Natural Law and Sexual Ethics

As noted last time, I’m reading a number of works by Edward Feser in preparation for reading Gunther Laird’s critique of him called “The Unnecessary Science”.  As might be expected, there are a number of areas where I don’t agree with Feser, and so I want to go over those — and at least get them written down — before I finish Feser and turn to Laird, if for no other reason than to ensure that my criticisms are seen as and properly are mine without worrying about whether Laird thought of them first.  If we agree, we agree independently, and if we disagree, we also disagree independently.

As noted in this comment on the last post, Feser’s natural law view on sex isn’t simply that sex is primarily about reproduction.  That is the heart of it, but as noted there there’s more to reproducing for humans than simply producing a live birth.  Since human children are dependent for a relatively long period of time compared to other species, nature needs to ensure that they get cared for over that period of time.  Given that, Feser includes the long-term committed relationship commonly called “marriage” among the natural purposes and ends of sex for humans.  So, basically, natural law for humans says that sex is to happen in a long-term relationship that is committed to having and raising the offspring from such unions.  At a minimum, then, this is the highest natural order for humans wrt sex:  having it in a long term relationship.

Now, some interpret natural law simply and insist that this means that any time you act against natural law you are doing something immoral.  So if you, say, held nails in your teeth you’d be doing something immoral because that’s not the purpose of teeth or if you skipped dinner to eat ice cream that would be immoral because ice cream can’t provide the proper nutrition to replace a full meal.  Feser notes that his view is indeed not vulnerable to those simple objections because he doesn’t consider it to be immoral by natural law to use natural faculties in ways that they weren’t designed to be, but instead only to use them in ways that frustrate their natural functions (or ends).  So holding nails in your teeth isn’t immoral, but grinding your teeth down or knocking them out so that they can’t chew anymore would be.  Skipping one meal for ice cream isn’t immoral, but having that for every meal or being bulimic would be.  In general, you need to be doing something that impedes the ability of it to perform its natural function, generally permanently (or at least over the long term).  Feser even notes that we aren’t meant to be eating all the time so we can use our teeth for other things when we aren’t, so as long as our teeth are available when we need to eat, it’s okay to hold nails in them at those other times.

This, in my view, has some unintended consequences for Feser’s views on sexual ethics (see Chapter 4 of “The Last Superstition” for details, although as that’s a book I won’t be heavily quoting it).  I’m going to explore these a bit.  Note that these don’t reflect my views on the subject.  I’ve outlined mine in part last time, but don’t take anything I saw here as necessarily a sign that I support the acts in question.

What Feser wants to do is limit sexual activity to marriage.  Any sexual activity outside of marriage is, to him, going to be immoral in at least some way.  This, then, includes unmarried sex, masturbation and especially homosexuality.  If it isn’t inside a committed marriage, it’s clearly immoral, and there can be no such thing as a marriage if there is no chance of it producing children (note for anyone who has read Feser:  I’ll address his few of sterility a little later).  The problem is that by his own view stated above, he can only make married sex the natural ideal.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have sex at other times or that any other kind of sex is necessarily immoral, any more than holding nails in our teeth is necessarily immoral.

Let’s start with masturbation.  In line with eating above, it’s pretty clear that we aren’t supposed to be having reproductive sex inside a marriage all of the time.  When a woman is pregnant, for example, it’s pretty clear that her having sex isn’t going to make her more pregnant, so she won’t be having reproductive sex there no matter what we do.  So we can, obviously, do other things while we aren’t engaging in reproductive sex inside a marriage.  But can we do other sexual things while we aren’t engaging in reproductive sex inside a marriage?  As it turns out, Feser can’t simply insist that we couldn’t possibly do other sexual things in those circumstances, because that would force him to give up his claim above that it’s only when we act in ways to frustrate natural ends that are immoral, which would reduce him to the fairly ludicrous and overly simplistic idea of natural law.  So what he’s going to have to do, then, is show that if we masturbate we are indeed frustrating the natural function and end of our reproductive and sexual mechanisms.

How can he do that?  He could try to argue that biologically that’s the case, but that’s actually a very difficult argument to make.  There is no reason to think that masturbation impedes over the long-term anyone’s ability to have reproductive sex.  While sperm cells are lost (or killed), sperm cells if I remember my biology correctly die off anyway if unused and definitely are replaced.  Masturbation isn’t going to impede men biologically in any way as long as they don’t, say, masturbate too often too close to when they want to have reproductive sex so that they are too tired to perform.  And, of course, masturbation doesn’t waste eggs for women as they are not released by orgasms.  So, biologically, it’s not going to frustrate or impede the ability to reproduce over the long term.

Feser could make a claim that masturbation will impede us in forming a long-term relationship psychologically.  About the only argument I could see here is that we will enjoy masturbation so much that we won’t feel the need to actually have sex with someone else and so won’t be interested in a longer-term relationship.  While I have no doubt that this may have occurred for some people, I’d see that case as being as much a deviation as bulimia is when compared to people who are trying to drop a few pounds to get to a healthy weight.  The other argument I could see is that if people can masturbate to relieve sexual tension it will remove that tension from them, and so it won’t be a motivation for them to get into a long-term relationship and get married as soon as they can, thus delaying it.  However, we know that that sort of sexual tension can result in poor decision-making, and also that for a long-term relationship it would be better to delay the decision until the two people know whether or not they are compatible.  The last thing we want are people praying for the end of time because they committed to getting married only because they were so attracted to each other that they really, really wanted to have sex with each other and that was the only way.  So it seems like having some kind of sexual release is a good thing.  And, of course, it can also be beneficial inside of a marriage if one partner has a higher sex drive than the other, allowing them to satisfy their urges without having to convince the other partner to compromise on having sex more often than they’d like.  Feser might be able to argue that if they fantasize about someone else it would be adultery, but that could be solved if they instead fantasized about their own partner.

So, it’s difficult to see how masturbation wouldn’t count as being in the same category as “Hold nails in your mouth”.  Yes, it’s not reproductive sex inside a marriage, but it doesn’t seem to impede that in any significant way either.

This, then, leads to casual sex.  A lot of the same arguments for masturbation not being immoral also come into play for casual sex.  Having casual sex doesn’t mean that you won’t be looking for a permanent partner.  In fact, some might well argue that having some sexual experience with them first is a crucial part of ensuring that the two of you are sexually compatible enough to enter into a relationship where you only have sex with each other.  It would also allow people to burn off any extreme sexual passion they have for someone who might be incompatible with them for a long-term relationship.  As long as they aren’t married and aren’t in a different long-term relationship building to marriage, it wouldn’t count as adultery.

There are a couple of other arguments you can make here.  One is that sex itself often inherently builds the bonds required to make a marriage work.  If someone is having a lot of casual sex, that could have a lasting effect on how those bonds are formed.  One way is that it could cause someone to form that bond with someone or with multiple someones that they have no intention of forming a long-term relationship with, or at least that the other person has no intention of forming a long-term relationship with.  In short, the two of them now have a closer bond than they wanted, but still have no intention — or, potentially, any ability if they can’t actually love each other — of getting married.  The other way is that the person might lose the ability to form those sorts of bonds from sex, having conditioned themselves to have sex be nothing more than simple sex without any deeper meaning.  In that case, they wouldn’t be able to form the bond required for marriage and would have impeded the natural function of sex for themselves.

I would have to concede that these are possible side effects of at least too much casual sex, and these are the reasons why I’m hesitant to have sex be considered the equivalent of any other entertaining pastime (my common way of putting it is that I don’t want sex to become a pastime so that if two people are trying to kill some time before meeting friends they consider whether to play a board game or have sex as if they were equivalent).  But in order to use this Feser would indeed need to find the empirical studies to show that, and even then I’d wager that it’s only very frequent casual sex that does that, which could be counted as an abuse of it, like bulimia, rather than the diet case that it would seem to be.

The other issue is that casual sex, unlike masturbation, can result in a child, and by definition casual sex is intended to not produce a child (and certainly isn’t doing so in the way that Feser prefers).  We can deal with this a bit — as well as the first problem — by insisting that anyone who engages in casual sex has to be prepared to enter into a proper long-term relationship with that person should a child result from that.  And the other way to address that is to look at another thing that Feser will disapprove of, which is birth control.

Of all of these “casual” cases, the use of birth control is the one that most directly interferes with the natural function of the reproductive system.  However, it doesn’t necessarily do so in a way that permanently impedes those functions.  Using a condom, for example, doesn’t do any more damage that masturbation does.  Unless Feser wants to adopt the rather ludicrous “Every sperm is sacred!” line — which doesn’t seem to be justified by natural law — that wouldn’t be an issue.  Birth control pills might be more of an issue since it definitely mucks around with the system itself, and so there might be a risk of permanently making it harder for the woman to conceive, but we’d need empirical evidence to show that, which I haven’t seen.  So if both partners are willing to accept entering into a long-term relationship if the birth control fails, then it can be seen like wearing a helmet when going out to play football:  our bodies weren’t designed to smack into each other as part of a fun event, but if we wear a helmet we reduce the chances of doing permanent damage to ourselves preventing us from doing the other things we are meant to do.  In the case of birth control, it’s preventing us from creating a child before we’re ready, either due to personal circumstances or because this is the wrong partner.

So this leads to another question where I’m less certain what Feser’s opinion will be, which are the various surgeries to make it so that someone cannot have children again.  This would seem to be the biggest violation of natural law, the equivalent of mutilating oneself.  And I’d agree that someone shouldn’t do it just for the sake of doing it.  However, it does seem reasonable in a case like Shamus Young’s, where it was quite likely that if his wife Heather ever got pregnant again it would probably kill her.  The reason to raise is that while a simple “reproduction” angle would say that it was still wrong of them to get the operations, Feser’s stance including raising the children seems to make it a no-brainer:  if she got pregnant again, she’d probably die, and then half of the required partnership to properly raise their three children would be gone.  While if it happened by accident it could be dealt with, they probably shouldn’t court it.  You could argue that Shamus shouldn’t have had the operation since he could still reproduce, but he wasn’t going to reproduce with her and so given the life-long relationship of marriage he’d have to be holding out hope that she’d die before he got too old to have more children.  That … does not seem to be the sort of attitude that Feser would want to espouse [grin].  So it seems like that in at least those sorts of cases, even that direct surgery could be moral by Feser’s more advanced view of reproduction.

And the final thing to look at in the “outside of a long-term relationship” category is … casual homosexual acts.  The big argument against homosexual sex acts is that they can’t in any way produce a child naturally.  This might still strike against same-sex marriage, but it’s difficult to see it as striking against casual homosexual sex given what we saw above.  Feser may note that it disgusts him to think of it, but that in and of itself wouldn’t count against it.  After all, he might find certain foods disgusting as well, and it may even be the case that most people find them disgusting, but even if those foods were non-nutritious that wouldn’t mean that it would be immoral to eat them.  Feser might be able to make some kind of overall social point here — encouraging relations as “normal” that couldn’t produce children — but this would be fairly weak and would more suggests that the social attitudes need to be tweaked, not the acts themselves eliminated.

So by including the long-term relationship in the very definition of reproduction, Feser pretty much opens up the floor to almost any kind of casual sexual activity, as long as it doesn’t impede the search for a long-term relationship.  If he wants to close them off, he pretty much has to abandon his point about us being able to act in “artificial” ways as long as it doesn’t frustrate natural ends, or else he has to show that they do just that.  Either way, it’s a long more complicated than he presents it in the chapter in his book.

Okay, so that covers off casual sexual encounters.  But Feser’s view actually does cover him, for the most part, in his views of marriage.  If we accept that reproduction includes the long-term relationship required to raise the children, then marriage — being that relationship — clearly only includes relationships that can have children.  But it turns out that there are some additional complications there as well.

Let’s start with sterility.  Feser comments that it’s okay for someone who is sterile to marry someone who isn’t as long as the person who isn’t sterile isn’t only marrying that person specifically to avoid having children.  But if they know that the person is sterile before marrying them, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that they are willingly entering into what they know is that sort of relationship, and so are knowingly ensuring that they will never have children.  Feser could try to argue that it’s okay as long as the two people really love each other, but this would have consequences for same-sex marriage since they claim to really love each other as well.  Since the main reason for Feser to not accept that they really love each other in the right way is that the two of them can’t reproduce, that would seem to apply to this case as well.  In fact, it’s hard to see how two people knowingly entering into such a relationship could be considered a marriage at all by Feser.  So in that case, it doesn’t seem like they actually have a marriage.  An exception might be made if they discovered that one of them was sterile after they got married … but then it seems reasonable to say that even though they thought they were married, they really weren’t.  As an example, if we take the stock soap opera trope of someone losing their memory and marrying someone else while forgetting that they were already married, we’d probably want to say no matter how we’re looking at it that the second marriage isn’t a real marriage, since it couldn’t be formed since the person was already married.  It seems reasonable to say that if they discovered later that one of them was sterile and was so at the time of marriage that it wouldn’t be a real marriage anyway.  If an accident or illness made one of them sterile, that likely would be different, especially if they already had children together, as seen above.  But at the start of the marriage, it’s hard to see how Feser can consider it a proper marriage.

Okay, so that case is a bit problematic.  What about sterile-sterile marriages?  I think from the above it would be hard for Feser to call it a marriage, but would it be moral for those two people to enter into a long-term relationship?  If one of them was not sterile, then we have the issue of that person having to essentially give up their ability to reproduce, but if they are both sterile, then that’s not an issue.  Neither of them would have to give up that ability to reproduce that they don’t have.  Morality follows the maxim that ought implies can, so we cannot demand that people do what they cannot do — in this case reproduce — or else be considered to be immoral.  Just as we cannot demand that a clubfoot run a marathon or else be considered immoral, we cannot demand that sterile people only participate in reproductive long-term relationships when no matter what they cannot have such relationships.  So two such people should be able to enter into long-term, committed, sexual relationships with each other without any risk of doing anything immoral, even if Feser would not call that a marriage.

This raises the point that we cannot insist that people enter into natural law marriages if there is something about them that means that it wouldn’t work for them, and that something is something that they cannot change merely through an act of will.  Sterility is an obvious example, but are there other examples where the biology is not as much what is lacking?

I’ve heard the statistics bandied around that one in six people never get married.  If two of those people are at the age where they are unlikely to be able to sire children or to be able to raise them properly (for men the age where conception is possible is longer but they still may be too old to really properly raise rambunctious children), can they enter into a long-term sexual relationship?  About the only counter you can make is that their being single was their own fault, and so reflected a moral deficiency in them before we even consider the status of such a relationship.  I’ve addressed that before.  But to turn to myself again, I am not definitely at the age where reproduction is probably not a viable option.  While one could argue that I didn’t do enough to take enough of my opportunities and so my being single is indeed my own fault, I could argue that while I did put in less effort than some I indeed put in more effort than others did who were successful.  So it’s incredibly difficult to say that I didn’t try hard enough just by looking at the fact that I failed to achieve it.  The more reasonable line is that the combination of my personality and my circumstances led me to this end.  So I can’t be considered immoral just because you can argue that I could have tried harder.

Given that, if no inherent moral failing can accrue to people who have never been married and so are at the stage of their lives where they can’t have children, then it seems these cases fall back on the same reasoning as the cases cited above:  there’s no chance of them having children, and so even if they can’t have a real marriage they can definitely enter into a long-term sexual relationship.  They aren’t depriving anyone, even themselves, of the proper relationship because they are no longer in a position to have that with anyone.

So far I’ve focused on physical issues (either directly or just getting too old to have kids).  What about mental issues?  Could we have someone who just isn’t mentally capable of such relationships or to raise children?  Obviously, I don’t just mean people who have such a diminished capacity that they couldn’t possibly enter into such relationships, but instead someone who, for example, is just too fond of wanderlust to provide a stable environment or doesn’t have the patience to deal with children.  Now, it couldn’t just be that they were afraid that they couldn’t cope with it or weren’t sure that they could cope with it.  I suspect that most parents have felt that way at one time or another.  No, we’d need someone who has had some kind of professional analysis and it has been determined that this isn’t something that they can reasonably change.  So they would know that they aren’t suited for marriage and know that it’s not a mere failure of will that makes them so.  In such cases — which I expect to be relatively rare — it would seem reasonable that they could enter into long-term sexual relationships as they were capable of with people who can’t have a full marriage, and short-term relationships with those who are in similar circumstances to them.

Which raises the issue of polyamory.  One of the main claims that many people who enter into these relationships make is that they, at least, aren’t capable of entering into monoamorous relationships.  This is the precise claim that Ricard Carrier made.  And while I’m more inclined to think that he was just using that idea as a rationalization to excuse his infidelity — one would think that if it was legitimate he would have raised the issue before he cheated on her and got caught — it is easy to imagine that there might well be people who really are mentally incapable of marriage, but could enter into multiple committed or semi-committed relationships.  Again, if this really was the case, it’s difficult to see how entering into those sorts of relationships would be inherently morally wrong.  As long as they are indeed incapable of a proper marriage, then it seems like polyamory can’t be a morally banned option.

Which, then, leads to same-sex relationships.  They could make the same reply:  as they are not sexually attracted to the opposite sex, they cannot enter into a marriage at all, and that they can’t simply change their sexual orientation through force of will.  Given that, then they should be able to enter into long-term sexual relationships with people of the same sex as them.  Feser could reasonably reply that sexual attraction isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of marriage, and so all they need to have is the ability to reproduce and the ability to have feelings for their partner, and it would work as a marriage, and so they could indeed enter into a proper marriage if they weren’t so attached to sexual attraction.  But in order for even Feser’s argument to work, we have to consider that the love that exists in a marriage is a combination of romantic love and sexual attraction.  Sexual attraction isn’t dominant, but arguably it must be present.  This, then, could lead to a better reply where they argue that it isn’t merely the sexual attraction that they lack, but romantic love.  They fall in love with members of the same sex, not with members of the opposite sex.  Thus, they could never actually have the love that is necessary for a proper marriage, and so cannot enter into one.  Therefore, it would not be immoral for them to enter into a long-term committed sexual relationship with someone of the same sex as them.

This also leads us to a distinction that isn’t made often enough on both sides:  the difference between legal marriage and “real” marriage.  Feser’s distinctions here are based on an analysis of what marriage actually is given our natures, and so is about the ontological definition of marriage.  But the same-sex marriage movement was about the legal definition of marriage.  It would be entirely reasonable for a society to say that they have an interest in recognizing any committed long-term relationship that works out to be partnership, if for no other reason than to provide rules for entangling and unentangling them.  This doesn’t mean that these things are really “marriages”, even if the state calls them such.  Perhaps they should use a different word, but even if they do that doesn’t mean that they necessarily are the same thing.  So Feser should probably stop insisting that legal marriages can’t possibly be marriages, because they can be if the law says they are.  And same-sex marriage proponents should probably stop claiming that legal recognition of marriage means that they have a “real” marriage and Feser is just plain wrong, because if the state calls a tail a leg it might legally be a leg, but in reality it’s still a tail.

And so if you’ve followed the entire discussion, you’d see that my analysis here will probably tick off both sides if they properly understand it.  Feser and those on his side will disagree with my comments that their own views mean that things like casual sex and even polyamory and homosexual acts aren’t necessarily immoral, while progressives will be upset that I accept Feser’s line that marriage between a man and a woman for the purposes of reproduction is the superior relationship and the others are just things that we can have if we can’t have that superior relationship.  However, this line of analysis does seem reasonably correct to me.  We have to allow for artificial actions and for cases where the ideal relationship cannot be achieved, but that doesn’t mean that we have to accept that it wouldn’t be best for everyone if they could get into a proper, happy marriage with the appropriate amount of children.  The issue, as I noted last week, is that both sides place too much importance on sex:  Feser in its idealized form, progressives in its “baser” form of providing pleasure.  This encourages Feser to insist that only the idealized form is moral despite his own theory insisting that no such thing is possible, and encourages progressives to insist that any sex is of equal worth.  Both, in my opinion, are wrong.

Next time, I’ll move on from sexual ethics and ethics itself into things like causation and some of the issues I have with Feser’s Aristotlean view.

31 Responses to “Natural Law and Sexual Ethics”

  1. Tom Says:

    Great analysis. I find Feser quite impressive when it comes to issues such as philosophy of mind or cosmological arguments, but I always thought his natural law account of sexual ethics was his weakest (and most unconvincing) area.

    He claims the heart of natural law sexual ethics is the ‘perverted faculty argument’:

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4SjM0oabZazWC1SRmN0WXVpYkE/view

    As he lays it out, it does seem very penis-centric. It’s just not clear how lesbian sex (for example) is a real privation of their natural function. I sometimes think that this is why cultures around the world have often been more lenient when it comes to female homosexuality: the male ‘spills his seed’ and this is supposed to be the fundamental issue that is problematic.

    Looking forward to your analysis of Aristotelian causation! Also would love to see you tackle Richard Carrier’s Free Will article:

    https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/17340

    • verbosestoic Says:

      I think I had read something of that somewhere of his, and the main issue is that the argument doesn’t do anything to address the argument that Feser accepts that we can use faculties for things other than their set purpose. Yes, sex may well have those unitive and reproductive purposes, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have it for other reasons as long as we don’t impede those purposes in the long run.

      Yeah, I read Carrier’s free will article and it’s on the list to comment on, but right now I have Seidensticker’s stuff on Fridays and Feser’s/Laird’s stuff on Mondays, so I’ll have to wait for one of them to clear or maybe stick it in on a Wednesday once I clear the list of favourite games, and hope that people won’t get too bored with all the philosophy …

    • jayman777 Says:

      Tom:

      I suppose the PFA is penis-centric to the extent that it recognizes the fact that a penis must ejaculate inside a vagina for reproduction to occur (excepting artificial reproduction).

      If we look at the vagina during sex we may note: (1) the production of vaginal lubrication increases to make sexual intercourse more comfortable, (2) vaginal lengthening and enlargement occurs to receive the penis, and (3) the texture of the vaginal walls creates friction with the penis to stimulate it towards ejaculation. Even a lesbian’s vagina will have such properties. This is evidence that the function of the vagina is to receive a penis. It is straightforward to me that lesbian sex is a form of immoral sex per the key premise of the PFA.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        This is evidence that the function of the vagina is to receive a penis. It is straightforward to me that lesbian sex is a form of immoral sex per the key premise of the PFA.

        Since Feser is — rightly — explicit that things can be used for things other than their natural function — again, see the “nails in mouth” example — this isn’t sufficient to show that lesbian sex is a form of immoral sex.

  2. jayman777 Says:

    Feser provides two versions of the key premise in his perverted faculty argument.

    The first reads: “Where 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.” (Feser, Edward. Neo-Scholastic Essays. South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press, 2015. Page 398.)

    The second reads: “[I]f A is actually going to use F, then even if he uses it for some reason other than E, it cannot be good for him to use it for the sake of actively frustrating the realization of E or in a manner which of its nature tends actively to frustrate the realization of E.” (p. 399)

    In light of that I think this statement from you is incorrect:

    In general, you need to be doing something that impedes the ability of it to perform its natural function, generally permanently (or at least over the long term).

    Whether the action impedes the natural function long-term or permanently is not relevant. This misunderstanding touches on your defenses of masturbation, birth control, and homosexual acts.

    The problem is that by his own view stated above, he can only make married sex the natural ideal. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have sex at other times or that any other kind of sex is necessarily immoral, any more than holding nails in our teeth is necessarily immoral.

    In the key premise I quoted above, he’s making married sex more than merely the ideal. He is saying it is the only good kind of sex.

    There is no reason to think that masturbation impedes over the long-term anyone’s ability to have reproductive sex.

    But masturbation is a case of someone using the sexual faculty in a way that by its nature frustrates the realization of the natural end.

    In fact, some might well argue that having some sexual experience with them first is a crucial part of ensuring that the two of you are sexually compatible enough to enter into a relationship where you only have sex with each other.

    https://ifstudies.org/blog/counterintuitive-trends-in-the-link-between-premarital-sex-and-marital-stability

    We can deal with this a bit — as well as the first problem — by insisting that anyone who engages in casual sex has to be prepared to enter into a proper long-term relationship with that person should a child result from that.

    How does a proper long-term relationship differ from marriage? And if you’re prepared to enter into a proper long-term relationship with this person why not make that official first through marriage?

    Of all of these “casual” cases, the use of birth control is the one that most directly interferes with the natural function of the reproductive system. However, it doesn’t necessarily do so in a way that permanently impedes those functions.

    The first sentence is all that Feser needs to hold to his position. The second sentence is based off the misunderstanding noted above.

    So this leads to another question where I’m less certain what Feser’s opinion will be, which are the various surgeries to make it so that someone cannot have children again. This would seem to be the biggest violation of natural law, the equivalent of mutilating oneself.

    I know he thinks it is permissible to remove a cancerous reproductive organ. The faculty is for the agent and if the faculty or a body part threatens the agent as a whole then it is permissible to remove the body part to save the agent.

    But if they know that the person is sterile before marrying them, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that they are willingly entering into what they know is that sort of relationship, and so are knowingly ensuring that they will never have children.

    The key premise does not “entail that A cannot use F when he knows its end E won’t in fact be achieved; for in that case he is not using F for the sake of frustrating the realization of E, and he is not himself attempting to frustrate the realization of E in the course of using F. To foresee that F’s end E won’t in fact be realized is not the same thing as using F in a way that will prevent E from being realized, any more than foreseeing that something will happen is the same as causing it to happen.” (p. 399)

    Feser could try to argue that it’s okay as long as the two people really love each other, but this would have consequences for same-sex marriage since they claim to really love each other as well. Since the main reason for Feser to not accept that they really love each other in the right way is that the two of them can’t reproduce, that would seem to apply to this case as well.

    Two people of the same sex cannot reproduce by nature, whereas two people of the opposite sex cannot reproduce (if that is the case) by accident. Feser will distinguish between essential and accidental properties.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      Whether the action impedes the natural function long-term or permanently is not relevant. This misunderstanding touches on your defenses of masturbation, birth control, and homosexual acts.

      I think what you’ve missed is that my comment there follows from Feser’s clarification of what it means to frustrate a faculty. It isn’t merely to use a thing for something other than its intended purpose, as in the “hold nails in your teeth” example. Thus, in order for someone to be using the sexual faculty in a way that frustrates its end, it has to be the case that either they are using it in that way when they are SUPPOSED to be using it to have procreative sex in a marriage. or else are using it in such a way that it would impede their using it for that ideal purpose at the times when they should be using it. Since, like eating, we aren’t supposed to have procreative sex in a marriage every hour of the day, we can use the sex faculty for other purposes in those times when we aren’t having procreative sex in a marriage, as long as doing so doesn’t impede the faculty over the longer term.

      Thus, the conclusion: in general, you have to be impeding the faculty at least over the longer term to be reasonably accused to be perverting the faculty. Otherwise, Feser’s clarification that allows him to dodge the ludicrous implication that you can never use something for other than its intended purpose would be lost, and likely natural law along with it.

      So, then, the question for you — and Feser — is how would masturbation frustrate the sexual faculty beyond just making is so that you couldn’t have procreative sex inside a marriage at that precise time and place?

      In the key premise I quoted above, he’s making married sex more than merely the ideal. He is saying it is the only good kind of sex.

      But this has to FOLLOW from his natural law theory, and the exceptions he needs to allow us to use things for other than their intended purposes, as I argued, makes that sort of blanket statement untenable. He would need to go through each case and demonstrate that it frustrates the faculty in the right way, and your citing the general principle doesn’t do that.

      Your link misses the point of my example, which was not about someone having premarital sex with multiple partners, but about them having premarital sex with the one they want to marry, which is consistent with the link. So if you were using that as evidence against my claim there, it doesn’t work. It could be evidence against having lots and lots of premarital, casual sex but I wouldn’t insist that that’s right anyway, so it wouldn’t hit the mark either.

      How does a proper long-term relationship differ from marriage? And if you’re prepared to enter into a proper long-term relationship with this person why not make that official first through marriage?

      Well, the proper long-term relationship WOULD be marriage [grin]. Yes, this was a trap for progressives by essentially saying that you shouldn’t have casual sex with someone that you aren’t prepared to marry if a pregnancy results. This follows from the idea that by Feser’s view of procreation, the right environment is one where the children are supported by both parents in a committed long-term relationship that we call marriage. So if two people engage in casual sex and the woman gets pregnant, it WOULD be immoral for them to decide to not raise the child in that environment. Going into the sexual relation knowing that a child could occur and that if it does you will act immorally is not the right way to approach casual sex. Thus, essentially I’m saying that if you engage in casual sex you have to be prepared to get married if a child results. Thus, if you have sex with someone that you wouldn’t want to marry if a child resulted then you are at least being reckless, if not directly immoral, since you will be putting yourself in a position where you either will have an unhappy marriage, or else you will act immorally.

      So, a trap for progressives, since it seems to support casual and premarital sex, but then still forces them to take it more seriously than they’d like [grin].

      I know he thinks it is permissible to remove a cancerous reproductive organ. The faculty is for the agent and if the faculty or a body part threatens the agent as a whole then it is permissible to remove the body part to save the agent.

      While obviously I have no issue if Feser would agree with me, the example I used is a case where the only risk is if reproduction happens. So the woman would probably die if it happens. Some might argue that she should still not impede reproduction, but Feser’s view of reproduction as including the marriage and raising of children does mean that she should be able to take that action to ensure that she can still raise the children, while forgoing having any more. It’s more controversial for the husband, but since he’s committed to her again it’s him preserving the marital relationship. He’s not going to have more children with her, and hopefully will have no opportunity to have children with anyone else, so making that physical seems like it, again, isn’t actually frustrating the purpose since there is no realistic chance of it happening anyway.

      The key premise does not “entail that A cannot use F when he knows its end E won’t in fact be achieved; for in that case he is not using F for the sake of frustrating the realization of E, and he is not himself attempting to frustrate the realization of E in the course of using F. To foresee that F’s end E won’t in fact be realized is not the same thing as using F in a way that will prevent E from being realized, any more than foreseeing that something will happen is the same as causing it to happen.” (p. 399)

      If you take an action knowing that something will result, you are responsible for that thing occurring by pretty much all standards of morality. The person is entering into a marriage knowing that the other person is sterile and so they won’t have children. The procreative part CANNOT be fulfilled, and since that’s the big reason why Feser considers same-sex marriage to not be a marriage it seems like in this case it couldn’t be a marriage either. Note that I’m not talking about a case where they know that it will be difficult to reproduce — low sperm count, for example — but will try anyway, but where they know it simply cannot happen. If Feser includes reproduction in marriage — as he does, since he needs to join them to make reproduction itself include marriage — then entering into such a marriage would be wrong even if that’s not the stated intent … or, at least, it wouldn’t count as a marriage.

      Two people of the same sex cannot reproduce by nature, whereas two people of the opposite sex cannot reproduce (if that is the case) by accident. Feser will distinguish between essential and accidental properties.

      The only reason that someone who is not sterile can give for entering into a marriage with someone they know is sterile instead of looking for someone that they can have children with is that they really, really love that person and really, really want to marry them. But this is the same argument that advocates of same-sex marriage use to justify same-sex marriage. Since we know that in both cases reproduction is not going to happen, it doesn’t seem like the love argument will work. And whether the lack is by essence or by accident isn’t relevant here, because the actual issue is with the member who is NOT sterile: they are frustrating their own reproductive faculty by entering into the marriage with someone they cannot reproduce with. Feser would need a reason to argue that nevertheless the marriage still meets the criteria for marriage, but since that includes the procreative aspect, that seems difficult to do.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        I think what you’ve missed is that my comment there follows from Feser’s clarification of what it means to frustrate a faculty. It isn’t merely to use a thing for something other than its intended purpose, as in the “hold nails in your teeth” example. Thus, in order for someone to be using the sexual faculty in a way that frustrates its end, it has to be the case that either they are using it in that way when they are SUPPOSED to be using it to have procreative sex in a marriage. or else are using it in such a way that it would impede their using it for that ideal purpose at the times when they should be using it. Since, like eating, we aren’t supposed to have procreative sex in a marriage every hour of the day, we can use the sex faculty for other purposes in those times when we aren’t having procreative sex in a marriage, as long as doing so doesn’t impede the faculty over the longer term.

        No, the perverted faculty argument also covers carrying out an action in such a way as to frustrate the natural end of that action. So, for example, anal sex would be wrong, because you’re carrying out an action (having sex), but doing so in such a way that its natural end (procreation) is being frustrated (by sticking your penis in the wrong orifice). The proper analogy wouldn’t be holding nails in your teeth, but something like gorging yourself on food so much that you end up vomiting it up again (because in that case your body can’t get nutrition from the food, which is the natural end of eating).

        As for having sex with a sterile person, you are (presumably) doing everything right — sticking the right organ into the right orifice, etc. — and any failure to conceive is solely because your or your partner’s body isn’t working properly. That’s not the case with masturbation, contraceptive sex, or anal or oral sex, where you’re having sex in such a way that no procreation can happen even if both your bodies are working fine.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        No, the perverted faculty argument also covers carrying out an action in such a way as to frustrate the natural end of that action.

        My argument is that Feser’s more advanced version of that precludes simply being able to say that you are frustrating the purpose simply by using the faculties or organs in a way that means they won’t be fulfilling their natural end. Feser is clear that you can use these things for ends other than their natural one, so you can’t simply say, as in your example, that you’re sticking it in the wrong orifice and so that’s perverting its function. If you tried to make that argument, it would invite the reply that they weren’t actually TRYING to reproduce at that point, and so it doesn’t matter that what they’re doing won’t result in reproduction, in the same way that they’d reply to someone who chided them for holding nails in their teeth which are things that they can’t chew and wouldn’t be nutritious if they ate them. If you aren’t trying to eat them, then it doesn’t matter, and if you aren’t trying to have reproductive sex, then it doesn’t matter that it’s not done in the right way to reproduce.

        I think your example relies on a hidden premise: that you’re trying to eat a nutritious meal and end up doing it wrong so that you won’t achieve that goal, or else that you keep doing it so that you get no nutrition. Think of the case of eating contests. I imagine that most if not all of them vomit after eating that, but since the intent wasn’t to eat a nutritious meal that doesn’t seem like it would be immoral. Or, to remove the possibility that they didn’t intend to vomit either, imagine a couple of people who make a bet to eat until they all vomit and the person who eats the most is the winner of the bet. While it would seem to be a bit stupid, it doesn’t seem to be immoral either. So when we remove an intent to actually attempt to fulfill the natural end, it doesn’t seem like just acting in a way that you know won’t fulfill it counts as frustrating its natural purpose.

        Ultimately, Feser’s correct move to allow us to use things for things other than their natural end means that you can never simply point to the fact that the things are being used in ways that won’t fulfill their natural ends as evidence that the faculty is being perverted. That’s why I said that to show that you either need to show that they are doing that other thing when they really should be acting to fulfill that natural end, or that what they are doing is going to act in a way to impede fulfilling that natural end in the future. As an example, for anal sex you COULD argue that doing so damages the anus in ways that will make it less able to perform its actual functions. But you can’t just point out that it’s putting it in the wrong orifice if they wanted to actually reproduce.

        As for having sex with a sterile person, you are (presumably) doing everything right — sticking the right organ into the right orifice, etc. — and any failure to conceive is solely because your or your partner’s body isn’t working properly.

        My comment there was not about sex, but instead was about marriage. Feser himself says that if someone who was not sterile married someone who was simply because they wanted to avoid having children, that would be morally wrong. My point was that if the non-sterile person does that knowing that the other person is sterile and that children will not result, it’s effectively the same thing: they are entering into a “marriage” that they know cannot fulfill the actual conditions of marriage, and they COULD enter into a marriage with someone else that could fulfill those conditions. It’s hard to see how Feser could consider that a marriage at all.

      • jayman777 Says:

        verbosestoic:

        If you can cite the book and page number from Feser you are drawing on I may be able to comment further. But the chapter Tom linked to concerning the perverted faculty argument appears to conflict with your understanding of Feser (and it conflicts with what I and theoriginalmrx understand Feser to be saying in that chapter). theoriginalmrx’s comment about anal sex also explains why masturbation frustrates the natural end of sex.

        I realize the removal of cancerous reproductive organs is not identical to the case you had in mind. I brought it up because it may provide a clue as to how Feser would think about the case you brought up. I don’t claim to know how he would answer though.

        In the example of the sterile couple, we’re talking about something not happening, so assigning responsibility is trickier than if they caused something to happen. When Feser talks of frustrating the natural end of sex I take him to be speaking about whether the form of the sex act itself frustrates the end. An opposite-sex couple can still engage in penis-in-vagina sex even if they are sterile, a same-sex couple cannot. Note that Feser has no problem with celibacy, which frustrates the reproductive faculty in the sense you seem to be taking it. Simply not reproducing is not is not what he is criticizing.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        I’m using the Natural Law chapter in “The Last Superstition”, hence the focus on sexual ethics. I addressed the perverted faculty arguments in my reply to mrx, so I’ll move on to the new points.

        In the example of the sterile couple, we’re talking about something not happening, so assigning responsibility is trickier than if they caused something to happen.

        As noted in my reply to mrx, I’m talking about getting married, not having sex. That’s doing something, and doing so, in my example, knowing what the result would be (no children from the union). Again, it’s hard to see that if they both know that one partner is sterile going in that Feser could consider is a marriage.

        Note that Feser has no problem with celibacy, which frustrates the reproductive faculty in the sense you seem to be taking it.

        If someone took up celibacy simply to avoid having children, Feser surely would have a MAJOR problem with it. It’s only celibacy done for a higher purpose — holy orders or to avoid immorality — that he’d have no problem with. If he doesn’t, then he doesn’t have an argument against non-reproductive sex.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        My argument is that Feser’s more advanced version of that precludes simply being able to say that you are frustrating the purpose simply by using the faculties or organs in a way that means they won’t be fulfilling their natural end. Feser is clear that you can use these things for ends other than their natural one, so you can’t simply say, as in your example, that you’re sticking it in the wrong orifice and so that’s perverting its function. If you tried to make that argument, it would invite the reply that they weren’t actually TRYING to reproduce at that point, and so it doesn’t matter that what they’re doing won’t result in reproduction, in the same way that they’d reply to someone who chided them for holding nails in their teeth which are things that they can’t chew and wouldn’t be nutritious if they ate them. If you aren’t trying to eat them, then it doesn’t matter, and if you aren’t trying to have reproductive sex, then it doesn’t matter that it’s not done in the right way to reproduce.

        That’s why I was careful to talk about the natural ends of an *action*, not just of an object. Having sex with a condom, or having oral or anal sex, isn’t just using your genitals for a purpose other than reproduction, it’s carrying out a specific action (having sex) in such a way as to frustrate its natural end.

        And it doesn’t matter what you’re *trying* to do, it matters what the end of the activity *actually is*. The end of sex is reproduction, therefore having sex in such a way as to preclude reproduction is wrong. For that matter, having sex can be moral even if you’re not trying to reproduce. It’s perfectly fine to having sex with your wife for reasons other than reproduction (as a bonding activity, or just because you’re in the mood, or whatever), just as long as you don’t prevent reproduction from happening.

        I think your example relies on a hidden premise: that you’re trying to eat a nutritious meal and end up doing it wrong so that you won’t achieve that goal, or else that you keep doing it so that you get no nutrition.

        Again, it’s not about what you’re trying to do, it’s about what the natural end of eating actually is. The end of eating is nutrition, therefore it’s immoral to eat in such a way as to prevent your body from drawing nutrients.

        Think of the case of eating contests. I imagine that most if not all of them vomit after eating that, but since the intent wasn’t to eat a nutritious meal that doesn’t seem like it would be immoral. Or, to remove the possibility that they didn’t intend to vomit either, imagine a couple of people who make a bet to eat until they all vomit and the person who eats the most is the winner of the bet. While it would seem to be a bit stupid, it doesn’t seem to be immoral either.

        Both examples are wasteful and intemperate. They’re by no means the most immoral activities one could commit, but they’re still immoral, at least to some degree.

        My comment there was not about sex, but instead was about marriage. Feser himself says that if someone who was not sterile married someone who was simply because they wanted to avoid having children, that would be morally wrong. My point was that if the non-sterile person does that knowing that the other person is sterile and that children will not result, it’s effectively the same thing: they are entering into a “marriage” that they know cannot fulfill the actual conditions of marriage, and they COULD enter into a marriage with someone else that could fulfill those conditions. It’s hard to see how Feser could consider that a marriage at all.

        The difference is that in the one case the failure to reproduce is just a side-effect, whereas in the other case it’s a deliberate goal. It’s like the difference between running someone over in the trolley problem because you need to divert the train away from two other people and that one person happens to be in the way, and running someone over because you hate them and want them dead.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        That’s why I was careful to talk about the natural ends of an *action*, not just of an object. Having sex with a condom, or having oral or anal sex, isn’t just using your genitals for a purpose other than reproduction, it’s carrying out a specific action (having sex) in such a way as to frustrate its natural end.

        There are two problems here:

        First, by the Scholastics actions themselves can’t have purposes or ends. That’s limited to things that have essences or substances. Any purpose an action has has to follow from the substance that it follows from, and so from the purpose of a system or physical body. So the purpose of sex has to follow directly from the purpose of the organs and the system. So that means that if I can use those organs for other purposes, you’d need a reason based on that to say that it was immoral. Here, as far as I can see, you’d essentially be taking on a “mockery” or perhaps “mimickry” type argument: you are going through the motions of one action but essentially subverting it at the very end. But it’s hard to see how that argument can be made pretty much a priori as long as the people involved are under no illusions that it’s the real thing. If someone knows that they are having non-procreative sex and it isn’t impeding them from having procreative sex, that it looks a lot like procreative sex doesn’t seem, on its own, to be an eliminating factor.

        The second problem is that by this logic chewing gum is immoral. After all, chewing is for breaking up food to provide nutrition, and when you’re chewing gum you are going through the precise motions of chewing food, but not only are you never swallowing and so not completing the act, even if you did it would provide no nutrition. You can bite the bullet on this like you did with the eating contests, but it’s avoiding precisely these sorts of oddities that I believe Feser introduced the idea that you can use things for purposes other than their natural end. It’s certainly the case that I, as someone Stoic-leaning, see little reason to take Natural Law seriously as a moral system if it leads to those sorts of absurdities.

        The difference is that in the one case the failure to reproduce is just a side-effect, whereas in the other case it’s a deliberate goal. It’s like the difference between running someone over in the trolley problem because you need to divert the train away from two other people and that one person happens to be in the way, and running someone over because you hate them and want them dead.

        To do this, you’d need a reason for the non-sterile person to marry the sterile person and so accept the deficit of not being able to have children. That reason can’t be love, because same-sex couples can insist that they can have that sort of love and then it also doesn’t matter than they can’t reproduce, which Feser will not agree with. And if there is no reason, then it’s more like a trolley case where someone is hired to switch every fifth train to the second track where there’s a person tied to the track, and they know that the person is tied to the track there, and know that the only consequence to not switching the track is that they will lose their job. It would hardly be a moral defense for them to say that their goal wasn’t to kill that person on the second track, but just to switch the fifth train to that track as they had been instructed. You are always responsible for any consequences that you knew about and foresaw, and the non-sterile person had to know that marrying that person meant that they would be entering into a marriage that cannot reproduce, and so they did intend to create that sort of union. It, again, is hard to see how a deliberately formed union that cannot reproduce counts as a marriage for Feser.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        First, by the Scholastics actions themselves can’t have purposes or ends. That’s limited to things that have essences or substances. Any purpose an action has has to follow from the substance that it follows from, and so from the purpose of a system or physical body.

        I’m aware that some scholastics think that actions can’t have (natural) purposes, although I’ve seen nothing suggesting that all scholastics share this view. But if you want, I’m happy to drop the idea, and replace it with the premise that using a faculty in such a way as to frustrate the natural end of said faculty is wrong. The same argument I made about the purposes of actions would apply, mutatis mutandis, to the purposes of faculties, and Feser himself thinks that faculties have natural ends, so the argument is one he could make.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        The point here, though, is that you needed to make the actions themselves have ends so that you could argue that starting the process that would typically be that action and then stopping before its completion would be frustrating the purpose of the action and so immoral. If it is derived from the faculty, however, then I can proceed any number of steps before stopping or deviating from the typical expression of that action and be fine as long as I’m not frustrating the faculty itself. Which leads back to all the other arguments I made, such as allowing chewing gum to be moral and noting that we aren’t always supposed to be eating for nutrition or having procreative sex and so can do other things in the times when we aren’t doing that or can’t do that.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        If it is derived from the faculty, however, then I can proceed any number of steps before stopping or deviating from the typical expression of that action and be fine as long as I’m not frustrating the faculty itself.

        Having contraceptive or anal sex is “frustrating the faculty itself”, since you’re using the faculty (sex) in such a way as to prevent it from fulfilling its end (reproduction). The fact that you can have reproductive sex later on is neither here nor there; a temporary frustration is still a frustration.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        As noted, that’s the precise move that Feser himself — rightly, in my opinion — rejects. As with the “holding nails in my teeth” example, you can’t say that if you’re in a situation where you’re using parts of or the faculty as a whole in a way that would stop it from fulfilling its end then that means that you are frustrating its end. As Feser himself argues for the nails example — remember, that’s his example, not mine, as mine is the ice cream for dinner example — we aren’t supposed to be eating all the time and so if we use our teeth in a way that would prevent them from proper chewing that’s fine as long as we aren’t doing it while we are trying to eat. It’s implicit that another way we’d be frustrating its purpose is if we use our teeth in a way that would make them less able to fulfill their purpose when it IS time to use them to eat. But we cannot simply say that at this time it is being used in a way that would prevent it from fulfilling its purpose, or else, again, we run into the “chewing gum is immoral” absurdities.

        So, for sex, as long as you are not having non-procreative sex when you should be having procreative sex, and not impeding your ability to either have children or to enter into a marriage aimed at having children, then by the same logic that’s not immoral without a reason that ties into that. To reject that and insist that it still would be immoral is either special pleading or else collapses natural law theory into absurdities that no one should take seriously.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        As with the “holding nails in my teeth” example, you can’t say that if you’re in a situation where you’re using parts of or the faculty as a whole in a way that would stop it from fulfilling its end then that means that you are frustrating its end.

        Using the faculty in such a way as to stop it from fulfilling its end is exactly what is meant by frustrating it. E.g.:

        “Hence, suppose faculty F exists for the sake of end E… What is perverse is using F but in a way that actively prevents E from being realized. It is this contrariness to the very point of the faculty, this outright frustration of its function, that is the heart of the perversity.”

        https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2017/02/how-to-be-pervert.html

        Holding nails in your teeth isn’t a valid counter-example because it doesn’t involve eating at all, and hence you can’t be using the faculty of eating in a way that prevents the end of eating from being realised, because you aren’t using the faculty of eating.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        From your own link:

        The perversion of a human faculty essentially involves both using the faculty but doing so in a way that is positively contrary to its natural end. As I’ve explained before, simply to refrain from using a faculty at all is not to pervert it. Using a faculty for something that is merely other than its natural end is also not to pervert it.

        I’m arguing in this post that those things are using a faculty for something OTHER THAN its natural end, not in a way that frustrates it or is contrary to it. This is why I talk about what end you are trying to achieve, and so my comments seem to fit right into the exceptions that Feser grants.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        I’m arguing in this post that those things are using a faculty for something OTHER THAN its natural end, not in a way that frustrates it or is contrary to it. This is why I talk about what end you are trying to achieve, and so my comments seem to fit right into the exceptions that Feser grants.

        I think it’s clear from the context of the post, and from Feser’s expressed moral positions, that when he says “using a faculty for something that is merely other than its natural end is also not to pervert it” he’s thinking of, e.g., having sex because you feel like it but in such a way that conception is still possible, or eating food because it’s nice but in such a way that you still receive nutrition from it. So, you’re using a faculty for something other than its natural end (sexual pleasure and the enjoyment of tasty food, respectively), but the natural end is still fulfilled and so isn’t being frustrated. If you have sex whilst wearing a condom, on the other hand, you’re not only having sex for reasons other than reproduction, you’re actively taking steps to prevent reproduction from occurring. Feser’s point is simply that it’s the “taking steps to prevent reproduction from occurring” bit that makes the action wrong, not the “having sex for reasons other than reproduction” bit.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        If you have sex whilst wearing a condom, on the other hand, you’re not only having sex for reasons other than reproduction, you’re actively taking steps to prevent reproduction from occurring.

        As I noted before and don’t recall you directly addressing, this makes chewing gum clearly immoral, since it takes the faculty of chewing and deliberately frustrates its end of providing food for nutrition. You can try to bite the bullet and say that it is immoral by natural law, but then as I noted it makes natural law seem a rather ridiculous moral system. And Feser has already tried to avoid biting the bullet on such things — hence the holding nails in your mouth example, which I only keep raising because he EXPLICITLY uses it — mostly to avoid natural law having to hold those sorts of absurdities. So, then, it seems reasonable say that things aren’t as simple as you portray them.

        Recall in my post that I said that there were two things that get to the result I see for natural law theory. The first was allowing that we can do things for ends other than their natural one, which is the one we’ve been focusing on. The OTHER is insisting that reproduction isn’t just about the physical act of sex or producing a pregnancy/child, but instead also about creating that child inside a long-term relationship to ensure that it will be raised to self-sufficiency. Thus, it’s a far longer term faculty than the simple sex act.

        So I combined that with Feser’s explicit argument that one of the reasons that holding nails in your teeth isn’t immoral is because you aren’t supposed to be eating all the time, so we can block the teeth from eating in those times when we aren’t using them to eat. This leads to the notion that we also aren’t supposed to be having reproductive sex all of the time either. So can someone who isn’t married masturbate or engage in casual sex? Well, if it isn’t impeding or delaying them entering into a relationship to reproduce — ie a marriage — why not? You can argue that it frustrates the sexual faculty, but this would be placing far too much emphasis on the specific physical act itself, when Feser is careful to avoid making it all about the specific physical act. Especially since we can note that sexual frustration can be bad for people, there seems little harm in allowing them to have sexual release outside of a marriage as long as it isn’t in any way impeding them from getting into a proper marriage.

        On birth control, recall that my argument there was NOT the one given above, but instead the argument that it provided a way for them to avoid the unintended and undesirable outcome of a child when the situation was not suitable for one, either economically (they can’t afford it), or because of health, or because of relationship status. Again, you need to be prepared to do the right thing and get married if an accident happens, which suggests that you shouldn’t engage in it without extreme caution, but as a way to avoid the undesirable outcome I argued that it’s like a football helmet: you’re doing something that isn’t really natural but want to avoid something really bad happening.

        Your move would be to return Feser’s view into a “Every sperm is sacred!” absurdity, and the move towards a relationship seems designed to avoid such absurdities.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        As I noted before and don’t recall you directly addressing, this makes chewing gum clearly immoral, since it takes the faculty of chewing and deliberately frustrates its end of providing food for nutrition.

        The end of chewing is to break down food, which chewing gum clearly does do.

        Well, if it isn’t impeding or delaying them entering into a relationship to reproduce — ie a marriage — why not? You can argue that it frustrates the sexual faculty, but this would be placing far too much emphasis on the specific physical act itself, when Feser is careful to avoid making it all about the specific physical act.

        It’s not *all* about the specific physical act, but that doesn’t mean that the act, or the way in which it is performed, isn’t relevant.

        Especially since we can note that sexual frustration can be bad for people, there seems little harm in allowing them to have sexual release outside of a marriage as long as it isn’t in any way impeding them from getting into a proper marriage.

        Having lots of casual sex is negatively correlated with mental health, and on a society-wide level, acceptance of casual sex is correlated with high levels of single-parent families, abortions, and over such things. So I would dispute your premise that there “seems little harm” in allowing people to have sex outside of marriage.

        Again, you need to be prepared to do the right thing and get married if an accident happens, which suggests that you shouldn’t engage in it without extreme caution,

        So casual sex is actually wrong, then. After all, if you’re only having sex with “extreme caution” with a partner you’re willing to marry, it’s not exactly casual, is it?

        Your move would be to return Feser’s view into a “Every sperm is sacred!” absurdity, and the move towards a relationship seems designed to avoid such absurdities.

        No, it would simply be to accept the perfectly standard — and perfectly Feserian — view that it’s wrong to use a faculty in a way that frustrates the natural end of said faculty. The fact that you can’t tell the difference between this view and a silly “every sperm is sacred” caricature is a problem with you, not with natural law, me, or Feser.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        The end of chewing is to break down food, which chewing gum clearly does do.

        No, no, it doesn’t.

        1) Gum doesn’t break down by chewing it. That’s pretty much its entire purpose: to give you something you can chew that never breaks down. Most people end up disposing of their gum by spitting it out, not by swallowing it.

        2) In line with the former, again the typical method of gum chewing is to never swallow it, but instead spit it out, interrupting the chewing process we go through while chewing food.

        3) In line with that, even if we swallowed the gum, it wouldn’t provide nutrition because gum has no nutritional value.

        Ultimately, chewing gum is not chewing food because gum is clearly not food.

        Now, we react as if it would be ridiculous to call chewing gum immoral by natural law, in my opinion, because we think “But, we’re not trying to chew food there! It’s not like I’m trying to eat and can’t because I’m chewing gum, or like I’m wearing down my teeth with it or jar muscles or something, or like I think that chewing gum is chewing food and as good a use of my teeth as chewing food! I’m simply using the teeth for another purpose for a while in a way that keeps me able to eat properly! So how can it be wrong?”. So it seems to use like pedantic obsession over the biological details and mechanisms and ignoring things like purposes that, for rational animals concerned with morality, are always going to be the more important factors.

        And that’s the same sort of argument I am trying to make: that sex that doesn’t result in reproduction falls into the same category of things that we can do if we aren’t actually directly impeding proper reproduction regardless of the biological details.

        So casual sex is actually wrong, then. After all, if you’re only having sex with “extreme caution” with a partner you’re willing to marry, it’s not exactly casual, is it?

        As already noted, my view of casual sex in this structure — and outside of that in my own structure as well — is quite different from that of most progressives and liberals. The reason for my saying that it has to be done carefully and with someone you’re willing to marry is because I accept Feser’s argument — both here and in my world view — that a committed marriage is the right way to raise children, and if someone engages in “casual” sex without being prepared to deal with the real potential consequences and instead is deliberately and intentionally set on having that child be raised in an inferior environment is not acting morally, hence my comment. For the most part, my objection to the progressive view of sex and why I think it might be right in Feser’s view to call it perverted is that they seem to think that non-reproductive sex for simple pleasure is, at a minimum, as much the purpose of sex and reproductive sex. In one of the comment threads there, I had at least one if not more people try to argue that the primary purpose of sex was pleasure and that the side effect was reproduction. This attitude that completely overturns what the actual purpose is is indeed clearly perverted. But as you’ll note, that’s not and never has been my view. My view on the non-reproductive sex acts is entirely that that’s what you do when for whatever reason you CAN’T have proper reproductive sex, or as a way to facilitate you achieving the proper relationship to have proper reproductive sex. So, again, a couple that are really considering getting married but want to test out their sexual compatibility first wouldn’t be being perverted, and I’d argue that if we consider sexual compatibility important to a good and proper marriage that not using birth control would be irresponsible, as it would risk them forcing themselves into a marriage that they are not yet certain of (but, again, they’d still have to be convinced that if it happened they could live with each other).

        But note that because my view doesn’t hold that perverted attitude, it is actually unlikely to have the negative consequences you talked about above. Thus, for me, the problem with the progressive idea of sex, even in a natural law context, is not with what they are doing, but instead with the view of sex that drives it.

        The fact that you can’t tell the difference between this view and a silly “every sperm is sacred” caricature is a problem with you, not with natural law, me, or Feser.

        The issue that I’m raising is that you insist that the faculty is being perverted merely because the sperm was wasted because it wasn’t ejaculated in the right place. While there is a bit more to it than that, that’s what it boils down to, just like applying it to chewing gum makes that immoral, too. So insisting on that indeed risks returning it to that and adding the precise sorts of absurdities back that Feser was rightly avoiding.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        The issue that I’m raising is that you insist that the faculty is being perverted merely because the sperm was wasted because it wasn’t ejaculated in the right place.

        No, I insist that the faculty is being perverted because it’s being used in a way that prevents its natural end from being fulfilled. I’ve never said anything about “wasting sperm”.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        I think this conversation has probably run its course and so isn’t going to be productive anymore, so I’ll say one more thing and then you can get the last word if you want:

        I see Feser’s moves as correctly moving away from determining if something frustrates a faculty by focusing on the details of the biology and instead looking more at the rational purpose over the long term and so outside of that one act. That’s why he allows for us being able to hold nails in our teeth by arguing that we aren’t supposed to be eating all the time. This allows him to avoid the odd results where you can’t take an action that doesn’t impede the long-term outcomes and in fact might even ENHANCE them simply because it technically interrupts the biology. So instead of just looking at that, we’d look more at whether taking that action impedes you fulfilling that faculty in the times and time periods where you would fulfill it if you didn’t take those actions. So, for sex, will it make you have less children than you would have otherwise, or will it impede you from raising them properly? If not, then it’s hard to argue that you really perverted that faculty without devolving into what I called absurdities.

  3. Tom Says:

    “So, for example, anal sex would be wrong, because you’re carrying out an action (having sex), but doing so in such a way that its natural end (procreation) is being frustrated (by sticking your penis in the wrong orifice). The proper analogy wouldn’t be holding nails in your teeth, but something like gorging yourself on food so much that you end up vomiting it up again (because in that case your body can’t get nutrition from the food, which is the natural end of eating).”

    This is what I meant in my comment to Verbose Stoic about how the Perverted Faculty argument seems so penis-centric. What the male does with his penis seems to be the central point at issue in these sorts of arguments and it’s why I mentioned in my comment about why societies often seem more lenient when it comes to female homosexuality than male homosexuality.

  4. malcolmthecynic Says:

    Can I just say I appreciate reading someone who is able to do two things:

    1) Recognize Dr. Feser is a deep and worthy thinker who deserves serious consideration

    2) Also not actually agree with everything he wrote

    I do agree with Dr. Feser most of the time but it is incredibly refreshing to see someone disagreeing with him who doesn’t immediately jump to “Crazy bigot”.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      Thanks. Doing that is what doing philosophy SHOULD prepare you to do, and my favourite professors were the ones that I disagreed with, but that understood the concerns that people had which caused them to take that opposing position.

  5. The Unnecessary Science (Chapter 2) | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] implications, including the sexual ones, and so is the first chapter that addresses something that I focused on in detail when reading Feser.  This should be […]

  6. The Unnecessary Science (Part 3) | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] focuses on natural law morality and, in particular, its intersection with sexual morality, which I myself examined in detail while reading Feser’s work.  Gunther Laird noted in a comment on last week’s post that […]

  7. thomisticnaturallawethics Says:

    This might be of interest regarding the argument: https://www.pervertedfacultyargument.com

  8. Sure — I Will Help You Fix Your Pickup Truck, Mr. Channing Tatum … No Problem At All Sir: The Selective Advantage Of Same-Sex Sexual Attraction And Its Significance For Natural Law Theory | cliffengelwirt Says:

    […] Verbose Stoic, responding to a comment on his blog post at https://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/2020/11/16/natural-law-and-sexual-ethics/ last accesse […]

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