I am presently editing a book with the working title “The Unnecessary Science” that is a robust critique of Thomism, Natural Law and Christian thinkers such as Edward Feser. I (and fellow contributor Ficino) have written a number of times about Natural Law Theory (NLT) – see “Related Posts” below. It has reminded me of how problematic NLT is and I wanted to touch again, here, on NLT and sex.
Just to remind people, NLT states that behaviours that are rationally chosen by an agent that do not fit the remit of the final cause of the agent or part of the agent (i.e., a body part) are morally bad. In the same way a kettle that doesn’t work well to boil water is a bad kettle, if the supposed final cause or purpose of a penis is to urinate and procreate, then any behaviour that falls outside of the remit of excretion or reproduction (procreation) is morally bad. I am simplifying matters here for expediency.
I think this has some really interesting ramifications. If I was to debate Edward Feser (a major modern proponent of this theory), I will be seriously tempted to ask him, “So, you have six children? I presume you have had sex only within the range of 6 to 60 times (assuming your wife and yourself are reproductively fertile)?”
What is at stake here for such believers is that masturbation, contraception and sex exclusively for enjoyment are morally bad. These believers have to adhere to the behaviour of abstinence outside of procreation of the sole purpose of giving birth to a child.
Of course, I wouldn’t ask such an impertinent question in a public debate, I don’t think. But it is interesting to wonder whether such believers really do adhere to their own moral proclamations.
In evolutionary terms, sex is enjoyable precisely because, for genes to have their genesis in other organisms and therefore continue their existence, a sexually reproductive organism such as a human needs to have sex as often as possible. Enjoyment means a greater chance of procreation. If sex was truly horrible, we would be less inclined to have it and would have less chance of passing on our genes.
Aware that enjoyment appears functional (in terms of evolution) for passing on our genes, proponents of NLT will argue that enjoyment is either not functional (some kind of random collateral?), or functional as a not-quite-final cause for the final cause of procreation (or, arguably, gene transference).
There is an interesting question as to why God would have made sex enjoyable given the moral paradigm. If it was to increase the chance of procreation then there is a tension here between the mechanism (the enjoyment if sex in promoting the desire to have sex) and the final cause with regard to moral behaviour. If it is morally bad to have sex outside of the purview of procreation then God has designed into the system of sexual reproduction a seriously effective temptation to be morally bad.
God appears to be saying, “Sex is enjoyable because I want you to desire to have sex in order that you fulfil the purpose of procreation. But if you do this enjoyable thing without the intention of procreation then you are morally bad [even though there appears to be no real negative consequences, prima facie, of doing so].” Or, “I am going to seriously tempt you and then punish you for being tempted!”
Arguably, a man and a woman (for purposes of simplicity since I don’t want to talk about homosexuality and NLT here) having sex within marriage is actually really positive for their relationship. Building up sexual pressure within both the partners is unhealthy for a sustainable relationship unless there is an easy and healthy way to have 50-odd kids.
Given that the initial process of sexual reproduction is so enjoyable, should this mean that people should be trying to have children as much as possible? The old idea that, tapped into by Monty Python, Catholics should have as many children as possible and that every sperm is sacred is kind of entailed in this.
Of course, we could enter the rabbit hole of population problems that come about from such a problem. We could no doubt come up with some optimal number of children human couples should have in terms of sustainability of the human race and the planet as a whole. This would again act as a constraint against the fact that sex is generally enjoyable. God has again designed into the system a tension concerning sex and procreation.And for more light-hearted entertainment:
- Natural Law, Essentialism and Nominalism
- Natural Law Theory, Morality and Rational Beings
- Natural Law Theory and Sexual Pleasure: A Proposed Syllogism
- Natural Law Theory: Sexual Organs, Beards and Food
- Sex and Sexuality: Criticising Natural Law Theory
- Some Early Natural Law Arguments: Faculties, Functions and Organs
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