What about other Others?

Get thee there if you haven’t weighed in yet.

 

So, back to some of my undisguised opinions for a bit, as we wait for the survey results.  There’s been a lot of commenting on the Natural vs Normative thread about homosexuality.  Benjamin Baxter of Prodigal No More just brought up a common philosophical argument against homosexuality that I want to take a minute to address.  He wrote:

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.

There was a little confusion about whom this mysterious other was, but it’s my impression that Benjamin is referring to is the opposite-sexed partner.  I’ve heard variants on this argument before: that only the opposite sex can remain somehow Other and unreachable whereas a person of our own gender is so self-similar that sexual congress is mere masturbation.

I don’t get it. I think it sells short all other aspects of human diversity.

There are plenty of unbridgeable gulfs between me and other people.  Some of them might be rooted in biology, but, as trads and post-modernists should both agree, many of them are rooted in culture.  The choice of biological sex as the difference-that-will-stand-for-all-difference-between-self-and-other seems awfully arbitrary.

I don’t disagree with the crux of this argument: that part of what makes married love important is that we commit to someone who is unlike ourselves even when they are jarringly dissimilar.  This bond gives us the opportunity to get outside out own head and biases and let our partner help fix the deficiencies we could not recognize.  Making a lifetime commitment to someone different that you and having to just deal with all the frustration or just plain incomprehensibility that grows out of that difference can help you cultivate patience and openness to Others everywhere else in your life.

I’m entirely in favor of this (and it’s a large part of my sympathies for covenant marriage), but I don’t see gender differences as the essential split.  In fact, making gender differences the essential divide seems like it could blind us to the other ways we Other people.  A heterosexual bond doesn’t usually help White supremacists get past their racial prejudice.  No one person can be all the Others to you, so, for this purpose, your opposite-sexed lover will sometimes be deficient, just as a same-sex one might have.

There are other ways to try to get a handle on problems of other minds (I generally go with science fiction specifically, and novels generally).  Plenty of these options are lower stakes than disputes with your life-partner, but no one should turn up their nose at an opportunity to grow.

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/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    Beyond which, the most fundamental Other is an animal. So this argument would lead one to unpleasant consequences…

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

    Well, my face is red. I was mixing up the anti-homosexuality arguments in those comments with anti-contraception arguments I've been dealing with elsewhere. I thought the "mysterious Other" was God. Like, you're not supposed to use contraception because it's putting something between you and your spouse and keeping you from being fully unified, and since you and your spouse and God are supposed to be unified in marriage it was anti-God, or something. :D Anyway, I was confused.

  • Patrick

    Don't feel bad, Jens, I made the same mistake. I've heard too many wedding speeches recently from ministers who believe that only Christians can truly love their spouses or their children, and I interpreted him in that light.

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

    In other words, gay marriage is immoral, unless its interracial.

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

    What level of understanding of marriage are you trying to get to? What depth are you seeking? I don't think we can ever fully, exhaustively understand marriage. That is not to say I doubt the human intellect's ability to grasp the fundamental truths of marriage. We can grasp them.Here are two good questions to start with: 1. Why is it essential that the couple actually have sex? 2. Why is it important that they just be two and not more? So, for example, why would an adult brother and sister who live together but don't sleep together, not be considered a marriage? Or, if a married couple had a single roommate, why should that roommate not become part of the marriage? Is there some meaning in marriage? What is it? I think that once you begin to be able to explain that meaning, you will be able to see more clearly what is essential to marriage and what is not essential.

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

    "… you will find that you have spoiled the very fine word daisy." — ChestertonNot just essential, Leah, but irrefutable. Undeniable. This is crucial, given how cruelly we are tempted to self-love. As per essential: Every biological difference between a man and his wife is really quite trivial except that one is man and the other is woman. Red hair? Webbed toes? Skin tone? Who cares? Impregnating and impregnated, though; that's serious business. That is universal among every culture because it precedes and survives beyond culture. White supremacy didn't exist before black slavery. Your spouse is not all the Others. Your spouse is the first Other. She is Other in the only way that matters.Biological sex is part of who you are. It is not the whole you, not by a long shot, but if you are more than your biological sex you cannot be any less. Let's look at what the act of sex is: It is an objectively deeper expression of love than sodomy or other contraceptive sex. It is not just metaphorically or whimsically "I wish there were more people like you" but literally "with this act I wish there were more people like you." It is not "have pleasure, have bliss." It is not, as the masochists say, "I degrade myself this much even for you." It is "God willing, of our own accord we hereby open ourselves to procreate a unique person who has never before existed and — if you are Christian — will exist forever." If parents think naming a kid is hard, imagine the solemn duty of caring for a new immortal soul. (Soul means the life principle of the body. It is not half of some ghost-in-the-machine dualism, &c.;, &c.;)I think people have far too little respect for what exactly goes on with the act of sex. http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/

  • Jess

    Here is what *I* don't understand: why do (certain) heterosexual Christians feel the need to take paradigms of Christian love and marriage that they find in their own lives, then refuse to accept that there could ever possibly be any other paradigm.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Benjamin Baxter wrote:>As per essential: Every biological difference between a man and his wife is really quite trivial except that one is man and the other is woman.As a scientist (Ph.D. in physics, 1983), I find this talk of what is “essential” more than a bit bizarre. I know that electrons have a spin of 1/2, a mass of 0.51 MeV/c2, an electric charge of –1, etc. Which of those characteristics, if any, is essential to electrons?Well… there just happen to be things that share all those characteristics, we have equations that describe very accurately how those things behave, etc.But “essential”?“Sire, I have no need for that hypothesis.”You also wrote:>Impregnating and impregnated, though; that's serious business.Well, sure – if you are heterosexual, and if you choose to have kids, and if you procreate the old-fashioned way. I am heterosexual, I have a wife and kids, so, yeah, for me, it is “serious business.”But, many people nowadays, including many heterosexuals, do *not* choose to reproduce, so I suppose it is not-so-serious business for them (perhaps, avoiding reproducing is the serious business).You also wrote:>Soul means the life principle of the body. It is not half of some ghost-in-the-machine dualism, &c.;, &c;Again, as a scientist, I find that simply bizarre, rather like a line from “Jabberwocky.”Of course, I did well enough on the verbal SAT that I could pretend to understand it, just as I could write a make-believe essay on the biology of “slithy toves.” I understand Wittgensteinian language games.But, to really believe that “Soul means the life principle of the body” truly makes a meaningful statement about reality? I could no more do that than I could believe that the term “horcrux” refers to something that actually exists in the real world.I do not have particularly strong feelings on “gay marriage.” I am willing to leave the word “marriage” to refer to heterosexual unions, so long as some just way is arranged for treating homosexual couples fairly.No, my disagreement with people such as yourself is deeper: I simply find your way of talking and thinking more bizarre than, say, Tolkien’s fantasies.And, that, I think, is relevant to Leah’s main concern in this blog: the real problem is not so much that those of us with a modern scientific education think that you Christians are wrong, but rather that we think your whole way of thinking, when dealing with religious issues, exhibits no contact with reality whatsoever. Just words, meaningless language games.Dave Miller in Sacramento

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

    Jess, perhaps you could offer us such a paradigm. I know for my part I would be willing to discuss any paradigm that you wish. However, I will only give up my paradigm once you have convinced me (personally) that your paradigm is better. Is that fair?One more question, which (certain) heterosexual Christians are espousing paradigm(s) that are Christian? Perhaps they are espousing a Platonic or Aristotelian or Kierkegaardian paradigm? To tell you the truth, the "Catholic" paradigm is probably more based on Aristotle than on the bible (this statement is pure speculation on my part, not approved by the FDA).

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

    Dave, do you seriously consider Christians so wrong, in their whole way of thinking, when dealing with religious issues, that they exhibit no contact with reality whatsoever? "Just words, meaningless language games." Even though every culture in every age has had some form of religion and Christians can speak to all those religious people? Do words which refer to "spiritual" things not mean anything to you?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01920357855016976985 croncor

    Dave, I just want to speak in defense of Aristotle:If you have a bit of a firmer grip on the concepts underlying this sort of soul-talk, you'll start to see that it really isn't so odd or anti-scientific. The "essence" of a thing is the set of characteristics that make it what it is, rather than something else. The essence of a chair is that it's sat on, etc. The content underlying the word "essence" is (forgive me) essential to the normal human way of approaching the world. Similarly, a thing's "substantial form" (in the case of animals this is usually called a "soul"… that's why *anima*ls are called animals — anima means soul in latin, you see) is simply the set of organized activities (down to the molecular level) that allow it persist as the same sort of thing that it is. The substantial form of fire involves combustion, that of plants involves photosynthesis, etc. Whether you see in this line of thought a valid argument against sodomy (or for the immortality of the human soul) is one thing, but this sort of language is basically just a formalization of common sense and shouldn't be lightly cast aside. In other words, you may be able to see through everything everyone says as a kind of language game, but it happens that the world we all inhabit from one day to the next participates primarily in a few specific language games and it would be foolish of you to totally reject their rules.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Brandon Jaloway wrote to me:> Do words which refer to "spiritual" things not mean anything to you?Well… we could debate the “meaning of meaning,” I suppose! Though I do not think that would be very productive.So, to give a short answer to your question, no, I honestly do not think “spiritual talk” refers to anything in the real world. I was raised attending a Southern Baptist church (I refused to join the church or be baptized), I have had numerous discussions with friends who are believers over the last half century, and I have read a lot of religious literature, from the New Testament in its entirety to some of Grisez and Swinburne. So, I am not unacquainted with talk about “spiritual things.”But, such “spiritual” talk seems to me a combination of discredited pre-scientific world-views (as in Ben’s reference to “essence”) with Wittgensteinian language games aimed at reinforcing social solidarity (you prove your loyalty to the religious group by claiming to believe in obvious nonsense – rather like a fraternity hazing).Brandon also wrote:> Even though every culture in every age has had some form of religion and Christians can speak to all those religious people?Well, almost every culture in almost every age has supposed the sun moves around the earth, has been ignorant of the fact that humans are descended from fish, etc. I agree with Francis Bacon’s point that modern scientifically-educated people are the “true ancients.” I see no reason whatsoever to defer to the ignorance of our ancestors.I realize that this makes me an intolerant, insensitive positivist who is promoting the intellectual hegemony of dead white male scientists over the masses of humanity.I rather like that.Dave

  • Joe

    It seems as though when ever metaphysics is discussed Athiest just dismiss it as if it were theology. Why is it that in all other areas of thought modern athiests gladly rely on reason alone. But when it comes to morality they reject Natural moral reason(witch is objective and cross cultural) and rely on subjective emotion?

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    *But when it comes to morality they reject Natural moral reason(witch is objective and cross cultural) and rely on subjective emotion? *Because we don't accept your a priori assertions that it is objective or cross cultural.Just like I don't accept your assertion right here that I "rely" on "subjective" "emotion". Bunch of problems with that:1.) I'm operating on reason same as you. You don't agree with my reasons, I don't agree with yours. But neither of us can really get farther than intellectual masturbation by claiming that we're operating on cool, correct reason, while the other is a mouthfrothing savage.2.) Emotion isn't subjective.3.) Subjective doesn't mean incorrect.4.) Emotion isn't distinct from reason. Both are paralell brain functions (yes, really–read a little neuroscience).

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    You know what, Brandon: It would be good if you didn't ask "questions" that you are already apparently sure you have the only possible right answer to. Like this:*1. Why is it essential that the couple actually have sex?*Let's just skip right to the end of the conversation and save ourselves some time: Is there any answer whatsoever that you would accept that was not "unitive procreation"?

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    "…but if you are more than your biological sex you cannot be any less."You sure sound like you think this phrase carries some sort of meaning, but fuck if I know what it is.

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    *…that only the opposite sex can remain somehow Other and unreachable whereas a person of our own gender is so self-similar that sexual congress is mere masturbation.*Leah, you really expect me sit here while you cruelly denigrate the glory and wonder of masturbation?

  • Patrick

    Natural law is such a vicious fraud.Look at that old chestnut about God answering prayer, but sometimes he says yes, sometimes no, and sometimes maybe.It doesn't take a genius to figure out that those are all the possibilities that could happen if there were no gods at all, or if the gods didn't answer prayer.Its a little pithy saying that's designed to teach you to think of every possible outcome in a religious framework. Once you've accepted it, you can never see evidence against the gods answering prayer because you'll interpret it in light of that saying, and see it as confirming evidence instead.Well, natural law is the same sort of fraud. If you have moral intuitions, that's proof that natural law is self evident. If other people don't agree with your moral intuitions, but you think you can convince them based on some shared moral premises, that's a "tough case" that can be solved by logic and reason. If other people can't be convinced, well, you already know that moral law is self evident so you can reject their perspective as the result of sinfulness.No possible contradictory evidence can ever get through to someone once they've adopted this framework. Its a perfect bigotry-machine, a process for gold plating one's gut instincts and calling them Righteousness, and I have little respect for it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08572976822786862149 Darwin

    Well, natural law is the same sort of fraud. If you have moral intuitions, that's proof that natural law is self evident. If other people don't agree with your moral intuitions, but you think you can convince them based on some shared moral premises, that's a "tough case" that can be solved by logic and reason. If other people can't be convinced, well, you already know that moral law is self evident so you can reject their perspective as the result of sinfulness.That something is "self evident" (which is perhaps even there stronger than the claim that educated Christians make about natural law — they would tend to claim instead that it is discernible without revelation) does not necessarily mean that everyone sees and agrees with it. Or at least, if we take "self evident" to mean something with which no one can disagree based on his own impressions, then nothing is self evident and it's a useless concept.Take, for instance, the most famous use of the term "self evident" here in the US: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men were created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights."I think most people would be willing to concede to Jefferson that this is something which can be discerned through observation of humanity and thinking about what one observes, but that doesn't mean that no one will come to different conclusions. That some people might insist that it doesn't look to them like all humans are equal in some sense, or that all humans have rights does not necessarily mean that this is a useless concept, or that it cannot in fact be discerned without benefit of some sort of supernatural revelation, or that we should not, as a society, base institutions on the concept.–DarwinCatholic

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    *It seems as though when ever metaphysics is discussed Athiest just dismiss it as if it were theology.*Because it is theology, Joe. You aren't fooling us. When you talk about natural law as being something entirely pre-extant and distinct from the Catholic Church, we *know* it's the Magisterium doing a little sock-puppet act. Isn't it amazing that "Natural Law" is always 100% coextant with church teaching, differing in not the smallest detail, and expounded *entirely* by people who just *happen*–by merest happenstance to also be ultra-conservative Catholics (or, maybe, like in 1% of all cases it's one of those "pet" atheists or faitheists that Catholic theology faculty keep around for some reason).You all think you're being so sly, like you're going to blindfold us and lead us via backwards baby-steps through the vestry entrance and then, fwoosh, voila!, you reveal that the edifice of logic you got us to agree to was actually the Catholic church. 'Cept not. Except we *see* the giant steeple over there and your little marked-out course leading to it. We know 50 steps in advance Where You're Going With This. Heck, YOU know where you're going–you know where you want to go and, in good Aquinian fashion, you then lay down whatever connected chain of statements "logically" are necessary to add up to church doctrine.

  • http://www.noaa.gov Kogo

    *Dave, do you seriously consider Christians so wrong, in their whole way of thinking, when dealing with religious issues, that they exhibit no contact with reality whatsoever? "Just words, meaningless language games." Even though every culture in every age has had some form of religion and Christians can speak to all those religious people? Do words which refer to "spiritual" things not mean anything to you?*If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be an atheist, would I?

  • KL

    @PatrickLook at that old chestnut about God answering prayer, but sometimes he says yes, sometimes no, and sometimes maybe.It doesn't take a genius to figure out that those are all the possibilities that could happen if there were no gods at all, or if the gods didn't answer prayer.Look at the old chestnut about parents answering requests from their children. Sometimes they say yes, sometimes no, and sometimes maybe. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that those are all the possibilities that could happen if there were no parents at all, or if the parents didn't answer requests.Yes, I recognize that there are reasons beyond request-answering to believe in the existence of parents, but I think your graf above is a poor argument. There are plenty of reasons for the range of possible answers to be "yes – no – maybe" that don't have to do with the non-existence of the subject. We see the same range of answers in all kinds of relationships and we don't intrinsically doubt their sincerity.

  • Patrick

    KL- Its not an argument for the non existence of God. Its a demonstration of the way that people build frameworks for looking at the world that insulate them from even being capable of recognizing evidence against their own position. And what's worse is that people view things that match their framework as support for that framework and the underlying beliefs- even if, as in this instance, there is no possible outcome that wouldn't be interpreted as support for the position, even if the position is wrong.Its conspiracy theory reasoning. If you find evidence for the conspiracy, that confirms the conspiracy. If you don't, that confirms that the conspiracy hid the evidence, confirming the conspiracy. Once you buy into that, you're done. Intellectually, you're just done.

  • http://www.noaa.gov Kogo

    *We see the same range of answers in all kinds of relationships and we don't intrinsically doubt their sincerity.*Um, what?

  • http://www.fleshbot.com Kogo

    *Look at the old chestnut about parents answering requests from their children. Sometimes they say yes, sometimes no, and sometimes maybe. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that those are all the possibilities that could happen if there were no parents at all, or if the parents didn't answer requests.*That's just stupidly untrue on it's face. Without parents *existing*, there would be no yes, no no and no maybe, there would be just nothing. Sort of the way it is with god: There's nothing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    croncor wrote to me:>If you have a bit of a firmer grip on the concepts underlying this sort of soul-talk, you'll start to see that it really isn't so odd or anti-scientific. The "essence" of a thing is the set of characteristics that make it what it is, rather than something else. The essence of a chair is that it's sat on, etc.I’ve known for forty years or more how Aristotelians use the word “essence.” And, I know the definition of the word “chair.” However, I think that knowing the definition of the word “chair” tells us how we use the word “chair” but does not tell us anything about external reality.Similarly, I do not think that there is, in external reality, a real “essence” to things. Things just are: a thing does not need an “essence” to, in your words, “make it what it is, rather than something else.”I know all about the long debate in the Middle Ages between “nominalists” and “realists,” Kant’s distinction between noumena and phenomena, and all the rest. And, like most scientists, I find Aristotle, Aquinas, and Kant equally unhelpful.The Scientific Revolution was born in a revolt against the Aristotelian word-view in favor of a mechanistic, empiricist world-view. Prior to that revolt, as Pascal said, what was truth on one side of the Pyrenees was error on the other. The scientific world-view is the first world-view in history to establish significant, non-obvious truths about reality that transcend cultural and civilizational boundaries.And, pragmatically, science has brought enormous gifts to humankind that no previous world-view could provide.I think the mechanistic-empiricist world-view has won.Decisively.croncor also wrote to me:>In other words, you may be able to see through everything everyone says as a kind of language game, but it happens that the world we all inhabit from one day to the next participates primarily in a few specific language games and it would be foolish of you to totally reject their rules.I’m afraid I, and most scientifically-well-educated people, do indeed reject those language games, and are none the worse for it.Not foolish at all.Just facing reality.Dave

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Patrick wrote:> Well, natural law is the same sort of fraud. If you have moral intuitions, that's proof that natural law is self evident.That depends, doesn’t it?“Abortion is against natural law. Self-evident. That’s the end of it.”That sort of “argument” indeed deserves your criticism.On the other hand:“It is self-evident that no human society can survive if all its members are constantly trying to kill each other. Therefore, natural law requires some sort of prohibition against murder.”That argument seems to me about as good as many arguments in science. I can think of counter-arguments, but it certainly does not seem to me obvious nonsense. In fact, I think it is more or less correct, although it certainly could be modified in reasonable ways.“Natural law” can mean the sort of law it is natural and reasonable for human beings to enact given broad facts about human beings. I do not see any reason to object in principle to “natural law” in that sense.Or “natural law” can mean ex cathedra declarations from authority that all the rest of us must simply bow down before. I see lots of reasons to object to that!I think Catholics think they are advocating “natural law” in the first sense, even though they may often seem to you and me to be applying the second sense.Jefferson, of course, was not a conventional Christian: he was probably a deist (although there is good reason to suspect he was really an agnostic), yet he employed the idea of natural law.It’s a mistake to assume that just because Christians advocate some point that this point is necessarily wrong. Some Christians may contend that all of us deserve eternal torment in Hell, that our methods of thought are completely and fundamentally corrupt, etc. We do not have to make the same error in reverse. Christians have religious views that are indeed self-evidently wrong. But, of course, many Christians have other views that are perfectly sensible. Their religious delusions need not infect all areas of their thought: happily, that usually does not occur.Dave

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01920357855016976985 croncor

    Dave, you rather misunderstood the point, and if you think the existence of real "essences" has anything whatsoever to do with the universals debate, you might want to reconsider your grand claims to philosophical learnedness. But, as you suggest, you seem to be basically just an irritable bigot, so I'll just leave things there.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    croncor wrote to me:>you might want to reconsider your grand claims to philosophical learnedness.No honest person could claim that I made “grand claims to philosophical learnedness.” I merely explained that I was not so lacking in a “firm grip” in philosophy as *you* tried to claim I was.croncor also wrote to me:> you seem to be basically just an irritable bigot…Let’s see: you maintain that I lack a firm grip on the matter we are discussing and when I reply that I have known about this stuff for nearly a half century, that proves that *I* am an “irritable bigot”?I won’t respond in kind. I will just say that your actions show what kind of person you are and why educated people tend to react to people like you as they do.You have been measured, croncor, and found wanting.

  • Anonymous

    Dave, for someone with 50 years of Aristotle under your belt, you sure don't know what the hell you're talking about.Oh, and lashing out with ad hominems against croncor when he points out your ignorance? That makes you look like an irritable bigot.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Anonymous (of course!) wrote to me:> Dave, for someone with 50 years of Aristotle under your belt, you sure don't know what the hell you're talking about.Well, that certainly enlightens all of us on my supposed errors!I made no profound statements about Aristotle.I merely pointed out that the Scientific Revolution rejected the Aristotelian world-view, and that few scientists today find any reason to regret that rejection.That point is standard textbook history of science. I doubt any knowledgeable person even considers it controversial. Indeed, many modern Aristotelians seem largely to agree with my point that “I think the mechanistic-empiricist world-view has won.” They simply hope they can reverse that victory.Happily, they cannot.Anon also wrote:> Oh, and lashing out with ad hominems against croncor when he points out your ignorance? That makes you look like an irritable bigot.Gee, I lashed out at him? He claimed I was ignorant: I merely pointed out that I am not.If that is “lashing out” at poor young croncor, well, where did I insult him, pray tell, prior to his calling me an “irritable bigot”? Where, oh where were my “ad hominems” against young croncor, before he called me an “irritable bigot”?Where, oh where, pray tell us, oh wise Anon!Somehow, Anon, I think we can all guess who you really are since you too, exactly like young croncor, just called me an “irritable bigot”!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01920357855016976985 croncor

    Dave, for the record (and I realize this is probably hard for you to believe) I'm not "Anon". For all the neat things about virtual identity flexibility, it can be sort of annoying. But I don't see what advantage I would have if I rejoined the same conversation under a different pseudonym. Bigotry (you'll have to forgive me for the condescending tone throughout—a bad habit of mine) is just a word for obstinacy and intolerance, both of which you clearly demonstrate. Of course, you probably don't see that, but I don't want to engage in further name-calling (which justifying the name would require), and probably shouldn't have called you a bigot in the first place.On the other hand, saying that I've been "measured and found wanting" is, given the very small amount I've said, ridiculous. You seem to think of an essence as some sort of spiritual haze or who-knows-what (perhaps in the—similarly ridiculous and ignorant—way Hobbes talks about souls in Leviathan) that is in things in addition to the physical stuff they consist of. That's a mistake. The essence of any thing is simply what it is. To deny that things have essences is to deny that they have determinate qualities. This is flatly absurd. Iron is the 26th element. Humans need nourishment to survive. I am mortal and hungry and have brown hair. Of course, a particular thing's essence can change. For example, if I put my computer through one of those impressive industrial blenders they show on youtube, it would cease to be a computer and become a powder. However, this doesn't change the fact that while it's a computer, it has the qualities of a computer. It happens to also have the qualities of a flat paperweight and a blunt weapon and a bed-warmer. It is just as much these things as it is a computer (though I don't use it as a blunt weapon, for the record). The essence of this object is the total set of its qualities, which together allow us to call it computer, bedwarmer, weapon, etc., and which make it what it is. To be even more condescending, the essence of a thing answers the question "What is it?"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01920357855016976985 croncor

    Now, the essence of *this thing* is distinct from the essence of a computer as such. If I decided to start using it as a blunt weapon, for example, it would pretty quickly stop being a computer. (Because of the damage incurred in the process.) We can ask of the concept of a computer "what is it", and get a set of qualities that define "computer", and, if we're philosophers, we can tweak the definition and pull out our copy of Philosophical Investigations and have some fun with it. This is true of "computer" mainly because computers are high-level artifacts and we make of them whatever we want. Lots of things (e.g. the integers, angler fish, and acetaminophin) aren't really artifacts in the same way. When we want to find out the answer to "what is it?" with respect to any of these (forgive the "n" word) "natural" classes of things, we have to use science (in the broad sense, as with episteme or Wissenschaft). And, I hope you'll agree, science tells us what they are both accurately and reliably. And when we talk about the integers and acetaminophin and so on, somehow it's really hard to believe that it's just a "language game" to affirm that they have definite qualities and are really characterized by our descriptions of them. The "language game" cliche is fun to play with on certain types of concepts, but on the whole it doesn't seem that relevant. Even if no one was here to think and talk about them, or if people talked and thought about them in a way fundamentally divergent from our own, it would still be true the set of positive integers and its subsets are well-ordered, and acetaminophin would still have one hydroxyl group. You can deny that, but I'm pretty sure that would make you crazy. Assuming you aren't going to deny that, it follows that we can talk about the essence of acetaminophin and the essences of other similar non-artifacts. And, insofar as a set of objects can be definitely distinguished by its qualities from all other objects, such a set constitutes a species, with its own essence which covers all of the members of that species. And species, properly speaking, don't change as they are in themselves, though they may lose members. For example, if all the molecules of acetaminophin in the world lost their hydroxyl group, acetaminophin wouldn't change; there just wouldn't be any left. You can claim that this is just a language game, but I'd love to see a chemist's reaction to that. Note that I have said nothing whatsoever about sodomy or the immortality of the soul etc. I just wanted to help you understand what an essence is. [This has been Aristotelianism 101: "Things and their Exciting Qualities".]If you (and this goes for Hobbes too w/r/t the soul—see, you're in good company; I love Hobbes) had made any extensive study of Aristotle (or Aquinas for that matter, since you brought him up), you would demonstrate a more accurate sense of what an "essence" is. But you clearly don't know, because anyone who did wouldn't make bold pronouncements about how "essences don't exist". (Snappy modus tollens argument, eh? No wonder all the "educated people" react to me the way they do.)I'm not sure what other errors my masked defender had in mind, but he/she is welcome to pipe in. No doubt I could come up with more, but I don't feel like writing a textbook in blog comments.

  • Patrick

    croncor, you've just given a definition of "essence" that makes it scientifically discernible… which would be pretty much it for transubstantiation. Which is fine by me! You can define things however you want! But I don't think that your definition would be widely accepted by people who believe in essences.

  • taosquirrel

    Haha, people who don't accept that definition of essences are people who don't understand what essences are. Croncor is quite correct.I suspect you're probably right though that most of the people in America who talk about souls subscribe to some or another dualistic understanding of the term. It's quite unfortunate, but it's not surprising that most people haven't read Aristotle (or Aquinas, since people seem to be bringing him up).And Dave's case goes to show that even people who have read them are capable of fundamentally misunderstanding them. Of course, it's frightfully easy to misread authors when you are predisposed to disagree with them, and when the terms they use are so abused in the majority of public discourse.

  • KL

    @croncorBravo for a cogent, thorough, and altogether lovely discussion of essences. I sincerely hope this will clear up some misconceptions for Dave, although I must admit my hopes are not high.@Patrickcroncor quite clearly indicated that essences are scientifically discernible for natural objects (he gives the examples of the integers, angler fish, and acetaminophin). The Eucharist is not a natural object in that it does not occur naturally, either before or after consecration (before consecration, it's bread; afterwards, it's the body and blood of Christ in the accidents of bread). This is not even to begin to touch on the fact that the Eucharist is a supernatural object in the genuine sense of the word, and thus is even distinct from typical non-natural objects like computers. So I'm not at all seeing how croncor's definition threatens transubstantiation at all. Aristotelian understandings of essences and accidents are in fact the underpinning of all Eucharistic theology; read any Aquinas, who was the most Aristotelian of anyone after Aristotle himself, on the subject of the Eucharist and transubstantiation, and you'll see that quite clearly.

  • Patrick

    KL- He quite clearly uses "essence" as interchangeable with "having qualities and being defined by them." If agreeing to that is all it takes to agree to essences, that's fine- you can define terms as you like as long as you use them consistently and are clear in your communication.But if that's all an essence is, then the communion wafer has no essence separate from its essence as a primitive bread product.On the other hand, if you want to claim that an "essence" is some other property that exists in a magical fantasy realm undetectable to human beings except possibly through magical powers granted by a spirit being, then all that rambling about things and their properties was pointless.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01920357855016976985 croncor

    Patrick, you're partially right, but then not entirely right, about transubstantiation. It's obviously not necessarily true based on what I said above that the essence of any particular thing consists solely of the qualities we're capable of perceiving in it. When we see things, though, we do see them as they are, but obviously not the whole of what they are. Unfortunately it really would take an entire book on Thomo-Aristotelianism to get from the little I said above to the possibility of the wafer and wine becoming the substance of Jesus Christ. The whole problem is really interesting even aside from its religious implications. Anyway, I'm glad you all liked what I wrote. I'm pretty sure that what I said *is* what most serious people (I'm excluding new age types, animists and so on) mean by "essence". Anyway, it's what Catholic philosophers in the tradition of Aquinas mean, as far as I can tell.

  • Gary

    CroncorHow is any of this related to moral issues like gay marriage? Isn't this what the post is about?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01920357855016976985 croncor

    I'm of the opinion that people should know basic stuff before they try to understand complex things that depend on basic stuff. Most Catholic arguments against sodomy depend on the concept of a natural end, which depends in turn on the concepts: species, agent, act, intention, etc. And you can't really have any of these concepts without accepting that things have essences and understanding what an essence is. Trying to demonstrate to a lot of the commenters here why, from a philosophical standpoint, sodomy is wrong is something like trying to prove Stokes' theorem to someone who doesn't know how to multiply. It's basically a lost cause.

  • Joe

    I think most people here would agree that sodomy is philosophically disordered they just don't care. If they had a square peg and a round hole the would just jam it in and say "Hey I don't care about nature if I don't recognize that a round hole requires a round peg then thats reality for me. And if you disagree you're a mean jerk."

  • Patrick

    croncor- that's… unfortunately the usual defense of Aquinas. That he's old and complex and difficult and if you don't agree with him its because you don't understand him. Unfortunately, when people try to actually explain why Aquinas was right, all they ever do is attempt to explain why Aquinas isn't internally inconsistent or isn't in blatant conflict with observable reality. Even people like Feser seem to fall into that error.I don't see what "essence" adds. Its either trite and pointless (in the "things have attributes, and I define essence to refer to attributes"), or else its metaphysical and unnecessary ("things have secret, magical essences that you can't detect, but which are very, very important, even though they don't do anything identifiable").And since the whole concept seems kind of dumb, and is rooted in a belief in natural law, we can't help but notice that what you're doing intellectually is indistinguishable from being a bigot who gives his gut instincts massive, massive intellectual airs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01920357855016976985 croncor

    Like I said. Lost cause.

  • KL

    @croncorThat's why most philosophy programs require a course in ancient phil before one tackles medieval! Aquinas really doesn't make sense unless you know the words, phrases, and concepts he refers to, and to do that you need a solid grounding in Aristotle (and probably Augustine, and most likely some Plotinus as well). @LeahThis is completely, totally off topic, but I want to register my appreciation for the "Exoticizing the Otter" image. I laugh every single time I open this page.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04644525459910973391 Kevin

    Croncor & Patrick:It is not quite true that essence is best understood as a set of proper qualities. If this were an adequate understanding, essence would be an otiose concept, as Patrick suggests.Essence, however, is not a plurality — not a set, or a bundle, or a series, or what you will — but rather the principle of unity of any existing thing. The essence of a thing is not the properties of the thing, but rather that principle by which the properties are the properties of a single thing. (Oderberg explains this at tedious length in his Real Essentialism.)Croncor is basically right, of course — in fact I think he is right — but the language of sets can be misleading here. However I agree that there is little point in trying to squeeze bits of the perennial philosophy into thoroughly ephemeral minds.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    croncor wrote to me:>Bigotry (you'll have to forgive me for the condescending tone throughout—a bad habit of mine) is just a word for obstinacy and intolerance, both of which you clearly demonstrate.No, I most assuredly will *not* forgive you for that, not at all.You made false claims about me and insulted me, when all I did was respond honestly to mistaken claims you had made about me.I have a Ph.D.; I am over fifty. I frankly have no time or patience to deal with someone such as yourself who, according to your blog, is not long out of college, but who is nonetheless so sure that you can falsely and maliciously pass judgment on those who are far more educated than you.I have some tolerance for arrogance. But for lying and malicious personal attacks, no, for that I have no tolerance at all.I can think of many ways to describe you, but I will simply let your actions speak for themselves.Seems to me you took etiquette lessons from Ed Feser.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    KL wrote:> croncor quite clearly indicated that essences are scientifically discernible for natural objects (he gives the examples of the integers, angler fish, and acetaminophin). The Eucharist is not a natural object in that it does not occur naturally, either before or after consecration (before consecration, it's bread; afterwards, it's the body and blood of Christ in the accidents of bread).The prosecution rests its case against KL’s and croncor’s (and most modern Aristotelians’) concepts of “essence,” “accidents,” and all the rest of this anti-scientific nonsense.There is a reason few scientists are Aristotelians.Incidentally, let me say that of course I acknowledge that Aristotle had interesting things to say about deductive logic, ethics, etc. Given the primitive stage of scientific knowledge in his time, I do not even blame him for his mistaken metaphysics: it was an interesting stab at the time. It just turned out to be wrong.Modern “Aristotelians” who try to defend the kind of view KL enunciates have, I think, far less excuse.

  • Kat (KL)

    @PhysicistDave"few scientists are Aristotelians…"Few scientists are philosophers, in general. That doesn't devalue the field of philosophy per se, but instead indicates that it is a distinct field and few individuals are well-versed in both. There are many contemporary philosophers who are Aristotelians in fact, if not in self-claimed label. And the study of metaphysics is necessarily extra-empirical (as is implied from the very name of the discipline, meta+physics. [Yes, I'm aware that the term was not prescriptive, but rather a word applied to the subject matter of -- there's that name again! -- Aristotle's treatise on the subject, which came after the volume titled "Physics" when published. Nevertheless modern metaphysicians have claimed the accidental name as appropriate.]) Metaphysics, Aristotelian metaphysics included, are not "anti-scientific." But they are by necessity extra-scientific. If that threatens a worldview which deifies empiricism, that's fine by me, as well as by every other metaphysician and philosopher I know.

  • Gary

    physicistDaveMaybe I over looked something but what exactly was Aristotle wrong about? Sorry.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ Benjamin Baxter

    As far as the most alien Other being an animal, I think it bears mentioning that the reason "Other" is capitalized is because — in Lewisian fashion — it is a name for a rational being. Natural and sensitive souls are of a different order than rational souls, and most would say a lower order. To males, females are an intriguing, bizarre creature which is nonetheless necessarily human.To quote Chesterton again: "A railway magnate seldom writes poems about the personal fascination of a railway porter. … You can abolish capitalists; but you cannot abolish males."Contraception harms everyone involved, Dave. It encourages hedonism and pregnancy outside marriage, a slide from cohabitation to a hasty, bad marriage, infidelity within marriage, and waters down a real love — "I want to have a baby with you" — into a counterfeit — "I want to have sex with you."In the hope you'd approach the following with "fresh eyes and a questioning mind," as PZ Meyers recommends, I provide a primary source for my information:http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/sexuality/se0002.htmlEven if you reject the dogma and appeals to apostolic authority, you can sift the arguments yourself. It very clearly provides historical context for the embrace of The Pill and other contraceptives, what the Church said would happen — in open defiance of popular opinion and expectation — and finally what did happen. I find these facts a very persuasive case against popular opinion.http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ Benjamin Baxter

    … *who are* nonetheless …Oy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Kat (KL) wrote to me:>Few scientists are philosophers, in general. That doesn't devalue the field of philosophy per se, but instead indicates that it is a distinct field and few individuals are well-versed in both.Astrology is also a “distinct field,” about which few scientists are experts. Yet scientists’ disdain for astrology is rational and well-deserved.Philosophy is devalued by its results: i.e., nothing. See the recent PhilPapers poll ( http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl ) where there was nothing on which philosophers are able to agree themselves that they have produced solid results!Anyway, my main point is that scientists do have a philosophy, one that is in fact a good deal more explicit than you imply: a form of empiricism/mechanism. The Scientific Revolution involved a rejection of Aristotelian metaphysics and the development of the empiricist/mechanistic philosophy because Aristotelianism disagrees with well-established scientific facts and empiricism/mechanism agrees with those facts.I realize that the philosophers’ response is that *they* are the experts on philosophical questions and that we scientists are not qualified to decide philosophical questions.To which I reply that I have the utmost contempt for philosophers’ making such a claim.We have spent many, many centuries testing the idea that the methods, approaches, etc. used by philosophers are adequate to deal with philosophical questions. We now know they are not.The abject and ludicrous failures of philosophers for over two thousand years and the stunning success of scientists’ employment of empiricism/mechanism is more than enough reason to take philosophy away from the philosophers and hand it over to people who are serious.Dave

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Gary wrote to me:> Maybe I over looked something but what exactly was Aristotle wrong about?Gary, do you know anything about the history of science?This point has been discussed for many centuries in countless books by and about science. It is hard to find anyone seriously disputing it.Modern science is atomistic, reductionist, and mechanisitic to the core, and this atomistic-mechanistic reductionism has been wildly successful, beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. However one tries to understand Aristotelianism, it is hard to convert it into atomistic-mechanistic reductionism!The most serious recent attempt to make peace between science and Aristotelianism that I know of is Ed Feser’s “The Last Superstition,” and Ed fails ludicrously: one wild mis-statement about science after another is all that lets Ed even pretend that neo-Aristotelian metaphysics is consistent with modern science.So, if any competent scientist wants an answer to your question, she should just read Ed’s book and try to avoid rolling on the floor in laughter.As to anyone who is not scientifically literate, my answer is: First learn some serious science, then reading Ed will answer your question.Dave

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12714581082612893449 Colin

    Dr "I have measured you and you have been found wanting" Dave (Doctor Philosophiae*, scientist, quinquagenarian, Aristotelian scholar, scientist, physicist, scientist, bright, serious reader of serious science, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera) is in our estimation worthy of recognition not only for the title dropping tendency so prominent in his prose, but also for the generally insufferable manner in which he presents it.*Dr Dave has not at this point revealed his alma mater, but we are confident that if the conversation continues long enough this and other credentials will be revealed (childhood soccer trophies, spelling bee ribbons, etc.)

  • Kat (KL)

    @PhysicistDaveDon't worry, I think you've quite effectively registered your contempt for philosophy as a discipline as well for anyone who happens to disagree with your premises. But I, along with many thousands of scholars, writers, thinkers, etc., will continue to see value in questioning. I'm fully at emotional and intellectual peace with that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Kat (KL) wrote:>But I, along with many thousands of scholars, writers, thinkers, etc., will continue to see value in questioning. Oh, on the contrary. I think you have made it abundantly clear that you would much sooner die than seriously question your beliefs.Your choice.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Colin,What a very, very strange post.But it is clear you would like to talk about your soccer trophies.Please do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Ben Baxter wrote to me:>Contraception harms everyone involved, Dave. It encourages hedonism and pregnancy outside marriage, a slide from cohabitation to a hasty, bad marriage, infidelity within marriage, and waters down a real love — "I want to have a baby with you" — into a counterfeit — "I want to have sex with you."Ben, you may be surprised that I partially agree with you. I think the existence of contraception has been used to justify some forms of irresponsible behavior, behavior that has led to serious illness as well as to emotional pain. We all know that some males have used the existence of contraception to argue “No reason you shouldn’t since you can’t get pregnant,” trying to obfuscate the fact that the female may have other reasons than fear of pregnancy for declining.On the other hand, knives can be misused, automobiles can be misused, even fire can be misused. I do not think that proves that knives, autos, or fire necessarily “harms everyone involved.”Similarly, I think that it is easy to come up with situations in which contraception is a good thing.Aside from that, I just am not interested in being a busybody. It seems to me that how other people use or do not use contraception is not really my business. Part of being a grown-up is accepting that other grown-ups have to live their lives their own way, even if their way does not seem optimal to me and even if they make some very real mistakes.I’m pretty sure that live-and-let-live will end up working better than my trying to control how they live their lives!All the best,Dave

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12714581082612893449 Colin

    I am content, Dr Dave (etc, etc, etc), to "sit back and contemplate [your] former eloquence."I would not presume to interrupt such a revealing dialogue for any longer than I already have.

  • Kat (KL)

    @DaveHmm. Not sure where you're getting that. But okay!

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ Benjamin Baxter

    Dave: I appreciate your comments. Henceforward, this comes down to a matter of what is the particular relationship we believe we must have with our fellow man. You've before made light of "universal brotherhood" as the patrimony of Christendom — ref. Feynman — but should we believe that we should love the fellow man we must propose a better way when he falls into sin. This is far short of imposing it. Should he scorn the message, then we kick the dust from our feet and move on. But, if we love our brother, we must dissuade him from ingesting the slightest poison. To paraphrase Lewis, love for another presupposes hating his cancer. Elsewise, it is a kind of contempt.This is, of course, contingent on believing in the value of universal love, and considering this assumption I expect you to reject my comment entirely.http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/

  • Pingback: Go Ahead, Tell Me What’s Wrong with Homosexuality

  • Pingback: fake Ray Ban Sunglasses


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X