Annual Leonard Arrington Mormon History Lecture

Not a philosophical event, but philosophers who are also interested in religious studies might consider attending the annual Leonard Arrington Mormon History Lecture.  This year:

Presenter: Kathleen Flake, professor of American religious history in the Divinity School and Graduate Department at Vanderbilt University (TN).

Title: The Emotional and Priestly Logic of Plural Marriage.

Where/When: Thurs Oct 1, 7pm, Logan Tabernacle (50 N Main St)

Author: Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.

16 thoughts on “Annual Leonard Arrington Mormon History Lecture”

  1. I apologize for hijacking this blog. But given that Flake’s lecture will be on a controversial marital arrangement, and given our recent discussions in Kleiner’s Social Ethics course, I thought this would be an appropriate time and place to post a short essay on gay marriage that I enjoyed by British pianist Stephen Hough.

    Hough is one of the greatest living musical minds- a pianist almost without peer, a prolific composer, and an accomplished poet, with an encyclopedic knowledge of music, art, and all-things-Catholic. He is a devout Catholic, but he is also homosexual. In the essay below he reflects upon this tension, arguing against the Catholic Church’s position on gay marriage.

    Click to access the-tablet.pdf


  2. Interesting (and actually a little odd) that Hough would try to enlist JPII as an ally in his argument (he refers to JPII’s pre-papal book ‘Love and Responsibilty’ which is sort of a prequel to the ‘Theology of the Body’). In both places, JPII’s reflection on the Genesis passage that “it is not good for man to be alone” is placed entirely in the context of sexual difference. And it is only within the context of genuine sexual difference that JPII thinks the sexual gift of self to an other makes any sense. JPII’s view is that the real meaning of sexuality is found in the imaging of the inner life of the Trinity – there is unity in difference (communion between persons) that is itself a life-giving reciprocating self-gift. This is, in a sense, a personalistic retrieval of the more traditional natural law argument concerning procreation as a natural end of sexuality.

    I also think Hough passes by the natural law much too quickly (particularly for a Catholic!). He remarks that “Ultimately the only real argument against
    homosexual equality is a belief that God has told us it is wrong.” Sorry, but that is just an ignorant statement (just as it is ignorant to claim that the Catholic Church makes merely sectarian and faith-based arguments on abortion). Whether you are persuaded by the Catholic Church’s natural law arguments or not, they make arguments and not mere appeals to divine commands. While I will later in the post discuss Roman authority, the Church’s moral views are almost always worked out via reason as well as faith (trust in the teaching Magisterium of the Church).

    Related to this is his wrongheaded (at least in JPII’s view) comparison of Catholic views on homosexuality to the dated views on women and slavery. The often regrettable interpretations of Scripture that seemed to justify slavery or poor treatment of women are, in fact, violations of the natural law (we can know those interpretations to be false because they violate basic principles of the natural law). The same cannot be said – or at least not so immediately and obviously said – of homosexuality.

    In the end, I think Hough simply does what all of the liberals do when it comes to marriage – he reduces marriage and sexuality to the sharing of intimate feelings. JPII entirely rejects that view, so it is again rather odd to see him try to marshal JPII to his side.

    Finally a non-philosophical point about Catholicism: Part of what it means to be Catholic is to believe that the Church Magisterium has teaching authority. As such, it is impossible to be a “devout Catholic” while simultaneously rejecting the Church’s unwavering teachings on things like abortion and homosexuality. There is no such thing as a “cafeteria Catholic”, that is a contradiction in terms. Someone who rejects the Church’s teachings on such things is, by definition, not a Catholic since they reject the singularly unique attribute of Catholicism – its claim about the authority of Rome. If you don’t think the Pope speaks with authority, then you are not Catholic, period. I don’t say this to sound pushy or exclusionary — as JPII often said, ‘the Church imposes nothing, but only proposes’. But if you don’t agree with what it proposes then you are not Catholic. Go be an Episcopalian – basically the same liturgy with a lot less authoritative teachings. The notion that individual Catholics can decide what Catholicism teaches is frankly a rather protestant view, not a Catholic one. Now you might think this view of the authority of Rome is silly and foolish, in which case you should not be Catholic (or self-identify as one). Perhaps we might say that Hough is a devout Christian instead (I don’t doubt that Christians can be personally devout and pious while disagreeing about the moral status of homosexuality).


  3. If being a Catholic in good moral standing means that one necessarily agrees unequivocally with 100% of what the Pope says (and perhaps it does, but no definition I could find stated as much), then what of Copernicus or Galileo? Though condemned by the Church as heretics in their day, Pope Pius XII in 1939 described Galileo as one of the “most audacious heroes of research … not afraid of the stumbling blocks and the risks on the way, nor fearful of the funereal monuments.” What of 12th century Catholics that objected to the Crusades? What of Catholics who objected to the Pope’s feeble response to the Holocaust? Did not John Paul II himself state in 1994 that “the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children,” when they “indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counterwitness and scandal.” And didn’t the Church admit that these sinful children included leaders, Bishops, and Popes? If the great minds throughout history (many of them Catholic) had not challenged the authority of the Church when leaders became stagnant of sinful from time to time, we would never have risen out of the Dark Ages.

    But who am I to challenge the Church. Let’s turn to a source that both Pope and parish humbly (claim to) rely upon: Christ. I only know of one instance in which Jesus says ANYTHING about sexuality, and when in John 8:1-11 he does, he does so only to refuse to condemn an adultress. Perhaps Hough, too sensitive and bright to think unequivocal conformity a virtue, is more in line with Jesus (who by the way was the ultimate non-conformist) than is the Pope.

    Perhaps Hough IS wrong to call himself a Catholic, I don’t know. But perhaps the Pope (on the issue of gay marriage) is wrong to call himself a Christian.


  4. To be more precise: part of what it means to be Catholic is to believe that the office of Peter in Rome has magisterial authority. But it is not the case the everything the Pope says is “spoken from the office of Peter”. Of course churchmen have made mistakes, but a big part of what it is to be Catholic is to believe that God would not let the Church make mistakes on matters essential to faith and morality that are spoken “from the office of Peter”. No view of scientific particulars has ever been given dogmatic status, though no doubt Copernicus and Galileo went against conventional opinion and paid an unfortunately high price for doing so. We should challenge the sinful ways of sinful people, and call out churchmen (or anyone else) who makes ideology or personal power stand in the way of truth. But Catholics just believe that God would not let the sin of particular people stain the truth of the Church’s official teachings (they believe that God discloses himself in and through His Church – its liturgy, its prayers, its magisterial teachings). Again, if you (or Hough) think that is silly or even offensive, fine. Don’t be Catholic.

    Regarding Jesus: let’s not have any of this silly “Jesus is just a nice forgiving guy who doesn’t judge others” sort of thing. Jesus is not an apostle of “tolerance”. Of course Jesus considers adultery a sin (actually, he is really radical about this in the Sermon on the Mount and considers even the thought of adultery to be as bad as adulterous acts). So in refusing to condemn the adultress he is not thereby refusing to call her adultering ways sinful. Jesus bring forgiveness, but forgiveness entails recognition of things (sins) that need forgiveness.

    I’ll avoid, as best as I can, getting sucked into an argument as to whether Catholics are guilty of “unequivocal [and the insinuation seems to be “thoughtless”] conformity”. Judge for yourself the depth of the Catholic intellectual tradition, I don’t much feel the need to defend the Catholic commitment to reason (suffice it to say that John Paul II and Benedict could hardly be called “unthinking people”). It is worth noting that the Catholic Church herself insists that her moral teachings are reasonable (not merely faith-based) and all Catholics are encouraged (though I am sure too few do) to reflect, inquire, and form their own consciences. Ideally one thinks with and through the Church. (Enlightenment and “free thinker” sorts who think that genuine thinking is marked by radical autonomy and a challenging-forth will find this offensive, others who think that the task of thought involves fidelity will find this possibly attractive). Anyway, this is a philosophy blog so I probably should have avoided the remarks about Catholicism. Needless to say, I get annoyed by renegade Catholics telling the Vatican what it means to be Catholic.

    Better, on this philosophy blog, to consider the arguments from natural law and, if there is interest, consider JPII’s personalist and phenomenological account in Love and Responsibility and the Theology of the Body. After all, Catholics themselves would argue that you need not appeal to Petrine Authority in order to come to moral conclusions about sexuality. Hough basically sidesteps the natural law argument as well as the substance of JPII’s personalist argument. He makes marriage and sex little more than the sharing of personal feelings. He is just a typical liberal on this score.

    Here is a way to connect Hough to Flake’s talk: If marriage is simply the public recognition of consensually shared commitment and feeling, is there any reason in principle to limit marriage to contractual relationships between two people?


  5. @ Kleiner:

    Could you give a brief overview of the Catholic natural law argument? As I understand it, the argument runs from the assumption that the purpose of sex is reproduction to the conclusion that any sex that could not lead to reproduction (e.g., homosexual or contraceptive sex) is morally wrong.

    My question, then, is how to derive the premise that the purpose of sex is reproduction? I know that sex often leads to reproduction, but this can’t lead to the conclusion that nonreproductive sex is wrong because we’ve already identified two sorts of nonreproductive sex. Furthermore, we can’t rely on some abstraction from animals to tell us how we should act (I know you believe in telos, but I think you’d agree that the human is not a thing on the same moral level as animals, and therefore can gain no knowledge of its own morality from these very different creatures.)

    In any case, it seems to me that the declaration “sex is for reproduction” is too strong and a little reductionist. I’d like to know if you have a better argument for it.


  6. Kleiner:

    Your statement, “Let’s not have any of this silly ‘Jesus is just a nice forgiving guy who doesn’t judge others'” was a misrepresentation of my point. Let me flesh out what I was pointing toward: the idea that Jesus was hardly a staunch defender of conventional values. He seemed much more intent upon helping his followers to question core assumptions than binding them down with rules and prohibitions.

    When a man, for instance, wants to bury his father before following Jesus, Jesus tells him to let the dead bury their dead. When a crowd of onlookers surrounds Jesus, he tells them that anyone who does not hate his family (“father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters”) cannot be his disciple. Jesus hung around with the dregs of society (whores, winos, adulterers, etc.), and the generally accepted justification is that he was on a mission to turn them into moral men and women. Why then was nearly every ‘moral man’ he told of or came upon depicted as a hypocrite? If his aim was to uphold traditional values, then why didn’t authorities thank him?

    Perhaps because the values he preached were completely radical: radically inclusive. God is love, Jesus said. The fact that people endlessly need to second guess this statement, adding all sorts of qualifications and footnotes, is responsible for 2000 years of religious persecution and war. Where churches and church leaders have gone right, they’ve stuck to this precept. When they’ve abandoned it, one crusade after another has ended in suffering and bloodshed.

    If you are Christian, then you believe that God is love. If God is love, then what could draw one closer to God than the unconditional love another? And I don’t see where there is room in unconditional love for the condition that this love must be between two heterosexuals. So I think it’s an offensive cheap shot to say that “Hough simply does what all of the liberals do when it comes to marriage – he reduces marriage and sexuality to the sharing of intimate feelings.” I’m fairly liberal on this matter, and I certainly wouldn’t describe my love of my wife as merely the sharing of intimate feelings. Why then is Hough’s love of his partner? Why is gay love necessarily merely a matter of feelings, while heterosexual love can be a matter of self-giving, transcendence, etc.? That’s an arrogant and dehumanizing point of view. Gays can self-give. They can arch themselves toward the transcendent. I thought Christian love was supposed to throw eroticism out of the equation anyway (at least if you agree with Kierkegaard, and I do).

    So this brings me to your question, which I’ll rephrase since I don’t think that “marriage is simply the public recognition of consensually shared commitment and feeling”:

    If marriage is a sacred union arching us toward the transcendent, then how important is it that this union is between two people as opposed to three or more?

    It is important to me. I don’t believe that I could give myself as fully to Alexis if I were wedded to more than one partner. Perhaps that’s my weakness. Maybe it’s possible for some people, but I’m skeptical: I have yet to see a healthy polygamist relationship, and when I lived Southern Utah I observed many polygamists.


  7. And I did not mean to insinuate that all Catholics are guilty of ‘thoughtless conformity.’ I certainly consider you to be very thoughtful, as I do many other Catholics I know. I merely meant that I don’t believe conformity to ANYTHING is a virtue when it conflicts with one’s conscience, no matter how devoted one is to that thing.


  8. So Jesus was the first deconstructionist, tasking himself with undermining core assumptions?

    I know that lots of liberal Xians see Jesus as an apostle of inclusivity (accept everyone as they are). I don’t. I don’t see a confict between judgment of acts (callings sins sins) and a totally inclusive love of persons. In fact, part of what it means to love is to know what we are as persons (and this includes the meaning of us having been made sexually different, which JPII and Catholics take to be something more important than mere accidental fact about creation).

    Of course there are ways of loving others that are not sexual, so no one is saying that homosexuals are incapable of love. The point just is that not all acts of love are sex acts, and not all sex acts are acts of love. The theological point from the Theology of the Body is that what it means to love another in a marital/sexual sense is to properly live out the meaning of our bodies (which includes our sexual difference). JPII thinks that the basic meaning of our sexualized bodies is “nuptial”. In the Theo of the Body, JPII thinks Jesus (in Matthew in particular) and Paul (particularly Ephesians) are pointing us back to the beginning (Genesis), to the one flesh union introduced upon creation of humans as male and female. The view is that our sexual difference is a central part of the divine plan.
    The basic thesis of the TOB: it is in the unitive act of marital sex that man most closely images the inner life of the Trinity, for here we see reciprocating self-gift (between complementary difference) that redoubles itself and shows itself as the deepest sort of gift since this mutual self-gift itself gives (creates) new life. (This description applies not only to sex, JPII thinks, but is also a key to unlocking the hidden mystery of the inner life of the Trinity). So, in response to what I take to be the basic point of your lst post, JPII thinks only certain kinds of sexual love arc toward the transcendent. Others mistake the meaning of our sexually different nuptial bodies and so do not act as a sign (icon) of the divine (this would include not only homosexual acts, but also contracepted sex, etc).

    One is, of course, welcome to reject this view. But rejecting this view will entail a weakening of our self-understanding as made with sexual difference (one will basically be forced to call this a metaphysical accident) and it will probably entail a certain dualism (seeing the body as an accidental attachment that can be used in instrumental ways to express desires and feelings). JPII’s view has the virtue (or so I see it) of making the embodied person one whole, with sexuality going “all the way down”. On this view, we need not throw away the erotic (I am not on board with Kierkegaard in this). Instead of “suspending” or “leaving behind” the erotic, on this view we can rather raise the erotic up to the agapic.

    Aside on conscience: the Catholic Church encourages people to obey their conscience and that no one should be prevented from acting according to their conscience (Catechism 1782). But it is imperative that one form their conscience properly so that it is bent toward truth (see JPII’s “Veritatas Splendor” Ch 2 for a nice reflection on this point, you can find it online). One point to be made here, though, is that conscience is not the same as “personal beliefs” much less “personal preference”. Rather, the conscience is an inner witness of our fidelity or infidelity to the given moral law. Conscience must be formed and developed. Ill-formed consciences are very poor guides to the moral life. It is a fallible thing, too. This is why the divinely inspired Church Magisterium is a great gift.

    I won’t have time to develop the natural law argument today, but I will get to it tomorrow. The natural law argument will have wider philosophical application, since everything I have said above is totally sectarian.


  9. You’ve made solid arguments, and I agree with you on some important points. I think it’s OK (and ideal) to call a spade a spade. But I’m not convinced that homosexuality is the spade it’s made out to be. From an abstract standpoint, the arguments of the Catholic Church seem reasonable. But knowing homosexuals who I have to humbly admit are more sensitive, empathetic, accomplished, intelligent, and virtuous than I am, I think it would be arrogant and ignorant of me to somehow presume that my love is somehow more spiritually endowed than theirs. Hough pinpoints it when he says that the arguments against homosexuality (however intelligent the rhetoric) are being “rendered obsolete by…daily experience.”


  10. The concrete question of how to live as a homosexual and the pastoral care that needs to be provided to those persons has been an area where the Catholic Church has not (in my view) always been adequately sensitive to the issues involved. There is no question, in my mind, that people are born gay (it is not a “lifestyle choice”), and so we need to think seriously about how people should live if we think acting on some of their basic desires is immoral.

    And while I don’t have the statistics in front of me, American Catholics (and indeed “socially conservative” Christians generally) use contraception at roughly the same rate as the general population. Assuming at least some of those same people think homosexuality is wrong, they are being hypocrites. Very easy to focus our time on the sand in the eyes of others while we ignore the plank in our own eye. (This is not to say that sinners should be silent about sin – I think sex matters and that culture counts, so it is a worthy debate. But we should have a humility about it.)


  11. It might be that the debate here has died out. If so, that is fine. But I will do right by my promise to sketch the natural law argument:

    Natural law moral theory claims that morality is governed by laws that are built into the nature of man and that are knowable by reason. The first (and allegedly self-evident) first principle of the natural law is that “one should do good and avoid evil.” The good is that which is in accordance with a thing’s nature and the bad is that which is contrary to a thing’s nature.

    The natural law is not a moral theory just for sexuality (though that is where we most often hear of it). Rather, it is meant to be a comprehensive moral theory. It is meant to give an account of all sorts of moral goods (intellectual cultivation, moderation, courage) and bads (stealing, lying, etc). Aquinas thinks man has 5 basic natural inclinations.
    1) To seek the good (this would include seeking the Highest Good)
    2) To preserve oneself in existence (we naturally seek to avoid death)
    3) To preserve the species (to have reproductive sex)
    4) To be social (to live in community with other persons)
    5) To use his intellect and his will (to know the truth and to make free decisions)

    These are supposed to be “natural laws”. What I mean by that is this: the world is governed by laws, and this is no less true of man (and his actions) than it is of the material world (where most readily accept that there are laws governing the behavior of things). It is the nature of rocks to sink when you throw them in a lake. And it is the nature of man to desire to preserve himself in existence.

    The natural law argument concerning sexuality would go something like this:
    A natural end (purpose) of sex is procreation. Since something is good if it is in accordance with natural ends and bad (wrong) if it is not, then the kinds of sexual acts whose ends cannot possibly be procreative are wrong.

    Note that it is not whether or not procreation actually occurs that makes the act conform to nature. In the order of nature it is just the case that sometimes a child follows from the “generative act” and sometimes it doesn’t (perhaps because the woman is in an infertile time of her cycle or because of some other accidental fact about one of the partners). But some acts are not just non-procreative, they are anti-procreative (they are not the sort of acts wherein a child could supervene at all).

    Another thing to add: It does not appear to me that the natural law view requires that one restrict sexuality to having only one natural end. It might be that sexuality has other natural ends, like mutual joy and self-sharing. In fact, it is plenty easy to think of a procreative sex act that would not be considered good — rape. What I am driving at here is that, supposing there is more than one natural end of sex, one might say that morally approved sexual acts are those that fulfill all of the natural ends. Each natural end might be considered necessary but not, by itself, sufficient. (So rape is wrong because it fails to appreciate the natural good of self-determination, and it is a sex act that fails to satisfy the mutual joy and self-sharing natural end of sex).
    All of that being said, it seems pretty obvious that procreation is A (even if not THE as in “the only”) natural end of sex. It is not as if natural law theorists are arbitrarily identifying “procreation” as a proper end of sex, as if they could have just as easily said that using a penis as a doorstop is a natural end of that reproductive organ.


  12. I agree that “one should do good and avoid evil,” and I agree that preserving the species is a good. I still don’t think we can apply natural law arguments to sex, though. You say:

    “A natural end (purpose) of sex is procreation. Since something is good if it is in accordance with natural ends and bad (wrong) if it is not, then the kinds of sexual acts whose ends cannot possibly be procreative are wrong.”

    This makes sense–from a biological/evolutionary standpoint, it seems beyond question that the “end” of sex is procreation. On the other hand, we can identify acts of sex that don’t lead to procreation (for example, contraceptive sex [CS] or homosexual sex [HS]). These acts of sex must be sex as much as possibly procreative sex (PPS); otherwise, they would not be covered under the natural law that governs sex. From this, it follows that there are varieties of sex that don’t lead to procreation. Since these types of sex are as much sex as PPS, and since procreation can’t be the end of either HS or CS, I don’t see how we can decide that procreation is the natural end of sex. After all, if there exist members of a class that have attribute X and members that lack attribute X, we can’t decide that attribute X is an attribute of the class. Since some members have it and some lack it, the attribute is neutral in regards to the class.

    We could say, of course, that PPS is natural because it is older or because HS and CS are modern inventions; I’m pretty sure, however, that HS (at least) goes back to the start of mankind.

    I know that people usually think of procreation as a natural end of sex (I usually do), but I can’t see how we can maintain that view if we admit that CS and HS are full-fledged members of the class of sexual acts. Also, I don’t see how we can govern CS or HS if they are not full-fledged members of the class of sexual acts. It seems that the only conclusion we can draw is that procreation is not necessarily a natural end of sex in general.


  13. Source –
    I don’t quite follow your reasoning. You say: “These acts of sex must be sex as much as possibly procreative sex (PPS)”
    Why should we have to say this? The natural law would still call them sex acts, but would call them disordered sex acts (from the point of view of one of the natural ends of sex). Your argument reads like this: “Since calling procreation the natural end of sex would exclude HS and CS, then procreation can’t be the natural end of sex.” But that looks like begging the question. The whole point of the natural law argument is that HS and CS are not “full-fledged” members of the class of sex acts – they are sex acts, but sex acts that fail to be the type of acts that could fulfill a natural end of sex. By the natural law (and you bought into the two basic and relevant precepts), then, those acts are “unnatural” sex acts (though still sex acts) and so wrong.

    Perhaps this will clarify things: there are any number of acts that fall into a certain class. For instance, there are a number of acts that fall under the class of “consumption” (eating vegetables, eating hamburgers, drinking wine, drinking water, etc etc). But just because all of those acts fall under a “natural class” (that is, are designated as a class of actions because they fall under a natural end of man), does not mean that all of those actions within that class actually are concordant with the natural end in question (this appears to be your mistake above). For instance, consuming wine in itself is not be contrary to the natural law (and it might at times even be good insofar as it promotes sociability since man is by nature a social animal). But consuming wine in excess is contrary to the natural law. Drunkeness is wrong because it frustrates certain natural ends of man (our capacity to reason, our natural desire for self-preservation since immoderation brings ill health, etc). In other words, within a particular class of actions that are all properly X type actions (class of sex acts, class of drinking acts, etc), some might be approved and others might be disapproved.

    But if I am missing your point, please try to explain it another way.


  14. @ Kleiner:

    I think I see where we’re missing each other. I approached the problem like this: We have a variety of sex acts, and some have reproduction as a natural end and some don’t. It would be silly to say that reproduction is the end of the whole class since only some members of the class can possibly lead to reproduction. To clarify, let’s make a comparison to the class of animals. If we have a mouse, a cat, and a dog, we would never look a the mouse and say: “Ah, I see this mouse does mousy things (e.g., eat cheese, live in a hole, whatever). Since it is an animal, all animals must do mousy things.” It would be just as silly to do the same thing with different kinds of sex. If we have homosexual, contraceptive, and possibly reproductive sex, we can’t look only at possibly reproductive sex and extrapolate its characteristics to the whole class. Note that I’m not accusing you of doing this, and I think you’ll agree with me that this extrapolation would be wrong (or at least unjustified).

    It seems to me that your basis for deciding that reproduction is a natural end of sex comes not from an examination of sex itself, but an a priori idea of the human good. You cite Aquinas’ claim that one of man’s natural inclinations is “to preserve the species (to have reproductive sex).” When we apply this idea to the animal example, it is as if we had decided that animals ought to do mousy things before we examined our class of animals. If animals ought to do mousy things, then we could say that dogs and cats are not full-fledged members of the class of animals, since they fail to fulfill these basic animal ends. (I know this analogy begs the question because dogs and cats are full-fledged animals; refusing to acknowledge their “animalness” is silly. I think the analogy is useful anyway because it serves as a concrete example of individuals within a class.)

    My question now is whether Aquinas’ claim about the natural human inclination to sex is accurate. As cited by you, he claims that humans are inclined “to preserve the species (to have reproductive sex).” It seems to me, however, that humans are not inclined to “preserve the species,” or at least not directly inclined. The very fact of homosexual and contraceptive sex seems to prove that the human inclination for sex rises from something other than a desire to preserve the species. And as far as I can remember from the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle seems to agree. I remember that he cites family (possibly even posterity) as a condition for human flourishing, but I don’t think he makes the jump to preserving the species. Therefore, as long as humans have possibly reproductive sex sometimes (for heterosexual couples) or adopt (for homosexual couples), they could still be considered flourishing human beings. So, in summary, I think Aquinas is wrong in two ways: First, the human inclination to sex seems to be aimed more toward a desire for individual fulfillment than toward the end of preserving the species. Second, people can flourish without preserving the species (for homosexual couples) or only preserving the species every once in a while (for heterosexual couples, though they could adopt too–whatever).

    Of course, you might say that humans can only flourish if they are born, and so bearing humans is a human good. Therefore, all sex should aim at reproduction because that will create more humans, who then have the potential to flourish. I think that this is true, and it seems to me that having children would be a good. Just because having children is a good, however, does not mean that sex which will not lead to having children is bad. Not all acts have to lead to all goods; if sex is aimed at increasing the intimacy between partners, for example, it would still be good.


  15. I think the natural law theorist would argue that an action, in order to be good, must needs satisfy all of the relevant natural ends. If we have this “cafeteria view” (you can choose natural end A or natural end B, but need not choose both), then you you get a really odd (and morally repugnant) conclusion. Let me try this out:
    1) Reproduction is a natural end of sex (you seem to agree with this, but are hesitant to say it is the ONLY natural end of sex. I am also hesitant to say that, by the way). So also
    2) Increased intimacy between partners (mutual joy, self-sharing, etc) is a natural end of sex.

    To generalize your suggestion (in your last paragraph) into a principle — your suggestion is that so long as an act is properly oriented toward one of its natural ends, then the act is morally right. In other words, one of the natural ends is necessary for the rightness of the action and either by itself is sufficient.

    But it is easy to imagine a sex act that achieves one end and not the other that is not, in fact, a morally right action. Rape might well satisfy (1), but it obviously does not satisfy (2). And so, we say, it is morally wrong.

    Now obviously neither you nor I want to say that sex acts that lead to procreation but that do not increase intimacy between partners (ie non-consensual sex acts like rape) are good. I think the natural law moralist will be inclined to say that ALL natural ends/goods must needs be sought. You give priority to natural end 2 over natural end 1. But on what basis? Why is 2 necessary and sufficient while 1 is neither necessary nor sufficient? Absent a principled reason for distinguishing between these two natural ends, isn’t it better to say that BOTH are natural ends, BOTH are necessary and NEITHER by itself is sufficient?


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