Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mired in the roiling tar pits of lust


As I note in my essay on the perverted faculty argument, not all deliberate frustrations of a natural faculty are gravely immoral.  For example, lying involves the frustration of a natural faculty and thus is wrong, but it is usually only venially sinful.  So what makes the perversion of a faculty seriously wrong?  In particular, why have traditional natural law theorists and Catholic moral theologians regarded the perversion of our sexual faculties as seriously wrong?  (The discussion that follows presupposes that you’ve read the essay just referred to – please don’t waste time raising objections in the combox unless you’ve done so.)

In a post from a couple of years ago I discussed three aspects of sex which give it a unique moral significance: it is the means by which new people are made; it is the means by which we are completed qua men and women; and it is the area of life in which the animal side of our nature most relentlessly struggles against the rational side.  In a follow-up post I elaborated upon this last point, spelling out Aquinas’s account of the deleterious effects of sexual vice on the intellect and the will.

The nature of sexual pleasure featured prominently in that account, and it is key to understanding why natural law theorists and moral theologians regard the perversion of our sexual faculties as an inherently serious matter.  For sexual pleasure is dangerous stuff.  That is by no means to say that it is bad; on the contrary, it is very good.  Rather, it is dangerous in the way that alcohol, or gasoline, or knives, or many other perfectly innocent everyday things are dangerous.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying it, any more than there is anything wrong with using these other things.  But as with these other things, you need to be careful with it and indulge in it only at the right time and in the right way.

The source of the danger is its uniquely intense and enthralling character.  Aquinas describes lust, by which he means disordered sexual desire, as concerned with “the greatest of pleasures… [which] absorb the mind more than any others” (Summa Theologiae II-II.46.3).  Now, sexual pleasure needs to be very intense and absorbing if sex is to fulfill its procreative and unitive ends.  Sex is fundamentally about other people.  In particular, it is about the new people you bring into being by way of sex, and it is about the person with whom you bring those new people into being.  In the nature of the case, these are people you need to be on intimate terms with for a long time, sharing a household with them and taking responsibility for them.  That is demanding and difficult, and thus something which, all things being equal, we would naturally seek to avoid.

The reason most people don’t avoid it is, of course, because of the very strong allure of sex.  A person becomes sexually attracted to another person, the couple’s sexual relations are extremely pleasant and tend to foster strong affection between them, and the children that result from these relations thereby have both a mother and a father to provide for them materially and spiritually.  Needless to say, this basic pattern is very common in everyday human life.  Equally needless to say, it also very often does not go nearly as tidily as that little summary implies.  People have fleeting sexual relationships too, they contracept or abort, they get bored and divorce, and so on.  The point, though, is that the many child-producing and stable monogamous relationships that do occur wouldn’t occur very often or at all if it weren’t for the strong allure of sex, which gets the whole process going and to some extent keeps it going.

The delight we take in sexual relations is intended by nature to function as a kind of emotional superglue.  Sexual desire is meant to direct people out of themselves and their personal interests and to seek completion in another person, and sexual pleasure is meant to bond a person tightly with that other person once he or she is found.  Like literal superglue, it doesn’t always succeed, but this binding function is still its point, its final cause.  And like literal superglue, if it gets applied in the wrong way there will be serious problems.  It will “bond” you to the wrong thing or at the wrong time (where what counts as “wrong” according to natural law theory is spelled out in the essay on the perverted faculty argument linked to above). 

An obvious way in which this is so would be in the context of fornication or adultery.  The pleasure of sex will in these cases tend to enmesh one in situations that are not conducive to the well-being of the children that might result.  But the sexual faculties themselves are not necessarily perverted in these cases – the essential immorality of fornication and adultery derives from other considerations – to they are a bit tangential to our main interest here (though I’ll return to the topic of fornication later on).

A more relevant example would be masturbation, which has traditionally been considered immoral in many cultures but which modern Westerners typically regard as unproblematic (though interestingly, expressions like “jack-off” and “wanker” retain their force as terms of abuse, conveying the idea of something shameful and pathetic).  Why is this particular perversion of the faculty considered seriously disordered by natural law theory and Catholic moral theology?  What’s the big deal? 

The big deal is that masturbation essentially takes something that is intended by nature to be strongly other-oriented and makes of it something strongly self-oriented instead.  Accordingly, it is about as “perverse” in the relevant sense – that is to say, in the sense of using a human faculty while at the same time actively frustrating its teleology – as an act could be.  (I’m only addressing the nature of the act itself here, by the way.  Culpability for the act, which concerns a person’s knowledge, maturity, psychological state, force of habit, etc. is, as all moral theologians emphasize, a trickier question, and I am not talking about that right now.)

Hence, suppose someone masturbates while fantasizing about people other than his or her spouse.  The pleasure experienced in that case will have a tendency to “glue” the person’s sexual inclinations to these objects of imagination, which makes it more difficult for them to be “glued” in the same way to the real flesh and blood spouse.  The person’s sexual thoughts and feelings will to some extent become habitually “directed toward” fantasy partners rather than the spouse. 

Or suppose that someone masturbates while fantasizing about some sexual act which is for independent reasons immoral.  The pleasure experienced in that case will have a tendency to “glue” the person’s sexual sensibilities to that sort of act, which will make it more difficult for him to find pleasure in morally licit sexual acts.  His sexual thoughts and feelings will become habitually “directed toward” these illicit acts as much as or more than toward licit acts. 

Then there is the fact that in an interpersonal context, lovers have to adjust their needs and expectations to one another.  For example, a more adventurous or amorous person will have to moderate his desires somewhat, whereas a more conservative or reserved person will have to loosen up a bit.  In this and other ways, the partners will, when things go well, find a happy medium and complement one another.  But masturbation in which a person fantasizes about people or circumstances which do not put such limits on one’s desires will tend to have the opposite effect.  It will make it much more difficult for the person to tolerate the real world conditions that would otherwise mold his desires in a more realistic direction.  As C. S. Lewis once put the point in a letter to a reader:

[T]he real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another… and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides.  And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman.  For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival.  Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity.

End quote.  Modern pornography greatly exacerbates the problem, in two respects.  First, insofar as it involves images of real people doing real things, it intensifies the vividness of onanistic sexual fantasy and the sexual pleasure experienced in it.  Second, the variety of sexual acts displayed, the bodily perfection of the performers, the promiscuity they exhibit, etc. further disconnect fantasy from what real partners are likely to want or expect sexually.  The user thus becomes more firmly “glued” onto unrealistic expectations, illicit sexual acts, etc., and thus less capable of finding satisfaction in a normal sexual relationship with a real person.    

Furthermore, the more that taking sexual pleasure in unrealistic and illicit fantasy objects rather than in a real person becomes “second nature,” the more likely a person is to lose even an understanding of – let alone a desire for – what really is natural (in the natural law theory sense of “natural”) where sex is concerned.  Natural feelings of revulsion at certain illicit acts will weaken, as will the desire and capacity for thinking objectively about the morality of acts that one has come to be strongly attracted to.  As sociologist Mark Regnerus has suggested, contemporary pornography, which is historically unprecedented in its prevalence and in the extremeness of its content, has plausibly played a key role in the liberalization of attitudes about sexual morality. 

This is an instance of what Aquinas calls “blindness of mind,” which on his account is one of the byproducts of sexual vice and which I discussed in an earlier post.  Our “pornified” popular culture, which is hypersexualized even apart from outright pornography, has made of this particular kind of “blindness” a mass phenomenon.  Millions upon millions of human beings have in effect become psychologically “glued” to sexual attitudes and behaviors of a greater or lesser degree of immorality.  Modern Western society is like Plato’s Cave, only with lewd images rather than flickering shadows endlessly playing across the walls.  Or to change metaphors, it is like a vast herd of Pleistocene fauna mired in tar pits of disordered sexual pleasure.

This mass blindness in turn facilitates other kinds of grave sexual immorality – which brings us back to fornication.  Millions of children today are trapped in poverty because of illegitimacy.  Millions more are aborted.  In short, widespread fornication leads to lots of poor children and lots of dead children.  Neither poverty nor abortion would be nearly as common as they are if fornication and the hypersexualized pop culture that facilitates it were stigmatized the way they once were. 

Now, modern people are hardly reluctant to stigmatize things – cigarette smoking, politically incorrect language, etc.  They are also highly sentimental about children.  Yet they would never dream of stigmatizing fornication and oversexualized pop culture for the sake of the well-being of children.  Indeed, they are so attached to the stupid cliché that what one does in the bedroom has no effect on anyone else that they have great difficulty seeing what, for most human beings historically, has been blindingly obvious – that sexual immorality in fact has a massive effect precisely on these weakest members of society. 

Thus does sex, which has as its natural end the generation and rearing of children, now regularly lead by way of illegitimacy and abortion to the impoverishment and murder of children. 

Now that is perverse.  And it is testimony to the power of sexual pleasure to cause grave harm when not indulged in in the right way and at the right time. 

Not that there aren’t even worse consequences still – though they have to do with tar pits of the sort you’re more likely to see in Dante than at La Brea.

78 comments:

passenger said...

The famous Bentham-Kant liberal bait and switch: 1) It is good because it has no consequences, an innocent pleasure... 2) Ok maybe it has consequences, but we have to accept this because *rights*.

Who with an ounce of intellectual humility could believe that upending 3000+ years of civilization would have no consequences? He who has something to gain in the exchange, that is who.

Basil Stag Hare said...

Dr. Feser, could you expound on the phrase, "intended by nature"? Been reading Remi Brague's The Law of God, on how premodern cultures accepted that the cosmos had a order in accordance with which we can arrange our lives; also just read Anscombe's complaint about modern moral philosophy (not aimed at an Aristotelian/Thomist of course) that it has no coherent grounds for using the "moral ought" as a concept. So when you say "intended by nature", does your reader have already to have accepted an A/T conception of nature and philosophy? And 2ndly, have I understood Anscombe correctly that she would say of the present discussion, "Nature's intentions can tell us that lustful act X is vicious, but divine legislation provides the weighty forbidding, allowing me to say I *ought* not to do X"?

DNW said...

"Now, modern people are hardly reluctant to stigmatize things – cigarette smoking, politically incorrect language, etc. They are also highly sentimental about children. Yet they would never dream of stigmatizing fornication and oversexualized pop culture for the sake of the well-being of children. Indeed, they are so attached to the stupid cliché that what one does in the bedroom has no effect on anyone else that they have great difficulty seeing what, for most human beings historically, has been blindingly obvious – that sexual immorality in fact has a massive effect ..."

Imagine if there were no pornography. Some here may be old enough to recall a time before it was constantly in-your-face.

Though, in truth, using sex to sell has been going on for a very long time, and honorless nihilistic men willing to pimp, both literally and figuratively, have been around for just as long.

Now, that is another very serious moral disorder; and these males, especially the literally pimping kind who sell women because they have nothing of value in the way of labor or talent to exchange for their daily bread, deserve no tolerance.

Maybe we need a limited reintroduction of the old American honor culture values insofar as they go, at least.

Thursday said...

If Dr. Feser is going to do a book on sexual ethics, I would like to recommend he take a look at the most prominent Evangelical natural law thinker, Oliver O'Donovan. He's published several excellent books on how to relate natural law to Christian theology, just war theory, and political theology, but the following are his works on sexual ethics. Probably the most important is Begotten or Made?

Books:
Begotten or Made?
Church in Crisis: The Gay Controversy and the Anglican Communion
A Conversation Waiting to Begin: The Churches and the Gay Controversy

Grove pamphlets:
Transsexualism and the Christian Marriage
Marriage and permanence
The Christian and the unborn child

Given that he is a Protestant, there is no doubt much that our host here will disagree with, but O'Donovan is well worth taking a look at.

thefederalist said...

Mr Hare, let me take a stab at it. I'm confident Dr. Feser and some other regular contributors here can do a better job, but as I'm starting some advanced course work in Catholic theology, I should probably avail myself of this practice.
I can't see that one necessarily needs an A/T conception of nature and philosophy to understand 'intended by nature'. As you point out, many pre-modern cultures accepted that the cosmos has an order in accordance with which we can arrange our lives. If one reasonably intelligent person in any culture ever decides to ask the question, "Why is there sex?" with the intention of getting a comprehensible answer, surely there is only one comprehensible answer he can arrive at. All of the specific moral activities that attach to the satisfaction of sexual desire can pretty much be determined from the insight that sex is about making new human beings who need to be cared for by the two human beings who made them.
I haven't read Anscombe, so others can probably comment more accurately on her specific thoughts on your question, but surely if nature's intentions tell us that X is "vicious", that should suffice to tell us "I ought not to do X." That would be the point of exploring the question of X. For the large mass of mankind who cannot, or do not, devote their mental efforts to answering such questions, the divine mandate would provide the necessary additional emphasis.
Conversely, if nature tells us that X is vicious and some adherent of perverse cult Y says that there is no divine mandate against it, or even that there is a divine command to do X, then that should tell against the claims of that particular cult Y. Yes, I'm looking at you, Islam.

Basil Stag Hare said...

Thank you, Mr. Federalist, for your thoughtful reply. I think there is still more to it though. The answer to questions about nature like the one you posed could give "only one comprehensible answer" and still not entail a moral requirement, such that one could say it is illicit or wrong to do X. Consider an example not from nature: Tim builds a machine that needs oil to work properly. One could perhaps learn about the machine from observation and see that it needs oil. To pour in water instead of oil, knowing that it will break the machine and cause it to fail to be a good machine of its type, would be a vicious thing to do, relative to the ends for which it was made. But we would not say it is immoral to do so, in and of itself (e.g., if Tim the owner and builder is the one who breaks it on purpose). I think people could approach nature as that kind of machine; recognizing general tendencies and virtues required for flourishing, but without concluding that acting against flourishing is illicit or wrong. But maybe here I am slipping into errors in wording and so forth...
Good luck with your course work!

JoeD said...

Dr Feser,

Considering Western culture generally tends to view masturbation as something good and public education also strongly pushes that narrative, and also considering your mentioning of culpability and the various circumstances that affect it in this post, I want to ask you this:

Do you personally think that it is possible that the culpability for masturbation for at least some modern people is decreased because of the culture that portrays it as good and because of the public education system that propogates and basically brainwashes people to accept that narrative?

Tony said...

Basil, your comment highlights the reason it is important to distinguish between artificial "things" and natural beings (as Prof. Ed has said numerous times). The use of an artifact for one thing (a doorstop, or target practice) when it was made to be something else (a modernist work of art) is not contrary to nature, for it isn't a natural thing to begin with. The teleology of artifacts are extrinsic to the thing itself, and thus cannot determine any sort of "intrinsically wrong" ways to use it.

If man is the sort of thing that has a "nature", then that very fact determines that some things are suited to man's being fulfilled or not. If man has reason and free will, then THAT fact implies that "doing what is proper to his nature" comes under the category of obligation rather than necessity by "laws of nature". For nature intends the good (which is specified by the individual natures) and the good for a being with reason and free will then becomes a matter of "ought" as well as good.

These truths are accessible without a specifically A-T foundation, I think. Certainly they are not foreign to Platonism. And, because conscience (and therefore a direct experience of "ought" ) is in all men, every man has at least the beginnings of what he could use to grasp these points.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

I have trouble with the starting point. I hold that sin is the action or state of mind which damages the soul, or more specifically opposes the end with which creator has made it, and more specifically still diminishes the charity in it. Sin is not what one figures opposes natural ends in general, nor what one figures damages the world. The two latter may or perhaps must correlate with the first, but the fact remains that one knows sin existentially and not intellectually. One knows sin by the diminishing of charity in one's soul. Having said that I'd like to offer two thoughts:

”Millions of children today are trapped in poverty because of illegitimacy. Millions more are aborted. In short, widespread fornication leads to lots of poor children and lots of dead children.”

And lots of dead young mothers. In Latin America the first cause of death for young women is illegal abortion. As tragic a death as one can imagine.

I was thinking that if more adolescents were to masturbate instead of making more natural use of their sexual faculties, much of this tragedy would be diverted. The same if adolescents were to get sexual education at school – so for example adolescents in Sweden are as sexually active as adolescents in Colombia, but the statistics about illegitimate children and abortions are very different. That the Catholic Church should take an active role to stop important knowledge from being given to Catholic children is I think unconscionable. Why not teach children both the facts of sex as well as sexual morality? The only reason I can think of is to ugly to write down.

”Now, modern people are hardly reluctant to stigmatize things – cigarette smoking, politically incorrect language, etc.”

The average cigarette smoker loses 17 years of life. Clearly the natural end of our lungs is not to inhale smoke for pleasure, so I assume natural law theorists consider smoking a sin too. Perhaps an even greater than masturbation given that the damage it causes to family is probably greater; I mean marriages where one of the parents dies because of the smoke habit are definitely destroyed. For the same reason I suppose alcoholism, gambling, marital violence – should all be considered grave sins. I think Feser does make a good case explaining the gravity of sexual sin on natural law ethics. But it seems to me there are sins equally or even more damaging to the soul, to family life, and to society at large. And some sins, such as avarice, are mentioned more by Christ in the gospels and characterize more modern society. I notice that masturbation and homosexual acts are easily avoided by the majority of married Christians; I wonder sometimes if the focus that is given to these issues is not really a case of hypocrisy, of the kind that Christ in the gospels admonishes us against.

Tony said...

I hold that sin is the action or state of mind which... and more specifically still diminishes the charity in it. Sin is not what one figures opposes natural ends in general, nor what one figures damages the world. The two latter may or perhaps must correlate with the first, but the fact remains that one knows sin existentially and not intellectually. One knows sin by the diminishing of charity in one's soul.

It is not possible for one to "know sin" in the sense of "knowing whether this act before to choose yea or nay is a sin here and now for me" ONLY AFTER one feels a diminution of charity by committing the sin. That would make conscience solely a faculty of accusing, not a faculty for knowing and avoiding evil and doing good. We know what is sin through many different pathways, but since charity is love of God, obeying God's commands is in conformity with charity and disobeying them is not ("he who loves me obeys my commands"). One of the reasons God gave us such things as the 10 Commandments is that through sin, especially original sin but also personal sins, our capacity to perceive the damage to charity that sin causes is, itself, diminished. We do not always perceive the damage it is causing, even when the damage is surely there - this is a long-standing teaching of the Church both East and West. Hence objective standards, outside our own selves, are an aid to conscience.

The same if adolescents were to get sexual education at school ... That the Catholic Church should take an active role to stop important knowledge from being given to Catholic children is I think unconscionable. Why not teach children both the facts of sex as well as sexual morality? The only reason I can think of is to ugly to write down.

Your insinuation here is positively foul and revolting. The Catholic Church - meaning the entire Church with its 2000 year history - HAS IN FACT taught "the facts of sex" and mostly strongly urges that these facts be taught to children properly. Go and read "The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality" before commenting on this again. The reason the Church objects to school-based sex ed is that it NEVER DOES conform to the objective obligations of such teaching, (i.e. that it teach moral truth as well as physical, phychological, and emotional; and that it be conformed to each individual child's own personal state of emotional and psychological development), and in fact it breaks down natural emotional barriers to inappropriate experimenting and sexual behavior - behavior that is harmful to one's soul and is contrary to God's laws. If families were to properly carry out the Church's own advice and to teach it properly, there would never be a so-called "need" for it in schools anyway.

In point of fact, the state of affairs in some countries with millions of illegitimate children cannot really be laid at the door of "Catholic Church opposing sex education", both because the Catholic Church has always supported sex education taking place in its due form, and also because there were whole centuries of Christendom in which there were not these millions of illegitimate children and yet there was no sex ed in schools. It is not a failure to teach sexuality in schools that is the foundational culprit here. It is a combination of many factors, but the main ones are a grave diminution of family integrity and coherence; the shocking increase in sexualization of the culture; the marginalization of non-family carriers of social authority to speak to morals (due to secularization); a (relatively modern) social disconnect between the age of sexual knowledge and general capacity and the age of suitable marriage. Lack of formal (school) sex education doesn't even make it to the list (even ignoring the problem that it teaches the wrong things and teaches them the wrong way).

Grace and Rust said...

@Dianelos Georgoudis, I think you've just agreed with Dr. Feser's overall outlook. That said, I believe you don't see that because you've misread him. Consider:
I hold that sin is the action or state of mind which damages the soul, or more specifically opposes the end with which creator has made it, and more specifically still diminishes the charity in it.
The problem is that you treat this as though it is contrary to what you say below:
Sin is not what one figures opposes natural ends in general, nor what one figures damages the world. The two latter may or perhaps must correlate with the first, but the fact remains that one knows sin existentially and not intellectually. One knows sin by the diminishing of charity in one's soul.
But every action that is both contrary to our natural ends and freely willed despite knowing that it is simply does damage the soul to some extent or other. When we do those things, we act against the God-given ends of the soul, and against the God-given virtue of Charity (your criteria).

Hopefully I can say more about your other arguments, but for now I should content myself with this, as it seems to be the core.

David McPike said...

Tony wrote: "Your insinuation here is positively foul and revolting." Indeed. I wonder if the character of the person making such an insinuation isn't such as to make the act of engaging him in good faith a questionable undertaking, a thing itself rather disgusting. (Not that I take issue with the substance of your reply.)

JoeD: "Do you personally think that it is possible that the culpability for masturbation for at least some modern people is decreased because of the culture...?"

Not personally, but according the CCC 2352: "To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account [notwithstanding that in itself masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action] the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability." I think the usual demurrers relating to (invincible) ignorance will certainly find application here.

thefederalist said...

Danielos,

In 1960, in the United States, if memory serves, something like 7-8% of live births to white women were out-of-wedlock, and for black women is was 23%. Some public health officials and educators took a look at those horrific rates and concluded that American children need to be taught where babies come from, the better to avoid pregnancy. Thus our program of sex education, which by 1970 was so successful that the illegitimacy rate for white women was over 25% and for black women was over 50%. It's much higher today. I will grant that there were many other pathologies that sprang forth in the 1960s that have contributed to the increase in illegitimacy, but things like teaching birth control and encouraging masturbation have their place in these results. These do not direct the desire for sexual release toward non-baby-producing ends (in the long term); what they do is teach that sexual desire is not to be denied or subjected to self-control.

lecturer said...

Danielos,

It is not very clear whether you support abortion or not. This seems to be suggested in your Colombia / Sweeden comparison.

This comparison could only be impressive to someone who has accepted that abortion is not what it is (the intentional killing of a human being, if not cold blooded murder). Otherwise you are basically saying: x amount of men suffer horrible prison sentences due to rape laws, so we should legalize rape.

Beyond that, arguments to the effect that we must choose the lesser evil (assuming you have identified the lesser evil) must show that this choice is indeed necessary. In this case: that it is not possible to ban abortion and to have women not try to kill their children. Naturally this is something you cannot show.

The relevance of hypocrisy is minimal. Too much is made of this because of generalized narcissism (in the sick culture of authenticity failing to be yourself is the worst/only sin). If fail to do what I preach, I am morally bad, but what I preach may still be quite right. And he who preaches rightness is bound to fail many times.

David McPike said...

"Now, sexual pleasure needs to be very intense and absorbing if sex is to fulfill its procreative and unitive ends. Sex is fundamentally about other people. In particular, it is about the new people you bring into being by way of sex, and it is about the person with whom you bring those new people into being. In the nature of the case, these are people you need to be on intimate terms with for a long time, sharing a household with them and taking responsibility for them. That is demanding and difficult, and thus something which, all things being equal, we would naturally seek to avoid."

This seems to be a seriously suspect set of claims. Intense, absorbing sexual pleasure seems to be neither necessary to fulfill the procreative and unitive ends in question, nor sufficient; and indeed, it seems clear that the intensity of sexual pleasure (independently of fulfillment of the ends in question) actually tends to work against the orderly pursuit of the ends in question, insofar as the intense pleasure moves the sensual appetite in a violent way that tends to undermine both the rational apprehension and the orderly pursuit of the natural ends of sexual activity.

"All things being equal..." - so if it wasn't for the sexual pleasure, people would tend to avoid marriage and kids? So why don't people in fact just stick with masturbation, fornication, prostitution, etc. (i.e., means of obtaining sexual pleasure which avoid the demands and difficulty of a household)? This sounds way too Hobbesian.

jem said...

Dr. Feser,

No need to address the matter here, but a good inclusion in any sexual morality book you might write could be in vitro fertilization. Specifically, why things like IVF and ICSI are immoral despite people feeling that they are licit due to being aimed 'overall' or 'more generally' at the creation of life.

These things have received Catholic bioethics treatments elsewhere of course but you might be writing for an audience who would not otherwise explore those sorts of publications.

Tony said...

Intense, absorbing sexual pleasure seems to be neither necessary to fulfill the procreative and unitive ends in question, nor sufficient; and indeed, it seems clear that the intensity of sexual pleasure (independently of fulfillment of the ends in question) actually tends to work against the orderly pursuit of the ends in question, insofar as the intense pleasure moves the sensual appetite in a violent way that tends to undermine both the rational apprehension and the orderly pursuit of the natural ends of sexual activity.

David, I don't think it works that way. Even in the absence of sin, the order in nature requires harmony and coordination between the diverse goods capable to the human animal. One way to impress upon the individual the order and hierarchy is to provide variation in the strength of the urges / desires which is directly coordinate with the intensity of the pleasure or delight therein. You don't need to find a built-in reward being "necessary" or "sufficient" for the purpose, to find it fitting and suited.

Secondly, in man the delight is not alone that of the physical senses: the unitive end of marriage (and of sex) is advanced in the delight a man takes in giving pleasure to his wife; and in his knowing that she takes delight in the converse, so that his open receptivity to his physical pleasure at her gift is fittingly suited to her joy in the act. As a result, speaking of the intensity of sexual pleasure (independently of fulfillment of the ends in question) is a bit incoherent: the intensity of the pleasure is (at least in part) the very matter out of which the unitive end is made concrete. (The procreative end works in there too, but it is not needed to make the point.)

The intensity of the physical pleasure is indeed one of the things that makes sex so easy to corrupt - given original sin and our fallen state, our weakened orientation to the right hierarchy of goods. But that fallen state affects our willingness and readiness to make good on what the nature of marriage implies in terms of the permanent commitment to faithfulness, to love, to raising up children in charity. Although these aspects of marriage are "natural" to it, they are made more difficult in our fallen state. It seems like a providential gift that the very same thing - intense sexual pleasure - that would have, in our original unfallen state, given rise to deeper grasp of the immense importance and goodness of marriage, in our fallen state also offsets and indeed overcomes a large obstacle to solid marriage. That it is strong enough to pose a problem in its own right, giving us an inclination to seek the pleasure outside of the marital good, seems to be simply a facet of the brokenness of our world due to sin: our lower faculties are not readily ruled by our reason. But the original orderliness of human nature can be understood without relying on sin and our fallen state.

jmhenry said...

Thus does sex, which has as its natural end the generation and rearing of children, now regularly lead by way of illegitimacy and abortion to the impoverishment and murder of children.

Now
that is perverse.

Indeed. Even just from the perspective of an evolutionary biologist or Darwinian naturalist, one would have to conclude that there is something deeply twisted about our behavior and our culture.

Danielos: The same if adolescents were to get sexual education at school ... That the Catholic Church should take an active role to stop important knowledge from being given to Catholic children is I think unconscionable.

thefederalist: In 1960, in the United States, if memory serves, something like 7-8% of live births to white women were out-of-wedlock, and for black women is was 23%. ... Thus our program of sex education, which by 1970 was so successful that the illegitimacy rate for white women was over 25% and for black women was over 50%. It's much higher today.

Back in 1996, Akerlof and Yellen attributed it to the "reproductive technology shock" caused by the increased availability of abortion and contraception, both of which have been historically and consistently opposed by the Catholic Church.

Thus does the Sexual Revolution create a sociological catastrophe as a result of practices that the Church has always opposed ... and the Church is blamed for it. That too, I think, is incredibly perverse, and I'm not even Catholic.

Anonymous said...

David, also Danielos is a self-indulgent windbag who will take over the thread with interminable posts about his personal beliefs if you let him. He is in the same category as Don or Santi. Please everyone ignore him unless he changes.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Tony,

”One of the reasons God gave us such things as the 10 Commandments is that through sin, especially original sin but also personal sins, our capacity to perceive the damage to charity that sin causes is, itself, diminished. We do not always perceive the damage it is causing, even when the damage is surely there - this is a long-standing teaching of the Church both East and West.”

I don't know exactly how the human condition was at the 12th-6th century BC when the 10 Commandments came into being, but I suspect people even then people knew the personal harm sin produces. And I notice that Plato in the 5th century wrote that we should not return evil, an ethical concept which is frankly beyond the 10 commandments. God's revelation by special providence works in many ways, and we recognize ethical truth by way of God's image in which we are built. It's not like we wouldn't know that a sin hurts us, unless we tried it or unless somebody told us first.

What concerns me is the state of the Christian today, since today we know much more about what sin is than people knew back then. And as it happens we can clearly experience how sin lowers the charity in our soul. I mean I clearly experience it myself; and surely so does everybody else. I say, instead of with being overly concerned with theory we should always check the state of our soul. Lest we end up worrying more about the cleanness of the outside and not of the inside of the cup. We must remain watchful, I think that's the meaning of the parable with the foolish virgins.

As for “not always perceiving the damage”, it may be true but also irrelevant. When we are watchful we can clearly experience the damage. Repentance (“metanoia” means “change of mind”) is about the transformation of our soul. It's not like one doesn't know it when it is one repents or when one fails to repent. Salvation is not about not sinning but about not desiring to sin – a big difference. I think it's a profound misunderstanding when the church feels its task is to stop people from sinning, perhaps by deterring them from it through action in matters of civil law. The church's task is to inspire people to see how ugly and self-damaging sin is, and to show them Christ's beauty and inspire them to wish to be like Him.

”Hence objective standards, outside our own selves, are an aid to conscience.”

Sure, and by far the best objective standard we have is the actual example of Christ we see in the gospels. Moreover the church in her wisdom provides many aids to conscience. The sacraments, life in the church, soteriological teaching (I am angry that I didn't find out about the seven cardinal sins decades ago, perhaps my life would have been different). No disagreements here, we agree about the goal and about what helps us reach the goal. I am saying that we can check ourselves whether we are approaching the goal. If only we look we have a very clear sense about the charity in our soul, and we should make good use of it.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ thefederalist,

The so-called sexual revolution of the 60's took place both in the US and in Sweden. I wonder, how do you explain the great difference in the number of children born out of wedlock in the two countries? And it's not only Sweden, I understand most European countries do far better than the US in this respect. So what do you think is the reason for that? Given that the US is more religious than Europe if anything one would expect the opposite to be the case.

jmhenry said...

The so-called sexual revolution of the 60's took place both in the US and in Sweden. I wonder, how do you explain the great difference in the number of children born out of wedlock in the two countries? And it's not only Sweden, I understand most European countries do far better than the US in this respect.

Sweden has a lower number of children born overall than the United States. Probably because, you know, it's a smaller country with far fewer people.

But when it comes to the percentage of births out of wedlock, Sweden actually surpasses the United States, 55% to 41%. France is at 53% and the United Kingdom at 45%, both higher than the U.S.

As for abortion, the Swedes have been running this little experiment with the morning after pill, but got some inconvenient results. First of all, you have to love that headline: Abortions more common despite morning-after pill. Since the morning after pill can function to prevent a fertilized egg (and thus a new human organism) from implanting in the uterus, the article doesn't mention the fact that the morning after pill is a potential abortifacient. Thus whatever abortions are being caused by the pill itself are not included in the numbers.

Secondly, that word "despite" in the headline masks as many assumptions in the minds of the headline writers as in the minds of the Swedish officials. It never occurs to them that perhaps a more accurate headline would be: Abortions more common because of morning-after pill. Along with "reproductive technology shock" we might add that the related phenomenon of the "contraceptive mentality" to the list of things that would-be social engineers are still stubbornly blind to.

Tony said...

I am following the advice of Anonymous at February 17, 2017 at 9:48 PM

Looking at other matters: I like the Prof's simile of "superglue" for the satisfactions of the marriage bed. I may start using it myself. Whether I give full attribution...we'll see. :-)

Anonymous said...

Dianelos,

The US lacks the cohesiveness needed to perceive the ethnic/familial relation to one's fellow citizens as a strong or real bond. Basically, if one perceives other members of one's society as being something like a sister or a brother to oneself, then this checks sexual and instrumentalizing tendencies with regard to these persons (but perhaps also increases the same tendencies as directed at foreigners; both rivals and exotic types). Religiosity is one of the few bonds that Americans are able to construct among one another outside of commerce. Romantic nationalism is truly non-existent ('patriotism' here is not really comparable). American religiosity is wildly diverse and almost sui generis. The destructive and amnesiac tendency in America is strong and fortified by Protestant, progressivist and anti-European tendencies of the past. Americans live for today and the culture of elections and activism enforces this. Nostalgia in America is never profound and ideological warfare is a constant, superficial flux. How can there be roots and therefore how can there be coordination of branches? Let all things be wild, quick, impulsive and volatile. People feel differently day-by-day; therefore, things become inverted and there is forgetting due to confusion.

Scott W. said...

First of all, you have to love that headline: Abortions more common despite morning-after pill

Thanks. It always seems Europe is a convenient place to play Three-card Monte with statistics. Funny how the poster-country for legalizing recreational drug use is the most recent country to do it while ignoring the criminal hell-holes that earlier ones have become, but I digress.

The so-called enlightened on abortion are obtuse on at least two points: 1. Abortionists often couch things in terms of "x policy will reduce the number of arbortions!" Well, if there is nothing wrong with abortion, why work to reduce them? I've never gotten a coherent answer to this, and 2. Even if we grant a pro-abortion policy reduces numbers of abortions (and as jmhenry points, we should be dubious of such claims) it's still a consequentialist argument and you might as well say, "We can reduce the number of lynchings if those uppity blacks would just learn their place."



Billy said...

Scott,

"Abortionists often couch things in terms of "x policy will reduce the number of arbortions!" Well, if there is nothing wrong with abortion, why work to reduce them? I've never gotten a coherent answer to this"

Your question, I believe, misunderstands the point of the argument. They are trying to persuade you to agree with them about abortion being legal, not their view of abortion itself, using an argument they think might work. So your question doesn't affect the argument, since they are not grounding it in their position, they are grounding it in yours.

"it's still a consequentialist argument"

Its not an argument for a moral conclusion, its an argument for practical legislation. There are a whole bunch of things you probably think are wrong, but it does not mean it should be illegal. Heck, gluttony is a GRAVE MORTAL sin, but yet I am sure you won't go on to think that making it illegal would be very smart. If it was illegal, and you argued against it, are you then claiming to make a consequentialist argument? Would you take seriously anyone who compared it to the lynching analogy you just gave?

NOTE: I am on your side, I just think you misunderstand the abortionists motivations for the argument here.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ lecturer

”It is not very clear whether you support abortion or not.”

It goes without saying that I am against abortion. Anyway you see it, abortion is a tragedy. Not only the natural law theorist thinks so, everybody things so. There is not one sane person in the world who is glad when abortions happen. The question then is what can we on a personal level and as society do in order to decrease this tragedy. My criticism is that certain actions of the Catholic church particularly in underdeveloped countries increase it.

Now we should not confuse abortion which is a tragedy, with the right of poor women to get a safe abortion which many (including myself) consider to be the lesser evil. I mention poor women specifically, because having lived many years in Costa Rica where abortion is illegal and thus illegal abortions kill many poor women, I know that for rich women to get a safe abortion is no problem: They travel to Miami or even to Paris and get one.

”[Abortion is] the intentional killing of a human being, if not cold blooded murder”.

In the context of a discussion about morality in a Catholic blog this is not true: According to the CC's catechism for an act to be a mortal sin the agent must have “full knowledge”. As a matter of fact most women who make abortions do not think that they are killing a human being, so most of them are not committing a mortal sin. Leaving aside Catholic belief in this matter, many people including many Christians (sometimes against the teaching of their church) do not believe that a ten weeks old embryo is a human being. I have not studied this matter to any depth, but the reason I believe that a ten weeks old embryo is not a human beings is first that a ten weeks old embryo has no capacity for consciousness and thus cannot be considered a person, and second the natural occurrence of miscarriage (or “spontaneous abortion”). I read that a huge proportion of fertilized eggs (depending on the woman's age, between 10% and 45%) are naturally aborted before the 20th week, and it seems absurd to me that God would create nature in a way that a huge proportion of human souls would never make it into the world, never mind that in many and perhaps most cases nobody even notices that a miscarriage took place. Human life has more weight than that.

I think the reasonable belief is that the human soul and thus the human person comes into being when the capacity of consciousness comes into being. Why is this a reasonable belief? Because a human being is a person, and a necessary property of the person is to be conscious, or at least to have the capacity (not the potential) of being conscious. One cannot know exactly when that happens (philosopher Daniel Dennett argues that pre-language children are not conscious – another example of how naturalism often moves people into believing absurd things), but I judge it is safe to believe that no capacity for consciousness exists before the tenth week of gestation. The idea that what matters is not the capacity but the potential for consciousness strikes me as absurd: An unfertilized egg cell (or “ovum”) has the potential of becoming conscious, but it is not like it is therefore a human being. If it were then it would follow that every baby girl is born with a million human beings in her, since that's the number of immature egg cells in the baby girl's body.

”The relevance of hypocrisy is minimal. [..] If fail to do what I preach, I am morally bad, but what I preach may still be quite right.”

Right, hypocrites often preach what is right. My point was that there are greater and lesser sins in the sense that some sins destroy charity in one's soul more than others. It seems to me that hypocrisy is one of the greatest sins there are, and in my reading Christ in the gospels thought so too.

Gyan said...

Danielos,
"An unfertilized egg cell (or “ovum”) has the potential of becoming conscious"

FALSE.
It is the fertilized embryo that is human and has human potentials but an unfertilized ovum is not an embryo.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ jmhenry

”But when it comes to the percentage of births out of wedlock, Sweden actually surpasses the United States, 55% to 41%. France is at 53% and the United Kingdom at 45%, both higher than the U.S.”

Thanks for the link, I stand corrected. It seems I chose about the worse possible example. Perhaps in Sweden people are so wealthy and social protection is so complete that people become careless and even frivolous.

Now frome the point of view of natural law it is not so much wedlock that matters but having a normal family, and I see in the same source that the percentage of children in single parent homes (mostly single mother homes) is a huge 22% in Sweden but still better than the 29% in the US. These are abismal numbers. I was not aware there is so much disorder in the world. And I understand most single parent families in the US are poor which only increases the tragedy.

Perhaps we could start by agreeing on what is a tragedy (and also a violation of the natural order): Abortion, divorce, and single parent families. And then discuss what causes these tragedies, which I take it is mainly lack of religiosity, lack of good education including lack of sexual education, and poverty. And finally discuss what a civilized society should do to diminish these tragedies. The first step is (ahem) to get one's facts right, and then study the correlations.

From your source here are the single parent statistics in the West from best to worse:

Italy 10
Germany 14
France 15
Poland 17
Spain 18
Sweden 22
Canada 22
UK 24
US 29

Here are the divorce rates per 1.000 population and per year:

Italy 3.6
Spain 3.6
France 3.8
UK 4.3
Canada 4.4
Germany 4.7
Sweden 5.3
Poland 6.0
US 6.8

It was difficult to find any good statistics on abortion, which is rather surprising given the importance of the subject. Sources are the UN demographic yearbook, and Eurostat's database. Below I copy data about number of induced abortions per 100 live births from the Council of Europe's stats. Unfortunately the numbers are old, from 1996:

Spain 13
Germany 14
France 21
UK 24
Italy 25
Canada 28
Sweden 34
US 38
Poland 2 (these are legal abortions, in Poland illegal abortions are estimated of being 10 to 50 times more frequent – a mess)

Guttmacher is perhaps the most reliable source and the numbers are for 2008, but lacks info for some countries. Here is the number of induced abortions per 1,000 women in reproductive age per year:

Germany 7
Italy 10
France 16
UK 17
US 20
Sweden 21

In all statistics US is close to worse place. Sweden does pretty badly too. Italy does very well, and Germany pretty well.

There must be an explanation for such big differences. Since data about religiosity, wealth and wealth distribution, general quality of education and in particular sexual education are available, one could relatively easily build a mathematical model that predicts the numbers of single parent families, divorce, and abortion and use it to improve the rates.

What's clear is that policy matters. Everybody who is interested in how policy can affect abortion rates should have a look at this graph I produced using Eurostat data with abortion numbers between the year 2000 and 2014: Sweden and Spain are doing something wrong, but Germany and Italy are doing something right.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Gyan

I wrote: "An unfertilized egg cell (or “ovum”) has the potential of becoming conscious"

To which you respond: ”FALSE. It is the fertilized embryo that is human and has human potentials but an unfertilized ovum is not an embryo.”

I understand you believe that the embryo or the fertilized egg is already a human person, and I agree that an unfertilized ovum is not an embryo. But the fact remains that an unfertilized egg has the potential of becoming conscious: If it is fertilized by a sperm, and if it is not aborted either because of natural causes or by accident or by agent choice – then it will turn into a conscious human baby. This after all is the biological function of the million or so eggs that are already there in the body of the female newborn.

Vincent Torley said...

Dianelos,

A word of advice. Don't let the word "capacity" bamboozle you. Anything has the capacity to become practically anything, given enough transmutations and enough time. If you're a materialist, you could say that interstellar gas has the capacity to become a person, over a period of "billions and billions of of years," as the late Carl Sagan was fond of saying.

If you really want to know why a non-conscious embryo is a human being with the same right to life as you or I, then I suggest you read my online book, "Embryo and Einstein: Why they're Equal," at http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/prolife.html . The book is specifically written for atheistic materialists, so it doesn't appeal to any metaphysical speculations about souls being infused into bodies, whether at or after conception.

One thing that embryologists are agreed on is that conception marks the beginning of a new human individual. See here: http://www.lifenews.com/2015/01/08/41-quotes-from-medical-textbooks-prove-human-life-begins-at-conception/ .

An unfertilized egg can become a conscious being, but only by losing its identity and becoming something new. A one-cell embryo, on the other hand, develops into a conscious being without any loss of identity. Anyway, I hope you enjoy my book.

You also ask: "The so-called sexual revolution of the 60's took place both in the US and in Sweden. I wonder, how do you explain the great difference in the number of children born out of wedlock in the two countries?" Actually, the percentage of children born out of wedlock is 40% in the USA, but 54% in Sweden. So much for the sexual revolution. Cheers.

doubter said...

Gyan,

You're only encouraging him. The number of errors in that, it would take whole volumes to list and correct. "Potential for consciousness," for cryin' out loud, gimme a break. It's junkola stream of "consciousness" blubbering.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ jmhenry,

I prepared a post with several interesting statistics on single parent families, divorces, and abortions – but for some reason after I post it here it disappears. You can find my comment in a facebook page I've just created here, or else you can download it as a PDF document here

Edward Feser said...

Dianelos, it got stuck in the spam filter, but as you can see, it now appears above.

Vand83 said...

I have an individual in my life which makes life difficult.

Life would be easier if this individual were gone.

I've reached the sad conclusion that all parties would be better off if this individual was killed.

I am an untrained and inefficient killer.

If I try to kill this individual, the individual might kill or injure me.

Government should legalize the hiring of hitmen, and even provide hitman services to those too poor to purchase the services.



Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Vincent Torley,

”Anything has the capacity to become practically anything, given enough transmutations and enough time. If you're a materialist, you could say that interstellar gas has the capacity to become a person, over a period of "billions and billions of of years," as the late Carl Sagan was fond of saying.”

No, you are using “capacity” in the sense I am using “potential”. On some views interstellar gas has the potential to become after billions of years a conscious being (or a being capable of consciousness, in my parlance).

I am dealing with an ambiguity of language here. Humans and most probably higher animals are conscious beings, whereas viruses and thermostats most probably are not. But humans are not always conscious, for example (we assume) in dreamless sleep or under anesthesia they are not conscious. That's why I find it more precise to speak about “a being with the capacity of consciousness” rather than “a conscious being”. Perhaps in my effort to be more precise I became less clear.

So I think my first argument stands. To use the more common wording: A fertilized human egg is not a conscious being, a person is necessarily a conscious being, therefore a fertilized human egg is not a person.

”I suggest you read my online book, "Embryo and Einstein: Why they're Equal," at http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/prolife.html”

I am impressed by the effort you put in your book. I didn't have time to read the whole of it of course, but I was attracted to the picture of RepRap. (This is not really a self-replicating machine, not by a long shot, but still.) Anyway immediately below you write:

”Any entity that is capable of controlling its development into an intrinsically valuable thing, is just as valuable as that thing.” and also “Outside sources may provide food, oxygen, and a supportive environment, but they do not supply instructions, so they cannot be said to be directing the embryo's development.”

I am not a biologist and I may well be wrong, but from what I understand what you here write is not true: The embryo and then fetus is not fully capable of controlling its development, since the womb doesn't just provide nutrients but actively modulates the fetus's developmental mechanisms; thus it also gives “instructions”. Birth is synergistic process between woman and fetus, in the sense that all the information contained in the fertilized egg at the absence of the woman's body is not sufficient for producing a child. A fertilized human egg is not like a chicken's egg. The whole of the pregnant woman is like a chicken's egg.

Or to put it differently: If we gave a fertilized human egg to an alien civilization of unlimited intelligence and technological power it would *not* be able to produce a human child from it. The fertilized egg by itself does not suffice, for it does not include the whole “program and data”. Again I may be wrong, so you should check your premise with some specialist. The question is clear enough.

I also saw that in your book you respond to my second argument (of the great proportion of miscarriages) in the objection #9.

Finally, in your page I see that in your dissertation you analyzed the minimal mind. I assume that according to your understand a fertilized egg has not even a minimal mind. A mindless being is not a person, from which it follows that a fertilized egg is not a person. I am more sympathetic with your line that a fertilized egg has the same value as a human being, and therefore has the same rights. The problem here is that value is not grounded on physical premises but on the character of God, and thus cannot be known by way of analyzing physical premises but only by faith – i.e. by direct awareness of God.

Grace and Rust said...

Hi, Vand83,
your analogy captures our thoughts on the pro-life side, but considering the weird suggestion that embryos at ten weeks or less probably aren't people (as Dianelos Georgoudis suggests), we need to combat the oldhat objection that we aren't killing people. For what it's worth, the first move I would make is to point out why his reply to Gyan fails.

Now @Dianelos Georgoudis, you said, the fact remains that an unfertilized egg has the potential of becoming conscious: If it is fertilized by a sperm, . . . then it will turn into a conscious human baby. This strikes me as a distinction without a difference. As soon as you added that provision, fertilization, you conceded the point; an unfertilized ovum does not have that potential because it is not a complete substance ordered towards development into a conscious being. As long as the ovum is incomplete, it does not have that potential, even while it's ordered towards reproduction per se. It simply lacks the substantial form which underlies those other potentials.

You further suggest that it is "absurd" to think God would create people who simply die without anyone ever knowing they existed. I find that very hard to justify; what principle does the suggestion violate, and why should we keep to that principle in the first place? I for one find your position in this regards completely absurd; from where I'm sitting, it's plainly contrary to the principles that any human life is composed of matter and exactly one substantial form, and that human life begins at conception. Thus, the substantial form must be present as well, and with it the potentials you claimed an unfertilized ovum has.

Grace and Rust said...

@Dianelos Georgoudis, Feb. 17, 6.11 AM
I was hoping to get back to your other arguments at some point. I suppose this is late, but all the same. I'll try to handle two of the original three.
>I was thinking that if more adolescents were to masturbate instead of making more natural use of their sexual faculties, much of this tragedy would be diverted.
I'm sorry Mr. Georgoudis, but I think you're completely overlooking the nature of the sexual act in suggestion masturbation could alleviate the situation in any realistic world. When one feeds the passions without restraint, no matter how he does so, he only gives them more control over him. Letting ones bodily passions control him is never a good decision. Moreover, the sexual appetite, even when one attempts to satisfy it by masturbation, is oriented towards some other, and every passion finds its greatest pleasure when it is completed in its most perfect form. Thus, the greatest pleasure in sexuality will come in satisfying that desire with another. People seem to know this at some level, and so to satisfy their passion they will seek some other to satisfy it with. From all of this, it only follows that masturbation would make things worse, encouraging people to fornicate with others.

Your second argument seems less important to me, but maybe working it out will better explain some of your other comments.
>Clearly the natural end of our lungs is not to inhale smoke for pleasure, so I assume natural law theorists consider smoking a sin too. Perhaps an even greater than masturbation given that the damage it causes to family is probably greater . . . For the same reason I suppose alcoholism, gambling, marital violence – should all be considered grave sins. . . . [I]t seems to me there are sins equally or even more damaging to the soul, to family life, and to society at large.
Without doubt, smoking falls under the perverted faculties argument (though you should be more careful about "alcoholism" and "gambling"), yet your argument that it is worse, insofar as it appeals purely to consequences, requires misattribution of causes, as others have shown so far.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Grace and Rust,

”the weird suggestion that embryos at ten weeks or less probably aren't people”

I'd rather speak of “human persons” than of “people”. In philosophy a person is a conscious being with the capacity to reason. In theology a human person is a kind of conscious being made in the image of God but not in God's likeness and thus in a fallen state. In such a state the human person has the capacities of reason and of faith including the capacity to know good and evil, has significant freedom of will, has the capacity to repent, and has the potential of salvation and theosis which means it has the capacity to transform itself into the likeness of God.

Incidentally which view is weird depends on the observer – many people including some Christians find weird the view that a ten weeks old embryo is a person. And also highly problematic given that a ten weeks old embryo is not a conscious being for it has not developed the kind of brain structure which in this world is required.

”an unfertilized ovum does not have that potential because it is not a complete substance ordered towards development into a conscious being”

I say “X has the potential of becoming Y” when in fact given the right circumstances X will become Y. I think that's a reasonable use of the word, and thus it's reasonable to say that an unfertilized human ovum has the potential to become a human person.

But I'd like to discuss the gist of your argument. I agree that only the fertilized egg is ordered towards the development of a particular human person (at least in the biological sense). But from the fact that X is ordered towards Y it does not follow that X is Y. The match is ordered towards producing fire but is not a fire. The apple seed is not an apple tree. Laws that apply to trees (for example laws that require a permit before one destroys them) do not apply to seeds.

Actually I think that's a good analogy: An apple seed is made in the image of an apple tree, but is not an apple tree nor is it like an apple tree. Only under the right circumstances will it by its nature transform itself into an apple tree.

”You further suggest that it is "absurd" to think God would create people who simply die without anyone ever knowing they existed.”

Vincent in his book deals with this argument under objection #9. There he points out that until very recently a huge proportion of children died because of natural causes and asks “Why should the high mortality rate of embryos count against them being persons?”

One possible retort is that on eschatology the death of children is less problematic (if embryos are human persons then a large proportion of souls in the afterlife have never experience this life), but I will let this pass. I think the force of my argument lies not in the numbers but in how embryos die. We recognize the tragedy and bereave the loss when a few days old baby dies. If a few days old embryo that dies is already a human person or has the value of a human person then it deserves the same kind of bereavement and respect. But it would be absurd to suggest that people should check any vaginal bleeding for the presence of a dead embryo even if only of a few cells, and then bereave and give it proper burial as one would when an unbaptized baby dies. Wouldn't it?

There is also the existential evidence (which I think we should assign much weight to): When during the first weeks a known pregnancy is lost the couple does bereave. But it's a different *kind* of bereavement: One laments the loss of the potential, not of an actual human being. On the other hand when after about the 20th week a stillbirth happens then one bereaves the loss of an actual human being. One might argue that the difference is that in the latter case one can actually see the form of a human being in the lost fetus, but I think it gets much deeper than that. I believe in the faculty of empathy, and I think in the latter case one becomes aware that a human soul has been lost to this world.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Dianelos Georgoudis,

Thank you for your response. You write:

"The embryo and then fetus is not fully capable of controlling its development, since the womb doesn't just provide nutrients but actively modulates the fetus's developmental mechanisms; thus it also gives 'instructions'. Birth is synergistic process between woman and fetus, in the sense that all the information contained in the fertilized egg at the absence of the woman's body is not sufficient for producing a child...

"Or to put it differently: If we gave a fertilized human egg to an alien civilization of unlimited intelligence and technological power it would *not* be able to produce a human child from it. The fertilized egg by itself does not suffice, for it does not include the whole 'program and data'. Again I may be wrong, so you should check your premise with some specialist."


I suggest you have a look at the 2015 online article, Artificial wombs: The coming era of motherless births? by David Warmflash, a physician. He writes:

"At some point, an in vitro fertilized egg could be planted directly into the artificial womb, with no need for a natural uterus even for the early stages."

If we can do the job without a womb, surely aliens could.

To be continued...

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Dianelos Georgoudis,

Back again. I'd also like to quote a short passage from Maureen Condic, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine. Dr. Condic explains why a one-cell embryo is a true organism, with its own developmental program, in an online paper titled, When Does Human Life Begin? A Scientific Perspective (White Paper, Volume 1, Number 1, October 2008, published by The Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person):

"A car is not a car until it rolls off the assembly line - until then it is a bunch of parts in the process of becoming a car, but not there yet. Similarly, a cake is not a cake until it comes out of the oven - until then it is a variously gooey mass of flour, sugar, eggs, and butter that is gradually becoming a cake." (p. 11)

"However, a profound difference exists between manufacturing and embryonic development. The difference is who (or what) is doing the "producing." The embryo is not something that is being passively built by the process of development, with some unspecified, external 'builder' controlling the assembly of embryonic components. Rather, the embryo is manufacturing itself. The organized pattern of development doesn't produce the embryo; it is produced by the embryo as a consequence of the zygote's internal, self-organizing power. Indeed, this 'totipotency,' or the power of the zygote both to generate all the cells of the body and simultaneously to organize those cells into coherent, interacting bodily structures, is the defining feature of the embryo." (p. 11)

"From the moment of sperm-egg fusion, a human zygote acts as a complete whole, with all the parts of the zygote interacting in an orchestrated fashion to generate the structures and relationships required for the zygote to continue developing towards its mature state. Everything the sperm and egg do prior to their fusion is uniquely ordered towards promoting the binding of these two cells. Everything the zygote does from the point of sperm-egg fusion onward is uniquely ordered to prevent further binding of sperm and to promote the preservation and development of the zygote itself. The zygote acts immediately and decisively to initiate a program of development that will, if uninterrupted by accident, disease, or external intervention, proceed seamlessly through formation of the definitive body, birth, childhood, adolescence, maturity, and aging, ending with death. This coordinated behavior is the very hallmark of an organism." (p. 7)

You add:

"Finally, in your page I see that in your dissertation you analyzed the minimal mind. I assume that according to your understand a fertilized egg has not even a minimal mind. A mindless being is not a person, from which it follows that a fertilized egg is not a person."

I would question your claim that a mindless being is not a person. Anything that is programmed to acquire a mind is surely no less valuable than a being who already has one, and this deserves to be called a person, too.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Dianelos Georgoudis,

One more comment. You write:

"When during the first weeks a known pregnancy is lost the couple does bereave. But it's a different *kind* of bereavement: One laments the loss of the potential, not of an actual human being. On the other hand when after about the 20th week a stillbirth happens then one bereaves the loss of an actual human being."

I have to disagree. My wife and I suffered the loss of an unborn child whose birth we were both looking forward to, at the age of 17 weeks, back in 2002. I still visit our unborn child's grave, every year, and I hope we shall all meet in the hereafter.

I might add that from my own experience, I started loving my unborn child from the get-go. I did not tell myself, "It's not a person yet, so I won't love it yet." I just followed my heart. I even used to greet it when I came home every day, knowing full well that it could not hear me. It didn't matter. It just felt like the right thing to do. My wife and I have since been blessed with a child who survived birth and who is now 11 years old. But I've never forgotten my first experience of parenthood. I'm sure I'm not alone in this regard.

Greg said...

@ Dianelos

There is also the existential evidence (which I think we should assign much weight to): When during the first weeks a known pregnancy is lost the couple does bereave. But it's a different *kind* of bereavement: One laments the loss of the potential, not of an actual human being. On the other hand when after about the 20th week a stillbirth happens then one bereaves the loss of an actual human being.

Just dropping in to point out that this is a tenuous interpretation of people's behaviors. The extent and intensity of bereavement varies considerably even as regards the deaths of what are uncontroversially human beings. Compare the bereavement of a 17 year old killed in a car accident the week before graduating high school to that of a 70 year old who has battled with lung cancer for two decades. Compare the bereavement of a one year old who dies from SIDS in the United States to that of a one year old who dies from malaria in the Congo.

jmhenry said...

Dianleos: Everybody who is interested in how policy can affect abortion rates should have a look at this graph I produced using Eurostat data with abortion numbers between the year 2000 and 2014: Sweden and Spain are doing something wrong, but Germany and Italy are doing something right.

Thanks for the stats. Spain still has lower abortion rates than Sweden and the U.K., so they're doing something right too, though Spain is not doing as well as Germany and Italy. What are these countries doing? What policies could be effecting their abortion rates? Well, I notice that, according to a roundup of European abortion rules, Germany has the following abortion restrictions:

Gestational limit: 12 weeks. The woman must receive proper counselling three days before the procedure. The state-regulated counselling is required to inform the woman that the unborn have a right to life and to try to convince her to continue her pregnancy.

And Italy has the following restrictions:

Gestational limit: 12 weeks. A one-week reflection period is imposed unless the situation is one of urgency. ... An abortion must be performed in a public hospital or authorised private facility - if there are staff willing to perform the procedure.

The article notes that many physicians in Italy refuse to even perform abortions, given the more culturally pro-life influence of the Catholic Church.

And Spain has the following restrictions:

Gestational limit: 22 weeks. Abortions are allowed to avoid serious risk to physical or mental health of the woman within the first 12 weeks. If the pregnancy is a result of rape, the rape must first be reported to the police and the procedure carried out within 12 weeks of pregnancy.

In case of foetal impairment, two specialists, other than the doctor performing the abortion, must certify that the child would suffer from severe physical or mental defects. The procedure must be performed within the first 22 weeks.

All abortions must be reported to the national health authorities.


Anybody interested in how policy can effect abortion rates must ask the question: To what extent do these restrictions -- such as early gestational limits, mandatory pre-abortion waiting periods and counseling, requirements that the procedure be performed in a hospital -- help to reduce abortion rates? There could be a significant effect. Yet whenever any of these policies is proposed in the United States, for example, there are irrational howls of outrage and opposition from the abortion industry and pro-choice advocates. Ross Douthat once made a similar point when discussing the abortion restrictions of European countries, although he also noted:

[T]he European experience poses a challenge for conservative abortion opponents as well, who need to consider the possibility that restrictions on abortion might work better — or, perhaps, only work at all — with more generous public provisions for maternal health care.

(cont.)

jmhenry said...

(cont.)

The embryo and then fetus is not fully capable of controlling its development, since the womb doesn't just provide nutrients but actively modulates the fetus's developmental mechanisms; thus it also gives “instructions”

So what? Plants and animals often undergo developmental changes in response to environmental cues. Does that mean that they are not genetically distinct organisms after all, with their own internal principal of self-organization and self-development. Of course not, because that's absurd. If an organism's development had to be causally closed from any external factors in order to "count" as a living thing with its own powers of development, then nothing would count as being alive.

[A]ll the information contained in the fertilized egg at the absence of the woman's body is not sufficient for producing a child.

This is not true, and the limitation is only technological (e.g., someone mentioned artificial wombs). For example, this article in Public Discourse noted a recent study in Nature which showed that human embryos have organizational and developmental autonomy even in the absence of maternal tissues -- that is to say, "regardless of whether or not it receives signals from a host uterus." Turns out that embryos have bodily autonomy. How about that.

I would also recommend that you read Mathew Lu's two Public Discourse articles (here and here) for the difference between what is sometimes called "passive potentiality" and "active or developmental potentiality." The former merely describes possible future states of affairs, while the latter describes a kind of potentiality that is intrinsic to something as the kind of thing that it is.

In philosophy a person is a conscious being with the capacity to reason.

Well, I hope not, since it would mean that Dianelos ceases to be a person whenever he falls asleep. It would also mean that small children and infants are not persons, since they do not yet have the capacity to reason. Perhaps to be a person is to be a particular kind of being, regardless of whether or not one has realized all the potentialities that flow from the nature of that kind of being, and regardless of whether or not one is currently exercising this or that particular function or capacity.

I'm reminded of Mike Flynn's post "Getting Personal" from a while back, in which he discusses the Late Modern obsession with functions and capacities as the defining marker of personhood. Whatever functional criterion one chooses always seems to mask some underlying agenda (e.g., to defend abortion or contraception), rather than trying to get at the objective truth of the matter, wherever that may lead. As he notes, the "objective" criteria one chooses often reflects subjective politics -- a consequence of The Triumph of the Will.

(cont.)

jmhenry said...

(cont.)

[M]any people including some Christians find weird the view that a ten weeks old embryo is a person.

Again, so what? Many ancient pagans found the early Christians to be "weird" because of their higher standards of sexual morality, or their emphasis on care for the weak and the equality of souls before God (Nietzsche was also famously critical of Christianity for that idea, which he thought to be the prototype of all modern doctrines of "equal rights"). I'm sure there were a great many people who also thought it "weird" that perhaps we should get rid of the evil institution of chattel slavery. What the people of a particular time, place, and culture think is "weird" is completely irrelevant to the moral question at issue. A few centuries from now, what seems "weird" to most people today may be common sense and obvious.

Where unborn human life is concerned, this will probably happen when people gradually come to realize more deeply the moral significance of dependency and how they must be taken into account in political thought. In other words, we will come to recognize the deficiencies of certain philosophical assumptions we've inherited from early modern political thinkers such as Hobbes and Locke -- assumptions which have led to an extreme emphasis on individual autonomy, contrary to the fifth of our "natural inclinations."

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Vincent Torley,

”If we can do the job without a womb, surely aliens could.”

Well there is nothing magical about a woman's womb, so it should be feasible for us to build an artificial womb. My argument about the advanced aliens is that they wouldn't be able to build such an artificial womb having only a fertilized ovum to go by. We can measure what the womb does and thus we can produce an artificial version. My claim is that the womb pays an active role based on information not included in the fertilized ovum. If I am right then biologically speaking the fertilized ovum is not a complete instruction set for producing a live baby, contrary to the premise of your argument. The reason I happen to believe that a fertilized ovum is not a human person does not hang on this issue, but I thought I should nevertheless bring up this point. Perhaps it is an important premise for those who believe that a fertilized ovum is a human person, and if I am right then I have a defeater for their argument.

So how do I justify my claim? I did a little research but couldn't find a source that agrees with me, so it's perhaps something I thought of myself. I am not a specialist but I know how evolution works and it's on this knowledge I base my argument:

First I'd like to distinguish two broad phases in gestation, the metamorphosis stage in which the fertilized ovum transforms into a highly complex structure which is basically human, and the maturation stage in which that structure matures and grows into the baby. The metamorphosis stage includes the embryogenesis stage of about 10 weeks and roughly the first 10 weeks of fetal development. After 20 weeks we have a very advanced fetus; the structure of organs will keep maturing for another 10 weeks or so and then keep growing for another 10 - but all structure is already basically there by week 20. Indeed at this point the fetus can already move in reaction to stimuli, which may indicate consciousness. Actually there are cases of 22 weeks old fetuses that have survived outside the womb, which proves that after about that time of gestation the womb does not play any active role in my sense.

Now it is in this metamorphosis stage that the very complicated orchestration of functional complexity built-up takes place. This mechanical process requires some kind of rather sophisticated information processing, in which complicated instructions are carried out in a parallel manner. The question we are investigating is the source of these instructions, and specifically whether the source lies exclusively in the embryo/fetus or lies in the whole system of the woman's pregnant body. I claim it's the latter, and the reason is that from the evolutionary point of view information processing is very “expensive”. Nature requires a lot of adaptive evolutionary steps to produce an information processing mechanism. By its nature (actual by mathematical necessity) Darwinian evolution exploits the “cheapest” pathways, i.e. those pathways that will at the earliest produce the required adaptation. It is in this sense “cheaper” to evolve the information processing mechanism required for gestation exploiting both information present in the embryo/fetus and in the woman's body. That part of the required instructions come from the mother's body should not be confused with the genetic information of the embryo/fetus. That genetic information may be completely present in the fertilized ovum; the information required for the expression (or for the processing) of that genetic information comes (I claim) partially from the womb. To use a rough analogy, the software is in the fertilized ovum, but the computer necessary for executing that software is realized in part outside of the fertilized ovum. (Which analogy brings me back to the question of what an alien organization can do: Having all the software data without any data about the computer - and thus lacking information about the semantics of the software - makes it impossible to execute that software.)

jmhenry said...

Correction to above: Where unborn human life is concerned, this will probably happen when people gradually come to realize more deeply the moral significance of dependency and how it must be taken into account in political thought.

Grace and Rust said...

@Dianelos Georgoudia, Feb.21, 12.29AM
You don't seem consistent. As I understand things so far, you suggested that an unfertilized ovum has the potential for consciousness. To be consistent, you would have to say that it therefore has all these other potentialities you allude to: for theosis, repentance, knowing good and evil. You do no such thing. Instead it appears that you suggest those potentials do not yet exist! Yet this is what I said occurs with an unfertilized ovum, and I gave a principled explanation. Maybe I just need to clear it up some more.

Now let me clarify my original rebuttal. I said an unfertilized ovum does not have that potential because it is not a complete substance ordered towards development into a conscious being. As long as the ovum is incomplete, it does not have that potential, even while it's ordered towards reproduction per se. It simply lacks the substantial form which underlies those other potentials. That summary explains why an unfertilized ovum does not have the potential for consciousness; it simply isn't the right kind of thing. In fact, that ovum is destroyed in fertilization, by virtue of a substantial change whereby it becomes something with the potential for consciousness.
I believe this puts your later objection to rest, when you retort from the fact that X is ordered towards Y it does not follow that X is Y. You're right, but you missapply that truth. Ova are ordered towards reproduction of humans, but are not humans. The fertilized egg is a human because of its substantial form. (In the same way, the seed of any tree is also a tree, but only in an inchoate form.)

Now none of this goes to address the question of absurdity. So far, you have only called things absurd, when I have asked you to explain why they are. In this case, you have only kicked the can down the road.
>We recognize the tragedy and bereave the loss when a few days old baby dies. If a few days old embryo that dies is already a human person or has the value of a human person then it deserves the same kind of bereavement and respect. But it would be absurd to suggest that people should check any vaginal bleeding for the presence of a dead embryo even if only of a few cells, and then bereave and give it proper burial as one would when an unbaptized baby dies. Wouldn't it?
I find your proposal strange, but not absurd, and those two things are clearly different. The bereavement people experience for the dead comes from an attachment to them. Since we cannot form any attachments to those we cannot know, the feeling of bereavement for some miscarried embryos would have no cause in us (and surely that is absurd, Mr. Georgoudis). Why should our inability to give them their due of mourning (especially on an individual level) suffice to show that they have none? If they are people, surely the fact that God mourns them is enough.

Lastly, I object to your appeal to "existential evidence." As it strikes me, all you have done is slap an interpretation onto a pair of events set at your prefered times to justify your position. In other words, you aren't appealing to real evidence, or else you haven't given any good reason to accept your interpretation.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ jmhenry,

”What policies could be effecting their abortion rates? Well, I notice that, according to a roundup of European abortion rules, Germany has the following abortion restrictions:[snip]”

When a pregnant woman desires an abortion then the tragedy has already happened, indeed one way or the other it is probable that she will get one. So the abortion policies which apply at this stage are largely irrelevant. We are interested in finding out which policies succeed in the sense of less women getting into the state of desiring an abortion. As I mentioned above I believe important causes that lead to the tragedy of abortion is lack of religiosity, lack of education including sexual education, and poverty (there may be others). Thus it is by comparing the policies that relate to these three causes between the more and the less successful countries (both in absolute numbers and in the dynamics) that one might learn what policies a society should implement to diminish the incidence of abortion.

”Plants and animals often undergo developmental changes in response to environmental cues.”

Sure, and this happens both after birth and during prenatal development. So for example we know that pregnant women who smoke or drink alcohol affect negatively the development of their embryo/fetus. But that's irrelevant to the issue of the completeness of the fertilized human ovum as far as the instruction set for producing a human baby goes.

”a recent study in Nature which showed that human embryos have organizational and developmental autonomy even in the absence of maternal tissues -- that is to say, "regardless of whether or not it receives signals from a host uterus." Turns out that embryos have bodily autonomy.”

Well we already knew that the fertilized ovum has some autonomy since it can develop for a few days in a petri dish. The study in Nature you refer to (here's the abstract) refers to the experimental proof that the zygote develops autonomously during what would normally be implantation stages (7 to 10 days after fertilization). Given that the autonomous developments described in the abstract occur before before these 10 days or at most a few days after implantation, the relevance of this result is nothing like the impression the “Public Discourse” article gives. Nor does it present any defeater whatsoever to the theory I described in the previous comment, namely that up to the 20th week of gestation when almost the full functional complexity of the fetus develops the body's mother plays an active role by co-directing that development.

I: ”In philosophy a person is a conscious being with the capacity to reason.”

You: ”Well, I hope not, since it would mean that Dianelos ceases to be a person whenever he falls asleep.

Interestingly enough that's precisely the point I was making above in the “I am dealing with an ambiguity of language” comment.

In fact when I am in a state of dreamless sleep I am still a conscious being, albeit one that is not having conscious experiences in this particular instance. That's why originally I preferred to us the expression “capacity for consciousness”. This is a trivial matter: When at night I switch off the lights I don't become blind even though I am not seeing anything.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

In the discussion about the morality of abortion it is crucial to agree on what a “human person” is. After all if an embryo of 10 weeks is a human person then induced abortion is arguably murder. Conversely only persons have some particular rights and some particular potentials, thus if a 10 weeks old embryo is not a person then it lacks these rights and potentials.

Since the discussion about abortion has started only recently and is extremely heated, and since the philosophical concept of personhood is age old – the reasonable thing to do is to find out how philosophers understood personhood before the 20th century, that is before the passionate debate started. I've always had the clear impression that the philosophical definition of personhood clearly entails consciousness and reason, or in other words having a mind. In Charles Taylor's book “Human Agency and Language” I find that in 17th century philosophy “a person is a being with consciousness” of a particular kind, namely one with “the power to frame representation of things” by which one acquires knowledge and forms intentions, or in short with the power to reason (page 98). Another similar view holds that “consciousness in the characteristically human form can be seen as what we attain when we come to formulate the significance of things for us.” (page 100). Here then what characterizes personhood is not the power to reason but the power to be aware of values. All of these definitions strike me as reasonable, and none comports with the view that a fertilized human ovum is a human person.

Modern philosophers outside of the abortion debate appear to basically agree. I've found an essay that compares how three (pretty eminent) modern philosophers thing about personhood. The first, Harry Frankfurt, thinks that animal desires but what distinguishes a person is second order desires, namely the free will to desire to desire (which sounds to me like being a moral agent). The second, Joseph Raz, criticizes that view since he wants reason to be added to it. And the third, Gary Watson, also requires reason but goes a step further arguing that reason is necessary for ordering the relationship between values and desires. What is relevant to the abortion debate is that, again, none of these views about personhood comport with the view that a fertilized human ovum is a human person.

What seems to me clear is that all neutral philosophical views imply that a fertilized human ovum can (or is ordered towards or will) become a human person, but is not a human person. I used perhaps an hour to accumulate the evidence above and surely a much better job can be done, but it is clear that according to the traditional philosophical understanding, but also according to the current understanding by philosophers outside of the abortion debate, a fertilized ovum is not a human person and thus has not the rights that only human persons have.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

One possible objection to the above is to argue that according to the same philosophical understanding a newborn baby is not a human person either, say because it has not the power to reason. This is a weak counterargument easily dealt with by pointing out that for biological beings the power of reasoning supervenes on the kind brain they have, and that a newborn (indeed an advanced human fetus) has a brain of that structure. The objector could push the matter pointing out some extremely rare cases of babies, but I think such a path is not fruitful.

Another possible reaction is to circumvent the issue of personhood and argue that a fertilized ovum possesses human life, but this is also strikes me as an unfruitful path. For starters it seems obvious that only human persons can possess *human* life. If one insists on a biological definition of “human” then, arguably, every cell in our body possesses human life.

Another possible way to circumvent the issue and argue about the completeness of the fertilized ovum as possessing the set of information that is sufficient for producing a human person. Apart from the doubts expressed in my previous comment about whether such completeness actually exists, I was thinking that it will soon be possible to write on a computer disc the full information requiered for producing a human person and do it with the purpose of (or in a way “directed towards”) artificially producing a zygote and have it grow into a human baby in an artificial womb. Incidentally this is not science fiction; it is very probable that we shall able to do this in the next 100 years, and it would be absurd to then claim that destroying the disc (or the required machinery with the disc already loaded) is killing a human person.

I think the best path for those who oppose abortion on deontological grounds is to argue that inducing abortion is not killing a human person but is a deeply immoral act all the same. As is desiring an abortion. Even those who disagree with that moral judgment will agree that for a woman to desire an abortion is a personal tragedy. As a practical matter this is sufficient agreement in order to take the matter of abortion very seriously and to move as a society to implement those policies that will decrease the incident of that tragedy. As a society we have advanced to the point that virtually nobody wishes for slavery and indeed no slaves exist; we can advance to the point that virtually no woman wishes for abortion an indeed no abortion takes place. Or if such a goal should strike one as unrealistic we can certainly diminish the incidents of abortion by a factor of ten or a hundred. There are already countries where the rate of abortions is three times less than in the US.

What I am saying is that the heated quarreling and finger-pointing that characterizes the current debate is not only unfruitful but actively hurts the common cause of all civilized people.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Vincent Turley,

”Similarly, a cake is not a cake until it comes out of the oven - until then it is a variously gooey mass of flour, sugar, eggs, and butter that is gradually becoming a cake."

I think that here Maureen Condic is shooting herself in the foot. After all that gooey mass is an excellent example of an autonomous being, since it has all the information and structure needed for becoming a cake – all it needs is some heat from the outside. But we don't therefore say that the gooey mass is a cake, and similarly we shouldn't say that a fertilized human egg is a human person. Incidentally, a chicken's egg is also pretty autonomous requiring only some warmth to become a live chicken, but it's not like the egg is the chicken. Nor do laws which apply to chickens (say against torturing them by boiling them alive) apply to eggs (which we very often boil alive in our kitchen).

”I would question your claim that a mindless being is not a person.”

In the last two of the long three-part comment I just published above I think I pretty conclusively show that according to philosophical understanding, both old and current, a mindless being is not a person.

”Anything that is programmed to acquire a mind is surely no less valuable than a being who already has one, and this deserves to be called a person, too.”

I am more sympathetic to the moral argument than to the ontological argument against abortion, but would like to point out that equality of value does not imply what something deserves to be called. To give some analogies: A car may have the same value as a diamond, but from this it does not follow that it deserves to be called a diamond. A dog and a cat may have the same moral value, but it does not follow that we may call the dog a cat.

I understand your argument is different. You're saying that if A is ordered to become B, and A has the same value as B, then A and B have the same moral standing. If I understood you correctly then I agree with the principle but not with the premise that a fertilized ovum has the same value a child has.

”My wife and I suffered the loss of an unborn child whose birth we were both looking forward to, at the age of 17 weeks, back in 2002. I still visit our unborn child's grave, every year, and I hope we shall all meet in the hereafter.

I empathize and I am sure you will meet. Life goes on far beyond the current beginning and given God's perfection it will be as beautiful as it gets, indeed more beautiful than we are capable of now conceiving. I feel certain that no soul will be lost to Christ.

Still, I'd like to point out that you are not contradicting what I originally wrote about the experience of loss changing in kind after *about* the 20th week of gestation. I never meant that there is a sharp cut-off point.

After having our daughter my wife and I lost a second pregnancy at a very early stage, perhaps the 6th week. My experience was quite different from yours, indeed the thought of getting the tiny tissue buried never even crossed my mind. The pain was real, but it was the pain about the loss of a potential. Indeed I never think of myself as a father of two.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Greg,

”Compare the bereavement of a 17 year old killed in a car accident the week before graduating high school to that of a 70 year old who has battled with lung cancer for two decades.”

I think the kind of bereavement is the same, namely that a soul of a person we knew and loved has been lost to this world. The intensity of the bereavement is different, given the different circumstances of the loss. This difference also applies to the loss of pregnancies. I hold that the kind of bereavement when a miscarriage happens at 7 weeks of gestation is the same, but the intensity may be quite different. A childless woman who has tried for many years to get pregnant will probably bereave more intensely than a woman who is already a mother of four.

What I hold to be existentially significant is the kind of bereavement.

Compare the bereavement of a one year old who dies from SIDS in the United States to that of a one year old who dies from malaria in the Congo.”

I am not sure how you mean this. Perhaps you mean it in the sense that one year olds die all the time from malaria in the Congo so the bereavement there is less in intensity.

My larger point is this: On theism we are first and foremost spiritual beings. But then theistic philosophers should first and foremost think about the human condition as experienced in our lives, and not get carried away by the fashion of scientific talk. The human experience is fundamentally of a qualitative nature, and the fact that the physical sciences are entirely blind to this only proves how limited their use is to philosophy. Rather theistic philosophers should analyze the facts of the human condition (for example whether it is in fact the case that people experience different kinds of bereavement at the loss of a pregnancy) and then consider the implications of these experiential facts.

In the all-important context of repentance I have been arguing that, both in our personal lives and in discourse with others, we should concentrate on the existential reality of repentance, rather on long-winged issues about dogmas, rules, and ceremonies. The latter may be of great usefulness, but the reality of repentance is internal. To lose sight of this fact is like a mountain climber who loses sight of the peak she wants to reach, while concentrating on the kind of shoes she should wear.

Greg said...

@ Dianelos

I think the kind of bereavement is the same, namely that a soul of a person we knew and loved has been lost to this world.

You're welcome to assert this, of course. But to speak in terms of "kinds of bereavement" is to propose an interpretation of grieving behaviors, since distinctions between different kinds of bereavement are not made in ordinary language. They might be made to explain why some people grieve some deaths not at all, or why some people grieve some deaths more than others.

I am pointing out that the positing of distinct kinds of bereavement to explain those behaviors is gratuitous and unnecessary. There are already variations in the extent to which people grieve a death, depending on circumstantial factors such as how unexpected the death was, the stage in life of the deceased, etc.

Perhaps you think that there is some other explanandum which calls for the postulation of distinct kinds of bereavement. Obviously the explanandum cannot be that, in the cases I mentioned, "a soul of a person we knew and loved has been lost to this world," while in the case of a very young conceptus, no soul has been lost to this world, for that is what is at issue and that is the conclusion you took to be supported by distinct kinds of bereavement.

My sense is that different experiences of bereavement can be accounted for entirely in terms of whether the loss was a matter of course and whether it was avoidable. If we are to adopt a more complex interpretation of people's behaviors and experiences, I am going to want to see an argument for that claim, which you seem not to have given.

jmhenry said...

When a pregnant woman desires an abortion then the tragedy has already happened... We are interested in finding out which policies succeed in the sense of less women getting into the state of desiring an abortion.

See, that's the difference between us, Dianelos. I do not consider abortion to be merely a "tragedy", but a moral evil and fundamentally unjust. It is certainly legitimate to have a debate about what policies may or may not be effective in reducing the motivations towards or desires for an act which is a moral evil and fundamental injustice. But that in no way means that such an evil should not itself be restricted. For one thing, if the law is a teacher, the restrictions themselves may have an effect of reducing the incidence of the evil in question, at least in the long-term; and secondly, if the matter is fundamental to justice, then human positive law must be conformed to its truth in order to be legitimate law.

This was the point made by Martin Luther King in his Letter from Birmingham Jail regarding the institution of segregation; for him, it was not just a "tragedy" -- it was morally evil and fundamentally unjust, something that "distorts the soul and damages the personality," as he put it. I would argue that abortion is the same: It distorts the soul and damages the personality, which explains why people must twist themselves into such knots to defend it (such as going so far as to deny the plain truth that an unborn human is an organism, that is, a self-organizing living being; or constructing convoluted and unsound functionalist accounts of personhood). Again, the law is a teacher. Hence it is perfectly legitimate to consider the question of to what extent abortion restrictions themselves can reduce abortion rates. That was the point of my listing the abortion restrictions in the countries which you claimed were "doing something right." I then remarked:

Anybody interested in how policy can effect abortion rates must ask the question: To what extent do these restrictions -- such as early gestational limits, mandatory pre-abortion waiting periods and counseling, requirements that the procedure be performed in a hospital -- help to reduce abortion rates?

You then proceeded to casually dismiss that question, claiming that it's irrelevant. I find that telling. I can only conclude from this that you are not truly interested in objectively determining what "something" the countries you mentioned are "doing right." This is truly baffling for someone who claims to be interested in how policies might effect abortion rates. The abortion restrictions of those countries, and the question of what effect they have on abortion rates, is entirely relevant.

So many of your other remarks are simply bizarre. For example:

Modern philosophers outside of the abortion debate appear to basically agree. ... What seems to me clear is that all neutral philosophical views imply that a fertilized human ovum can (or is ordered towards or will) become a human person, but is not a human person.

First of all, who just takes a poll of what certain philosophers think about something, and decides that what they say must be the truth of the matter? Arguments must be weighed on their own merits, not by majority votes. Second, who gets to decide who is a "neutral philosopher"? Is there even such a thing as a "neutral philosopher" (which itself seems like an extremely dubious claim)?

And you say:

I think the best path for those who oppose abortion on deontological grounds is to argue that inducing abortion is not killing a human person but is a deeply immoral act all the same.

Yet you never answer the question of what it is about abortion that makes it a "deeply immoral act." If it is not the killing of a human person, then to what species of immoral act does abortion belong, in your view?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Dianelos,

Got a busy day today, so I'll be quick.

1. Metamorphosis: not relevant to the discussion of embryos, but even if it were, it's still controlled from within. Quote from Wikipedia:

"Metamorphosis is iodothyronine-induced and an ancestral feature of all chordates.[4]

"In insects growth and metamorphosis are CONTROLLED by hormones synthesized by endocrine glands near the front of the body (anterior). Neurosecretory cells in an insect's brain secrete a hormone, the prothoracicotropic hormone (PTTH) that ACTIVATES prothoracic glands, which secrete a second hormone, usually ecdysone (an ecdysteroid), that INDUCES ecdysis.[5] PTTH also STIMULATES the corpora allata, a retrocerebral organ, to produce juvenile hormone, which prevents the development of adult characteristics during ecdysis."

End quote.

2. Re aliens being able to grow a human being from a one-cell embryo: OK, they might not know the correct sequence of body signals to simulate pregnancy - although the volume of information required to program such a sequence would still pale beside the volume of information in the embryo's DNA. But the REALLY decisive question here is: WHO CONTROLS embryonic development - the mother or the child? I've already produced quotes from Professor Maureen Condic showing that the embryo is in control, and the Wikipedia quote above shows that metamorphosis is controlled by the developing organism, and not by the signals it receives from without. More here: https://answersingenesis.org/creepy-crawlies/insects/metamorphosis/

3. Re grieving: there's an old saying in English that what the eye doesn't perceive of, a body doesn't grieve of. We never get to see our unborn children and in the early stages, we're barely aware that they're there. In the very early stages, we're not aware at all. That's why we grieve differently: we know less. That doesn't mean the early embryo matters less. You're confusing an epistemological distinction with an ontological one. Cheers.

doubter said...

Grace and Rust:

Probably not.

Lastly, I object to your appeal to "existential evidence." As it strikes me, all you have done is slap an interpretation onto a pair of events set at your prefered times to justify your position. In other words, you aren't appealing to real evidence, or else you haven't given any good reason to accept your interpretation.

Correct. That's how he works.

So far, you have only called things absurd, when I have asked you to explain why they are. In this case, you have only kicked the can down the road.

Perhaps whatever he doesn't see off the bat is "absurd".

jmhenry: You then proceeded to casually dismiss that question, claiming that it's irrelevant. I find that telling. I can only conclude from this that you are not truly interested in objectively determining what "something" the countries you mentioned are "doing right...So many of your other remarks are simply bizarre.

Quite right.

Vincent: Re grieving: there's an old saying in English that what the eye doesn't perceive of, a body doesn't grieve of.

Or, "out of sight, out of mind." That works too.

Guys, so far as the evidence goes, Dianelos G. is a relativist liberal who likes to imagine that whatever prejudice he has formed by sentiment is reasonable, and for that reason must be what Christ and the Gospels teach. The majority of "neutral" philosophers, too. Such sentiment is immune to argument.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Grace and Rust,

”As I understand things so far, you suggested that an unfertilized ovum has the potential for consciousness. To be consistent, you would have to say that it therefore has all these other potentialities you allude to: for theosis, repentance, knowing good and evil.”

What I wrote is that it seems to me absurd to hold that ”what matters is not the capacity but the potential”. I mentioned many examples. The match has the potential, indeed is ordered towards producing fire, but is not a fire. The seed has the potential, indeed is ordered towards producing a tree, but is not a tree. Similarly, the chicken egg is ordered towards producing a chicken but is not a chicken. So, reasonably enough, laws which apply to fire, to trees, and to chickens do not apply to matches, to seeds, and to chicken eggs. Another example I mentioned is that of the “gooey mass” we put into the oven to make a cake, and which nobody holds to be already a cake. I offered a lot of analogies, and I am not sure anybody in our discussion is dealing with them. Again, I submit two questions:

1) Why, given all these analogies, do many people insist that a fertilized human ovum is already a human person and therefore that all laws that apply to human persons should apply to it also? Where's the difference?

2) Why, if what matters is the potential, don't they hold the unfertilized human ovum to be already a human person, given that the unfertilized human ovum is also directed towards becoming a human person? After all what is the final cause of the unfertilized human ovum if not to become a human person? Should the answer be that the final cause of the unfertilized human ovum is only to become a fertilized egg (which will produce the human person), then why do we say that a final cause of a match is the produce fire and not only to be struck (which will produce the fire)?

”As long as the ovum is incomplete, it does not have that potential, even while it's ordered towards reproduction per se. It simply lacks the substantial form which underlies those other potentials.”

Right, but isn't this an ad-hoc argument? Why not also say that a match does not have the substantial form that underlies the potential of producing fire, and that only a struck match has it?

But even if one grants your argument, the question remains: Why don't we say that a chicken egg is a chicken? Why do laws which apply to live chickens do not apply to live chicken eggs? Doesn't the live chicken egg have the substantial form which underlies the potential of becoming a live chicken, *exactly* as it holds for the fertilized human egg? Isn't this analogy exactly appropriate to the discussion at hand? If you think it isn't then where would you say is the difference?

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Greg,

”But to speak in terms of "kinds of bereavement" is to propose an interpretation of grieving behaviors, since distinctions between different kinds of bereavement are not made in ordinary language.”

I wish to discuss the experience of bereavement itself. The human condition is that we exist in a world of conscious experience, and in philosophy (and especially in theistic philosophy) we should be clear about how this world is. That's fundamental since all human knowledge flows from the human condition.

I agree that the bereavement of loss will cause behavior and that there is something to learned from that behavior too, but what interests me is the immediate experience. So I submit that a couple who loses a pregnancy before about the 10th week of gestation experiences bereavement of different kind and not only of a different intensity compared to a couple that loses a pregnancy after about the 20th week. I am making a factual claim, I am pointing at how the human condition actually is.

Why should anybody agree with my factual claim? Well on the same grounds we basically agree about all claims about the human condition, namely that we all partake in it. Of course in the matter at hand I am talking about relatively rare experiences, so even though we have the capacity of empathy by which we have some knowledge of how it is to experience something we haven't experienced ourselves – I concede there is space for doubt. If somebody doubts that my factual claim is true, then I may argue by pointing out different observable behaviors (including testimonies) that are caused by the bereavement of the loss of a pregnancy, and which are better explained by the premise that the experiences are of different kind and not just of different intensity. I described some such difference above.

I am pointing out that the positing of distinct kinds of bereavement to explain those behaviors is gratuitous and unnecessary.”

It's not clear to me though what your position is. Do you agree that there are different kinds of bereavement at the loss of a pregnancy or not?

”Perhaps you think that there is some other explanandum which calls for the postulation of distinct kinds of bereavement.”

No, it's the other way around. The explandum is the factual existence of the different kinds of bereavement at the loss of a pregnancy, and I am arguing that the explanans is that there are different kinds of pregnancy loss. It's one of my arguments against the belief that a fertilized egg is a human person.

”My sense is that different experiences of bereavement can be accounted for entirely in terms of whether the loss was a matter of course and whether it was avoidable.”

The natural loss of pregnancy at 6 weeks gestation and the natural loss of a pregnancy at 24 weeks gestation are both accidental and in this sense unavoidable. It is easy to explain why in the latter case the bereavement will be much more intense. My argument is that there is also a different *kind* of bereavement which can only be explained by the premise that these are different kinds of loss.

”I am going to want to see an argument for that claim, which you seem not to have given.”

The crafting of professional philosophical arguments is hard work. I may yet do such work in the future, even though I know that's not professionally crafted philosophical arguments which change minds. What interest me now is whether you see the spirit of my argument.

Vand83 said...

"No, it's the other way around. The explandum is the factual existence of the different kinds of bereavement at the loss of a pregnancy, and I am arguing that the explanans is that there are different kinds of pregnancy loss. It's one of my arguments against the belief that a fertilized egg is a human person."

This may in fact be one of the silliest things I've ever read. Once again, it all boils down to emotions for you. There was a time when large portions of populations didn't give a second thought to leaving unwanted children exposed in the wilderness. The fact that such cultures may have experienced little to no bereavement would not be an argument for the non-personhood of an infant children, usually anyway.

Greg said...

@ Dianelos

So I submit that a couple who loses a pregnancy before about the 10th week of gestation experiences bereavement of different kind and not only of a different intensity compared to a couple that loses a pregnancy after about the 20th week. I am making a factual claim, I am pointing at how the human condition actually is.

You'll have to specify what you actually mean by bereavements differing in kind. "Experience" is too vague. Is a bereavement, for instance, an emotion like pain, with a particular quality, but without a cognitive content? Is it some kind of pro- or anti-attitude that does have cognitive content? (For instance, and roughly, the desire that p is a pro-attitude that p come about. An aversion from X is a desire to avoid X.) The main point is: What kind of experience are we talking about here?

The main problem is that it is not clear how you can say anything that will render your argument defensible. If bereavement is an emotion, a kind of pain mingled with disappointment, then it is not clear why any bereavements differ in kind or why this would be relevant to arguing that a conceptus is not a human person.

If you are claiming that it has some cognitive content--particularly, some kind of anti-attitude toward the proposition "a potential person will not come into being" rather than toward the proposition "a soul of a person we knew and loved has been lost to this world"--then your argument is circular, for this is exactly what is at issue. If someone has a prior belief that a conceptus is not a person, then they will not grieve the loss of a person; but those who believe that the conceptus is a person will grieve the loss of a person (and, by their report, they sometimes do).

In any case, there are a lot of details to sort out as regards what you mean. After that, something will have to be said as to why that is relevant evidence for the claim that the conceptus is merely a potential person.

I think all differences in the experience of bereavement as well as grieving behaviors can be explained, rather robustly, by reference to a). people's beliefs about the moral status of the deceased, b). people's relations to the moral status of the deceased, c). how surprising the death was, and d). how preventable the death was. I'd simply like to see some explanandum--whether it's an experience or behavior in response to a death--that cannot be explained by these.

jmhenry said...

This may in fact be one of the silliest things I've ever read.

I was thinking the same thing. What does the culturally contingent expressions and feelings of bereavement over the loss of a particular life have to do with the ontological status of that life? As I said earlier in the thread, a few centuries from now, what seems "weird" to Dianelos and "neutral philosophers" today might be considered common sense and obvious by then. For example, one can easily imagine a future society (or an alien species) in which people do bereave the loss of early embryonic life as much as any other person. (Perhaps Mike Flynn can write that story for us.)

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ jmhenry,

”I do not consider abortion to be merely a "tragedy", but a moral evil and fundamentally unjust.”

There is nothing “merely” to tragedy. I think we agree that to desire an abortion is a sin, no matter whether one will get the abortion performed or not. But I don't agree that to wish for an abortion during the first weeks of gestation is to wish to kill a human person, nor that to perform an abortion at this stage is to kill a human person, because reason tells me that a fertilized ovum is not a human person.

In any case we should look for what connects us and not what separates us. If we all agree that abortion is a tragedy then we should work together to improve our world so that fewer people (ideally no woman or her male partner) wishes for an abortion. Why not work together on this instead of being judgmental and point fingers at each other? While the huge tragedy goes on?

”But that in no way means that such an evil should not itself be restricted.”

The only way to restrict the sin is to help people not arrive to the state of wishing for an abortion. Whether the abortion is performed or not is irrelevant to the sin. If somebody wishes to steal or to murder or to commit any grave sin – and you implant a device in her brain that will give her a painful shock any time she is about to act and thus stop her from acting on that sinful wish, then you do zero to help her repent. If anything you are harming her and making it more difficult for her to repent. I feel pretty certain what I am saying here comports with catholic soteriology.

God gave us the freedom to choose; trying to take away that freedom from others or from ourselves is to go against God's purpose.

”For one thing, if the law is a teacher, the restrictions themselves may have an effect of reducing the incidence of the evil in question”

I have seen no evidence for this. In Poland, for example, abortion is illegal and abortions are rampant. In the US there are severe laws against murder and murder rates are very high. The causes of evil behavior are complex, and enacting severe laws is usually not the right answer since it does not respond to the real causes.

”But that in no way means that such an evil should not itself be restricted.”

Sure. So we should study what policies have proven successful in countries such as Italy and Germany, and conversely have proved unsuccessful in countries such as Sweden and Spain. And then move to have the better practices implemented in our societies. I don't know what these successful policies are (my personal guess is that good education plays a big role), but I notice abortion is legal both in Germany and in Italy. Italy is a Catholic country – why not learn from it?

”I would argue that abortion is the same: It distorts the soul and damages the personality”

It diminishes the charity in one's soul yes, and thus is a sin. I guess that even atheist women who had an abortion would agree that the experience hurt and injured her psychologically. So there is broad agreement about the existential facts, about abortion being a tragedy, and about the view that society should do its best to decrease the incident of abortion. So, why all the enmity?

You then proceeded to casually dismiss that question, claiming that it's irrelevant.”

I only said it's irrelevant to the question of the sin. I understand you believe that the performance of abortion is a great evil in itself since it is the killing an innocent human being. But please observe that sin is the mother of all moral evils. Surely you agree that if people would never sin wishing for an abortion then abortions would stop.

The abortion restrictions of those countries, and the question of what effect they have on abortion rates, is entirely relevant.

Again, please observe that in Italy and Germany, the two countries which according to what I could find out the incident of abortion is at the lowest and is moreover sinking, abortion is legal.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

”First of all, who just takes a poll of what certain philosophers think about something, and decides that what they say must be the truth of the matter? Arguments must be weighed on their own merits, not by majority votes.”

I claimed that according to age old philosophical understanding, and even according to the understanding of modern philosophers outside of the abortion debate, it is always the case that personhood entails consciousness. This is a factual claim. I've been reading philosophy for many years and I don't recall ever reading that a being devoid of consciousness can be a person, whether human or not. In the context of our current discussion I even searched and quoted several eminent philosophers who speak of personhood only in the context of consciousness. Personhood is such a fundamental concept (it is was defines ourselves) that probably every major philosopher had something to say about it. Well I claim one thing all philosophers outside of the abortion debate agree on is that personhood entails consciousness.

Now here you are saying that truth is not a matter of taking polls. But I was only discussing what philosophers have always understood a person is. Can you quote one philosopher before the twentieth century (which is when the heated abortion debate started), or one modern philosopher not discussing abortion, or for that matter one theologian not related to the current abortion debate, who has defined the human person in a way that does not entail consciousness?

I've just looked up the Catholic encyclopedia about personhood. I can't say I understood everything but this bit is clear enough “Person is predicated only of intellectual beings.” And since only thinking beings are intellectual beings and a fertilized ovum is not a thinking being, it follows that the fertilized ovum is not a person.

Then I looked up the Catholic catechism from which I quote:

“Of all visible creatures only man is able to know and love his creator" Well only conscious beings are able to know and love their creator, therefore the fertilized ovum is not a human being.

”Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons.” Again, only conscious beings are capable of these things, so the fertilized ovum is not a person.

I also found this very interesting page making the point that on theism being a human person entails being made in the image of God, from which I quote:

”every human being is an image of God” and ”For [St Augustine], the image of God in man has a Trinitarian structure, reflecting either the tripartite structure of the human soul (spirit, self-consciousness, and love) or the threefold aspects of the psyche (memory, intelligence, and will).” All of these entail consciousness.

”[According to Thomas Aquinas] the image of God is realized principally in an act of contemplation in the intellect” Again, intellect and contemplation entail consciousness.

I could go on and on, but I think the point is clear: It is contrary to reason to hold that a single cell having no consciousness is a human person made in the image of God.

Greg said...

@ Dianelos

I claimed that according to age old philosophical understanding, and even according to the understanding of modern philosophers outside of the abortion debate, it is always the case that personhood entails consciousness. This is a factual claim. I've been reading philosophy for many years and I don't recall ever reading that a being devoid of consciousness can be a person, whether human or not.

This is just flatly wrong. Aquinas follows Boethius in defining a person as an individual substance of a rational nature. You don't get psychological criteria for personhood (that is, personhood requires immediately exercisable psychological capacities such as consciousness) until modern philosophers like Locke.

jmhenry said...

Whether the abortion is performed or not is irrelevant to the sin. If somebody wishes to steal or to murder or to commit any grave sin ... In the US there are severe laws against murder and murder rates are very high.

Therefore, we should have no laws that restrict murder and theft. Such restrictions do not address the "tragedy" of people desiring to murder and steal in the first place. We should work together to improve our world so that fewer people wish to murder and steal. These things are sins, which begin with the desire to murder and steal. Furthermore, restrictions on murder and theft do not help anyone to repent. In fact, restricting their acts just makes it harder for murderers and thieves to repent. To believe otherwise is to be judgmental and to point fingers while the tragedy of murder and theft go on. The only way to restrict the sin of murder and theft is to help people not arrive to the state of wishing to murder and steal. Enacting laws is usually not the right answer anyway, since it does not respond to the real causes. So talk on restrictions of these behaviors is irrelevant. God gave us the freedom to choose; trying to take away that freedom from others or from ourselves is to go against God's purpose. And so on.

If only you were more consistent, Dianelos, you would be able to see how your remarks would pretty much annihilate the very idea of law and society.

So we should study what policies have proven successful in countries such as Italy and Germany...

I completely agree. So I will repeat my question for you:

To what extent do these restrictions -- such as early gestational limits, mandatory pre-abortion waiting periods and counseling, requirements that the procedure be performed in a hospital -- help to reduce abortion rates?

Now, keep in mind that I am being extremely generous here. These sorts of abortion restrictions are actually more modest than what I would support. Yet even here you refuse to even consider what effect they may have on abortion rates. Instead you just guess that it's "good education" and leave it that, basically assuming the cause you prefer instead of objectively investigating what the genuine causes may be. You claim to be interested in wanting to prevent women to even desire abortion in the first place. Yet you casually dismiss even the modest restriction of pre-abortion counseling, which it seems to me would be extremely helpful in determining a woman's true motivations for abortion. (This is particularly important for those cases in which women are being coerced by husbands, boyfriends, or family.)

So not only might it be the case that certain kinds of abortion restrictions reduce abortion rates, but certain restrictions (such as pre-abortion counseling) could help to address what is genuinely behind a woman's desire to have an abortion -- both of which you claim to care about.

Greg: Aquinas follows Boethius in defining a person as an individual substance of a rational nature. You don't get psychological criteria for personhood (that is, personhood requires immediately exercisable psychological capacities such as consciousness) until modern philosophers like Locke.

Correct. I was about to say the same thing. I also noted Mike Flynn's post "Getting Personal" earlier in the thread.

doubter said...

Poland 2 (these are legal abortions, in Poland illegal abortions are estimated of being 10 to 50 times more frequent – a mess)

Guttmacher is perhaps the most reliable source


Anybody who relies on Guttmacher as the "most reliable source" has got to be an idiot of one form or another. Guttmacher is Planned Parenthood's (illegitimate) baby, born out of wedlock and should have been aborted.

Anybody who throws out numbers like "10 to 50 times more frequent" of Poland's illegal abortions ought to be thrown out the window. Nobody knows how many illegal abortions there are, but we DO IN FACT know that abortionists have fantastically inflated the numbers of illegal abortions since the 1960s.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, founder of NARAL:

This is the tactic of the self-fulfilling lie. Few people care to be in the minority. We aroused enough sympathy to sell our program of permissive abortion by fabricating the number of illegal abortions done annually in the U.S. The actual figure was approaching 100,000 but the figure we gave to the media repeatedly was 1,000,000. Repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public. The number of women dying from illegal abortions was around 200-250 annually. The figure we constantly fed to the media was 10,000. These false figures took root in the consciousness of Americans convincing many that we needed to crack the abortion law.

Below I copy data about number of induced abortions per 100 live births from the Council of Europe's stats.

Of course he eliminates Ireland, which has the lowest rates around.

Guys, he is using junk reasoning on junk data. How do you think that's going to come out?

Grace and Rust said...

@Dianelos Georgoudia, Feb.23, 8.03AM
>What I wrote is that it seems to me absurd to hold that ”what matters is not the capacity but the potential”. . . . [R]easonably enough, laws which apply to fire, to trees, and to chickens do not apply to matches, to seeds, and to chicken eggs. Another example I mentioned is that of the “gooey mass” we put into the oven to make a cake, and which nobody holds to be already a cake. . . . I am not sure anybody in our discussion is dealing with them.
Well, I did deal with a few of them; I took your seed analogy by the horns, and said you were wrong about it, period. It should've gone without saying that the same goes for a fertilized chicken egg; it is also a chicken, even if only in inchoate form. We cannot say this about cake, because the batter undergoes a substantial change (and what exists inchoately is not destroyed in the process of its development into a complete thing). Thus, that analogy is simply wrongheaded and inapplicable, while your match analogy at question two shows that I need to clarify myself more.
The same answers I gave to those analogies suffice to refute your first question, and I think that was plain the first time around; the difference was spelled out for you. These same answers also suffice for question two; I've expressly denied that the unfertilized ovum has the potentials for consciousness (and those other things you mention), and I've explained why. But I think you misunderstand when you added to your match analogy. It seems I still haven't been completely clear, so let me try again; it isn't that an ovum is directed towards becoming a person that makes it one (or else the match would be a fire, as you like to harp on). It's that the ovum has those potentials that define personhood that makes it one; but an unfertilized ovum doesn't have those potentials (and never will) for reasons I've already given. Notice that they are obviously not ad-hoc reasons, and match analogy ignores that. The match is a match precisely because it has the potential to produce fire, and the same applies to the fertilized ovum vs. the unfertilized one.

Anonymous said...

Whether the fertilized egg is the same in fundamental nature as the adult human being that eventually grows from it - i.e. of the same rational nature, made in God's image, can be answered by one short and simple question. If it is not, then it is a different individual being than the mature adult that eventually comes to be. When does that new individual being come into existence?

The obvious answer is that there is no point at which the fertilized egg is a different individual being than what grows later. It remains the one and same individual being throughout its growth, having the same genetic code and the same bodily identity throughout. Being one throughout, it is the very same single, individual (rational) human nature that animates the adult human being as animates the fertilized egg. The fertilized egg grows into a rational human being who uses reason actively because it is, as such, one and the same being as that future rational human being who uses reason actively. Therefore, the fertilized egg is of such a nature as to harbor - essentially - the potential of reasoning.

The same cannot be said of the unfertilized ovum, which ceases to be what it was before fertilization when it receives the sperm and the genetic codes combine to become something quite other, a new individual being. The act of fertilization is the substantial change that brings into being a new human being, and that human being has a rational nature from the completion of the conception.

Anonymous said...

I claimed that according to age old philosophical understanding, and even according to the understanding of modern philosophers outside of the abortion debate, it is always the case that personhood entails consciousness. This is a factual claim. I've been reading philosophy for many years and I don't recall ever reading that a being devoid of consciousness can be a person, whether human or not.

Arrant confusion.

"personhood entails consciousness" is so confused it cannot help but defeat conversation.

Personhood entails having a rational nature. Anything with a rational nature is of such a kind that - unless obstructed by impediments - it has the potential to reason. Actually reasoning also entails consciousness. Hence it is true that beings with a rational nature be of such a kind that - unless obstructed by impediments - has the potential to reason. But it is a given fact that many beings that have a rational nature are unable to reason due to impediments to carrying out the processes necessary for reasoning: severely mentally handicapped human babies are, per se, rational and therefore have the innate potential to reason: if the damage to their systems were removed, they would be able to learn to reason.

The "potential to reason" is logically divided into "immediate potency" and "remote potency". A mathematician who is just relaxing on a sofa, and not mentally engaged at all, is not actively reasoning about the Pythagorean theorem, but he could change to actively reasoning about it at a moment's notice. This is immediate potency. He has the knowledge, the habitual reality that is "able to consider the Pythagorean theorem" in the immediate sense, that he can be reduced from potency to actual just by choosing to consider the theorem. If he were in an anesthesia-induced coma he is not actively reasoning about it. But if he were to be woken from the coma, he would be ready to reason in a minute or two; the potency, while habitual, is also impeded by an obstacle extrinsic to his knowledge, extrinsic to his reasoning faculties. As a new 10th grader, he was ready to begin the rudiments of geometry and in a few short months he would be able to actively reason about the Pythagorean theorem. When the teacher has provided all of the preliminaries to the Theorem but has not yet actually discussed the Theorem, he has a potency that can be reduced to actuality by being drawn forward by the teacher's (or text's) direction: such potency is a potency to receive new knowledge, one immediately ready (unlike at the beginning of the semester). As a 5-year old he was ready to ask questions about length and area and size and equality, but not immediately ready to tackle theorems like he would in 10th grade. He as not the immediate potency to consider the Theorem, but he has the rationality that will allow him to eventually be immediately ready. As a 1-week old infant he was unable to ask questions about length and area and size, but he was already sensing physical objects and seeing them closer and farther and beginning to have the experiences that would underly the concepts eventually entailed in grasping "length" and "area" and "size". A baby has, in the remote sense, the potential to reason about the Pythagorean theorem. So does the fertilized egg, for it has one and the same rational human nature as the newborn baby.

Anonymous said...

Should be:

Actually reasoning also entails consciousness. Hence it is true that a being with a rational nature will be of such a kind that - unless obstructed by impediments - it has the potential to be conscious.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

f@ Vincent Torley,

”Metamorphosis: not relevant to the discussion of embryos”

I did not use the term in the sense it is used for insects, but in order to name the period of up to about the 20th week of gestation when all the amazing functional complexity of the fetus/embryo develops.

”2. Re aliens being able to grow a human being from a one-cell embryo: OK, they might not know the correct sequence of body signals to simulate pregnancy - although the volume of information required to program such a sequence would still pale beside the volume of information in the embryo's DNA.”

We don't know. My argument is not based on current scientific data but on my understanding of how evolution works. From the evolutionary point of view it's “cheap” to exploit the already available functional complexity of the mother's body for driving the metamorphosis (in my sense) of the fetus/embryo. I would be surprised if nature didn't exploit this. If I am right then artificial wombs will turn out to be much more complex than people think today.

”But the REALLY decisive question here is: WHO CONTROLS embryonic development - the mother or the child?”

If my speculative theory is right then it's a synergistic process. The genetic information is in the fertilized ovum, but the information required to produce functional complexity out of this “blueprint” is (I think) to a significant degree in the woman's body. The analogy of software being in the ovum's DNA and the hardware that executes the software being both in the fetus/embryo and in the woman is rough. Still it is relevant since we see that without the computer it's not only that the software cannot run, but that the software has no meaning.

”I've already produced quotes from Professor Maureen Condic showing that the embryo is in control”

I think above I have conclusively shown that Condic grossly misrepresents the actual science in the Nature article, the abstract of which is freely available. It's a bad sign (it reveals a lack of good argument) when people find it expedient to misrepresent the actual science to such a degree.

”That's why we grieve differently: we know less.”

My argument rests on the existential fact that we grieve differently not only in intensity but in kind. For me that's a significant fact, but I find others don't see it this way. Since we are first and foremost spiritual beings I think we should watch carefully at how it is to be human, which includes the quality of our experience of life.

Cheers

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ jmhenry,

I think we are discussing on two different levels, and that's the root of the misunderstanding.

My concern is primarily with ethics. Being a Christian I think that this is the most important discussion not only for the salvation of our souls, but also for diminishing moral evil in the world, since moral evil is always the product of sin. And of course the church has the great responsibility of trying to move people to repent, and thus not arrive to the point of desiring an abortion (or desiring to steal or to murder or to commit any other other moral evil).

It seems your concern is primarily with the actual abortions performed, which you consider to be a great moral evil since you believe the embryo is already a human person and therefore that the abortion kills a human person. I disagree with this ontological belief and therefore with the implications, but I do agree that abortions are a tragedy and that societies should implement those policies that more effectively diminish its incidence.

Thus we should be clear on what level we are discussing. If we move the discussion from ethics and salvation to what a society should do to diminish the number of abortions performed there are two issues we must consider:

1) We live in democracies, and in the public square one's own ontological, religious, and ethical beliefs are only one's own. Living in a democracy entails that one may disagree with the decisions of the government elected by the majority. One may of course try to convince others of one's own beliefs, but if the majority of people does not believe that a fertilized ovum is a human person then this will affect the lawmakers. For example they will not enact laws which deal with women who have an an abortion in the same way that laws deal with murderers. But since we all agree that abortions are a tragedy, we also agree that society should implement policies that will decrease its incidence.

2) Policies do matter. The incidence of abortion varies greatly between different countries, and some of the countries with the least number of abortions also succeed to continuously decrease their number. I take it we agree we should learn from these best practices. You mention the policy of mandatory waiting periods and counseling, and these strike me as good policies. On the other hand I happen to believe far more effective policies have to do with education that is given to people at school. But what I believe about the policies is irrelevant. There is sufficient experience in the world to objectively identify which policies work and which don't. So let's find out and implement them. I think every reasonable person agrees with this.

Finally it seems you hold that what I say implies that there should be no laws against murder or theft. But here we have the same situation: Everybody agrees that society should implement policies which are effective in diminishing the incident of theft and murder. And given that the US has a very high murder rate, perhaps you should learn from the policies that other more successful countries have implemented.

I mean on the level of discussing public policy everybody agrees about the goal, and everybody agrees that society should implement those policies which demonstrably are more successful in reaching that goal.

So, again, why all the enmity? I don't get it. Isn't it a waste of time and energy? And a sin in its own right?

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Grace and rust,

”It should've gone without saying that the same goes for a fertilized chicken egg; it is also a chicken, even if only in inchoate form.”

I don't think that's a reasonable view. And evidently so. After all it implies the absurdity that it is illegal to boil a chicken egg since it is illegal to boil a live chicken.

As of “inchoate” one might say that a newborn baby is a human person in inchoate form. Or that a 20 week old fetus is a human person in inchoate form. After all that baby and that fetus share many of the properties of a human person. One can argue that the 20 week old fetus is made in the image of God, which in the theistic context is the fundamental characteristic of created personhood. But to say that a single cell which in no way or form has consciousness or rationality or free will is a human person is evidently absurd. And contradicts three thousand years of philosophical and theological understanding. And as I demonstrated above contradicts a plethora of simple and clear statements one reads in the Vatican's Catholic encyclopedia, catechism, and theological pages.

I respect the Catholic church's intellectual prowess, so I can't believe it is her position that the fertilized ovum *is* a human person. I can imagine she argues that the fertilized ovum has the same dignity a human person has, or the same moral rights, or the same value (as Vincent argues), or is made from the same rational substance, or has the same substantial form (as you write above). But not that it *is* a human person. The only common property I can find between a fertilized ovum and a baby is that biologically they share the same DNA.

”We cannot say this about cake, because the batter undergoes a substantial change (and what exists inchoately is not destroyed in the process of its development into a complete thing).”

I fail to see any relevant difference whatsoever. On my understanding of A-T metaphysics the final cause of the batter is the cake. Clearly. But perhaps the metaphysical difference between an ovum becoming a baby and the batter becoming a cake lies elsewhere – on the realm of substance, say. Or has something to do with the belief that ”substances possess essences which are objectively real and immanent to the things themselves” as Feser puts it in his recent essay. So perhaps the essence of the substance of the batter is not related to the cake in the way the essence of the substance of the fertilized ovum is related to the baby. If so I would like somebody to explain to me the objective difference. After all as a physical system the two cases seem to be exactly analogous. To use Vincent's argumentation the batter includes all the information and has the complete autonomy to become a cake – it only requires heat. The way, he argues, the fertilized ovum includes all the information and has the complete autonomy to become a baby – it only requires the appropriate environment of nutrients, oxygen, warmth etc which are normally provided by the womb.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

”It's that the [fertilized] ovum has those potentials that define personhood that makes it one; but an unfertilized ovum doesn't have those potentials (and never will) for reasons I've already given.”

In philosophical tradition it's not potentials that define personhood but actuality. Or at least “immediate potency” as Anonymous below puts it, by which I suppose she means the same thing I referred to as “capacity” in previous posts.

But let me assume your ontological view of things and see where it leads: You are saying that the unfertilized egg lacks an essential property (the “potential”) which the fertilized egg possesses. The difference evidently is that the unfertilized egg is not fertilized (and thus lacks among other things half the genetic code that is necessary for producing a baby). Fine so far. So how does the same logic applies to the match? The unstruck match lacks an essential property (the “potential”) which the struck match possesses. The difference evidently is that the struck match has not been struck (and thus lacks the heat input which is necessary for it to produce fire). So far so good. Thus we say the final cause of the match is the fire, but the unstruck match does not have the potential to produce fire whereas the struck match has that potential. This contradicts the way the folk speaks, but let's overlook the folk's way of speaking and insist that in the technical metaphysical sense the matches we find in a match box have not the potential to produce fire.

So on your view we have a fertilized ovum with the potential to produce a baby, a struck match with the potential to produce fire, and batter in the oven with the potential to produce a cake. But these potentials will not necessarily be realized: the fertilized ovum needs a healthy womb, the struck match needs the supply of oxygen, the batter in the oven needs a properly functioning oven.

Now since we don't say that a struck match is a fire, or that the batter we've just put in the oven is a cake, for consistency's sake (and in order not to beg the question) let's not say that a fertilized ovum is a human person. What could we argue about the properties of things that have the potential to become something else? Can we argue that they have the same value as what it is they have the potential of becoming? That's the significant question, because the concept of value grounds the concepts of morality, dignity, rights, and so on. So, let's see. Do we consider the struck match to have the same value as the fire we wish to produce? Clearly not. Do we consider the batter in the oven to have the same value as the cake we wish to produce? Clearly not. Why then should we consider that the fertilized ovum has the same value as the human baby? I can see no reason based on the ontological premises we are assuming.

[continues below]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

My conclusion is this: Perhaps it is true that the fertilized human ovum has the same value, dignity, moral standing, and civil rights as the human person. But it appears this truth fails to be grounded in reason and thus can only be grounded in faith. As a theist I consider that faith is a cognitive faculty of equal standing as reason. Actually I hold that faith is the primary cognitive faculty since reason is grounded on it, but that's irrelevant to my point. My point is that if the church (or the Christian) wants to claim that the fertilized ovum has the same value as the human person she can only argue on faith and not on reason. She should say that this truth too is a direct revelation by God's grace, an important truth we recognize directly and immediately. Such a position will weaken the church's case in the democratic process that produces policy, but is the position that respects the truth about the cognitive ground of her position.

Finally, since the cognitive faculty of faith is a natural faculty with which we are made (for example it is by this faculty we recognize good from evil) I testify that according to my faculty of direct and immediate recognition of truth it is not the case that the fertilized ovum has the same value as a human person. Moreover, as I have argued above, the actual existential facts of experience, and unquestionably the observable behaviors when a pregnancy is lost, prove beyond reasonable doubt that people do not value the fertilized ovum as they value a human person. Finally by reason alone we find that the view that the fertilized ovum has the same value as a human person and thus should have the same civil rights leads to absurdities. So it will be technically feasible in the relatively near future to produce a human baby without the use of a human ovum and sperm, perhaps as a means to help sterile couples have children. In that technical process the fertilized ovum will perhaps be substituted by a computer disc that carries the relevant genetic data. But it would absurd to assign that disc the same value and civic rights one assigns to a human person (never mind consider that disc to *be* a human person).

jmhenry said...

It seems your concern is primarily with the actual abortions performed...

I am concerned with the actual abortions performed and the effect that legalized abortion itself has on souls -- something that you far too easily overlook. That is why I said:

I would argue that abortion is the same: It distorts the soul and damages the personality, which explains why people must twist themselves into such knots to defend it (such as going so far as to deny the plain truth that an unborn human is an organism, that is, a self-organizing living being; or constructing convoluted and unsound functionalist accounts of personhood).

Now, to be sure, I also said:

It is certainly legitimate to have a debate about what policies may or may not be effective in reducing the motivations towards or desires for an act which is a moral evil and fundamental injustice. But that in no way means that such an evil should not itself be restricted.

Hence there is room for discussion about various policies which address such motivations and desires, although we might disagree on what those policies should be. For example, you seem to think that telling kids to masturbate would reduce abortion rates, while I agree with Feser that being mired in the "roiling tarpits of lust" is one of the things that has led to abortion. At the most fundamental level, people don't understand the meaning of sex. I would dare call that a "tragedy."

We live in democracies, and in the public square one's own ontological, religious, and ethical beliefs are only one's own. Living in a democracy entails that one may disagree with the decisions of the government elected by the majority.

First of all, as I said before, if you could only be consistent, you would see how this annihilates the very idea of law and society. It is complete nihilism, much like the "mystery of life" passage in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Secondly, in the U.S., the abortion issue is not even in the hands of a majority or the democratic process at all -- not since 1973. Perhaps you would be in favor of overturning certain American Court cases, so that the issue actually would be in the hands of the democratic process and majorities actually could decide this matter for themselves.

For my own part, I am simply defending the common humanity of born and unborn, while denying both Court-imposed nihilism and appeals to popular sovereignty over and against the requirement that positive law be conformed to a higher moral law -- all of which makes this debate very familiar. That is neither a waste of time and energy, nor a sin. Quite the opposite.