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[RD] Ask a Theologian V

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Nov 17, 2013.

  1. Takhisis

    Takhisis ΑΛΗΘΩС ΑΝΕСΤΗ

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    The -Pagan- Greeks did have such an institution, the [wiki]epikleros[/wiki] (ἐπίκληρος). Sounds like a common feature of the area.
     
  2. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I don't think it's an interpretation that was common among Christians in the past. As far as I know, Jehoshua is pretty much right in saying that that passage was typically cited in support of a condemnation of contraception. But it seems to me that your teacher's interpretation is at least as good. The fundamental fact is that the text simply doesn't say precisely what it was about Onan's action that incurred God's wrath, so any attempt to speculate is reading into the story something that isn't there.
     
  3. Takhisis

    Takhisis ΑΛΗΘΩС ΑΝΕСΤΗ

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    Going with the different, changing standards of Jewish (and general Levantine) society, I think the main cause for punishment is refusing to follow a direct order from God (like Lot's wife turning to salt).
     
  4. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Which theologian was the most successful with the ladies?
     
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'm sure you've asked that before, but I can't find the post. At any rate, the answer is still Peter Abelard. Although perhaps Augustine has some claim too, but he regretted it after becoming a theologian.
     
  6. Takhisis

    Takhisis ΑΛΗΘΩС ΑΝΕСΤΗ

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    But you're still working on bettering their record, right?
     
  7. Jehoshua

    Jehoshua Catholic

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    One must remember as well that in all the ancient Christian traditions (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox) the protestant doctrine of sola scriptura does not apply. In the more orthodox strands of Christianity the interpretation of scripture is subsumed into the higher authority of the Church itself, which includes of course sacred tradition. Individual interpretative opinion matters for very little. Ergo, the traditional interpretation, and the magisterial and historical authority behind that interpretation means that to those who don't hold to the "personal interpretation" thing of Protestantism, that your teachers personal opinion is not equally valid to the tradition of the Church, since the authority of scripture itself comes from the Church itself.

    -

    @Plotinus, With regards to our previous discussion, I did say I would comment at some undefined later. However to avoid a long wallpost I would just like to revisit for now a few parts of what we discussed, namely on natural law. I might bring up the matter of whats "pastoral" since you seem to presuming a conception of pastorality that is quite different from the orthodox Catholic understanding, and other things at a later date

    So without further ado with regards to what I said about natural law and your response, I think your objections are somewhat nonsensical. You argue for example that the primary purpose of jogging is to get to (a) to (b), but is not jogging of a different qualitative nature than the sexual act (which clearly has a bio-mechanical end in procreation), with its end being what one intends to act when initiating ones jog, and even if we accept that to get to a to b is the primary end, jogging for another purpose does not prevent one jogging from a to b. Likewise your assertion on food is bizarre considering nutrients by what one eats. One might eat chocolate for pleasure sure, but one isn't preventing the obtaining of nutrients from that chocolate, and indeed is gaining nutrients from it in the process. If we look at this point more broadly, you seem to be saying that one can do (insert act) for a secondary purpose in various things and its not immoral, thus contraception cannot be immoral. This assertion I think is problematic since is seeks to equate differentiated actions as being equivalent, and ignores that the problem in contraception is the frustration of a primary end, with the examples provided in no way equivalently thwarting any natural end (even if we agree that your assumed ends are as they are, although I would think the assertions are shady at best seeing as the use of ones limbs has no one clear biological function unlike sex, and considering the substance of any given food is extrinsic to a person and thus presumably its use and end is a subject of the human will, and whatever use it decides to put to that thing)

    Your second objection likewise seems bizarre to me. You seemed to make the assertion that the alternate to non-procreative sex (ergo the use of contraceptives) was no sex at all, this is bad and thus contraception should be permissible. If this is what you meant it would just be silly, seeing as no sex at all is not inherently bad, being simply the absence of the act at all without any pertinence to the question of contraception which is relevant "within the act". Going to movie hardly exists on a binary moral calculus with an alternate choice to have sex with contraception as such. You seem to be (at least as I read it) basing this point entirely on sentimentality, and a base assumption that people should have the personal autonomy to have sex whenever they want, with the implication that the possibility of children is a burden and thus limits autonomy, and thus not having access to contraception is bad and puts some undue burden on the couple (which I would say doesn't actually exist objectively a part from the ideological proposition you presented, since there is nothing actually preventing them from having sex in the morally acceptable manner other than their own mental conception in your situation). The Church obviously does not see the world in that way, and would see that moral conception as defective since it is oriented to an egocentric relativism, rather than towards the theocentric order of Christianity.

    Your third point is however actually reasonable. Which is that the Church permits post-menopausal and otherwise infertile married couples to have sex within that relationship, questioning that conception is not likely to occur in this paradigm which puts a natural law based objection to contraception in doubt. However in these cases I think you are ignoring the application of the moral principle of double effect. Double effect requires as I'm sure you know that a) the nature of the act is itself good, or at least morally neutral and b) the agent intends the good effect and not the bad either as a means to the good or as an end itself. In the circumstance of a married couple who are infertile due to age or some other reason, the principle of double effect applies because they clearly do not intend to prevent conception actively through their own will, and because they intend the good secondary effect (the unitative purpose of sex within marriage). Thus sex in these circumstances become morally permissible even despite the unfortunate infertility of the couple.

    Now you did say that contesting your third objection on the bases they did not intend to prevent contraception has no objective moral weight and is thus problematic. However this assertion I think is problematic since a) it reverts to a empirical scientism that doesn't really apply in the actual exercise of morality and b) presumes a philosophical position divorced from the paradigm in which the Church's position on contraception exists. To the Church, as in law and the actual exercise of moral judgement in society, intent and the exercise of will is essential to moral culpability for an offence. Manslaughter is a different offence than murder in law precisely because the person who commits manslaughter did not wilfully intend to kill the victim for example. Thus likewise intent is important in assessing the moral gravity of a particular action.

    PS: Furthermore I would note that your implication that the Church's argument is self-contradictory is observably erroneous if we take the moral conception of Catholic Christianity on its own terms, rather than applying a secular relativistic moral assumption as the standard.
     
  8. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    No, those days are long past!

    I don't see why they must be of a different qualitative nature. If we can say that the purpose of any act of jogging is simply whatever the jogger intends by doing it, why can't we say that the purpose of any act of sex is simply whatever the agent intends by doing it? Why does the sexual act have a kind of intrinsic "purpose" which remains, no matter what the intention of the agent, and jogging not have one?

    You're right that jogging for the purpose of exercise doesn't, in itself, frustrate the end of getting from A to B. But if you were to use a treadmill, that would do so. Yet obviously no-one thinks it's immoral to subvert the natural end of jogging by using a treadmill, which artificially prevents that end from being realised. Why, then, think that it's immoral to prevent the natural end of sex from being realised?

    Fair enough. But suppose we change the example a little: consider wine tasters, who taste the wine and then spit it out. Surely the natural end of taking wine into the mouth is ingestion; the pleasant taste is a secondary end. Wine tasters take wine into the mouth solely for the secondary end, and actively prevent the natural end from being realised.

    Or, if you like, imagine the following scenario. A matter-transference machine is invented that is capable of remotely teleporting small items. The diet industry develops a special version of this machine: you wear it around your neck like a collar, and when you activate it, it teleports away any food that's going down your gullet, so it never reaches your stomach. In this way you can eat anything you want, without actually ingesting it. Now if the Catholic argument against contraception is sound, it seems that it should be immoral to use this device, for exactly the same reason. But I would say that it wouldn't be immoral. (It might be unwise, especially if you overuse it, but that's not the same thing.)

    I'm not arguing that contraception cannot be immoral, I'm just saying that the arguments provided to demonstrate that it is immoral don't work. It could be the case that it's immoral for some other reason.

    If I understand you correctly, you're saying that contraception differs from the other cases in two ways:

    (1) It's done in such a way that the primary end of the activity is frustrated.
    (2) It involves no substances extrinsic to the person.

    I've suggested that the counter-examples can be altered to account for (1) - jogging on a treadmill and wine tasting, or the use of the magic diet machine. I don't entirely understand (2). Are you saying that with things such as food or wine we can pretty much do what we want with them, because they're extrinsic to the person, whereas with bodily fluids we can't, because they're intrinsic to us? That seems just as implausible to me. The purpose of saliva is to wet the mouth, help mash up food, and begin the process of digestion; it's intrinsic to my person; therefore it's immoral to spit (which would frustrate the natural purpose of the saliva that I spit out)? This just seems crazy.

    Surely the main issue here is not whether a perfectly analogous situation can be imagined, but whether this basic claim is true - that it's immoral to perform an activity in a way that prevents that activity's natural end from being realised. This claim seems simply crazy to me. Why should such a thing be immoral? Now you might say that it's immoral because it's going against the will of God. But this doesn't seem a good argument to me. If it were God's will that I perform an activity with a particular end in mind right now, and I did otherwise, then clearly that would be wrong (on the reasonable assumption that disobeying God is wrong). Thus, if God wants me to have sex right now with the purpose of conception, it would be wrong for me to use contraception. But you can't jump from "the natural end of sex is conception" to "God wants me to have sex with the purpose of conception". The former is a generalisation and the latter a particular claim. Even if we assume that God deliberately set up sex to work in such a way as to bring about conception (and, to be honest, I find it hard to see how this could be the case without outright creationism), it doesn't follow that he specifically wants every sexual act to be done in such a way that conception is a possibility. It just doesn't follow! After all, if we're going to accept that God deliberately set up sex in such a way, we must presumably accept that he designed (or otherwise arranged to evolve) the sexual organs to function in this way. And yet the church doesn't teach that everyone is morally obliged to use their sexual organs in this way; that would make celibacy immoral. So the church doesn't think that God's general intention that sexual organs be used for the purpose of procreation translated into a specific obligation on the part of every human being to use them in that way or indeed at all. Why, then, suppose that God's design for the function of the sexual act translates into a specific obligation on the part of everyone engaging in that act to do so in a way that permits that function?

    To put it another way, we don't normally think that using something in a way that frustrates its primary purpose is immoral. If I use a toothbrush to clean the car I am certainly preventing it from being used as a toothbrush ever again, but no-one would call that immoral, not even a teeny little bit immoral, even though I'm frustrating the purposes of its designer. After all, it's not like my action puts all the toothbrushes in the world out of commission, or prevents me from brushing my teeth later on with another toothbrush. The general purpose of the toothbrusher designer is thus not harmed by my action, and no teeth are put in jeopardy by my action. So why think differently about conception?

    This seems to me to be the main problem with the Catholic argument - an unwarranted assumption that it's immoral to do something in a way that prevents its natural end from being realised. Can there be an argument to support this view at all - never mind an argument to show why it applies to contraception but not to apparently analogous cases?

    This isn't what I meant. I meant this: the Catholic argument seems to be based on the assumption that if you have sex with contraception you're preventing conception from taking place in the sense that if you hadn't had sex with contraception you would be having sex without it. So it's immoral to use contraception, because by doing so you prevent a possible conception. I was pointing out that this argument doesn't work, because the alternative to having sex with contraception might be an entirely different kind of activity. Put it like this: if we choose to go to the cinema instead of having unprotected sex, we are preventing a possible conception just as much as if we'd chosen to have sex with contraception. (In fact rather more so, given that contraception is never 100% effective.) Abstinence prevents conception even more effectively than contraception does. But the church does not think that abstinence is immoral - quite the contrary. The question, then, is why it's immoral to prevent conception by using contraception but not immoral to prevent conception through the practice of abstinence. And I take it that the answer to that is that it's immoral to perform an action in such a way as to prevent its proper end to be realised, but it's not immoral simply not to perform that action at all. But that takes us back to the previous point, that this is an implausible moral principle.

    I agree with everything you say here other than your use of the word "relativism". There's nothing relativist I've said or assumed here, although certainly I've not assumed any Catholic moral principles. But then, why should I? Your initial claim was that natural reason shows contraception to be immoral, not simply that the immorality of contraception flows from Catholic moral principles.

    This does assume that the doctrine of double effect is true, and as far as I know that's very contentious. I'll accept, though, that we can distinguish between cases of performing an action for a purpose other than its primary purpose, and cases of performing an action in such a way that its primary purpose is deliberately prevented from being realised. We can thus distinguish between the use of contraception and infertility. (That's a conceptual distinction, though, i.e. a recognition that there's some difference between them; in itself that doesn't give you a moral distinction, i.e. reason to think that there's any morally significant difference between them.)

    I'm not presupposing anything like that. I'm only presupposing that if a moral principle is to have any weight there must be some reason for thinking that it holds. If someone were to say that it's wrong to wear any clothes that are blue, and I were to say that that assertion has no moral weight, I don't think you'd accuse me of empirical scientism - I think you'd agree. And the onus would be on the blue-clothing-banner to explain why he thinks it's wrong to wear blue clothes. Similarly, here, if you're going to say that there's a moral distinction between performing an action for a purpose other than its primary purpose, and performing an action in such a way that its primary purpose is deliberately prevented from being realised, then the onus is on you to say why such a moral distinction exists.

    Absolutely. But we distinguish both morally and legally between manslaughter and murder because we recognise that there's a moral difference between intending to kill somebody and not intending to kill somebody. That is, we recognise that killing people is wrong, and that because of this, intending to kill people is also wrong (quite apart from the outcome of that intent). Now you can say that there's a difference between (a) intending to frustrate the natural end of the sexual act, and (b) just happening to do so; but you can't plausibly say that there's a moral difference between these unless you can give good reason for thinking that frustrating the natural end of the sexual act is, in itself, a wrong thing to do. Otherwise, why would it be wrong to intend to frustrate the natural end of the sexual act at all?

    Again, there's nothing remotely relativistic about anything I've said; quite the reverse, as if I were a relativist I would presumably be happy to accept that contraception is in some sense wrong (from your point of view if not from mine). My question is why I should accept the moral teaching of Catholicism in preference to an alternative system. But more particularly, even within a Catholic framework which makes morality a matter of divine-mandated natural law, I don't see good reasons for the proscription on contraception, for the reasons I've given above. For example, I argued against the idea that it's contrary to God's wishes, but I didn't need to deny God's existence to do that. I didn't even deny that God designed sex for the purposes of procreation, hard though it is to make sense of that even within a theistic framework. So really there's nothing intrinsically secular about the arguments I've given either.
     
  9. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

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    Hi Plotinus,

    first off many kudos for your 5th thread. I think the longevity of your project testifies to the quality of thought and interest involved in your project. Thank very much for your diligence in keeping up with all the questions and inquiries. My greatest hope is that you are able to learn from us as much as we are able to learn from you.

    So on to my next question:

    What do you think differentiates mystical experience from delusion or hallucination? How can one differentiate between the two (other than to simply say that mystical experience might be a positive experience and delusion otherwise)? For instance, I know it is said that the Buddha spent many days without sleep in meditation under a tree. I can tell you from experience that can possibly lead to an almost dreamlike state while being awake. I've had delusional "manic" states which involved religion as well as sinister alien invasions and all sort of strange things. Usually my delusions will pick up on real life themes and sort of devolve form there. So I can sort of see how a person who is very committed to their religious views might have delusional states that echo their waking aspirations.

    In other words, do you think there could be a non-religious explanation for mystic experience? Or is mystic experience somehow radically different from other states of the brain or whatever? And if it is, based on your readings or whatever experience you've had on the matter, what do you perceive as being a significant difference?

    EDIT: I guess a good follow up question to the ones above would be, are there such things as "failed mystics?" In other words are there recorded events such as people who have tried to achieve the mind states of the Buddha or other mystics but have "gone off the deep end" so to speak?

    Thanks.
     
  10. Takhisis

    Takhisis ΑΛΗΘΩС ΑΝΕСΤΗ

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    Eisaste monogamos?

    Mon Dieu, I can't believe another wild CFCer has been tamed.

    Aanyway, I can only take issue with one of the two analogies you mentlegen are using:
    I'm not so sure about that. Wine is tasted as a test and proof of its quality, then it is consumed. What about those wines that are opened solely for tasting? Wine is so much more than food in our culture.
     
  11. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Makes the metaphor all the more apt, in my opinion.
     
  12. Jehoshua

    Jehoshua Catholic

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    But neither would jogging on a treadmill frustrate that end. One can just as easily get off that treadmill and proceed to continue jogging to get somewhere else as a continuation of the act. One might choose not too, wherein if we accept a double affect analysis it would be acceptable assuming a jogger on a treadmill isn't maliciously intending to thwart movement from a to b and he ensuring his good health is an otherwise good thing, but either way he isn't preventing himself from going somewhere.

    As to sex, as I noted it clearly has a biological end inherent to the nature of the act. Namely reproduction which contraceptives do thwart in the instance they are used.

    I'm with Takhisis on the wine, but with regards to your hypothetical matter-transference machine that teleports food so that it never reaches your stomach, surely you are aware that using such a technology in that way would in fact be considered sinful as an exercise of gluttony and greed, which one could say is because it institutes a denial of the ends and purpose of food and perverts it for selfish personal pleasure and hedonism. Your device would just be an actualisation of the old vomitoria myth (a myth seeing as a vomitorium is something quite different)

    No I am not saying that. I am saying that the ends of something extrinsic (such as say something one can eat) are not so clearly defined as something that has a clear biological imperative. Food and medicine are consumed for example, and if we assume as you did in the chocolate example for the sake of argument that the natural end of eating is to provide nutrients than taking medicine would clearly be wrong. Now you and I would both agree that this is absurd, my point then being that the ends of the medicine and the food are determined by what they are intended for. It would be immoral to use these things inappropriately, for example by eating your fill at a buffet and then proceeding to vomiting it all out to continue eating (ergo, gluttony) or to utilise medical drugs to get "high" or indulge an addiction. Both these uses are contrary to the intended uses of these consumable things.

    What I was saying with regards to your previous examples, is that the uses of your examples (even if one accepts for the sake of argument that the ends you noted are the sole primary ends) are not equivalent in thwarting primary ends and that the sexual act, unlike the use of ones limbs (which would be intrinsic since ones limbs are part of the person) or extrinsic things (like food and medicine) has a clear biomechanical end in nature (procreation) the thwarting of which is contrary to the divine and natural law.

    The question more precisely would be "Is is immoral to perform an activity that intentionally prevents within the doing of the act, the natural end from being realised". The subject is not the prevention of the general principle from being fulfilled, but the actual agency of the person as a moral agent, within each individual moral instance. Thus the celibate for example would not be immoral being celibate (even if we ignore the divine favour granted to religious celibacy) does not thwart procreation within the sexual act, the celibate abstains from the sexual act to begin with and never emerges into such an instance. Your point there simply isn't valid within the parameters of ends we are talking about here, just as I don't particularly think that asserting that the divine intention pre-ordained a purpose to sex necessarily requires any adoption of creationism beyond the basic assertion that God created the universe a priori.

    That's false, the argument is that within the doing of the act itself (having sex with contraception) one is thwarting (via intentionally in using contraception) the procreative purpose of the sexual act, being as that is what contraceptives do. The moral calculus here is constrained to each individual moral instance, and is not based on a contingent argument such as "if you weren't using contraception you would be doing sex open to procreation, therefore contraception is immoral".

    I meant relativist in the sense that according to your moral assumption in your second objection, the moral pertinence of the sexual act becomes entirely dependant on the arbitrary will of the individual as an exercise of personal autonomy. Ergo there is no objectively moral or immoral usage of the sexual act in this conception, beyond that which is relatively defined by the agents themselves. Oh and I didn't expect you to assume Catholic moral principles, seeing as the discussion (on natural law) is specifically as you said based in natural reason (although I did not say that natural reason alone is the sole reason for objection within the Catholic ethos), although I think it would be reasonable for me to say that it would be absurd to say the Catholic moral principle is absurd based on asserting principles that are extrinsic to the moral paradigm of Catholicism.

    I would say here that the Church wouldn't say that an action contingent on double effect becomes morally good (on the contrary it becomes morally tolerable"). A consequencialist would of course reject intention has any role, with the "brute fact" of an action with its end utility and effect being the entirety of what is morally relevant. But here of course we are talking of the internal dynamics of the Catholic moral sphere.

    I would of thought the reason within the Catholic mentality would be self-evident. Namely that the Church upholds that each individuals primary natural end is to orient and become ever closer to God (sanctification), and that God as the creator has instituted a divine plan, and a particular order of being within nature and all creation. Thus in this view the moral calculus is thus oriented so that anything that leads man away from his end in sanctification, salvation and theosis, and is in disharmony with the divine plan is morally objectionable (sin). This I think addresses your next point about "good reason" with regards to the moral consideration of contraception. The good reason would be that its contrary to the divine plan inherent within nature and secondarily obstructs mans own teleological progression towards God (in that persons spiritual development and so forth).

    As to why I accused you of empirical scientism, well that's because as I'm sure you gathered I thought you meant that moral determination is dependant on empirically observable and quantifiable effects (such as if I refer to the personal autonomy thing you agreed you upheld in your second objection, would presumably be an empirical "greatest good for the greatest number" utility based mechanic.

    By secular relativism, as I mentioned before I meant the particular conception that embeds the question of sexual morality within a paradigm of personal autonomy (you did not disagree when I noted this in your argument, the objection being of course to the "relativist assertion). If personal autonomy is the primary locus here, than you can't really say your own conception isn't relativistic, even if it rests on core assumptions such as say the "greatest good for the greatest number", or even "libertarian liberty", since the moral question becomes arbitrated by the will of agents within any given context and divorced from a pre-existing and non-contingent moral standard.
     
  13. timtofly

    timtofly One Day

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    I am currently reading a book which indicates that Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria thought that Greek Philosophy had Old Testament "influence". Has any one ever compared early Christianity and Greek Philosophy to the Cain and Able parallel?
     
  14. classical_hero

    classical_hero In whom I trust

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    The problem was greed. If his brother's wife didn't have a male heir, then the right to the family fortune goes to the nearest male kin, which would be Onan. He knew that in those societies that it was his role to produce a male heir for his brother's family and allow the family name to continue. God punished Onan for trying to get an inheritance he wasn't entitled to.
     
  15. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

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    Have another question for you Plotinus, when you find some time to catch up with your thread. What are your thoughts about Marx's interpretation of religion as being the "opium of the masses"? One of Jesus' phrases which has always stuck with me is that the wealthy have been "paid in full"? I've always interpreted this as saying to the effect that the wealthy have been rewarded in this world and that the poor and wretched will receive their reward in the next. I know there have been philosophers through the ages who have been critical of Christianity as a kind of "other worldly" religion. In some respects this does seem almost "counter-revolutionary" in the sense that it does serve to quell unrest and keep the powerful in power as it were.

    Do you interpret Christianity in some respects as sort of guaranteeing a kind of just rewards system whereby everyone will more or less get a "fair" chance at happiness and fulfillment? Or am I here mischaracterizing Christianity?
     
  16. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    This isn't a subject I know very much about. But certainly I don't see why religious experiences shouldn't have naturalistic explanations just like any other experiences or states of consciousness. After all, it's largely a matter of convention that we call some "religious" and others not; the kind of meditation the Buddha did was very different from the kind that the desert fathers did, since the latter were trying to focus on God whereas the former was not. I would have thought that the best way of looking at it would be to say that the states of mind we call "religious" or "mystical" are a subset of all the possible states of mind that people can have, and that the religious/mystical ones themselves can include all kinds of different elements. So I'm sure that some could be called hallucinatory, but clearly not all of them are (because not all of them involve what appears to be sensory perception).

    I'm not totally sure what you mean by "failed mystics"; there are certainly people who were mystics but pretty weird, such as the Skoptsky and Khlysty, or for that matter the ancient worshippers of Cybele. And I'm sure there are many people who have tried to attain mystical states but achieved nothing at all!

    I don't see any good reason here to reject the analogy. Yes, the jogger could get off the treadmill and go jogging off somewhere. But so, too, the couple using contraception could stop using it and have sex without it. But in both cases, while they are using the artificial mechanism, they are frustrating the proper end of the activity - the jogger is preventing his jogging from taking him somewhere, and the couple are preventing their sexual act from resulting in conception. What difference does it make in either case if they could stop using this artificial mechanism later on? Certainly the jogger is preventing himself from going anywhere while he is using the treadmill, in a way exactly similar to the way in which the couple are preventing themselves from conceiving while they are using the contraception.

    I don't see why one can legitimately say that sex has a natural end in a way that running doesn't. Our sexual organs, and the activity of sex, have evolved as they have because they have the effect of reproduction. And our legs, and the activity of running, have evolved as they have because they have the effect of getting us from one place to another. I take it that this is what talk of "natural ends" is meant to be, namely a reference to the reason why bodily structures and behaviours have evolved in the way that they have done; I don't see how it could mean anything else in a non-creationist context. Well, legs and running have a "natural end" just as much as genitals and sex do. If employing the bodily parts in question for a purpose other than their natural end, in such a way as to prevent the natural end from being realised, is wrong, then this applies to jogging on a treadmill just as much as it does to sex. And as I say, that's an absurd conclusion, so the original premise is false. It's not immoral to employ bodily parts for a purpose other than their natural end in such a way as to prevent the natural end from being realised.

    On the wine, Takhisis is right that wine is, in our society, more than mere nutrition, but (as Eran pointed out) sex is more than mere procreation. If it's OK to use wine for purposes other than its primary end, namely nutrition, in such a way as to prevent nutrition from occurring (i.e. by spitting it out), why isn't it OK to do the same thing for sex?

    With the imaginary diet machine, I agree that its use would be unwise. But you're changing your argument when you say that it would be immoral because it would be an "exercise of gluttony and greed". That's a completely different reason for saying that something is immoral, which has nothing to do with the subversion of natural ends. And it's one that can't be assumed to carry over to the contraception case, because while, no doubt, many people use contraception to indulge in lust, many others use it to express love. If it's sinful to eat purely out of gluttony and greed, it's sinful to do so whether using the imaginary diet machine or not; and presumably if you used the diet machine for reasons other than gluttony and greed (e.g. just out of curiosity to see what it's like) this would not be sinful.

    This is a bit clearer. But I wonder if these biological imperatives are really as clear as you make out. As I said, it's problematic to use teleological language in a biological context. When we do use it, it's a sort of shorthand. E.g. we can say that the reason why birds have wings is so they can fly, and that's sort of correct, if we mean that the explanation for why birds evolved wings will involve pointing to the beneficial effects they have in allowing birds to fly. But then if we say that wings are "for" flying we're certainly going to be speaking metaphorically to some degree. Similarly, the reason why sex evolved as it did is, at least in part, because of its procreational benefits. But it would be a jump from that to saying that sex is "for" procreation or that procreation is its "natural end" in a straightforward way that doesn't apply to the other reasons why people actually do have sex.

    I think it still remains to be shown that the thwarting of these ends is contrary to any law, divine or natural.

    I agree with your formulation of the question, but what is your answer to it? You haven't given one. Why is it immoral? Isn't the burden of evidence upon you here?

    Of course it does! If God simply created the universe and then let it get on with evolving in its own way, without giving it any direction in that evolution, then it seem that whatever evolves has no divine mandate or blessing at all. If you're going to argue that there's a divine intention behind things that evolved naturally you're going to need more than that. You will need, for example, the idea that God intended evolution to progress in the way that it has, or that he tinkered with it to determine its outcome, or he made some kind of initial decree to the effect that he approved of whatever evolution would come up with, or something like that. The mere notion that God created the universe isn't enough to justify drawing moral conclusions on the basis of what's natural and what isn't. Otherwise you're just committing the naturalistic fallacy.

    Fine, but as I've said, I haven't seen an argument to this effect, only a series of assertions about the immorality of deliberately thwarting the natural end of an act.

    No, this is quite wrong. I haven't said at all that the morality of the act is dependent upon the will of the individual. That would be absurd! I'm saying that it's not a moral matter at all.

    You accept, I take it, the existence of non-moral decisions, e.g. the decision whether to have a beef sandwich or a ham one. Neither choice is morally superior to the other, so it's a matter of moral indifference which one I can pick. If I choose beef, I'm not thereby making beef the morally right choice, I'm just exercising my will within the constraints of what's moral.

    Similarly, I say that contraception is (in itself) a matter of moral indifference. It is not morally wrong to use it. (Of course there could be cases where it's immoral to use it, e.g. where the couple have agreed to try to have a baby and one person secretly doesn't want to and so uses contraception without telling the other - but the immorality in such cases is not because of the use of contraception per se; any otherwise morally indifferent act could become immoral if done deceptively.) I'm not saying that it becomes moral if the person wants to do it. I'm saying that it's simply not a moral question, any more than the question of what to have for lunch.

    There's nothing remotely relativist about that. I'm not assuming any particular moral theory, let alone anything as daft as the notion that the morality of a particular decision is determined by the will of the person making that decision. Everything I've said here is perfectly consistent with the most objectivist understanding of morality you like, even divine command theory (which, I would say, is actually a highly relativist moral theory, though divine command theorists themselves seem to differ). You can say that morality ultimately comes down to the divine law if you like; I won't argue with that for the purposes of this discussion. I'm just saying that no matter what meta-ethical theory you choose, I can't see a justification for the supposed moral principle that it's wrong to perform an act in such a way that you deliberately subvert its natural end. And that goes even on a Catholic understanding of the nature of morality.

    There are forms of consequentialism which are all about intention. For example, a utilitarian can distinguish, in any given situation, between the action that will actually bring about the greatest good and the action that the agent believes will bring about the greatest good. They might not be the same. If the agent performs the act that she believes will bring about the greatest good, then you might say she's acted morally, even if in fact a different act would have brought about more. This is because the agent intends to bring about the greatest good. Such a theory has obvious advantages over the cruder version that pays attention only to actual consequences.

    OK, so here at last you do give an argument. (And I disagree that it's "obvious" - it's far from obvious, at least to me!) If I understand you correctly, you're giving two arguments here. Here is the first:

    (1) Anything that is contrary to the divine plan inherent within nature is immoral.
    (2) Using contraception is contrary to the divine plan.
    (3) Therefore, using contraception is immoral.

    The argument is valid, but I don't think it's sound, because both of the premises seem very dubious to me. I won't bother criticising premise (1) because I take it that this is a fundamental premise of Catholic moral theology, and I don't want to get into that; still, I think it is a bad premise and ultimately (as I said) a relativist one, because it makes the morality or immorality of an act dependent upon something external to the nature of the act itself, namely God's plan, and God could presumably have planned something different.

    At any rate, premise (2) is more relevant here. But why suppose that (2) is true? I already addressed this before. There are two reasons. First, you would have to show that biological forms and behaviour that evolved naturally did so in a way that God wanted. If God specifically designed human beings and their method of reproducing, then you might have a case for saying that sex (as it exists) is part of his plan. But if you're not a creationist, you don't think this. You think that sex evolved as a result of a long history of random mutations and the law of natural selection, and presumably it could have turned out quite differently. So why suppose that sex as we have it now is what God wanted?

    The second reason is still more fundamental, I think. Suppose we could establish that God did indeed institute sex in the way required, such that the divine intention is that we reproduce in this way, and that the purpose of sex is reproduction. Even if we accept that, you still haven't shown that it's contrary to God's will to use sex for other purposes in a way that frustrates its primary end. God's intention is presumably the continuation of the human species. As long as that happens, his intention is not frustrated even if many individual sexual acts are performed in a way that makes conception impossible. In other words, you still have a huge conceptual gap here: between, on the one hand, the general intention of God regarding sex and its purpose, and on the other, the particular morality of (say) this sexual act. It's perfectly possible for God to have a general intention that isn't global.

    What I mean by this is: a "general" intention is an intention that an act will be performed in a certain way most of the time, or as a general rule. A "global" intention is an intention that an act will always be performed in that way. It's possible to have a general intention that isn't global.

    For example, it is a general intention in the UK that children will be educated in state-run schools. Everyone pays for this via general taxation and a great deal of national expenditure goes on running these schools. If all children ceased to attend state schools, and were all educated privately instead, the system would massively break down and huge sums would be wasted. So there's certainly a general intention, on the part of the government, that this be the case.

    However, it is certainly not a global intention. The existence of the state school system does not indicate that the government wants every single child to be educated at state schools. On the contrary, they're very happy with the idea of many children being educated privately - and little wonder, since most of them were privately educated themselves.

    So we can easily see the difference between a general intention and a global intention. And this is the problem: even if we grant that God has a general intention that sex will be performed with conception as a possibility, it doesn't follow from this that he has a global intention that it will be. Everything we know about the nature of the sexual act and its evolution is consistent with the notion that God wanted it to be done with conception as a possibility some of the time. Perhaps most of the time - or even less than half of the time. That's possible! Of course it's also possible that he wanted it to be done with conception as a possibility all of the time. But why suppose that? Why suppose that his general intention here is a global intention?

    It could be that there's an optimum proportion of sexual acts where conception is a possibility, but this isn't necessarily 100% of them. It could even vary historically. Perhaps, 10,000 years ago, it was optimal for every sexual act to result in pregnancy (as much as possible); but today it isn't, because the world is so overcrowded. Perhaps God intended that 10,000 years ago nobody should use contraception but that today some people should. As long as there aren't so many people using it that the human race is in danger of going extinct (on the probably unreasonable assumption that this would be a bad thing), why does it matter? God's intention for sex is still being fulfilled, and his general intention that sex result in reproduction is being fulfilled. Of course, if he had a global intention that sex should always be done with the intention of possibly resulting in reproduction, that intention would be frustrated. But why suppose that he has such an intention? You can't assume that the general intention means a global one.

    I think this is the biggest problem facing this argument. You can talk about general natural and divine laws as much as you like, but I can't see any rational grounds for saying that God has a global intention that sex should always be done with conception as a possibility. The fact (assuming it is a fact) that conception is the natural end of sex doesn't support that conclusion; the most it can give you is that God has a general intention that sex should result in conception.

    Here is what I take to be your second argument:

    (1') Anything that obstructs a person's progression towards God is immoral.
    (2') Using contraception obstructs that person's progression towards God.
    (3') Therefore, using contraception is immoral.

    I don't think this argument works. (1') seems to me to be very dubious, because it seems to me to confuse the prudential with the moral; i.e. it might be very unwise for me to obstruct my own progression to God, but it doesn't follow that it's immoral; after all, it's unwise for me to walk blindfold in a minefield, but that doesn't make it immoral. More importantly, (2') seems to beg the question. Why should using contraception obstruct someone's progression towards God? Presumably because it's immoral, and immoral behaviour is what blocks our progression towards God. But the claim that contraception is immoral is what this argument is meant to show, so to rely on it to support its premises is circular reasoning.

    I don't think I'd say that the morality of an action is dependent on empirically observable effects, at least if we're talking about intent, since a person's intention might never be observable. Still, I'd point out that your moral theory is certainly dependent upon empirically observable and quantifiable effects. You've relied throughout on the claim that sex has "a clear biological imperative" towards reproduction, but that claim is an empirically based one.


    All right, let me be clearer, then (and I did think, after posting, that I should have contested more of what you said). I don't think that autonomy is what makes something moral. I don't think it's got anything to do with it.

    However, if someone held the utilitarian view that the morally preferable action in any situation is the one that brings about "the greatest good for the greatest number", then that certainly needn't have anything to do with anyone's will. On the contrary, it would be an objective fact that one action brings about the greatest good and the alternative actions don't, and this would be so whether they wanted it to be or not. Now you might define "greatest good" in terms of what people want, or in terms of maximising their autonomy, or something like that, in which case this utilitarian metric would resolve into individuals' wills. But obviously there's no need at all for a utilitarian to hold such a definition of the good. Classical utilitarianism doesn't. Personally I'm strongly inclined to classical utilitarianism and the notion that what makes an act right or wrong is the amount of pleasure or pain, broadly conceived, that it brings about. That's an entirely pre-existing and non-contingent moral standard, just as much as any divine plan or decree, and arguably more so.

    Do you mean, have they argued that Christianity and Greek philosophy relate to each other as Cain relates to Abel (or possibly vice versa)? Not that I know of.

    That seems plausible, but still, as I said before, there's nothing at all in the text to say so, is there? It's just a plausible explanation.
     
  17. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Natural end: the natural end of life is death. So would it be immoral to do something else than die?

    The natural end of sex is what? Reproduction? Indirectly, yes. But if sex weren't enjoyable, people would hardly be practicing it. (And sex will often fail if neither partner is enoying it.) One could easily argue that reproduction is a byproduct of sex. (Personally I'm not sure how arguing against contraceptives could in any way be moral, given present conditions of world population and sexually transmitted infectious diseases.)

    There is, basically, no logical link between the natural end of something and morality. Is it moral to produce as much offspring as you can? Because that would be possible. Yet no sensible person would endeavour to do so. (No morality involved.)

    Finally, morality is not absolute. It changes over time. Which is logical, as circumstances change over time, and morality is a (belated) response to changed circumstance. Apart from that, morailty may change from person to person. So far from being absolute, morality is highly relative. Just as opinions on what the natural end of something may differ. Which pretty much excludes any definite answer on certain "moral" issues.

    (It's remarkable how many sexual prescriptions Christians can distill from a book that is rather silent on the subject - save the erotic songs, ofcourse -, as opposed to the detailed food prescriptions in it, which are usually either blatantly ignored or interpreted differently by the various denominations. Given the fact that Christians already can't agree on what should be done with food, it's unlikely they will ever reach agreement of the subject of sex - which would suggest a certain modesty on the part of Christians when preaching on the subject to non-Christians. A modesty that in reality, however, is painfully absent.)
     
  18. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    I wonder what the theological solution to the following is:

    If the three persons of God are one, how can God sacrifice the Son? Because, after he dies as a human, he returns again, being God, which is an Immortal Being.

    It seems to follow that in order to make any kind of personal sacrifice, God had to have a human son. According to doctrine Jesus has two natures: one fully human, one fully Divine. It seems rather clear only the human "nature" can die. But, if Jesus is simultaneously God (as well as being created by God), he cannot actually die; his Divine nature necessarily has to resurrect, being immortal. It seems to follow that there never was anything sacrificed (except to Mary and Joseph, obviously, being Jesus' natural parents).

    Second part: God is omniscient. In creating the Son, it is pre-known by God that he will die. And resurrect. This again seems to preclude even the possibility of a sacrifice.
     
  19. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    He returns as both human and divine. The orthodox view isn't that Jesus starts off as human and then is resurrected as God. It's that he's fully human and fully divine right the way through. The resurrected, ascended, and glorified Lord is just as human as he ever was. Indeed just as he dies as man so too he is resurrected as man, because resurrection (like death) is the kind of thing that happens to human beings, not to God.

    No, the orthodox view is that Christ himself dies, but he dies in his human nature. It is not the case that the human nature dies and the divine nature doesn't, because dying is something persons do, and if you make out that the human nature is a person in its own right, that is the Nestorian heresy.

    It's not correct to say that Jesus is simultaneously God and created by God. He is identical with the Son, so he is divine. His human nature is created by God. But he is not identical with his human nature; Christ as a whole is God, not a creature, although he is human because he has a human nature.

    There's no necessity about the resurrection, at least not as far as the logic of the incarnation goes. If it's logically possible for Jesus to be dead at all (and still divine) I see no reason why he couldn't have remained permanently dead, at least if we consider only the logic of incarnation. From an orthodox point of view, his divine nature was never affected by his death; it would not have required that his human nature be resurrected.

    I don't see why that would follow. To sacrifice something is to offer it in some way to the divine. Nothing you've said precludes the possibility that, in dying, Jesus offered something to God.

    Again, I see no reason why that should follow.

    In addition to all of this, you should be aware that there are many different opinions - even within fully orthodox traditional Christianity - about how the incarnation "works" and what it logically entails. You can't draw such strong conclusions from the mere doctrine of incarnation alone; it depends on what model of the incarnation you're thinking of. And that's before we even get into the large variety of quasi- or non-incarnation christologies in modern theology, as well as non-traditional concepts of God, according to which perhaps he can suffer and die even as God.
     
  20. Arakhor

    Arakhor Dremora Courtier Moderator

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    Since Joseph (to my knowledge) is not generally accepted as the real father of Jesus, leaving that honour to the Holy Spirit etc., why is Joseph’s descent from King David shoehorned into the Gospels? If Jesus was not the son of Joseph, then presumably that indicates that he was not of the House of David either, spoiling that part of the Messianic prophecy. Luke even goes to the effort of mentioning the trip to Bethlehem, so clearly it was important to him, yet Jesus’s parentage would seem to be the key issue there, unless of course the whole hypostasis thing also covers how Jesus could have two fathers simultaneously.
     

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