Monday, April 8, 2013

Online conversation experiment

Had an interesting moment today. One of the more popular sites online (I won't say which) has a forum for LGBT people. I decided, why not go read what's going on there? In the process, I stumbled on a religious/Christianity thread. You know, 'How do you square your sexuality with your church's teaching?'

After reading for a while, I decided to weigh in and clarify Catholic teaching on same-sex behavior, etc. No, the Church doesn't condemn you just for being gay. No, such and such is not sinful, this is. No, it's not just 'God says', here are some Natural Law considerations. Staying polite, and also relatively on-topic for the thread. I mean, I tend to argue these things on Catholic or Atheist sites. But this? This is relatively new.

Boom. In comes the ban. (Seems to be a thing lately - I should really keep a tally of this.) I knew it was coming - but I couldn't shake the impression that if someone were posting and was a huge bigoted idea of the 'You faggots are disgusting and going to HELL' variety, I'd have been able to stick around. You know, the whole WBC thing. Presenting that image of people who are critical of same-sex behavior is important.

The whole experience was positive, however. In fact, the ban in this case was the most encouraging part of all. It's a glimmer, but it tells me that a calm, level-headed, direct and fair treatment of this subject spooks some people in the LGBT activist brigade. I couldn't have asked for a more straightforward endorsement in a way.

I think I'm going to dial back on this issue for a bit and comment on some other things soon - I find the topic fascinating, but I don't want a monofocus; there's other issues worth talking about.

30 comments:

Alex said...

Did you expect the average member of an LGBT forum to be up for a high level meta-ethical debate? In any case there are two things that I am curious about that I was hoping you could help me out with. The first is a meta-ethical issue, the second is an empirical one.

Firstly, one of the aspects of natural law ethics that I find most odd, is the idea that things can only be used when directed towards their natural end. For example, sex can only be done in the context of a marital relationship with the intent of procreation. Frustrating that natural end (for example via contraception) for some other goal (recreation and/or bonding in the case of sex) is immoral.

It seems to me, though, that we use things for purposes other than their natural end all the time. Take for example the treadmill. The natural purpose of walking is locomotion - walking on a treadmill frustrates that natural end for a secondary goal, namely exercise. Why is this not immoral? If it is because walking has multiple purposes (locomotion and keeping one fit) then why is it permissible to divorce those two functions of walking and not the functions of sex?

As for the empirical question: do you think that successful homosexual relationships are impossible? Do you think that it is impossible for two men to love and care for each other - to make sacrifices for each other and to better each other? If you do then I must express surprise.

Crude said...

Did you expect the average member of an LGBT forum to be up for a high level meta-ethical debate?

I'm not that naive, no.

I actually wasn't there for a debate. I jumped in to explain Catholic reasoning, which was being butchered and misrepresented. And to give an alternate perspective on the matter.

'High level meta-ethical debate' wasn't what I was pursuing, in any event. Frankly, that's pointless. I'd rather change minds.

For example, sex can only be done in the context of a marital relationship with the intent of procreation.

Not necessary, from what I know of natural law. As in you don't need to specifically intend 'I am going to procreate now!' or anything like that. Have sex because it's fun. Have sex because you're horny, or your wife is horny, or whatever other reason. Just don't frustrate the ends of sex.

The natural purpose of walking is locomotion - walking on a treadmill frustrates that natural end for a secondary goal, namely exercise.

I don't see the comparison, even granting that the final cause of legs is locomotion. You're moving on a treadmill - you are 'moving forward' while being pushed back, etc. If you weren't engaged in locomotion on a treadmill, it wouldn't work.

Another example I've had in the past is related to eating. "What if someone eats a lot for pleasure, even when they aren't hungry or have no need of food?" Well, that's gluttony.

As for the empirical question: do you think that successful homosexual relationships are impossible? Do you think that it is impossible for two men to love and care for each other - to make sacrifices for each other and to better each other?

No, I don't doubt it's successful - but a successful homosexual relationship would be one which is entirely lacking in sex.

See, I get this kind of response a lot - but the Church, natural law theory and the bible have no condemnation for two men loving or caring for each other, making sacrifices for each other and bettering each other. If that's what you'd like to do, by all means, go for it - once the sexual aspect is divorced from it, that's just called friendship, even close friendship.

Anal sex, however (to give one example)? Anal fisting? Well, now we're off into the land of problems. Also note that this isn't a specifically gay problem - it applies to heterosexuals as well.

Either way, if you want to argue Natural Law and the Church's position, you're going to have to make an argument to the effect that anal sex is moral, and/or is essential to a relationship.

Alex said...

"I actually wasn't there for a debate. I jumped in to explain Catholic reasoning, which was being butchered and misrepresented. And to give an alternate perspective on the matter.

'High level meta-ethical debate' wasn't what I was pursuing, in any event. Frankly, that's pointless. I'd rather change minds."

Fair point. I agree that banning was unwarranted.

Regarding your points on natural law, your views are very different from other Catholics that I have talked to, so my arguments don't seem relevant.

Perhaps it would be better for me to start over and ask: why do you think that homosexual sex/contraception is immoral? More specifically what do you mean by "frustrate the natural purpose of sex"? I've understood this statement to mean that the teleos of sex consists of bonding, pleasure and procreation. Sex that does not fulfill all three criteria is immoral. But this doesn't seem to be what you mean since you say that sex for pleasure's sake only is perfectly fine.

"No, I don't doubt it's successful - but a successful homosexual relationship would be one which is entirely lacking in sex."

Is this an empirical claim? Would you expect that if we were to divide up a group of gay couples randomly into two groups and instruct one group not to have sex, then that group would have better relationships?

Crude said...

Perhaps it would be better for me to start over and ask: why do you think that homosexual sex/contraception is immoral?

It's not just 'homosexual sex', but sodomy generally - whether hetero or homo. And it's not just immoral, but there are other negative aspects to it all.

The main reason 'homosexuality' gets singled out in regards to this is because it's a situation where all the sex involved is going to generally fall under the heading of 'sodomy', whereas this isn't the case with a heterosexual pair.

I've understood this statement to mean that the teleos of sex consists of bonding, pleasure and procreation. Sex that does not fulfill all three criteria is immoral.

That's the first I've heard of this claim. Got any reference?

But this doesn't seem to be what you mean since you say that sex for pleasure's sake only is perfectly fine.

That's a reference to intention. You don't have to sit there going 'Alright, the goal here is to get a sperm inside of an egg. Lacking that, this is a failure and a sin.' There's this habit some people have of portraying the Catholic view of sex as something along those lines, or where the overriding (maybe even exclusive) intention of any sex act must be 'procreation'. It's simply not necessary given what I've read of Natural Law and Church teaching.

Is this an empirical claim?

No, it's a metaphysical/moral statement.

Would you expect that if we were to divide up a group of gay couples randomly into two groups and instruct one group not to have sex, then that group would have better relationships?

And I don't think this is an 'empirical claim' at the end of the day. What constitutes a better relationship? Does 'better' include moral judgement, spiritual discernment - and not reported judgments OF judgments? No, I think 'better' or 'worse' in the sense I'm talking about will inevitably come back to involve normative statements and philosophical commitments.

That's before getting into the usual problems with soft science research, which are legion.

Crude said...

Perhaps it would be better for me to start over and ask: why do you think that homosexual sex/contraception is immoral? More specifically what do you mean by "frustrate the natural purpose of sex"?

I think it's immoral due to a combination of Church teaching/arguments, and secular concerns ranging from natural law arguments to otherwise. The final cause and natural purpose of sex is procreation, and I think it's best to encourage sex within those confines - and to encourage general self-restraint and (metaphysically, spiritually) healthier attitudes otherwise.

Let me ask you in turn: do you regard it as possible that two adults can engage in consensual sexual acts with each other, or one adult on their own, and for it to be immoral, wrong, or indicative of a 'broken' sexuality?

I'll use my favorite example: is Doug Thomas, sexually speaking, broken? Is what he's doing immoral, illicit, or just plain self-harm or even indicative of self-harm?

alexander stanislaw said...

"That's the first I've heard of this claim. Got any reference?"

I'm not asserting that that is the official Church teaching, I merely stating what I've been told by other Catholics.

"No, it's a metaphysical/moral statement."

I suspected this. Does that mean that in your view there is no set of criteria that gay couple could fulfill that would make them successful?

" Does 'better' include moral judgement, spiritual discernment - and not reported judgments OF judgments"

I don't know what any of this means.

"The final cause and natural purpose of sex is procreation"

Two questions: is it possible for a thing to have multiple final causes? Secondly is it always unethical to use something for a purpose other than its final cause?

"Let me ask you in turn: do you regard it as possible that two adults can engage in consensual sexual acts with each other, or one adult on their own, and for it to be immoral, wrong, or indicative of a 'broken' sexuality?"

Since harm and consent can coexist in a relationship then yes.

Crude said...

I'm not asserting that that is the official Church teaching, I merely stating what I've been told by other Catholics.

Fair enough.

I suspected this. Does that mean that in your view there is no set of criteria that gay couple could fulfill that would make them successful?

No set criteria that's going to include 'and also they're encouraging sexual desire for each other and engage in sex acts with each other' anyway. Subtract that and it's probably going to be easy.

That would be a little like asking me what it would take for me to regard a man who is lacking both arms as a 'perfectly healthy human being'. Well, first let's talk about those arms. Pointing out that, well, he eats a well-balanced diet isn't going to do much.

I don't know what any of this means.

Consider the difference between evaluating someone as healthy, and reporting that they reported 'I feel healthy'.

Two questions: is it possible for a thing to have multiple final causes?

Not to my understanding, though it's possible for a final cause to be broad or have various facets to it. 'The final cause of sexual pleasure is to get us to indulge in sex, and the final cause of sex is procreation'. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy it, or shouldn't enjoy it, etc. But pleasure isn't a competing final cause.

Secondly is it always unethical to use something for a purpose other than its final cause?

I'd need an example. Frustrating natural ends is the main issue. Like, say, eating nothing but 0-calorie food. 'But it's pleasant, it's fun, it's...' It's a lot of things, but 'licit' may not be one of those things.

If you're asking me if Natural Law mandates that each and every human trait or activity has One Purpose and One Purpose only, exceptionally narrow, then no. You can have general purposes, and even within the natural law confines there's many, many ways to have sex. (So long as you're imaginative, anyway.)

Since harm and consent can coexist in a relationship then yes.

Great. Some examples? Let's say there's no immediate physical harm, like "Guy A consenting to guy B tearing his eyes out".

Also, Doug Thomas: is he broken? Are his sexual acts immoral? Should he be discouraged? Should someone tell Doug Thomas, 'Okay, look, what you like? What you're doing? What you sexually enjoy? It doesn't harm anyone. But you shouldn't do that anymore.'?

Or is Doug Thomas' sexuality 'healthy'?

alexander stanislaw said...

"No set criteria that's going to include 'and also they're encouraging sexual desire for each other and engage in sex acts with each other' anyway. Subtract that and it's probably going to be easy"

Thanks that makes it clear.

It is a bit bothersome though that you single out sodomy as demonstrating that the relationship is unhealthy - because that makes your claim impossible to test. In your example of the man with no arms, there are many questions that I could ask him that would tell me whether he is healthy or not (for instance, can you type at a computer at a normal pace unassisted?). But there are no sets of questions (excluding do you have sex) that you could a gay couple that would lead you to conclude that their relationship is successful.

Consider this thought experiment, suppose that coincidentally, a gay couple and a heterosexual couple were identical in every (maybe we got them out of a multiverse it doesn't matter). For any question about their relationship (excluding do you have sex) they would answer it in exactly the same way - yet you would still insist that the gay couple is unhealthy.

"Not to my understanding, though it's possible for a final cause to be broad or have various facets to it."

Thanks, that is very unexpected (every other Catholic I have asked this question to said yes). I'm still not sure I get what you mean be final cause though - an example would be helpful: what is the final cause of the mouth?

"I'd need an example. Frustrating natural ends is the main issue."

Using a microwave for storing food when I've run out of cupboard space. I think its pretty obvious that the final cause of the microwave is to heat food. Storing food does not fulfill this cause, and it actively frustrates it (because I can no longer microwave food). Is this immoral?

Crude said...

It is a bit bothersome though that you single out sodomy as demonstrating that the relationship is unhealthy

I singled out sodomy as being something that is not going to be part of a healthy relationship. To use another example: 'one person beats the other regularly' is not going to be an example of a healthy relationship. Does this take place? Well, that is a Bad Thing. Period. That shouldn't be done. I don't really need to hear anything else.

In your example of the man with no arms, there are many questions that I could ask him that would tell me whether he is healthy or not

Are you telling me that you think a person can be classified as a completely healthy human being - while lacking limbs?

Consider this thought experiment, suppose that coincidentally, a gay couple and a heterosexual couple were identical in every (maybe we got them out of a multiverse it doesn't matter). For any question about their relationship (excluding do you have sex) they would answer it in exactly the same way - yet you would still insist that the gay couple is unhealthy.

Insofar as they're engaged in sodomy, yes. They could have positive aspects to their relationship other than that.

Likewise, I'm not denying that a man who is lacking limbs can be healthy in other ways. Maybe he works out. Maybe he has a good diet. He may have a longer life expectancy than some random person who has all their limbs. But you know, at the end of the day, he's lacking limbs. He has a very obvious handicap.

I'm still not sure I get what you mean be final cause though - an example would be helpful: what is the final cause of the mouth?

What aspect? There's teeth, there's lips, etc.

Using a microwave for storing food when I've run out of cupboard space. I think its pretty obvious that the final cause of the microwave is to heat food.

Irrelevant. Natural law doesn't apply to man-made artifacts. Use it as a doorstop if you like. It may be a bad idea on other grounds - you probably don't want to use some guy's spittoon as a cereal bowl - but it's not subject to final cause considerations. (If your Catholic friends told you otherwise, they are wildly misinformed. Read Ed Feser's "The Last Superstition" or "Aquinas" for a decent primer.)

Also, at this point - I've answered quite a lot of questions. Gladly, even. But I am not going to drop the question about Doug Thomas. If you're not going to answer that, there's no real point in going further - it was a fair, salient question, and the answer is going to help me establish a few things, regardless of how you answer it.

alexander stanislaw said...

"But I am not going to drop the question about Doug Thomas."

I haven't settled a particular meta-ethical theory yet, so I'm not sure about the Doug Thomas case. As someone who is wavering between rule-consequentialism and virtue ethics, a more clear cut scenario for me would be the case of rape fantasies. A rape fantasy is immoral if it causes you to be the kind of person who would have a desire to rape someone in the future. Doug Thomas' fetish is very strange and I find it hard to form an opinion on that because I can't imagine anyone who is actually like Doug Thomas. I suppose that I don't see the problem with food fetishes in general. Entangling food fetishes with other moral issues (spying on people while hiding) makes the scenario confusing to me.

In any case, my primary goal here is to better understand the natural law prohibition against non-vaginal sex. So far I still don't understand it.

"Are you telling me that you think a person can be classified as a completely healthy human being - while lacking limbs?"

I apologize I was unclear. You argued that a person without limbs is not healthy. I agreed with this, however I disagreed with the claim that lacking limbs is _intrinsically_ unhealthy. There are other reasons for thinking that someone without limbs is unhealthy namely there are things that they cannot do. Suppose for instance Mike lacked arms, however, Mike is also has super-telekinetic powers that allow him to do anything that someone with arms could do and more. I would contend that Mike is _not_ unhealthy.

What I am struggling with therefore is your pronouncement that sodomy is _intrinsically_ unhealthy. I can't think of anything else that fits into this category.

"Irrelevant. Natural law doesn't apply to man-made artifacts."

I wasn't aware of this, thanks.

"What aspect? There's teeth, there's lips, etc."

Actually, would you mind giving the final cause of the elbow? Thats pretty specific isn't it?

Crude said...

I haven't settled a particular meta-ethical theory yet, so I'm not sure about the Doug Thomas case.

Well, here's the thing. Doug Thomas is a guy who jams an ice cream scooper up his ass and hooks jumper cables up to his nipples while he masturbates watching people get quality service at his restaurants - it's the only way he can get an erection.

Your reply is you're not sure whether or not Doug Thomas' sexuality is unhealthy or broken. I think I can further ask, if you're at the point where you can't say 'Yes, that's unhealthy' clearly and without hesitation - if you can't casually identify that this guy, on some level, needs help - do you think that maybe something has gone off the rails with your evaluation of sexual health? Is this really a problem that stems from an inadequate familiarity with meta-ethical narratives?

Or is it more than the moment we recognize that an individual can have an unhealthy sexuality, even if it doesn't do him imminent and irreparable physical harm, then we've just opened the door to question a whole lot of sexual behaviors and appetites that Must Be Defended?

I agreed with this, however I disagreed with the claim that lacking limbs is _intrinsically_ unhealthy.

Okay. So, there does not exist something called a 'healthy human being' objectively in your view? There is no intrinsic nature of a human - if some guy is a serial rapist, well, maybe in some hypothetical situation being a serial rapist would be beneficial to him.

Well, the natural law theory rejects that. Humans and animals have natures. They can be deficient in these natures, or they can excel in them. A person who lacks a limb is deficient, because a person naturally has such and such limbs. It's part of what it is to be human.

Actually, would you mind giving the final cause of the elbow? Thats pretty specific isn't it?

Offhand, I don't know. I'd imagine it's going to involve playing a role in bending the arm, with other secondary natures.

What I am struggling with therefore is your pronouncement that sodomy is _intrinsically_ unhealthy. I can't think of anything else that fits into this category.

It's not my pronouncement - it follows from natural law. Removing your eyes from your eye socket and using them as a garnish in a dinner, also intrinsically unhealthy. Intentionally deafening yourself. The list can go on.

In any case, my primary goal here is to better understand the natural law prohibition against non-vaginal sex. So far I still don't understand it.

Edward Feser's "Aquinas" and "The Last Superstition" will help here. The short of it is, sexual pleasure has sex as its end, and the end of sex is reproduction, which are intrinsic ends given that humans have such and such natures. If a person's sexual pleasure comes from watching customers at his restaurant eat, and in response he masturbates, well, he's deviating from his nature. He is broken. (So aren't we all, in various ways.)

Crude said...

Oh, David Oderberg's 'Real Essentialism' is also good. Probably the most thorough accessible treatment.

Gyan said...

Crude,
Friends are not erotically inclined towards each other. So even if they eschew physical relations, their friendship is impaired by the erotic element.
The erotic love looks into the beloved while the friends stand side-by-side looking towards the common truth that possesses them.
Or, erotic love is necessarily possessive. The lover and the beloved. While friendship is enriched by the arrival of a third friend.

Crude said...

Gyan,

Friends are not erotically inclined towards each other. So even if they eschew physical relations, their friendship is impaired by the erotic element.

Perhaps. Then again, perhaps not with regards to the first - I'm sure this comes up with male/female friends. Granted, you're probably talking about the ideal, rather than the practical reality that shows up at times. I think erotic love is its own can of words on that front.

Either way, what I was pointing out was that it was precisely the erotic aspects which are problematic in homosexual relationships from the Natural Law, Biblical, Church and other perspectives. Not, you like, 'Two men having a heartfelt, tender conversation with each other' or whatnot.

alexander stanislaw said...

"It's not my pronouncement - it follows from natural law. Removing your eyes from your eye socket and using them as a garnish in a dinner, also intrinsically unhealthy. Intentionally deafening yourself. The list can go on."

Yes, but I have yet to see an example of something that is unhealthy not because it impairs functioning in some way, because the trait itself is unhealthy (which is the claim you made of sodomy). Having no limbs is unhealthy because it prevents you from doing certain things, sodomy does not.

My issue is that there is _no way_ to distinguish between a couple that has anal or oral sex and a couple that does not other than asking them directly, this is in contrast to any other deficiency.

"Offhand, I don't know. I'd imagine it's going to involve playing a role in bending the arm, with other secondary natures."

I'm confused, I thought things could only have one final cause.

"Edward Feser's "Aquinas" and "The Last Superstition" will help here"

Thanks, I doubt I would make it very far into the Last Superstition but I may take a look at Aquinas some day.

"Well, here's the thing. Doug Thomas is a guy who jams an ice cream scooper up his ass and hooks jumper cables up to his nipples while he masturbates watching people get quality service at his restaurants - it's the only way he can get an erection."

Sorry I didn't watch the whole Doug Thomas video - of course if he is causing physical harm to himself, not to mention spying on people, then he has a problem that needs to be fixed. I don't see the relevance of this to the ethics of sodomy though.

Crude said...

Yes, but I have yet to see an example of something that is unhealthy not because it impairs functioning in some way, because the trait itself is unhealthy (which is the claim you made of sodomy). Having no limbs is unhealthy because it prevents you from doing certain things, sodomy does not.

No, having no limbs is unhealthy because the natural form of a human involves having limbs. Not being able to do certain things can be a related impairment, but it's not what decides that I am unhealthy.

I'm male - I cannot conceive a child. I do not have wings, like a bird. I'm not 'unhealthy' for lacking these things. If you want to get technical, it's pretty easy to regard same-sex sexual attraction as a functional deficiency: it can impede the ability of a given individual to be sexually attracted to and start a family with someone of the opposite sex.

In fact, if there is no nature for humanity, then what is or isn't healthy is all subjective or arbitrary anyway.

My issue is that there is _no way_ to distinguish between a couple that has anal or oral sex and a couple that does not other than asking them directly, this is in contrast to any other deficiency.

But that's clearly incorrect for reasons already stated. What's more, people can be good at hiding their deficiencies - but deficiencies they remain.

Also, do you think a guy who likes to fuck his girlfriend's ass is going to be what.. mentally identical to a guy who does not? Do you think the girl who gets ass-fucked is going to be mentally and physically identical the the girl who does not?

I'm confused, I thought things could only have one final cause.

I'm confused too. I didn't say anything had 'more than one final cause'. What's the source of your confusion? I hope it's not that the idea that a broad final cause is somehow illicit, as if being able to eat fruit AND eat meat is an example of 'two final causes'. That'd be silly.

Thanks, I doubt I would make it very far into the Last Superstition but I may take a look at Aquinas some day.

Why? Because he insults the more obnoxious public atheists at several times briefly in the course of the book? If it's because he argues that sodomy is immoral, Aquinas won't be of any help to you either.

Sorry I didn't watch the whole Doug Thomas video - of course if he is causing physical harm to himself, not to mention spying on people, then he has a problem that needs to be fixed.

Why?

First off, how do you tell what is or isn't 'physical harm'? Because stuffing a cock up someone's ass is pretty easily regarded as physical harm in a casual sense. Would bondage or S&M fetishes are immoral / people who engage in those things or like those things are problems that need to be fixed?

Second, he's not spying on anyone illicitly. They're in a public place. He just happens to find their public actions sexually arousing.

Crude said...

I don't see the relevance of this to the ethics of sodomy though.

Pretty easy. Doug Thomas can only be sexually aroused by watching people enjoy top-notch friendly service at his restaurants. So he watches people getting their orders filled, etc, and he jams an ice cream scoop up his ass, electrocutes his nipples, and jacks off.

Now, if you tell me Doug Thomas is physically harming himself and he's therefore broken, then apparently 'sticking things up your ass for sexual pleasure' is verboten. I don't think you're going to get very far with electrical stimulation either, and I can put that aside and still have a whole lot to work with.

Which means you're going to have two options remaining. On the one hand, you can tell me that Doug Thomas is not sexually broken, he's not doing anything immoral, his sexuality is not 'deficient' in some way. Do that, and I will admire your willingness to embrace what I regard as self-evident absurdity. At that point it's going to be trivial for me to argue that 'proper function' or health or, etc, is almost entirely arbitrary on your standards.

But let's say you agree with me that Doug Thomas is unhealthy - that there is something wrong, that he is disordered and engaged in immoral behavior and/or in need of repair. Well, if you say this, then you've just opened one hell of a door - it turns out that one's sexual preferences and behavior, even if it doesn't lead to loss of life or limb, even if it's consensual, may still be 'broken', it may still be wrong or even immoral.

Take this route, and a whole lot of knee-jerk defenses for sodomy, etc, are dead in the water. It's going to be far easier for me to advance either my natural law arguments, or to even put the possible broken-ness of sodomy desire or activity in relief on your own terms.

alexander stanislaw said...

"No, having no limbs is unhealthy because the natural form of a human involves having limbs."

Very well then, I guess I'll have to accept that I won't understand what you mean by that until I've read Aquinas.

"I'm confused too. I didn't say anything had 'more than one final cause'. What's the source of your confusion? I hope it's not that the idea that a broad final cause is somehow illicit, as if being able to eat fruit AND eat meat is an example of 'two final causes'. That'd be silly."

Are there immoral uses for the elbow? Perhaps the following for instance:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWzFn_ciuRU

I can't see how a broad final cause could include all of the uses that humans use their elbows for.

Crude said...

Very well then, I guess I'll have to accept that I won't understand what you mean by that until I've read Aquinas.

That particular one is not really rough to understand. I take it you're a man. I further take it you lack a vagina. Is that akin to lacking an arm or a leg? By natural law, no, because having a vagina isn't part of a healthy male anatomy.

Now, there's obviously quite a few things you are unable to do without a vagina. But to say you are crippled, on natural law, is bizarre. Now, in completely arbitrary terms? Sure, you can say you're crippled. Or you can say women are crippled by not having penises, or a million other things.

Are there immoral uses for the elbow?

I imagine so. 'Slicing it out and eating it as a delicacy/using it as a soup bone or a dog chew toy' for one.

I can't see how a broad final cause could include all of the uses that humans use their elbows for.

Sure, some of the uses may be immoral - I just gave one. But really, 'all of the uses that humans use their elbows for'? I'm sure there's some tribe out there that uses them to play an instrument, but I think they're going to be easily classifiable under broad headings of utility and locomotion, with intentional breaking and subsequent lack of arm-bending being singled out as immoral, for obvious reasons.

Look, let me ask at this point. I can't help but get the impression your responses here have been kind of reaching - I think your elbow example is a kind of 'I need something, anything, to point at a possible contradiction with natural law because I Don't Like It'. Just as the Doug Thomas question really forces you into two reply options - one is patently absurd, and the other is going to give the natural law proponent incredible ground on the subject of sodomy.

Do you think it's possible that, feelings aside, you're wrong on the sodomy question and there really are good reasons to question the morality and healthfulness of said behavior?

alexander stanislaw said...

"I think they're going to be easily classifiable under broad headings of utility and locomotion"

Those certainly sound like two competing final causes. But even if they are not: if final causes can be that broad, then why not the final cause of sex? It's very odd that we get a free pass to do anything with our elbows that give us utility, but we can't do the same with sex.

Perhaps I would better understand the conditions under which misuse of a body part is immoral under Natural Law if you gave an example that _doesn't_ involve severe damage.

"Do you think it's possible that, feelings aside, you're wrong on the sodomy question and there really are good reasons to question the morality and healthfulness of said behavior?"

Of course its possible, however none of your examples have been particularly convincing. You're entire project has been to advance the idea that actions can be immoral without harm, and without any adverse effects as a result of them (ie. the action itself is immoral - in your words sodomy _is_ harm). Yet you've repeatedly given examples of unhealthy or unethical actions which lead to harm.

"Because stuffing a cock up someone's ass is pretty easily regarded as physical harm in a casual sense"

I disagree but I don't want to argue this point, lets switch the example to oral sex.

Crude said...

Those certainly sound like two competing final causes. But even if they are not: if final causes can be that broad, then why not the final cause of sex? It's very odd that we get a free pass to do anything with our elbows that give us utility, but we can't do the same with sex.

We don't have a free pass to do anything with our elbows that give us utility - I already gave examples of things that would be clearly immoral in that regard.

And what's so odd about it? Again, it's not as if there's a billion and one uses for elbows. There's locomotion and, perhaps, hitting things - which is another kind of locomotion anyway.

As for sex, it IS broad. I've already illustrated the wide range of ways one can have sex or enjoy sexual pleasure. It's just not broad enough to grant what you're after.

Of course its possible, however none of your examples have been particularly convincing.

They've been plenty convincing insofar as I provided great examples that are A) consensual and B) involve no immediate physical harm. You've been reduced to saying that the reason you can't tell whether the guy who can only get an erection by watching people get top-notch friendly service at his diner is broken is because you're not clear about meta-ethical narratives.

No, that's ridiculous. I think you know it's ridiculous. So why are you pursuing that path? I mean, I know the answer to that, and you know. But are you willing to admit it?

You're entire project has been to advance the idea that actions can be immoral without harm

No, it hasn't been. It's been to show that even a consensual act that doesn't lead to immediate physical damage can be regarded as 'harm', or immorality, or brokenness. I'm able to say Doug Thomas is broken, and I can say why. You can't. Or rather, you can't without setting yourself up in a big way, so you're trying to drop that conversation thread as far as possible, or spin it - but it's not going to work.

I disagree but I don't want to argue this point, lets switch the example to oral sex.

No, let's not switch the example. It's extraordinarily common in male homosexual relationships, and it's also common enough in heterosexual relationships. Why drop it?

I want to point out again: Doug Thomas cannot get an erection without watching people get good customer service at his restaurant. So there he is, jamming an ice cream scoop up his ass, electrocuting his nipples, and jacking off. I say he's broken. I say his sexual desires are broken. I say his acts are immoral insofar as he's given in to a broken desire.

Your response was to insist he's engaging in self-harm. Recreational nipple-electrocuting as self-harm is an interesting thing to condemn, but I can put that aside and we're still left with one fucked up picture. You apparently won't condemn jamming an ice-cream scoop up his ass as harm for obvious reasons. So, what are we left with?

Again, option one is: Doug Thomas' sexuality is perfectly fine. No, there's nothing broken about a guy whose sexual interest is limited to watching people replace their onion rings with french fries at a restaurant. Everything's totally healthy there - give that man a clean bill of physical and mental health.

Or, option two is: note that Doug Thomas is actually quite unhealthy. But, why? The act is consenting. The 'physical harm' is anal penetration. Well, it seems that it's an unhealthy, disordered act even if it's consenting, by an adult, etc. In which case, voila - you now see how such things can constitute 'harm'.

It sounds like you're going for option A, which is fine - I don't need to do much more than point out exactly what you endorse at that point.

alexander stanislaw said...

"We don't have a free pass to do anything with our elbows that give us utility - I already gave examples of things that would be clearly immoral in that regard."

It would be immensely helpful if you gave an example that didn't involve serious damage, that would make the analogy much clearer - it doesn't have to be the elbow.

"No, having no limbs is unhealthy because the natural form of a human involves having limbs."

Perhaps I can illustrate why this is so bizzare to me: is being born without an appendix unhealthy - even a little bit? Because it certainly deviates from the natural form of the human body. What about being born with your organs reversed?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situs_inversus

To sum up the rest of your argument, would you agree with something like the following?

P1: If natural law ethics is correct that sodomy is immoral.
P2: If natural ethics is false then there is nothing wrong with Doug Thomas.
P3: There are most definitely things that are wrong with Doug Thomas.
P4: From P3 and P2: Natural Law ethics is correct.
P5: From P4 and P1: Sodomy is immoral.

My main goal in this conversation has been in trying to understand P1, and you have been very helpful in that regard so thank you. I still don't understand the source of, or the reason for having final causes (right now it seems rather arbitrary), but P1 is clearer to me now.

As for P2, talking about "broken desires" only makes sense under natural law so I think the general form of the argument is right.

You seem to fascinated by the dichotomy that you've put me in between rejecting P2 and P3, but I don't see that as being particularly troubling. It would be very difficult to establish a positive case for P2. I've supplied two criteria by which Doug Thomas might be evaluated as unhealthy that you've rejected:potential for harm and invasion of privacy. Nevertheless actually proving P2 would mean demonstrating that all other criteria fail as well (other than natural law arguments).




Crude said...

It would be immensely helpful if you gave an example that didn't involve serious damage, that would make the analogy much clearer - it doesn't have to be the elbow.

I've given multiple at this point. I'm not sure what more you want here.

Perhaps I can illustrate why this is so bizzare to me: is being born without an appendix unhealthy - even a little bit?

Are you operating under the impression that an appendix has no use? Because if so, I have some news for you.

But further - not everything has to have a final cause. Nor does every final cause have to be obvious to us.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situs_inversus

Not sure what the significance here is. It could well be a non-deficiency, like being born with blue hair. It could well be a deficiency. Neither answer is troubling.

P1: If natural law ethics is correct that sodomy is immoral.

There's multiple problems with sodomy. Certainly on the NL front, yeah, I think it's obviously immoral.

As for P2, talking about "broken desires" only makes sense under natural law so I think the general form of the argument is right.

No, I think there could be other ways to reason to broken desires. Revelation, etc. Ultimately you're going to need some objective grounding.

You seem to fascinated by the dichotomy that you've put me in between rejecting P2 and P3, but I don't see that as being particularly troubling.

Maybe, but I don't see your lack of being troubled as particularly troubling either. Really, I've been arguing on the internet for far, far too long. I know that a conversation like this, 99 out of 100 times, is not really a discussion - it's a proxy fight. The goal is to win or object to an argument leading to a conclusion someone dislikes. "Changing one's mind about the core issue upon reflection" is hardly ever a live option.

Still, in this case, I think your conclusion is obviously absurd. So maybe if I point it out, you'll understand the problem.

I've supplied two criteria by which Doug Thomas might be evaluated as unhealthy that you've rejected:potential for harm and invasion of privacy.

No, you haven't. First, 'potential for harm' was the electrocution bit. As spurious as that is, I can remove it entirely from the question and still ask if Doug Thomas is healthy. What was shocking here was not him hooking jumper cables up to his nipples, amazingly enough.

Now, that said - if you think sexual electrocution and the 'potential for harm' is enough to sink Dave, then jamming an ice cream scoop up his ass should fall by the wayside too. But you're committed to the morality of jamming things up the ass, so you can't have that. You said you don't want to talk about it, but I'll be shining the spotlight on that one.

Now, you said 'invasion of privacy'. I dispute that there's even an invasion there, but just like with the electrocution, I can remove that and it's still screwed up. You think the only thing sealing off Dave Thomas from normalcy is a two-way mirror, but if he just sat in the restaurant, then went home and jacked off to what he saw - or bought porno tapes or just used his imagination - that hey, his sexuality is okay?

Nevertheless actually proving P2 would mean demonstrating that all other criteria fail as well (other than natural law arguments).

I encourage you to try and find Doug Thomas unhealthy, broken or immoral on non-NL grounds. Seriously, I want that. Either you'll find an argument I agree with (but which, consistently applied, would condemn sodomy) or you'll be applying arbitrary or ultimately groundless standards (in which case, arguments against sodomy go through, because it's easy to have them be arbitrary and groundless too.)

Unknown said...

If its true that acts of sodomy, under some circumstances, can have redeeming effects for the partners then it would seem, at the very least, sodomy is not morally wrong. And simultaneously, it could be true that Doug's proclivities have no such redeeming effects. What's more, they may have negative effects on his character, personality, his ability to form meaningful relationships with others and so on, in which case they would be morally bad.

I'm not a sex therapist or psychologist, so I can't say concretely say whether Doug's proclivities necessarily come with such negative consequences, though, but it seems like they probably would.

And I would actually say that its pretty obvious to me that acts of sodomy often do have redeeming effects. Relationships can be and are often enriched by a variety of sexual activities. I'm not speaking here simply to lust, but also to love, trust, vulnerability, giving, self-expression, etc. In fact, I think this is so obvious that acts of sodomy can enbody all those things, that the actual thorny problem here is for the natural lawyer who is obliged to condemn all such acts as necessarily wrong.

So there's one possible way to condemn Doug's actions while approving of sodomy - by appealing to consequences (ie, consequentialism).

Crude said...

If its true that acts of sodomy, under some circumstances, can have redeeming effects for the partners then it would seem, at the very least, sodomy is not morally wrong.

Nope. Certainly not by natural law. And it's not at all obvious in general, especially when we're interpreting 'redeeming effects' as broadly as you need to be here.

And simultaneously, it could be true that Doug's proclivities have no such redeeming effects.

Again, no. At the absolute least Doug's actions indisputably have 'redeeming effects' on himself - I mean, that goes without saying. He gets pleasure from it. He also is strongly encouraged to give people top-notch friendly service at his restaurants. Why, it's a win-win.

But it's still self-evidently, hilarious broken of him.

What's more, they may have negative effects on his character, personality, his ability to form meaningful relationships with others and so on, in which case they would be morally bad.

Perhaps. Here's the trick: argue what is a 'negative effect' without either collapsing into an appeal to human nature (in which case, I've got some arguments about that) or the land of the utterly arbitrary.

Really, you're going to have trouble doing this even when talking about his 'ability to form a meaningful relationship'. What's the value of a meaningful relationship? Hell, what's the standard for meaningful? Yet another appear to the arbitrary? The socially useful?

I'm not a sex therapist or psychologist, so I can't say concretely say whether Doug's proclivities necessarily come with such negative consequences, though, but it seems like they probably would.

What makes you think a sex therapist or a psychologist could 'concretely say' either of these things? The latter is among the softest of the soft sciences, and the former isn't even that.

And I would actually say that its pretty obvious to me that acts of sodomy often do have redeeming effects. Relationships can be and are often enriched by a variety of sexual activities. I'm not speaking here simply to lust, but also to love, trust, vulnerability, giving, self-expression, etc.

By all means, try to argue the redeeming qualities of fucking a guy or girl in the ass. I think you're going to find that the ease of doing this is directly proportional to how vaguely we discuss the acts. Better yet, you're going to fall into exactly the same trap I outlined to Alex - you're either going to unintentionally justify Doug Thomas' acts in the process, or you're going to open the door to natural law arguments by accident.

So there's one possible way to condemn Doug's actions while approving of sodomy - by appealing to consequences (ie, consequentialism).

Consequentialism is going to be useless until a non-arbitrary, meaningful standard for desirable/undesirable consequences is developed. Even if you have that, bare consequentialism is going to make the immorality to sodomy a live option too - I may think highly of natural law, but you'll note I haven't said that NL is the only way to condemn sodomy. Far, far from it. Likewise, I've already given some ammo to the consequentialist who wishes to *defend* Doug Thomas.

But really, you already made a move which LGBT groups could never endorse: you implied that sodomy out of 'lust' is immoral, or negative. Walk that road and you've sacrificed 95% of the argument immediately - everything else is just clean-up duty.

ingx24 said...

Crude,

I think your argument so far is mostly an appeal to intuition. You are using the intuition that something is "weird" to justify calling it "immoral", then using that to argue for your natural law ethics. You then use an appeal to ridicule: "You can't seriously think that what Doug Thomas does is okay, can you?"

I'd like to comment on the following passage:

You think the only thing sealing off Dave Thomas from normalcy is a two-way mirror, but if he just sat in the restaurant, then went home and jacked off to what he saw - or bought porno tapes or just used his imagination - that hey, his sexuality is okay?

I would say that it is okay. It's definitely unusual, and would obviously strike most people as such. But I deny that there's anything intrinsically wrong with it, as long as he does not do anything that harms anyone or invades their privacy (as I would argue the window does). It seems that you are conflating two intuitions: the intuition that something is "fucked up" in the sense of being really weird and unusual, and the intuition that something is "fucked up" in the sense of being clearly morally wrong. Sexual preferences such as Doug Thomas's fall uner the former; acts such as Jerry Sandusky's fall under the latter.

I also think that natural law is a flawed ethical system insofar as it depends on dubious metaphysical premises. To give just one example, natural law depends on what the essential nature of a human being is. But who is to say what the essential nature of a human being is? How do we know, other than blind intuitions, what to call a "human being" and what not to call one? Conventionally, we draw the line between species based on whether they can reproduce with each other, but how is this any more than a convention? You might say that the essence of a human being is "rational animal", but how do we know there may not be other animals (say, on some other planet) that have the ability to grasp universals? Furthermore, how do we know when an instance of "human being" strays from its essential nature? Lacking arms and legs apparently counts, but why not having darker skin? Why is lacking arms and legs an imperfection while lacking white skin is not? You may reply that skin color does not deprive a human being of any abilities that are part of its essence, but that simply moves the problem back - how do you know what abilities are part of a human being's essential nature? Why is, say, being able to produce a certain amount of vitamin D (lighter skin is able to produce more vitamin D than darker skin) not part of a human being's essential nature? How do you know it's not? Couldn't you say that it is, and use that to justify racism?

In addition: How do you know what the natural end of something is? Objects and activities have many different effects - how do we know which one is the final cause or natural end of that object or process? How do we know that procreation is the natural end of sexual intercourse? How do we know that the natural end of sex isn't bonding, with procreation being a secondary outcome? After all, sexual activities that most people consider morally acceptable always involve mutual consent, but don't always produce offspring even if contraception is not used.

Crude said...

ingx24,

I think your argument so far is mostly an appeal to intuition. You are using the intuition that something is "weird" to justify calling it "immoral", then using that to argue for your natural law ethics.

Oh, I'm sure some of the force of what I say is going to draw on intuition. But no, I'd object to the claim that what I'm engaging in here is 'mostly' intuition. To use the elbow example again, I think there is a very strong intuition that no, chopping out your elbow and using it as a soup bone is wrong. It is immoral, it is disordered. But there's also a whole lot of argument about why that's wrong as well.

I would say that it is okay. It's definitely unusual, and would obviously strike most people as such.

I think it goes beyond merely being unusual. The problem here isn't mere oddity - it's broken function. Imagine if someone often finds themselves very, very hungry for burning hot coal, or stainless steel silverware. Is it weird? Sure. But I think it's more than weird - it's indicative that their desire is literally broken. No, they should not have a hunger for such things. The fact that their appetite is picking out scissors is, in and of itself, an indication that something is busted.

also think that natural law is a flawed ethical system insofar as it depends on dubious metaphysical premises. To give just one example, natural law depends on what the essential nature of a human being is. But who is to say what the essential nature of a human being is? How do we know, other than blind intuitions, what to call a "human being" and what not to call one?

Empirical study, reasoned reflection, analysis of purposes, etc. It's anything but blind. Now, that's not to say it's always totally easy or anything - natural law proponents typically admit there are difficult cases, and there's always limit cases.

But the list of questions you rolled down just now? They actually have replies. Some of them are just irrelevant - aliens on another planet who grasp universals isn't a difficulty whatsoever on natural law. Skin color, meanwhile, is akin to the hair color question - it's not that the NL proponent simply says 'Oh well that's meaningless' out of thin air. They'll lay out why such and such is an 'accident' (in NL tech language), what that means, and so on.

How do we know that procreation is the natural end of sexual intercourse?

I think anyone who is trying to argue that procreation is some kind of unnatural side-effect of sex has committed themselves to a position that's not going to stand up to scrutiny, much less the smell test. It'd be a hair away from arguing that the natural end of species is extinction within a single generation, and that sexual activity just so happen to result in reproduction by (un?)happy convenience.

After all, sexual activities that most people consider morally acceptable

No, this one I don't buy. I think most people don't so much as think about these things in anything close to detail, and when it comes to sex in particular, they actively go out of their way to avoid any amount of private self-scrutiny, to say nothing of public. It's like telling me that, say, X% of the population 'finds the science supporting evolution compelling'. I accept evolutionary theory, common descent, etc, but I am supremely skeptical that most people who claim to accept it could even get in the ballpark when describing natural selection.

As for sex acts that 'don't always produce offspring even if contraception is used', if you're talking straight up normal sex, that's not a problem on NL. There's this weird perception out there that NL and the Church teaches that if you have sex sans contraception but no one gets pregnant you committed a sin. It's just not the case.

Crude said...

ingx24,

I also want to add, my project with conversations like these is actually pretty modest. I don't think that, say... I can prove the absolute rightness of natural law beyond the shadow of any doubt. I think when push comes to shove it's going to do damn well, and I think rejecting natures is going to wrap someone up into absurdity pretty fast. But at the end of the day, someone who is willing to go full bore with their skepticism - say, a solipsist - can't be compelled.

But if someone is a complete skeptic - if someone insists, despite all of what we know and see and experience, that maybe the natural end of a human digestive tract is to metabolizing pruning shears dipped in cyanide - then I'm going to make use of that skepticism when time comes to discuss alternatives to natural law. If someone is ultimately making an appeal to arbitrary standards to dictate right and wrong, then my arbitrary standards will be as good as anyone else's.

So when someone tells me that a guy's sexuality is 'functioning properly' when the only thing that gives him an erection is watching people get top notch service at his restaurant chain, well hey - I admire the willingness to bite the bullet, but I'm unmoved. I'll admire the creative defenses that will go towards regarding the act as 'healthy', but I think it's going to be easy to expose this as sophistry. (And note that exposing it as sophistry is different from getting all parties to admit it's sophistry. It's easy to show that Perrier tastes like tapwater. It's not easy to get the president of Perrier to admit it.)

I'll also point out one thing: it's not just a question of 'morally wrong'. It's also a question of having a broken sexuality. A Jerry Sandusky who doesn't act on his desires hasn't done anything morally wrong, but his sexuality is still busted. A Doug Thomas who doesn't act on his sexual desires is in pretty well the same boat, with some differences of the gravity of the desire.

ingx24 said...

Personally, I'm opposed to the whole idea that something can be morally wrong when it doesn't hurt anyone and wouldn't hurt anyone if they knew about it. Saying that, say, private sexual acts between you and a consenting partner (or just with yourself) can be morally wrong is just incoherent in my eyes - it seems like a complete redefinition of what "morally wrong" means. Ethics and morality should be judged based on whether acts hurt people (or would hurt people if they knew about it), not whether or not acts frustrate some "natural end". What consenting adults do in private is no one's business but their own and doesn't hurt anyone, so what's the problem?

Also: I never meant to imply that procreation might be an "unnatural" consequence of sex - I was referring more or less to procreation being a secondary effect rather than "the" natural end of it. And I was talking purely hypothetically anyway - I wasn't seriously suggesting it.

Crude said...

Personally, I'm opposed to the whole idea that something can be morally wrong when it doesn't hurt anyone and wouldn't hurt anyone if they knew about it.

See, I can understand why you say that. But I also think that what constitutes 'hurt/harm' is itself in attention. I regard Doug Thomas as damaged in terms of his sexuality. It's not just that Doug's sexuality leads to harm, or inclines him towards harm: it is damage itself. So while you're saying that you find it incoherent to regard 'things that don't lead to harm' as wrong, I'm sitting here thinking it's absurd to regard Doug's sexuality as healthy.

That said, it's not like you're coming at this with some alien view. I thought the same thing for a while. But I've since learned what the problem is there, and voila, I've been convinced.

Here's one way to think about it. Imagine a child is still in the womb. A doctor performs a treatment that gives that child Doug Thomas' sexuality. Was that child harmed?

Now, a doctor gives that child homosexual sexuality. Was that child harmed?

Now, a doctor gives that child heterosexual sexuality. Was that child harmed?

(It doesn't matter if it's all the same child. I just try not to be wasteful with hypothetical babies. Seems immoral.)

(I hope that obviously comes across as a joke.)