our desires. Hence also transhumanism: nature has failed us, we must bend it to our will. There is a lot of philosophy behind all of this.By the way, Leah, how can you be both a materialist (or are you?) and a gnostic? I don't get it.And as a final aside, certain aspects of transhumanism are compatible with Catholicism. For instance, there is nothing inherently wrong with extending human life: that is what Catholic hospitals are for, after all. Things become messier with weirder enhancements, and the intentions behind them, and the means chosen to achieve them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Lest I misspeak, can you clarify exactly what you mean by 'materialiat,' Brian?

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com/ Brian Green

    Hi Leah, what I mean by materialist is that "matter" is all there is. No spirit. Traditionally gnosticism relies on there being a dualism between the material and the spiritual, and that matter is bad and spirit is good. Are you allowing that a "spiritual" world exists, yet there is no God? That's why I'm confused. I'm not sure how gnostic atheism could work. Or maybe you are more of a "patternist" like Ray Kurzweil, sort of a matter/in(form)ation dualism? Or perhaps just that matter is bad? And that something else about humans gives us the ability to rise above matter? I'm just confused. Thanks for the interest in clarifying.

  • Joe Fischer

    J.s.Allen Who do you think is in the wrong?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00681934865643964687 JSA

    @Joe Fisher – I'm still trying to make up my mind. It's not nearly as simple a question as most people assume.

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    *Just so you know Ebonmuse. A womans body is made for child birth*Yeah, bunyaviride (hantavirus) is "made" to cause death by renal failure. Your point? *In fact giving birth to a child is the highest moral good a human can perform.*No it isn't. That's just nine kinds of stupid. So if a woman cures cancer, saves billions from pain and death but has no children, she's less morally good than a woman who has one baby?This is in no way an academic question, either: My own wife is a doctor of engineering. We have had one baby and will probably not have any more. Why? Because it will interfere with her doing research. Her research, in point of fact, involves creating artificial human corneas, which will allow people who have been chemical-burned to see again.But no: You'd prefer to go around lecturing people who were blind but now can see that, "Foul deceiver: Don't you know that the woman who cured you could have been having children instead of helping you? Selfish ingrate!"Fuck you.

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    *A Human's nature is to be social and seek truth…*I have seen little or no evidence to support this. Most humans, myself included, are deeply antisocial and seek anything BUT truth.*However, if we are acting rationally we will align our will to follow our nature. To not do so only results in bad things happening…To will that which is not aligned with one's nature means that you are not following your destiny.*Exactly. Since gay people experience no bad consequences from being gay, they are acting rationally. Thanks for supporting my point!*And this must be construed not individualistically but as a social group, because humans are intrinsically social animals.*Whatever you say, River Tam's Schoolteacher From the Opening Scene of Serenity.*With will in the lead, nature is put on the run because it acts to constrain one's freedom.*Exactly: That's why we should ban cars in favor of mass transit.*Hence the current environmental crisis: all of nature fails to match our will, so we crush it for obstructing our desires.*It's so funny when catholic shitheads try to cast themselves as wise environmentalists. It's like a little kid wearing mommy's shoes. *There is a lot of philosophy behind all of this.*I would replace the word 'philosophy' in that sentence with another, less-elegant word.

  • Patrick

    "Natural law on the other hand has to do with the specific natures of beings. For example a rock's nature is to sit and be a rock. A Human's nature is to be social and seek truth, among other things. While most creatures cannot "violate" their natures, humans can because we have free will. However, if we are acting rationally we will align our will to follow our nature. To not do so only results in bad things happening (like what would happen is a cow decided to act like a bird? nothing good). "Heh. People who think like this are usually pretty funny in practice. They either engage in completely ad hoc reasoning about human nature ("I thought X was against human nature, until it turned out that X was awesome"), or else they insist that "harm" takes place entirely on some weird, unfalsifiable "spiritual" level or through some "organic society" nonsense that confounds actual facts enough to render claims unfalsifiable.This is one of those "make your beliefs pay rent" moments Leah mentioned last week. Unfortunately, this framework is a deadbeat.

  • Joe Fischer

    Just an wondering. Not tring to pick a fight here. If the general rule is will over nature, why is another persons nature so important that it deserves honesty. Are there any valid moral objections to dishonesty? Sorry may be an obviously stupid question

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13239014526067001801 TooManyJens

    "If the general rule is will over nature"Who said that? You seem to be assuming that your framework (will vs. nature) is the one everybody's using. Not everyone finds that framework relevant or even coherent.

  • Joe Fischer

    TooManyJensWhat is the proper framework?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13239014526067001801 TooManyJens

    Well, a lot of us think "who is harmed?" is a great starting point for discussions on morality.I'd go into more detail, but my daughter is rather relentlessly insisting that I take her to the park like I said I would, and I can't think under these conditions. :)

  • Joe Fischer

    TooManyJensThanks I know its the forth and everyone is busy so no sweat.But if humans don't have an intrinsic worth granted by natural law what difference does it make if anyone is harmed? I look forward to more detail when you have time.

  • Joe Fischer

    Patrick"People who think like this are usually pretty funny in practice"I think you make an excellent point. Most catholic Natural Law folks would agree Natural Law really is almost impossible to live up to. Thats why they claim the Natural Law giver had to come in the form of Christ so that we could have a way of being forgiven for our transgressions. But thats not what we're discussing here so sorry for the side note

  • Patrick

    Joe- It is nonsensical to ask how something "matters" without a referent. Something can only matter "to" someone, or "with respect" to something. Whether people are harmed matters *to me*, which may not be satisfying to you, but that's the only logical possibility. That's why natural law in the form you're describing is incoherent. The critic can just ask "why does natural law matter?" and the answer that comes back is the unsatisfactory "just because."This is a classic example of the way that religion never, ever solves philosophical problems. It just denies them.

  • Joe Fischer

    Patrick Yes but if I ask the question "Why does it matter to you that someone is harmed?" Won't you just answer "Just because." Its seems an arguement from Nature at least gives us some explaination of why you care, its part of your human nature. Maybe Im not understanding your arguement

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13239014526067001801 TooManyJens

    "But if humans don't have an intrinsic worth granted by natural law what difference does it make if anyone is harmed?"* I don't want myself or the people I love to be harmed, because I would find that very unpleasant. It is thus in my best interest to work for the kind of society where harming people is considered immoral and there are either criminal or social (depending on the kind of harm) sanctions for doing so. While there are other options, such as just trying to amass enough power that nobody *can* harm us, that has tremendous costs and is less sustainable in the long run.* Psychologically healthy adult human beings have empathy. Empathy can be actively suppressed in the pursuit of other goals, and it does not always work at a distance, but even so it is a powerful force causing us not to want others to be harmed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    @Brian Green: I'm kind of a dualist… *ducks*I looked at Kurtzweil's patternist stuff but I don't understand it well enough to know if I endorse it. Here's where I am: there are desires/behaviors/patterns that are based around survival (or evolutionary junk that was once useful) and these are kind of the base, body-oriented parts of our choices. Then there are the character forming/virtue ethics orientation parts and this is the part of human existence that is unique and which I mean to exalt. I understand how evolutionarily beneficial behaviors and biases come to be. Not so much on moral law.

  • Joe Fischer

    TooManyJens * Psychologically healthy adult human beings have empathy. Empathy can be actively suppressed in the pursuit of other goals, and it does not always work at a distance, but even so it is a powerful force causing us not to want others to be harmed.This is the Natural Law argument in a nutshell. I think its impossible to form a moral ethic apart from any Natural Law principles. The trouble is an Atheist could just say your empathy is only self serving and the only reason you would have any physiological ill effects about not showing empathy is because other people would pick on you and call you nasty names. They seem to deny any natural moral inclinations.

  • Joe Fischer

    Sorry ment to say Psychological ill effects

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13239014526067001801 TooManyJens

    Joe, I *am* an atheist. And I wouldn't say that about empathy, because it doesn't fit what scientists know about it."They seem to deny any natural moral inclinations."No, "they" generally don't. We just deny that they were put there by any supernatural entities.

  • Joe Fischer

    I have not made one reference to God except for a side note. But you all seem to think that an arguement for Natural Law automatically intails theology. Remember it was said in the OP that in the absence of Divine revalation people had to formulate moral principles based on what they had, namely nature. Natural Law predates Christianity so I don't understand why athiests object to it so strongly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13239014526067001801 TooManyJens

    "I have not made one reference to God except for a side note."I am not sure I see your point. You do seem to be putting up what you see as Natural Law as being something that atheists object to. Atheists don't generally object to the idea that one can derive moral principles from non-supernatural sources. I suspect that you mean more by Natural Law than simply that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13239014526067001801 TooManyJens

    Joe, I could be wrong, but I feel like there's some point you're trying to make by asking all these questions. If so, it would be helpful if you'd come out and say it. Actually, even if not, I'd appreciate it if you'd come out and state where you stand instead of just asking other people to. What does "Natural Law" mean to you? What does "nature" mean to you? I don't think we're using these terms in the same way, which makes for frustrating conversation.

  • Joe Fischer

    I guess by "Nature" I mean what makes us human, our psychology and our ability to make moral choices. To be honest I'm not a trained philosopher so I'm not sure how to articulate what I mean. That's why I ask so many questions. By Natual Law I mean forming a moral code that respects basic human psycology and emotion. For instince I reject promiscuity because I belive a normal psycologcal and emotionaly healthy person develops strong emotional bonds through sex. Even if there is an agreement from the begining that there are no strings attached. So I would argue that acting in a promiscus manner violates Natural Law because it can damage people emotionaly. I can understand that that might not be the way people make emotional attachments, but I can't understand why people would think reasoning from nature would be incoherent.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13239014526067001801 TooManyJens

    Thanks, Joe.What I think is incoherent is basing morality on a supposed dichotomy between nature and will, wherein if a person is exercising their will to override what's considered natural, that's immoral. For one thing, I think our will is actually *part* of nature. I don't think it's unnatural for people to build airplanes and fly, for instance; that's the kind of thing our brains equip us to do. For another, even if it were unnatural, that wouldn't automatically make it wrong. There's a step missing in the "unnatural = wrong" reasoning.But maybe I only thought you were claiming that, and you weren't. If your argument is that we should use our observations of nature as a guide to show us what is and is not harmful, then sure. If I agreed with you about the way that humans form bonds via sex, I would probably say that promiscuity is unwise, at least. I might consider it immoral in the sense that people were more likely to get hurt; I'd have to think about it. I'm not convinced that your premise is accurate, though. Sex is certainly part of how couples bond, but then again so is sharing meals. That doesn't mean it's harmful to go have lunch with lots of friends from work. :)

  • Joe Fischer

    I think we're starting to understand each other. I think your statement "If your argument is that we should use our observations of nature as a guide to show us what is and is not harmful, then sure." is accurate. I just have trouble understanding how doing something apart from what makes natural sense can be good. But like you said I could be missing a step. I do agree with you that building planes and so on is a good thing so don't misunderstand.I didn't mean to suggest that sex was the only way to form bonds just one of the most intimate and meaningful ways. Thanks for clearing all this up.

  • Patrick

    Joe- Why I care might be part of my nature, but that's not the same as saying that something "matters" because of "natural law" using the definitions of "matters" and "natural law" that were in use in this conversation. After all, you had just written:"But if humans don't have an intrinsic worth granted by natural law what difference does it make if anyone is harmed?"

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com/ Brian Green

    Hi Leah,You should read some Thomas Aquinas. He is very careful to build all of his virtue ethics very carefully into biology – at least what they knew of it in the day. Here I go recommending worldviews, and not a necessarily Christian one (!) – try dual-aspect monism and not dualism. Let me explain…I gave a paper at the American Academy of Religion's Transhumanism and Religion group a couple years ago where I critiqued Kurzweil's patternism from an Aristotelian perspective. Aristotle always breaks reality into matter and form, but the two are inseparable – "prime matter" is of course never to be found anywhere. Matter and form are not dualistic in Aristotle as they are in Plato, they are not separable. They are two aspects of one thing. Kurzweil is more of a Platonist than an Aristotelian. I basically argued, and I think rightly, that a "copy" of you is not "you" anymore – its your copy. Even is identical, if it is in different matter it is not the same hylomorph (which is just Greek for matter-form). Maybe you know all this already. Transhumanist uploading could not work that way. Maybe brain uploading could work with neuron by neuron replacement – but even then it is new matter and some interesting research shows that neural matter stays the same from age two on. So that specific brain matter really might be "you." You not in your pattern (or in(form)ation), but in your matter and form together.Back to dualism… the medievals split human nature into "nature as nature" and "nature as reason." Nature as nature was pre-rational, and nature as reason was rational, of course. Well, actually both are rational, the first is rational in the way that having hands and feet is rational – for humans those are important things to have. But with reason we can understand way more than other footed and handed creatures can. Anyway, it builds on Aristotle's tripartite soul (vegetal, animal, and rational soul) and ideas like that. Each layer of soul builds on the lower and requires the lower, but adds new capacities. Anyway, heavy stuff. Too late to write more coherently. If you want the transhumanism paper email me.

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com/ Brian Green

    By the way, I'm not too into the idea that evolutionary leftovers guide much human behavior. I'm with the crowd that finds the human mind extremely "degenerate" – not in a mean or bad way – just that the human mind is designed to uptake a culture and the culture is really what shapes the biology. UC Berkeley anthropologist Terrence Deacon calls humans the "degenerate ape" because while other apes do fine without culture, feral humans are totally screwed up. The biological degeneracy makes the mind free to uptake multitude kinds of culture, and that is what makes humans such spectacular creatures. The degenerate biology relaxes constraint, and culture takes up the slack.The basic human inclinations are just that: really BASIC. Culture does a whole lot to fill in the brain. Perhaps you want to assert culture over biology as your dualism. But that forgets that culture is biological for humans. Anyway, as I said above, too much for now. Dissertations worth here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08395703772492059721 Benjamin Baxter

    Stripping the procreative, only leaving the unitive, in sex is to unite yourself with — who? Someone who is, despite all frivolous differences, nonetheless fundamentally like yourself? Is not a purpose of the unitive in marriage to unite yourself with a mysterious other who you may only even guess at through this intimate connection? Whose status as a mysterious other you cannot, even in your worst moments, deny? Truths exist in this ritual and are not lightly discarded.While it is wonderful that it this theology of the body is finally being explored in the modern age, it is sad the impetus had to be, as it did with all the heresies, widespread apostasy into a theology made convenient and in our image.As for the transhuman sympathies, only a hedonist believes, "Our bodies are our own. They’re ours to use, abuse, and since we’re all going to die one day, they’re ours to use up." If you are a hedonist, then declare it and we will have that dialogue. If not, I apologize for the misapplication of the label.http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13239014526067001801 TooManyJens

    Is not a purpose of the unitive in marriage to unite yourself with a mysterious other who you may only even guess at through this intimate connection?…no? Not in my marriage. I am united with my husband, not with any third parties that neither of us believes in.Whose status as a mysterious other you cannot, even in your worst moments, deny?I can and do deny the existence of a "mysterious other". Many people, while they may believe in the existence of that other, do not perceive any hindrance in their relationship with that other as a result of their use of contraception.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Hi Benjamin, I ended up spinning off a response to your first point into its own post here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17467675780212523820 Brandon Jaloway

    Leah,Would you mind exposing more of your thoughts on dualism? You believe "there are desires/behaviors/patterns that are based around survival (or evolutionary junk that was once useful) and these are kind of the base, body-oriented parts of our choices. Then there are the character forming/virtue ethics orientation parts and this is the part of human existence that is unique and which I mean to exalt."So, do you believe that these parts ("the character forming/virtue ethics orientation parts and this is the part of human existence that is unique") are spiritual or can they be reduced to the effects of matter in motion? For example, could you predict the choices of a person, if you knew with total perfection, the position, direction, and speed of every piece of matter in the person and knew of the forces acting on the matter in the person? Or is there, in your mind, some spiritual aspects to life that cannot be reached by merely material elements.(As a complete aside, in the Star Wars movies the force was spiritual. Then they came out with the prequels (gag me) and the force was reduced to "Midi-chlorians" (barf).)Here is an excellent, though somewhat lengthy, discussion of materialism:http://www.scifiwright.com/2011/06/materialism-revisited-2/It is part of an ongoing discussion between the excellent "Science Fiction Writer John C. Wright" and the extremely persistent materialist Dr. Rolf Andreassen. It is really quite funny and stimulating.Brandon

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