A reading from Henry VI, Part 2 4:2:73

A reading from Henry VI, Part 2 4:2:73 August 9, 2012

Yes, in context, the line has the opposite sentiment to most of the people quoting it.

Yvain asked, in good faith, a detailed question about Natural Law theology, but his comment is buried in the wilds of the comment policy discussion, where tempers are rising.  So I want to pull it out and give it its own thread, and also take the opportunity to do some of the wacky experimental comment moderation I was talking about yesterday.  Here’s how it’s going to go down:

  • Only make a top-level comment if you are trying to answer one of Yvain’s questions.  Yes, that means that  top-level commenting is reserved for people who know something about Natural Law. That’s what he’s asking about, so let’s get some data on the table, so people aren’t attacking strawmen.
  • Once Natural Law folks comment, anyone can reply to their comments, provided you’re asking questions/critiquing their post specifically, not any other comment about Natural Law you’ve heard.
  • For now, I won’t delete comments that break these rules, but I will use my mod powers to insert [Rulebreaker] at the top of the post.  I may revise my approach as necessary.

But there will be two exceptions.  I am making two top-level comments where the rules are different.  These will appear as the first two comments.

  • The first will say “How’s this going?” and you should give feedback there on how this experiment is working, quibble about what I designate as [Rulebreaking], etc.
  • The second will say “Grump, grump, grump” and it’s where you get to complain about natural law, about me, about other things people are saying in the rules-following threads.  This is where you get to say, “I’m not commenting on [linked comment] since it was rulebreaking, but I think it’s dumb and I thought it was very important that I go on the record with that opinion.”

Ok. So, from here to the end of the post, I’m turning it over to Yvain and his question:

This is the first place where I’ve seen philosophically sophisticated opponents of homosexual acts, and I must admit I’m still very turned off by “natural law” theory. If I promise not to jump into accusations of bigotry and homophobia and so on, can I get some natural-law-perspective answers to the following questions?

1. We seem to use things for other than their intended purposes all the time. For example, at the moment I don’t have a pantry and am using my microwave to store some perishable foods so the insects don’t get to them. I know someone else who, in a pinch, will use their microwave to dry clothes. This is a bit weird, and the clothes probably don’t end up looking very good, but surely it isn’t *immoral*.

Likewise, the foot evolved/was created/whatever for walking, which is pretty necessary for human survival. Soccer players instead use their feet to kick balls, which is totally useless except for personal pleasure and maybe group bonding. The reproductive system is also necessary for survival of the species, and gay people are using it for something that brings only personal pleasure and maybe group bonding. How come the one is harmless fun and the other is a violation of natural law?

The atheist viewpoint is that things may have purposes intended by evolution or (in the case of artifacts by their creators), but if the intended purpose isn’t immediately necessary and you can think of some other good use for them like drying clothes or playing soccer, then there’s no harm in turning them to a new purpose, even if that new purpose is something silly like having fun with your friends during a soccer game. What’s wrong with that viewpoint?

2. For evolutionists, one of the major design goals for the human body was hunting food animals, and I gather creationists agree that most societies went through a hunting stage before developing agriculture and that the body is uniquely suited for this. Hunting makes sense as a goal because food is necessary for survival of the individual/species.

However, as soon as society advanced to the point at which not everyone needed to hunt, some people stopped hunting and that was totally okay. They then used body parts adopted to hunting – like hands – for other purposes, some of them “frivolous” – like making music. They used long legs adapted to pursue game animals for…I dunno, interpretive dance routines. Because other people were producing food, the human species survived just fine, and people who liked music got to be happy too. The take-home lesson seems to be that if the species can support itself just fine without all humans exercising a certain natural human capacity, there’s no reason those humans should have to exercise that natural human capacity in exactly that species-supporting way if they don’t want to, and they can use that capacity for social bonding or personal enjoyment or any of a million other possibilities.

There are more than enough heterosexuals to continue the species without any help from gay people, so where does this chain of reasoning break down when thinking about homosexuality?

3. If a gay person is not planning to have heterosexual sex and children and procreation anyway, then assuming they practice sufficiently safe sex and aren’t going to get AIDS or anything, what exactly is the harm of him doing his not-children-having while having gay sex as opposed to while having no sex? It’s still the same amount of procreation either way.

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  • leahlibresco

    How’s this going?

    In this sub-thread, you can give feedback there on how this experiment is working, quibble about what I designate as [Rulebreaking], etc.

    • Doug

      I would like to say that I find Yvain’s first point rather convincing (although not decisively so). In this setup, is there anywhere for me to express that encouragement? What if I wanted to say something like “Yvain’s first point is really good, and I consider it particularly given it strikes at heart of assumptions {x, y, and z} of natural law theory.

      I see three options: 1)No, no place to express that sentiment, because it’s not really contributing anything to the conversation, or is creating too many rabbit holes to chase. 2) There should be a separate sub-thread (like grump-grump and How’s it going) for extensions of the original point; or 3) the rules for top-level comments should be more permissive, to allow extensions off of the original point, as long as they remain largely on-topic.

      • leahlibresco

        Duly noted, but for right now it stays here while I watch how this plays out.

      • Ted Seeber

        I would think it’s allowable in the rules, as long as you point out exactly what holes x,y, and z with natural law are. I love to find holes in natural law theory- in Catholic terms, it makes doctrine stronger when you know where the holes are and how to answer them.

        • leahlibresco

          Yes, but, today the top-level comments are reserved for people explaining and defending natural law, so we don’t end up debating strawmen. Doug was right to post it in this thread, but he may find he wants to bring up some of these points as replies to top-level comments.

    • Kristen inDallas

      First of all – love the format, made me think about exactly where I diverge in opinion and where precisely my comment should go. I *think* here since it doesn’t feel much like a grump but also doesn’t dirrectly answer a question of Yvain’s. And also because I want to point out that I think it’s really interesting that so far the longest comment thread appears to be the grump one. At least we know ourselves. 🙂
      And with that now perhaps my *real* comment should go in the grump collumn. Oh that’s a hard pill to swallow!

    • Emily

      I think this is going really well! Yvain’s questions bring up some really good points that I’ve wondered about too, and the top-level responses are informative in content and quite cool in tone. (A few I find more helpful or challenging than others but props to everyone for the effort and respectfulness.)

    • dbp

      Hm. How long can a comment be before it is too long? I’ve written a post outlining my own answer to this question, but it ended up being rather a lot of text….

      • leahlibresco

        Not one of the restrictions I set! Go wild.

        • dbp

          Off it goes. Think of it as the Sky Crane method of argumentation: start way out in Natural Law orbit and slowly and carefully ratchet yourself down to the surface. (Now that the seven minutes of terror are over, we get to see whether the landing was successful. Here’s hoping someone got something out of it…)

          On the topic of ‘how’s it going,’ I think it’s been really productive and interesting so far. I admire the discipline of most of the posters, and am eager to see where it goes. Thanks for hosting this, Leah.

    • KL

      I love this format. It has really helped to corral discussion and focus it on the topic at hand in a productive manner, rather than spinning off onto various commenters’ pet issues (this is not directed at any particular commenter, it’s just a fact of combox life). Great idea!

    • Yvain

      I was kind of hoping for more direct enlightenment about homosexuality and less “Well, let me give you an excruciatingly complicated explanation of the concept of ‘telos'”, but I suppose if one asks a complicated question one should expect a complicated answer, and I’m learning a bit and have been inspired to buy a book that will hopefully teach me more.

      I haven’t found the conversation remotely abrasive or unpleasant.

      • Alex

        As far as I can tell, Elliot is the only person who tried to explain why the teleos of sex should be heterosexual marriage.

        Thanks for the experiment. I’ve been wanted to get an answer for this for some time.

    • So far I like this way of moderating. In other posts is was so difficult to find the relevant post without going through hundreds of comments that at some point I was wondering if the time I spent compensated what I got.

    • Whether it would work as a general model I can’t say. But I can say that this experiment has succeeded. As someone who isn’t Catholic, most of the top level posts have been illuminating, and some of them and their sub-comments have been extremely illuminating to the extent of partially modifying my own views (I’m thinking Elliot and Stephen Paquin’s explanations).

    • Passerby

      Is there a way of replying to comments that don’t have a visible reply button?

      • Irenist

        I reply to the nearest comment above it with a visible reply button, and start my post with “Reply to Whomever.” At least for me, my comment then appears below all the other comments without reply buttons in that thread.

    • This was a lot of fun.

      • Irenist


    • Globally I think this was excellent. The real questions got engaged and there was fairly little nastiness. That is unique for an Internet discussion of this particular question.

      Personally I’m a bit disappointed because it showed me how slow I am. About a dozen times I set out to explain something only to notice that someone else had explained it better half way through. So in the end I said nothing substantive on this thread.

    • I think one of the advantages of this format is that it does more justice than usual to the reality of any comment-box discussion: people aren’t starting in the same place, and sometimes don’t even realize just how different the starting points are. When talking about natural law arguments, for instance, the real disagreement could be about natural law theory itself, and be about why one should accept natural law theory rather than some other similar theory of practical reason (like Kantianism or Mill’s utilitarianism); but it could also be considerably upstream from this, with people really disagreeing about whether it makes sense to have any theory of practical reason (at least of the relevant kind), which is something that has to be agreed upon before it makes any sense to talk about natural law theory at all; or it could be considerably downstream, with people perfectly willing to accept some kind of natural law theory, or at least accept it as plausible, but simply disagree as to whether such-and-such particular natural law arguments are good. These are radically different discussions. The first isn’t even about natural law theory itself, but something that natural law theory (and lots of other approaches) presuppose. The second will hardly get into sexual matters, even if that’s what started the discussion (historically, it is money, not sex, that has been the most contentious and controversial topic that natural law theorists have had to talk about — our tendency to think about natural law as having something especially to do with biological matters like contraception or homosexual sex is not typical at all, since the most massive and heated discussions of natural law theory up to about the eighteenth century were about usury, and the most heated discussions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were about lying; that it tends to come up for us in matters of sex says more about us than about natural law theory as an approach). And the third involves accepting the approach, even if only for the sake of argument, and just asking whether this or that argument is the best argument given that approach.

      These would usually all be muddle together in a comment box, to the great confusion, and sometimes irritation, of everyone.I think this format made it a little easier for people to keep them distinct, by making it a little easier to find the people whose big issues were the same as your own.

    • Good grief how did I miss this discussion? Why, I missed it because I was at a week-long intensive seminar on NATURAL LAW!
      How did this experiment go? Just fine except I missed it until now! Anyway, that only thing I have to add is that there are many schools of natural law thinking, as the comments here show. Many, many schools which can be classified in many different ways. I would only add that there is a huge debate in NL between physicalists, who think parts fitting right is the way to go, and rationalists, who think things can be done differently than that. This might actually have been discussed but there are so many comments I can’t read them all.
      So, how’d the experiment go? So well that I can’t read it all. That is pretty good. 🙂

  • leahlibresco

    Grump, grump, grump*

    This is where you get to complain about natural law, about me, about other things people are saying in the rules-following threads. This is where you get to say, “I’m not commenting on [linked comment] since it was rulebreaking, but I think it’s dumb and I thought it was very important that I go on the record with that opinion.”

    *this thread is so named, because this is how I usually preface vent-y rants in real life.

    • Brandon B

      I have a complaint, but it’s a good sort of complaint to have: the comments so far are very good! And I am worried that by entering the conversation myself, I am degrading the quality of the conversation.

      Fortunately, I doubt that “quality of conversation” is a basic good.

    • Kristen inDallas

      I guess I am just questioning using the whole “unnatural use of an object” argument as though it were the only leg natural law has to stand on. Yvain has good points, but I think it’s not “just” about biological symmetry. The natural law argument in it’s fullest sense is not just about using something for which it is not intended, but purposefully thwarting it’s abilit to do that which is intended. ie – if our foot is “made for” walking and we also use it for soccer, no harm done. If we use it to stop a train, not so much. I think the questions above take for granted that there is no natural-level harm that can come from having sex recreationally. I can’t prove that there always is, but have expiriences in enough bad relationships to know there usually is (and I believe always). That said, I have no beef with same-sex acts anymore than i would with any other form of rec-sex. And I have a far bigger beef with the idea that I ought to be taking a pill that renders me sterile than I have with either. It’s not about the intended use, it’s about to what level are you currupting the ability to perform the intended use.
      Similarly ourr mouths digestive track etc are meant to take in nutrients and keep us healthy. Sometimes we also get pleasure in eating. Taking enjoyment from a meal is not a sin, but gluttony (putting the pleasureable expirience of eating on such a high pedestal that it gets in the way of our bodies ability to efficiently process nutrients) IS. It’s all a matter of degrees.

      • Kewois

        There is a difference between glutony and having a gourmet meal.
        As there is difference between having sex with someone that you care or entering an orgy.

        If someone says that any kind of homosexual sex is against natural law it must say the same about any sofisticated meal.


        • Doragoon

          Fallacy of accident. (I think)
          Gluttons have large meals, so everyone who has a large meal is a glutton.
          The distinction that makes homosexual sex against natural law is the capacity for procreation, not the amount of sexual gratification the person is achieving.
          Murder is another example of an action which is against natural law regardless of the number of incidents.

      • The logic used to exclude homosexual acts is exactly the same used to exclude contraception and other forms of heterosexual sodomy, and structurally analogous to the reasoning used to rule out gluttony, cowardice and pride.

        I’m really glad to see someone else emphasizing this point, and I missed it on my first pass.

        One of the big misconceptions about Natural Law arguments/views is that the logic intentionally singles out or aims for homosexual acts. My understanding is that this is not the case – it’s far more general a conclusion than that, and it covers plenty of “heterosexual” acts. (And of course masturbation, though I’m not sure whether to call that hetero or homo. Neutral?)

    • And I’m breaking the rules too, because I accidentally picked the wrong reply button to grump. Serves me right.

      • leahlibresco

        On the plus side, that means I can post here that there’s a part of me that thought “I’m being summoned like a schoolmarm! Finally!” when I read your comment.

    • Brandon B

      I don’t object to redundancy, but I do object to profanity being used as a means of philosophical critique.

      • leahlibresco

        That I’m not policing. I think it tends to be its own punishment.

        • Seriously. It’s also embarrassing to folks like me who might otherwise agree with some of his content.

          • Stephen Paquin

            Agreed with the above two posts (obviously). If anything, that approach just precludes further discussion or argument.

      • Ted Seeber

        Not all use of profanity is profane.

        Some examples:
        – Calling somebody an asshole is profane because it is directly contradiction the doctrine of imago dei.
        -Saying something is shit is wrong unless it is actually feces
        – but the terms bullshit and crap have secondary meanings of “a really strong lie that flies in the face of all credible evidence”, and so are not profane when used properly.
        – asside from profanity, there is also cursing and swearing. Swearing to Christians and Jews is *taking the name of the Lord Your God in Vain*, and to paraphrase Boucher’s monk in _The Quest for Saint Aquin_, shit ain’t my God and I’m very sorry for you if shit is your God.

        So as you can see, profanity is a very subjective term with a lot of context of body language and tone of voice that simply *can’t* be transmitted adequately in a Turing Communication Media.

    • Val

      I do have a complaint.

      You regularly refer to your own style as pugilistic, or something similar. But I’ve seen none of that in evidence. I see a habit of tossing out what you know to be tinder, and letting others do all the work for you. You engage no arguments any further than your initial coy provocations, and do nothing to stand up against the doctrinaire certainties of your new fellow travelers. You have given none of the promised in-depth explanations of your conversion and how you reconcile your rather radical choice with the lip service you pay to what we like to refer to as ‘sensitive social issues.’

      I’d like to see you take a real stand, and actually wade into the mess you’ve made in a real sense, not just as yet another intellectual exercise.

      • leahlibresco

        Thanks for speaking up, Val.

        I don’t really use this blog as the first place I thrash out ideas. I talk to friends offline, I get reading recommendations, and (before I graduated, alas) I got to have all night philosophical debates at least twice a week. So I worked through ideas there and then pitched them here, saw which parts people thought were weak, and then tried to check whether I could actually muster a better defense or whether I had erred.

        I’m trying to process a lot of new data and claims (Catholic teaching on homosexuality and natural law flat out doesn’t make a lot of sense to me), so some of my posts are going to be more data gather-y than crushing my enemies. I’ll be a bit more normative next week when I’m using Sondheim to talk about culture, since I’ve had more offline talks about that.

        I understand that can be frustrating, and I hope it’s still of use to get threads like this, where there’s a better than usual conversation on a usually unproductively contentious issue. I’m looking back over recent posts, and, if you discount the writing I did about camp while on vacation, I thought I was being pretty prescriptive in the martyrdom/just war/pacificism stuff.

    • passerby

      I’d like to grump about Yvain’s description about evolution as having a purpose and one of the purposes being hunting. Evolution has no purpose at all. It was not ‘trying’ to make humans good hunters, or to make them anything. What happens is, if hunting is the only way to survive at some point, or the best way, then those proto-humans with the best random mutations in their genes would out-compete those with less furtunate mutations, either by surviving while they starved or by being fitter from all the extra meat and attracting more mates or having enough left over food to feed their children. But we’re not ‘supposed’ to be hunters any more than we are supposed to farm or write posts on the internet- hunting just happened to work well enough for some humans for long enough to get their genes propogated through the gene pool. Evolution as observed by science does not have goals for creatures. No animal seems to have a purpose in the way a spoon or a car has a purpose. Creatures are optimised to the survival strategies that work, because the ones that aren’t optimised die without breeding or breed infrequently enough that their genes disappear. When the environment changes, creatures that were optimised struggle to adapt and might go extinct. In this way, having an overly fixed nature could actually be bad for creatures because it’s harder for a population of them to adapt when circumstances change.

      I’m sorry if this is incoherent. For a better explantion, go here:

      • Yvain

        I know exactly what you’re talking about, but I’m trying to talk to teleologists, and I think it’s easier to just note that evolution acts “as if” with purpose than to try to phrase everything like “Due to the selection of random mutations, humans ended up good at hunting, and we can construct a retrospective explanation about hunting-related traits being in a sense ‘selected for’, which might make hunting a sort of telos.” I don’t think my ascription of purpose to evolution here causes any problems whatsoever except sacrificing a tiny bit of technical correctness for comprehensibility.

        • HBanan

          It is actually quite problematic. If you are going to talk about evolution, you need to get it right; we can’t have natural law arguments if you start off getting the laws of nature wrong. Much of evolution is based on organisms developing new ways to use organs and appendages which then can be selected for a totally new function. It is no good pretending that natural law proponents are incapable of understanding nature, as some of us reading Leah’s blog are actually scientists, and the basics of evolution can be understood by anyone.You don’t need a lengthy explanation of mechanism, but you can’t just pretend that evolution has resulted in a bunch of Just-So stories. It is also absurd to make claims about hands that contradict everything we know about early human — and current primate — societies; hands have been long used for picking up things, including babies, and children learning to walk also experiment with how their legs work and do things like skipping and kicking.

          You wonder why natural law proponents talked about the natural end of sex, but didn’t mind that feet are for walking (but can be used to dance, without breaking natural law) and hands are for hunting (but can be used to type, without breaking natural law). Maybe they didn’t think that feet are for walking and hands are for hunting, but that feet are for propulsion and manipulating the environment, and hands are for manipulating the environment. The examples you list are all examples of propulsion and manipulating the environment.

          If I had to imagine a way to violate the natural end of limbs, I would think it would be the person who, fully capable of moving, chose to never move again and demanded to be carried everywhere and fed things. Such people have existed (and not just as tired 2 year-olds!), and their sheer pride and laziness did not meet with the approval of natural law philosophers.

        • Irenist

          I’m a teleologist in my Natural Law ethics, but that isn’t really the same thing as believing in some sort of Intelligent Design or anything. On Feser’s hylomorphic dualist Aristotelian-Thomist account (to which I subscribe), it is true that flight is in part the “final cause” of a bird’s wing. However, rolling downhill is also part of the final cause of a big round rock, and there’s no evolution there. Final causality is in part an answer to Hume’s paradoxes of efficient causality. Hume notes that all we have are observed regularities–kick round rock; round rock rolls downhill. Final causality supplements efficient mechanistic causality by noting that things have *tendencies* to act certain ways. They are said to be *directed toward* these ways of acting. Drop a twig in a pond; it tends to float. Drop a rock; it sinks. The A-T philosopher answers Hume by saying that while my dropping the rock provides the efficient cause of its sinking, the rock’s mass provides a material and final cause that is more than just an observed regularity.

          So while birds’ wings are “directed toward” flight, there is no “creation science” mumbo-jumbo at play here.

          N.B. that the final cause of rational persons (humans and angels, e.g., and presumably aliens) is to come to know and love God. But unlike rocks, humans and angels have free will and can frustrate their own progress toward their telos. Hence the relevance of final cause for ethics.
          Also n.b. that there is nothing “unethical” about stopping a rock from falling–not all telos is freighted with ethical value. The only nature that natural law is concerned not to violate is *human* nature.

        • Passerby

          I have some sympathy with trying to be comprehesibile, it’s a good goal, it’s just that the ‘evolution has a purpose’ misunderstanding tends to pop up a lot, in many different places, and so I feel like it needs some sort of disclaimer.

          I did like the rest of your post, I meant to say that in my first post.

          The problem with Natural Law being based on us being hunter-gatherers is the evolution didn’t stop there. Evolution continued for people who developed farming- the ability to tolerate milk is an example, that gene being widespread in populations that have a history of dairy use and not in the ones that don’t.

          • Irenist

            Luckily, Natural Law is based foremost on our “nature” as rational animals. In Natural Law theory, a rational alien with a completely different evolutionary heritage would reach many of the same conclusions about the good life. E.g., the highest good for that alien would still be to come to know and love God. However, and relevant to this discussion, the sexual behavior and family structure best suited to its species might be radically different.

            Nevertheless, even w/r/t human sexuality, we are looking only to what prudence indicates to be the best governance of the sexual appetite, not to Evo-Psych articles in “Slate” about what cavemen have to teach us about celebrities. Favoring Natural Law arguments need not reduce us to the indignity of either such “Just So Stories” about paleolithic humans or “intelligent design” hogwash that imputes some sort of “Onward and Upward Toward 50’s White Guys with Buzz Cuts!” directedness to evolution; I think the evidence actually indicates that evolution is a stochastic process.

            To pan out for a moment: Thomists–in contrast to Occasionalists like al-Ash’ari or Malebranche–believe that God and His Providence often work through “secondary causes” rather than directly. There is an old Asimov story about this sort of thing: in a chat around a pool table (on a space station, IIRC, to put a sci-fi fig leaf on the parlor-room tale so Asimov could sell it), someone remarks that an alien (fig leaf again) unfamiliar with pool might, upon viewing a finished game, assume that the players just placed the balls in the pockets by hand, rather than concocting an elaborate Ockam’s Razor-violating explanation involving cues, cue balls, and bankshots. So even the Intelligent Design schmendricks (sorry about the tone, lurking I.D. proponents) get us this far: God acting purposively through evolutionary secondary causes to bring us, eventually, to Mitt Romney. Hallelujah.

            But we needn’t stop there, thank God. The Logos, in His Providence, may simply, like the Deistic Divine programmer in Neal Stephenson’s “In the Beginning was the Command Line,” set out the physical laws of our cosmos (i.e., the laws Lawrence Krauss sort of admits amount to more than “nothing”) and let the stochastic processes within His program run, confident (well, more than confident, due to the omniscience that comes with existing eternally and being able to gaze down upon all of spacetime like a projectionist inspecting a film reel, but that’s another combox thread) that, given enough time, rational animals will turn up somewhere or other without any need for primary causation (i.e., direct intervention) by Him. Sort of like the genetic algorithms human programmers use, but (given the evidence for stochasticity in biotic evolution) without the culling for fitness for some particular trait like image identification ability we’d code. Just chilling, creating stochastically governed cosmoses, and waiting (omnisciently, ’tis true) to see what percolates in them.

            The Christian distinctive, of course, being that when rational animals do turn up, God, not being the Deist Deity, lovingly intervenes in ways chronicled in the Bible and Church history. Chesterton’s image is that of a puppeteer whose puppets come to life and then start killing each other:”No wait, it’s all wrong to treat each other like that,” says the Puppeteer. “Hold on, I’m coming down there!”

    • Passerby

      My cousin was born as the result of IVF. I love my cousin, she’s a sweet, bright girl, and so to hear that IVF is ‘evil’ or that it should be banned seems monstrous to me, because it’s like people are saying my cousin shouldn’t exist.

      I have seen the effect finding out she was infertile had on my aunt. I’ve seen the effect it had on a female friend. I think that to have the means to help people like them and not to do it would be wrong.

      • Doragoon

        Rape is a horrible thing. If she had been born as a product of rape, would you still feel people are saying your cousin shouldn’t exist because rape should be banned.
        Good results can come from bad actions. That doesn’t mean we should actively pursue those bad actions.

        • Alan

          Yes, the equivocation of rape which involves the violation of another’s body and IVF is very convincing. How about, IVF isn’t a bad action at all and the premise that it is is the truly bad action that should be vilified.

          • deiseach

            IVF is extremely expensive, it involves dosing the female body with huge levels of chemicals in order to induce hyperovulation, the practice is still to implant multiple embryos in order to improve the chances that the pregnancy will take, and if the implantation is too successful and produces twins, then there are recommendations that the gestation should be pruned down to a singleton to give one foetus the best chance of surviving to birth. There also seem to be some preliminary data (now that sufficient numbers have been born and can be followed up) that IVF children have higher risks for some conditions.

            Oh, and we seem to be in the process of outsourcing surrogacy/egg donation (as in so much else) to Third World countries, so the women there can undergo the risks associated with hyperovulation, multiple pregnancies, abortions to reduce those pregnancies, and repeatedly carrying to term.

            Yes, no problems at all associated with the commodification of reproduction!

          • Alan

            Knowing one very happy parents of IVF twins and many other happy parents of IVF children I will quite comfortably assert that the problems associated with it pale in comparison to the benefits. The true evil as far as I can tell are people who look to deprive others of the joys of parenthood.

          • Doragoon

            My point wasn’t to draw an equivocation between rape and IVF. I’m sorry if I needed to make it clearer, I thought the second part of my post made it clear. I’ll try again.

            You can’t draw any conclusion about the morality of an action by your happiness with results.

        • Alan

          What i took from the second part of your post is that the end cannot justify the means – the end in both cases being the birth of a child. But for the post to have any relevance here you would have to be suggesting that IVF is itself a ‘bad action’ the same way rape is. That is drawing an equivocation between the two.

          So yes, the ends cannot justify the means, but the end can tell you something about the morality of the action. That is the entire basis I’ve seen justifying those who claim sex’s primary purpose is procreation.

          • Irenist

            IVF is particularly problematic because it usually results in “surplus” embryos. For someone who believes abortion to be murder, those “surplus” embryos are human persons who were created as an industrial byproduct and never given a chance to live. Those embryos produced by IVF who are lucky enough to survive the doctors’ winnowing process and survive to be born are, to be sure, probably lovely people. God bless them. But that doesn’t make the murder of their siblings less unethical. And if a technique can only produce one healthy, wanted young person by mass producing scores of others and leaving them for dead in freezers, then it’s unethical.

          • Alan

            You mean for someone who believes embryos are human persons than that is the case – one can believe abortion is murder (in some or all instances) without believing an embryo is a human person.

            It suffices for this discussion for me to say that I don’t believe embryos to be human persons and thus have a different conclusion about the ethics of a process which creates children where otherwise there would be none.

          • Irenist

            In reply to Alan:
            Yes, given your assumptions your position is entirely reasonable.

          • Doragoon

            “So yes, the ends cannot justify the means, but the end can tell you something about the morality of the action.”
            This makes no sense to me. I’ve tried writing many different possible interpretations but they all come off as condescending.

            “That is the entire basis I’ve seen justifying those who claim sex’s primary purpose is procreation.”
            I’ve not seen that. Yes, children are a good thing. You shouldn’t try avoid that good end to sex. But rape and adultery are bad things that can result in a good thing, a child. That doesn’t mean rape or adultery is good, nor does it mitigate its evil. We must never do evil, even when good will result.

            IVF’s good ends don’t tell us if it’s moral or not, that must be determined by some other means. If a husband wanted a son, and his wife couldn’t give him one, what would he be justified in doing to create that child? Adultery? Divorce? Murder? Henry VIII chose all of the above. Were do you draw that line?

          • Alan

            Doragoon – There was no intent to be condescending. All I meant by that was that, though the intended outcome of ones action is not sufficient for determining the morality of the action it can be relevant to that determination. ‘Just war theory’ is largely predicated on the intended outcome rather than the action in and of itself for example.

            Yes, it is of course true that not all actions would be justified for the sake of having a child. So that leads us to investigate the act of IVF in particular – trying to shortcut that discussion by comparing it to rape doesn’t help us get there unless you since the act of rape is the moral equivalent of IVF.

        • Passerby

          Well no, because rape would not be a choice for my aunt in the way that her IVF was a choice. Rape causes both physical and mental damage to the one who is raped. IVF doesn’t seem, to me, to be self-evidently harmful in the same way. It’s true there are some risks to IVF but again, my aunt (and uncle) made the choice to do it despite those risks. If IVF is evil, then in a way you are saying my aunt and uncle made an evil choice when they tried to make my cousin. Obviously I can’t accept that. I remember the quiet sadness of my aunt when she had first realised she was infertile. I remember the pride and love in their faces when my cousin was born. Evil acts cause harm. No-one was harmed, people were on the contrary lifted up with joy.

          I know IVF involves destroy embryos which are technically human lives though not human beings in the sense of being concious but they would not exist if not for IVF.
          No IVF procedure, no life for any of the embryos.
          IVF procedure: a brief life and then destruction before they were even aware of existing for most of the embryos, one of the developed into my cousin and is currently in highschool.

          • Skittle

            “I know IVF involves destroy embryos which are technically human lives though not human beings in the sense of being concious but they would not exist if not for IVF.
            No IVF procedure, no life for any of the embryos.
            IVF procedure: a brief life and then destruction before they were even aware of existing for most of the embryos, one of the developed into my cousin and is currently in highschool.”

            This is an incoherent justification. If I were breeding babies in a farm of women, to ritually sacrifice all but one, would the fact that the babies would exist nor have life if not for the breeding programme mean that it was fine to destroy them? That there was nothing wrong with the process killing them, because they only live due to the process? What it all be justified, because the single survivor was a lovely person in the image of God? You are once again offering arguments that fail to really intellectually accept what the other person actually believes.

            And remember, babies are not self-aware. Self-awareness tend to develop in toddlerhood, so would it be fine to destroy (we are so adverse to the word ‘kill’) a non-self-aware baby, because it is not really aware of existing?

          • Sparki

            Oh, dear, Passerby, I think you are understating the situation dreadfully when you wrote, “I know IVF involves destroy embryos which are technically human lives though not human beings in the sense of being concious but they would not exist if not for IVF.”

            Proportionately, fewer than 7% of the embryos created via IVF survive. Only 24% of the procedures are successful on average, and the industry defines “successful” as “pregnant woman,” not “live birth.” It’s a sobering story when you start adding up the losses. Usually, 2-4 embryos are implanted each time, but more than half of them die or are killed vial “selective reduction” (abortion). Plus, some of the pregnancies never make it to viability at all. And then there are “extra” embryos that are frozen perpetually…or suffer deterioration while frozen so that they are “discarded” once thawed and determined to be no longer “usable.” (Human embryos are not made to be frozen, and shockingly few of them actually survive without injury.)

            When one looks at it from the embyo’s perspective, the serious question that needs to be asked is, “What kind of a parent puts their helpless offspring through a medical procedure that gives the kid less than one in ten chance of survival?” And believe me, I get that these couples are preyed on by an industry that hides most of these facts from them. It was hard for me uncover the facts. My husband and I consider our years of infertility to be the most difficult in our marriage, but we weren’t willing to become parents at ALL costs.

            Further, there is the tough medical backwash that a lot of IVF kids suffer. I know a few adults conceived through IVF. One woman had to have a complete hysterectomy at the age of 22 because the level of hormones her mother had to take to produce a viable egg and then to stay pregnant basically ruined the daughter’s fertility organs. She’ll never have children of her own – her parents just passed their infertility on to her. Not intentionally, but that’s the reality. Another woman had numerous surgeries throughout her life to correct physical deformities, and she, too, has recently been told that her ovaries do not function at all and never will.

            All this to say, it’s not that any of us who opposed IVF on moral grounds think that your cousin should never have been born. To the contrary, most of us are thrilled that she survived such hideous odds. But we can be happy she survived and still oppose the immorality of IVF.

    • Grump about Natural Law Theory:

      Catholics view Natural Law as a “given” guide to human morality, observable cross-culturally, unless the culture is so blinded by sin as to ignore and deny Natural Law. The problem is that this idea is not empiracally verifiable, and if one were to try to deny NL based on anthropological evidence, they have an “out” by saying that the culture is blinded by sin.

      In reality, if we were to use anthropological evidence to show some sort of moral design to human, behavior, etc., we could only come up with something so innocuous as “People should follow the basic moral customs of their community.” This isn’t helpful.

      As for Natural Law regarding sex (and feel free to delete this comment if I’m being too graphic), scientific studies on the evolution of the glans, say that the glans is shaped the way it is in order to sweep away semen from other men, inside the woman’s vagina, during sexual intercourse. The current theory about this is that humans evolved having group sex, with many men having sex with one woman. This certainly does not fit into the Catholic idea of NL as it pertains to sexual relations and monogamy. This is just one example of how NL is unhelpful because it does not align with what we know based on science and anthropology.

      • Irenist

        “As for Natural Law regarding sex (and feel free to delete this comment if I’m being too graphic), scientific studies on the evolution of the glans, say that the glans is shaped the way it is in order to sweep away semen from other men, inside the woman’s vagina, during sexual intercourse. The current theory about this is that humans evolved having group sex, with many men having sex with one woman. ”
        If the design began with pre-rational human precursor primates, then Natural Law is irrelevant. If it resulted from the behavior of rational humans, then it merely shows that sin has been around long enough to influence natural selection. However, the “nature” in Natural Law is very different from the “nature” in natural selection.

      • Irenist

        “The problem is that this idea is not empiracally verifiable, and if one were to try to deny NL based on anthropological evidence, they have an “out” by saying that the culture is blinded by sin.”

        Natural law is a philosophical theory, not a falsifiable scientific hypothesis of the sort discussed by Karl Popper. Much of its reasoning is deductive rather than inductive.

        “In reality, if we were to use anthropological evidence to show some sort of moral design to human, behavior, etc., we could only come up with something so innocuous as “People should follow the basic moral customs of their community.” This isn’t helpful.”

        You’re right, that’s not helpful. But Natural Law is understood to be universal only in the sense that anyone is thought by its proponents to be capable of arriving at its conclusions via reason, not in the sense that it is universally followed or advocated in all cultures. After all, Catholics believe that everyone alive today descends from Adam and Eve, so why should we expect either the islanders of New Guinea or the islanders of Manhattan to follow natural law for the most part?

        • Irenist

          Above, the missing logical link is that the descendants of Adam and Eve all bear original sin through them.

        • Passerby

          I thought the Pope had agreed that evolution was true and that Adam and Eve were metaphors? God-guided evolution, naturally, but still evolution and not creation as described in genesis.
          There’s no sign in the genetic record that all of humankind came from two individuals. The smallest population bottleneck was about 10,000 people.
          Plus there’s the fact that some DNA in human is of Neanderthal origin. Where do they fit in? Why did God make them all extinct?

        • And this is my problem with natural law. It’s a very Western Euro-centric idea that Thomas Aquinas used to justify the social norms of his day. You can see this especially in such arguments for sexual morality and definitions of marriage. These are not self-evident cross-culturally. A person coming from a polygamous culture can just as easily claim that their personal views of marriage are self-evident and founded upon reason, and that anyone who believes differently is being deceived, either through faulty reasoning or because they are blinded by “sin.” NL theory is simply an unfalsifiable claim. The idea is good as a theory, but it needs some evidentiary support to back up the specifics of its moral claims (sexual morality, definitions of marriage, rightness or wrongness of contraception), otherwise it’s simply making assertions based on cultural norms and calling this “natural” and “revealed in nature.”

          And that is the basis of my grump. Catholic teaching asserts that NL reasoning is available to ANYONE, even those outside the faith, but it fails to provide any kind of evidence to back this assertion. It seems the morals founded upon suppose NL are not evident to those outside the Church, but Catholic NL theologians fail to take account for this other than “they must be blinded by sin.” Ummm…sorry….not buying it.

          • Irenist

            I don’t think N.L. is supposed to be self-evident; it’s supposed to be accessible to secular reason, however, even in the absence of any acceptance of Biblical revelation. However, it can sometimes be “accessible” only in the way that Mt. Everest is: no one is stopping you from climbing it, and the paths are open to all (barring Nepalese tour operator fees or something; wouldn’t know as I haven’t been there). But “accessible” doesn’t mean easy or self-evident. What makes it secular is that the paths involve reasoning through the questions, rather than accepting divine fiat or something. What makes it particularly hard to reason through for moderns is that the foothills of this particular Everest are full of metaphysical assumptions that, however reasonable, are unfamiliar and uncongenial enough to deter all but the most motivated climbers.

          • Irenist

            Metaphysical assumptions above should perhaps read metaphysical arguments.

    • Ok. Hopefully this will go under Grump,Grump,Grump. (I’ve had nightmares about messing up where I’m supposed to put comments on blogs. I don’t know what that says about me.)

      The following is not a critique of natural law but rather a meta-level heuristic concern about it. It seems pretty clear that once one buys into a general Catholic (or a high church Anglican) sort of approach that natural law makes sense. However, other religions with extremely similar baselines have adopted similar premises but don’t have “natural law” systems. This isn’t strictly speaking true- for example in Judaism the Maimonidean tradition does have some similar ideas, and in certain aspects of Islamic philosophy one gets not too dissimilar ideas. But, if the idea really does rest on very basic notions of teleology that are common enough that they are shared by all the major Abrahamic religions, one has to wonder why similar arguments have evolved among them. Why for example does the Ba’hai philosophy have no similar notion? (Note that while the term “natural law” is used also in the Enlightenment philosophers to talk about rights they are a) heavily influenced by their European upbringing and b) generally using the term in a very different manner other than essential agreement that some form of natural law exists).

      This ties in with a general heuristic that seems worthwhile. Does a given idea arise independently in multiple cultures? For example, Aristotelian logic looks a lot like Indian logic (although Indian logic arose much later so there is an argument that the Indians may have been influenced by Western logic). Thus, this suggests that Aristotle’s basic ideas about logic are potentially culturally independent. Obviously, such arguments have their limits- multiple cultures came up with a geocentric model of the solar system but hat’s because the naive evidence really does look that way. Moreover, as humanity has advanced, communication between cultures is easier. In an effectively global culture, it is much harder for ideas to arise separately. But despite this, it should be a slight alarm bell that natural law, which by its nature claims to arise at a near universal level in fact only comes out of a single set of theological traditions.

      • leahlibresco

        Success! I don’t know the answer to your question, so, if I don’t see anyone jumping in through recent comments, I’ll probably pull this out in a post.

        Also, I <3 your blog tagline.

      • But despite this, it should be a slight alarm bell that natural law, which by its nature claims to arise at a near universal level in fact only comes out of a single set of theological traditions.

        I’m not sure why. Some ideas are complex and require making the right connections between several different kinds of account. The question seems to be operating on the misunderstanding that natural law follows directly from “basic notions of teleology”. But there is no basic account of teleology that directly yields a theory of natural law; natural law theory needs some very basic principles about final causes or ends, but in itself it is a theory of how obligation (or law) is rooted in practical reason. That’s three distinct topics that have to be interlinked, and have to be interlinked in certain kinds of ways.

        The earliest forms of what can legitimately be called a natural law theory are polytheistic, not monotheistic; it’s the Greco-Roman tradition — in the West, this especially means Cicero* — that makes it clear to its monotheistic inheritors that the three topics can be linked in this way, and one would expect something obviously like natural law to arise more often in cultures in which there is a strong tradition of abstract philosopihcal thinking and where that philosophical thinking has strong Greco-Roman roots. But we do have to be careful. For instance, it’s largely to the influence of Cicero, and later Aquinas, that we talk about the obligations in questions as ‘laws’ or ‘precepts’. There are good reasons for doing so, but this is a vocabulary choice that is affected by contingencies of history. We could call them any number of other things, also with good reason; so what one has to look for is functional equivalences: cases in other cultures in which there are said to be natural obligations of some kind discoverable by reason.

        I’m not sure what you mean by your comment about Enlightenment thinkers; who did you have in mind?

        * A small bit of trivia: Cicero is the only non-Christian quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, precisely for this reason. It’s for precisely this reason.

  • Yvain might find some answers in the natural law theory propounded by John Finnis, Germain Grisez, Joseph Boyle, William May, and Robert George. It’s sometimes called, for convenience, the New Natural Law Theory, but its proponents believe that there’s nothing new about it — that they’ve recovered both what Thomas Aquinas really meant, and what’s really true. Not all Catholic-theologians-loyal-to-the-Magisterium agree with it (Russell Hittinger, Janet Smith, the late Ralph McInerny), but the Finnis-Grisez-etc. theory is responsive to Yvain’s concerns.

    According to this theory there are several basic, incommensurable human goods. They can be discovered by asking why the individual is doing what he’s doing, to the point where the goodness of the reason is “per se notum” (sometimes translated “self-evident,” though Hittinger disputes this: literally it’s “of itself known”) and the “why” cannot be asked further, except, I suppose, as an exercise in being annoying.

    Human goods that are not “basic” are “instrumental” to the basic ones. As analyzed at length by the “New” Natural Law Theorists, marriage is a basic human good, and not, as some might suspect, instrumental to procreation. This is of course w/o prejudice to the classic Catholic view that marriage has two objects: procreation and the bonding of the spouses, which should not be separated. Another basic human good is “play,” so that gives you soccer, and I would suppose music, right there. I myself have always had some questions about the New Natural Law Theory, but the fit between the questions Yvain asks and the questions it answers is impressive. Because I’m not an expert in it, though, I would refer the inquirer to the works of the authors I’ve names, beginning with John Finnis’s NATURAL LAW AND NATURAL RIGHTS. Robert George’s works are also extensive.

    • Alex Godofsky

      According to this theory there are several basic, incommensurable human goods. They can be discovered by asking why the individual is doing what he’s doing, to the point where the goodness of the reason is “per se notum” (sometimes translated “self-evident,” though Hittinger disputes this: literally it’s “of itself known”) and the “why” cannot be asked further, except, I suppose, as an exercise in being annoying.

      1) Could you ever hypothetically be in a situation where you could choose to have more of one good and less of another, or vice versa? i.e. where you are forced to make a tradeoff between them? In such a situation wouldn’t you be forced to make them commensurable?
      2) What if you perform this exercise and find out the answer always boils down to some flavor of utility maximization?

      • Its been a while since I read Finnis, but I think its both obvious in the real world and obvious to Finnis that there are trade-offs between the Goods. I can’t spend all my time playing, for instance. So, yes, people have to come up with ad hoc and personal trade-offs between them all the time. What I recall is that Finnis denies that there is any general formula or approach that allows you to equate one good with another. In a way, deciding between the goods is like Buridan’s Ass figuring out which bale to munch.

        My recollection is that Finnis’ approach does look a lot like utility maximizing, except there are more than one thing you’re maximizing, and they can’t be reduced to a common factor that you then try to maximize. He doesn’t approach the problem in those terms though.

        I recommend you read his book. Its accessible and illuminating (his aside on why men would still need government if they were angels was as wise as it was brief).

        That said, I think his book solves Yvain’s questions in a general sense but I don’t think it addresses her specific question about homosexuality.

        That is, his approach explains why its OK to use your foot for football or to use your microwave for storage. The general rule isn’t ‘use things for their intended purpose’ but instead is ‘use things for your intended purposes,’ which are the goods. So in general, Finnis’ Natural Law approach doesn’t have a difficulty with things being used for something other than as designed.

        However, Finnis’ approach doesn’t explain why a person couldn’t use their genitalia for the Good of Play instead of the Good of Marriage. Since it makes Marriage an end in itself, it might explain why you wouldn’t call gay commitments marriages, just as you wouldn’t call doing the laundry playtime. But the theory itself doesn’t really justify why sodomy or fornication are wrong. Or if it does, the explanations would have to be contingent and utility based (fornication makes you more likely to divorce once you get married, butt sex makes you vote Democrat (joke)) and not inherent in the theory itself. I’m also not clear why Marriage is itself defined as a good, though there is no coherent schema if I recall for identifying the Goods, its more quasi-mystical intuition about what are the self-evident ends of life. So I guess you either have a self-evident intuition that the coming together of cosmic opposites, male and female, in a devoted union, is one of the basic things, or else you don’t.

        Speaking as a non-Catholic, I would highly recommend Finnis’ book for itself, but not if your purpose is to find out ‘why do Catholics think X’

        • Yvain

          Although it’s unlikely I’ll get to Finnis’ book this decade, I want to thank you for your explanation of commensurability vs. incommensurability, which is the first time I’ve really understood what people mean when they say two goods are incommensurable (I previously had the same question as Alex and no one answered it for me in a reasonable way)

    • Brandon B

      I don’t understand why the New Natural Law folks think marriage is a basic good.

      First, we are told that there is no marriage in heaven. “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.” (Matthew 22:30). If marriage were a basic good, then I would expect to find it in paradise.

      Second, many people live their entire lives without getting married, and this isn’t usually a bad thing. In the case of priests and religious, celibacy is celebrated as a sacrifice, but if something were a basic good, wouldn’t it always be immoral to sacrifice it?

      • Alexander S. Anderson

        Wouldn’t they also say that food is a basic good? I don’t think any of them would argue against fasting.

        • Not food, exactly. Survival.

          • Alexander S. Anderson

            Hmm. That is confusing. Surely survival is a different level of good than marriage. I’d like to see some arguments or clarification on that.

      • Most Natural Law theorists, and certainly Catholic ones, would argue that one can live a fully human life without marriage. On the other hand, there cannot be a fully human society without marriage.

        This is because marriage is not a good for individuals; it is a good for communities. (At the very least, it requires the community of at least two persons.) This implies that not every individual will, or even can, partake of this good. But no community can survive for more than a single generation without the goods that marriage brings: especially the procreation and raising of the next generation.

        So, within a community, no given individual is bound to pursue marriage; but it is necessary that at least some do. Marriage is a good that is basic or foundational to a society, but not to an individual life.

      • Ted Seeber

        Since you brought it up, I’d like to point out that I use that verse with conservative Catholics as to why people who aren’t members of the Visible Church Militant might still end up members of the Invisible Church Triumphant.

        Or to link it back on topic, why homosexuals will likely be in heaven, eventually, and aren’t necessarily going to hell.

        Part of the sadness in this life is even with a perfectly performed sacramental marriage, the connection is not forever. Sooner or later, one of the physical partners is going to die. If that partner’s soul is going to enter heaven, in purgatory that soul is going to HAVE to give up the wants and motivations of life on Earth, and take up the motivations and wants suitable to life in Heaven. In Catholic terms, that’s what purgatory if for- to purge us of our sins so that we are fit for Heaven.

        There is only one unforgivable sin, and wearing a condom during butt sex ain’t it. NOT wearing a condom and NOT having butt sex WILL give you practice at the type of changing your mind you’re going to need to get out of purgatory, but fornicators are NOT automatically all going to hell unless they are so attached to their fornication that they *reject* the chance of purgatory. God doesn’t send people to hell, we send ourselves there.

      • Dominic

        On Q1: Natural Law says marriage is a basic good because it assures the creation and nurturing of new life. In heaven, there’s no procreation so no need for marriage.
        On Q2: Catholic celibacy is on the realm of the supernatural (or theological). If we just base it on natural law, it is a disorder (aberration, abnormality, unfulfilment?). This is why for Catholics, those who take the vow of celibacy (and are able to live it fruitfully and happily) are the strongest proofs for the supernatural calling of man.

        • On Q1: Natural Law says marriage is a basic good because it assures the creation and nurturing of new life.

          Surely — in fact quite obviously — it’s possible to do those two things without getting married…

          • Ted Seeber

            Possible yes. Correctly no.

  • A partial answer to Yvain’s #1.

    Natural Law theorists* see a radical difference between things which are man-made and things which are not. Note I don’t say “things which are man-made and things which are God-made.” Aristotle, who was at best a kind of deist and thought the world was eternal, talks about the difference between “artifacts” (=man-made stuff) and “natural things” in such a way as to imply that artifacts don’t really have natures in the same way that plants and animals do. It’s in the Physics somewhere, I believe … Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy might be a handy short cut to finding the right passage.

    Anyhoo, Aristotle’s arguments apply whether you take a creationist view, or a purely evolutionary view, or a view that includes God and evolution (my own, and that of most Roman Catholics).

    Now if you accept Aristotle’s arguments that there is a difference between the artificial and the non-artificial (admittedly, they are hard to understand and not everyone will agree with them, even after having read and understood them), then you will find that they imply a sort of integrity in the non-artificial which is disturbed when it is used in some non-first-use fashion–an integrity that the artificial things do not, indeed cannot, have.

    Even if you accept all this, it is STILL not yet a “proof” that using non-artificial things (like human bodies) in non-first-use fashion is WRONG–that is another, longer, and more complicated argument. But it IS an indication that we might want to think more carefully about how we use the non-artificial, and what the implications of our uses are.

    (I realize I’ve done very little here but suggest distinctions. But it’s vital to start by doing that, if a philosophical argument is going to go anywhere.)

    *Some of us. There are different types of Natural Law Theory, just as there are different types of atheism, and different sects within Christianity.

    • How does this approach handle the conversion of non-artificial stuffs to artificial stuffs? If I am allowed to use a wooden bat to swack baseballs and club fish and menace hoodlums, well and good, but how am I allowed to use the tree to make the bat?

      • How are you NOT allowed to use the tree to make the bat? I guess I don’t see how the argumentish thing I wrote suggests that that would be a problem … Could you clarify?

      • Oh, wait, maybe you’re thinking this …

        She says this brand of NL theory assumes a special sort of integrity for naturally occurring things, e.g. trees. To take a tree and use it, not for something it naturally provides (fruit, shade, oxygen), but for something it does not not naturally tend towards on its own (furniture, clubs) seems to harm the integrity of the tree. (If this is not what you were thinking, just say so.)

        If this IS what you’re thinking, here’s the answer. The nature of a non-artificial thing can be a lot of different things, and the more complex the thing is, the more “layers” there are to its nature. So, for example, a rock has few layers to its nature beyond its general shape and size and the molecular structure of its component elements. A tree has those layers, but it also has layers or aspects or powers (“forms” or “species” to use traditional philosophical language) that have to do with the way it grows, how it reproduces, etc. An animal has even more “layers,” having to do with how it moves, experiences pain and emotion, and (in some cases) thinks.

        (I’m just going to use “form” from now one, but see above for the synonyms if “form” seems hard to understand in context.)

        Some of these forms (the NL theorist claims) are objectively higher or more desirable than others. For example, we can probably all agree that the form Rational Thought is a more desirably form to have than the form humanoid shape.

        Now it is possible to use an entity with a higher form for the sake of the lower. This is not unnatural (one is using a form or a part of the whole nature appropriately); but it may be immoral, depending on the particulars and the circumstances. Thus, for example, one can eat a human being–disregarding their rational form and using their edible form. One does the same when one eats an animal–disregarding their motive form and using their edible form. One does the same when one takes a tree for one’s club material as opposed to a rock–disregarding its forms for growth, etc. in favor of its hard form.

        We all consider the first sort of disregarding (murder for the sake of cannibalism) to be wrong. Some of us (vegetarians!) consider the second (killing animals for meat) also to be wrong. I suspect none of us consider the third (cutting up a tree for bats) to be (inherently) wrong.


        I think it is because there is an individuality, in the person for sure (some would say the animal), that is violated when that person is used or destroyed. Animals and plants seem to exist primarily for the sake of prolonging the species. But people seem to exist each for their own sake. So it would be wrong to use the last tree of a certain kind for a club, when one could propagate it instead; perhaps it would also be wrong, at least wasteful, to use a fruitful cherry tree for a bat when a perfectly decent poplar is available. Likewise with animals–we have some sort of obligation to protect endangered species, rather than eating them or using them for ornamentation. But every person is, because of their self-consciousness, like a species of their own: precious and irreplaceable.

        That why it’s always wrong to use a person, but only sometimes wrong to use other things.

        Oh, also … tying back into the larger discussion … this is part of the reason why Catholics frown on pornography and non-reproductive sex. Anytime sex becomes a matter of pleasure rather than a matter of love, one is using the other person. And anytime the pleasure of an act becomes divorced from its normative consequences (through contraception, homosexual acts, etc.) the danger arises that we may be fooling ourselves about why we are doing it. We may think that we are expressing love for the other person when we are actually using their body for ourselves. (And consensuality can mitigate the fault here, but not erase it. Consensual murder for the sake of cannibalism would still be wrong. [Note the “murder” part there. Eating your already-died-or sunstroke companion’s body to prolong your own life would be a different matter.])

        • Passerby

          Isn’t using people a normal part of life? I know, that sounds terrible, but consider: when you buy a car, you are uses the car salesman as a way to get a vehicle. When you hire an employee, you are using that person to do the job you are paying him for. When you agree to work for a boss, you are using her as a source of reliable income. When you vote for a political candidate, you are using them to represent your views in government. When you send your child to school, you’re using teachers as a way to educate your child. When you buy coffee, you are using the people who picked the coffee and the people who packed it and the people who transported it and the ones who sold it…

          Now, of course, all these people are getting something from you in return. But so is the person you have casual sex with, assuming they consented and find sex enjoyable. So, what’s the difference? And you might have friendly relations with your car salesman or your employee, but that’s not the point of the relationship.

          As for consequences, oral sex can’t result in pregnancy, so is there any reason you can’t have oral sex with a willing stranger?

          • @Passerby:

            In certain senses of “using,” it is perfectly normal to “use” people. In fact, St. Augustine, adopting a particular sense of the word, insists that not only is it normal to “use” people, but that it is wrong to do the opposite (in his terms, to “enjoy” them). His point is that the ultimate rest of the Christian is God, and not another person.

            But regardless of one’s religion or lack thereof, it seems clear not all kinds of “use” are created equal. There is use with consent and without. And even in cases where consent exists, we would all agree that certain kinds of “use” are immoral. The classic case is abusive relationships; but one could also extend the examples to include, for example, financial transactions that are objectionable, like loans with burdensome rates of interest. A person might well agree to such a loan (consent) because he felt like it was the best option; but that would not make the situation morally OK. The “use” the bank or banker got out of him would be immoral, even though he consented to be used.

            Pregnancy and STDs are not the only consequences possible in your example; there are psychological ones as well, both for the people involved and for their children, if any. To a certain extent the sociological jury is still out on (a) what the consequences are; (b) how many are due to society, and how many are due to the relationships themselves; and (c) whether they are all, or mostly, bad or not. We all probably have our own suspicions (based on our philosophical ideas) as to what the evidence will show fifty or a hundred years from now, but in the meantime we need to be aware that there are nearly always unintended consequences for social revolutions.

            This doesn’t necessarily mean the revolutions are bad (c.f. the industrial revolution?). But it does mean that we ought to proceed cautiously when we propose changes to an existing society’s structure.

  • Big questions, only brief answers possible, and even those are hard to keep concise. Taking them in order:

    (1) Natural law theory, like utilitarianism and all other sophisticated approaches to moral issues that are used by a broader public, has the difficulty of having to coordinate technically correct forms and common colloquial forms. In other words: there are technically correct versions which would be a bit of a hassle to use on an everyday basis and there are rule-of-thumb versions people tend to use for practical purposes that are perhaps not technically correct on every point. This ends up being important in broader terms, as I’ll briefly discuss below, but for this question the most important implication is this: natural law is not based on intended purposes or design goals. It does talk about natural ends, but there is a technical sense of this phrase, and neither ‘intended purposes’ or ‘design goals’ in the sense we usually mean by those phrases is a very accurate substitute for this technical sense. Natural law theory is not a theory of intended purposes but of practical reason. In its broadest sense it is a claim that practical reasoning (of which moral reasoning is the most important kind) has fundamental principles just like any other kind of reasoning, that these fundamental principles are naturally known, and that these principles lay out the rational way to use natural means to rational ends. ‘Ends’ in this sense means not purposes (although purposes are all ends, not all ends are purposes) but effects we, as causes, are structured to have. Any moral theory that accepts these three points is a natural law theory, broadly speaking, even if it is not what we usually call natural law theory.

    Without getting into finer details, natural law theory in the strict sense adds to these three points the idea that our general rational end is a happy and virtuous life, and that this consists of the interlinking of three more specific rational ends: preserving our existence as individuals, preserving our existence as a kind of thing (human), and preserving our existence as persons (rational and social). To say that these are rational ends is to say that these are what reason is structured to have as its effects, not biology; if a human being were for ineliminable biological reasons to have an insatiable desire to eat pebbles, for instance, this might in some sense be a ‘biological’ end, but it is not a rational end, because such a desire is not really consistent with living and surviving as a person who is the member of the human race; as Aquinas says, because it is such a deeply rooted inconsistency, our attitude to such a person should be compassion, but our judgment should be that they are in the grip of an irrational desire. And any version of natural law theory is committed to the claim that deliberately acting on irrational desires is immoral (not always seriously so, because there can be things that make it understandable, but it is always morally defective to some extent according to natural law theory).

    Thus the fact that we can use artificial objects for other than their intended purposes is not really relevant to natural law theory: a natural law theorist is claiming that some ends are not merely rational, they constitute what practical rationality is — and if this is true it follows directly and logically that acting in ways inconsistent with these ends is simply irrational.

    (2) This, I think also clarifies the second question. I don’t actually think there are any such things as evolutionary ‘design goals’; rather, there are at most evolutionary defaults that survive in a population for reasons independent of their rationality. But even if this is not so, the question is not what evolutionary design goals we have, but what evolutionary design goals we have that are consistent with being rational agents.

    (3) If natural law theory is a true account of practical reason, it doesn’t work this way: natural law theory in the strict sense is not a utilitarian theory, but a theory of practical reason. That is, it is concerned not with what happen to be the actual effects, but with the use of reason, deliberate, intentional actions. Assuming that procreation is the effect of sexual acts by which the human race is naturally preserved — which most people will agree or at least concede as plausible — then natural law theory doesn’t require that you achieve this effect, nor even that you are deliberately trying to achieve this effect, but it does require that in sexual acts you are not deliberately anything recognizably inconsistent with it. Remember, natural law theory is a claim about what is rational, and whether acts are rationa is something that has to be determined by looking at the act itself — the fact that you would be acting irrationally anyway doesn’t make a given act rational, just as the fact that you usually act rationally doesn’t make this particular act rational.

    (4) There is over all of this an unstated question, which is about the reasoning that homosexual sex acts are inconsistent, that I think should be addressed as well. Aquinas, who is still in many ways the best for the basics, is absolutely lucidly clear that rigorous natural law reasoning is very difficult. We can usually reason about morality in general and abstract terms pretty easily, but actual morality is about particulars, all the details of what we actually do, and it is very difficult to take all of them into account properly. Thus most of even our good moral reasoning is not rigorous. Rather, what we usually do (in rough terms) propose hypotheses, and then we see which of these hypotheses seems to fit best with the general principles we can work out more easily. In other words, we eyeball it. This is a well-established part of natural law theory in the technically accurate sense noted above. But colloquially, popularly, there is always a danger that the eyeballing kind of reasoning is taken as rigorous, which makes many of the arguments you find popular discussions too easy. It’s pretty easy to argue in a very general way that sex, to be rational, has to be not inconsistent with procreation; it’s much, much harder to draw sharp, bright lines between what particular actions this rules out and what particular actions it doesn’t. This is why, incidentally, Aquinas is more of a virtue theorist than a natural law theorist, despite being an eminent example of the latter: he thinks the two are interrelated, but it is far, far easier and far more natural to us to determine what is moral by asking how it contributes to various virtues than to determine it by rigorously deducing from first principles. It’s also one of the reasons (not by any means the only one) that he agrees with Aristotle that prudence is the most important moral virtue — it’s the virtue of handling particular virtues rationally.

    • Sorry, that should be “it’s the virtue of handling particular issues rationally” (and sorry for the other typos, of which there are embarrassingly many, especially toward the end.

    • I found that extremely illuminating about the basic approaches of natural law.

      Though I admit I lost the thread of the argument at about point 3. This is not because I don’t like where you are going with this, since I’m a stubborn social conservative myself. But I don’t much see the distinction between homosexual acts or chastity or coitus interruptus or normal married sex during a period when the wife is known to be infertile through the techniques of natural family planning. All are inconsistent with procreation but none of them are actually contrary to it, in that they don’t make you infertile or kill babies or something like that.

      • Ted Seeber

        One of these things is NOT like the others.

        “homosexual acts or chastity or coitus interruptus or normal married sex during a period when the wife is known to be infertile”

        Three of those items involve a hormone that changes brain chemistry and alters mood and memory. The fourth does not. Chastity is not like the other three.

        For the same reason, since that chemical is known to encourage pair bonding, I would count it’s use in “normal married sex” as being a part of procreation, because procreation takes longer than just the initial conception- it lasts for someplace between 9-36 years, depending on the society and the talents of the child involved, and it is a net positive in procreation if the parents stay together during that time (the unitive aspect of human sexuality, from a Catholic standpoint)

        So I guess two of these things are not like the others. Coitus Interrupts is seen as harming the pair bonding by not being giving enough. Homosexuality is an example of a pair bonding that isn’t even really a pair bonding, because the participants are not biologically capable of procreation.

        Chastity (which, BTW, includes marital sex for unitive and procreative purposes, as well as celibate life for those who are not married) is different from these because it doesn’t include that release of oxytocin except in cases that support procreation.

        • See, that’s an intelligible argument, but it doesn’t make sense of my natural law question because oxytocin is not a natural law argument that I can see.

          Thanks for the point about the connection between the unitive and procreative functions, though, that’s the kind of ruthlessly unsentimental approach to human functioning that I can grok.

        • Homosexuality is an example of a pair bonding that isn’t even really a pair bonding, because the participants are not biologically capable of procreation. — Pair bonding relies, as you state earlier in your post, on the release of a brain chemical; it has nothing to do with being capable or incapable of procreation. It logically follows, then, that there’s no reason two loving people of the same gender can’t pair bond just as legitimately as two loving people of opposite genders.

      • Adam G,

        I’m not quite sure what distinction you’re making between ‘inconsistent with” and ‘contrary to’; by usual terminology, if A is inconsistent with B, it is either contrary to it or contradictory to it, and if A is contrary to B, it is inconsistent with it. It is true that none of these things are conducive to procreation; this is a weaker claim than is usually meant by saying that an action is inconsistent with procreation, though. We could add a whole list of other things not conducive to procreation: sleeping, wearing pants, being a computer geek, etc., but we’re obviously not meaning ‘not conducive’ in the same way in each case.

        I didn’t give any argument for the inconsistency of homosexual acts with rational ends, so if it looked like I was doing so, I apologize. People have given for this conclusion, several different kinds, in fact, but none of them were relevant to Yvain’s particular questions, which was about natural law theory as a general approach rather than about particular natural law arguments for particular conclusions; point (3) just assumes, for the sake of argument, the assumption of Yvain had conceded for the sake of argument. And on any given particular issue one does need to be looking at particular arguments, because two things can be indistinguishable with respect to the issues raised by one argument, but importantly distinguishable with respect to those raised by another argument; some arguments are merely default or presumptive arguments — i.e., hold only conditionally, and so that the conclusions may be good but fail under certain conditions; other arguments may be probabilistic; yet other arguments may yield conclusions that are rigorously universal, but provide only incomplete constraints on actions. Likewise, people can be mistaken due to subtle equivocations or hidden assumptions, reasonable arguments can nonetheless turn out for reasons (not affecting the reasonableness of the argument) to come to wrong conclusions, and there can be new kinds of situation that no one had previously thought of at all. I’d have to see what argument in particular you were responding to, in order to see whether your response to it had force against it, and if the response were a straight refutation or just required a more restricted conclusion. Again, this is related to the difficulty issue: natural law reasoning is very difficult, because doing it completely rigorously requires actually following reasoning entirely through. Unless they are dealing with very general issues, people are in the realm of reasonable (or unreasonable) approximations, for the most part conclusions, presumptive conclusions, and so forth.

        I suspect, and this is only a guess without looking at the specific argument, but I suspect that the usual tack that most natural law theorists today (as Kevin notes below, natural law theory is no more monolithic than any other general approach) would take in response to the concern you’re raising — which is an important one — would be to deny the assumption Yvain had been considering in his argument, that procreation is the only rational end of sex, and to argue that the end of sex is something more like conjugal friendship (to use the older term) or procreative union (to use something you’d be more likely to see today) — that is, to have the kind of friendship or union naturally appropriate to procreating; and this is, strictly speaking, consistent with there being some impediment to actual procreation, as long as it is neither essential to that kind of union nor deliberately imposed. As I said, that’s just a rough guess about what people might say who make the kinds of arguments that you probably have in mind; and obviously with any such statement we’d have to look at details and underlying reasons for making it. It is an important point to raise, though, and it’s always worth seeing how the assumptions of a particular argument would deal with it. (It is worth point out, though, that almost everyone would agree that there are particular circumstances — although in some cases they would be very unusual circumstances — where each one of the things you list could be morally wrong. The hard question is: Under what conditions could this act be a rational, moral thing to do? That’s where people disagree, and that’s another reason why one has to look at particular arguments and not just the conclusions that are reached by them.)

        • Thanks, that outline of potential arguments and some of the issues involved was very helpful.

    • Steve

      Brandon… excellent clear & concise posting. A few comments.

      “…as Aquinas says, because it is such a deeply rooted inconsistency, our attitude to such a person should be compassion, but our judgment should be that they are in the grip of an irrational desire. ”

      Judging something on it’s apparent inconsistency might simply be the results of not having enough relevant information (say he was eating ‘rock candy’ that appeared to be little pebbles) and lead to an incorrect labeling of his actions as irrational and subsequent labeling them as immoral. Without the proper information about such actions, things like context of the actions in which I’d include the point of view of the individual causing the action, it’d be difficult to avoid a great number of false positive categorizing of acts as irrational & immoral.

      “And any version of natural law theory is committed to the claim that deliberately acting on irrational desires is immoral (not always seriously so, because there can be things that make it understandable, but it is always morally defective to some extent according to natural law theory).”

      I’m not buying making the leap from acting on an irrational desire to such actions being immoral. Can you elaborate more on what might qualify a particular desire as irrational? Should a person be faced with two competing ‘irrational’ desires (perhaps the desire of a terminally ill patient to terminate their lives vs. the desire of a terminally ill patient to remain alive suffering) can a person escape this without making an immoral decision?

      • Steve,

        Your point about judgment is a well-known general fact about judgments of all kinds, not just moral judgments, and certainly not just about moral judgments as they are understood by natural law theory. Exactly the same thing can be said about factual judgments. But it is in fact true that moral judgments about particular, real-life actions can be difficult; there are lots of things to take into account. That gets back to my point (4): it’s easier to reason about the morality of general issues than about the morality of particular cases, which is why our usual standard is reasonable approximation rather than perfect precision and one of the reasons why Aquinas holds that prudence is the most important virtue, since prudence is the moral skill of picking out what’s most relevant for moral judgments and decisions.

        I’m not sure why you think it’s a ‘leap’ from acting on an irrational desire to acting in a morally defective way. If moral reasoning is a form of practical reasoning, then moral evaluation is a form of practical evaluation; and it follows from this that it must conform to basic standards of practical rationality. If a desire is irrational, any deliberate act on its basis is to that extent not going to conform to such standards, and therefore to that extent would be morally defective.

        Much of the rest of your comment, though, sounds like you’re not so much asking about how one gets from ‘acting on an irrational desire’ to ‘acting in a morally defective way’, as asking about the somewhat different question of what is the basis for determining whether desires are rational or irrational in the first place; and this is definitely an important question. To say that a desire is rational or irrational is to say that it is a desire for something that is rational or irrational. We call anything in human life rational or irrational on the basis of whether it conforms to the ends of human reason, and natural law theorists have generally argued that there are three goods (insofar as they can be integrated) of preserving one’s own life, preserving the human race, and being a rational and social person, that are the most general rational ends. If there are any such general rational ends, then they would be the standard for judging whether anything human beings do is rational or irrational; so the only way out of this seems to be to say that human action cannot be either rational or irrational, or that, while there are rational ends, there are no general ones.

        I doubt that anyone has desires that compete in the way you’re suggesting — everyone is going to have many more desires than just two completely opposing desires, for instance. But if you have an irrational desire and don’t act on it, then you are being rational: if you want to do something irrational, the rational thing to do is not do it. And if you want to do something irrational, and do it, then you are being irrational, even if it seemed to you that it was the only thing to do. And again, if it’s irrational, then a natural law theorist would argue that it is to that extent morally defective — although under the circumstances (e.g., if the person in question is in a situation that is so difficult even a genuinely prudent person would have difficult deciding well) it might not be seriously so.

        • Steve

          True, factual judgements based on insufficient evidence would be subject to the same criticisms as ethical judgements. However, I might categorize factual judgements or scientific theories that are supported by empirical evidence as more foundationally sound than subjective moral judgements that are supported by some sense of commonality in observation. Moral judgements are more art than science I suppose.

          “If moral reasoning is a form of practical reasoning…” … yes, perhaps IF it is then the rest of what you suggest might follow. Countless variables over the course of a persons life influence and shape personal values. When making a moral judgement call, we rely on that value system that was formed as a result of those subjective experiences, so it’s not uncommon for people to have different ideas of what constitutes irrationality and immorality. I’d argue that moral judgements are the result of emotionally driven responses to actions from a persons subjectively formed value system rather than reason-driven responses and as such aren’t a form of practical reasoning.

          It was not my intention to be overly simplistic by suggesting that people might only have 2 competing desires, rather I was illustrating that a person might be faced with a set of choices that can all be argued to be ‘rational’ or ‘irrational’.

          • Steve,

            It is certainly true that if morality is a matter of subjective preferences, being neither rational nor objective, then that’s inconsistent with natural law theory, which is a moral approach that, like utilitarianism, Kantianism, and a number of others, requires that moral conclusions be at least capable of being both. But if someone has this problem, then it’s not a problem that has to do with natural law theory at all.

    • Yvain

      In your formulation, why should one care if one is rational or not?

      I mean, I recognize two forms of rationality, epistemic rationality and instrumental rationality. The former is good because it helps you evaluate the truth of statements, which is useful if you value truth for its own sake or if you want to make plans that depend on knowing the facts. The latter is useful because it helps you achieve some goal.

      The form of reason you’re talking about is neither of these. If someone enjoyed eating pebbles, then assuming it’s not actively unhealthy it’s not epistemically irrational (applying that term to actions rather than beliefs is a category error) and it’s not instrumentally irrational since it’s not interfering with any other goal.

      You’re using the term “practical reason”, but I get concerned about halo effects from words – “rationality” and “reason” sound like a desirable goal because both epistemic and instrumental rationality are valuable, but there’s no a priori reason that such value should translate to anything else we choose to call “reason”. So let’s call what you’re talking about re: not eating pebbles something else – to coin a hokey term, call it “biocompliance”.

      If someone isn’t biocompliant, and doesn’t see any value in becoming more biocompliant, is there any way you could convince them that there’s any point to becoming biocompliant?

      • What does it matter whether one cares about being rational (in any sense) or not? Your original questions, for instance, had nothing to do with caring, which is a matter of motivation; they were about justification, i.e., rationality.

        Practical rationality is the rationality of evaluating things as good, or else useful for obtaining or achieving what is good. Your very characterization of epistemic rationality and instrumental rationality shows the defectiveness of your account of rationality, if taken to rule out practical reason in the sense that natural law theory presupposes. You identify them as ‘good’ and ‘useful’, respectively, based on reasons, which means that you are supposing that these evaluations can be rational. If the rationality you are presupposing in coming to these evaluations is epistemic, instrumental, or some mix of both, then the same rationality covers natural law theory — natural law theory is a theory of practical reason, and a theory of practical reason is a theory of rationality concerning the good and useful (ends and means, in other words). And if it is not any of these things, then you’ve already proven yourself that your list is not exhaustive.

        Biocompliance makes no sense as a term to use for this discussion, and I have no clue what you are trying to express by it. Natural law theory is a theory of practical reason (exactly like Mill’s utilitarianism, for instance, is a theory of practical reason). Thus the question a natural law theorist would ask is:

        If someone isn’t rational, and doesn’t see any value in becoming more rational, is there any way you could convince that there’s any point to becoming rational?

        And the obvious answer to that is that this is a structurally a psychological question; convincing people is a matter of psychology and rhetoric, and often depends crucially on facts particular to the person in question. What you think is changed by merely substituting an unexplained neologism for a word that has been used (or has cognates that have been used) in this context for more than seven centuries is a bit unclear. If we just make up the neologism ‘xiohs’ and substitute it every time you used ‘rationality’ in your comment, does it change anything, beyond obscuring your actual reasoning? No; the logical structure remains the same, ‘xiohs’ has to be stipulated to mean whatever you mean by ‘rationality’, and since your reasoning is necessarily enthymematic, everyone loses information relevant to identifying implicit steps. And in this case, since ‘biocompliant’ unlike ‘xiohs’ already comes with linguistic baggage, you aren’t actually getting rid of any risk of halo effect, but substituting a new risk for an old one: ‘bio’ suggests that we are talking about biology, despite the fact that I already pointed out that natural law theory is a theory of reason, not a theory of biology, and compliance suggests that compliance plays a key role in the theory, whereas it doesn’t.

        It is not really relevant to your original issues your raised, since the claim involves simply denying every theory of practical rationality from Aristotle to Aquinas to Bentham and Mill, but your claim about the category error seems to be not just question-begging but incoherent. Category errors are actions: they involve treating x as belonging to category y (and treating anything as anything is an action) rather than as belonging to the actually relevant category z. If actions cannot be evaluated as rational or irrational, you are claiming that it is not (say) irrational deliberately to commit category errors in order to get the conclusion one wants, because committing a category error is an action. Further, arguing and beliefs are provably distinct; arguing is an action, whereas beliefs are (depending on how you are using the term) objects of actions or dispositions (believings), or action-object pairs, or disposition-object pairs. Therefore your claim directly implies that it is impossible to argue irrationally, and that there are no such things as rational or irrational arguments.

        In fact, it seems very plausible that it is you who are committing the category error here: rationality does not apply properly to beliefs, if they are taken merely as objects of believing, but to actions or dispositions to act. It is reasoning, or argument, or inference, or inquiry, or updating evidence, or, indeed, any coming to a conclusion that is what we most generally mean by rational or irrational, which guarantees that there are at least some actions that are either rational or irrational, because all of these are actions. Beliefs only are susceptible to being described as rational or irrational insofar as we mean by the word ‘belief’ a kind of action or disposition to act. The usual meaning given to epistemic rationality applied to beliefs, for instance, requires that we say that epistemically rational beliefs are beliefs that are successful in light of the ends of believing, which requires that they be actions.

        In any case, it’s become usefully clear that your real issue with natural law theory is not any of the technical problems you originally mentioned, which don’t actually affect natural law theory as an approach. Nor is your primary problem with natural law theory itself, because you’ve committed yourself to denying any theory of practical rationality — Mill’s utilitarianism, Kant’s deontology, and Aristotle’s account of practical reason all are out the window as much as natural law theory. Why one would have a theory of practical rationality is an interesting thing to discuss, but it’s a much more massive discussion, and doesn’t have anything to do with any distinctive features of natural law theory.

        • > You identify them as ‘good’ and ‘useful’, respectively, based on reasons, which means that you are supposing that these evaluations can be rational.

          Yvain’s statements are phrased as “If you want X, then Y will help you get it”. The truth of such statements can be investigated independently of whether anyone actually wants X. Believing true statements of that kind is epistemically rational (it may also be other kinds of rational, but seeing as we’re arguing about the limits of the term “rational”, it’s worth pointing out that there’s no inconsistency in Yvain’s rejection of practical reason here).

          If I understand correctly, your claim is that there are some Xs it is irrational to want (or not to want), hence Yvain’s question of why anyone would think that.

          > If actions cannot be evaluated as rational or irrational,

          That’s not quite what Yvain said. He wrote that it is a category error to call actions epistemically irrational, because AFAICT what he calls epistemic rationality is a cognitive discipline aimed at accepting true beliefs and rejecting false ones. In Yvain’s scheme, some actions could be instrumentally irrational. I’m not sure that this division between belief and action can be quite so sharp, because some (in)actions can help or hinder with the same aim that epistemic rationality has: if I refuse to investigate all new claims about the world, am I not being epistemically irrational?

          I think it would be better to say that eating pebbles is not epistemically irrational because it does not produce incorrect beliefs about the world. It would be instrumentally irrational to an agent whose goals are to get nourishment (but who cannot digest pebbles).

          I wondered whether “practical reason” might be just the instrumental rationality of humans, but you seem to mean something extra by it, namely that the goals most humans have are normative such that it would be irrational for an agent (or a perhaps merely a human?) not to share them. Like Yvain, I’m not convinced that is a good use of the word “rational”: the human who occasionally eats pebbles for enjoyment while knowing that they do not nourish him is odd, but not irrational or immoral. See Blackford’s piece, which I more or less agree with: http://metamagician3000.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/on-moral-evaluations.html.

          • If I understand correctly, your claim is that there are some Xs it is irrational to want (or not to want), hence Yvain’s question of why anyone would think that.

            This is not sufficiently precise; it follows on any account of rationality or irrationality of wanting that there are some Xs it is irrational to want. It is, for instance, generally thought irrational to want X and something mutually exclusive to X simultaneously. Likewise, anyone who accepts the possibility of instrumental irrationality has already conceded that there are such Xs, since instrumental irrationality occurs when one wants a means-end pair that is irrational to want.

            Likewise, and more relevantly, being irrational is something that everyone agrees that it is irrational to want (although one would have to be somewhat more precise for people who make a distinction between global and local irrationality). Thus both you and Yvain are not really asking the right questions on this point; there’s no problem in the abstract with identifying a rationality of ends — we do it all the time, and any account of instrumental rationality has to posit that instrumental rationality is a rational end or it gets nowhere — and ‘why should one care’ arguments, like that given by Yvain originally, are not relevant to identifying any kind of rationality or irrationality. Thus we can at least sometimes identify people as irrational based on their goals; subsidiary ends clearly fall under instrumental rationality and some ends are incoherent in themselves. If you are suggesting that on the accounts you and Yvain are giving, ends or goals are not at all susceptible to be analyzed in terms of rationality and irrationality, this is simply a reductio of your accounts, if they are supposed to be comprehensive. If, however, there are ends that are susceptible of such analysis, then the only question left is what kinds of ends are so, and in what way.

            Thanks for catching the dropping of the ‘epistemic’; since I think epistemic rationality is an obvious special case of instrumental rationality I failed to be as consistent about distinguishing the two when talking in Yvain’s terms. However, if epistemic irrationality is taken simply to mean “produces incorrect beliefs about the world” (I assume you mean something like ‘consistently does so’, since anything may accidentally produce incorrect beliefs) as you suggest, then epistemic rationality is nothing but an instrumental rationality of inquiry, and doesn’t apply to belief at all, at least on its own, since beliefs on their own don’t produce other beliefs. So your suggestion breaks down the distinction entirely, and would yield the same conclusion about category errors. If the position is then that all rationality is instrumental, though, then this is known to have problems that would at least need to be addressed: either it requires that thought have intrinsic ends (in which case there are goals or ends everyone has to have as a matter of fact whether they want to or not, and the argument is conceded in favor of accounts of obligation based on practical reason) or it detaches rationality from good reasons — it is no longer automatically irrational to ignore deliberately good reasons or to reject obviously bad ones — since good and bad reasons can for many domains be objectively defined independently of any particular goals of particular agents.

            Perhaps the real problem, of course, is that neither ‘epistemic rationality’ or ‘instrumental rationality’ are actually well-defined; there are many different non-equivalent definitions of each, and the details of which definition you have in mind can make a big difference. Without something more precise, it is difficult to say anything about how plausible it is to say that they cover all the bases (hence my roundabout and disjunctive way of arguing in the original reply to Yvain’s comment).

            But as I said to Yvain, if the issue is at the level of practical rationality, this is not something that is distinctive to natural law theory as such; rejecting the notion of rationality and irrationality of ends requires rejecting most of the major ethical theories that have been developed — as your reference to Blackford, whose position makes him at least strongly sympathetic to an outright moral error theory, suggests. The proper scope of reason is an important topic, but it ends up putting the discussion considerably upstream from anything to do with natural law as such.

  • Stephen Paquin

    It’s worth pointing out that there are quite a few Thomists who would agree with Yvain’s arguments here. They (and I) usually self-identify as “analytic Thomists” in contrast to “classical Thomists”. All would still affirm that homosexual acts are immoral, but for very different reasons than the old teleogical view. I think Wagner is correct to point to New Natural Law as being a pretty representative example of the methodology of such Thomists. For my own part, I think that their argument against non-marital sexual acts is the most convincing I’ve heard, and I’d be happy to explicate it further if that’s the general will of the blog. However, I don’t want to sell the classical view short, and I am interested in hearing someone knowledgeable on these matters defend it before I jump into a completely different perspective on natural law. In my own experience, such Thomists will respond to these types of objections by pointing out that not all uses of a faculty or body part different than its telos is necessarily “contrary” to its telo, and hence not immoral. However, I tend to find their explanations and defenses of this distinction to be incredibly unpersuasive, if not altogether ad hoc. But that might just be because I haven’t seen the right arguments.

    • By the power invested in me by Rousseau, I hereby announce the general will of the blog to be that you explicate, please.

      • Dominic

        Second the motion!

    • Stephen Paquin

      Adam and Dominic,
      I think the argument’s best presented in its technical form in Robert George’s “In Defense of Natural Law,” although some of the more basic ideas are presented quite accessibly in their essay “What is Marriage?”. It goes without saying that my post here is a radical simplification, but hopefully it won’t be too much of a misrepresentation.

      The central idea from which the rest of the argument regarding non-marital sexual acts follows is that marriage is more than simply a friendship or an “expression of love”, as some here have put it (In fact, Elliot’s critique of this argument does nothing more than avoid this idea altogether by presupposing that the extent of union possible between two persons consists in a “rational unity”). Rather, it’s a very particular (and unique) type of union between two people: it is a comprehensive and organic union that extends to the bodily level.

      Marriage is “comprehensive” in the sense that human beings are more than just intellects and wills. Human bodies are inherently and personally constitutive of human beings- they are not sub-personal shells that they wear out to dinner. The classic example of such a philosophical insight, of course, was when St. Thomas pointed out that even if my soul would be in heaven, “I” would not be there unless my body were there as well. So on and so forth.

      But in what sense exactly can two humans be united bodily? Well, bodily unity is analogous to that of any of our organs: a heart, a brain, etc. We understand the cells in our hearts as being constitutive of our heart because they have a mutual coordination toward the biological end of, let’s say, “pumping blood”. Note that this remains true even in the case of a “bad” heart that doesn’t pump blood so well (or not at all). The constituents of that heart still remain biologically coordinated to a particular even when some defect in the heart prevents that end from being achieved. But we couldn’t just pick out a random group of cells and justifiably call it a heart because it would recognizably lack the mutual coordination towards “pumping blood” that is characteristic of a heart’s constituents.

      So how does this apply to humans? Well, you don’t need to be a metaphysical genius or a scientist to note that humans are sufficient unto themselves for all biological functions except one: reproduction. Barring some particular defect, we can digest food and circulate blood quite well on our own, but we can’t reproduce without another- we are incomplete unto ourselves with respect to that end. However, In the act of coitus (and coitus alone), a man and woman’s bodies are brought into coordination with one another for the biological end of reproduction. They are united bodily (and literally so) whenever this end is sought, even when conception does not occur (just as “bad heart” remains a “heart”). But this could not be said of partners who lack any biological coordination whatsoever (man-man, woman-woman) or those who cannot engage in the act whatsoever (the impotent). But this idea does give us grounds to say that the infertile can marry- for they still possess the necessary coordination characteristic of this unity even when some defect prevents conception.

      Now, of course, marriage is- and ought to be- much more than simply sex. But, if you understand marriage as a “comprehensive union” (instead of merely a “rational unity”) between two persons, then you’ll expect that bodily unity is a necessary part of that unity-at-large. I won’t here argue why you should understand marriage that way, I just wanted to point out that I’m embracing a much fuller and more significant understanding of marriage than just another form of “friendship” which would indeed be susceptible to the common counter-arguments.

      Now that we’ve gotten that idea firmly in place, we can begin to shed a little bit of light on the further question of “Is it ever moral to perform sexual acts outside of marriage?” Now I should point out here that I sympathize a great deal with Brandon Watson’s posts here and his continual emphasis that it is very difficult to make natural law judgments in the particular because (among other things) it requires the prudence of making an all-things-considered judgment of the circumstances at large. His point is certainly well-taken here, and I would couch my answer to the posited question as “It’s almost always wrong” to perform sexual acts (including homosexual ones) outside of marriage. Two particular observations will help us to understand why.

      (1) Such acts are frequently nothing more than mutual instrumentalization of each other’s bodies. Pleasure, unlike the comprehensive unity of marriage itself, is not the type of thing that can be “shared”. It would be more accurate to say that the pleasure is “felt simultaneously”, not shared. In any case, human beings are radical unity of body, soul, heart, mind, etc which ought never be reduced to being *merely* a means to an end. Typical counterarguments to this point observe that we frequently use people as a means to an end whenever we check out our items at the grocery store. This type of counterargument misses the point, however: in the case of the grocery store our use of a clerk is “conditionally limited” to their services, but in the case of sex a person quite literally uses another’s body- that is, (along the lines discussed) their very self. So on and so forth, more can be said if necessary, but most homosexual acts fulfill this condition, as do masturbatory actions, etc.

      2) Other sexual acts are intended to actualize something like the marital unity discussed above but only do so illusorily. That is, they ultimately constitute a deception of the agents involved. Why? Well, we can suppose two people of goodwill who respect and, to a very real extent, “love each other”, yet don’t see the need to get married to express their love, or really, unite in the way they desire. Well, the fact of the matter, as I’ve tried to point out earlier, is that marriage is indeed a bodily unity, but it’s also much more than that if it’s going to be “comprehensive”. To give your entire body to someone is also, quite literally, to give of your entire self (for my entire body is my entire self). Hence, our choice to engage in an act of consummation or coitus ought necessarily be accompanied by those external conditions characteristic of those who are truly going to give of their entire selves. The most notable of these are lifelong vows, for if I am about to give me entire self to a person, I do not cease to be myself 5, 10, or 50 years from now.

      In any case, more could be said here, but those are the basic ideas involved in the NNL argument. Kevin’s post here betrays a deep misunderstanding of NNL’s epistemology. I would refer to Robert George’s essay “Natural Law and Human Nature” in the collection “Natural Law Theory: Contemporary Essays” for an excellent explanation and defense of it. Other than that, I’d rather not get into the Thomistic shitfighting.

      • Irenist

        I’m more on Kevin’s side, but I do wish he hadn’t put it that way. Sorry about that.

      • That was extremely helpful, especially the first part on comprehensive unity.

        • Stephen Paquin

          Sure, Adam. I hope you also see the implications that such an understanding of the union would have for your earlier conundrum:
          “… I don’t much see the distinction between homosexual acts or chastity or coitus interruptus or normal married sex during a period when the wife is known to be infertile through the techniques of natural family planning.”

          In general, I think this understanding of union allows for the possibility of infertile marriages and the morally licit practice of NFP. However, I should point out here that I do believe NFP can be practiced in a morally evil way, even if it is not prima facie illicit.

  • It seems that Yvain’s 1. presumes that Natural Law theorists are opposed to an object or body part having more than one purpose. As I understand it, this is not accurate. What Natural Law theorists oppose is using things in a way that is contrary to or damaging to – not merely different from – their primary purpose.

    The example of soccer seems to me to be an example of a legitimate use of the body, and the foot in particular, from a Natural Law perspective. Kicking a ball is well within the realm of natural action for the foot and leg and so on. American football, on the other hand, might provide a counter-example. The high number of concussions and other injuries, and the regularity of them, indicate that something damaging is going on. It would be like playing soccer with a medicine ball, or a game of kicking a stone wall, or maybe the sport of shin-kicking.

    The use of a microwave to store food could be seen as “unnatural” (odd to say about an artifact – maybe “unartificial”?) insofar as it impedes the full or proper use of the microwave: to heat food. Note that such use doesn’t actually damage the microwave, but it does prevent it from fulfilling its purpose.

    Using a microwave to dry clothing might also be “unartificial”, not because the microwave is not fulfilling its purpose (to heat), nor because the microwave is being damaged (generally not, though I haven’t done experiments), but because the otherwise normal operation of the microwave might harm the object it is heating. Perhaps your friend knows the secret of nuking clothes safely? But the point is: not everything that can be heated is the proper object for a microwave.

    So the argument about homosexual activity is based on the premise that it is not just a different or secondary use of the body, but is in fact contrary to the body’s proper use and to human relationships, even harmful to them. Honestly, I haven’t given a great deal of thought to this aspect of the argument: I don’t have homosexual desires myself, and I don’t concern myself with what others do in private. So I won’t (here and now, anyway) attempt to support this. I just want to make clear what the claim is – that homosexual intercourse is contrary and even harmful to human sexuality.

    The argument about same-sex marriage is a separate argument, though. Whether homosexual activity is morally right or wrong, the question here is about the public and legal definition and purpose of marriage. The Natural Law perspective on civil law is that the laws we put on the books should be a reflection of Natural Law, applying it to the specific time and place we live in; that is, it doesn’t matter how many people vote for it or want it, a law is bad if it runs contrary to the Natural Law.

    Now, providing for the procreation and upbringing of the next generation is seen as a fundamental social good. “Marriage” is the institution that, historically, has the primary responsibility for the procreation and upbringing of the next generation. This is not the only purpose of marriage, but it is an essential one, consistent throughout history and consistent with the natural good.

    Because same-sex relationships are not naturally procreative, to call them “marriages” is like saying a pantry should be called a microwave because some people store food in both. Even if a microwave is not used to cook food, it still has that purpose; even a broken microwave is still a microwave that is broken. Meanwhile, a pantry is not capable by its design of cooking anything, unless maybe the pantry itself burns down; even then, that isn’t microwave cooking.

    The institution of marriage is a legal, civil institution because it is a public and social institution. The public impact of marriage is based largely (if not entirely) on the expectation that children will come from it. Without the responsibility for procreation and the upbringing of the next generation, the purpose of having any legal regulation of sexual relationships (i.e., the civil institution of marriage) seems to vanish. It no longer reflects the Natural Law; meanwhile, an aspect of Natural Law – the procreation and upbringing of children – is neglected in civil legislation.

    I hope this is clear: arguments about same-sex intercourse and same-sex marriage are different arguments, though related. Conclusions about one do not automatically transfer to the other.

    • Alex

      A few questions:
      Why is playing football well within the natural purpose of the foot? Or more specifically, what is the natural purpose of the foot? Also, why is playing the harmonica within the natural purpose of the mouth and what is the natural purpose of the mouth?

      • Brandon’s post above gives, I think, an excellent summary of the difference between a Utilitarian and a Natural Law perspective on “purpose.”

        The natural end of a person is happiness, and the body is an essential aspect of a (human) person, and the foot is a part of the body. So you could say that the natural purpose of the foot is to make us happy. But that is trite and too general; yet it is difficult to get much more specific. The first thing to note about a foot is that there is no such thing as a foot without a body. The foot is not a thing of its own to have a purpose independent of the body. So, the purpose or end of the foot is to complete the body, to serve the person as a whole: in short, to contribute to happiness.

        This means that we don’t injure the foot without reason; though sometimes there is good reason to at least risk injury to, or even amputation of, the foot.

        Now, we can point to the biological and structural functions of the foot as clues to how the foot best serves the person: standing, walking, circulating the blood, stimulating nerve endings, and so on. Kicking a soccer ball seems to fit pretty well with the sort of thing feet are good at, and that serve a person well. We can see that the foot is not very good, however, at hearing sound, or digesting food. (Some feet are very good at smelling, but not at detecting scents.) But these are not the sum total of the natural end of the foot; they are clues that point us in the right direction. Ultimately, from a Natural Law perspective, the foot’s purpose is not independent of the natural end of the person as a whole.

        • Alex

          Thanks, that helps a bit. I don’t think your criteria is strict enough though. It seems to me that you could replace almost every instance of “foot” in your post with some other body part. Regarding the argument that doing action X fits in with the things that body part Y t is good at : that’s sufficiently general that you could defend pretty much any action that doesn’t lead to harm “anal sex fits in with the pleasure generating function the penis”.

          Your criteria also doesn’t seem to be general enough, in particular playing a piano does not fit in with the typical function of the hand (grasping).

          • Yes, what I say about the foot would apply equally well to any body part, or even any organ or bodily system (e.g., nervous system). As I said above, I haven’t given enough thought to they “why” behind Natural Law’s prohibition of homosexual behavior, so I won’t attempt to argue for the conclusion; just to say that this is the conclusion Natural Law theorists come to, as best I understand it.

            Again, my main argument here is that there are good reasons for maintaining a traditional definition of marriage in law, regardless of whether homosexual behavior is moral or not. These reasons are based on the idea that marriage implements an aspect of Natural Law in the particular community.

          • Irenist

            The telos of the foot is to be part of a human body is to be part of a rational human person. Any act of foot, hand, or other member that violates the dignity of the human person betrays human nature, and hence the member’s nature. But the *member’s* nature is not the ethical issue here; *human* nature is. Soccer does not violate the human directedness toward love of God and neighbor. Objectifying fornication does. (Incidentally, b/c objectifying fornication does violence to human sexual affection and emotion, it is not correctly understood to be an act that doesn’t “lead to harm.”)

    • Steve

      “I just want to make clear what the claim is – that homosexual intercourse is contrary and even harmful to human sexuality.”

      Forgive the frankness of the following, but would you consider fellatio harmful? What about masturbation? If they are harmful, who/what is being harmed and how exactly are they being harmed? What bounds should be place with defining the realm of ‘human sexuality’? What would be your reasoning for placing whatever bounds you place? Would you say these activities fall outside that realm?

      “(The raising of children) is not the only purpose of marriage, but it is an essential one, consistent throughout history and consistent with the natural good.”

      Having children and raising them isn’t an ‘essential’ purpose of marriage, though it is a common one. And being married isn’t a pre-requistite for having and raising children either, though again it’s a common one. It’s important to differentiate between ‘essential’ and ‘common’.

      “Because same-sex relationships are not naturally procreative, to call them “marriages” is like saying a pantry should be called a microwave because some people store food in both. ”

      Were the ability & willingness to conceive a child entirely within the bounds of a two person union & unassisted by current medical methods the entirety of requirements to declare something a marriage, then perhaps your comparison would be more appropriate. Heterosexual couples sometimes require invitro fertilization or a surrogate to carry a child, and I don’t think we’d consider them ‘less married’. Homosexual couples can do the same. Heterosexual comples sometimes adopt children, and I don’t think we’d consider them ‘less married’. Homosexual can do the same. Heterosexual couples sometimes choose not to raise a child, or perhaps marry later in life and can’t, yes again I don’t think we’d consider them ‘less married’.

      “The public impact of marriage is based largely (if not entirely) on the expectation that children will come from it. Without the responsibility for procreation and the upbringing of the next generation, the purpose of having any legal regulation of sexual relationships (i.e., the civil institution of marriage) seems to vanish.”

      The closeness of a married relationship creates practical reasons for a legal recognition of that union, regardless of whether there are children. The need to make medical decisions, or sorting through inheritance issues, or setting up joint bank accounts are all settled (at least as much as such things can be) through marriage. While a number of the ‘perks’, so to speak, of marriage are given under the assumption of a high probability of raising a family, they’re not dependent on it, so I don’t see how it’s fair to consider that a legal regulation of a sexual relationship.

      • Just lost a long and detailed reply, which I don’t have time to replicate now. For now, I’ll just reply to:

        It’s important to differentiate between ‘essential’ and ‘common’.

        I think this is exactly what is at issue in the debate. My point is that, whatever one’s view of homosexual intercourse, if the potential for natural procreation is essential to marriage, then same-sex marriage makes no sense; if not, then there is no objection to same-sex marriage. But we cannot simply declare for one side or the other; this is exactly the matter of the argument.

        I’ll try to return later with my understanding of why children are essential to marriage.

        • Steve

          “if the potential for natural procreation is essential to marriage, then same-sex marriage makes no sense”

          Then all marriages of infertile couples make no sense either. All later life marriages of couples past their prime child bearing years make no sense. In addition, it seems reasonable to follow that once children are grown, whatever marriage the couple previously had while conceiving and raising the children now also makes no sense. Finally, the reproductive organs of homosexuals don’t just up and stop working simply because they’re gay. They have the same potential to procreate, they simply require outside assistance (as some heterosexual couples do as well). Does seeking this outside help to conceive somehow invalidate marriages?

          Bummer about the lost message. I hate when that happens.

          • Ted Seeber

            Up until VERY recently, later marriage was almost unheard of. Infertile marriage isn’t predictable (or at least, isn’t predictable enough) and the pain felt by such couples as are struck by it is quite intense.

            But I would certainly agree this speaks to a need in our society for the recognition of non-traditional households; including those where sex isn’t involved. I think there is a MASSIVELY LARGE USE CASE we’re missing with limiting the debate to homosexuals.

          • Another short reply for now. As Ted points out, you can’t usually predict in advance an infertile marriage, so as a practical matter it’s not a good guide for allowing people to get married in the first place. And, if you allow for legendary or religious example (Abraham & Sarah, e.g.), old age does not imply the certainty of infertility either.

            Also, I’m assuming that “till death do us part” is taken seriously. Honestly, I think no-fault divorce is a far greater threat to traditional marriage than same-sex marriage is.

            But the bigger issue is whether there is a difference between a broken microwave and a pantry. An infertile male-female pair, although broken in their ability to actually become parents, still are ordered toward natural parenthood. With a same-sex couple, as you (Steve) point out, it doesn’t matter how well their reproductive systems are working; they are not capable between them of becoming natural parents. The problem for the heterosexual couple is in at least one of their reproductive systems; the problem for the homosexual couple is in the kind of sexual relations they are having.

            So, if procreation is essential to marriage, an infertile heterosexual couple is like a broken microwave – still a microwave, but not working properly (with respect to procreation); a homosexual couple, regardless of fertility, is like a pantry – not a microwave. On the other hand, if procreation is not essential to marriage, then it’s possible that they’re both microwaves, and maybe not even broken ones.

            Grr… meant this to be short. I really did!

          • Steve

            If you’re using whether or not a couple can conceive as grounds for whether or not a marriage ‘makes sense’, then it’s only appropriate to test people ahead of time. And to say it again, nothing is prohibiting a same sex couple from conceiving via in vitro fertilization or using a surrogate, much like hetero-sexual couples can.

            No age doesn’t guarantee infertility, but consider this… in the US in 2009 of the 4.1 million births, there were 569 total by women ages 50-54 and the CDC doesn’t track women older than that. By my math women over the age of 50 accounted for approximately 0.01% of births, which isn’t all suprising as that’s around the time menopause kicks in. Probability wise, I’d say age is as good an indicator as anything for infertility.

            ’till death do us part’ is unfortunately a romantic sentiment that has little room in reality. Sometimes people, with the best of intentions find themselves in marriages where they’d both simply be better off not in it.

            You’re dancing around the issue, trying to formulate a logical train of thought to justify your opinion that you simply don’t think homosexuals should be married nor are they qualified to be parents. Perhaps we should judge a marriage’s validity on ability to conceive… except for heterosexual couples so then it’s really not about their ability to conceive as a couple. I’d say a lesbian couple and a sperm bank are much more ordered towards parenthood, then a husband and wife who have zero functioning ovaries & testicles between the two of them.

            Again, nothing demands the birthing of a child to be essential to marriage, certainly not as it’s understood in the eyes of the law.

          • You may not agree with it, but that doesn’t mean anyone who does is just rationalizing hate. There’s really no point in discussing it with you if that’s your viewpoint, though.

          • I’m not dancing around any issues, so far as I know. I’ve been explicit that same-sex “marriage” can reasonably be regarded as an oxymoron. I’ve never said that homosexuals are not “qualified” to be parents, but I have said that homosexual relations are incapable of naturally producing children. I’ve tried to make my reasons for holding these views clear. But I have not formed an opinion, then gone out trying to justify it. Rather, I have tried to follow reason where it leads.

            “Till death do us part” has a much longer history than any romantic notions of marriage, so I’ll lay the burden of proof back on you to demonstrate that it “has little room in reality.”

            Again, nothing demands the birthing of a child to be essential to marriage, certainly not as it’s understood in the eyes of the law.

            I never said that the actual birthing of a child in any particular case was essential to marriage. I have been arguing that procreation is inseparable from the natural use of the reproductive system; that this has public and social ramifications; and that no other aspect of sexual behavior has such universal public and social ramifications; that therefore this is the aspect of marriage which justifies the government making any laws whatsoever regarding it. The government has no interest, so far as I can tell, in regulating the sex lives of homosexual couples.

          • Steve

            Burden of proof?? for what?? ‘Till death do us part’ is not realistic for the reason I already provided. Sometimes married people are better off not being married to each other for a wide variety of reasons. Simply because they choose to end their marriage somehow offends your sensibility of what marriage should be doesn’t suddenly make ’till death do us part’ a good idea. It’s a nice idea and one that suits many people, but also one that does not suit many others. To say that this isn’t a realistic idea to try and mandate doesn’t seem like something that requires more evidence than I’ve already laid out.

            The notion that procreating (ie. reproducing) and raising children (2 separate things) is some sort of mandatory requirement for marriage is simply making the rules up as you go along to conform with your notions that gays shouldn’t be married. Being that the earliest forms of marriage had as much to do with (if not more) wealth aquisition I’m not sure exactly where you feel justified to claim that the defining ‘it is or it isn’t’ variable for marriage is now the ability to bear children without any outside assistance. This bizarrely specific definition (which also applies to infertile hetero-sexual couples, or heterosexual couples who need or choose some sort of medically assisted procedure for reproducing) seems pulled from thin air. The fact that you wouldn’t apply it to heterosexual couples who fail to meet those same specific qualifications is an obvious case of your bias on the issue.

            “I have been arguing that procreation is inseparable from the natural use of the reproductive system”… First, being gay doesn’t mean your reproductive system stops working. Gay people can and do procreate. Second, I’m not entirely sure you can claim with any sort of certainty that the only natural use of the reproductive system is ‘procreation’. I’d wager that if you take 100 people and asked them if every orgasm they ever had was with the intention of conceiving a child, 99 would say that is not the case… and I’d be highly suspicious of that last person. If the overwhelming majority of people are using their reproductive systems for activities other than conceiving, I’d say by restricting it’s use to simply conceiving a child is plainly UN-natural. I mean you might as well say watching TV is an unnatural use of our eyes.

            “that this has public and social ramifications”… OK, so what??

            “and that no other aspect of sexual behavior has such universal public and social ramifications;” Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria! The gross exaggeration of potential social & public panic is unwarranted, and certainly doesn’t justify illogical social policy.

            “that therefore this is the aspect of marriage which justifies the government making any laws whatsoever regarding it. ” Robert… relax. Gay marriage isn’t mandatory for you.

          • Irenist

            In reply to Steve:
            “The notion that procreating (ie. reproducing) and raising children (2 separate things) is some sort of mandatory requirement for marriage is simply making the rules up as you go along to conform with your notions that gays shouldn’t be married.”

            The Thomistic natural law understanding of the Christian sexual ethic dates from the thirteenth century, with precursors going back about 1500 years. Since “gay marriage” wasn’t widely seriously discussed until the 1990s or so, I doubt that Thomas Aquinas cooked up his ethical system out of any anti-“gay marriage” animus.

            The one thing that Catholics do not do is make up the rules as we go along. We are bound by 2000 years of Scripture and Tradition. Traditional Christian sexual ethics is what it was in the first century A.D., around when the “Didache” was written. Our views may be wrong, but we aren’t concocting them ad hoc out of homophobia.

          • Steve

            As the idea of marriage existed prior to Christianity’s existence, that up until relatively recently the notion that a woman wasn’t some sort of property and that there might be more value to marriage that managing inheritance & birthing heirs suggests that not only is the idea of marriage a dynamic institution, but that the Christian one is as well. The length of how long Catholics have held a view is irrelevant to how the modern era treats that value. Were the duration of holding views be the measure of their value, the world would be flat, we’d be at the center of the universe, and we’d burn heretics.

            Your ‘rule’ so to speak is that marriage is a man/women institution. The reasons created to justify that position in a modern world are certainly ad hoc. I don’t recall the Bible verse ever saying a marriage shall be only between those who can procreate only within the bounds of their relationship without the assistance of medical technologies not yet conceived of.

          • Irenist

            In reply to Steve:
            Fair response. Let me try to clarify.

            “The length of how long Catholics have held a view is irrelevant to how the modern era treats that value.” Of course. But you said that the Catholic condemnation of gay marriage was ad hoc. I pointed out that Catholic disapproval of sodomy (practiced by straights or gays) is ancient. Disapproval of an institution legitimizing that behavior falls out pretty naturally from the ancient disapproval of said behavior. So it’s not some new bigoted animus that produced the disapproval, but loyalty to an ideal long predating the gay marriage debate. That was my only (very small) point.

            “I don’t recall the Bible verse . . . .”
            You’re arguing with a Catholic. Whether there’s a Bible verse to proof-text is irrelevant. We’re not a sola scriptura denomination, anymore than the Orthodox or the Anglicans. Only a rather small minority of global Christians (who happen to be disproportionately prominent in U.S. politics) are believers in sola scripture.

            “ever saying a marriage shall be only between those who can procreate only within the bounds of their relationship”

            As Elliot discussed at length in this thread, Natural Law seeks to prudently regulate appetites so that we rational animals can attain happiness (with happiness, in the Thomistic development of the ideas in the Nicomachean Ethics, defined as attainment of aeviternal contemplation of God).
            1. The prudent choice of a regulating principle for sex is procreation.
            2. Thus sex acts should be procreative in kind, even if, due to infertility, not in practice.
            3. Procreation rightly implies parental care for children.
            4. Thus, procreation should be between lifelong partners committed to parenting together.

            “without the assistance of medical technologies not yet conceived of.”
            As with any system of thought, when new developments like IVF or the gay marriage movement arise, old principles will have to be applied ad hoc. But the principles themselves are not ad hoc, nor are the 1.-4. just above.

      • Irenist

        “Forgive the frankness of the following, but would you consider fellatio harmful? What about masturbation? If they are harmful, who/what is being harmed and how exactly are they being harmed? What bounds should be place with defining the realm of ‘human sexuality’? What would be your reasoning for placing whatever bounds you place? Would you say these activities fall outside that realm?”

        Nothing to forgive in the frankness. To answer briefly: fellatio, masturbation, anal sex, etc. are all harmful to the “moral ecology” of couples’ relationship, and thus sinful, if they separate the unitive good of sex from openness to the procreative good of sex. Thus, fellatio or whatever as part of foreplay is fine, so long as the husband does not climax anywhere other than within his wife’s vagina. However, after the husband’s climax, as Pope John Paul II noted in his “Theology of the Body” lectures, there is nothing sinful in carrying on with things until the wife is able to climax, too. (Just common courtesy, really.)

        N.B. that it is openness to procreation that matters, not ability to procreate. Thus, infertile non-contracepting straight married couples are fine, since their act partakes of the nature of an act that is procreative *in kind*, but those engaged in what used to be called sodomy and onanism, regardless of whether they are gay or straight, are not engaged in acts that are even conceivably procreative in kind.

        Trying to separate the unitive from the procreative would be like trying to sunder the Persons of the Trinity, or trying to maintain a healthy forest ecosystem without wildfires or apex predators–some things must always go together, and it is folly to sunder them, dangerous in ways we can’t always predict or understand.

        • Steve

          Fair enough. Do you feel the specific Catholic view on such matters justifies implementing these religious views into public policy?

          • Irenist

            “Do you feel the specific Catholic view on such matters justifies implementing these religious views into public policy?”

            Nope. I recently voted against the gay marriage ban proposed for the NC Constitution.

    • Emily

      “The Natural Law perspective on civil law is that the laws we put on the books should be a reflection of Natural Law, applying it to the specific time and place we live in; that is, it doesn’t matter how many people vote for it or want it, a law is bad if it runs contrary to the Natural Law.”

      Thanks for your comment. This part in particular seems interesting and provocative to me because it reads like a statement of a universal legal philosophy – i.e. that adherence to Natural Law should be the primary criteria for evaluating the goodness of any and all laws, regardless of legal system. Am I reading that right? Would that take precedence over other values that a legal system might be more explicitly established to reflect?

      I ask because it seems like the gay marriage debate really does seem to come down to different understandings of what laws are supposed to do, or what value systems we use to judge them. For instance, the protection of individual liberties and equality under the law can be seen as more important *legal* values than adherence to natural law in the US. (To use another example a little further from home, the laws regarding the veil in France – there’s serious disagreement about whether it is more important for laws to respect individual religious liberty, which Americans usually assume is the clear answer, or for laws to establish a shared, secular civil society that is thought to foster democracy, which is a prevalent view in France.)

      So maybe what we should be talking about is how to come to agreement about the purpose of laws in general, not about marriage in particular. I’m really curious how this discussion would look if it were explicitly about natural law vs. individual equality under the law, and how natural law proponents would make that pitch.

      • That’s an intriguing suggestion. From a Natural Law perspective, civil laws should protect individual equality everywhere that individuals are actually equal, but not worry about it where they’re not equal. So, we are equal in dignity, and equal in citizenship (at least in the U.S. at this point in history), so matters that reflect dignity (such as housing or employement opportunities) or citizenship (such as sufferage or status before the law) should be protected by law. But we are unequal in size, skill, intelligence, wealth, and so on. Therefore, a Natural Law theorist would not expect civil law to protect (much less enforce) equality in those areas. (Wealth is the only one of those areas where I see any possibility for conflict between our current law and Natural Law.)

        So in that sense, I don’t think I would pose an opposition between Natural Law and Individual Equality – at least, not without a more exact definition of Individual Equality as a basis for legislation. From a Natural Law point of view, the question is whether same-sex marriage (or any other issue, for that matter) really is an issue of equality, or whether it is comparing apples and oranges. For example, having different bathrooms for people of different skin colors is a violation of equality; having different bathrooms for people of different sex has till very recently been considered a matter of proper and legitimate difference.

  • The “New Natural Law” isn’t worth a steaming pile of shit. Its incoherence — which is a result in fact of their much-vaunted doctrine of incommensurability — has been well demonstrated, and apart from the school’s small number of professional proponents, almost no serious scholar of St. Thomas thinks his ideas were anything like theirs. The New Natural Law is Kant in Catholic drag; nature (if by nature we mean biology and the constitution of the human person) is explicitly stated in their works to be almost barren as a source of moral insight. Robert George’s popularity with the Catholic conservative machine has given that school of thought more credit than it deserves, but if Yvain is interested in Catholic thought he should avoid this unfortunate sideshow. At any rate he should not subject himself to Natural Law and Natural Rights without first reading Molnar’s classic review.

    On Natural Law I would say a few things:

    1. Natural law is not monolithic. There are different ways of doing it which needless to say yield different conclusions. I have an old-fashioned Catholic approach to it, which I will go into in moment, but it’s worth nothing that I’m not speaking for natural law as such.

    2. (Ad 1um 2umque) The “natural biological purpose” of an object, or act, or what have you, is only one datum for the analysis of natural law, and not always the most important one. If we both speak and eat with our lips, and use our hands both for manipulation and sign language, or use our feet to walk, to kick balls, to press pedals, and to press grapes, this is not at all a problem for natural law. Natural law does not prohibit man from taking up natural faculties in new and creative ways, it prohibits us from doing so in unnatural ways.

    For a natural lawyer like St. Thomas, the most important element in human nature is the ability to use reason. He was obviously aware that humans are also creatures that eat, sleep, procreate, move around, grow to maturity, care for their young, etc. etc. But while these are legitimate parts of human nature, they are not distinctive to humans, whereas for the medievals, the only distinctive feature of humans was reason. When they said, then, that something was “unnatural” for man, what they primarily meant by this was not that it was repugnant to biology, but that it was irrational. It is in the light of this that one must understand their doctrines on sex.

    One must also understand the great (and not at all unreasonable) suspicion with which they viewed sexual desire. The trope of love as madness is a very old one, and if man is a rational animal, that within him that causes him to pant almost thoughtlessly after a beautiful body must be the weak point in his nature. The traditional Catholic natural law thinker, as indeed are lots of Catholics today, is fundamentally “sex-negative.” If they don’t believe all sex is evil (and they usually don’t believe that), they at least believe it requires some excuse. And pleasure as such was never understood to be such an excuse — in fact, a lot of traditional moralists would argue that pleasure in itself is never a legitimate motivation.

    The production of little Catholics, on the other hand, is. And so sex was allowed when it served this purpose, which was seen as an adequate reason. Other sex (even within marriage), was condemned as serving no rational purpose. For this reason the impotent were forbidden to marry. The infertile were not forbidden to marry — this decision has created no shortage of cognitive dissonance over the years — because in the 12th century there was no way to conclusively evaluate fertility, and in this matter the church decided to err on the side of permissiveness.

    I doubt this view of the matter will satisfy anyone today, but it is the mindset from which the current Catholic (and therefore to some extent most Christian) ideas on sex emerged.

    As regards Yvain’s third point: The “amount of procreation” is not a number that natural law (at least the Catholic variety) cares about very much. This should surprise no one, since the Church has consistently taught the superiority of celibacy.

    • I didn’t see that Brandon Watson had posted; his post makes mine completely superfluous.

    • Alex

      “2. (Ad 1um 2umque) The “natural biological purpose” of an object, or act, or what have you, is only one datum for the analysis of natural law, and not always the most important one. If we both speak and eat with our lips, and use our hands both for manipulation and sign language, or use our feet to walk, to kick balls, to press pedals, and to press grapes, this is not at all a problem for natural law. Natural law does not prohibit man from taking up natural faculties in new and creative ways, it prohibits us from doing so in unnatural ways.”

      I can’t see how this answers the problem. _Why_ does natural law not prohibit using natural faculties in new ways? You stated that pleasure is not a sufficient reason for taking up an action, so why are football and music legitimate uses for the foot and mouth?

      • I answer this at length in my post below.

  • Alexander S. Anderson

    One of the biggest problems, really, with using Natural Law Theory in debates is that you are almost always bound to be misunderstood, as Natural Law Theory is based off of Aristotelian metaphysics that almost no one is taught any longer. The problem with this is that people assume strange things about the word “Natural”, like it means the natural/artificial distinction. This confusion sort of makes sense, as many don’t believe that human beings or anything else has an essential nature, or that that nature is malleable, which seems to be what the commenter suggests when he talks about evolutionary uses. I think this to be one of the main impediments to philosophical argument about issues such as this today.

    Anyway, the proper function issue deals with final causes, that which an act tends toward “always and for the most part.” What sexual activity is directed toward is both procreative and unitive. You seem only to be challenging the procreative requirement. I think a general answer is that sexual activity is directed toward both aspects, and attempts to frustrate one will frustrate the other. Basically, the argument is that the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual activity are not separable.

    • Kristen inDallas

      “Basically, the argument is that the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual activity are not separable.”
      Awesomely said – it’s not that purely unitive acts aren’t a good, it’s that in reality they hardly ever exist. If I actively thwart the possibility of procreating with my partner, I’m not *really* forming a complete union with him. I’m saying “I like this bit of you and this bit and that bit, but not that bit” If we put a wall around some vital bit of ourselves or our partner we aren’t really in full union, and as sad as it is, boils down to just using someone for sex (and whatever other bits we may happen to like).

      • butterfly5906

        What happens if one partner in a marriage gets an STD? Are condoms (just for disease prevention, ignoring procreation for a moment) still immoral because the other partner is effectively saying “I don’t like that bit of you”?
        If so, then it seems like the couple’s only options are life-long abstinence (which is harmful to the relationship) or the healthy partner acquiring the disease (which is obviously bad for them.) These both seem worse than using a condom.

        • Irenist

          This is a thorny topic, but I cautiously suspect that the principle of double effect might apply. Unlike the couple who choose condoms for contraception, this couple would be choosing them for safety. I seem to recall having read some casuistry online on the question of whether a young bride who has been prescribed the pill for a hormonal problem could consummate her marriage right away, and IIRC, double effect was invoked by the casuist in order to judge the consummation licit. (Catholic casuistry, like Sharia, Halakha, or Anglophone Common Law, is a matter of ever-evolving exquisitely fine distinctions).

          Pope Benedict XVI made some remarks on this topic during his recent trip to Africa, saying that an HIV-positive partner’s use of a condom might be sorta kinda okay given the issue you’ve raised. The media, in its usual cluelessness, ran some “Pope says condoms now okay for everyone in all circumstances! Pork also now kosher!”-type headlines for a bit before someone talked some sense into their telegenic little heads.

          • Irenist

            Just to clarify: This is only my hunch. Given that the act would no longer be procreative in kind, the principle of double effect might be no more able to render it licit than if the couple resorted to mutual masturbation instead of sex. When the ever-hapless Vatican press people walked back Benedict XVI’s misinterpreted remarks, they stressed that he had only said that using condoms to prevent HIV transmission might be “the beginning of wisdom” or something like that. Perhaps the “end of wisdom” would be to accept a future of “living together chastely as brother and sister,” as some pious couples used to vow to do during the Middle Ages, and as we Catholics believe Mary and Joseph to have done. To the Chestertonian enamored of the wisdom of past ages, the modern horrified disbelief at the prospect of a married couple being told they have a duty to live thus would be evidence not of anti-sex cruelty by natural law proponents, but instead evidence of the blinkered lust-obsession of our decadent era that can no longer even imagine asking people to make sacrifices for chastity that ancient and medieval people found rather unremarkable.

    • I think a general answer is that sexual activity is directed toward both aspects, and attempts to frustrate one will frustrate the other. Basically, the argument is that the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual activity are not separable.

      As I’ve pointed out in the past, Catholics apply this reasoning extremely selectively – in fact, pretty much only to sex, as far as I’m aware. When there are other “natural” activities that serve multiple purposes, they’re perfectly happy to see them used for only one at a time. It’s only when it comes to sex that we get this baseless and bizarre insistence that both functions must be satisfied in every sex act.

      Here’s an example: vision. The sense of vision can be used to help me find my way around the world, as well as for the enjoyment of beautiful sights. I therefore assert, using natural law reasoning, that it’s morally wrong to look at paintings, because that would be divorcing the navigational function of my vision from the pleasure function. The natural-law-compliant solution is only to look at actual beautiful landscapes, not mere reproductions.

      Do you endorse this reasoning? If not, why not?

      • From a Catholic perspective, the union and procreation are not “multiple purposes” in the sense of being separate and separable from each other; rather, they are two sides of the same coin. It would be like saying that, for example, the respiratory system has two utterly separate purposes: to deliver oxygen; and to expel CO2. These are distinguishable, but not divorcible, functions. Moreover, the biological functions of all these systems have the common good of the community of persons as their ultimate end and purpose.

        The sense of sight, properly, delivers light to the brain. In and of itself, it does not navigate, nor does it appreciate. Rather, it is the means by which we do both, insofar as they involve sensing light. It might be morally wrong to pluck out your eyes, or to distort them in such a way that they only saw the color green. But the eye as an organ is fairly singular in its act.

        A better example might be the tongue, though I think the tongue’s use for eating and speaking really are separable acts in a way that the different aspects of sex are not separable. The tongue’s functions of tasting food and helping to break down food for digestion might fit the bill. I’ll have to give this some more thought.

        • Niemand

          These are distinguishable, but not divorcible, functions.

          Actually, they’re quite divorcible. Consider a person in a low oxygen environment. Say, to give an unfortuante real world example, someone who is in the wrong place at the wrong time when an MRI discharges its helium. They’re still expelling CO2 just fine, but aren’t getting any oxygen. They will die of oxygen deprivation, not CO2 overload. Another situation might be carbon monoxide poisioning where the oxygen, although present, is outcompeted by carbon monoxide. People with CO poisioning can die with completely functional CO2 disposal.

          Conversely, consider a person with COPD (emphysema). They usually can take in adequate oxygen, but, because of difficulty expelling air, retain CO2. In fact, giving them more oxygen may worsen their tendency to CO2 retention, even while it corrects any minor hypoxia that might be present.

          So, separable functions, although in “nature” they usually work together. Much like sex has at least two major functions: reproduction and bonding. Arguably, the latter is more important in a highly social species where number of offspring is limited more by the parent’s ability to raise the offspring than its ability to produce the offspring, i.e. humans.

        • The sense of sight, properly, delivers light to the brain. In and of itself, it does not navigate, nor does it appreciate. Rather, it is the means by which we do both, insofar as they involve sensing light.

          And I can say the same thing about the sexual organs: properly, they cause orgasms. In and of themselves, they neither produce pair-bonding nor create children; rather, they are the means by which we do both.

  • Pattsce

    If you want to read a very clear explanation of Natural Law sexual ethics, I absolutely recommend Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition. He answers all of the questions you’ve presented here basically in full. Most people freak out by the tone of that book, but I think it’s wonderful. I’ll try to field some of these questions at any rate.

    First, you need to have a basic understanding of Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics before you’re going to understand Natural Law theory at all. Once you understand that, the basic underlying argument against homosexuality is based on the “perverted faculty” argument. You somewhat identify it in your questions, even if you mischaracterize it a little bit. This, from Feser’s blog, is kind of a basic introduction; then I’ll go into your questions:

    “For classical natural law theory, such natural teleology grounded in the essences of things entails an objective standard of goodness and badness. A tree with strong roots and branches is to that extent a good tree, while a diseased tree with weak roots and withered branches is a bad one; a healthy squirrel which likes to scamper about and gather food is to that extent a good squirrel, while a squirrel which has through injury lost the ability to climb trees and because of genetic defect does not enjoy the taste of acorns is a bad one; and so forth. So far this is not a moral sense of “good” versus “bad”; it is rather the sense operative when we describe something as a “good specimen” or “bad example” of a kind of thing. But it is an entirely objective sense. When we say that the healthy tree is a good tree and the diseased squirrel a bad squirrel, we are not expressing our own preferences but simply stating what follows, as a matter of objective fact, from the nature or essence of a tree or squirrel. (There is no “fact/value distinction” from an A-T point of view; so-called “values” are built into the facts from the get go.) Moreover, distinctively moral goodness or badness falls out as a special case of this more general sense. Moral goodness or badness is just the kind of goodness or badness manifested by rational agents, who (unlike plants and animals) can freely choose whether or not to pursue what is good for them given their nature. A rational agent who chooses to pursue the ends that his essence determines are good for him is to that extent morally good, while a rational agent who chooses to pursue that which is contrary to these ends is to that extent morally bad.”

    And also:

    “But “perverted faculty” arguments for certain moral conclusions fall out as a natural consequence of the general principles already described. The basic idea is that when some faculty F is natural to a rational agent A and by nature exists for the sake of some end E (and exists in A precisely so that A might pursue E), then it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for A to use F in a manner contrary to E. For the good of a thing is determined by the end which it has by nature. F exists for the sake of E, and agents like A naturally possess F precisely so that they might pursue E. Hence (given the underlying metaphysics) it cannot possibly be good to use F for the sake of preventing the realization of E, or for the sake of an end which has an inherent tendency to frustrate the realization of E. Hence (to cite the best-known applications of this reasoning) it cannot possibly be good to use our sexual faculties in a way that positively frustrates their procreative end.”

    We’ll start there as we move on your questions.

    1. There is always a distinction made between an artifact and a natural substance. Artifacts have natural substances to them (they couldn’t be made out of nothing), but an end is placed upon them by their creator. As such, you can’t really use an artifact “immorally” if you are using it for an end that wasn’t intended by its creator. You might say “but isn’t that what people claim homosexuals are doing?” No, natural law is not based on a “creator” or a lawgiver who places purposes on to purposeless things. Purposes are “built in” to the substances, as was identified in the first excerpt above. If God (or if anyone) were to say “don’t do X” or “use Y for Z,” He wouldn’t be Creating some new good. He would be identifying/explaining that already exists for that thing. And because God is a purely good being, he could never require you to act contrary to a good end. There are things God can command, of course, that may not have anything to do with morality directly (although everything does) but He could never command you to act Contrary to that good—otherwise He would not be purely good. This is another issue though. All that should be taken out of this is that “good” for a substance is defined by its nature, not by an outside creator or user. This is why pointing to artifacts isn’t particularly important here.

    The second part of your #1 is really the crux of the issue. If we assume that things have natural ends which defines what is good/what counts as flourishing for a particular species, then it is not merely a matter of using the body (or other natural substance) other or different than its good end, but a matter of using it Contrary to its good end. This is from Feser’s blog: “None of this entails that F cannot have more than one natural end, and neither does it entail that it cannot be good for us to use F for an end other than E. For “different from E” and “other than E” do not entail “contrary to E.” Hence there is nothing inherently wrong with married people having sex for the sake of expressing affection or merely because they feel like doing it, or with their sexually stimulating each other in various ways during foreplay, as long as they do not act in a way that positively frustrates the procreative end of the sexual act.” The end of that excerpt is key. A man who willingly ejaculates into anything other than a vagina “positively frustrates” the procreative end of sex. He is acting positively against the end in such a case, as the penis by its nature is aimed at getting semen into a vagina, and semen by its nature is aimed at getting sperm to an egg. (If it weren’t aimed at that, if that weren’t its “final cause,” it would never occur.) A soccer player on the other hand is not positively frustrating the natural end of the foot (or whatever), which is most likely movement, etc. The best way to frustrate the good end of the foot would probably be to purposefully damage the foot so movement were impaired, etc.

    But you might say, “Wait, a homosexual doesn’t Cut Off his penis when he has sex! He can still use it for later!” This is, thankfully, quite true. But the comparison you’ve made to kicking isn’t quite parallel to sex. It’s best to look at something like eating for a better comparison to sex. The “purpose” of eating is to nourish the body so it can flourish. But many culinary experts may say “Wait! the purpose of eating is not Only nourishment! It’s enjoyment!” That is probably quite true, and I definitely love food myself. But that purpose is certainly secondary to the primary purpose of nourishment. That is, no doubt we enjoy food so that we Do get nourishment. Similarly, if we separate the nourishment aspect of eating from the enjoyment aspect and only use food for enjoyment, we have done something perverse and most likely “bad” for us. That is, a person who likes the taste of food but throws up the food afterward or hooks some machine that pumps out the food so it never gets to the stomach for nourishment does something “bad.” (This is much closer to the “contrary” that is forbidden by natural law.) A person who only eats bland foods and has no interest in the enjoyment factor of eating, though, does nothing “bad” in the strictest sense. He’s just a boring person. Notice that this does not entail that all intentional throwing up is wrong. It merely entails that throwing up as a means of frustrating the natural end of eating is wrong. If you accidentally swallowed poison, for example, you would not induce vomiting to frustrate the natural end of eating. You would be doing it to get that poison out of you. It would just unintentionally result in the eating not reaching its good end. (The doctrine of double effect would apply here.) This throwing up example is much closer to homosexual sex in this sense. That is, a homosexual separates the primary end of sexual intercourse (procreation) from its secondary end (enjoyment, love, etc.). Now, you may argue that enjoyment and love are primary ends as well. Fine, but it can only be primary to the point that it does not frustrate other primary ends. Like the eating example, enjoyment of the food (which some people may say is just as important as nourishment) can never be used in a way that frustrates the other end of eating — nourishment. This is precisely the reason contraception, etc. is considered immoral by natural law philosophers. It separates the procreative end from the pleasure/unitive end in a very clear way.

    There are often common objections like “well, what if one of the people is sterile!” etc. This is where the metaphysics is very important. That is, a penis, by its very nature (its form), is pointed at getting semen into a vagina. If the semen cannot do this or the vagina is not working properly to create life, it is merely a matter of a defect of the parts. A mouth or an anus, on the other hand, are not by their nature pointed at the creation of life. An anus is not a defective vagina; it is simply an anus. It does what anuses do. Natural law only entails that we order our ends toward their good. If those ends are frustrated by defects in the natural mechanisms (a womb that cannot sustain life, semen that does not get sperm to egg), WE are not the ones frustrating that end. Natural law only forbids the positive and willful frustration of a good end. Ejaculating into an anus or a mouth is of course Nothing a defective mechanism. A mouth and anus, as I’ve pointed out, is nothing like a vagina. It is never pointed at the creation of human life. So willfully ejaculating into a mouth or anus would clearly be a positive and willful frustration of a good end.

    (This same perverted faculty argument is likewise used to argue that lying is always wrong. Lying frustrates the natural end of the communicate activities — to communicate truth to others. Now, a liar may be able to tell the truth again after he lied (in case you may say, like with the kicking objection, “well a liar doesn’t cut out his voice box when he tells a lie!), but the actual act of lying, that moment of falsetelling absolutely frustrates the natural end of communication. I mention this only to give another example of something conceptually similar to eating or having sex.)

    2. and 3. The above explanation should basically answer your 2 and 3. In 2, it’s merely a matter of using things other than, but not contrary to, their good end. Humans have arms, hands, and other body parts which allow them to move, grab, live, etc. As long as people aren’t creating societies where they amputate themselves for pleasure, there would be no frustration of that end. There is also the matter of the natural end of the mind, which seems to be truth-seeking. As long as the society is actively seeking truth and does not seek truth in a way that perverts other good ends, it would be no problem.

    In 3, as the above explanation should point out, it’s not merely a matter of the Number of kids. A heterosexual couple who never frustrates the natural end of sex and has Zero kids is not somehow worse than one who has fifty but uses contraception all the time. Likewise, a gay man who has sex with fifty men and has no kids versus one who has sex with zero and similarly has no kids are not in the same boat. In the former case, the man has frustrated the natural end of sex (committed an immoral act) fifty times, while in the latter case, he has done frustrated the natural end of sex zero times. Natural law does not require us to positively seek out use toward a natural good end. We don’t have to constantly be having sex, even if sex is good for us. If you choose to Never have sex (as a priest or other holy person might), for example, you’ve done nothing wrong. Natural law merely concerns when you Do choose to do something (this sentence is only generally stated; I don’t meant to imply that omissions have no moral weight).

    This is all just a short introduction. Check out that book I recommended up top. Also note that I made no appeal to “God” or any other lawgiver in the argument. A lot of people assume the Church condemns homosexual acts because God (or the Bible) said they were wrong. It doesn’t. That is, God and the Bible Might say that they are wrong, but if they did, it would only be because God and the Bible are pointing out a natural good. Also, appealing to God or the Bible when talking to someone who doesn’t believe in God or the Bible is obviously pretty pointless and a little circular.

    Anyway, I hope this was helpful. I’m not a major expert in this field; it’s just something that interests me a lot. I hope it helped in some way to clear up some of those questions!

    • Alex Godofsky

      Under this formulation it sounds like using a treadmill is bad. The primary purpose of walking is locomotion; walking on a treadmill is very deliberately frustrating that purpose for a secondary goal (exercise).

    • @Alex Godofsky,

      If you make that argument about walking, won’t you also have to make the argument about eating? wearing clothes? etc. The primary purpose of eating is to sustain life; the primary purpose of wearing clothes is to stay warm. But people eat and dress all the time for pleasure–that is, with the secondary purpose in mind. Sometimes the focus on the secondary purpose even thwarts the primary purpose, as when a person dresses more scantily than the weather demands, because it is fashionable to do so; or when a person purges after eating, in order to be able to enjoy eating again without the normal consequence of weight gain.

      In those examples–exercise, bulimia, underdressing–I have no problem with exercise and a huge problem with bulimia. Underdressing seems to depend on the circumstances.

      Why is it that some of these things seem OK to me and not others? Part of it must have to do with the fact the bulimia is more likely to be harmful physically (extreme exercise and lack of clothing can be as well, but it’s rarer). But this would seem to put homosexual acts in the same boat as exercise and underdressing: sure, they can hurt under certain circumstances (AIDS?) but they’re not obviously inherently physically harmful.

      So what gives? Why do we/I/natural law folks/Catholics/whoever feel that homosexual acts are closer to bulimia than to exercise?

      A few possible reasons–each revolves around the supposition that the analogy is in some way flawed.

      (1) The analogy is flawed, because the primary purpose of moving one’s legs is not, in fact, locomotion; nor is the primary purpose of clothing to keep warm. The primary purpose of sex IS babies, however, and the primary purpose of eating IS nourishment. In defense of the first suggestion, which may seem absurd, let me remind everyone of how often they have kicked their legs for the heck of it, or danced. As for clothing, ornament is clearly the primary purpose in many climates, including those parts of the earth were human beings originated. (I’m not sure about this …)

      (2) The analogy is flawed, because when one moves one’s legs without going anywhere (on a treadmill) or without going anywhere necessary (running a loop around the block), one does performs an action to which the leg is suited, even if/though no locomotion occurs. One moves the muscles in a sequence designed to make one pick up foot, put it down, pick it up, put it down … If one were to put one’s foot in a vice, and make (if possible) the same motions, THAT would be thwarting the natural end of the muscular act. (Hm. So people who practice isometrics are immoral? Not sure about that.)

      (3) The analogy is flawed, because there is a categorical difference between activities involving generation and activities that do not. Eating naturally generates flesh and prolongs life. Sex naturally generates new human beings and prolongs species life. An act whose telos is some good (warmth, motion) may have its primary purpose subsumed under a secondary one (beauty, pleasure, health); but life is too great a good for those actions teleologically directed towards it to be diverted for other purposes.

      I’m much more wedded to (3) than to (2) or (1), but it needs more teasing out. And there may well be better NL reasons that I’m overlooking.

      As a by-the-by, I second the person above who mentioned Edward Feser. He is obnoxious and arrogant, but very bright, and represents classical NL theory pretty darn well, IMHO.

      Oh, also, I think we need to distinguish between “unnatural” and “immoral”. “Unnatural” is a MUCH bigger category; there are lots of unnatural things that are not immoral. (Isometrics, see above.) There are probably some immoral things that are natural too …

      • Alex

        But if the primary purpose of walking isn’t locomotion, then what is the primary purpose?

        • Does everything have to have a primary purpose? Can’t there be multiple purposes of equal value?

          • anodognosic

            Which is, of course, the point that I find myself repeatedly coming back to in discussions of natural law: can’t pair-bonding and pleasure be purposes of equal value to procreation for sex?

          • Ted Seeber

            Pair bonding can, pleasure can’t. Pair bonding in fact, when done properly, is a part of procreation because little baby humans are not born with the same abilities as adults; it takes time to finish the creation into a functional adult.

            If we judge sex by mere pleasure, then any rape is correct because one of the participants is gaining pleasure from it. The only reason there is any pleasure, from a natural law standpoint, in sex is to create the union of the family, and a family isn’t complete until there are at least three. That’s why infertile heterosexuality cannot make for a happy marriage.

          • They could be; but

            (1) they aren’t. Life > pleasure, in NL theory.

            (2) and regardless, it’s dangerous to treat them as such. (See my comment higher up. When pleasure is sought while generation is simultaneously thwarted, pair-bonding tends to degrade into using the other person.)

          • anodognosic

            Okay, scratch equal value. Two purposes of unequal value but of equal legitimacy.

            Incidentally, it’s actually a little troubling that neither of you can distinguish abuse from mutual pleasure-seeking. That might have something to do with why Catholics are so frequently regarded as anti-sex.

          • Alex

            Uh oh, I hate to butt in, but could we agree not to bring up the rape/consent issue again in this thread? That has the potential to hijack an otherwise illuminating discussion.

          • Alex

            Also, I second the possibility of unequal but both worthy purposes. The fact that some surgeons save lives with their hands does not render sock-puppeteering immoral. Sock-puppeteering would be morally okay even if one had the intelligence and the ability to go to medical school.

          • @anodognosic, @ Alex

            Of course I–and I suspect Mr. Seeber as well–distinguish between abuse and mutual pleasure-seeking. The former is always wrong, the latter only sometimes (we hold, under [or rather, in the absence of] certain conditions, which are being discussed).

            And Alex is quite right–the discussion of consent probably needs to go somewhere else.

        • Pattsce

          I think it’s perhaps it’s my fault for my explanation of this. It’s always difficult to choose words carefully. At any rate, I think it is incorrect to say that the natural function of legs or feet or whatever is “locomotion” solely. I think this may be where the problem and confusion lie.

          I think it is very true that legs are pointed at movement. Though they are not necessarily pointed at Locomotion as such, locomotion isn’t relevant to your point. I also don’t think you need to use a treadmill to get your point across. Imagine I walked in place. Have I not frustrated the natural good end of legs? That is, if their end is locomotion, and I Am choosing to use them, have I not acted contrary to that end by not moving forward? I think that’s your point anyway, and I understand it if you look at locomotion solely as the good end of legs.

          I think the question to ask, of course, is Why do humans have locomotion? I think this may be a problem with analysis of natural law in general. At some point the analysis kind of stops pushing on and it leads to bizarre conclusions like “it’s immoral to use treadmills.” But the legs are for “locomotion” is really only one portion of the analysis. Nature law is always pointed outward (or upward if you want to be theological about it). It is pointed to its next end until it can be determined what allows a particular species to flourish. So, the question is not “what are legs for?” That’s the first question, certainly, and it seems somewhat obvious: to be able to move around. But Why do we need to be able to move around? The answer to that is also relatively clear: to be able to get food, reproduce, make social groups, and do other things that allow us to survive or flourish as a species. MOST organs of the body are pointed at exactly this survival end, this end that will define whether a species is “successful” or “good.” As such, as long as we are not acting in a way that is contrary to This end, survival, the action is morally licit. In the case of the treadmill, we are clearly not acting in a way Against our survival or flourishing. I suppose if you were intentionally walking on a treadmill with the explicit purpose of destroying your legs so that you Can’t get food, mate, be social, etc. then you would be doing something immoral—or at least Very imprudent. Though, as Philippa Foot once said, “Prudence, as wisdom, is a virtue you know. It’s a very modern thing to try and distinguish the moral.”

          So, moving back to sex. What is the ultimate purpose or end of sex. It is NOT, like most other actions or body part functions, Survival. The human does not have sex in order to Survive. Contrasting this with other human functions, a person Does move, eat, etc. in order to survive. If a person Never had sex in his life, he would still survive quite fine. If a person were unable to walk, on the other hand, he Would have a great deal of difficulty surviving—especially before the industrial revolution. Interestingly as well, sex and our sexual organs are our only body parts that are pointed outward toward a New thing: life. That is, sex and sex organs are about the organism in reference to the greater species as a whole, while the other bodily functions or organs are really only in reference to the organism itself. This, I think, is what Thomas meant when he wrote:

          “Now it is good for everything to gain its end, and evil for it to be diverted from its due end. But as in the whole so also in the parts, our study should be that every part of man and every act of his may attain its due end. Now though the semen is superfluous for the preservation of the individual, yet it is necessary to him for the propagation of the species: while other excretions, such as excrement, urine, sweat, and the like, are needful for no further purpose: hence the only good that comes to man of them is by their removal from the body. But that is not the object in the emission of the semen, but rather the profit of generation, to which the union of the sexes is directed. But in vain would be the generation of man unless due nurture followed, without which the offspring generated could not endure. The emission of the semen then ought to be so directed as that both the proper generation may ensue and the education of the offspring be secured.

          Hence it is clear that every emission of the semen is contrary to the good of man, which takes place in a way whereby generation is impossible; and if this is done on purpose, it must be a sin. I mean a way in which generation is impossible in itself as is the case in every emission of the semen without the natural union of male and female: wherefore such sins are called ‘sins against nature.’ But if it is by accident that generation cannot follow from the emission of the semen, the act is not against nature on that account, nor is it sinful; the case of the woman being barren would be a case in point.”

          So, in the case of sex, contracepting or intentionally using the sexual organs in way contrary to this Procreative end Would count as a perversion of the faculty, while using legs to do other things like walk on a treadmill that Aren’t contrary to survival (the leg’s good end) would Not count as a perversion of the faculty.

      • Doragoon

        I’d question why you’re exercising. If you’re exercising for vanity, then yes, that is turning a secondary feature into a primary one. But if your goal of exercising is to at some point to restore the body to a more fit and natural state, then the treadmill becomes kinda like foreplay. The analogy to sex would be that you’re making the exercise itself the goal of the action instead of the health benefits.

        • Alex Godofsky

          How is any of that specific to a treadmill, though? Imagine I chose to exercise for vanity by walking to the grocery store; I am not in any way acting contrary to the purpose of my legs. Presumably you’re going to assert that vanity is already bad so both cases are bad; but the implication of the original post I was responding to is that treadmill-exercise is extra special bad.

          • Irenist

            The purpose of your legs, or of the treadmill, is irrelevant. The question is, “What is the purpose of Alex Godofsky?” The answer is to come to know and love God. Walking on treadmills or to the grocery store presumably brings you neither closer to nor farther from God. Vice moves you away from God, so it is not in accord with the purpose intrinsic to your nature. Virtue moves you closer, and hence is “natural” in the very technical (and counterintuitive to modern people) sense of the word at issue here.

    • Pattsce…I just wanted to comment on your very well written A-T explanation of Natural Law.

      Well done!!!!

      • Pattsce

        Thank you, I appreciate the compliment! I’m actually crazy busy today, but I do want to respond to a lot of these posts. I think there’s some pretty interesting discussion going on here. I’ll be back as soon as I can. I think focus should be turned to what TGWWS said in his response to my post. I think fleshing out those points is important, especially (3).

    • The squirrel talk is illuminating.

      But here’s the objection I run into. When I think about the normative squirrel, it immediately occurs to me that there cannot be such a thing. There must at minimum be a normative female and a normative male squirrel.

      Biological science suggests, and I think experience and common sense, along with the Bible (shall the eye say unto the hand I need thee not?) that species or other collective groups can have more rational sub-categorizations than just male or female. Including some traits or individuals that might at first appear deleterious but express themselves as functional when circumstances change. That being so, an argument for why ‘homosexual’ is or isn’t one such category would have to be pretty sophisticated because it isn’t obvious either way.

      Or am I, squirrel-like, scampering up the wrong tree?

    • Emily

      “Similarly, if we separate the nourishment aspect of eating from the enjoyment aspect and only use food for enjoyment, we have done something perverse and most likely “bad” for us.”

      Sorry to be harping on the same kind of question as Alex, but in that case, is eating birthday cake or movie popcorn or drinking beer immoral? Those things are all unhealthy, people don’t eat them in place of but rather in addition to more nutritious food, and they’re just for enjoyment. Basically, junk food, alcohol, and celebration foods all take the “nourishment” aspect out of eating, but we do it anyway sometimes because the enjoyment aspect and social bonding are important to us. Is that wrong?

      • It is wrong if we do it to the point of running counter to nourishment. Not if we do it in addition to nourishment. So if you eat so much popcorn or drink so much beer that it becomes unhealthy then you have perverted the faculty of eating or drinking.

        • Erick

          Hence, we generally consider alcoholism as a bad thing, but a cup of wine or beer a day as good for your heart!

        • The more I think about the sweetener issue, the more it seems to met that in the Aristotelian-Thomist framework eating a sweetener should be as morally disordered as sex between two men. Certainly the Catholic Church does not seem to claim that eating sweetener is always and in all cases morally wrong, or at least does not try very hard to stop people doing so. I would like to see someone to weight in and help differentiating between these two cases if it is at all possible.

          • Irenist

            Crafting technology is part of human nature. When we talk about “Natural Law” in at least an A-T framework, we are mostly concerned about violations of *human* nature, not some sort of Luddism. Artificial sweetener is an artifact of modern chemistry. Whatever final cause/end/telos it has stems from corporate chemists, who are not God. If we want to use sweetener to sweeten things, fine. If we want to glue it to construction paper to make snow for a school project, fine. Neither of these uses does violence to *human* nature. Sinful actions (heterosexual or homosexual fornication, e.g.) do violate humanity’s intrinsic nature in that they move us further away from our final cause/end/telos. If we spilled a bunch of Splenda on the ground so we could laugh at someone slipping on it, that would violate natural law because such cruelty is sinful. Natural here is a synonym for rational/good/true/beautiful (which are interchangeable when predicated of God, although conceptually distinguishable when analogically predicated of people and our acts), not an antonym for technology/manmade. This usage was common to Aristotle, the Stoics, and Cicero, inter alia, and was picked up by the Scholastics. The modern usage of the word to mean “not artificial” tends to send a lot of lay discussions of natural law down blind alleys about “but eyeglasses are good and cancer is bad!” that aren’t really to the point.

            As an aside, n.b. that artifacts don’t have intrinsic formal and final causes but extrinsic ones, like those assigned by Splendas’ chemists. The classic example is of a wooden bed: If you plant a wooden bed in the ground, what (if anything) grows from it will be a tree, not a bed.

          • Pattsce

            I point you up to my response to treadmill inquiry before you read this response. You must always look at a purpose in reference to the organism. In other words, while food is for nourishment (and it’s my fault for stopping there), nourishment is for the surviving/flourishing/health of the organism. Artificial sweeteners, even without a nourishing function, are Not contrary (that is, they are not deleterious to the health of/survival of) the organism. As such, they would be morally licit.

            So how about alcohol or things that aren’t as neutral? Isn’t That contrary to the health of the organism? Well, probably not, especially in moderation. But harder drugs, or using drugs in excess probably Would count as a perversion. Not only that, they would also count as a violation of the virtue of temperance (And likewise probably prudence). Also, they would, in excess, be a perversion of our reasoning capacities. That is, at certain levels they would absolutely impair our reasoning capacities, which would no doubt act contrary to our survival And truth-seeking ends.

            Artificial sweeteners, again, are nothing like this and do nothing like this.

          • @ Pattsce

            Thanks for your answer. Would you say then that smoking is always contrary to the breathing functionality of the lungs , which end would be the health/surviving of the organism? It seems then that smoking would be objectively disordered and never permissible. What do you think?

          • Pattsce

            @ Marc

            I’m not sure why I can’t directly reply to the smoking comment, so I’ll try replying this way. Interestingly, smoking’s morality Has often been argued about. I’m not sure it has always been done on strict natural law grounds, but I think there’s a basic gut feeling that there’s something Not quite right about it. (Really protestanty prudes, for example, are often big enemies of smoking, drinking, etc.) And people don’t dislike it just because the smoke gets in other people’s faces. Even Philippa Foot, who I doubt was a big prude about those things, went so far as to call it immoral. I’m not quite as intense as that though, and I think she was a little off in that estimation.

            I would probably put smoking in the same category as drinking or other things that are harmful to your health in a relatively unsevere way. But, again, they are Only unsevere if you do them in very light moderation where the body is able to recover, where the actual health of the organism isn’t really harmed by the use in the long run. (To compare with the treadmill example, running an hour on a treadmill would be fine, even if it is “harming” your muscles by tearing them. The muscles of course recover. They actually have the effect of making the organism stronger. Smoking, unfortunately (as far as I know) does not have that effect, even in moderation. Though I hear a light use of alcohol is actually beneficial to health?) For example, a guy who smokes a cigar once a month after dinner is probably not doing anything really harmful to his health. Maybe he is, but he’s probably not, and there certainly would be nothing wrong with it.

            So where does that leave chain smoking and intense smoking habits? I absolutely think chain smoking is bad and at least moderately immoral. It’s bad, in addition to the health problems, in that it’s absolutely intemperate. That is, have you seen heavy smokers? They can’t Live without their smokes. They have almost no control of their passions. They can be completely pathetic people. I’ve known many. Certainly not a flourishing creature from a character standpoint anyway. (Also, and I think this is kind of an interesting issue, I’ve noticed smokers tend to have a certain intemperate personality in General. Not always, but the traits like that always bleed over into other areas of life.) But it’s always difficult. At the very least, it’s absolutely imprudent to smoke that much, and I was say it counts as the kind of perversion I’m talking about, as it’s absolutely contrary to a thing’s survival, health, and flourishing—its good end.

            But at the same time, sometimes it Isn’t that bad for a particular person. Health is a weird thing. Some people smoke their whole lives, have no major effects from the smoking, and die from a totally unrelated problem. It’s totally dependent on the person. Notice how this is Nothing like homosexuality, though. Homosexuality doesn’t just have a Chance of perverting its good end, procreation. It’s not like some homosexuals procreate and some don’t when they have anal sex. So it’s not like you can have homosexual sex in “moderation” or anything like that. It’s inherently disordered, inherently contrary to the sexual organ’s good end.

          • Pattsce

            @ Marc

            I didn’t mean for this actually, but after writing “inherently disordered,” I remembered what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls homosexual acts: “intrinsically disordered.” Obviously I mean the same thing using “inherently.” I thought it was interesting because I wasn’t making any of these arguments based on Catholic theology or anything. The philosophy just sort of pointed to that conclusion.

            The overlap of my philosophy with the Church’s is what initially led me to conversion to Catholicism. As such, whenever that overlap occurs, I’m always reminded of that. Thought it was worth mentioning.

          • @ Pattsce, and every body

            I brought up the question about smoking because it seems to me that in the framework of A-T metaphysics there could be a parallel between smoking and homosexual acts.

            a) According to the Church (not that I am agreeing with this) homosexual “acts” are intrinsically disordered because they go against the natural end of sexual “acts” which is procreation.
            b) Smoking goes against the natural end of the lungs that is breathing.

            It seems to me no way out of labelling smoking as intrinsically disordered. It does not matter that the person may recover from smoking, or that some good may come out from it, as it does not matter that homosexual acts help pair-bounding and improve happiness in homosexual relationships. It seems to me then, that, according to the teaching of the Church and A-T metaphysics, homosexual relationships should be as disordered as smoking, or vice-vesa.
            This is very confusing, since I don’t see the Church as active against smoking as against gay civil marriage.

          • Pattsce


            I already addressed this complaint when I discussed treadmills and artificial sweeteners. The analogy you’ve made is not parallel. The natural end of sexual organs is procreation. The natural end of lungs is not breathing as such; it is survival, maintenance, flourishing of the organism. We do not have lungs to breathe. We have lungs to live. Sexual organs are different. We do not have sexual organs to live. We have sexual organs to reproduce. Please read my post in response to the treadmill complaint. That criticism is basically the same as this one.

          • @ Pattsce

            I’ve read your various treads-posts and I appreciate your the effort and time you are putting into it. OK, scratch breathing, and substitute it for survival, flourishing. I still claim that there is a case that can be made in which smoking goes against the natural end of lungs, this being survival. Smoking shortens our life, for instance. I don’t see why should it not be morally forbidden in all cases, under the framework of A-T metaphysics.

            I see a parallel, say, between contraception opposing reproduction and smoking opposing survival. And assuming homosexual sex oppose reproduction, then there would be a parallel between them and smoking. If in the A-T framework there is a case to make lying always immoral, maybe there is space also to make smoking always immoral, I would say.

            On the other hand, I don’t see why pair-bounding could not be a legitimate end to the homosexual-sex, but I would read first the posts again to see if they actually answer my question on that area.

          • Pattsce

            @ Marc

            I explained this in the smoking post. Smoking Would be immoral if it really did shorten life. But it doesn’t always do that. It is not always against life to smoke. It CAN be, and it often is, but it is not Always or categorically that way. For example, I don’t smoke, but I could smoke a cigarette right now and I doubt I would shorten my life at all. Now, it Could, but it probably would not. My body would recover (if it were harmed in any serious way at all) very quickly. As such, the smoking would not be against my survival or my life, and I would not be acting contrary to that survival, nor would I be doing anything immoral. Now, if I picked up smoking and started smoking in a way that Did have long-term negative effects, yeah, I would be doing something wrong then. But one cigarette every month or a couple sodas a week or a few alcoholic drinks every couple weeks, no, none of those things would be contrary to my survival or flourishing as a human being.

            Homosexual sex is completely different. If the purpose of sexual organs is to procreate (as opposed to survival), it’s not that my having sex with a man (I am a man) Might conflict with procreation (like smoking a couple cigarettes Might conflict with my survival (the purpose of my lungs)). It just categorically does. Ejaculating into an anus, a mouth, or a condom (I apologize if this comes off as too graphic, Leah) is just categorically contrary to procreation. Smoking one cigarette is Not categorically contrary to survival.

      • anodognosic

        I think the example of artificial sweetener can be instructive too, because it is literally devoid of nourishing power.

      • Ted Seeber

        For a glutton like me, these things can be immoral.

    • Doragoon

      I am really impressed with this post. I’m not actually convinced of natural law, figuring it’s a grace inspired divine law that most people are talking about, but this is coming close to convincing me. Thanks to everyone who’s making this discussion possible.
      “A tree with strong roots and branches is to that extent a good tree, while a diseased tree with weak roots and withered branches is a bad one; a healthy squirrel which likes to scamper about and gather food is to that extent a good squirrel, while a squirrel which has through injury lost the ability to climb trees and because of genetic defect does not enjoy the taste of acorns is a bad one; and so forth.”
      I immediately thought of Chesterton talking about the bad knife. The bad tree isn’t a bad tree. Trees are good and a miracle of nature, but that sick tree is merely not good enough to fulfill it’s purpose. Just as a knife is a good thing, but a knife that’s too dull is not a bad knife, only not good enough to sharpen our pencil without breaking it. “Ivory may not be so white as snow, but the whole Arctic continent does not make ivory black.”

      Does this mean that non-procreative sex might not be bad sex, but merely not good enough to fulfill it’s purpose? Lying would be speech, which is good, but it’s not good enough to fulfill it’s nature.

      • Ted Seeber

        “Does this mean that non-procreative sex might not be bad sex, but merely not good enough to fulfill it’s purpose?”

        Yes, you’re halfway there. The other half though is that non-procreative sex is preventing the other person from having procreative sex.

      • I think this mixes up the act and the actor. The knife breaking the pencil instead of sharpening it might be a good knife that just isn’t good enough. But it’s breaking the pencil is bad.

    • Yvain

      I’m sorry, I’m still having trouble figuring out why the “but a homosexual doesn’t cut off his penis” objection doesn’t hold – or, more generally, figuring out the difference between “additional to the natural end” and “contrary to the natural end”. Is the difference that in homosexual sex, you’re using your reproductive system for more or less the intended purpose (having sex) but preventing procreation, as opposed to kicking where you’re discovering a totally new purpose for the foot? Or is it that (pardon the graphicness) one only produces a limited amount of semen so that any semen used in homosexual activities isn’t being used in heterosexual activities? And, uh, while I’m being graphic, where does lesbianism come into this, exactly? It certainly qualifies as a “new use” for the tongue, rather than frustrating the original one.

      And I’m afraid it *still* seems to me like there are many potential examples of “frustrating a natural purpose” which we don’t consider immoral. For example, consider walking on a treadmill. This seems exactly analogous to your “eating foot and then pumping the stomach” case, in that you’re using your foot for its intended purpose – movement – but them deliberately preventing the movement from occurring. Chewing gum – you’re using your mouth for its intended purpose of chewing, but then frustrating the natural end of chewing which is swallowing.

      It even seems that the doctrine of separation of purposes is being applied differently in different places. I just had a juice made with artificial sweeteners. This is definitely separating the nutritional properties of eating from the recreational ones – I enjoyed the juice, but I didn’t get any nutrition out of it because it was all complicated chemicals that pass right out of my body. Assuming that the artificial sweeteners aren’t toxic or bad for me in any way, is that a sin? Is it as much of a sin as homosexuality?

      And I…I guess I still don’t see what the point of all this is. I enjoyed my artificially sweetened juice. It seems irrational to avoid something I enjoy just for the sake of getting more nutrients, when I don’t actually need more nutrients (I already had a big dinner). It’s almost like trying to deliberately operate on limited information – like because I know that usually eating is used for nutrition, I have to pretend that I haven’t discovered that I can also profitably use it for other things in specific cases.

      I already read Feser’s blog and I’ve been meaning to buy his book for a while – thanks for confirming this to me!

      • Yvain

        Edit: Bought Feser’s book on Amazon five minutes ago. If I’m going to ask all these questions I should at least get a good book on the subject, and it seemed less painful than that New Natural Law one people were saying such terrible things about.

        • Irenist

          I hope you’ll have good luck with Feser’s book. Even as a Catholic, I have disappointedly found Robbie George’s New Natural Law arguments to be unconvincing and not much deeper than a late-night undergrad bull session about philosophy. I’ve read little Finnis and liked less. I respect the goal of detaching Natural Law arguments from A-T metaphysical premises–it would be nice to be able to enter the public square with arguments that don’t require an embrace of hylomorphic dualist metaphysics for their coherence. However, Feser has convinced me that this project is unlikely to succeed. I fear the incommensurable basic goods idea is an incoherent ad hoc kludge, for one thing. More to the point, I think arguments about human “nature” qua the nature of a person who is a rational animal are made far more perspicuous when an understanding of formal and final causation is brought into supplement post-Cartesian mechanism’s efficient and material causes. A rational animal’s telos/end/final cause is to come to rest in the Beatific Vision of the presence of God. Sin moves us away from that, just as letting air out of a hot air balloon causes it to sink. In that context of final causation, human nature points directly toward the avoidance of sin, without any need for Biblical revelation (at least at a first pass through the argument). In the Finnis/George version, there’s no intrinsic directedness toward the basic goods, just a lot of Leon Kass-style handwaving that’s not really helpful. Feser’s books on Aquinas and Philosophy of Mind would be valuable supplements to go deeper on these aspects.

          • Irenist

            Side note to the above: Why do Catholics claim that one can reach our ethical results without Biblical revelation, thus mooting any “God hates shellfish” arguments of the sort best directed at sola scriptura evangelicals? Because, at least to this Feser-reading Catholic, hylomorphic dualism is a persuasive metaphysical conception of both mind and matter. Once persuaded of the hylomorphic dualist account of rocks, trees, artificial sweeteners and rational animals, Aquinas’ Five Ways arguments for the existence of God (although not the Judeo-Christian God–that takes more argument) and for a virtue ethics directed at God as our telos arise naturally from the worldview. In the medieval world, where most educated people were either Muslim, Christian, or Jewish Aristotelians or persuadable Platonists, the idea that Natural Law was universal secular knowledge that all secular interlocutors of goodwill could potentially rationally come to agreement on without any religious revelation was an easy assumption for a reader of Cicero or Aristotle to make. In our world, where A-T metaphysics is seen by most (incorrectly, IMHO) as an exploded system of thought, the easy assumption that these arguments are open and accessible to any secular reader of goodwill is sadly harder to maintain–hence the motivation for the Finnis/George project.

          • Stephen Paquin

            Irenist, Alasdair Macintyre puts it well when he points out that it is, in fact, a truth of revelation that [at least some] ethical truths can be known apart from revelation [along the lines of the natural law being “written on the heart” to some extent]. I think this is quite right, and I think many of the posts made thus far offer a very clear explication of the fact that what is and what is not contrary to our nature is not simply a matter of shouting out assertions about a particular telos. Rather, what is contrary to or conformable with human nature is much more about what is and what is not rational to pursue. In a certain sense, of course, this acknowledgement includes the idea of telos insofar as man is a rational animal and is ordained to that particular end by God. But it is not as though we needed revelation to figure out that he is rational or that what is good for him is what is rational to pursue. I’ve spoken somewhat irresponsibly here, but hopefully that makes some sense.

            As a further thought, the Finnis/George project is not as metaphysically as everyone seems to be making it out. Its essential difference from most natural law accounts is an epistemic one, not a metaphysical one. The point George et al make well is that, in order of action, our practical insights precede and, in fact, fill out our metaphysical insights about the human being. Our nature manifests itself through activity and we would not know, for example, that friendship is good for human beings in general if we had not come to the recognition in the particular that friendship is worth pursuing at all (an insight virtually all people have with or without a construction of metaphysics).

          • Stephen Paquin

            Forgive my typo. I meant to say “as metaphysically barren as everyone seems to be making it out to be…”

          • Irenist

            In reply to Stephen Paquin:

            Perhaps I should give Finnis/George another look. I had the honor of meeting George once at a little roundtable chat event, and despite his kindness, I found his answers to my questions to be unpersuasive and his books (the ones in our uni. library anyway) also unhelpful. But maybe I just need to dig deeper.

          • Stephen Paquin

            The article I cited is very short and worth reading. In my experience, it almost always dispels the silly “they don’t believe in metaphysics” myth that seems to be current these days.

      • Pattsce

        Please see my comment above to the initial treadmill objection. It should answer these questions. I also responded to the artificial sweetener discussion.

    • What is a normative squirrel is not very clear. In this framework, there would be normative male and female squirrels, I suppose. Why not also normative left-handed and right-handed squirrels?

      To know what is a normative squirrel we should study the actual squirrels, I would say. Then if we run into a situation that we can divide the squirrels into two groups, we have two options, one to say that there are two normative squirrels, or to say that one of the groups is in fact a disordered squirrel type.

      • Yes, this is my question too!

        I think you could identify some groups of squirrels that you know not to be normative, because certain features or acts of those squirrels clearly contradict other features or acts. A squirrel that refused to eat would be non-normative because its stomach and digestive system would be wasted and because its muscles would dwindle.

        At first blush this would be the answer with homosexuality (note: not necessarily individual homosexual acts per se, but homosexuality defined as a persistent orientation to non-procreative sex). It would appear to be non-normative because it is inconsistent with reproductive function. So this gets you the weird result that same-sex sodomy isn’t non-normative (or broken or intrinsically disordered) but that same-sex attraction is.


        Both the new and old natural law approaches look at what’s normative function on the basis of an individual. But that can’t be the whole story. The whole idea of a normative male is senseless without a normative female. What’s functional for a normative male is what fits into this group functionality of heterosexual reproduction. So why can’t natural functionality be determined on a group or species level? For instance, many Indians in the American Southwest are obese and diabetic. On an individual basis, this is clearly non-normative and non-functional. But the reason they have diabetes is that they have incredibly efficient metabolisms that let them get by through periodic hungry times. In the event of some civilizational disaster, they would more effectively pull through the hungry times and propagate the species than those of us who are lean and fit and whose metabolism are over active. From the standpoint of group or species functionality, these Indians’ metabolisms *are* functional: they serve the function of disaster insurance.

        I can’t see any obvious species or group functionality for homosexuality. The explanations that have been offered don’t add up (e.g., homosexuals help care for other peoples kids). But I can’t rule out some kind of group function a priori. If Wassname’s theory that homosexuality had a disease cause bore out, that would be good evidence that homosexuality was dysfunctional even on a group level. Similarly if the psychological or recruitment explanations for homosexuality bore out. But congenital causes make some group functional reason more plausible.

        In short, some classifications of beings are clearly non-functional and non-normative. Other classifications require more knowledge than we have, absent revelation.

        So I’m not sure how helpful natural thinking actually is.

  • Kewois

    [Rulebreaking – top level comments are reserved for defenders of natural law on this post — ed]


    Sometimes “Natural law” means something that occurs in nature, so homosexual activity is natural because many animals from other species engage in homosexual behavior.

    As Robert King comments:
    >homosexual activity is based on the premise that it is not just a different or secondary >use of the body, but is in fact contrary to the body’s proper use and to human >relationships, even harmful to them.

    But also oral sex, anal sex and masturbation is considered contrary to Natural law.

    So it seems that what matters is that you cannot have sex for fun, because sex is for reproduction.

    But there are other activities that have a natural purpose and also are nice. For example: eating.

    You just need to boil some meat and some carbohydrates, some veggies and eat them and live. You really don´t need to eat gourmet meals. No need to use species or made elaborated dishes. That’s just for pleasure. Even there are meals that ARE JUST for pleasure (brie cheese, foie gras, molecular gastronomy)

    Of course you can have a sexual behavior that put you in risk, also you can eat a lot and without control and be overweighed.

    So it seems that many activities that have a purpose. Some of them also can give us pleasure. And some can be done just for pleasure. Eating, drinking, running…. But for some people sex is not allowed just for pleasure.

    Even in the case of homosexual sex, love is also involved not just pleasure.

    So I are the people who preach not to have homosexual activities because they are against natural law just eat very simple meals and just drink water???


  • [Rulebreaking – belonged in the “Grump grump grump” thread at top]

    Miiiss Liibreeeeescooo! Kewois is breaking the ruuuules!

  • 0. Every act is the act of an agent, is the actualization of some agent’s potential. Hence what matters in an act (the essence of an act) is what the agent *is* in performing it. Acts don’t exist apart from agents, hence any consideration of the morality of acts which abstracts from the nature of the agent performing it is absurd. (Consequentialism, then, is false.)

    1. Acts are fluid and difficult to demarcate. This is because an act isn’t just its object (simply, “what is done”), but also (since people are rational) includes the end for which it’s done, and (since *the world*) the circumstances surrounding it.

    2. Consequently it’s naive to think of acts as atomic units which have some absolute moral value. The ethics of action has as much to do with tendencies and dispositions as with the moral calculus of X gesture at Y moment.

    3. Because an act is human insofar as it’s rationally chosen, the end, object and circumstances of an act are not equally significant to its moral character. The end determines the character most of all. The object secondarily. The circumstances come after that.

    4. The perfection of an act is in all its aspects. Deficiency is from any particular failing.

    6. The moral character of an act flows primarily from the logic by which such an act would be done: i.e. from the desires which establish the end toward which it’s oriented, and from the means allowed for the attainment of that end. Such desires can be reasonable (i.e. proportionate to the good pursued) or unreasonable (disproportionate). The judgment concerning means likewise can be reasonable or unreasonable.

    7. Freedom comes from the ability to order one’s particular pursuits according to individual judgment of goodness and consequent desire. Freedom of choice concerns the selection of good means toward an end judged to be good. Judgments are always true or false.

    8. Happiness is the root desire which drives all others. Happiness is not a subjective feeling but an objective state of the agent.

    9. Happiness is the perfection of the agent. The perfection of a natural being is consequent upon its nature. Hence happiness is a matter of the fulfillment of natural potential, in this case as a human being.

    10. Consequently, the greatest way an act can be morally deficient is if the logic by which it is chosen places some other goal above happiness, or chooses means which oppose happiness.

    11. Any act which tends to erode the right order of goals or the accurate judgment of acceptable means for attaining them is the act of a vice.

    12. Vice is contrary to virtue. Virtue is the tendency to act according to reason, toward the attainment of the natural end. Vice is a tendency in thought or desire which is opposed to reason.

    13. Man is a rational animal, but still an animal. Not all our natural desires and functions flow from reason. Rather, the human will governs all the passions and appetites with a political rule, and not an absolute tyranny.

    14. It is important, then, to keep the appetites in check and to govern them well. A particular act of overindulgence may not in itself be destructive to the human person, but the logic by which overindulgence was chosen will tend to erode the will’s governance over the appetites and by its permissiveness will erode the proper bounds by which the appetites are controlled.

    15. The question then arises: what are the proper bounds of action within which the appetites will be controlled and properly directed, and outside of which the order of the human being will tend to decay?

    16. Supposing the proper end of the appetites were pleasure, they would then be indulged far beyond reason. The glutton who eats to the point of pain and discomfort ends up subject to his appetite for food. This is contrary to virtue.

    17. Pleasure, then, is not the measure by which we find the proper limit of an appetite. Instead we look to the appetites themselves to see what purpose they serve.

    18. Notice that we are examining *appetites* here, and not *organs*. An organ can be put to any number of uses, but the moral character of that use is dependent not on the structure of the organ, but on the rationality of the desire driving it and whether the intended use of that organ is opposed to some higher and more fundamental end.

    19. We find the mean for each appetite by observing the natural function performed when it is fulfilled and setting boundaries around that function so as to guarantee its successful fulfillment and rule out the degenerative abuse of that appetite for the sake of pleasure. Thus the natural function performed by our appetite for food is nourishment. We therefore exclude ourselves from eating tasty poisons and from eating beyond the nutritional needs of the body.

    20. There are many different passions and appetites which require regulation, and reason demands that we regulate more strictly the ones that are more likely to throw the human person into disorder. So, for example, the desire to chew things is small and requires little regulation, since the act of chewing is unlikely to be set up as superior and contrary to genuine fulfillment.

    21. Some examples of passions and appetites that need to be regulated: fear, anger, hope, daring, desire for food, for drink, for sex.

    22. Common sense shows us that the appetites for food, drink, and sex are the strongest and most unruly of physical human desires, and chief among these is the desire for sex. Consequently the sexual appetite is in need of the most stringent boundaries.

    23. What is the natural function which the sexual appetite performs? The fulfillment of sexual desires has a few obvious functions: first off is pleasure, which we’ve ruled out as an adequate measure for regulating appetites. Second, there’s the fact the sexual appetite tends to effect a unity between people. The two become “one flesh”, sexual acts are an expression of love, etc. Robert George has a clever argument about organic unity and how the sexual appetite is ordered toward a “one flesh union”, and while this is enticing, I don’t find it compelling. Why?

    24. Even though man is a rational animal, he’s still rational, and the unity of two people is primarily a matter of their unity as human beings, i.e. a rational unity. This happens in friendships, of which (many) sexual partnerships are certainly a species, but only accidentally. Friendship is a matter of minds primarily, and not of bodies, though bodies are not irrelevant. Moreover, it seems clear to me that if sex were to be the highest expression of human love, then we would be implying that love is mainly about the exchange of pleasures, which is unacceptable.

    25. So, there are three obvious facts about the sexual appetite: it gives pleasure, it is an expression of love, and it has the possibility to produce new life. Pleasure we have ruled out. The expression of love can cake other forms (gift giving, praise, service, sacrifice, obedience). Friendship itself does not reach a climax during sex, but through care and mutual upbuilding, which are about higher things than sensory pleasure or “fleshly union”.

    26. Consequently the natural generative potential of the sexual appetite is the sole remaining distinguishing fact about it. If we want to find a natural guide for regulating the sexual appetite, this is it. There is no other.

    27. This means that rejecting the use of procreation as a guide for moderating the sexual appetite is to either embrace the willy-nilly indulgence of this most powerful appetite (see 14 above), or to govern it by some arbitrary rule which is based on convenience or some other standard extrinsic to the appetite’s nature (e.g., social conventions, legal customs about consent, political power, popular perception, etc.). Both of these options are obviously unreasonable. Willy-nilly indulgence leads inevitably to vice, and arbitrary standards change, ultimately offering no real guidance at all.

    28. Therefore, since all other options are unacceptable, we must use procreation as the (natural) guide for the regulation of sexual appetite.

    29. At this point further facts of the case come up. Procreation is about generating children, and justice demands that parents care for their children and rear them. If sexuality is ordered to the generation of children, then the family structure follows immediately. Whether polygamy is naturally excluded is up for debate, but it’s clear that parents are obliged to instruct and provide for their children. Further details could be discussed, but the main points of the case have been laid out: the appetites must be governed by reason for the good of the person; reason governs according to the nature of the thing governed; the distinguishing natural fact about the sexual appetite is its potential to terminate in new life; the sexual appetite is properly ordered to procreation.

    30. At this point we can turn to the original questions. It should be clear that all three of them are irrelevant the the account of natural law / virtue ethics given here. They assume a position that the virtue ethicist doesn’t actually take: namely, that the morality of acts is primarily about consequences or that homosexuality is excluded based on appeals to ends inscribed in bodily structures. In fact, the morality of acts is primarily about their character and inner logic and how they reflect on the disposition and goodness of the person committing them. And the virtue ethicist appeals for morality not to inscribed ends but to governing reasons and the proper rule of the passions. The logic used to exclude homosexual acts is exactly the same used to exclude contraception and other forms of heterosexual sodomy, and structurally analogous to the reasoning used to rule out gluttony, cowardice and pride.

    • I notice you put ‘legal notions of consent’ aside. How does your scheme of reasoning about sex handle rape? After all, rape can be procreative. Is rape immoral because sex must be about procreation which in turn must be about parenting, and rape is not a good basis for establishing a long-lasting parental union (in which case it may *not* be immoral in other cultures where rape could be an accepted way of starting a marital relationship). Or is there some more general argument about doing violence to or constraining the will of another, so that rape is immoral for the same reasons that bludgeoning an innocent is immoral?

      • Obviously I haven’t set out a complete sexual ethic here. When I laid aside legal notions of consent, I was saying that they’re not sufficient as a rule to determine what the mean of the sexual appetite is. Rape is wrong for two reasons, depending on the case. If you rape your spouse, then it’s an act of assault which falls under injustice: you owe your spouse love and rape is a definite failure there. If you rape someone other than a spouse, then you’re not only guilty of assaulting someone (which is wrong regardless of bizarre social customs — and I’m not aware of any culture in which the rape of women is an accepted way of beginning a marital relationship, but it’s safe to say that such a culture would be seriously diseased), you’ve also deprived them of a measure of their dignity and done so to satisfy the appetite for sex. Since the end determines the character of an act more than the object, assault for the sake of sexual pleasure is primarily an instance of lust and secondarily an instance of injustice.

        • OK, that’s reasonable.

          As an aside, I am not aware of any contemporary cultures that begin marriages through rape, but I seem to recall that in antiquity there were some. In late antiquity German custom was that consummation was necessary for a valid marriage, but consent was not, though whether there often were rape marriages I don’t know.

        • So its better if I rape someone to get them pregnant? That’s getting a little . . . rarefied.

          • I’m not sure where you got that idea. No, it’s not better if you rape someone to get them pregnant, since then you’d be committing an injustice against the child as well.

          • Perhaps your ‘primarily’ ‘secondarily’ vocabulary mislead me. Are you saying that the ‘primary’ reason an act is wrong need not be the gravest or most immoral part of the act?

          • Irenist

            In reply to Adam G.:
            I think that’s it: if a foodie killed someone just so they could try eating human flesh, then gluttony would be the primary (motivating) sin but the fact that they freakin’ killed someone would be the gravest part of the act.

        • This has to do with #3 above. The “primary” marks what best characterizes an act. Someone who kills someone while robbing a bank is primarily a thief and secondarily a murderer. Murder is the graver misdeed, but it’s accidental to what the bank robber was trying to do. If no one had gotten in the way, he might not have killed anyone. He’s guilty of both, but his action as a whole is better characterized as theft than as murder, since the motivation was theft, not murder. What most characterizes an act is the thing you desired that led you to commit the act. In this case, you wanted to steal primarily, not to murder. What you did in order to steal (i.e., murder) also characterizes the act, but less so. (Sorry for being repetitive.)

          This way of distinguishing “end” from “object” has to do with the rational character of human actions. I might give a lot of money to some non-profit group, but if it’s just so I can have an excuse to seduce the woman who runs the organization, it’s not a good deed. The material consequences of the gift might be good, the giving of the money might be good, but the act as a whole isn’t good, because the end isn’t.

    • anodognosic

      16. Supposing the proper end of the appetites were pleasure, they would then be indulged far beyond reason. The glutton who eats to the point of pain and discomfort ends up subject to his appetite for food… Pleasure, then, is not the measure by which we find the proper limit of an appetite.

      Actually, it seems plain from your very example that gluttony without limits is self-refuting in terms of pleasure itself, and thus pleasure is a fine measure by which to find the proper limit of an appetite. It need not be the only limiting factor, but it is plainly sufficient for the example supplied.

      • But someone who lived like this would end up obese, with health problems, etc. Pleasure is not a good limiting factor for food, believe me.

        • anodognosic

          That is only true for instinctual and near-sighted pursuit of pleasure. A rational maximization of pleasure will seek to avoid obesity and health problems, because these things would impair one’s ability to seek pleasure, and so would inevitably lead to moderation.

          • Very good. But at this point we end up back at the question of natural perfection and the nature of happiness. And if we grant that there is such a thing as a natural end of the human being, pleasure is clearly not it, since pleasure is the satisfaction of bodily appetites, and the greatest in man is intellectual. By a broader notion of pleasure that included intellectual perfection, friendship, etc., it might be possible to say that happiness is a kind of pleasure, but in this case we would still need to find a way to govern the bodily appetites so that they didn’t get in the way of more excellent pursuits. And for this, maximizing pleasure is not useful. In fact, it confuses things and forces the individual to get involved in a mystifying calculus of “enjoyments” that’s impossible to work out and doesn’t yield any solid principles. But it’s easy in every particular case to be enticed by the promise of pleasure into sacrificing some arbitrary pleasure-seeking principle, so I don’t see epicureanism as really solving any moral problems except how degrade your moral character quickest. We abandon the use of pleasure as rule for regulating individual appetites, then, and stick to something that’s actually relevant to the function of the appetite: in this case, nourishment.

          • anodognosic

            I’m no advocate of Epicureanism, and so I don’t believe that pleasure-seeking is the highest good. I do, however, believe in pleasure as an end in itself that coexists with other legitimate motives, and I frequently do many things for no reason other than pleasure, such as sweetening my drinks, adding spices to my food, and, naturally, non-procreative sex out of wedlock (although in the latter case, pleasure is not actually the only reason). By removing pleasure as a potential motive, you would stamp many great things out of the human experience.

          • It’s true, we all do things for the sake of pleasure, but it’s really a question of what appetite you’re satisfying and what the ultimate reason is for your action. From a virtue-centered perspective, pleasure is a fruit of some concomitant good and not something to be sought after in is own right. Art is a virtue in its own right, and the skilled combination of flavors and textures is a species of art, an intellectual virtue. Good tasting food is a matter of exercising the culinary art and enjoying its fruits, but if one started to eat without any regard for the natural limits of one’s nutritive needs and habitually exceeded them, the appetite for food would be disordered.

      • I don’t think we can say that an appeal to pleasure is self-ordering, rightly understood. That would require us to make some arbitrary normative judgments about time preference and discounting, for one. But it also assumes that my pleasures aren’t, e.g., torturing little animals.

    • Alex

      Easily my favorite top level post so far. You’re the first person to directly defend the procreative purpose of sex instead of simply asserting it (and with a minimum of opaque language).

      One quick thought, I’m not convinced by the trilemma in 25. I don’t see how the fact that there are multiple ways of expressing love and friendship implies that love/bonding can’t be a primary purpose of sex (I’m assuming we’ve all agreed that things can have multiple purposes?). More generally I don’t see why a primary purpose of something has to be unique.

      • I’m glad you like it. It’s true that not every act has a unique purpose. The problem is that sex is only used for certain types of friendships and we need to isolate those so that the rule governing sex covers just sex and not a bunch of other stuff too. Are sexual relationships the strongest friendships? Sometimes they are, but not necessarily, and whether they’re particularly strong doesn’t seem to depend much on the sexual appetite. Some devoted couples rarely have sex. Some nymphomaniac couples don’t really love each other. Some “platonic” friendships are closer than romantic relationships. Et cetera. Also, there’s the fact that the kind of interest engaged by the sexual appetite is directed primarily at the body: sexual desire is oriented toward the other person’s body, though it also inspires a love of the person as well. But just on the basis of an erotic attraction, what we would end up with is what Aristotle calls a “friendship of pleasure”, i.e. one where the care between the people is motivated by mutual enjoyment and not a genuine desire for the other’s well-being. Nothing’s wrong with such a friendship, but it’s not the highest sort.

        So what does this show us? Sex is neither a condition for friendship nor a guarantee of friendship. It’s not necessarily an expression of love, nor is it a necessary/ultimate expression of love. There seems to be no clear marker about the sort of friendship that will say sex is categorically appropriate or inappropriate. Not necessarily strong friendships. Not necessarily weak ones. Not necessarily between people of the right age, etc. What’s the standard, then? Because, remember, if we’re going to pursue happiness according to virtue, we need a rule by which to moderate our desires. Well, the only remaining standard is procreation. Everything else is arbitrary and easily thrown aside, but procreation is a fact about the power of which the sexual appetite is an exercise. Without it there is no rule that flows logically from the thing itself, and hence no standard of rationality against which to way some possible indulgence of the appetite. That’s my defense of the trilemma. If you have a fourth option, or I missed your objection, let me know.

        • Alex

          I really do appreciate the effort you are putting into this, so I feel guilty for being difficult. I don’t have a fourth option, mostly I’m still confused why sex couldn’t be used as a means of recreation and bonding within a non-marital relationship.

          To use an analogy, pair skating is an activity which people engage in for recreation, fun, socialization and bonding*. Furthermore, I would argue that any one of those reasons is a sufficient justification for two people to pair skate with each other (agree or disagree?). It doesn’t matter that people who pair skate aren’t necessarily close friends, nor is pair skating a condition of friendship. There is no clear cut criteria for dictating when pair skating between two people is justified, and I see no issue with that. There is no standard, no higher purpose and no rule other than mutual consent. So I suppose I don’t think its so easy to rule out bonding and pleasure as sufficient justification for an action.

          *I don’t consider the health benefits of pair skating to be particularly relevant, because people don’t pair skate for those benefits, they do it for the reasons I listed. I could have chosen something frivolous like checkers, but it doesn’t parallel sex as well.

          • I appreciate your patience. Keep asking questions, and as long as you’re not just throwing up dust, I’ll try to answer them. Let me say, I love the analogy between pair skating and sex, because it really brings out some interesting points. (N.B. When I use “art” below, I’m using it in a technical way roughly equivalent to the scholastic latin “ars” or the Greek “techne”. Sorry for the jargon, but it’s the only way to say what I mean, and I do define the term in the process.)

            So, I’d ask first of all what it means to pair skate. I.e., what are the pair skaters trying to do particularly in their pair skating? Well, it’s obvious that even before they want to enjoy themselves or bond or socialize (or compete, etc.), they want to do what pair skaters do: synchronize well, master the ice, set up harmonious motions relative to each other, etc. Pair skating is an art: it’s a matter of realizing some harmonious idea — of making reality conform to a thought through methodical practice. The essential goal of pair skating is to participate (even to a small extent) in the perfection of this art, and every pair of skaters has this goal. The desire to pair skate is not (and I think most people agree) something natural to humanity. There is no pair skating appetite. Rather, the motivations for skating, aside from its experiential perks (which we’re not neglecting, don’t worry!), are common to most species of art: the realization of a harmonious idea, the perfection of some personal aptitude, and the use of both of these toward greater goods which are accidentally connected to the art itself (money, romance, fame, social bonds, energy, health, etc.). What this means is that regulating the desire to skate ultimately falls back on the virtues which moderate each of these more fundamental (and culpable) desires which motivate it: the desire for personal excellence, for money, for X and Y sensory pleasures, for fame, for particular relationships, for health, etc. And this is true of all art: though the produce of art may in some cases exist merely for the sake of realizing some idea, and thus exist (in a very loose sense) “for its own sake”, the act of creating it is still the act of a human agent: one motivated by human interests and tending according to his wits toward the clearest available notion of happiness. And unless these interests terminate in the culmination of the artistic process (the pagan sculptor to his idol), they’re going to end up somewhere back in the other, natural human appetites we’ve already mentioned (fame, excellence, friendship, sex, etc.). As Aquinas aptly puts it, while Art is a virtue (it disposes the one who has it to do what he does well), it’s not a *moral* virtue: art does not dispose one toward happiness, or make one a good person. This means that art can be misused, can be ordered toward wicked ends (think of Zyklon B). It means that the exercise of art is subject to all the more general moral principles, even though it doesn’t have its own. Our pair skaters don’t have a natural rule of thumb about when to skate and when not to skate, because the rules engaged by this question are really all the other moral rules that exist apart from this or that particular act or that particular skill. You wouldn’t expect to have a general moral rule governing moderation about the use of rubber mallets, would you? No. Likewise it’s silly to expect one about pair skating.

            But how does this relate to sex? Well, you see, sex differs from pair skating and rubber-mallet-use in that it really does have its own highly distinct natural motivator (a physical appetite) in addition to all those other interests. This means that sex has a kind of prime logic built into it, which makes it a potential end in its own right. Now, if pair skating were somehow a natural part of human existence, we would need to ask what its moderating principle would be. What is it that distinguishes the imaginary pair-skating-appetite from others and sets its proper bound? In actuality, this question is impossible to answer precisely because there is no such appetite: if pair skating is liable to undermine a person’s virtue, then it will do so because it is an expression of some other vice: pride, lust, greed, vanity, whatever. If someone sacrifices genuine happiness for pair skating, it’s because of one of the accidental motivators, and almost never because the art of pair skating itself (or the physical delight of doing it) has absorbed all of that person’s love and desire in life. On the other hand, it is possible for a person to sacrifice genuine happiness and abandon virtue for sex, because sex has its own strong appetite and (as a result) intense pleasure. The delight of pair skating comes mainly from those consequent goods accidental to it (including its physical perks, which could be had otherwise). The pleasure of sex is in the act itself. Sex requires a strong moderating principle, then, where pair skating does not. And because sex is different from pair skating in this crucial way, in its nature, we need to use the nature of the sexual appetite itself to produce the moderating principle, so as to do justice to what it is.

            Finally, consider a different example. Suppose there’s a drug called Gluckizol that one can take to induce maximally intense pleasure. No physical side effects, just supreme sensory delight and euphoria on demand. Would such a drug totally destroy a person’s life? Yes. (Firefly fans are already familiar with this idea.) As long as you had an adequate supply of the drug, you wouldn’t want anything else. You wouldn’t bother to eat or drink or take care of your family, or go anywhere. You’d just rest in the physical pleasure of it. And that pleasure is what would destroy your character and end your life. So what would the moderating rule be about taking Gluckizol? You ought never to take it. Because of the health effects? Nope, it does no physical harm. Don’t take it because once you do, there’s no rational limit on when to take it and when not to take it, and without such a limit the enticement of the pleasure once experienced will be enough to erode any resolve you might have against dependence on the drug or surrender to its euphoria. Moderating principles are necessary to maintain governance over one’s appetites. To the virtuous person, these principles are engrained in their habitual desires. To everyone else they’re available through reflection. But without them there’s little hope of virtue or personal excellence. [End excessively long sub-comment.]

          • I should note as a clarificatory aside that the moderation of the sexual appetite is the moderation of one’s indulgence in sexual pleasure. Pleasure is the delight which follows from the presence of a desired good, in this case of certain touches, caresses, etc. The moderation of the pair skating appetite would be the moderation of one’s indulgence in pair-skating-pleasure, which, while it exists, is no where near as powerful or consistent a force in life as the pleasure of eating or sex. Moreover, the pleasure of pair skating, as I suggested above by grouping it with the accidental advantages of pair skating, is also common in whole or in part to other activities (dancing, solo skating, rollerblading in winter, maybe even skiing), whereas the pleasure of sex is just the pleasure of sex (and I’m not just talking about intercourse, obviously).

          • Alex

            To clarify, my argument was that pleasure or fun or bonding can be sufficient reasons for performing an action. I argued this by suggesting that there are activities which we do solely for enjoyment – namely figure skating. If I understand correctly, you’ve just argued that skating is not done for pleasure but rather for art, personal improvement etc. I don’t agree. People pair skate for leisure all the time – its only professionals that strive for artistry. Are these people justified in just skating for pleasure? Or if you’re still distracted by the various other motivations for skating – are people who play backgammon for fun justified in their actions? I’m temporarily dropping the issue of sex and appetites. I just want to know if you think that pleasure and socialization can be sufficient reasons for doing something.

          • While it’s clear to me from this latest comment that we’re misunderstanding each other, I’m not entirely sure what needs to be said. You way of asking about pleasure also make clear to me that I don’t have the clearest notion of pleasure, and I need to think about this more. Perhaps we’ll talk about it more at some later date.

        • Alex

          Upon further thought, I’m wondering whether or not the sort of absolute criterion that you are looking for is possible. I’m not even sure procreation and unity are strict enough standards – take for instance a couple with 20 kids, who for some reason still want one more. I don’t think that procreation would be a good enough reason for sex in that case.

          • In that case there’s a different set of constraining principles, namely ones related to justice and prudence. Already existing obligations (i.e. to care for their children) demand that the couple not act to have another child. So they abstain. You see, the principle governing the sexual appetite (aka “chastity”) sets an upper bound, which other principles can curtail further. Consider the example of food: it may not be gluttony to eat a full meal, but when your children don’t have enough to eat, it’s an act of injustice. You owe it to them to provide what you can. So the principle moderating your appetite for food may not come into play, but the principle by which you render what is due to others is. Just so in your illustration. Morality is a complex thing, and more than one principle is apt to come into play at a time.

        • Passerby

          But not all sex leads to procreation.

          Even if you are both young and healthy, procreation is only occasionally the result of sex.
          Also, a woman’s reproductive cycle can be reliably predicted. The ‘rhythm method’ of contraception is based on this fact. So, would it be wrong to have sex on days when you know the female partner is unlikely to be able to concieve?
          If not, why not?

          • This is a tough question, which I’ve never heard anyone answer with a convincing defense of their response. You probably know that the Catholic position on this is that the rhythm method is OK, provided the couple doesn’t have a “contraceptive intent”, or in other words provided they’re “open to the possibility of conception”. Problems occur: for example, if all that’s necessary is for a couple to be open to the theoretical but unlikely possibility of conception, then condom use should be okay because conception is still possible with a condom. But the Catholic Church doesn’t like condoms, so that can’t really be the principle at work, right?

            Well, let’s use the virtue-centered framework I’ve laid out above. We’ve done our best to establish a moderating principle for the sexual appetite: sexual activity should be ordered toward procreation. What does this mean? “Ordered toward” has primarily to do with intention and desire. Let’s take hunting as an example. The use of a hunting rifle is ordered toward shooting game. Now, if through some unhappy illusion or mistake I use the rifle to shoot a fellow hunter who looks like a deer from a distance, my action is not evil. On the other hand, if I’m pleased when I find out that I’ve killed the man, or if I take off my glasses while aiming in the hope that I misfire and hit him “by accident”, then I *am* guilty. As I said in the original top-level comment (#6), “The moral character of an act flows primarily from the logic by which such an act would be done: i.e. from the desires which establish the end toward which it’s oriented, and from the means allowed for the attainment of that end.” Since properly *human* actions are rational actions, chosen for an end recognized to be good, the dividing line between moral and immoral action (fuzzy though it may be) depends first of all on the motivating desires present in the act. If I shoot in such a way that in not hitting the man I’m disappointed or my purpose has been foiled, then I’m guilty of attempting (or at least intending) to commit murder. If I opt to go hunting at the same time and place as him, conscious of the increased probability of accidentally shooting him, but still following proper protocol and expending proper efforts to avoid doing so, and with intentions such that if I don’t shoot him my purpose in hunting would not be thwarted, and if I did shoot him I wouldn’t be especially delighted or consider a goal accomplished, then I’m not guilty. (Ah the joys of casuistry!)

            This should give you some sense of how complicated the moral reasoning around the rhythm method has to be. Let’s translate it. Since properly human actions are rational actions, chosen for an end recognized to be good, it follows that the dividing line between moral and immoral action (fuzzy though it may be) depends first of all on the motivating desires present in the act. Note that this is something that’s really a matter of particular cases and not general case-rules. If a couple has sex using the rhythm method (or whatever else) in such a way that in conceiving their purpose would be foiled, then they’ve fallen outside the bounds of chastity because their action wasn’t ordered toward procreation. If they opt to have sex at a particular time of the month, conscious of the decreased probability of conception, but still behaving normally and expending no actual efforts to prevent conception, and with intentions such that in conceiving their purpose would not be thwarted, and in not conceiving they would not be especially delighted or consider a goal accomplished, then they haven’t necessarily violated our moderating principle. It’s a delicate thing, though, and you can see how easily it would be violated.

    • Yvain

      …uh, 0 is an extremely high-level metaphysical statement that makes a bunch of assertions not justified if you don’t already accept all the metaphysics involved. Agents are abstractions; acts are also abstract ways of describing things that occur; most things that occur aren’t linked to particular agents in any but the most tautological ways. “Digestion” is an abstract concept but justifiable; to say that “I digest” or “my stomach digests” is again justifiable but only an abstraction over a bunch of non-agenty chemical reactions between digestive enzymes and my food. You’ve started on a level so high and value-laden that it already assumes most of your conclusions, and then called it self-evident.

      One can think of acts as having moral values by artificially abstracting them out in the same way one artificially abstracts out forces in scientific experiments, and…

      …okay, no way I’m going to go through all thirty of these, but suffice it to say I disagree with even your premises so vehemently that I don’t find this at all convincing.

      • I never called it self-evident. Nor did I pretend that I wasn’t starting from a specific metaphysical background. Nor am I bothered that you disagree with me. What I presented was an exposition of the line of thought that leads (within a metaphysics allowing for such a thing as natural law) to the specific conclusion that homosexual acts are immoral. It’s not a logical gun to anyone’s head. It’s an exposition. You can take it or leave it. If you find some logical fault or hole in it, let me know. If your problems are just with the metaphysical underpinnings, which I didn’t bother to defend (who wants to write a textbook in a blog comment?), then I’ll assume I did a decent job with what I wrote.

    • Irenist

      As Adam G. said, this is a really excellent top level post.

    • Taosquirrel

      This thread, especially thinking about things in terms of appetites, has been extremely helpful. Thanks Elliot!

  • Ted Seeber

    [Rulebreaking – Top level comments are reserved for explanations of natural law, not meditations on civil law. Answering question #3 would have been discussing what harm homosexual sex does in a natural law framework, not speculating on social and political developments — ed]

    I would like to take on Yvain’s question #3- because it goes right to the heart of the SSM issue, both of my conflicting positions on the SSM issue, and how I ended up reading Leah’s blog in the first place (the whole Mark Shea Gay Brownshirts issue, which is a small subset of the politics of the above). I will admit that while natural law (specifically the process of egg and sperm joining, in combination with the release of oxytocin during sex that keeps heterosexual couples from killing each other and the kids every time life gets hard, and the cumulative addiction to that substance) is what convinced me that homosexuality is wrong, I find it hard to counter Yvain’s other arguments about “if homosexuals aren’t going to procreate anyway why not let them do it”.

    However, when the question crosses from “why not let them do it” to “You must officially give them benefits for doing it equal to what we give procreating heterosexual couples AND if you deny them the chance to get married in your church’s facilities we’re going to sue you”, that changes the question quite a bit in my mind.

    In other words, I’m completely willing to let homosexuals go to hell in their own way, as I’m going to hell in mine with my objectively and intrinsically disordered eating habits. But to ask me to support them in that choice, when I’m not supported by society in my choice of being a gluttonous pig, seems to me to be asking for special favors beyond “live and let live”.

    The gay agenda, however, does have a philosophical point. If we are going to have religious liberty in this country, we *DO* have to have a live and let live philosophy toward other people’s definitions of family. My Natural Law/Tradition/Scripture Catholicism is NOT the philosophical starting point for law in the United States, the Constitution is. Despite MY theological definition of non-procreative sex being rape (not equivalent to rape, but actual rape), not all cultural traditions would agree with that assessment, and so it would not be optimal to make my definition law. However, what that means is that NOBODY’S definition of rape should be law. The reason rape is against the law isn’t because of some emotionalism about how it affects the victim, it is because as a society based on Christianity we recognize that crime affects far more than the immediate victim. But that isn’t so among the Hmong Cambodians for example- where kidnapping is a part of their courtship ritual and child marriage as young as 9 is commonplace.

    So the only way out I can see is to admit that society needs to promote living together for economic purposes, leave out all the sex stuff completely (including acquaintance rape, because that is acceptable to some religions) and grant civil unions to any grouping of beings; regardless of number, species, gender or consciousness.

    In other words, the politically correct way off this particular slippery slope- is separation of church and state and then letting the state run to the bottom of the slippery slope. Individuals can then decide to follow the state or not.

    And at the rate we’re going, 200 years from now this won’t matter because they’ll be able to detect homosexuality in the womb and just not let those people ever be born. And while my personal religion and natural law is against that too, I see it as inevitable.

    • “And at the rate we’re going, 200 years from now this won’t matter because they’ll be able to detect homosexuality in the womb and just not let those people ever be born.”

      You’re going to get more than a couple of hamsters spinning on that statement. I’ve always wondered what would happen with the abortion debate and the gay community if a “gay gene” is ever found.

    • Ted Seeber

      I misunderstood the rule, I think because I see civil law as a *subset* of natural law. Or at least, good civil law should be that subset of natural law which is needed to encourage a given society to follow natural law.

      Allowing the subculture that isn’t following natural law, to exterminate itself, would therefore be an example of natural law being fulfilled by a civil law that does not on the surface fit into natural law.

    • Doragoon

      “In other words, the politically correct way off this particular slippery slope- is separation of church and state and then letting the state run to the bottom of the slippery slope. Individuals can then decide to follow the state or not.”

      The bottom of the slippery slope is that all self abusive behaviour would be legal. Not only would all voluntary behaviour such as sex and drugs be legal. If you can pay someone enough to consent, it will be legal. As the saying goes, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing for money.”

      • Ted Seeber

        Doragoon- yes, I would agree. At the bottom of this slippery slope is the denial of the society to set standards at all. Which in building a multicultural civilization, may be a good thing.

        • Irenist

          I agree that it may be a good thing. Although I think civilization needs standards, and that the Church’s standards are the right canon, I think that the Church best shepherds those standards as an institution of civil society, not a bishop telling the king what laws to write: in what the Queer [his word] anti-futurist rhetorician Dale Carrico calls, with his usual felicity, our “secular multiculture,” I think the State should be neutral on issues like gay marriage, just to keep the tolerant Jeffersonian peace.

          All of this is similar to Aquinas’ arguments for why prostitution, although sinful because fornication and therefore against Biblical (revealed) and Natural (rationally deduced) laws, ought to be legal under man’s law, since people being what they are, any positive human law against it would just lead to flouting of the law, and so to a destabilizing contempt for the local human legal system generally.

          There is a very good, very short article on this at:

  • dbp

    I think a central pillar of natural law theory is that immorality is another name for something that carries intrinsic harm (whether physical or not) to a being as naturally constituted. The natural constitution of a human being is fundamentally different from that of any other with which we normally come into contact, principally (though in a religious perspective not solely) because of the human’s rational nature.

    It is this which allows us to treat non-human animals differently from the human variety. The fact that we may eat animals but not other humans is not perhaps because cannibalism is unnatural in and of itself without respect to species: it does in fact seem to be a common occurrance in the natural world. But the nature of non-human animals is not the same as human nature, and I think we can mostly agree that humans are not fitting objects for eating– even with their consent.

    I’ll get back to homosexuality shortly, but let’s delve into this example a little more deeply. There are a number of reasons, from the trivial to the profound, that we shouldn’t eat other humans. Some of the most surmountable (after the aesthetic) are those related to health: disease transmission is undoubtably a problem, but as with the consumption of raw animal meat it may be possible to do it safely. More seriously, we come to the psychological reasons (how does eating another human affect my relationship to other humans?) and metaphysical (the right of a sentient, self-aware being to not be made a substitute for one’s hamburger) and religious (humans have a personal and inviolable relationship with God, which should not be cut off for utilitarian purposes).

    Contrarily, the consumption of animals can be defended because the natural consitution of animals is different and because our natural relationship to them is different. The ones we eat are not, in general, apex predators and usually form natural middle-links in the food chain anyway. They do not seem to have the sort of internal life that raises humans out of mere participation in the natural rhythms of that food chain. Also, our relationship to them is different: there are fewer foreseeable health concerns, the basic goods of our interpersonal bonds are unlikely to be affected by the consumption of animals (though it might be of your neighbor’s dog; in fact, even eating your own pet dog may be immoral in a certain sense), etc. The animal may have a unique relationship to God, but we have not been made privy to the nature of that relationship.

    The important thing to note here is that the conclusions being drawn stem from an examination of the subject as a naturally constituted being in its natural lived situation in the cosmos.

    Now let’s look at how this applies to the human’s relationship to his own constituent parts. Since sexuality is so sensitive, let’s start with another appetite: the one for food.

    Eating is another one of these multi-faceted human experiences. Its primary purpose (we can probably all agree) is the sustinence of the body, and neglect of this purpose is harmful in some extremely obvious ways. Abuse of the faculties of ingestion can be harmful in even more drastic ways: poisoning, for instance, can be fatal. It’s hard to get around the basic natural imperative here.

    But that’s not to say that eating is only ever about sustenance. It might be about pleasure– eating that dessert even though you aren’t hungry, just because it looks so tasty; it might be a social statement, as when you eat something just because someone went to the trouble of making it for you; it might be in the spirit of conviviality (at a party) or solidarity (eating your vegetables because your daughter has to eat hers) or for any number of other reasons.

    Still, I think it’s pretty clear that these purposes are only justifiable to a point, and more specifically to the point that they do not detract from the health of the body. You shouldn’t eat for pleasure to excess– we are thankfully well attuned to the dangers of obesity these days. You shouldn’t eat out of politeness if your host prepared something to which you have a serious allergy. You shouldn’t let the convivial spirit make you ignore your diabetes.

    In other words, all the secondary purposes of eating must still submit to both the primary good of ingestion as a component of natural health. Furthermore, eating, even for its primary purpose, must be weighed against the human’s situation in his larger context. There are times when it is damaging to eat even if you’re hungry: for instance, it might be unsanitary to eat in the ER, or rude to eat in the middle of a wedding, or offensive to eat beef in the company of some Hindus.

    What does all this lead us to say about the simple appetite for food? Certainly, it isn’t bad: but constituted as we are as rational beings existing as a whole of which the appetite for food is simply a small part, we would do well to be sure, both for our personal physical and moral health and for the good of our relationships and our society, to ensure that we keep our hunger and its satisfaction in line with our larger welfare.

    So something as seemingly mundane as eating becomes a surprisingly complex action, but we still manage to find ways to descibe its “correct” (and therefore, from this perspective, “moral”) execution. The same thing applies to sexuality.

    Now, the first thing to note about the sexual appetite is that it is not of precisely the same variety as the appetite for nourishment. The sexual appetite can in fact go without satisfaction indefinitely without direct negative consequence.

    (A necessary aside: I say this even though I am aware of certain claims to the contrary: some people say that masturbation, at a minimum, is a necessary release without which the sexual organs cannot be healthy. I don’t know the specific studies that supposedly support this, but I can say that this depends really very much on factors which I doubt any such studies controlled or, these days, could possibly control. If the sexual appetite is constantly stimulated through suggestive or even pornographic media, through dirty jokes or conversations, through intimate contact, or through other means, its frustration might become harmful just as you can pull a muscle starting a vigorous motion and then stopping it abruptly. We live in a culture where occasions for such stimulation are nearly unavoidable, but even today a person who decides not to act sexually can take steps to minimize such stimulation and will, I think, have no long-term disadvantage in either physical or mental/moral health.)

    Thus the neglect of sexuality is not immoral in the same sense as the neglect of food, even though both are natural and good appetites that can be naturally and morally satisfied. That we might sometimes be stimulated without a morally defensible outlet for our stimulation is either our own fault (if, say, I’m flirting with my secretary) or the mere consequence of living in a fallen world (maybe your coworkers are having an inappropriate conversation over the cube wall, and you can’t leave your desk or whatever, or perhaps you find yourself aroused by sounds coming from the next apartment). That abstinence may be difficult in these cases does not mean it is not defensible under moral law, as a refusal to eat might be.

    When moving from sexual abstinence to sexual activity, we can draw some useful comparisons to eating. It should not result in direct physical injury; it should not involve upsetting social expectations provided that such expectations are reasonable and just (so, no sex in the concert hall, but interracial sex is not in itself objectionable); it should involve a proper object (no sex with animals or young children); and it should respect the integrity of the human person (foregoing needed sleep for sex may be justifiable in some cases, if for instance it is the only opportunity a husband and wife have to express their love before a long separation; it may become immoral if it is trivial and detracts from one’s ability to satisfy a grave responsibility the next day).

    What is the relationship of sex to marriage?

    Extramarital sex (that is, an affair) is (in people who have made vows) a violation of a solemn and irrevocable covenant, which is in and of itself a grave moral harm to a person’s character. If known and objected to by the person’s spouse, it causes psychological anguish and diminishes trust. Even if taken equanimously by the spouse, it introduces an element into the relationship which is fundamentally destructive (even if it was ‘just’ a one night stand and the adulterer still loves his wife, he may be more willing to seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere in the future and risks falling in love with another partner or out of love with his spouse). It furthermore raises the possibility of introduction of disease or children, which would necessarily be harmful to the marriage. Broadly speaking, it’s just a big bag of hurt and danger no matter how you slice it.

    Pre-marital sex is complicated. It may be that the people intend to get married anyway, and maybe they’ve even planned it and are working towards it. In the best case, they already have a natural marriage of sorts– a life-long commitment both have articulated and made binding on themselves. But even here there are other concerns: scandal (in that it can lead others with less commitment to immitate them), violation of social expectations that could as easily have been accommodated, etc. And if they have a less concrete understanding of their pre-maritaly commitment and consider the marriage itself to be more than just a mere formality recognizing what they have already cemented privately, it gets worse. They may come to believe (or convince themselves) that sex is something that can permissably exist outside of marriage, opening the door for more sex outside marriage AFTER being married. And as the connection to a permanent commitment gets more tenuous, more problems arise, including the possibility of children being aborted or born to unstable or unhappy or simply broken homes or homes missing one of the parents. It can turn into more promiscuity, which again opens the door to disease, etc. And finally, this kind of sex and all its consequnces raise more significant (if not insurmountable) barriers to a healthy marriage in the future.

    What about the third possibility– sex without marriage in the picture at all. If there is no marital relationship or expectation of any such, at present or in the future, what is the harm? Well, this seems rather obvious, too: the problems of disease are still around, and all the non-sexual benefits of marriage are difficult to supply in any other way. Child-rearing becomes much more difficult (and arguably less effective), division and distribution of property and ownership becomes more difficult, basic human emotional needs for stability and the comfort of someone who will never abandon you may be frustrated, and the care of the sick and elderly becomes more of an issue (because in a marriage spouses are expected to support each other in such situations).

    Contraceptive sex… ugh. This is going to take too long, so let’s not go into detail here. Let’s just say that contraceptive sex is contrary to natural law because it causes many of the same types of problems as extramarital sex does. It fundamentally affects the relationship of the husband and wife and their attitude and relationship toward themselves, each other, and any children that accidentally come along. It is linked to abortion, to a devaluation of human sexuality, to unhealthy expectations of one’s relationship to nature itself, and… ok, I’m going to stop here and just say it’s bad.

    So the bedrock principles we arrive at are these: if we are to have marriage, sex is almost necessarily linked inextricably to it; and in a society that recognizes marriage at all, I submit that sexual morality is tied to marriage as a matter of natural law (again, because of how human beings and human society and procreation are constituted). Sexual desire (whether merely physical or as a case of broader emotional attraction) is, by extension, tied to that moral law in a way that naturally and necessarily has reference to marriage. Finally, satisfaction of such desires may be immoral if it takes those desires of their natural context as part of the human whole and satisfies them at the expense of the integrity of the person and his situation in society. More concisely, it is unnatural and disordered because it serves the part at the expense of the whole.

    OK, finally we get to homosexuality. As I see it, the core natural law objections to homosexuality may come in the following forms: 1) a person of the same sex is not the proper object of sexual desire, even if in particular cases such desire arises; 2) the homosexual relationship does not fulfill the same innate human needs as a heterosexual human relationship; 3) it is necessarily contraceptive; 4) homosexual marriage does not and cannot fulfill the same purpose as heterosexual marriage; 5) the recognition of homosexual unions as marriage will be detrimental to heterosexual marriage; and 6) that therefore homosexual activity cannot be reconciled with marriage, which is a necessary prerequisite for sex generally speaking, for the reasons outlined above.

    1) I don’t intend to argue this one here and won’t try to defend it in any followup comments. I only raise it here because it is easily understood (even if disagreed with) in light of the foregoing discussion and, for many natural law proponents, might kill the homosexuality proposition before you ever get to the arguments that follow. This isn’t the one I’m really interested in presenting, though.

    2 and 3) Homosexual relationships may offer sexual and emotional satisfaction. They cannot offer others. Some are relatively trivial: if men and women are fundamentally different, it cannot offer the partners the opportunity for growth and a broader experience that a heterosexual relationship can. (This is another point I’m not really that concerned about, so I merely offer it as an example of some of the kinds of things that might be involved here.) Most critically, however, it cannot in itself offer parenthood, which is a basic enough desire that it can be compared to the sexual one. No, not everyone wants to be a parent, just as not everyone feels much by way of sexual impulse, but it’s essentially universal nonetheless. Also, I think that even the aspects of parenthood that no one actively desires (the heavy responsibility, the worry, the agonizing over the best course of action in relationship to someone totally dependent on the two parents) can nevertheless be extremely important for personal growth. Finally, parenthood promotes self-sacrifice, perpective and maturity, and an interest in society and the future that simply can’t be duplicated by anything else. Heterosexual relationships are fulfilled in parenthood, an homosexual relationships are on this score inherently unfulfilled (which isn’t the same as saying they are unfulfilling). And conversely, the relationship itself is strengthened by a shared responsibility: people frequently iron out problems in a marriage for the sake of the children, but rarely do so for the sake of the dog.

    The above is a doosey, because even committed homosexuals quite frequently experience the procreative urge. And this leads us to the next point.

    4) This is similar to the foregoing, but let’s shift gears a little. Much of the argument for having marriage around at all is for the raising of children. In this respect homosexual marriage is a construct that is inherently dysfunctional: it does not and cannot involve children without outside intervention. I don’t believe we have the technology to duplicate the genetic shuffling that takes place during natural conception, and the sort of thing that is now imaginable between two lesbians (use the egg of one, remove its nucleus, and insert the DNA of the other) is basically an implementation of the cloning methods of recent years. If you do anything BUT that, you introduce a third human party, which breaks open the atomic relationship between spouses. Any form of procreation but a ‘turkey baster’ method further involves IVF, which has some natural law problems of its own. And finally, most methods homosexuals would use to have children are very expensive, which is again a significant, oft-overlooked problem. (Pregnancy and childbirth are already expensive, but this makes it very much more so.)

    Again, the relationship between the parents and the children are fundamentally different, and jealousy, trust issues, and other psychological problems may arise between the spouses and between the children and the parents. Does the child have a natural instinct to know who its missing biological parent is? It’s entirely natural, but it’s also a problem (the answer may never be known, and even asking it could be offensive to either the extant biological parent or the spouse).

    So much of the reason of recognizing marriage in the first place is frustrated, and the vows of the two people cement for life the inherent deficiencies of the homosexual relationship.

    Another way of saying this is that the ‘natural constitution’ of marriage as an institution is frustrated: it is altered both in makeup and purpose, sacrificing the whole texture of natural heterosexual marriage for just a part of it. You may perhaps sense a theme here.

    5) Since homosexual marriage cannot in itself meet the expectations and obligations of heterosexual marriage, by offering our collective sanctification of homosexual marriage we blur and corrupt the expectations of heterosexual relationships and marriage as well. We sanction the corrosive practice of contraception, we endorse IVF, and we ignore a real characteristic of the human person–namely the fact of male versus female: if there is any fundamental difference between the sexes (hint: there are) then calling them interchangeable is philosophically tearing the biological sex out of the human, which is little better philosophically than if it were done physically and literally).

    It isn’t to say that most of what homosexuals do are worse in themselves than what many heterosexuals do; a culture that sees rampant contraception, extramarital sex, single parenthood, IVF, etc. is already deeply disordered. But A) that doesn’t make homosexual activity any BETTER, and B) recognizing it as marriage is just doubling down on it, making it harder to expunge these poisons from our collective system down the road if we ever come to our senses.

    This is why some people say homosexual marriage is dangerous to heterosexual marriage. And it leads to the final point:

    6) All of this leads to what is really the summary of this whole argument. We maintained before, in the discussion of sex generally, that sex only takes its natural and wholesome place in reference to a marriage directed toward marriage’s natural ends. Homosexual marriage cannot, through its fundamental consitution, direct itself toward those ends, and therefore heterosexual sex cannot take its natural place in reference to a natural marriage.

    So there’s my penny-show version of a natural law argument that I hope answers Yvain.

    One final note: to say that homosexual marriage and homosexual sex is fundamentally disordered does not mean that thay are through-and-through bad. What is pursued is good; the problem is that it sacrifices the whole for the sake of the part. To say that this is immoral is nothing more than to say that it is harmful, just as it would be harmful to remove half of your body from an excess of love for the other half.

    In the grand scheme of things, it is an easy and understandable mistake. And frankly, our society is so thoroughly diseased in its approach to sex and marriage that frankly I have a lot of sympathy for homosexuals. What, the heterosexuals get to break all the (natural law) rules and no one complains, and then they get beat up on? It hardly seems fair, and it wouldn’t be fair if people applied these arguments unilaterally against homosexuals (which is often the case). Even the person man who runs off with the secretary gets a lot of sympathy as long as it’s toward the end of the movie and we’ve established that the nagging, nasty wife had it coming and didn’t deserve him anyway. No thanks– I think I’d take the committed homosexual over that guy.

    That’s what makes me nominally opposed to homosexual marriage but a bit ambivalent about the whole issue. We’re so far gone now that maybe acknowledging it makes sense from the bare aspect of fairness. But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

    • anodognosic

      Let me home in on what I see as the one point on which everything seems to hinge: gay couples can’t have children. That fact is that they can and they do. And yes, you do mention that they can’t do so naturally, or without outside intervention or a third party. Which is, of course, true, although I don’t see why there’s so much focus on the creation of children rather than the rearing of the same, which seems to be the far more important part. But that gets to the issue that sticks to the side of us marriage equality defenders: this is never brought up as a problem when it is heterosexual parents doing it. Quite the contrary: adoption is seen as a selfless, virtuous act. IVF and sperm donation is generally seen as a godsend that allows an infertile couple to be made whole. That suddenly, when it comes to homosexuals, all those valuable things are “intrinsically disordered” smacks very much of a double standard, and frankly makes it hard to take protestations of goodwill and fair-mindedness very seriously.

      • Doragoon

        Not every group of people with a child is a marriage.

        Adoption or IVF or sperm donation or whatever else a married man and woman do is an attempt to restore normal function or in other words, correct a mistake of nature. Two men or two women are not impaired in their ability to procreate. The individuals are fine, it’s the pairing that’s not right.

        • dbp

          See, this is a statement I disagree with. Or, anyway, I agree that the pairing isn’t right, but I don’t think the methods (aside from adoption, which is actually good as long as there’s a child who would be worse without) you mention are permissible to heterosexuals, either.

        • Passerby

          Do you agree that there are some people that are exclusively homosexual in their sexual attractions? Isn’t it something they are born with and can’t change?

          In which case, they can’t have a totally fullfilled heterosexual marriage, can they? There’d always be an element of desire lacking in the sex. They might produce children with their partner, but surely the pair-bond would be in some way impaired? That doesn’t seem fair to either partner, or to the children really. I mean, if your wife was a lesbian, she’d never be fully into sex with you. She might love you as you love a friend, but married love is supposed to be special.

          So, either homosexuals should force themselves to marry someone they don’t fully love, or resign themselves to a life of celibacy, or have a relationship with someone they’re actually attracted to.

          To me, the third option seems the best. Chastity is a hard road for anyone to take. People in relationships tend to be more fullfilled generally. I don’t think it’s fair to expect anyone to marry a person they’re not really attracted to, so then letting them have a relationship where they can love and be loved fully seems the best thing.

          My point: aren’t homosexuals in some sense naturally impaired, in procreative terms? If children can only be produced in a pair-bonded union between a man and a woman, and a homosexual is one who is only capable of pair-bonding with their own sex, by virtue of circumstances beyond their control, i.e. an inclination to same sex attraction that they’re born with, then it seems like it’s not their fault and we should help them.

      • dbp

        Well, this is a natural law argument. Is it any surprise that people signing up to a lifestyle which stimulates natural instincts (the urge to have and rear children) but has no natural means of fulfillment might be problematic from this standpoint?

        As far as the childrearing bit, I feel that there are probably ways in which children raised by homosexual ‘parents’ is problematic as well, starting with the fact that I have to put ‘parents’ in scare quotes. We can redefine the term, sure, and do in fact redefine the term when it comes to adoptive ‘parents’. I don’t object to that, necessarily, but it’s suboptimal in much the same way that adoption itself is suboptimal.

        Can it be preferable to an alternative to other scenarios? Sure. I would rather a child be raised by adoptive parents (even homosexual adoptive parents) than be aborted, say. Every child should have a loving home, and I agree homosexuals can provide that. But I don’t think adoption should generally be encouraged if the child’s being raised by its natural parents is an option. Either way, I don’t think that widespread adoption really addresses the full scope of what many people look for in becoming parents, which is why IVF is so popular.

        I hope, at any rate, that what smacks of a double standard wasn’t found in my post. I tried to make it abundantly clear that I take a very dim view indeed of IVF, contraception, etc., and largely from a natural law standpoint, just as much in heterosexual relationships as in homosexual ones.

        • anodognosic

          Well, this is a natural law argument. Is it any surprise that people signing up to a lifestyle which stimulates natural instincts (the urge to have and rear children) but has no natural means of fulfillment might be problematic from this standpoint?

          The I suppose you will be the first to sign up for my initiative to ban marriage for infertile couples?

          • dbp

            First, infertility is a tricky issue, not the least because it can be a fuzzy line to need to draw. Low sperm count, for instance, can actually make people seem infertile who actually are not, and I’ve actually heard stories about people conceiving– naturally– by careful monitoring of ovulation and timing sexual activity over a number of months to maximize the chance of fertilization. On the female side, infertility might not be a problem of conception but, for instance, a problem with implantation. Knowing the cause specifically may result in suggestions for overcoming the problems.

            Second, if we talk about natural infertility due to old age, this is also a rather fuzzy topic. Women have been known to ovulate until much later than the ‘mid forties’ age you usually associate with menopause, meaning that it’s hard to set a hard-and-fast rule for when you know a person to be incapable of childbearing. And furthermore, no such law could be enacted without extreme violations of personal privacy.

            These two facts mean that it’s rather difficult to tell which pairings are infertile and which not. On the other hand, we know that the homosexual union is infertile, and so do the people involved.

            For those who are extremely aged or who are somehow known to be really, honestly infertile (say, the necessary hardware has been irrevocably destroyed), I don’t have a firm answer. If you reread my comment, you’ll see that I wasn’t making a strong case that we should ban gay marriage; I was discussing one natural law assessment of homosexual activity. But I will echo what another person has said: infertility through defect is not morally equivalent to infertility by nature. A small child or an old man with dementia or a woman with a mental disability does not deserve less respect than a man with the full, mature use of his intellect. But an animal, which by nature does not possess the rational faculties of a human, inhabits an entirely distinct category from any of them.

            By the way, this is a digression, but I do think a certain restraint, even in chaste, heterosexual, fertile marriage, is incumbent on people. There may be situations where it is morally acceptable for a 70-year-old man to marry a 25-year-old woman; but I think I’d be pretty darned skeptical by default. I’m not only hard-nosed towards homosexuals here.

          • Infertile heterosexual couples can accidentally get pregnant in a great many cases. I personally know several couples who became pregnant after giving up on fertility treatments and having children and my recollection is that this is not an unknown phenomenon generally. I would encourage infertile heterosexual couples who want sex to get married. Conversely, while there are some heterosexual couples who can be known ex ante to be infertile, it usually isn’t readily apparent. A law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, on the other hand, is easily administrable. So there is a practical reason for marriage laws being the way they are (note that this is an argument for the law, not a moral argument against homosexual sex).

            Heterosexual infertile marriages also serve a modeling function of encouraging marriage as a norm for other heterosexual couples that gay unions don’t, since I would argue that it is factually true that men and women are different enough that a male-female relationship is categorically distinguishable from a male-male or a female-female relationship, and that even if it weren’t obviously factually true our culture so ineradicably accepts that it is so as to make no difference.

          • anodognosic

            Adam, there are some pretty clear-cut and irreversible cases of infertility, like women who have undergone a hysterectomy. And let’s leave the law aside for a moment, because indeed there are difficulties in implementing such a law, and stick to morality. Is it immoral for such a couple to get married? I think that you can’t defend the morality of such a union while opposing same-sex marriage on the grounds of natural law without applying a double-standard. (I mean, I’ve seen it done, but not very convincingly.)

            As for the modeling function: while it has a possibly valuable end, the means is immoral (I have argued), and since we’re talking about a deontological morality, the ends do not justify the means. Thus, it is irrelevant in a discussion of natural law. Furthermore, as long as we’re talking consequentialism, the push for gay marriage has turned the skepticism with which the Left saw marriage in the 90s into a full-throated paean to its virtues. Furthermore, homosexual marriages can also serve a modeling function for lifelong monogamous unions. At best, you’re left with a statistical argument that gay males may not form such unions as much, but then, gay females seem to do it more often, so that doesn’t really help the case that much, does it?

          • Too many arguments too casually sketched to respond to all of them.

            I’m not a natural law theorist, but the distinction some of those people make between relationships that are infertile because something is broke and relationships that are by nature infertile makes sense Your mileage obviously varies. I see the argument that a gay relationship when both partners are perfectly healthy and when the relationship works perfectly is infertile.

            It occurs to me that this partly may be a ‘level of abstraction’ discussion. Are we evaluating types of relationships (gay, heterosexual) are we evaluating specific relationships (Pat and Mike) or are we evaluating specific relationship acts (Pat and Mike in the parlor on Tuesday). I’ve noticed that lots of different discussions founder on the level of abstraction problem and that we participants usually have strong feelings about the proper level of abstraction without being able to articulate very cogent reasons why.

            If nothing else, this discussion has clarified for me that I do have a quasi-natural law procreative understanding of sexual relationships at the highest level of abstraction, which means that I privilege heterosexual committed relationships over non-heterosexual or non-committed relationships, and would also frown on couples that don’t want kids, but don’t really care if Pat(ricia) and Mike are infertile or if they are using a condom on Tuesday.

      • KL

        Not incidentally, Catholic teaching (based on natural law) forbids IVF, sperm donation, etc. because it thwarts the natural law understanding of the purpose of sexual activity just as contraception, homosexual activity, and extramarital heterosexual sex do. Adoption is permissible because (at least insofar as the adopting couple goes) sex is not part of the equation at all; it is providing love and care to a child in need. The circumstances that brought about the necessity of that child’s adoption, however, would presumably be understood as some sort of evil or privation of good. However, that moral circumstance is unrelated to the act of adopting a needy child.

        • anodognosic

          I at least recognize Catholic teaching for being consistent on that point. But this point remains: couples who have adopted children either are or are not families. If they are, then homosexual couples can form a family, and the argument that they are necessarily deficient is false. If they are not, then please just bite that bullet and say that adoptive families are not real families.

          • KL

            I don’t think that binary holds for every value of “family (unit)” — for instance, one could (and the Church does) define “family unit” as a validly-married couple raising one or more children. Under that criterion any non-married couple, including a heterosexual one, would not qualify as a true family unit.

          • This isn’t the killer argument you think it is. It basically comes down to whether gay partners can or should be the nucleus of a family or not, which is the original point at issue. You have found a complicated way of restating the problem.

          • anodognosic


            Adam G., it establishes that potential or actual biological reproduction is not the crux of the issue, and this happens to be one main line of argument for marriage equality opponents. The capacity of homosexual couples as parents has been established anecdotally, and I predict it will get scientific support soon, so there’s can. As for should, well–reasonable objections are frankly getting thinner and thinner.

          • anodognosic

            KL, then reproductive capacity is not actually an issue when it comes to defining a family unit, and I have to ask why, then, it’s an issue when it comes to defining a valid marriage.

            Adam G., it establishes that potential or actual biological reproduction is not the crux of the issue, and this happens to be one main line of argument for marriage equality opponents. The capacity of homosexual couples as parents has been established anecdotally, and I predict it will get scientific support soon, so there’s can. As for should, well–reasonable objections are frankly getting thinner and thinner.

          • dbp

            I still haven’t seen you address my point about the healthy adult’s rational capacity versus that of others deficient in some way (immaturity/dementia/mental disability). If you consider humans special on the basis of rational thought, what do you say when that capacity is lacking in an individual due to an accidental deficiency along those lines?

            Concretely, let’s say a mentally handicapped person is not much more functionally intelligent than one of our ape cousins. Would you call it moral to do medical testing on that person, or put them in a zoo?

            I would not, because in moral reasoning of this variety it is not the function equivalence that is important, but the formal equivalence. The person is human even if some deficiency prevents him from exercising the distinguishing act of humanity. Furthermore, it is not only wrong in its effects on the person but deleterious to the moral fabric of the person that does it and the society that condones it. Finally, it erodes natural moral instincts that keep us doing right by our fellow man.

            An infertile heterosexual marriage may be functionally equivalent to a homosexual one, but formally it is equivalent to a heterosexual one. Fertility is key to our assessment of the equivalence class, but form is key to the assessment of what falls into that class.

          • KL


            The criteria for valid “families” (technically speaking, there is no formal canonical definition of a family, so using the term “valid family” is imprecise in a way that “valid marriage” decidedly is not) and valid marriages are different because marriages necessarily and by definition entail sexual activity, and licit sexual activity is linked to reproductive capacity. Sex is so linked to marriage that a marriage is not canonically valid until it is consummated. The parent-child or other familial relationships, for obvious reasons, do not entail this sexual aspect. Thus reproductive capacity (e.g. a necessary condition for the licit exercise of sexuality) does not necessarily apply to the definition of a family unit, though obviously it usually does.

            I would also echo Adam G.’s point that adoption is always an undesirable state of affairs; in an ideal world, every child would have the privilege of being raised by loving, stable biological parents.

        • passerby

          How can sperm donating and egg donation to someone trying to get pregnant thwart natural law? If the purpose of sperm and eggs is to make children, are they not having their purpose fulfilled by being given to someone who will use them to make children?

          After all, healthy individuals produce many more eggs and sperm than they could ever turn into children themselves. Isn’t sperm made into a child through sperm donation fulfilling a purpose in a way sperm that just comes out during a wet dream is not? Isn’t an egg that becomes a child more fullfilled than an egg that stays in a woman’s ovaries until she’s too old to have children, at which point it shrivels and dies with her?

          On a purely humanitarian note, I’ve been friends with a woman who was infertile through disease. Her longing for a child was palpable. I think to deny her wish on the basis that it’s ‘unnatural” would be wrong. We give people artificial limbs. We donate blood and bone marrow to those who have lost it. We do it out of compassion. Surely doing something out of compassion can be contrary to natural law?

          • Doragoon

            Those examples are restoring lost function. The problem with egg or sperm donation is that it’s bringing someone else into marital act. As such, while it’s procreative, it’s not unitive. It’s no more compliant with natural law than any other form of adultery.

          • Alan

            Doragoon- I can trot out many a couple who will insist that IVF and sperm donation has been unitive for them, on what basis can you assert it must be that they are wrong about the impact it has had on their union? Is it any more than an abstract notion, rooted in a subjective assertion of what is the natural ‘essence’?

          • Doragoon

            Without knowing the details of the case, the question is if it involved separate people not involved in the marital act. Specifically an egg or sperm donor or a surrogate. As I understand it, the problem is that the act is not unitive with those individuals. A couple could have a child by the wife having sex with a stranger, that act is not unitive even if the end result is the couple being closer together. That’s not unitive, it’s adultery. This isn’t even mentioning the possibility of killing the extra children actively through selective abortion, or passively through not implanting all the embryos.

            If they didn’t do any of these things, then it’s my opinion that it was probably thereputic and not sinful. From what I’ve heard, those cases are very rare.

        • Biological reproduction *is* the crux of the issue. Adoption is always a second-best, a ‘what do you do when something has gone wrong.” Raising kids specifically for the purposes of adoption would be wrong.

      • Ted Seeber

        I’d point out that under Catholic Morality, IVF and sperm donation are as forbidden as homosexuality. Maybe more so, because quite often artificial insemination results in reductionist abortions being performed after conception.

        • Doragoon

          IFV doesn’t seem to be completely ruled out. But egg and sperm donation are, as well as the use of surrogates. But as long as they are your egg and your sperm and your womb and you don’t leave any embryos behind, it seems moral if not done for vain reasons.

          Obviously, this means nothing to same sex couples.

          • Irenist

            IIRC, IVF is always ruled out. Instead of separating the unitive from the procreative (like contraception) it separates the procreative from the unitive. The two aspects are inseparable from both directions.

          • KL

            This hasn’t been precisely thrashed out, nor have there been specific magisterial pronouncements on which types of artificial reproductive technologies are or are not permitted. But the general consensus among Catholic bioethicists seems to be that intrauterine insemination (in other words, not to put too fine a point on it, the turkey-baster method) using sperm collected from the husband during an act of vaginal intercourse is at least probably permissible. But that’s about it.

      • In IVF the child is still born to its natural parents, although I am dubious about the practice for other reasons. But I personally think sperm donation and egg donation are evils and should be illegal. Children should be raised by their own parents if possible. While there are circumstances that will necessitate departing from the norm, deliberately creating a child to be in those circumstances is wrong. For what its worth, most social conservatives that I know are against sperm donation and egg donation and deliberate single parenthood too. Although I haven’t done a formal nationwide survey any more than you have, so take my experience for what its worth.

      • Part of the problem here is the loose meaning of the word ‘have’ in the asssertion that gay couples can have children. In one sense of ‘having’ children, where one ‘has’ a child that is part of one’s household legally, gay couples can and do have children if local law allows them to do so. But whether local law *should* allow them to do so returns us to the original question. As a practical matter, even where gay couples are allowed to have children the percentage who do is very low. Anyone who is concerned about demography and the birth dearth is going to have a hard time choking down the notion of gay households as procreative. In any case, most gay households with children are lesbian households where a mother is living with her lover and kids from a prior heterosexual relationship; the paradigm gay household is the product of a broken home.

        In another sense, one ‘has’ a child if one begets it. Gay couples cannot have children in that sense, even by artificial means.

        • passerby

          Where are you getting your data from, in respect to ‘even where gay couples are allowed to have children the percentage who do is very low.’ and ‘ most gay households with children are lesbian households where a mother is living with her lover and kids from a prior heterosexual relationship’? I’d like to know your sources, please.

          In respect to ‘begetting’, by which I assume you mean ‘donating genetic material to’ a gay man can have a child through surrogacy, where he mixes his sperm with a donated egg and a woman carries the child for him. He would then be the genetic father of the child.
          You might say the other man would not be the father, but many heterosexual men are stepfathers and do not love their non-biological children any less. It would also be possible for the couple to have two children by the same egg donor, both fathering one child. The children would then be genetic half-siblings.

          As for a lesbian couple, it is possible for one woman to donate an egg for IVF and the other partner’s genetic material, fertilized with donor sperm, to be injected into the nucleus of the egg. Both women would then have contributed genetic material to the child because mitochondrial DNA sits outside the nucleaus and would be passed to the child via the egg donor. If she carried the child in her womb as well, there’d be even more of a connection.

          There are even more possibilities in the future, check out these links!

          Speaking of practical matters, are there not many children currently living in orphanages who are desperate for adoption? Wouldn’t it be better for these children to live with a couple who cherised them and lavished them with individual attention, even if that couple were the same sex? I understand you think that is not the ideal, but if the ideal isn’t available, why is being adopted by gay parents worse than living in an orphanage? Especially if those parents are married and devoted to each other as well as you?

          • I would then say that.

            If we let non-married persons jointly adopt children, I would see no problem letting non-married persons who engage in homosexual acts with each other to jointly adopt a child. But given that homosexual relationships are less stable than heterosexual ones, my gut is that I would prefer that they just be adopted by one person, so as to avoid custody battles and other bad things. But that’s not something I’m firmly committed to.

          • Your vision of lesbian begetting is creepy. One of my not-quite rational reasons for being a same-sex marriage opponent is the relentless way in which proponents are intellectually and, here, technologically committed to deconstructing and reducing the human order. My gut is that this underlying approach is the most dangerous thing and will ultimately destroy much you would preserve.

          • Niemand

            homosexual relationships are less stable than heterosexual ones

            A dubious excuse for discrimination, at best. Certainly lesbian relationships are more stable than heterosexual ones on average. And even if all GLBT relationships were less stable than all straight relationships, why should that mean that any given couple, who may have been together for 20 years, should face discrimination? Lots of things, including language style affect relationship stability. Shall we forbid couples with dissimilar language styles from adopting?

          • Niemand

            Your vision of lesbian begetting is creepy.

            Only to those whose vision is limited by their own inability to accept reality. Nuclear injection into a donor egg isn’t even a new technique. It’s been around for some time. The kids have mitochondria from someone other than their nuclear mother. So what?

            One of my not-quite rational reasons for being a same-sex marriage opponent is the relentless way in which proponents are intellectually and, here, technologically committed to deconstructing and reducing the human order.

            Oh, dear. Discovering new ways to produce healthy, wanted children! The horror! Can society possible survive!

    • Yvain

      You seem to think much more like I do than any of the other commenters, in that your version of natural law seems to admit that it should have some relation to what actually benefits or harms people in measurable ways. We have disagreements on whether homosexuality actually causes problems and on the relative importance of different factors, but as far as I can tell they’re all empirical disagreements that can’t be solved with armchair philosophy. I’m pretty okay with your explanation as far as it goes.

      • Doragoon

        So if Scrooge is happy and has lots of money, he must be a better more moral person than the rest of us? I don’t think you can’t judge the rightness of an action by the end results. The ends never justify the means.

        • Surely they do sometimes. I would be wrong to kick your door down to steal your stuff. I would be right to kick your door down to rescue your from a fire.

  • Some guy

    At the risk of saying some things that have likely already been said (140+ comments!?) I nonetheless would like to throw in a couple of things to this discussion.

    Regarding Yvain’s first point about using things for ends other than their intended purposes. It is possible, and likely (I hope!) that it has already been pointed out, that this comparison is problematic, for perhaps a too obvious reason: that is, a person is not a thing. Now I realize that this statement may illicit a hasty reaction, so allow me a moment to clarify. I realize that Yvain is not suggesting that people use each other, and I also realize that proponents of gay marriage, also do not advocate using people. I felt like I had to say that because of the sensitivity of the subject matter. Now that I have, I would like to continue by saying that it is important that we keep the distinction between things and persons in mind, because natural law cannot even get off the ground unless we do. Now, a hammer, designed by human beings to, well.. hammer.. can of course, be used to prop open a door, or as a paper weight. It may not be the ideal thing to use because a paper weight, or a door stop is more appropriately designed with those ends in mind, than the hammer is. However, human beings, as they are persons, are not things for procreation, primarily, the way that say, a hammer is a thing for hammering nails. Rather, a person, is made with God as his or her end. I could try to say that a human person has some other ‘natural’ end as opposed to, or equally valid, as its supernatural end, but then I would obviously be trying to do something that lies outside of the scope of natural law; that is, prop up some kind of moral theory based on biological physicalism/functionalism, which cannot be done (and which, I presume, has probably been tried and found wanting somewhere throughout the 140+ comments). St. Thomas, also presumes that the end of human beings lies in God, and his work largely, using revelation, and Tradition, is trying to help human beings get there, which of course, involves becoming as much like God as possible so as to be united with him, ultimately. So, any attempt to justify, or condemn same-sex marriage, based on physical functionalism of body parts is going to come up empty.

    Looking over Yvain’s other questions, I think they too fall away after realizing the distinction between a person, whose end is in God, and things, whose ends are decidedly less amazing, especially temporal things, which can’t become anything other than dust, ultimately. (Realize that I’m speaking somewhat figuratively here, and simply saying that what is temporal is not eternal, realizing of course that matter changes ‘form’ – or vice versa? ha.)

    There were other underlying assumptions that I noticed while I tried to take in so many comments, that will also sabotage one’s understanding of natural law before it beings. One was the idea that a person has a body, or that their body is an instrument that persons, again, use. We must remember here that Christianity is monistic, and natural law presumes, monism. That is, it denies the dualism that makes up much gnosticism and modern ideas about the human person. This is why the Church has always maintained the resurrection of the body, and while Aquinas states that bliss is enjoyed in the beatific vision, it is nonetheless, according to Aquinas, less bliss than will be enjoyed when the soul, which is the form (i.e. formal cause) of the body, is reunited with the body. So our souls don’t use our bodies, rather we are our bodies.

    Another difficulty I noticed lies in the question which basically amounts to, “What’s the big deal?” That is, if a gay person finds that he or she can engage sexually with someone of the same sex and neither person is hurt by it, then why shouldn’t they be able to? Again, here we have something that is only an issue because we are still equating things, which have temporal ends, with persons, who have an eternal end. Now, this next part isn’t going to be satisfying to anyone who is looking for a purely natural law answer, devoid of any talk of God (which is a ‘natural law’, which, if it existed, would be extremely problematic anyway). That is, Aquinas, and natural law theory, considers God’s revelation to be certain (though admittedly, not necessarily to human beings, and admitting that the ‘how’ such truths are certain are further elucidated over time) and tends to treat what has been revealed and interpreted by the magisterium as truths that are every bit as reliable as premises which Aquinas takes as self-evident. That is, Aquinas tells us that we can reason toward things from below, if we start with those principles which are self-evident (which is why Aquinas works so *ahem*.. naturally.. with Aristotle); and we can reason toward things from above, starting from revealed truths of the faith, towards things below. I realize that I’m putting this crudely, and more analytic Thomistic types might like to clarify etc, but there it is nonetheless. As such, Aquinas would likely begin his defense of traditional marriage with Scripture and Tradition. I know that this won’t be satisfying to many, and I know many Thomists would, nonetheless like to come up with purely ‘natural’ reasons, outside of the supernatural end of human persons, in order to engage rationally with those outside of the faith, but I tend to think that there will be no satisfying way to do so, without again, reducing the human person, made in the image of God, to a thing.

    But again, so what? Well, starting from Scripture and Tradition, interpreted by the magisterium, the reason (however unsatisfying to atheists and agnostics) that same-sex sexual activity cannot be engaged in is simply that it does not contribute to the sanctification of the human person; that is homosexual activity, in the eyes of the Church, does not lead to holiness. That is, it is like other activities, that draw persons away from their end in God. All acts, ideally, perpetrated by human persons, would be totally free acts wherein human beings act in a way that is unconditionally loving towards God and other persons and contribute to their growing in being unconditionally loving towards other persons and God. But unfortunately, all of us are guilty of acts that pull us towards the temporal instead, and our beings become entangled in the temporal, a little more, each time that we do. Sexual acts, while having a temporal dimension, that are open to life, are not only acts of self-giving love between the spouses, but also can lead to children, which also lead to further lives of holy self-gift by the parents. Even the openness to life itself, embodies a certain self-denial, and relinquishing of control and ego. Contrarily, all other sexual acts, reinforce attachment to the temporal, and this ultimately, is why homosexual activity, according to natural law, is contrary to the good of human persons – it has the potential, to overtime, keep human persons from their end in God.

    • Yvain

      Is this explanation totally based on revelation? That is, if we didn’t already know from Scripture that God disapproves of homosexuality, would we have any particular reason to think that He might and that therefore people whose end is God should avoid it?

      • Doragoon

        Every belief system has it’s axioms. If you’re unwilling to entertain anyone else’s to see if it creates an internally consistent model, then it’s going to be hard to discuss anything. Though personally, this is why I have problems understanding Catholic notions of natural law. To me, it strikes me as grace inspired divine law. Still, I find Catholicism’s axioms less cumbersome than any others I’ve found.

      • Some guy

        Yvain: In short, yes, we would. And I suspect that people throughout this thread have probably given many reasons, which show why avoiding homosexual activity is reasonable. What I doubt, however, is that anyone in the thread has given good reasons why it should be avoided in such a way that it shuts the door on the issue, by limiting their discussion to natural ends. Which is because, as with so many other things, reason without faith, will only get us so close to the truth, according to natural law. That is all just to say that what I have said above is not meant to outright contradict or deny discussions of natural ends re: the human body, such as procreative and unitive functions of sexual activity; but rather, to say that such a discussion will only go so far, without keeping the supernatural end of human persons in mind. i.e. It is a both/and, rather than an either/or.

      • Irenist

        “Is this explanation totally based on revelation? That is, if we didn’t already know from Scripture that God disapproves of homosexuality, would we have any particular reason to think that He might and that therefore people whose end is God should avoid it?”

        If people can reason together to the conclusion that Elliot G. outlined about how procreation is the regulating principle of the sexual appetite, then no revelation, Scriptural or otherwise, should be needed. Many of the Natural Law and Virtue Ethics positions come from Aristotle, who was no believer in the Bible.

        • Some guy

          I agree.. Elliot did a great job in that post. Kind of made my point mute… lol. And honestly, I’m glad he did.. 🙂

  • There have been a lot of great responses from people well-versed in Natural Law. Me, I’m an amateur. But I’d like to offer a defense of Natural Law theory on a few fronts that I think are being ignored, along with pointing out some problems with Yvain’s questions that I think are being overlooked. Some niggling corrections, some not.

    The atheist viewpoint is that

    There’s no such thing as “the” atheist viewpoint.

    I’ll skip over the teleological language being ascribed to evolution – others have covered it.

    There are more than enough heterosexuals to continue the species without any help from gay people, so where does this chain of reasoning break down when thinking about homosexuality?

    For one thing, it’s not as simple as “heterosexuals will produce children, and homosexuals will not”. Yes, homosexual sexual intercourse will not produce children. But neither will heterosexual sexual intercourse, necessarily. And I don’t mean “well sometimes a woman won’t get pregnant” – I mean there’s plenty of sexual activity heterosexuals can engage in that are just as hopeless with regards to producing offspring as homosexual sexual activity.

    One takeaway point from this is the following: it’s not enough to have “an abundance of heterosexuals”. They also have to be having the right kind of sex, and having the right attitude towards sex. Which means there’s a prima facie reason for people to be concerned about the attitudes people have towards sex, regardless of whether the population of heterosexuals is overwhelming or not. It also illustrates that the Natural Law theorist is not singling out homosexuals among the populace – they are singling out particular sexual acts and desires. It so happens that, in the case of exclusive homosexuals, this singling out happens to cover all sexual activity a given person may desire – but that’s not some kind of “goal” of Natural Law theory. (In principle, it could have been the case that there was no such thing as an exclusive homosexual.)

    Another important point is that the Natural Law theorist does not argue that all people are mandated to marry and have children: celibacy is entirely possible. (Clearly. Think of the Catholic Church’s sexual requirements for most nuns and priests.) So it’s not as if the argument is “homosexuals should all be having heterosexual sex!”

    With all that briefly touched on, I’d like to hit on a Natural Law theory point that I think the other Natural Law commenters are not sufficiently addressing.

    Yvain asked the following:

    3. If a gay person is not planning to have heterosexual sex and children and procreation anyway, then assuming they practice sufficiently safe sex and aren’t going to get AIDS or anything, what exactly is the harm of him doing his not-children-having while having gay sex as opposed to while having no sex? It’s still the same amount of procreation either way.

    Instead of answering this directly, I’m going to try and answer with a video, and lob some followup questions. For those of you a bit put off by explicit sexual talk, uh… you probably should skip the rest of my comment, and certainly the video. For those of you willing, have a look at the video because the rest of my comment is going to rely on it to frame the conversation.


    To Yvain, and anyone else who cares to answer (pro- or anti-natural law), I ask a simple question.

    Can Doug Thomas’ sexual desires rightly be called disordered?

    Would it be morally right for friends and family of Doug Thomas to discourage, if only intellectually, his sexual desires, or counsel him to get over or change them?

    I’m doing this for clarification to continue discussing this from a Natural Law perspective, and because I think this is the elephant in the room that both sides in this thread are dancing around. Yvain has asked “What’s the harm?” — to answer that, I have to ask Yvain and others if what Doug Thomas is engaging in can be viewed as harm, in and of itself. Or maybe, “damage”. Is there something wrong with Doug? Can we say Doug is “damaged” based on his activity and his preferences?

    See, the Natural Law theorist is going to say, yes, there’s something wrong with Doug. His desires are disordered. His activity is ‘damage’. It’s not that what he’s doing ‘will lead to some damage’ – it IS damage. That’s a major disconnect between the two sides here, since opponents of Natural Law thinking seem to be waiting for NT proponents to start arguing ‘what damage will be caused by such and such sexual activity’, as if the problem with anal sex is that maybe it will lead to disaster later.

    So again, I ask: is there something wrong with Doug? And keep in mind, we can get into far, far darker examples (guro, misogynist fantasies, etc) with Doug, while maintaining what I believe are the important core features that make the example relevant (the self-will, the lack of obvious and immediate harm to others, etc.) But I think the video retains the essentials in a relaxed enough way, for now. Plus I’m a John C. Reilly fan.

  • djolds1

    [Rulebreaking – was pretty clearly intended as a reply to the comment above, so I assume user error]

    John J. Reilly.

    RIP 🙁

  • I realize that I am a little late in the game here, but I think that I may have something useful to add. Yvain’s question struck me at a rather personal level because, as a cradle-Catholic, I have struggled with these questions myself. It was not until I stumbled across Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics that the concept of natural law began to make sense for me. Consequently, I was much more at peace with Catholic sexual morality. That being said, I’d like to offer a reply to Yvain’s first question. Although some people, especially Elliot, have already offered adequate replies to this question, I am going to try to write mine in more accessible language. That is, I am going to try to answer on a more practical level, without getting too abstract.

    I am sorry to say that I am going to have to get a little personal here, but hey, we’re talking about sex after all. As a teenage Catholic boy, I was frequently in the confessional reluctantly admitting that I had given in to masturbation more times than I wanted to admit. Getting very frustrated with the difficulty of breaking this habit and wanting to understand what the big deal was, I often asked the priest to whom I was confessing why masturbation was a sin. The answer given to me, almost invariably, was that masturbation was contrary to the function of the human sexual faculties.

    Like Yvain, I used to think, “So what?” If I use my computer as a coaster by putting my drink on it, that’s not using it according to its function and it’s certainly not immoral. The problem with perspective is that it does not distinguish between people and things. A thing does not have a will, it does not strive for happiness, and I am therefore free to use it however I wish.

    People, however, are different. Being independent, thinking subjects who strive to attain happiness, I must respect them in their quest for happiness. But what is equally important, and often overlooked, is that I must respect myself in my own quest for happiness. To do otherwise would be a diservice to myself since, after all, what I really want in life is to be happy.

    The thing is that the way I act affects the way I am. While a computer, being an inanimate object, can easily be used for any number of purposes, my body is intimately bound up with my subjective nature, that is, my thinking and willing faculties. How I use it, therefore, even affects the way I think.

    That the way we act affects the way we think is clear. If, for example, if a husband decides to watch a football game instead of spending time with his wife, he is going to train himself to value football over his wife. Clearly, this is not a good idea. Taking it one step further, our sexual faculties are bound up with our psychology; they do not exist in isolation. My sexuality strives, whether I like it or not, towards union with another person. Even if I wish to masturbate solely for the sake of pleasure, there will nevertheless be fantasies involved. As time goes on, these fantasies become more and more elaborate. Eventually, they become less and less realistic. By masturbating, a person chooses pleasurable characteristics of his sexuality over the potential of his sexuality to unite him with another human being. Given that human beings greatly desire to love and to be loved, it follows that one should use one’s sexuality to facilitate this goal.

    So, I hope that I have helped to clarify things. How we use our bodies affects our psychology by developing habits and fostering attitudes. Our habits and attitudes are either conducive of happiness or they are not. We must therefore use our bodies in such a way that we develop good habits and foster proper attitudes which further our goal of attaining happiness. To do otherwise, precisely because it impedes is from attaining happiness, is immoral.

    To go from here to an explanation of why homosexual acts are immoral, one has to draw a clear connection between sexuality and procreation. Furthermore, one has to show why severing this connection impedes one in his quest for happiness. Elliot has already done a great job of showing this in the abstract. Perhaps a few practical examples would also be helpful.

    I’ll be brief, as my comment is already longer than I would like it to be. A married man and woman who remain open to the possibility of procreation every time they have sex are training themselves to respect procreation as an outcome of sex. Behaving this way fosters in them a certain respect, reverence even, for sex itself. It reminds them of the raison d’etre of their union, procreation, which is the ultimate expression of their union with one another. Homosexual acts lack sexual complementarity and the possibility for procreation. Though they can perhaps foster unity between two individuals, without the possibility of procreation as a consequence, there is nothing restraining them from having sex purely for the sake of pleasure. Given the overwhelming strength of the sexual urge, I think it is clear that this behavior could very easily lead one towards a utilitarian attitude whereby one’s partner is used for the sake of pleasure.

  • Mitchell Porter

    Joshua says that Bahai have no notion of natural law. Is that true? They came from Islam, which has Shariah, a type of divine law. The founders, like Bahaullah, wrote their own books of law, and there is a special Bahai institution, the Universal House of Justice, which has some sort of authority within the faith.

    • Mitchell Porter

      That was supposed to go in the new thread.