Hypothetical Sin and Pure Evil

November 16, 2005 § 157 Comments

If you commit adultery with her in your mind, you have committed a sin even if she would never sleep with you in reality. The internal act of assent in your mind – that assent which says “if the circumstances allowed I would do this” – is as much a sin as actually performing the act. Being tempted is not bad in itself, but assent to an evil act is bad even if the circumstances never allow the act to be performed.

The “ticking bomb” scenario for justifying torture is like that. You know the story: the bomb is ticking and federal agent Jack Bauer “must” torture someone to get information about it before it goes off. He’s got to bite the bullet and do what those namby-pamby Christians who depend on him for their safety don’t have the cajones to do, and the people he does it to are bad people anyway. They deserve what they get, and the lives of millions of innocents depend on them getting it from Jack.

The Devil’s plan has a sort of dark beauty to it. He gets us to sin in terrible, grevious ways without giving us any of the real-world payoff. We don’t actually get to sleep with her. We don’t actually give the bad guys what they deserve and save the world. We don’t get the real-world goods toward which those sins are oriented (because every sin is oriented toward some lesser good). We just get the damnation that goes along with actually doing those things, if we assent to them in our minds. We get the evil and the evil alone.

Mark Shea is fond of saying that sin makes you stupid. I’ll extend that by saying that creating mental occasions of sin for ourselves, occasions which don’t exist in reality for us personally, is stupid even before we’ve pushed ourselves over the line of assent to the sin.

Hypotheticals can be a useful intellectual tool in many circumstances. But as a means to “test” a moral heresy – say the heresy that torture might be OK in certain circumstances – they are pure evil.

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§ 157 Responses to Hypothetical Sin and Pure Evil

  • gabriel says:

    Excellent post- I’ve just a question from the Shea thread that I didn’t want to put up there, since I think I agree with you:When you say that hypothesizing that the most grevious circumstances may well occur to one reflects a lack of faith in God’s providence- do you just mean that it is a failure to believe that God will keep one from temptations one is incapable of resisting? Or do you mean that holding a wide variety of tough hypotheticals to be plausible means one doesn’t believe in God’s providence?

  • zippy says:

    Certainly not the latter: many very tough circumstances aren’t merely hypothetical. But it follows from God’s providence (as opposed to the whole range of abstract possibility) that it is <>never<> the case that we are incapable of choosing the good, and it seems to me that many hypotheticals – which cover the whole phase space of abstract possibility as opposed to the actual circumstances within God’s providence – lead people to believe otherwise.

  • gabriel says:

    I quite see. I might go even further, and add that hypotheticals can do ignore the role of God’s providence- I remember a discussion with a family member when I converted. Her concern was that the Church’s opposition to contraception would necessarily lead to overpopulation and starvation. Putting aside the very questionable causality involved, this strikes me as an example of a hypothesis which does involve a lack of trust in God’s providence- that God would allow such tragedy to follow on obedience.Your thoughts?

  • Rob says:

    Gabriel:Overpopulation and starvation are not necessarily global events. Locally, both are going on now, in many different locales.I don’t know that your argument is wrong, but your “for instance” is pretty easy to shoot down.

  • gabriel says:

    starvation? Where is this going on other than Darfur? (which, I might add, is entirely due to war rather than an inability for the world to ensure these people are fed). My hypothetical may indeed be easy to shoot down, but you haven’t done it.Mere assertion of disputed facts is not evidence.

  • Rob says:

    Gabriel-Starvation is going on in, for instance, North Korea, if you believe our government. In my lifetime it has infamously gone on in Bangladesh, for just one other instance. Starvation is, in effect, going on in any area that needs to have food brought in from outside in a charitable effort, in order that the people there not in fact *die* of starvation. The fact that starvation may be prevented in this way does not alter the more basic fact that the population of the region receiving the aid has grown larger than its capacity to produce food can accommodate. Because virturally the whole tillable earth has been populated, people can no longer just pack up and move away from draught, encroachment by stronger peoples, etc. So they starve. Because of aid, actual starvation is, thankfully, more rare in today’s world than it was in the past. Hunger, however, and malnutrition and the disease that preys on the weakened bodies of the hungry, are all very much in evidence in much of the “third world”, and even in poorer regions of the “first world.” It’s in all the papers, Gabriel.

  • zippy says:

    <>Your thoughts?<>My thought is that basically I agree. There are times when obedience leads to further hardship, and we should remain obedient in those cases too though. Abraham’s faith and obedience are the model here, it seems to me. How often do we respond “God cannot really mean that!” rather than obeying what we know God really means, as revealed to us through the natural law and through His Church? Our faith in God’s providence is a teleological faith.

  • c matt says:

    Yet in the US we have an obesity problem, even among our poor. It does not appear that the starvation is caused by population numbers, but by inadequate distribution of resources and corruption (in short, human greed).

  • Rob says:

    c matt–Why doesn’t the principle of double effect allow for the use of artificial birth control, where the intended effect is enhancing the quality of life for already existing children, even if this is only on a local, or even a familial, scale?

  • Rob,The principle of double effect requires that the object chosen not be evil in itself.Acts which “propose to render procreation impossible” are inherently evil (Humanae Vitae).God Bless

  • Rob says:

    Chris–That’s a matter of opinion, be it ever so magisterial, and based on…what?What is really being objected to is having the fun without paying the consequences. Otherwise, abstinence is evil.

  • zippy says:

    <>What is really being objected to is having the fun without paying the consequences.<>I would say that what is being objected to is not that, but the premeses which make that seem intelligible. A contracepted sex act and an uncontracepted sex act are not the same sort of thing, while Rob’s objection depends upon them being the same sort of thing in order to be intelligible.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–I have already acknowledged that a contracepted sex act is a different thing from an uncontracepted sex act. What I am questioning is that the former is rendered, by that difference, inherently evil. If a wife is found to be infertile by nature, is her husband obligated to a life of celibacy, lest he commit a sex act without possibility of conception? What you are really talking about now is thwarting God’s will, if every occurence in nature is to be seen as contingent upon the will of God.I am suggesting that contraception can be used with the sole intention of bringing about good ends for already existing individuals, and ipso facto is not inherently evil. This would make contraception analogous to a surgical intervention that saves a life that nature had every intention of ending, if nature is determined to be always possessed of intent. Or else, we should all become Christian Scientists and place our lives and health in the hands of God, and only in the hands of God.

  • Rob says:

    On second thought, strike the “ipso facto” clause in my previous post. I can see where that can’t be defended here, even though I think it’s true, because contraception will be equated with abortion, which it in no way resembles. But that’s a different argument, in my mind, that I don’t want to have here. The rest of my argument holds together without the *ipso facto*.

  • zippy says:

    <>I have already acknowledged that a contracepted sex act is a different thing from an uncontracepted sex act. What I am questioning is that the former is rendered, by that difference, inherently evil.<>You do understand though that from my perspective this is meaningless question, right? I mean, it is like asking how the difference between committing murder and planting a flower makes the former a moral evil. As utterly distinct sorts of acts their deontological status is, well, utterly distinct.

  • Rob says:

    The question the answer of which is not meaningless, since it’s far from obvious to a wide cross-section of people, is: why is a contracepted sex act inherently evil? If the proposition that a contracepted sex act is inherently evil would be accepted as axiomatic in your ideal world, then the question has meaning in this, the real world, where it is not, thus far, accepted as such. Convince me.

  • zippy says:

    It isn’t a matter of it being accepted as axiomatic. Probably one of the best (though not most succinct or transparent) discussions is in the encyclical <>Humanae Vitae<>. As with acts like theft and murder, though, or existence and time for that matter, there is always the potential for endless argument.As for the contraception-abortion connection, there is an interesting recent discussion of it < HREF="http://rightreason.ektopos.com/archives/2005/11/prolife_prospec.html" REL="nofollow">here<>.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Yes, I agree completely with Mr. Tollefsen’s conclusion: there is no hope of a political solution to the abortion issue; abortion is a matter of individual morality. The decision not to have recourse to it must be made one individual at a time.This was also true, however, when both abortion *and* contraception were illegal. Tollefsen touches upon the fundamental issue: the “emancipation” of women from their biological and familial roles. As long as women want (and/or *need*) to work outside of the home, both contraception and abortion will be legal and widely accessed. It is, I think, arguable in fact, that the contemporary family would be just as likely to be broken up for want of such access, as for the its availability: damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. This is, in great part–although it is not as obvious here as elsewhere–because we have more people than we can usefully employ. Again, where contraception, as it affects our standard of living, is concerned, damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. If we had half the population that we have, the women could be sent home to raise the children, and the men could earn enough to support their families.

  • zippy says:

    Not being a consequentialist, though, and also as a person who believes in God’s providence, none of those things matter to me. (That overstates it really. They do matter, but they are irrelevant morally and ought to be treated as irrelevant legally in a good polity). And I do hope you read the whole discussion, not just the blog entry. My own view is most closely aligned with that of Edward Feser.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–I have now read the entire discussion, and I can’t say that it has changed my fundamental attitude toward contraception. I saw most of what I have expressed above expressed here and there throughout that discussion, and I never saw it convincingly refuted. Hylomorphism? Fine, but it seems to pertain only to the sexual organs. Do you cut your hair and trim your beard and nails? Do you use deodorant, or do you let those natural pheromones that God intended to be so irresistable to your (equally hirsute) potential mates build up in all their redolent glory, to entice them nearer so you can run them down, and with your superior musculo-skeletal development, force them to incubate your offspring and perpetuate your genetic inheritance? Do you smell like a goat, or do you go against nature’s plan?The truth is, we modify the body and alter its “teleology” all the time, and in many different ways. I still don’t understand why birth control is intrinsically evil.

  • Rob says:

    The concept of teleology works pretty well with insentient matter and with brute animals, but it’s not so clear to me that it applies in a pure way to man.The fact that man possesses free will means that man is *obligated* to choose his ends and the means to achieve them. If he does this in rebellion against God, as is often the case, then he has failed in his obligation to God, but not in his obligation to *the kind of creature that he is*. Man’s primary dilemma is to determine, at each fork in the road, which direction God wills him to go. Having done so, he is faced next with relinquishing the pride resulting from his freedom of choice and its illusion of power, and submitting to God’s will. Fallen man is not designed to fit into to God’s plan as an integral and smoothly turning cog (as is a hydrogen atom, or a fuzzy little bunny); he is designed with the capability to choose it, or reject it. If the success of the Grand Plan entails the end of all evil and the complete triumph of the Good, through the power of Love, then it rests upon man to cooperate with that end. Man is not hard-wired for salvation; he must choose it to make it happen.

  • Zippy says:

    <>The truth is, we modify the body and alter its “teleology” all the time, and in many different ways.<>I suppose if it were plausibly the body’s telos to stink I might be left with the impression that you are not failing to make crucial distinctions (with apologies to my English teacher for the double negative).

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–But, according to nature, the body stinks with a purpose, and that purpose functions within the realm of sexual reproduction, so I am not being merely humorous in bringing it up as a parallel to contraception.But my subsequent post is more to the fundamental issue.

  • Rob says:

    That is, I’m bring up *bathing* as a parallel to contraception: wash away the stink, wash away the pheromones.There is supposedly a letter from Napoleon to Josephine that contains words to the effect of, “I’ll be home in a week. Stop bathing immediately.”In place of a healthy spiritual lives, we have mood elevating pharmaceuticals. In place of pheromones, we have Viagara.

  • zippy says:

    <>That is, I’m bring up *bathing* as a parallel to contraception: wash away the stink, wash away the pheromones.<>It isn’t necessarily a bad analogy, since contraception treats children as a stink to be washed off.

  • Rob says:

    If ensoulment takes place at conception, there are no children involved in contraception. Isn’t that the whole point?

  • Rob says:

    Another point is that uncontrolled human reproduction, when infant mortality is way below historical levels, on the one hand, and people are living 20 years longer on average than they did just 50 years ago, on the other, does not constitute *good stewardship*.Temporary and reversable means of contraception to effectively limit family size just don’t seem to me to do any damage to God’s plan. Breeding whole populations into malnutrition and disease does.

  • zippy says:

    <>Isn’t that the whole point?<>Not at all. The teleology of sex entails children, and contraception is intended to rule children out (just as, as you pointed out, deoderant is intended to rule out stink). Teleologically, contraception treats children in the same way that deoderant treats stink.

  • Rob says:

    “…telogocically…”I have already argued, without contradiction, that man’s teleology is in his own hands (for better or worse) because of his ability to reason and his free will.I think that it is very defensible to say that temporary, but effective, birth control–used for purposes of the stewardship of resources–is not contrary to God’s plan, but part of it.

  • Dan Jasmin says:

    <>I think that it is very defensible to say that temporary, but effective, birth control–used for purposes of the stewardship of resources–is not contrary to God’s plan, but part of it.<>Rob, it seems to me that this same argument could be used to justify bolemia.

  • Rob says:

    Or even Bohemia.

  • zippy says:

    <>I have already argued, without contradiction, that man’s teleology is in his own hands (for better or worse) because of his ability to reason and his free will.<>You haven’t so much argued it as stated it. It seems manifestly in contradiction to the Christian view that man’s telos entails unity with God (to have a telos is not necessarily to fulfill it). And in any case it is quite beside the point, because we aren’t talking about the telos of man, we are (for whatever reason: it is rather disconnected from the blog entry) talking about the telos of sex.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Is the “telos of sex” the same for a human being as it is for a frog or a rat? No. It’s not. Nothing that man does results *soley* from a natural telos, because anything that a man feels an urge to do, or a built-in instinct for, he can decide *not* to do. This decision can be made with the help of God’s grace and conform to His will, or it can be the opposite of that, being the will of the man. It makes little sense, in fact, to even speak of telos when speaking of man. Man is now, in great part, self-designed, and his purposes all elective. I thought that this was, in fact, orthodox doctrine: God gave man free will. Telos is for pre-programmed robots, machines, and sub-rational lower life forms.

  • zippy says:

    <>It makes little sense, in fact, to even speak of telos when speaking of man.<>Thank you. Nihilism is precisely what you get when you deny teleological reasoning. What strikes me as odd about your nihilism is that you seem to sincerely believe that it is compatible with Christianity.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Nihilism? I don’t understand where you see nihilism in the points that I’ve been making. I have stated nowhere that human existence is absurd, that traditional values are without foundation, or that life has no purpose. I have only said that the rational mind of man allows him to transcend what were, at an earlier stage of human development, biological imperatives. For humans to breed uncontrollably, like rodents, makes no more sense that insisting that the earth is flat.St. Paul made it quite clear that he thought it best that man not breed at all. Christ did not marry.Even if you take it as a commandment, rather than as a blessing, that God said be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, you must admit that the task has been accomplished: earth’s full–what’s next?

  • Rob says:

    To recapitulate: I speak of rational stewardship of the world which human history has left us in charge of. We may argue about the rules governing that stewardship. But, certainly, stewardship of any kind is not the concern of a nihilist.

  • zippy says:

    <>I have stated nowhere […] that life has no purpose.<>Sure you have. You have denied that it even makes sense to talk about man’s telos (let alone the telos of particulars like sex).

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–In designing man with a rational mind and allowing him free will, God has made a creature capable of transcending his telos. The story of Adam and Eve and the eating of the fruit that opened the human mind to knowledge of good and evil, is the story of the death of the human telos, and the birth of human existential responsibility. A being that responds only to built-in prompts is not free, but its telos is flawless. It is one with its environment, like a shark–a nearly mindless creature that is also nearly perfect in its design and fulfils its purpose exactly.

  • Rob says:

    If the telos of man is to be found entailed in his biology, and represented by the functioning of his reproductive apparatus, then man is nothing more than a mammal among mammals. Obviously, this is not the case. Man *does have* a telos, but man’s telos is to transcend this world, not to epitomize it. Man’s telos is to *learn* to be (temporarily) *in* the world, without being *of* the world. This world, as it is, is not our true home. And squeezing out puppies is not our true telos.

  • Rob says:

    So man now has to *choose* his telos. Will he choose God and the Kingdom? Or will he choose Satan and death? Man can no longer just go with the flow, as Adam and Eve could have, had they not sinned. With the Fall, man has taken his telos into his own hands, and in working out his destiny man will seek the help of God, or he will follow the path of evil into the house of death.

  • Rob says:

    In the interim, as man had the Law until he had the Christ and the Resurrection, man now has the responsible stewardship, until the advent of the Kingdom.

  • zippy says:

    <>So man now has to *choose* his telos.<>How very Nietzschean (assuming that by the word “telos” you mean telos). But again, we aren’t talking about the telos of man, we are talking about the telos of sex.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Fine. The telos of sex is to perpetuate the cycle of sin and death that is human existence, and to do so on as grand a scale as possible: more sex, more birth, more sin, more death. Praise God and pass the ammunition!And how does this advance the telos of man, which is to enter the Kingdom, where we shall be like angels and not marry? Is it necessary that some “critical mass” of souls be created so that some cosmic master switch is thrown that turns on the End of Time like a bank of lights?Please, telos.

  • zippy says:

    <>And how does this advance the telos of man,…<>The good effects of chastity seem fairly obvious to me; but in any case it isn’t a utilitarian evaluation. “If you love me, keep my commandments” should be good enough. Prognostications about dire things that will happen if we actually adhere to the moral law are notoriously innacurate. For someone who understands that clearly w.r.t. the Iraq war you seem quite unwilling to understand it w.r.t. chastity.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Where is the *commandment* to adhere to the alleged telos of sex, to the exclusion of any and all contraception other than the “rhythm method.” Why is the rhythm method any different from the use of condoms which also entails only a *diminution of the probability* of pregnancy occurring? Each of these *choices* entails the *intent to have sex without conception*. And each of is also equally temporary and immediately reversible. By allowing the rhythm method to be used, the Church is acknowledging that there exist circumstances in which there are rational, prudent reasons for tampering with the telos of sex by engaging in it for the sake of itself. I’ll buy the chastity argument if you make it absolute, and show me that the devout Catholic fervently prays for a conception prior to and during every act of sex.The *commandments* that lead to me to oppose war are not at all obscure.

  • zippy says:

    <>Where is the *commandment* to adhere to the alleged telos of sex,…<>It is a part of the natural law, which anyone can figure out for himself in principle without any special revelation or knowledge of Christianity. Of course when it comes to sex many people want very much to <>not<> figure out the natural law.<>Why is the rhythm method any different from the use of condoms…<>A condom modifies the act itself as it takes place, turning it into a different sort of act. The rhythm method just involves abstaining from licit acts at particular times: it involves no modification of the act intended to thwart its potential fertility.I do think it is possible (and probably commonplace among Catholics) to use the rhythm method immorally too; but for quite different reasons. The rhythm method doesn’t alter the particular act in such a way as to intentionally render it infertile, it just takes advantage of the fact that at certain times the act is naturally infertile.<>By allowing the rhythm method to be used, the Church is acknowledging that there exist circumstances in which there are rational, prudent reasons for tampering with the telos of sex by engaging in it for the sake of itself.<>Um, no. The Church is acknowledging that there exist circumstances in which there are rational, prudent reasons for abstaining from sex (not modifying sex acts to make them intentionally infertile). In the rhythm method, the act itself is not modified in any way. It just happens to be naturally infertile at the time it is performed.<>I’ll buy the chastity argument if you make it absolute, and show me that the devout Catholic fervently prays for a conception prior to and during every act of sex.<>Of course you will, because your objections depend upon obfuscating the distinction between (1) a naturally infertile sex act and (2) the modification of a sex act as it occurs to make it into a different sort of act which is intentionally infertile.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–So a condom used to prevent conception is in a category separate from a day chosen for a sex act in order that pregnancy not result, because the former alters the very nature of the act. Where intent is involved,that is a distinction without a difference, if I have ever seen one. It ignores intent and puts the whole moral weight on means.Does means trump intent in moral choice across the board? If so, could you provide a couple of examples in other areas.

  • zippy says:

    <>It ignores intent and puts the whole moral weight on means.<>Correct. A contracepted sex act is objectively evil no matter what the intent of the actors happens to be. (Though again, intent is not utterly irrelevant in sexual morality in general: it is quite possible and probably commonplace to use the rhythm method illicitly).<>Does means trump intent in moral choice across the board? If so, could you provide a couple of examples in other areas.<>In the case of intrinsically evil means, absolutely. It is evil to torture someone as a means to achieving a good end, say getting the location of a ticking bomb. It is evil to intentionally slaughter civilians in order to win an otherwise just war of self-defense. It is never licit to choose an evil means, because it is never licit to choose evil, period.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–So, I suppose that because healing is intrinsically good, the fact that it modifies this and that in order to bring healing about, revokes the statue against the violation of natural law?But, if it is the violation of natural law that makes contraception intrinsically evil, do we not still have a logical contradiction here?

  • Rob says:

    (Note: the “statue” revoked is the Venus de Milo who has been altered with regard to the upper extremities.)But I digress…and jest…and can’t type…and…

  • zippy says:

    <>I suppose that because healing is intrinsically good, the fact that it modifies this and that in order to bring healing about, revokes the statue against the violation of natural law?<>No. Why would healing – preserving life and/or preserving/restoring natural functions of the body – be against the natural law?Self-mutilation <>is<> morally wrong though (where “mutilation” means “intentionally destroy a natural function of the body”).(I find your other comment rather disarming).

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Healing can involve altering the body, and the way it functions, in many ways that are more radical than donning a condom–installing a pacemakers in the thoracic cavity, for instance. Injecting insulin, for another. The list is almost endless. Physical death is an integral part of natural law, and when nature hits us with a disease or with the failure of a body part, or function, that would be fatal, we are opposing natural law by altering the body to compensate for the failure, and to thwart nature’s intention to kill us. Although this is good, it is no less a contradiction of natural law than is contraception.

  • Rob says:

    What follows is that if contraception is intrinsically evil, it is not because it violates the telos of sex. We violate the telos of nearsightedness, male pattern baldness, trachycardia, hypertension, diabetes, clinical depression, and other naturally occurring conditions all the time.

  • zippy says:

    <>We violate the telos of nearsightedness, male pattern baldness, trachycardia, hypertension, diabetes, clinical depression, and other naturally occurring conditions all the time.<>Only if you believe that (e.g.) it is the teleological purpose of the eyes to be blind; which is to say, only if you simply refuse to reason teleologically at all.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Taken in isolation, one might not be able to say that it is the teleological purpose of any particular organ or system to malfunction. But, taking the body as a whole, one can say that it is its teleological purpose to break down and die, sometimes sooner, sometimes later. When we thwart sooner to kick that can down the road to later, we are interfering with natural law, using reason and technology to do so.The question is whether all human intereference with the workings of nature is evil.

  • zippy says:

    <>But, taking the body as a whole, one can say that it is its teleological purpose to break down and die, sometimes sooner, sometimes later.<>No, one can’t.<>The question is whether all human intereference with the workings of nature is evil.<>No, it isn’t. In equating telos with what happens to occur in fact you are refusing to engage in teleological reasoning.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Science has shown that the aging mechanism, by which bodies gradual break down, become senescent, and eventually die, is, in fact, designed into our very cells. It is the telos of every cell to break down and die, and it is further the telos of every cell system to eventually become unable to replace those dying cells with healthy ones. So it *is* the telos of the whole physical body to break down and die. Death is the purpose toward which an integral part of the entire body’s basic components is designed to move.Scientists are now working very hard to find ways to thwart this aging process. If they succeed one day, they will have violated nature by defeating death on the physical level. I can see how this might be evil (and therefore contraception be evil also), but I think that most people would consider it the greatest boon of science to man in history (and therefore contraception not evil).

  • zippy says:

    <>So it *is* the telos of the whole physical body to break down and die.<>And once again, showing what happens to something is not the same thing as identifying its purpose.

  • Rob says:

    Telos is purpose as defined by design toward ends, is it not?1 a : the study of evidences of design in nature b : a doctrine (as in vitalism) that ends are immanent in nature c : a doctrine explaining phenomena by final causes2 : the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose

  • zippy says:

    Right. And what you have shown here rather clearly is that in order to argue the moral acceptability of contraception you have to assert that suffering and death is the purpose of the body.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–No, what I am showing is that decline toward death (the end) is designed, *purposefully* into the cells/body. Therefore, to interfere with those ends is analogous with interfering with conception (the end) towards which the gametes are, *purposefully*, designed.

  • zippy says:

    Sure. However you put it, you are arguing that the purpose of the body is suffering and death. In order to embrace contraception as morally acceptable you have to assert a teleology of death.Now you may well be seeing the teleology of death you are asserting as a <>reductio ad absurdam<> of teleological thinking in general; in which case you are back to nihilism.But of course blindness is not in fact the purpose of eyes, and death is not in fact the purpose of the body, and childless narcissism is not in fact the purpose of sex. How to convince someone of this when that someone intransigently insists that death <>is<> the purpose of the body, or that childless narcissism <>is<> the purpose of sex, is not something I know. They are such manifestly false assertions that it seems a rather pointless discussion.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–It is not that I am a nihilist; it’s that you are not a teleologist.What we need here is a compentent referee.

  • brendon says:

    <>What we need here is a compentent referee.<>Well, many consider Aristotle the father of teleology, and in <>Physics<> II.2, he calls “laughable” a poet’s statement that death is that for the sake of which we are born.Whether you consider Aristotle competent or not is up to you.

  • Rob says:

    Brendon–But whether or not we are born for death is not the issue. The issue is whether the intervention of medicine is analogous to the intervention of contraception in deflecting certain natural causes, leading otherwise, by design, toward certain inevitable ends, and whether, if contraception is inherently evil, because it interferes with nature, some medical interventions are also? Clearly the purpose of life is to live a good life in the hope of attaining eternal life. But the end of physical life is death, and death is designed into the cells as an integral part of the organism: so the teleology of the organism qua organism entails its death. And thanks for the intervention!

  • brendon says:

    rob,I think the problem may be that you are not using the word “nature” in the same way zippy or the teleological/natural law tradition uses it. Nature is not simply the collected whole of beings and phenomena in the material world. Rather, nature is the principle by which a thing moves toward its end/final cause/purpose.Thus, a heart attack may be “natural” in the first sense, since it is a phenomenon that happens in the material world. But it is not properly natural, since the purpose of the heart is to pump blood.In the same way, the end or final cause is not simply “what is achieved.” Rather, it is that towards which a thing moves. Thus, the fact that conception does not occur in every act of sexual intercourse does not mean that the end of sexual intercourse is not conception. In the same way, the fact that every man does not attain Beatitude dose not mean that Beautitude is not the end of man.

  • Rob says:

    Brendon–When I am talking about cell biology and the fact that cells are designed to die and that cell systems are designed to stop repairing themselves, so that the organism dies, then I am speaking about “nature” in the second sense. It may not be a sense that the Church has ever considered, as the knowledge is relatively new.The physical organism is designed to move toward death. Call it the mechanism by which God introduced death after the Fall, but it is very real. The spiritual component of man is designed to live forever (hopefully), and the physical body may be resurrected at the End of Time; but for now, it is designed to age and die every bit as much as the heart is designed to pump blood, or the eye to see.

  • Rob says:

    Brendon–Actually, I think that the problem is not over the use of the word “nature”, but rather over the use of the word “end”. The eye, or the heart, has only one end, and it is immediate and unchanging. But does man have an end that can be defined as a *function* for which he was designed, as has the eye or the heart? I don’t think so. Man is designed more as a *process* than as an end. Part of that process is the advancement of the spirt, or soul. Another part is the decline toward death of the material component, the body. Man’s ultimate end, reunion with God in the Kingdom, comes only after the demise of the *natural* body and the creation of the *glorified* body. We don’t know what that glorified body will be like,as the scriptures give us only hints. St. Paul intimates that it will be quite different from the body we now possess. Jesus intimates that in the Kingdom we will be “like angels”. We know that the resurrected Christ was often not recognized by those who had known Him well before His crucifixion, but we don’t know why that should be. These are all mysteries pertaining to the “end” of man.

  • Zippy says:

    <>I think that the problem is not over the use of the word “nature”, but rather over the use of the word “end”<>And specifically that you seem to reject the notion that things (like eyes and sex) have knowable natures and ends. That is, you reject teleological reasoning. Which is to say, you embrace a (rather equivocal) form of nihilism.I do find it interesting that the embrace of contraception inevitably leads to the embrace of death.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–I don’t need to embrace death, it will embrace me. The only thing known for certain about every man, from the day he is born, is that he will die. The only thing finally important about the man is the state of his soul on the day that he dies. (It doesn’t matter if he was sighted, or blind; healthy, or infirm.) It is known that he will die; it is not known (except by God) if he will be invited into the Kingdom.You keep ringing the same bell, characterizing me as a nihilist. You will not, apparently, tell me how a medicine that postpones a morbidity designed by nature, differs (in its opposition to natural design) from a contraception that postpones conception. To me, the analogy is apt. Moreover, you will not tell me why, if such a medicine is good, such a contraception is evil. You don’t address my argument, you just reiterate what you have by rote from authority. I am asking for an explanation of how that authority arrived at such conclusions, by demonstrating what I see as a logical inconsistency in the reasoning involved.I don’t embrace the death of the body, I accept it as inevitable, since it was decreed by God that it should be so, as a result of sin. Death is designed into every cell in your body; to interfere with that design, in order to postpone death, is *as* to interfere with the coming together of the gametes in order to postpone conception. If one is evil, both are evil.

  • zippy says:

    <>You will not, apparently, tell me how a medicine that postpones a morbidity designed by nature, differs (in its opposition to natural design) from a contraception that postpones conception.<>Actually I have told you many times. You just keep stopping up your ears. Procreation is the telos of sex. Death is not the telos of the body. You keep attempting to befuddle this in various ways: most recently by insisting that death <>is<> the telos of the body, that interfering with this telos of death is obviously licit, and therefore thwarting the natural telos of things is morally licit, etc. But all you have really accomplished is to make the string of characters “telos” meaningless when you use it. The body does die, and indeed may do so deterministically through a genetic mechanism, but its <>purpose<> is to live. If the body’s <>telos<> was death then it wouldn’t exist in the first place.You either don’t understand teleological reasoning or you do understand it and are desperate to deny its legitimacy, to cast doubts upon its relevance and to make it seem arbitrary. Either way the discussion is going nowhere.

  • Rob says:

    Agreed.

  • William Luse says:

    I’ll try to help, without holding out much hope. Rob seems to be a Christian, for he says, <>it was decreed by God that it<> [the death of the body] <>should be so, as a result of sin.<> Therefore he must see that before the Fall, before sin, it was not so. We were not, originally, designed for it. We are now subject to the laws of “mere” nature, with death being the physical end point of the pupose for which we were designed – to live; otherwise, the reason for the resurrection of the body would escape me. And it would no doubt be terribly sinful, had our scientists the capacity, to confer upon our fellows the gift of immortality on earth, in effect flinging back in God’s face the gift of an eternal life in His presence. Though moral judgement may on occasion attend the circumstances of our death – the means by which it is effected (suicide), the manner in which we embrace it (hatred of God’s providence)- the <>fact<> that a man must die is of no moral consequence whatever. Furthermore, it is <>my<> death, and mine alone (as it would be my kidney the medicine restored to health, or the failing eye to sight). I will take no one down with me, nor perpetrate any injustice. But in the sexual act, a man is not alone, and must take into account every step of the way what justice he owes, body and soul, to this other party (hopefully his wife). If life is sacred, so is the means by which it is brought into the world. Our use of this means should be fraught with moral trepidation, in a way that it need not with a medicine that retores an ailing kidney, and which merely treats an aberrant condition. What aberrant condition does contraception treat? If I may answer, none. It makes an aberrant condition of the soul – lust – easier to indulge, and lust is always unjust.

  • Rob says:

    William Luse–Thank you for your comments. First, I have to say that death is, in itself, a moral judgement. It is the final punishment for sin–“the wage of sin is death”. I understand that the Catholic Church teaches the resurrection of the body–meaning the same body we now have–despite all the evidence in the Gospels that we will be resurrected in a very different body. As I mentioned above, St. Paul inimates this. Jesus says it outright; and it is clear from the Gospel stories that the resurrected Christ was somehow different than He had been in life, so that people did not recognize Him. And He could walk through closed doors. And then there is the absurdity of such issues as: in what state will my *same* body be resurrected? If it’s in the shape it was in when *it killed me* and that shall be my body *for eternity*–no thanks. So, will we be resurrected as we were at 5 years old? If so, which of the other 5-year-olds will be competent to care for us? And who wants to spend an eternity in kindergarten? Or will we be as we were at 15? That would be fun–horny forever. Or 25? Or 50? I’m not so happy with 50. In short, I don’t understand the Catholic obsession with the physical body, and therefore, with the physical act of sex. I do understand why abortion is murder. I even understand the objection to surgical sterilization. But condom use not only seems morally harmless to me, but to be, in many different circumstances, the prudent, responsible, and *moral* course of action–unless sex is never to be indulged in for the pleasure of it alone. If that be the case, then sex qua sex is evil, and, ergo, not to be indulged in for the sake of its good ends. We should all take a vow of ceibacy, and after a generation, that will be the end of it. To be a bit more serious. There remain seeming contradictions in the Catholic attitude toward physical existence, which never seem, somehow, to be brought fact-to-face in Catholic thinking.

  • Rob says:

    “If the body’s telos was death then it wouldn’t exist in the first place.”Yes, therein lies the paradox and the mystery.

  • zippy says:

    Perhaps you see teleology of physical things (like the body and the sexual act) as a paradox because you are conflating “eternal” with “future”?And Happy thanksgiving, Rob my good friend 🙂

  • zippy says:

    In other words, to be perhaps less opaque, the teleology of a thing is its eternal purpose, not its actual future destiny. The purpose of a car is to transport, and even though its future physical destiny is either the heat death of the universe or the Big Crunch, its future demise is not its <>purpose<>. To <>not exist<> is never the telos (purpose viewed from eternity) of a thing. (I don’t really see a connection to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, which you caricature to some extent but which I understand to reflect man’s non-dualistically physical nature: the Catholic doctrine contradicts both Descartes and Laplace, as it were).

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–You may be onto something there. I’ll think about it.And a very Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!It is always fun, and instructive, to lock horns with you, my friend.And now it is “over the river and through the woods…” Enjoy!

  • Rob says:

    Zippy-Viewed from that perspective, then, the eternal purpose of the human body is simply to be the cause of additional human bodies, through the transmission (with the cooperation of a second human body) of its genetic material. This is the same eternal purpose of the body of a cockroach. With that, I have no argument.If I wanted to continue the argument, I would argue the essential unimportance to human existence of the body, which is composed of matter, and which is not, therefore, eternal. If resurrected as matter, the body could only have a second temporal, and temporary, existence.Therefore, if sex makes bodies, and God makes souls–the truly “alive” component of the human being–and if God makes a soul only once a body has been made, then nothing–nothing–is lost, if contraception is prevented. You can’t lose, or destory, a thing that has never had any existence.

  • Rob says:

    Correction: Obviously I meant to say that nothing is lost if *conception* is prevented (although you may prefer it the way I typed it. Ha! Freudian slip!)😉

  • Zippy says:

    <>Viewed from that perspective, then, the eternal purpose of the human body is simply to be the cause of additional human bodies, …<>Not at all. (Incidentally, I don’t see how one can be the sort of dualist you describe here and for there to be any point to physical reality at all).But the telos of <>sex,<> to stay on point, is to create and provide for the healthy nurturing of new human beings. That it may not directly <>do<> the former in every single case is irrelevant: contraception is evil precisely because it modifies a particular act in such a way as to intentionally thwart its telos.Gobble gobble.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy– (burp! un, excuse me)I understand your point about the telos of sex, what I don’t understand is why it is considered to be *sacred*. Even if sex resulted in conception every time, which is not even close to the case, the use of a condom by two consenting adults involves no third party, and no new soul. With regard to conception, it’s just another non-event.

  • zippy says:

    <>…the use of a condom by two consenting adults involves no third party, and no new soul.<>Third parties aren’t really relevant (though in the case of sex pretty much everyone is affected by what is considered an acceptable act). Self-mutilation is also contrary to the body’s telos, and thus, like contraception, is wicked. It isn’t an accident that the culture of self-mutilation goes along with the culture of contraception. Both represent attempts to assert man’s will <>against<> the the telos of his physical self.

  • Rob says:

    Uh-huh. I’m willing to concede that the telos of sex is a reality. I still haven’t been convinced, however, that it is something sacred that cannot be tampered with. Why is it taboo?

  • zippy says:

    <>Uh-huh. I’m willing to concede that the telos of sex is a reality. I still haven’t been convinced, however, that it is something sacred that cannot be tampered with.<>This set of propositions is mutually contradictory, though. A telos is the sort of thing against which a man should never set his will. It isn’t that some teli are sacred and some are violable. None are violable, as a moral matter. To set your will against the telos of a thing in a particular case is to set your will against God (thus the moral fact that self-mutilation is immoral, even though on its face it harms only the one who does it to himself).

  • Rob says:

    “To set you will against the telos of a thing in a particular case is to set your will against God…”Is this true of every telos in creation? Or is it true only of a telos pertaining to man?If, for intance, agricultural scientists sterilize a quantity of the males of a crop-destroying insect species and release them into nature to have sterile sex with the females in order to produce a larger crop, is that also evil?

  • zippy says:

    <>Is this true of every telos in creation?<>Yes.Insects, plants, and animals don’t exist for ultimate union with God (if they did it would be wrong for us to eat them and use them in other instumental ways). The teleology of things associated with plants and animals is fundamentally different from the teleology of things associated with man.It is important to be clear here. It isn’t that an animal has a telos, but that it is a lesser (or not sacred, to use your terminology) telos which we can violate because of its profanity. It is that the telos of the animal is to serve man instrumentally. When you eat a hamburger you are not violating the telos of the cow, you are fulfilling it. Moral precepts that apply to man do not (<>can not<>, without self-refutation, since man’s existence depends on instumental use of plants and animals) transfer to man’s use of plants and animals.A telos, remember, is not a future-directed <>function<> as a scientist would view a <>function<>. A telos is the <>purpose<> of a thing viewed from the perspective of eternity.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Then an act of contraception is a *successful* violation of the will of God, and the punishment that results from it is, once again (as in Eden) punishment for the *effective* exercise of free will, based on acquired knowledge?What God wants us to do, then, as I understand it, is breed, regardless of our ability to sustain the human life that results? It is quantity, rather than quality of life that is pleasing to God. God would rather see a million children, suffering in dire poverty, than to have had 50,000 mature human beings indulge in acts of contraception, that might have resulted in the non-conceptions of the suffering one-million?If so, God gave us our intellectual capacity toward what end? Or, is it that our intellectual capacity is stolen, rather than given (Eden, compounded by the Prometheus myth)? Of what use is our understanding of the mechanisms of the material world, if we are not allowed to use that understanding to improve our lot in this life? The ultimately good human being is a happy cretin. Again, these things all being the case, why did God create a material world at all? Or, is it the case that the material world was actually created by man, as a result of the Fall, the world God originally created having been potentially eternal, and therefore, not material (or it would have violated the laws of physics)?

  • Rob says:

    Let me anticipate your answer: the disobedience of the 50K users of contraception is a sin raising a stench in God’s nostrils, while the misery of the 1M children is a morally neutral, worldly event of no concern to God–an issue for politicans and social planners.

  • Rob says:

    “what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?” (Psalms 8:3-4 RSV)On the mundane level, the answer seems to be: I have given you what is, ultimately, a finite world; a commandment to reproduce, increasing your numbers exponentially; and death as a solution to your obvious dilemma. What more do you ask of me?How does this jibe with the telos of sex?

  • zippy says:

    <>What God wants us to do, then, as I understand it, is breed, regardless of our ability to sustain the human life that results?<>I don’t know how many times you’ve brought that canard up Rob, but if it is once it has to be a hundred. (1) There is no moral requirement for any particular person to engage in sex at all. (2) Civilization-level predictions (of the Malthusian bent or otherwise) are notoriously innacurate just-so stories. Why should I believe your particular one rather than trusting in God’s providence and doing what is objectively right?

  • Rob says:

    “Why should I believe your particular one…etc.”Because it (overpopulation/insufficency of resources) is a recurrent reality, always occurring somewhere at any given time, and because, without death, overpopulation would have ended everything, long ago. Without death, sexual reproduction would have long ago resulted in a biological Deluge.Death is a necessary condition for the continuation of life; therefore, sex and death are linked phenomena. If man is free to tamper with death using technology, he *must* also be free to tamper with sexuality using technology. Your “telos of sex” is dependent on a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis which separates man from the rest of nature, as though man could survive as a life form, if man were the only life form on the planet. All of this is only the case, however, if the continued existence of man on earth, well into a remote future, is a consummation devoutly to be wished. That, perhaps, is not the telos of the species. Perhaps, instead, we will see the End of Time, before we have washed down the last leaf of grass with the last gulp of fresh water?

  • Rob says:

    Is it not possible, in short, that God’s providence reached its culmination with the provision to man of enough brain power to solve the problems of his own continued survival?

  • Rob says:

    Mind you, everything I am talking about here in terms of God’s providence is strictly on the biological level. From my point of view, it has nothing to do with eschatology.

  • zippy says:

    <>Because it (overpopulation/insufficency of resources) is a recurrent reality, always occurring somewhere at any given time,…<>If you take it as axiomatic that poverty is the result (and solely the result) of overpopulation, I suppose, but that seems obviously false to me.<>If man is free to tamper with death using technology, he *must* also be free to tamper with sexuality using technology.<>That is just a gratuitous assertion.<>Your “telos of sex” is dependent on a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis …<>No, it isn’t. It doesn’t even require knowledge of the existence of the Bible or Christianity. It is part of the natural law, accessible (at least in theory) to any man capable of accepting facts about the world and applying his reason to them.<>Mind you, everything I am talking about here in terms of God’s providence is strictly on the biological level. From my point of view, it has nothing to do with eschatology.<>An axiomatic Manicheanism is just another way of rejecting teleological thinking in general as applied to the material world. What it comes back to, Rob, is that you reject teleological thinking with respect to the material world (that is, you are nihilist) because (1) you don’t like the fact that it implies that contraception is evil, and (2) you justify the fact that you don’t like this with wild Malthusian speculations about population, which (3) ignore Providence by making the straw-man claim that natural moral restrictions on man’s action imply that there is no point to his reason and free will at all.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–It is fundamental to natural law that sexual reproduction will result in populations growing exponentially in the absence of any kind of brake applied to that growth. Nature has provided disease, famine, senescence and death to provide a such break, but these things only slow the growth.Granted that slow as food can be produced, and fresh water found, in sufficient quantities to sustain the exponential growth of population, there is no problem. The world is large, and tampering with the genetic makeup of grains and other food sources has thus far allowed the world population to increase without global disaster. How much of this is the result of almost universal use of birth control in the developed world, I don’t know. I do know that we would be in worse shape without it. It is idiotic to claim otherwise. So people who oppose birth control because they claim that natural law forbids it, live very comfortable lives which birth control has been a big factor in allowing them, and snap their pearly canines at the hand that feeds them. Rock on; but don’t think that you are fooling anyone, especially God. If birth control is a whore, we are all living on her wages. The pill has been widely available for about 40 years. What would the population of this country and the world now be without its use? Do you really believe that we would be living as well as we are living now without that brake on growth? Is it mere coincidence that as the standard of living rises, the birth rate drops?Condemn contraception, but at least have the integrity to condemn all the things that its use makes possible along with it.P.S. So far as I know, natural law is not derived from scripture, but from Greek philosophy, so I’m not ready to concede that it is even a factor in man’s true relationship to God.

  • Rob says:

    Correction:My second paragraph should begin: “Granted that *as long as* food…”

  • Rob says:

    Natural law aside, there is a concept that *is* relevant to my argument and that is definitely scriptural, and Christian, and that is: stewardship.Let’s say you are a shepherd, and have a herd of sheep and goats. You have X-amount of pasturage available to you on which to graze your flocks. If you allow your flocks to grow so large that they graze the entire range of your pasturage bare within a single season, not allowing the near end to recover before returning to it from the far end, what you end up with is desert. Your land becomes useless, and your herds and your livelihood are gone. To be a good shepherd, you must know how much of your herd to sell, and how much to slaughter, in order to be a good steward and fulfil the “telos of shepherding”, if you will. Thus it is with human population: it’s ultimately a matter of stewardship, not of the so-called telos of sex.

  • zippy says:

    <>It is fundamental to natural law that sexual reproduction will result in populations growing exponentially in the absence of any kind of brake applied to that growth.<>Clearly it is an article of faith for you that natural law chastity (in particular w.r.t. birth control) necessarily leads to a Malthusian result. I am as unimpressed by this gratuitous nihilistic assertion as I am by the gratuitous nihilistic assertion that wars of extermination are necessary to cull the human population in order to manage finite material resources. Representing your favorite just-so story bugaboo as a fundamental natural law in order to justify moral atrocity carries no quiddity with me.And again (yet again), I note that you don’t address the teleology of sex itself, you just think that your imaginary stories posing as fundamental natural law constitute a <>reductio ad absurdam<> of the teleology of sex.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Having reached the century mark to no avail, I throw in the towel, defeated by your impermeable training, if not by your argument. Basta. Gracias. No mas.

  • zippy says:

    My whole purpose was to get a blog post with a hundred comments or more. I knew I could count on you, my friend >8-).

  • Rob says:

    It is an honor to play the role of foil to your devious design. [:-/

  • Anonymous says:

    The <>Catholic Church<>, for heaven’s sake, came within a hair breadth of saying artificial contraception was okay. Which means that it’s certainly not obvious that it’s contra natural law, else the Church wouldn’t have struggled with it and the pontifical commission wouldn’t have recommended Paul VI approve artifical contraception. Ergo it is less likely to be immoral in and of itself, than in and of what it inevitably lead to: moral supinity. Paul VI was a prophet, in forseeing the Pill’s morally corrosive effects.

  • zippy says:

    Isn’t that rather like claiming that Arianism is probably right because the Catholic Church came within a hair’s breadth of approving Arianism?

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–I know I had hung up my spikes on this one, but I can’t resist reinforcing the point Anonymous is making by saying that “it’s certainly not obvious that [contraception] is contra natural law.” That was my point. But, if it is, what is there in Holy Scripture to say so? And where, for that matter, does Holy Scripture even support the concept of Natural Law in the first place? That concept seems to me to be pure Scholasticism–and it’s not like those birds were never wrong about anything.

  • zippy says:

    I don’t understand it to be a characteristic of natural law to be “obvious”; and in general the truth is more accessible when sought out rather than avoided. If you went into the study of quantum mechanics with the attitude that it is a bunch of worthless hooey you probably wouldn’t learn much, but that says far more about the person inquiring than the subject of inquiry.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–I’m not saying that it’s a bunch of hooey. I’m saying that if it’s something asserted by the Church as descriptive of Reality, then it should be substantiated in Scripture. And, I’m asking where, in Scripture, that substantiation is to be found. I.e., the Revelation of the Word trumps Aristotle at any point on which they don’t clearly agree.

  • zippy says:

    Since sola scriptura is rationally incoherent, I think the premeses of your question are incoherent. In fact your question is incoherent even beyond the basic incoherence of sola scriptura. Restated, you appear to be asking the following: “Given that there is no such thing as natural law and all valid moral precepts are found explicitly in Scripture, where in Scripture do you find the natural law?”Finally, your last statement is premised on the notion that Scripture contradicts the existence of natural law; but you have not in any way substantiated that premise.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–I am not saying that there is no such thing as Natural Law. What I am saying is that any given element of Natural Law should be reducible to, or grounded in, some identifiable piece of the Revelation.

  • Anonymous says:

    You make some good points Zippy. All I was saying is that the evil of contraception isn’t something that is going to be readily accessible for the non-Catholic, but then <>sola scriptura<> shouldn’t be readily accessible for the thinking Protestant. It’s far less absurd for a Catholic to argue for the evil of contraception than a Christian for <>sola scriptura<>, so I suppose it does come down to openness to truth.

  • Rob says:

    Who is sola scriptura? I dare say that there have been as many, or more, brilliant Protestant theologians in the last 500 years as Catholic ones.I don’t think anybody is actually sola scriptura, or anything even approaching that, except possibly for a few radically inbred snake handlers out in the backwoods. You stick with Aristotle and St. Thomas, I’ll stick with Jesus and Karl Barth–that’s what it comes down to.

  • Anonymous says:

    Really, Rob? That’s what it comes down to? You get Jesus and we get St. Thomas?

  • zippy says:

    <>I am not saying that there is no such thing as Natural Law. What I am saying is that any given element of Natural Law should be reducible to, or grounded in, some identifiable piece of the Revelation.<>The second statement contradicts the first, as near as I can tell.

  • Rob says:

    And Aristotle. You also get Aristotle, without whom where do you get St. Thomas? Oh, and we can share St. Augustine. He has something for everyone, I think.

  • Rob says:

    “The second statement contradicts the first…”Probably so. Probably I have to say that natural law is hooey, after all.But, tell me this: If natural law is morality written on the hearts of men, where did Adam and Eve go wrong by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge? If knowledge of good and evil was already written on their hearts, the knowledge stolen in the fruit was redundant and the taboo against eating the fruit was frivolous.

  • Anonymous says:

    Given that Jesus made apostles not books, that he identified Peter as the head, that there was no canon for hundreds of years means yes, <>sola scriptura<> is an absurdity.That smart people believe stupid things is not surprising. Look at the Marxists. Sounded good on paper.

  • Rob says:

    Anon:Sola scriptura includes those scriptures that Jesus and the Apostles *did* have, I believe. The rest they either spoke or *wrote*. I don’t get your point.

  • Anonymous says:

    I apologize for my condescension but “sola scriptura” seems a logical absurdity since it isn’t scriptural. It’s a “tradition of man”, which makes it ironic.

  • Zippy says:

    <>But, tell me this: If natural law is morality written on the hearts of men, where did Adam and Eve go wrong by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge?<>Speculation about the status of morality before the Fall (and a great many things before the Fall, for that matter) is just that: speculation. But given that Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil it seems downright anti-Scriptural to say that post-fall humanity has no innate knowledge of good and evil independent of Scripture. That is, it seems downright anti-Scriptural to deny the natural law.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–If you are willing to agree that man must have acquired Natural Law-as-death-through-sin in Eden, then you should be willing to agree that it is a thing to be overcome through grace, by God’s love. Natural law seems to me a pagan concept, concoted by Greeks, struggling in the gloaming of their civilization to move toward a Truth without a complete set of maps to guide them.From that it follows, imo, that human morality is not hardwired by Natural Law, but a function of the free will by which Adam fell, but also through use of which man can choose the Good. Man’s model in choosing the Good is the Word-as-revealed, not some supposed template branded on his “heart”, whatever that means.What is Good is that which best expresses love for one’s neighbor, and thus for one’s God. While that cannot be abortion, I think it can be temporary and reversible contraception, used out of prudence and care, rather than for reasons of materialism and greed.

  • zippy says:

    Natural law is something to be <>overcome<>? No. But you do continue to show Nietzschean tendencies.And I am quite aware that your objection to the fact that contraception is evil makes it necessary for you to reject the natural law in general.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–From what I understand, there were a good many theologians who rejected natural law at a time when the illegality of contraception was not seriously questioned by the vast majority of people.From this it follows that the question of the morality of contraception can be discussed without reference to the reality of natural law. My position is that even if there is something real called natural law, contraception, of certain kinds, used for certain reasons, is moral and good, i.e., not an objective evil.(And you still haven’t addressed the Eden question.)

  • Rob says:

    Am I correct in stating that natural law is a thing that is to be known through the power of reason?If so, and if, through the use of reason, it could be shown that under certain circumstances the use of contraception would result in more good than harm, would that not tend to show that contraception was in harmony with natural law?

  • Rob says:

    BTW, re: so-called *sola scriptura*, pro and con:“And so, since we are too weak to discover the truth by reason alone and for this reason need the authority of scared books, I began to believe that you would never have invested the Bible with such conspricuous authority in every land unless you had intended it to be the means by which we should look for you and believe in you.”–St. Augustine, Confessions, VI:5I.e., the Truth is in God and His Revelation is *grounded in Scripture*.

  • Rob says:

    Correction to quote: the books are “sacred” not “scared”. It is we who should be scared.

  • zippy says:

    A good many theologians questioned something at one time or another, and therefore it can be discussed? Whatever. That sort of dialectic doesn’t interest me. What interests me is what is <>true<>.<>If so, and if, through the use of reason, it could be shown that under certain circumstances the use of contraception would result in more good than harm, would that not tend to show that contraception was in harmony with natural law?<>If one’s moral theory were purely consequentialist and if in fact the consequences of a particular contracepted sex act were purely good, sure. The same could be said of murder, or any other act. But nobody is really a consequentialist through and through, because even a consequentialist must have an (implicit or explicit) standard against which consequences are judged, irrespective of the consequences of the consequences, as it were.I don’t understand the relevance of the Eden question. Wild speculations about the nature of things before the Fall are like wild speculations about the nature of things in Heaven; and the natural law is something that applies here and now, is accessible (though not transparent, I agree with St. Augustine) to reason. Wild speculations about primordial or eschatological states can’t be used as premeses to argue against either quantum mechanics or the natural law.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–The Eden question is totally relevant. If natural law was a component of human being from the moment of creation, then Adam and Eve did not learn of good and evil through sin. Which is it? If it is the second, then how can natural law, granted its reality, be a *good* thing?

  • zippy says:

    The Augustine quote is really not at all relevant to a discussion of the natural law. That Scripture is necessary (though by no means sufficient) for salvation is not in question. What you seem to be claiming is that we can’t know whether anything at all is right or wrong without reading about its rightness or wrongness in Scripture. That is so obviously false that I am surprised you have the audacity to argue for it. Anyone – even someone who doesn’t know how to read, has never seen a Bible, and has never heard of Christ – can (and usually does) know that murder (e.g.) is wrong, that theft (e.g.) is wrong, etc.When Augustine says “the truth” in the quote he doesn’t mean “any truth of any sort whatsoever”, and you are being particularly silly to imply that he does. The notion that Augustine would deny that he can know that (e.g.) he is in pain, or is presently seeing a blue sky, or that contraception is wrong, unless he read it in Scripture, is a really awful mischaracterization. The fullness of truth – including Divine revelation – is not accessible without Scripture and the Church which collected and preserved that Scripture, to be sure. But it doesn’t follow that there is no such thing as quantum mechanics or natural law accessible to reason.

  • zippy says:

    <>…then how can natural law, granted its reality, be a *good* thing?<>Natural law is objective good and evil knowable through nature and reason. If nature were not fallen there would be no evil to know; so again, your speculations about pre-Fall states and such are completely irrelevant. If all you are saying is that the Fall was evil then I can certainly grant the point. But that doesn’t provide you with a premise from which you can conclude “…therefore contraception, in this fallen world, is good.” Nor does it provide you with a premise from which you can (in Nietzschean fashion) conclude “…therefore we can ignore what is good and evil according to natural law and make up our own morals for ourselves”.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–You claim that, because of natural law, any person can know that theft or murder is wrong. In a sense, that my be true. But it is certainly not true in the sense that any human being will define “theft” and “murder” in the same way–therefore, the moral sense “inherent to man” is not, strictly speaking “inherent”. If it were, it would not be culturally determined to the extent that it is. Moral sensibility is “inherent” only in the way that the capacity for language is inherent. All humans have speech, but in nature it is mutually intelligible only in fairly small groupings. If there was no evil in the world, prior to the Fall, where did the “serpent”‘s mind-set come from? Clearly, what the serpent did was evil, prior to Eve going along with it. And, if the “fruit” contained knowledge of evil, prior to being ingested by Adam and Eve, then evil was already present in the world at least as an idea, prior to the Fall, even had there been no evil rational agent such as the serpent.Quantum mechanics is susceptible, at least in part, to mathematical proof. That puts it, and all other objects whose existences can be proven empiracally and closely and uniformly defined, in a different category altogether from objects of faith–of which natural law is one.

  • Rob says:

    Finally, Holy Scripture obviously does not contain all information relevant to life on earth. It does, however, contain everything necessary and sufficient to guide any human being in the direction of moral perfection.Any moral decision that is not grounded in Scripture, is not a decision based on objective Truth, and is, therefore, situational and contingent present circumstances.

  • zippy says:

    <>You claim that, because of natural law, any person can know that theft or murder is wrong. In a sense, that my be true. But it is certainly not true in the sense that any human being will define “theft” and “murder” in the same way.<>People disagree about all sorts of things. It does not follow that therefore (1) there is no such thing as truth, or (2) there is such a thing as truth but it isn’t knowable.As for your speculations about the Fall, all I can do is point out again that they are irrelevant. Finally, you are simply incorrect about the relation between faith and reason (or put differently, the word “faith” means something entirely different to you than it does to me, and I think your understanding of it is irrational, and indeed Martin Luther would agree explicitly and respond by calling reason a whore). In my understanding, reason pertains to knowledge of objects (in the broadest sense). Faith pertains to trust in persons. Neither is utterly separable from the other.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Yes, the “faith in persons” that is relevant to your belief in natural law is the faith you have in those persons who promote its reality. But ultimately that faith must be traced back to the first person who proposed the idea. If that person was not God, then the reality of a natural law that enforces objective moral Truth has to be shown empirically, and I would contend that this cannot be done. The real existence of natural law is based on unproven theory–or on opinion–whichever you prefer, unless it is proclaimed in Scripture. If it is, show me where.

  • Rob says:

    This means that since natural is supposedly knowable through reason, that natural law should be self-referential (as is God in the Revelation) and able to prove its own existence to the satifaction of any rational person. Clearly, this is not the case.

  • zippy says:

    Yes, ultimately all truth and all existence depend upon God.<>The real existence of natural law is based on unproven theory–or on opinion–whichever you prefer, unless it is proclaimed in Scripture.<>The <>existence<> of natural law doesn’t depend on your knowledge of it, Rob, nor your acknowledgement of it, under whatever epistemic theory you want to put forth, including your personal theory of <>sola scriptura<>. A thing does not come into existence upon the comprehension of its <>proof<> by Rob.If contraception is objectively evil, it is objectively evil, period. It doesn’t matter whether (or why) you know it or acknowledge it.<>This means that since natural is supposedly knowable through reason, that natural law should be self-referential …<>That makes no sense whatsoever. I know that the sky is blue. In what sense is the sky “self-referential?”

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–It makes no sense to say that the sky is self-referential because the sky has no intellectual content. A natural law would have intellectual content. It would be self-referential in the same way that we understand “conscience” to be self-referential–even to the point of picturing it as a little angel perched on our shoulder, whispering in our ear.I am certainly not the first person to deny the reality of natural law, so it isn’t strictly a matter of what I believe. If natural law is, as I believe it to be, simply a way for Aristotle/Thomas Aquinas to use language to promote certain beliefs of their about the nature of the universe and man’s place in it, then it is not objective truth, but only philosophical speculation. As such, it cannot proclaim all things to be either true or false, good or evil, for all time and under any conditions.By the very fact that it is susceptible to reason, it is susceptible to change.

  • zippy says:

    <>It makes no sense to say that the sky is self-referential because the sky has no intellectual content.<>Whether the sky is blue or not is an objective fact about the world. Whether contraception is evil or not is an objective fact about the world. Whether or not gravity is accurately described by tensor equations is an objective fact about the world. Whether or not formal systems capable of representing Peano arithmetic are necessarily either inconsistent or incomplete is an objective fact about the world.I understand that in order to support contraception you have to be a moral anti-realist. But the world doesn’t care about your philosophical anti-realism. The truth doesn’t depend upon your assent.

  • Rob says:

    “…the world doesn’t care…”What most of the world doesn’t care about is the belief of a few in natural law. All of the world believes in morality. And the latter is not dependent on the former.That the sky is blue is an objective fact only when the sky is blue. Sometimes it’s gray. Sometimes it’s black. Sometimes it’s red. Then it’s blue again. That’s my point.

  • Rob says:

    And, of course, the “fact” that the sky is “blue” is more a function of how your eyes work than it is a function of anything having to do with the sky qua sky.So, your objective reality is actually “the human eye often perceives the sky to appear in a manner that is called by consensus “blue” of one shade, or degree of intensity, or another.

  • zippy says:

    When I say “the world” I mean objective reality, not the opinions of human beings.<>That the sky is blue is an objective fact only when the sky is blue.<>Right. The facts are the facts. A sex act is evil only when it is evil. The sky is blue only when it is blue. And now that we have dispensed with the tautologies, we can go on to say that a clear sky is blue during the day, and a sex act modified to be rendered intentionally infertile is wicked; and that both of these objective facts are knowable.

  • zippy says:

    <>…your objective reality is actually “the human eye often perceives the sky to appear in a manner that is called by consensus “blue” of one shade, or degree of intensity, or another.<>No, it isn’t. The sky on a clear day is blue even before I have stepped out to look at it. It doesn’t turn from some other color to blue once my eyes fall upon it.But once again you show that your argument in favor of contraception depends upon anti-realism.

  • Rob says:

    If each of those objective facts is “knowable”–by which I assume that you mean obviously and inevitably knowable–then there should be 100% consensus that each is objectively true. If we can take use of condoms as an example, we can see some plausibly evil results of their widespread use–increased promiscuity being the most obvious across the board. However we can also see some demonstrably good reasons for promoting condom use–more effective prevention of certain diseases being the one most easily available to reason. Therefore, reason alone does not disclose condom use to be objectively evil, but only susceptible to evil human designs, as is most everything that can be done by man. Why it is objectively evil to alter a sex act is not intuitively apparent to *most people*. Most people could be wrong, of course, but if so, natural law is shown to be so ineffective as to make its reality suspect: if it doesn’t do anything, how do I know that it’s there, except that you say so?

  • zippy says:

    <>…by which I assume that you mean obviously and inevitably knowable…<>You assume wrong. (Though “inevitably” may – or may not – be the case eschatologically).<>Most people could be wrong, of course, but if so, natural law is shown to be so ineffective as to make its reality suspect […]<>The fact that most people don’t understand Godel’s Theorem doesn’t make Godel’s Theorem “ineffective”, by which you seem to mean untrue, or irrelevant, or of no consequence.

  • Rob says:

    Godel’s theorem is not a thing that people need to know–and use–in their everyday lives. But natural law, if it is real, is such a thing. Godel is not a particularly apt analogy, I think.If natural law were real, then all moral decisions would somehow automatically default to it’s constant point of reference, and it’s reality would be obvious. It would be self-referential in that it would both identify an issue as entailing a moral choice, and then provide the morally correct course of action to the human agent. It would be like a sixth sense, designed specifically to move one toward the good, or to prompt repulsion from the evil.

  • zippy says:

    <>Godel’s theorem is not a thing that people need to know–and use–in their everyday lives.<>Sez you. Godel’s Theorem has < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2005/05/complete-irrationality.html" REL="nofollow">deeply profound epistemic implications<>, whether people understand it or not.

  • zippy says:

    <> It would be like a sixth sense, designed specifically to move one toward the good, or to prompt repulsion from the evil.<>You are really constructing a straw man here. The natural law is not accessed through some mystical psychic bugaboo: it is accessed via the use of right reason in the moral realm.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–What the Eden story teaches us is that the acquisition of reason, the supposed active ingredient in “natural law”, is the acquisition of the ability to choose the evil course of action. Prior to the Fall, as has been pointed out above, evil was not an option; all was good and there were no such decisions to be made. Knowledge of good and evil was thus similar in effect to the Law, as described by St. Paul. That is why I said earlier that if natural law exists, it is a thing to be overcome in striving for moral perfection, as we are commanded by Christ to do.

  • Rob says:

    As for Godel: To say that any moral choice must be *consistent* with Scripture, is to say that reason must be used to determine if a moral decision is in contradiction to Scripture, before acting. This is not the same thing as saying that Scripture is a complete and closed system, containing within itself every answer. It is not a philosophical system; it is a *perfect* reference tool.

  • zippy says:

    <>… if natural law exists, it is a thing to be overcome in striving for moral perfection.<>I understand that you think this, which is why I see you as Nietzschean.As for the other, the fact that contraception is evil is <>consistent<> with Scripture, even if not deduceable from it via some particular hermeneutic. Sola Scriptura < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2005/05/whats-so-great-about-consistency.html" REL="nofollow">as a practical matter depends on equivocation between consistency and completeness<>.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–First of all, to say “contraception” is like saying “cancer”. Cancer is many diseases with certain similarities. Contraception is many methods with both similarities and differences. I don’t argue that some permanent, irreversible methods of contraception might be contrary to natural law, if natural law is stipulated as a reality.What I argue is that some temporary and reversible methods of contraception–specifically, here, condoms–can be used for reasons that are good, are expressions of loving care, and which reason dictates to be the morally *best* thing to do, under certain less than optimal circumstances. It’s a case of proportionality.By putting all means of “contraception” under one umbrella, for the purpose of condemning the lot, one is not necessarily being consistent with Scripture, but may actually be in transgression agaist its fundamental commandment to love your neighbor.Jesus, for instance, transgressed the letter of the law in several instances where a greater good could be accomplished by going with the spirit of the law–which is love–rather than the letter of the law, which results only in normative behavior: the favorite indoor sport of a doctrinaire Pharisee.

  • Zippy says:

    <>…can be used for reasons that are good, are expressions of loving care, and which reason dictates to be the morally *best* thing to do, under certain less than optimal circumstances. It’s a case of proportionality.<>Using sex (and a sex partner) as consumer entertainment in hedonistic pursuit of pleasure in a way contrary to the telos of sex is morally <>best<>, an expression of “loving care,” when contrasted to abstaining? Color me skeptical.Here is how you have expressed that “loving care” in this very thread. I especially appreciate the loving care manifest when talking about childbirth as “squeezing out puppies”, and the description of parenthood as “perpetuat[ing] the cycle of sin and death that is human existence”. I would suggest that such a view of children and parenthood is a direct consequence of the embrace of contraception – that is, of technologically modified sex acts intentionally rendered simultaneously pleasurable and infertile.But here you are:<>What is really being objected to is having the fun without paying the consequences.<><>Do you smell like a goat, or do you go against nature’s plan?<>[I love the comparison of parenthood to “smelling like a goat”.]<>Telos is for pre-programmed robots, machines, and sub-rational lower life forms.<><>And squeezing out puppies is not our true telos.<><>Fine. The telos of sex is to perpetuate the cycle of sin and death that is human existence, and to do so on as grand a scale as possible: more sex, more birth, more sin, more death. Praise God and pass the ammunition!<><>But condom use not only seems morally harmless to me, but to be, in many different circumstances, the prudent, responsible, and *moral* course of action–unless sex is never to be indulged in <>for the pleasure of it alone<>.<>

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Although I would have thought that the conversation had evolved beyond the necessary, if uncannily neolithic, animal imagery stage by the time we passed the sesquicentennial milestone, it was nice to reminisce briefly over the bloody puppies and reeking goats of our youthful discourse, even while quietly celebrating the less aesthetic, yet more seminal, pieties that characterize our intellectual descent toward a wiser, more spiritual, asceticism of body and soul.Rut-as-work-in-rut: in the end to every persistent ploughman his just wage for a field righteously and abundantly sown.

  • TS says:

    I just wanted to be comment number 154. And I thought I could entice you:http://poncer.blogspot.com/2005/12/city-of-man-city-of-god-interesting.htmlNo mas?

  • zippy says:

    Well, in some ways the Pantagruel article is the same old neocon tripe, failing – or perhaps intentionally omitting with malice and forethought – to distinguish between commutative and distributive justice. The mirror image of the pacifist in a sense, except that the pacifist is merely making a mistake in understanding evil categories but still refuses to do evil; whereas the neocon embraces the doing of evil in service to his pragmatism, pragmatism being part of the conservative orientation which, like many things, is a significant (subordinate) good until it becomes a primary principle and gets you to EMBRACE FRIKKING EVIL OVERTLY AND INTENTIONALLY, for Pete’s sake. I want to think about it a bit longer before I actually make a post out of it though, since thinking about what to blog hasn’t gotten much front-brain in the last several days.And Happy Gaudete Sunday!

  • […] Somewhere in the middle it creates a scandalous temptation to do evil, and at worst, it involves formal cooperation with evil. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  • […] attitude of “kindness” that is involved in endorsing euthanasia: the idea that if I, hypothetically, were suffering or radically disabled I would desire the “kindness” of death for […]

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