— Post Lawrence, the advocates of natural law have been emerging from their ghetto to speak of the “unnaturalness” of gaydom. [See E. Volokh's sound analysis.] In this vein, Robert Light has passed along to me a short dissertation on Scholastic metaphysics by his acquaintance Marc Balestrieri, who writes:

Everything of material creation in the world has a “final cause,” on the contrary, finality is the “prime cause,” or first of all causes. Potentiality and actuality being two elements of being necessarily composing every essence in existence, the finality of an object is the act towards which every potency necessarily tends towards during the duration of its existence. It is, by analogy, the “raison d'etre” of a faculty of every being which is human, of everything which exists. . . .

Therewith, it is without a doubt that the finality of the genesic faculty is the creation of offspring, just as the finality of the eye is to see, as the finality of the intestines is to digest, as the finality of the brain is to intellectualize, the finality of the mouth is to maciate and swallow wholesome food. If one of those faculties were to be willfully used contradicting its finality, or finis operis, than one would act “unnaturally,” or “irrationally,” per Aristotle and Aquinas. . .

Now, no doubt Marc gives us solid scholastic philosophy. But why think scholastic philosophy has to do with anything important?

Aristotle's system is a thing of intellectual beauty, especially insofar as he was striving to provide an empirically adequate characterization of the world. The spirit of Aristotle lives on in contemporary naturalists, who, like Aristotle, actually care about the way the world works. Catholocized Aristotelians, however, long ago gave up on Aristotle's project, and have made an elaborate a priorist dogma of Aristotle's essentially empirical enterprise. Aristotle was the first systematic biologist, and perhaps the finest that ever lived. Nevertheless, Aristotle's biology is in most important respects false, and we know vastly more about nature than the Philosopher could have dreamed. I would suggest to Marc that he begin taking the Aristotelian project seriously by apprising himself of this knowledge.

About kinds & essences… Organisms form natural kinds only on an extremely loose and discreditable conception of 'natural kind'. Aristotle understandably did not understand that species are impermanent and contingent. He did not understand recombination, mutation, drift, or speciation. There is little to species membership other than shared lineage. There are no species essences.

At best, for each species there is a normal distribution of traits, such that certain members are more typical than others. But the nature of the distribution shifts over time, and variation may occur on any dimension without an organisms thereby becoming any less a member of its kind. At time t, statistically typical members of one and the same species might have one behavioral profile, and at time t+n have quite another. Perhaps the environment changed causing some old behaviors to became maladaptive, and so an atypical and tenuously adaptive behavioral profile from t came to dominate the population by t+n. At each point in time, the behavorial elements of the typical profile had likely been selected for, and thus it was the proper function of the underlying behavioral mechanisms to produce those behaviors. But there is no proper behavioral function for a species for all time.

Likewise the function of organs can change over time. The thumb, say, has a function: grasping. But the thumb is an evolutionary transformation of some non-thumb appendage of one of our ancestors, and that appendage had a different function.

Human organs have functions on this etiological/adaptive conception of function. But there is no reason to understand the function of human organs as straightforwardly normative. If organisms have an overall function, then it is to maximize inclusive fitness. But who cares? We don't WANT inclusive fitness. We want happy, deeply meaningful lives among others who are also trying to have happy deeply meaningful lives. The fact that we want THIS, and not inclusive fitness, may or may not be an accident of our evolutionary history. I use my mouth for smoking cigarettes, chewing gum and kissing, not just for “maciating wholesome food.” But whatever.

Insofar as using our organs according to their biologically proper function contributes to happy, meaningful lives among others, then we should use them that way. Insofar as they don't, we shouldn't. I guess one COULD say that the function a trait adapted to perform among small bands on the savanna tens of thousands of years ago is precisely what we ought to use that trait for NOW… COME WHAT MAY! But you'd have to be caught in the grip of an utterly mystifying ideology to say it.

Of course, the scholastic doesn't understand our traits and their function in Darwinian terms. But Darwin and his school is right. Which is why scholastic noodling about human nature is perfectly irrelevant.

We are talking about homosexuality here, right? Think of it this way. Or, anyway, this is how things seem to me to be. There are some human beings who find themselves sexually and emotionally attracted to members of the same sex. A happy, meaningful life among others seems unattainable to these people without same-sex relationships. Now, there is this old metaphysical system, and the reason it has not died out completely is that it was adopted as dogma by a major world religion. There is otherwise very little of intellectual credibility to be said in its favor. Our best, current, highly confirmed empirical theory of the natural world says merely that predominantly homosexual behavior is almost certainly atypical in a population, but nevertheless obviously natural, because observed in nature. It is also observed that a large number of people engaged in same-sex relationships have happy, meaningful lives, even despite widespread discrimination and persecution. Okay. Now somebody decides to explain to us that according to the elaborate ancient dogmatic system, there is something unnatural or irrational about same-sex relationships.

My reaction: “Oh. Interesting. And I wonder what the Hindus think.”

  • jehovah

    but atheist now?

    its strange how many intellectual people were bible bashers in their teen years…were we attracted to the scholarly pursuit of it all, or what?

  • Greg N.

    I’m not sure if we talked about this before, but my mother was one of ten children, and the only one to reject the Mormon faith (my grandmother was a believer until her end; my grandfather a de facto atheist). I’d like to think that even if she hadn’t, I could’ve overcome the dogma and rejected it myself, but seeing my cousins I’m really, really thankful I didn’t have to grow up in that church. I did, however, take a trip to Utah once (I have an aunt and uncle who live there), and visited the Temple (in which numerous cousins have been married), which I enjoyed.

    I always thought the whole Mormon enterprise was ridiculous, but I didn’t know other people thought it was weird and cultish until I was a teenager. Then, I often found myself defending Mormons against the charges from “Christians.” I could never understand why it was absurd to believe in some of the more out there Mormon beliefs, but not, say, Virgin births and resurrections.

    I didn’t have nearly the exposure to the faith that you had, but I had much more than most. All in all – and probably because my parents acted as a pretty strong buffer protecting me from the actual dogma – I think I’m better for it.

  • Bill Gardner

    I would qualify the “Brigham Young was a douche” comment (although it is more accurate than the plaster saint of the LDS literature). How about “weird organizational genius in a savage time”? If the category for judging him is “religious leader of an oppressed community”, he wasn’t Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or the Dalai Lama. If the category is “Civil/military leader of a colonialist group”, he was better than Phil Sheridan or the ethnic cleaners who settled Texas (the Mormon exodus coincided with the Mexican War).

  • Really enjoyed this, as an ex-Kolob-Mormon atheist. Thanks.

  • Don Arthur

    So you’re a libertarian now?

  • Jen

    According to the diversity speaker at my law school this week, RLDS and FLDS are mormon, just like there are many flavors of jews. Never quite thought of it that way since, as you say, a large part of being RLDS is explaining how you are not Mormon.

  • Tim Lee was telling me that you suggested he name the Show-Me Institute after a purported would-be assassin of Gov. Boggs. He couldn’t remember the name, but I’m guessing you suggested the Porter Rockwell Institute? Now, that would have been cool…

  • “We may praise these engineers for challenging uncertain belief”

    Why would we do that? They didn’t challenge a claim, they made absolute statements without sufficient support to justify them.

    We don’t need to develop (have developed) supersonic flight to say that they’re morons. The moment we detect that their assertions outstrip their arguments is when we’re free to do that.

  • Weir

    So the problem’s that friends give each other gifts, but they don’t give strangers gifts. Problem solved: Take the hatred that German Gentiles feel for German Jews, and make German Gentiles friends, blood brothers, partners in crime, united by hatred against German Jews. Call it National Socialism. German Gentiles will feel bound to each other, a nation in peril, under siege from their victims who they imagine are not victims but victimisers, oppressors, conspirators in a plot, to do to Us what is done to Them.

    “In my view, the principal problem that faces the socialist ideal is that we do not know how to design the machinery that would make it run.” Not so. The machine was built. It ran. German Gentiles stole from German Jews (then Europe’s Jews, then everyone) and made gifts to each other, like friends, in Hitler’s People’s State.